BYLINE: David Dickson
NAIROBI: The report on climate change by leading economist Sir Nicholas Stern paints a dire picture of what is likely to happen if drastic action is not taken soon to curb the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
But the underlying message is more optimistic. Preventing climate change does not mean stopping economic growth, Stern argues. It merely means containing economic growth within reasonable limits and ensuring that it follows a responsible path.
According to Stern's estimates, an investment of just 1% of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) would be sufficient to cap the carbon gas emissions causing global warming at between 500 and 550 parts per million a year.
This, he says, is likely to limit the rise in global average temperature to between two and three degrees centigrade. This would be a significant, but not necessarily catastrophic, increase.
The message is timely as countries signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Nairobi, Kenya, for the latest round of talks on putting commitments into practice.
One of the main tasks they face is how to forge an international consensus on action once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Another is how to bring larger developing countries such as Brazil, China and India into a "post-Kyoto" regime.
Two arguments are generally used to excuse these countries for not doing more.
Both are based on concepts of international equity.
The first is that they should not be penalised for being late starters in the industrialisation stakes.
The second is that it is unfair to ask these countries to make economic sacrifices when the world's largest contributor to climate change, the US, refuses to do so.
But Stern's report provides a useful antidote to those who argue that developing countries should not be expected to contribute significantly to efforts to reduce climate change. Today's spending to curb carbon emissions should be seen as an investment in future benefits, not as an operating loss.
Furthermore, the cost of delay is likely to be high. And the cost of delay will increase rapidly, leading eventually to annual losses of 20% of global GDP.
As Stern puts it: "The benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting."
Such a conclusion justifies a wide range of political responses.
One is that international aid is urgently needed to help fund carbon reduction strategies and technologies in developing countries. …