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Nicholas Stern, world’s top climate economist, endorses 350 ppm as “a very sensible long-term target.”

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"Nicholas Stern, world’s top climate economist, endorses 350 ppm as “a very sensible long-term target.”"

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The great environmental writer and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, is the guest blogger.

Nicholas Stern is the most important climate economist in the world. After a stint as chief economist at the World Bank, he was asked by the government in his native Britain to conduct the most thorough review of the economics of global warming yet undertaken.

Released in October of 2006, the Stern Review drew praise from many of his brethren in the field–and it also drew gasps of shock and horror from anyone who bothered to read it. It laid out, quite clearly, the cost of doing too little or moving too late on climate change: economic damage that would be greater than WWI, WWII, and the Great Depression combined. In April, he published a powerful popular account of his work, Blueprint for a Safer Planet, and he’s been one of the leading forces preparing for the Copenhagen meeting.

So that’s the background. Today in Berlin, a reporter from one of the city’s papers, Daniel Boese, asked him about the 350 target–which goes well beyond the numbers he was using in his book even in April.It’s a sign of how quickly the tide is shifting, and also of Stern’s intellectual integrity, that he said:  “I think it’s a very sensible long-term target.”  He went on to explain: “People have to be aware that is a truly long-term target. We have already passed 350ppm, we are at 390 ppm of Co2 and at 435 ppm of Co2-equivalents right now. It is most important to stop the increase of flows of emissions short term and then start the decline of flows of annual emissions and get them down to levels which will move concentrations of CO2 back down towards 350ppm.”

Stern is right, of course–even if we do everything right at Copenhagen, we won’t be back at 350 soon. But unless we do everything right we’ll be back at 350 never ever. His call will help stiffen the push for real measures at the conference.

And in case you’re keeping score, here’s where we are at the moment. The world’s foremost climatologist, James Hansen, first calculated this number with his NASA team. The world’s foremost climate politician, Al Gore, endorsed it nine months ago. The UN’s chief climate scientist, and with Gore the only other man to win a Nobel for work on climate, India’s Rajendra Pachauri, endorsed it late last month. And today the world’s foremost climate economist.

But here’s the thing: none of this would have happened if you hadn’t endorsed it–if you hadn’t worked to build the largest movement about climate change ever. Onward!

Related Posts:

JR:  For the science behind 350, see “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al.” Since the science is preliminary and it is not not yet politically possible to get to 450 ppm, let alone 350, my basic view, as expressed in that post, is Let’s start working now toward stabilizing below 450 ppm, while climate scientists figure out if in fact we need to ultimately get below 350.  Either way, this is what needs to be done technology-wise:  “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated).”  The difference between the two targets is that for 450 ppm, you need to do the 12-14 wedges in four decades.  For 350 ppm, you (roughly) need 8 wedges in about two decades plus another 10 wedges over the next three decades (and then have the world go carbon negative as soon as possible after that), which requires a global WWII-style and WWII-scale strategy (see “An open letter to James Hansen on the real truth about stabilizing at 350 ppm“).

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19 Responses to Nicholas Stern, world’s top climate economist, endorses 350 ppm as “a very sensible long-term target.”

  1. paulm says:

    Yeah, the scary bit though is that Hansen really thinks that ~300ppm is the real target. 350 is just the start.

    “They note that the optimum CO2 level for maintaining a planet similar to that on which civilization developed is likely to be less than 350 ppm…”
    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20081030_Target.pdf

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Congrats — AND . . .

    Last I checked (not long ago), The New York Times had never bothered to cover the fact that Dr. Pachauri came out in favor of 350 ppm.

    So I have a question — for The New York Times and for anyone and everyone who can “encourage” or “appropriately pressure” it to do its job:

    Will The New York Times cover this matter, including the recent comment by Dr. Stern AND Dr. Pachauri’s support AS WELL AS an overall summary of where the support for 350 ppm stands?

    This sort of stuff should be on the front page, instead of ExxonMobil ads that try to convince us that we are in their good hands!

    Also, along the same lines, I think it would be GREAT for ClimateProgress to do a piece on the media and their responsibility to the public. Today, President Obama spoke about Walter Cronkite. He had much to say about the media, through his positive comments on Cronkite’s qualities that have (clearly) gone “out to lunch” in many media organizations these days. So, link to the transcript of Obama’s speech. AND, link to the transcript of Edward R. Murrow’s famous speech to the RTNDA convention in Chicago about fifty years ago. It’s the speech that was featured, in part, at the start of the great movie, “good night, and good luck”.

    If you link to Murrow’s speech and Obama’s speech, we can assess the performance of modern media in relation to their responsibility to society.

    At this point, in my view, it’s necessary to put much more light on that “problem”. And this is putting it mildly.

    Congrats again on Stern and 350.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  3. Ken Johnson says:

    Do we have a viable economic policy for achieving even 450 ppm, let alone 350? This again highlights the complete disconnect between (1) ACES emission targets for 2020 that would be “so damn easy and cheap to meet” (and could potentially be met entirely with zero-net-cost efficiency and cogeneration), and (2) the estimated “10% to 20% chance of averting catastrophe” if ACES becomes law. Most climate policy bloggers and opinionators are focused on politics and are seemingly oblivious to the fundamental inability of the economic policy instruments embodied in ACES to exploit GHG-reduction technologies to their full potential — even when net costs are zero or negative.

    [JR: I'm more inclined to think it's 1 in 3 than 10% to 20%, but the original phrasing was not sufficiently explained so I will have to blog again. The bill is inadequate, but I disagree with you about the "fundamental inability." The bill is better than people realize.]

  4. Joe, I don’t think you should be caveating “if in fact we need to ultimately get below 350.” Hansen’s basic point is that if the planet behaved a certain way at certain ppms and climate forcings in the past, it is likely to do so again. The trend of the science over recent years is that the climate is more sensitive to ghgs than we had thought. With the stuff you report on this site about methane eruptions and ice loss, I think it’s pretty easy to conclude we are near or at tipping points on climate feedback loops. And the implication, finally, is for all the wedges we can get that truly make sense.

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a proposal to be taken quite seriously. A fairly benign form of geo-engineering which offers the capability to usee biomass derived energy supplies to compete, headd-on, with coal and natural gas.

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/55436u2122u77525/

  6. randydutton says:

    I want to add, dropping CO2 levels lowers global food production which regressively affects the 3rd world. Is this a Sunstein version of population control – mass starvation?

  7. Dano says:

    I want to add, dropping CO2 levels lowers global food production

    Actually it is the opposite.

    HTH.

    Best,

    D

  8. Mike#22 says:

    Randydutton:

    Rising temperatures from increased CO2 will reduce US grain yields by up to 80% in this century, with very similar results worldwide, on our current warming path.
    http://greedgreengrains.blogspot.com/2009/08/nonlinear-temperature-effects-indicate_27.html

    Real world CO2 studies show no enhancement for C4 crops like corn, and much lower than expected enahncement for C3 crops like soybeans. Weeds, on the other hand, respond vigorously to CO2. http://www.life.illinois.edu/leakey/publications/publications.html

    CO2 caused warming is causing the loss of snowpack fed irrigation water supplies around the world will endanger food supplies to hundreds of millions. Places like California.

    Ocean acidification from CO2 threatens 90% of the world’s reefs, which in turn means the loss of fisheries currently supplying protein to 500 million people. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6104

    And so on. CO2 will place billions of people in food security in this century.

  9. Ken Johnson says:

    Joe – You are “more inclined to think …“?? What does that mean? Is your probability estimate just pure guesswork, without a shred of quantitative analysis to back it up? :)

    [JR: Predicting the likelihood that we will avert catastrophic global warming if Obama signed a bill something like Waxman-Markey does require a great deal of surmising across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including international relations. But given that China and Japan and North Korea among others have asserted much stronger climate commitments and/or actions than a few months ago, one would have to say that the chances of serious international action are much higher -- if the U.S. doesn't strangle the whole effort in the crib.]

  10. Gary says:

    What is a “climate economist”? Googled it an couldn’t find anything.

  11. Mike#22 says:

    “Do we have a viable economic policy for achieving even 450 ppm, let alone 350 ppm?

    Yes, many times over. That is why the vested interests have continuously blocked and attacked any attempts to make new policy happen.

    Oil and Coal know they can’t compete on a level playing field against clean economy policies. Once the environmental costs of CO2 are included in the “viable economic policy” analysis, Oil and Coal are losers by a large factor. They know this, and thus they are using their money and influence to play games with the facts, and play games with our policymakers.

    I guess you could make some argument that they are just protecting their corporate interests.

    Please read Climate Progress, Ken. Everything Joe Romm writes is very well researched, and all the references are embedded.

  12. Ken Johnson says:

    Mike – Romm’s probability estimate for averting catastrophe with current climate policy is 1 chance in 3 (revised from his previous 10-20% probability estimate). Leaving aside the question of whether these estimates are, in any sense, “well researched”, a regulatory strategy having a 67% probability of catastrophic failure does not strike me as a viable economic policy.

    I don’t think politics is the only obstacle limiting effective regulatory policy. People’s myopic focus on politics is just as much of a limitation. Why are we unable to incentivize even negative-cost GHG-reduction strategies, such as efficiency, without simply allowing the resulting emission reductions to be traded for equivalent emission increases elsewhere?

  13. Dan R says:

    Dr. Rajendra Pachauri is the IPCC chairman. With doctorates in economics and industrial engineering, I doubt he would describe himself as ‘UN’s top climate scientist’, and I am not sure why 350.org insists on labelling him as such. Any chance of a correction?

  14. Dan R says:

    Dr. Rajendra Pachauri is the IPCC chairman. With doctorates in economics and industrial engineering, I doubt he would describe himself as ‘UN’s chief climate scientist’, and I am not sure why 350.org insists on labelling him as such. Any chance of a correction?

  15. Dan R says:

    Apologies for double posting. ‘UN’s top climate scientist’ published on 350 website. ‘UN’s chief climate scientist’ published above.

  16. Mike#22 says:

    Ken, You may be missing the point. Passage of W-M like legislation would make the US a real participant in global climate change policy, which in turn would allow greater progress by nations like China and India, and so on. Passage of W-M like legislation gets the needle off the peg; chances of the world sucessfully dealing with this crisis goes from near zero to now we have a chance.

    Ideally, everyone in the US would read a few books over the next few weeks (hint, two authors above) and then write their congressmen requesting an immediate WWII scale war on CO2. That would be great. JR has a good list of wedges ready to go. Since this sea change is unlikely, and the schedule is tight, we must move forward by all available means. W-M is one of those means. Not perfect, not ideal, but at least the needle is moving.

    http://www.billmckibben.com/books.html

  17. Ken Johnson says:

    Mike – Good points, but can you help me with this question:

    Why are we unable to incentivize even negative-cost GHG-reduction strategies, such as efficiency, without simply allowing the resulting emission reductions to be traded for equivalent emission increases elsewhere?

  18. Remi says:

    Has anyone quantified the environmental impact of each wedge you talk about? Not only the energy and CO2 requirements but all the raw materials that would have to be mined… We got into our current recession by overspending, and the government is overspending to get out of it. This is not a long term solution as the recession will come back only we will not have enough money to bail us out again. It’s the same for CO2, we cannot get out of our mess the same way we got into it (over consuming our resources).
    You state that the only jobs that will be left will be green energy jobs. That means that other industry would have tanked, which would reduce CO2 emissions by a number of wedges. Why don’t you talk about eliminating (or going into negative) economic growth as a requirement? We need to reduce the size of our economy, then move into a no-growth, stable economics.

  19. Matania Ginosar says:

    I wonder how the proponents of CO2 at 350ppm hope to drop it from the current 390 (increasing by 2ppm per year) to 350?
    CO2 remains in the atmosphere for over a hundred years, possibly longer. It is a very stable gas.
    In addition, the totality of the greenhouse elements creates the forcing function (now at approximately 1.25 watt per square meter above 1990 level) that warms our climate, and the likelihood that we could drop these to zero is non existent.
    Are we dreaming to feel better?
    We must be realistic to improve the dire situation we are already in.
    We must change the approach we are taking politically that claims that we can reduce our greenhouse emissions at no cost, to the opposite approach- spending all possible funds to reduce all greenhouse gases. It will not be low cost.