Lord Stern outlines plan to break deadlock

Posted on 21 Sep 2009 in

A plan to overcome obstacles to an international agreement on climate change was today (21 September 2009) outlined by Nicholas Stern, a member of the UK House of Lords and former chief economist of the World Bank, in a paper published to coincide with a major speech at Columbia University in New York.

The paper presents a new approach to setting strong but achievable targets for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, which take into account future economic growth in developing countries. The proposals by Lord Stern, who was author of the landmark report on ‘The Economics of Climate Change: the Stern Review’ in 2006, are laid out ahead of his participation in the United Nations summit in New York on 22 September, which aims to increase the momentum towards the crucial climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The paper by Lord Stern, who is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, states:

“In the short time remaining before Copenhagen, governments around the world must come together to agree the structure of a global deal on climate change. The agreement must lay the foundations for a future era of dynamic low-carbon growth that succeeds in both cutting emissions and sustaining the growth in developing countries which is necessary to reduce poverty.

“I believe that an ambitious and comprehensive deal is possible, but only if crucial steps are taken over the remaining weeks and months to break the deadlock we appear to be in. That deadlock consists of an approach by rich countries which collectively involves inadequate emissions reductions and unwillingness to make financial commitments without being able to approve the plans for developing countries to move to low-carbon growth. And on the part of developing countries, an unwillingness to make commitments on reductions without a clear indication of financial support from the rich countries, together with an unwillingness to have their own plans for low-carbon development determined by, or subject to the approval of, the rich countries. The developing countries also find the level of commitment by rich countries to domestic reductions in the next two decades both too small and unconvincing.”

Lord Stern’s paper concludes: “We can overcome some major obstacles to a strong deal on climate change in Copenhagen by focusing on four key issues.

“First, we must recognise what we have to achieve in terms of global emissions. In order to have a reasonable chance of avoiding an increase in global average temperature that exceeds 2˚C, we need to reduce annual worldwide emissions from the present level of about 50 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to no more than 20 gigatonnes by 2050. There are a number of possible trajectories which could meet this target and control total annual emissions over the period to the level necessary, but none of them would allow any more than 35 gigatonnes by the mid-point of 2030. These are the key figures, 35 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent by 2030 and 20 gigatonnes by 2050, that must guide any agreement on national targets for emissions reductions. By focusing on these totals for global annual emissions, and not percentages relative to earlier levels, we can focus where the science takes us, on the overall path of annual emissions over the next few decades. In other words, we must focus on whether the planned national emissions targets are consistent with the constraints of the global emissions totals.”

“Second, the need for national targets both to add up and to be equitable means that rich countries, including the European Union, Japan and the United States, need to achieve emissions reductions of at least 80 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990. Developing countries, including China and India, also need to limit and decrease their emissions, but in ways that are consistent with their ambitions for continued economic growth and the reduction of poverty.

“Third, if we assume that annual global emissions will peak within the next five years and will reduce at a substantial but realistic rate thereafter to give a reasonable chance of avoiding a temperature increase of more than 2˚C, global annual emissions must be cut to between 44 and 48 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent by 2020. If we only reach the upper end of this range, much bigger annual reductions in emissions would be required in subsequent years, and cuts of more than 50 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990 to prevent a rise of more than 2˚C. Thus, it would be safer to aim for the lower end of the range for 2020. An analysis of the current policies and commitments among the most important rich and developing countries in terms of emissions indicates that we would be close to the top of that range in 2020, so we must find ways of making further cuts in the next two decades to reach a reasonable trajectory.

“Finally, rich countries should give their strong backing to climate change policies, including those that are designed to halt deforestation, and low-carbon growth plans in developing countries in a variety of ways, including through additional financial support, beyond official development assistance, of US$100 billion per year for mitigation and US$100 billion per year for adaptation by the 2020s.”

“If we can get to grips with these issues, then we can achieve an agreement that is effective, efficient and equitable. It will allow us to avoid the profound risks of climate change, to overcome poverty worldwide and to usher in an exciting new era of prosperity based on sustainable low-carbon growth. Through innovation and investment in new greener and more energy efficient technologies in the next two or three decades, we can create the most dynamic period of growth in economic history. And what is more, a low-carbon world will also be quieter, cleaner, more energy-secure and more biologically diverse. Let us not allow mistrust, pessimism and lack of ambition to prevent us from achieving these aims. Instead let us have real vision and leadership in both developing and developed countries which seize the opportunities offered by Copenhagen, for us, our children and future generations.”

Lord Stern outlined the new approach to setting targets for annual emissions of greenhouse gases on at the ‘Greenland Dialogue’ informal summit of leaders from European Union and other countries, held on 20 September in New York and organised by Connie Hedegaard, the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy.

Notes for Editors

  1. ‘The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review’, was produced for the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 2006. Nicholas Stern was head of the UK Government Economic Service between 2003 and 2007. He is currently I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government, head of the India Observatory within the Asia Research Centre, and Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the University of Leeds and LSE.