Major new warming study offers chilling economic forecast
- Published Tuesday, October 31, 2006, by the Los Angeles Times
Pay now or later for warming, study says
Britain offers a chilling economic forecast for a world that fails
to spend heavily and quickly to curb greenhouse gases.
By Kim Murphy <kim.murphy@...>
Times Staff Writer
LONDON -- A major study issued Monday concludes that without rapid
and substantial spending, global warming will reduce worldwide
productivity on the scale of the Great Depression, devastate food
sources, cause widespread deaths and create hundreds of millions of
The report commissioned by the British government, which officials
called the most comprehensive review of the economics of climate
change, warns that failure to act could cost up to 20% a year in
lost income worldwide. Acting now, however, could bring about
meaningful control of greenhouse gases at an annual cost of 1% of
global gross domestic product, it says.
The findings appear to counter the long-standing argument of the
Bush administration that controlling greenhouse gases is costly and
However, the savings would occur only with the kind of rapid and
comprehensive international cooperation on the issue that so far has
British officials said they would take immediate action to legislate
carbon-reduction targets, push expanded international carbon-trading
programs and move toward reducing carbon emissions in Europe by 30%
by 2020 and 60% by 2050. Carbon trading allows companies to exceed
emission limits by buying credits from those that are below their
Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling the report by senior government
economist Nicholas Stern "a landmark in the struggle against climate
change," warned that there was a limit to what Britain alone could
"Britain is more than playing its part," Blair said. "But it is 2%
of worldwide emissions. Close down all of Britain's emissions and in
less than two years, just the growth in China's emissions would wipe
out the difference. So this issue is the definition of global
But the report's findings show that "if the science is right,
the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous," Blair
said. "And this disaster is not set to happen in some science-
fiction future, many years ahead, but in our lifetime."
In Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
the lead U.S. agency on global warming, had no immediate comment on
the British report. Agency spokesperson Jana Goldman said officials
could not react to the report until they had read it.
The report examines the consequences of acting -- or failing to act
-- to control rising temperatures due to greenhouse gases from
deforestation and fossil fuels.
The current level of greenhouse gases is already 54% higher than it
was before the Industrial Revolution, and could be double that level
as early as 2035, the report suggests. Such an increase could raise
temperatures by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century and
a disastrous 9 degrees by century's end, it says.
The result would be melting glaciers that trigger floods and reduce
snowpacks that supply drinking water, threatening a sixth of the
world's population, the report says. Other effects would include
reduced crop yields, leaving hundreds of millions of people unable
to produce or purchase sufficient food; an increase in vector-borne
diseases; up to 200 million people displaced because of rising sea
levels and drought; and the possible extinction of 15% to 40% of
"The report sets out I think very clearly that this is not just an
environmental issue, or even just an economic issue, but it is a
security issue," Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said. "There are
some people all over the world who still believe there can be some
kind of trade-off between economic and climate security. I think
this report knocks [that notion] on its head."
Stern, a former chief economist for the World Bank, said the study
found that it was still possible to achieve meaningful temperature
controls at a cost equivalent to consumers paying an average of 1%
more for everything they buy, and substantially less than the cost
of failing to act.
"That's manageable," Stern said. "We can grow and be green."
The report calls for using taxes and regulations to make carbon use
more costly, policies supporting low-carbon technology, and changing
the public's attitude toward energy efficiency.
Air carriers and utilities could be among those hit hardest by any
new emissions-reduction laws. Already, Britons are looking at a
possible end to bargain-basement fares to the Continent and higher
prices for out-of-season and exotic vegetables from the tropics.
Poor countries will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change,
the report says, but it suggests that rich countries must bear 60%
to 80% of the responsibility for emissions reductions.
"The conclusion of the review is essentially optimistic. There is
still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change if we act
now and act internationally," Stern said. "But the task is urgent.
Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into
dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity
Times staff writer Joel Havemann in Washington contributed to this