Climate Change: A Global Warning

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AN APOCALYPTIC vision of environmental disaster costing the UK more than two World Wars and the Great Depression together was outlined in a major report yesterday.

Sir Nicholas Stern, the Government's chief economist, said climate change could shrink the global economy by as much as 20 per cent a year - some [pounds sterling]200billion a year in the UK.

His report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, paves the way for 'green taxes' on cars, fuel, air travel and electronic goods costing every household [pounds sterling]500 extra a year.

Big businesses could be encouraged to cut emissions through international 'carbon trading' but this could push up prices.

Tony Blair declared the report the most important of his premiership and said the consequences of global warming would be 'literally disastrous' without firm action.

But Mr Brown, concerned that a raft of tax rises would cost him votes at the next election, insisted the focus should be on forging international agreements.

He pointed out that Britain accounts for only two per cent of the global carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Though Americans make up just four per cent of the world's population, they produce 25 per cent.

Last night the Government unveiled plans for a Climate Change Bill to reinforce a longterm goal of reducing emissions to 60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 and set up an independent body to monitor progress.

But ministers appeared divided on the politically explosive prospect of a raft of new green taxes. The Treasury reacted coolly to a radical package set out by Blairite Environment Secretary David Miliband, including 'pay as you drive' road charges, taxes on cheap flights and levies on inefficient electrical appliances.

Sources close to Mr Brown poured cold water on large sections of the plan.

Though the Chancellor is not ruling out new green taxes, they said, he intended to focus on 'making a difference globally'.

He has recruited former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore as an adviser on winning over world opinion to co-ordinated action.

Mr Brown is particularly reluctant to impose tax rises - such as a levy on budget flights - that would hit the poorest most.

'This tax thing is a distraction,' said one source close to Mr Brown.

'Turning the UK into some Scandinavian paragon of green virtue is probably not the way we are going to win the argument with the really big countries that matter.' But with the Tories now promising to 'rebalance' the tax system with tax rises for environmentally unfriendly goods and services - offset by cuts elsewhere - some new green levies look inevitable.

The 700-page Stern report said it was now clear that climate change was threatening the 'basic elements of life' for people around the world - access to water, food, health, and use of land and the environment.

Deterioration in local climates could lead to mass migration and conflict in some parts of the world. Rising sea levels would result in 'tens to hundreds of millions' more people being flooded each year, with coastal cities including London, New York, Miami, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Calcutta and St Petersburg at 'serious risk'.

Sir Nicholas said: 'There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and we act internationally.

'But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory.' Maurice Fitzpatrick, of City accountant Grant Thornton, calallyculated that action could cost each household in Britain an extra [pounds sterling]500 a year in taxes and higher prices.

Sir Nicholas, a former World Bank chief economist, said that while there were massive uncertainties in scientific and economic projections of how far climate change would go, the evidence that man was to blame was now incontrovertible. …