Economists must take climate change seriously say scientists

With 'compelling evidence' backing the scientific case for man-made climate change it is time for economists to turn up the heat in the battle to reduce greenhouse gases, says the Royal Society.

Lord Martin Rees, president of the famed scientific academy, took the opportunity to speak on the subject in the run up to a debate on the economics of climate change set to be heard in the House of Lords.

He all but accused the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee of burying its head in the sand on the issue and said more must be done to fund both mitigation and adaptation.

The crossbench peer said economists needed to take a “bigger and more constructive role in dealing with the threat of climate change” and claimed media articles were playing down the problem.

“It is a sad fact that a lot of the economic commentary on climate change in the media has seriously downplayed current scientific knowledge, even suggesting that climate change is just another scare story, or that the challenges can be met merely by treating them as questions of domestic economics,” said Lord Rees.

“Let us be clear: climate change is real and it is a global problem, as was emphasised last year in the joint statement by the national academies of science of the G8 nations plus Brazil, China and India.

“Of course, there are uncertainties in our understanding of climate change, as there are across all areas of science. But the scientific evidence we have is compelling.

“Rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are warming our world, changing our climate and making our oceans more acidic. While not all of the impacts will be negative, the higher the greenhouse gas levels climb, the bigger the adverse impacts will become, and the more we will have to do to mitigate and adapt.”

Lord Rees lashed out at a report prepared by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee which he argued played down the degree of consensus among scientists around the world and questioned the reality of serious climate change.

“It provided a very unrepresentative summary of the state of scientific knowledge about the causes and likely impacts of climate change, focusing primarily on gaps in our understanding, in order to support its contention that the scientific context is one of uncertainty,” he said.

“Such a refrain is, of course, a feature of the campaigns by lobby groups who wish to use it as an excuse for not tackling rising emissions of greenhouse gases.”

“The committee’s report states that ‘we do not believe that today’s scientists are crying wolf”. This is a rather curious assertion, since it creates the impression that the committee actually considered the ludicrous notion that the international scientific community has taken part in an elaborate hoax.

“This shows the committee’s apparent lack of familiarity with the compelling scientific evidence that has been documented in scientific papers by many thousands of independent researchers around the world over the past few decades.

“On the impacts of climate change, the Committee’s report was remarkably complacent, claiming that many of the adverse effects can be ‘offset by adaptation’.

“It seems unlikely that human populations could comfortably live in a world of more extreme weather events and sea levels that eventually rise by tens of metres.

“Of course, our response to climate change needs to be a combination of both adaptation and mitigation, equitably funded, and economists need to contribute constructively to both these broad areas of action.”

Sam Bond

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