Stern says Copenhagen could still save world

The COP15 talks set to kick off in Copenhagen next week might still have the potential to save the world from catastrophic climate change, according to Nicolas Stern.

The author of the seminal report on the economics of climate change briefed journalists today on the likelihood of a successful outcome from the talks, and what would need to be done.

Speaking alongside colleagues from the London School of Economics (LSE), Lord Stern said that if every country delivered on their aspirations currently on the table, then the world would be more or less on track to reduce its carbon emissions by enough to be in with a fighting chance to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change.

“It’s possible to create a 50-50 chance of avoiding a rise in average global temperature of more than two degrees centigrade, which many scientists regard as the threshold for ‘dangerous’ climate change,” he said.

He argued that spending was inevitable and it would be better to invest in cutting emissions rather than paying to clean up the mess if we did not.

He compared the potential economic revolution to previous technological breakthroughs, saying clean tech would surpass the invention of the train or even our ability to harness electricity as a civilisation-shaping step forward.

The briefing was also used as a launch platform for a report by LSE academics Nicola Ranger and Alex Bowen, Mitigating climate change through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: the science and economics of future paths for global annual emissions.

The report says that avoiding a two degree rise is no longer a realistic option, but that if we can cut global emissions to 40-48bn tonnes by 2020 and slash them to 14-17bn tonnes by 2050, we may keep the global thermometer close to that crucial level.

Today’s global emissions level is around 47bn tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum.

Dr Ranger said we would make life easier for ourselves by setting tough targets early on.

“In view of the risks from delayed action and the economic benefits of acting early, it would be smart to aim towards the bottom of this window in 2020,” she said.

Lord Stern said the talks were the most important global gathering since the end of WW2 and world leaders must demonstrate determination and vision.

Failure at Copenhagen and re-convening the talks at a later date would lose impetus and valuable time, he added.

“We must have an agreement that will ensure future generations can enjoy the opportunities for sustainable growth that are offered by the low-carbon economy, and that are free from the risks that would arise from unchecked climate change.

“We cannot afford the cost of failure on climate change.”

Sam Bond

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