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Stern Review offers ultimate 'First Metre' challenge (30 Oct 2006)
After hundreds of years of seeing himself standing aloft from the consequences of the Laws of Nature industrial man is at last coming to realise that such is not the case. A sober report by Sir Nicholas Stern, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, presents the scarey warning of the ills to be visited upon the children of the electorates and populace that have been so carelessly led by generations of ineffectual political leaders who, rarely if ever, have planned for no more than their next election.
 

While self-interest has so often characterised political decision making since the madness of the two 20th century World Wars which ravaged the planet, ignorance of the way Nature works has also played a major reinforcing role. Connected, or joined-up, thinking has been no more in evidence in governmental policies than before the comforting phrases were first used in the 1990s, 50 years after the science of cybernetics (‘the art of steersmanship’) was set down by Norbert Wiener in the US and first practiced in business by Stafford Beer in the UK.
 

Despite the metaphorical Promethean gifts bestowed upon mankind by ‘history’ the gift of fire has always been of greater interest to homo sapiens sapiens than the gift of knowledge. Sadly there is ample evidence that substantiates the reality that warfare has always been of more interest to mankind than learning and continual improvement. And as Vietnam and Iraq have also manifestly shown since the previous, global, conflicts little thought is given by military leaders to the consequences of their often arrogant actions, that are more likely to be driven by politics and the influences of the various military/industrial complexes that have arisen since 1945.


As Rachel Carson said in 1954 "The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction." Then by the end of 1968 most people had the opportunity to see the first ever full-disc photographs of their home in space. Apollo 8’s first images of the Earth as a luminous blue sphere in the otherwise dark void of outer space had an astonishingly important impact on the planet’s human inhabitants, giving rise to deep feelings that our Earth's environment was something fragile and precious that must be protected and thus providing inspiration to a nascent environmental movement.
 

It has taken nearly forty years for the full implications of this romantic realisation to be consolidated into the human psyche to the extent that at the last possible moment in human history there is a real chance that mankind will for the first time ever find an accommodation with the planetary surroundings that he has pillaged for so long. Whatever the outcome Nature will prevail. The question is will man?


STERN REVIEW ‘The Economics of Climate Change’ : The Executive Summary
 

“The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response.
 

“The Stern Review takes an international perspective. Climate change is global in its causes and consequences, and international collective action will be critical in driving an effective, efficient and equitable response on the scale required. This response will require deeper international co-operation in many areas - most notably in creating price signals and markets for carbon, spurring technology research, development and deployment, and promoting adaptation, particularly for developing countries. Climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. The economic analysis must therefore be global, deal with long time horizons, have the economics of risk and uncertainty at centre stage, and examine the possibility of major, non-marginal change. To meet these requirements, the Review draws on ideas and techniques from most of the important areas of economics, including many recent advances.
 

“The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs. The effects of our actions now on future changes in the climate have long lead times. What we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years. On the other hand what we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next. No-one can predict the consequences of climate change with complete certainty; but we now know enough to understand the risks. Mitigation - taking strong action to reduce emissions - must be viewed as an investment, a cost incurred now and in the coming few decades to avoid the risks of very severe consequences in the future. If these investments are made wisely, the costs will be manageable, and there will be a wide range of opportunities for growth and development along the way. For this to work well, policy must promote sound market signals, overcome market failures and have equity and risk mitigation at its core. That essentially is the conceptual framework of this Review.
 

“The Review considers the economic costs of the impacts of climate change, and the costs and benefits of action to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause it, in three different ways:
• Using disaggregated techniques, in other words considering the physical impacts of climate change on the economy, on human life and on the environment, and examining the resource costs of different technologies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
• Using economic models, including integrated assessment models that estimate the economic impacts of climate change, and macro-economic models that represent the costs and effects of the transition to low-carbon energy systems for the economy as a whole;
• Using comparisons of the current level and future trajectories of the ‘social cost of carbon’ (the cost of impacts associated with an additional unit of greenhouse gas emissions) with the marginal abatement cost (the costs associated with incremental reductions in units of emissions). 


“From all of these perspectives, the evidence gathered by the Review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs. The evidence shows that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth. 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. Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries. The earlier effective action is taken, the less costly it will be. At the same time, given that climate change is happening, measures to help people adapt to it are essential. And the less mitigation we do now, the greater the difficulty of continuing to adapt in future.”