Decarbonization of the World’s Economy
|On October 30, 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair put the entire weight of the British government into the mitigation of man-made climate change. Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, commissioned an independent report from economist Sir Nicholas Stern to examine climate change and to make policy recommendations. (See www.sternreview.org.uk to view the 616 page Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change) British embassies and consulates are receiving inquiries from reporters, researchers and the general public. All quotations in this article are from the 27-page English language summary.
The first sentence from the review reads: “The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Climate change presents very serious risks, and it demands an urgent global response.” The Review calls for extensive international cooperation “in creating price signals and markets for carbon, spurring technological research, development and deployment, and promoting adaptation, particularly for developing countries.” The markets must align with environmental and social costs now treated as externalities. Governments must end subsidies that promote business as usual such as the Energy Act of 2005.
This is serious business. “ Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.”
The Review calls for the stabilization of CO2 to 550-550 parts per million by 2050 at an annual cost of about 1% of global GDP per year, with a range from –1% (net gains) to 3.5% of GDP. This can be accomplished by energy efficiency gains, a forestation effort and decarbonizing the world’s power sector by as much as 75%.
The Review recommends accomplishing stabilization (CO2 emissions reduction) through carbon pricing, technology policy and removal of barriers to behavioral change. Carbon pricing means putting a tax on carbon based fuels that reflect the now hidden costs that the public pays in cancer, heart attacks and asthma. For the United States, it means covering the cost of our military presence in the Middle East. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, advocates a tax on gasoline to make the pump price $11 per gallon. The tax would commercialize the health costs and our military operations in protecting oil fields in the Middle East. Trading bodies such as the Chicago Climate Exchange and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme may be a way of equalizing carbon prices across countries.
Public investment in research and development will stimulate the development of low-carbon technologies. Governments can assist needed behavioral change by spreading useful information about product energy efficiency, requiring uniform labels on products and establishing minimum standards for buildings.
The Review notes that climate change will more severely impact the developing countries. This is terribly unfair because they have had the fewest CO2 emissions. There is a recommendation for assistance to poor countries to enable them to participate in the decarbonization process. For several years, Gordon Brown has been advocating a Second Marshall Plan for the world’s poor. His proposed plan now has an additional task.
Humankind will have to change social, economic and political habits to confront a challenge far greater than that posed by the Axis Powers in World War Two. Refusal to implement climate change mitigation will induce catastrophic conditions: declining crop yields, malnutrition, heat deaths, rising sea levels, more destructive hurricanes and an ecosystem damaged beyond repair. This is mankind’s greatest challenge to continued existence. Terrorists can kill only a few thousand people at a time. Unmitigated climate will kill billions who will not go quietly and calmly to a ghastly death.
The road to peace (demilitarization) can begin by:
1. Starting a world wide anti-poverty program,
Humankind is witnessing the Sixth Great Extinction of plant and animal life, which will not end until we stop extinguishing each other.