Climate Change Could Shrink Global Economy

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Kofi Annan

If there was any remaining doubt about the urgent need to combat climate change, two reports issued last week should make the world sit up and take notice.

First, according to the latest data submitted to the United Nations, the greenhouse gas emissions of the major industrialised countries continue to increase.

Second, a study by the former chief economist of the World Bank, Nicholas Stern of the UK, called climate change "the greatest and widest-ranging market failure seen", with the potential to shrink the global economy by 20% and to cause economic and social disruption on a par with the two world wars and the Great Depression.

The scientific consensus, which is clear and incontrovertible, is today moving towards the more alarmed end of the spectrum.

Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that warming has reached dire levels, generating feedback loops that will take us perilously close to a point of no return.

A similar shift may also be taking place among economists, with some formerly circumspect analysts now saying it will cost far less to cut emissions immediately than to adapt to the consequences later. Insurers, meanwhile, have been paying out more and more each year to compensate for extreme weather events. And growing numbers of corporate and industry leaders have been voicing concern about climate change as a business risk.

The few sceptics who continue trying to sow doubt should be seen for what they are: out of step, out of arguments and just about out of time.

A major UN climate change conference opened in Nairobi this week. The stakes are high indeed. Climate change has profound implications for virtually all aspects of human wellbeing, from jobs and health to food security and peace within and among nations.

Yet too often climate change is seen as an environmental problem when it should be part of the broader development and economic agenda.

Until we acknowledge the all-encompassing nature of the threat, our response will fall short.

Environment ministers have been striving valiantly to mobilise international action.

But too many of their counterparts - energy, finance, transport and industry ministers, even defence and foreign secretaries - have shown no interest.

Climate change should be their concern as well. The barriers that have kept them apart must be broken down, so that they can, in an integrated way, think about how to "green" the enormous investments in energy supply that will be needed to meet burgeoning global demand over the next 30 years. …