International progress on tackling climate change is ‘recklessly slow’, warns Nicholas Stern

Posted on 4 Dec 2012 in

Countries are making “recklessly slow” progress on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and need to choose a more rapid transition to low-carbon economic development and growth, according to a new report by Nicholas Stern and colleagues which is published today (4 December 2012) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.

The new policy paper by Mattia Romani, James Rydge and Nicholas Stern, entitled ‘Recklessly slow or a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy? Time to decide’, warns that “the world is heading in a difficult and dangerous direction”, as negotiations continue into a second week at the United Nations climate change summit in Doha, Qatar.

The paper states: “A range of estimates based on current plans and intentions arrive at similar conclusions: at best, global emissions will plateau at around 50 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent per year over the coming decades, with a strong possibility they will go much higher. The scale of the risks from these levels of emissions is immense, with likely changes in climate way beyond the experience of modern civilisation.”

It adds: “The overall pace of change is recklessly slow. We are acting as if change is too difficult and costly and delay is not a problem. The rigidity of the processes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the behaviour of participants also hinder progress. And the vested interests remain powerful.”
However, the paper also points out: “Despite the slow overall pace of change, there are strong signs of activity and creativity across the world. And we have learned much over the past decade about the scale of the risks, the technologies required and the economics. Accelerating the pace of change towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy is both feasible and crucial; with the right incentives, rapid transformative change is possible, even in capital-intensive sectors such as energy.”

The paper highlights that “there is a deep inequity in that rich countries grew wealthy on high-carbon growth, and poor countries will be hit particularly hard by climate change”. It recommends that “recognition of that inequity must play a strong part in building international collaboration, but must not be allowed to block progress: that would be the most inequitable of all outcomes”.

The paper notes that a path for annual global emissions that would offer a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than 2̊C would require a fall from about 50 billion tonnes per year of greenhouse gases now to less than 35 billion tonnes in 2030. On current projections, without further action, developing countries are likely to emit 37-38 billion tonnes in 2030, while emissions from rich countries would probably be about 11-14 billion tonnes. This means that developing countries would be responsible for about two-thirds of annual global emissions of greenhouse gases in 2030, compared with just one-third in 1990, the baseline year for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

The paper states: “The arithmetic for a 2̊C emissions path is stark: stronger action will be required from developing countries, even if developed countries reduce their emissions to zero by 2030”.

It continues: “The deep inequity and the arithmetic imply that rich countries have a great responsibility to act radically themselves and to support developing countries’ transitions to low-carbon growth and development paths. Overcoming poverty and fostering sustainable growth and development support each other: if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

The paper concludes: “Equitable access to sustainable development is an attractive way of framing the issues that may help bridge the gap between developed and developing countries. Focus should be strong across each of equity, access and development, with countries coming together in a dynamic partnership, where the choice of the sustainable development path is determined by the people of developing countries, and that path is supported by rich countries (providing strong example and access to know-how, technology and finance).”

Notes to Editors

  1.  Nicholas Stern is I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government, and chair of both the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, at London School of Economics and Political Science. He was Second Permanent Secretary at H.M. Treasury of the UK Government between 2003 and 2007. He also served as Head of the Government Economic Service, head of the review of economics of climate change (the results of which were published in ‘The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review’ in October 2006), and director of policy and research for the Commission for Africa. His previous posts included Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist at the World Bank, and Chief Economist and Special Counsellor to the President at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He was recommended as a non-party-political life peer by the UK House of Lords Appointments Commission in October 2007. Baron Stern of Brentford was introduced in December 2007 to the House of Lords, where he sits on the independent cross-benches.
  2. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment and the Global Green Growth Institute.
  3. The Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and Munich Re.