With the daffodils out and people already ditching their coats, one might be forgiven for thinking it is April, rather than mid-March. Is this global warming, we ask? I am not unique in worrying about climate change. The growing international concern about climate change is well exemplified by Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth winning two Oscars. At the Dr S T Lee Lecture on Public Policy in Cambridge on 5 March 2007, Rt. Hon. David Miliband, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, appealed for the removal of the bracketing of climate change as an environmental issue: “climate change…is a humanitarian emergency – a threat to the security and survival of people, not just nature…the greatest risk we face is climate change”.

The Paris Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting of February 2007 concluded that climate change is occurring with high probabilities of critically detrimental temperatures if green house gases continue on the rise, aided by burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other anthropogenic causes. Global temperatures have increased by .5˚C, and inaction will result in a 75% chance of 2-3˚C rise in temperature over the next 50 years. It is not too hard to foresee the catastrophic consequences, snippets of which we have seen in movies: extreme weather patterns; rising sea levels leading to the displacement of 200 million people; extinction of 15-40% of species; increased flood risks due to melting glaciers; reduction of water supply to over a billion people and decline in crop yield in Africa resulting in famine and inevitable death.

This doom and gloom for all nations is predicted in the 700-page ‘Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change’. Compiled by Sir Nicholas Stern, Cambridge graduate and former chief econom ist of the World Bank, for the HM Treasury, this independent and comprehensive analysis of the economic aspects of climate change was released on October 30 2006.

Hailed by Nobel Prize laureates such as economists Robert M. Solow, James Mirrlees and Amartya Sen and described as a “massive cost-benefit analysis” by Dr Cameron Hepburn of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, the Stern Review illustrates the impacts of climate change (compared to “those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century”) on growth and development, and recommends strong and early economic policy responses and international collective action. The cost? Dr Hepburn, who provided two background papers for the Stern Review, informs me that it would be 1% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

To clarify this, the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, Dr Terry Barker, points out that the Review convincingly demonstrate s “at very modest costs, less than one year's economic growth over 100 years, these risks can be significantly reduced. There is even a chance, if the policies are efficient and fair, that they could improve global economic development."

Governments therefore need to formulate policies and Steve Dix threw further light on the UK Government’s proposed climate change legislation, described as “ambitious – and coherent – package” and to be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows”. The aim, as explained by Miliband, is to “make a new transition: from a high carbon to low-carbon society… We (UK) will become the world’s first country to establish in law our goal and timetable for becoming a low-carbon economy”.

The Review concludes that the costs of doing nothing far outweigh those of taking action to avoid the most serious risks

However, sceptics believe that environmental issues are being exploited by politicians, for selfish reasons or to implement severe taxation on Western nations, whereas a faction believes that climate change is fiction. “There are millions if not billions of people who like to focus on what's important to them and their life….if you do care about the future, you do care about climate change”, Dr Hepburn states philosophically before adding optimistically, “an ideal international climate change agreement would have everyone involved and it would have targets which reflect the results of good economic analysis”.

Dr Barker, whose team submitted a supporting document for the Stern Review, gives a fitting warning, "The Review concludes that the costs of doing nothing far outweigh those of taking action to avoid the most serious risks”. Sir Nicholas Stern, concludes optimistically, "There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act inte rnationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change." Some of us might be disposed to wait and see, but the question, as Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out, is “The question is not whether we can afford to act, but whether we can afford not to act”.

Stern's Suggestions:

• Reducing consumer demand for heavily polluting goods and services
• Making global energy supply more efficient and cleaner
• Preventing further deforestation
• Promoting low carbon, high efficiency transport technology
• Creating a global market for carbon pricing
• Extending the European Emissions Trading Scheme globally, incorporating US, India and China.

Government's Proposals:

• Establish long-term goals and framework for emissions reductions.
• Establish an independent body, the Carbon Committee to work with Government to reduce emissions over time and across the economy.
• Enable UK to benefit economically by becoming a leading low carbon economy.
• Will put into statute, the goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050.

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