Time to Accept the Obvious; to Be Pro-Growth, We Need to Be Pro-Green. the Costs of Action Are Smaller Than the Cost of Business-as-Usual-By a Factor of Five to 20

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Byline: David Miliband

Climate change raises issues of science, economics and politics. By the month the debate moves on: 2007 will be a key year. And the science is now unambiguous. At the recent 12th annual United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Nairobi, no country challenged the consensus: climate change is man-made, it is happening now, carbon levels already in the atmosphere are

dangerous, and if we carry on catastrophic climate change will become more, rather than less, likely. Contrary to Robert Samuelson's unfounded claim in NEWSWEEK (Nov. 15 issue), scientists do have a good idea how much warming might occur. Within ten years we will be running a better than even chance of a two degrees Celsius average change in the earth's temperature; within 50 years it will be a majority chance of a three-degree change.

The economic debate is also turning full circle. The report by Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the U.K. Government Economics Service, shows that to be pro-growth, especially but not only for developing countries, we need to be pro-green. Put another way, the costs of action are much smaller than the costs of business-as-usual--by a factor of between five and 20. Samuelson alleges "public relations," "fictions" and "fabrications" but offers no argument. Stern makes mainstream and transparent assumptions about risk and discount rates. His conclusion is obvious to anyone concerned that Hurricane Katrina or the Australian drought might be related to climate change: investment in adaptation and mitigation is not without cost, but the economic dangers of our current path are much greater.

Samuelson suggests that the technology does not exist to cut global greenhouse-gas emissions. Wrong. In each of the five main sources of greenhouse gases--electricity, heat, transport, agriculture and deforestation--there are solutions. Energy efficiency in homes and buildings is the cheapest approach; in the U.K., we have improved energy efficiency of new homes by 40 percent since 2002. As the International Energy Agency has shown, low-carbon technologies, from wind and solar to nuclear and carbon capture and storage, are available. In transport, hybrid cars reduce emissions by a third. Deforestation can be avoided if people are provided with alternative ways of earning a living.

The question is not technology; it is providing the money to fund the difference between high-polluting and low-polluting technologies. That is a matter of politics. Samuelson says politicians are cowards, and anyway even if we cut our emissions the developing world will more than make up the difference. …