Complacent attitude to climate change must be stamped out

10 March 2011

Two internationally renowned economists have raised concerns over the current complacency about the scale of global efforts needed to combat climate change.

Writing in the Financial Times yesterday, Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), and Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the LSE, said that there were worrying signs at the recent World Economic Forum of lacklustre concern from policymakers as to the scale of the climate change challenge.

On top of this, they point out that with current political unrest, economic uncertainty and soaring oil prices dominating the headlines, there is risk of further distraction from tacking this global threat.

“We must not delude ourselves,” they write. “Existing commitments for emissions reductions by 2020 do represent major action. But even if implemented fully, they are collectively not enough to put the world on a path that would give us even a 50-50 chance of avoiding a warming of 2°C above 19th century temperatures.”

Real risk

The economists cite recent work by the IEA which concluded that without full implementation of existing commitments there is a real risk that the 2°C goal will be pushed out of reach altogether.

“A less ambitious target is not good enough: global temperatures have not been 3°C higher than today for about 3 million years. Such warming would likely lead to mass migrations away from the worst affected regions, with the risk of severe and prolonged conflict.”

With the next UN climate change summit scheduled for Durban, South Africa, this December, Dr. Birol and Lord Stern said that policymakers must intensify efforts to address the climate change challenge.

Door is closing

They added that although actions will vary from country to country, they should include three common elements:

  • “First, benchmarking tools should be used to bring energy efficiency to best practice levels,” they write
  • They stress the need for strong disincentives (such as carbon pricing) and incentives that will usher in new low-emission technologies
  • From both an environmental and energy security standpoint, the economists also said countries should prioritise measures to improve “fuel economy, expand sustainable biofuels and promote the uptake of new vehicle technologies”

Dr. Birol and Lord Stern conclude by saying that tackling climate change is not a target that can be discarded when the going gets tough. “For the moment our climate goals remain attainable, but the door is closing.”

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