Statement from Nicholas Stern on Copenhagen

Posted on 19 Dec 2009 in

Commenting on the outcome of the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Nicholas Stern, chair of 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, said: “It is disappointing that the Copenhagen climate change conference has not succeeded in producing a political agreement that has been signed by all countries. However, it is very important to note the progress that has been made on the way to, and at, Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Accord, which has been drafted by the United States, China, Brazil, South Africa and India, has many strong aspects, including the recognition that the rise in global average temperature should be limited to below 2 degrees Celsius. We should recognise that to have a reasonable chance of achieving this, countries should act collectively to reduce global annual emissions of greenhouse gases from the present level of about 47 billion tonnes to about 44 billion tonnes in 2020, well below 35 billion tonnes in 2030 and well below 20 billion tonnes in 2050.

“Many developed and developing countries have committed on the road to Copenhagen to positive measures to tackle emissions. However, current intentions fall short of the 2020 target of 44 billion tonnes by several billion tonnes. Countries must come forward now with strong commitments to ensure the world is on an emissions pathway that is consistent with the 2 degrees goal. By going to the more ambitious levels that many countries have announced as the upper end of a possible range for them, we could be within just a few billion tonnes, perhaps two or three, of the target of 44 billion tonnes in 2020. Thus, as countries decide on their commitments this year on the way to the United Nations climate change conference in Mexico in 2010, COP16, they should move to the upper end of the intentions they have announced, and some significant countries must go beyond.

“The Copenhagen Accord also recognises that developing countries must receive significant financial assistance for their action plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, speaking for the African Union, put forward a very important proposal this week on financial support, much of which is reflected in the Copenhagen Accord, including the creation of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund to administer funding for the developing countries. It is vital that the High Level Panel that will examine sources of finance for the fund begins its work as soon as possible.

“Significant advances have been made leading up to and at the meeting in Copenhagen on halting deforestation, and the so-called REDD-plus measures outlined by developing countries should have the full support and backing of the rich nations.

“We must now find a path forward from Copenhagen towards a treaty on climate change. The current UNFCCC process has been found wanting over the past few weeks. One cannot expect strong detailed proposals for action to be identified and drafted from meetings of delegates of 193 Parties, and strong radical action on climate change cannot easily be constructed on the basis of unanimity. One potential way forward is for Mexico, as hosts of COP16, to convene a group of 20 representative nations to work on a potential treaty, tackling those major outstanding issues and building consensus. Such a group should be convened and start its work now. All countries should make commitments on national actions that are consistent with the global targets for emissions reductions to have a reasonable chance of avoiding a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

“Finally, we should recognise that the road to Copenhagen and the summit itself have generated, for the first time, commitments on emissions reductions from the world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, and they have acted for the first time to produce proposals for action. These two results represent an important breakthrough.”

Notes for Editors

  1. Nicholas Stern was Second Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury 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. Lord Stern is also Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, which is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is also I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government and Director of the India Observatory at London School of Economics and Political Science.