A major new report warns that the cost of failing to take action on climate change could devastate the economy. As one British newspaper put it:
Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist with the World Bank, will warn that governments need to tackle the problem head-on by cutting emissions or face economic ruin. The findings … will turn economic argument about global warming on its head by insisting that fighting global warming will save industrial nations money. The US refused to join the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, because George Bush said it would harm the economy.
The Stern report was commissioned by the British government. Sir David King, the government’s chief scientific adviser, called the 700-page report “the most detailed economic analysis that I think has yet been conducted.” Stern added:
“If no action is taken we will be faced with the kind of downturn that has not been seen since the great depression and the two world wars.”
The report notes that avoiding catastrophic climate change might cost countries 1% of gross domestic product (spent largely on clean energy technologies that have many other benefits such as reductions in urban smog), but failing to act could cost up to 20% of GDP as the world must deal with impacts such as massive flooding and hundreds of millions of environmental refugees.
“Sir Nicholas believes a window of 10 to 15 years exists to save the global economy from severe damage – but after that it will be too late.” Since America is both the biggest polluter and the biggest roadblock to international action, and since our President steadfastly refuses to take serious action, that means we really have a window of 7 to 12 years, and that means the fate of the planet will be in the hands the next president.
Let’s hope he or she understands the central lesson of the Stern report: The cost of an inaction on climate far, far exceeds the cost of action.