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Stern Review “Badly Underestimated” Climate Change Risks, Says Lead Author

In an interview with the Financial Times, Lord Nicholas Stern has admitted that the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (earlier post), which was widely regarded as one of the first comprehensive assessments of the potential effects of climate change on the world’s economy, underestimated the potential scale as well as level of risk that climate change presents to future economic development.

“Emissions are growing much faster than we’d thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we’d thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster,” said Lord Stern.

The Review, which had asserted that global economic loss could be as much as 20% of GDP in the absence of sufficient climate policy, was greeted at the time with extensive criticism from economists, many of whom questioned the methods used by Stern and others, and asserted that the costs of inaction had been overstated.

However, Stern said yesterday that “the damage risks are bigger than I would have argued...We can’t be precise about what it would be like but you can say it would be a transformation.”

The Stern Review was developed over the course of a year at the request of the UK’s then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown (now Prime Minister), and released 30 October 2006. It focused on the costs of action necessary to achieve a 450-550 ppm CO2 equivalent level and a global temperature rise of no more than 2ºC.

Scientific support for such a target has since eroded. Recently, for example, NASA scientist James Hansen has called for a scaling back to 350 ppm CO2 from today’s approximate level of 385 ppm CO2.

The most optimistic emissions stabilization scenarios cited in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report project a global temperature rise of 2ºC to 2.4ºC at 445-490 ppm CO2 equivalent if emissions peak between 2000 and 2015; however, they are outnumbered by almost 20 to 1 by scenarios that project a global temperature rise of 3.2ºC to 4ºC at 590-710 ppm CO2 equivalent. Feedbacks and tipping elements which have dominated recent climate change projection theory are not included in the scenarios.

—Jack Rosebro




Again an argument in favor of carbon-negative bioenergy.

It's time this becomes mainstream. Wind and solar are okay, but they can never reduce emissions fast enough.

We need carbon-negative energy systems. That is, systems based on biomass with carbon sequestration.


My first reaction to this is: We are in a no-win situation. We can't replace our energy production systems fast enough. It's impossible. Chinese emissions are growing faster and faster. They already produce about 3x more coal than we do and they're boosting production fast. They surpassed the US as the #1 emitter in 2006.

And in Hansen's view we passed acceptable CO2 levels in the mid 80s, before enough evidence of climate change was even in to act upon.

It's very hard to have any hope at all when I read stuff like this.

John Taylor

The motivation for global co-operation is greater each day, yet the resistance to change and co-operation also grows ...

Are we insane as a species?

Harvey D


Isn't one of the main reason why USA's per capital GHG has been about flat for the last few years, is the huge US trade deficit. In other words, USA is pushing its GHG on other countries, such as China, India, Japan, etc by having them produce the goods Americans use.

If Americans would account for (add) the GHG on all imported goods and China would substract the GHG on all goods they export, the picture would be very different. USA's per capita could be 35 to 40 tons instead of 22. China's could be almost half what it is now.



If you're going to use that argument I suggest you look to Europe as well, and not spend so much time trying to pin everything on the United States. The trade gap between Europe and China has been growing by leaps and bounds. A reference from last year (Bloomberg, 6/27/2007):

"The 13-nation euro region's trade gap with China, the world's fourth-largest economy, grew 33 percent to 28.1 billion euros ($37.4 billion) in the January-March period from a year earlier, the European Union's statistics office in Luxembourg said today."

China kept a fixed rate on their currency for a very long time, which is a large factor to consider. This kept their labor costs artificially low. They only dropped the peg in 2005, and still only allow small fluctuations. They bear the responsibility for their own emissions. They know what they're doing. They want to be the world's manufacturing center.

And if you're going to subtract the GHG for the goods the Chinese export, you'll have to do that for everyone else. Including Europe and the United States. With the dollar weakening, our exports are growing. Now over a trillion dollars worth. How does that work on the CO2 balance sheet?

The fact remains that we still need goods, and manufacturing always goes for the least expensive locations to do so. Higher oil prices and a lower dollar may slow, halt, and even reverse these trends over time.

Harvey D


Yes the EU is also running a huge (manufactured goods) deficit with China + HK. It is not a good example either. The EU is (unfortunately) using similar trade practices.
However, their total trade deficit is nowhere near USA's, even with their 470 million people. However, with higher prices for oil and gas & raw materials, their trade deficit may creep up too.

USA's yearly (mostly manufactured goods) trade deficits for the last 3 years were $787 B, $838 B and $816 B. respectively. That's a lot of imported goods.

USA's yearly (services) trade SURPLUSES for the last 3 years were $72 B, $79 B' and $103 B respectively.

Please note that the services surpluses increased faster than the goods deficits. That makes the total deficits look better than they were with regards to GHG content.
We all know that a lot more GHGs are created manucfacturing goods than services.

Pushed to the extreme, a country importing all the goods it needs could pay for them with services and trade deficits and look much greener or cleaner than it is.

This is not being anti-American. It is what free trade is doing by shifting production (and associated GHGs) to lower cost countries such as China and India.

WMF predicted today that the number of cars will go from 600 millions today to 3+ billions by 2050. CO2 from cars will go from 2.6 gt today to more than 6.8+ gt a year by 2050. The increase will be concentrated in Asia. mainly in China and India as their per capita income goes above $5K/year.

Unless vehicles are mostly electrified, those predictions may come true.


I think it would be good to compare the costs of doing something with the costs of doing nothing. Since the present U.S. administration says that doing something would be bad for the economy, then what are the economic consequences of doing nothing. I guess you do not want 1% shaved off the GDP when you are president, but even more reduction of GDP growth with a future administration is fine.



Frankly, there just isn't enough oil left for even the cars we have on the road let alone 3+ billion by 2050. Electrification is a necessity, and as we've seen lately, more and more of them are coming to market, starting in applications like delivery trucks.


"The motivation for global co-operation is greater each day, yet the resistance to change and co-operation also grows ..."

One would think. But the injection of data arriving at questionable rates from questionable resources is coming under greater scrutiny. e.g., biofuels v food appears to be a petroleum industry agenda. Taint biofuels - keep petroleum. We have recently seen the USGS review of the new domestic Bakken field which petroleum wants us to think will be a major relief. Recently a Canadian Climatologist got three hours on national media to strongly question CO2 hysteria. Brits are publishing books questioning the entire GW movement and its political basis ("Scared to Death.")

Bottom line is we are fast approaching "peak disclosure." This will be the greatest test of peoples' capacity to adapt. The key to achieving our sustainable goals is to maintain a sense of openness and honesty in the science driving them. If IPCC is found to have skewed its numbers - just like a student caught cheating, they will lose not just a little, but ALL credibility. Unfortunately like other departments of the UN.

So, for all the social engineers and anthros out there - time to think long and hard about means to ends. With the rising level of disclosure just around the corner - means should not be found... wanting.

The author of this report, Mr. Nick Stern, is a former economist for the World Bank. Not exactly the CV of an expert in climate science. Peak disclosure.


There is a Congressional Representative from Maryland who speaks on the floor of the House about peak oil now and then. He shows charts and talks lucidly about what we are facing. If the cameras panned back, you would probably see no one listening to him.

Call it denial or whatever you want, but people just are not getting it. They gripe about gas prices like children hoping that ranting will get them what they want and solve the problem. They say, "what can we do?" in a tone of resignation as they hop into their huge SUV and roar off.

It looks like it will take another oil shock like the one in the 70s for people to wake up. They will say "why didn't somebody do something?" as they continue to make payments on that big SUV. This country amazes me. We have so much squandered potential and and such an over abundance of denial. We are all the root of our problems and have been all along.


The problem is if bush had done as you wanted at the start pushing kyoto and all...

We would have just screwed it up screwed our econ up ahead of time AND pushed FAR more pollution to asia AND created an enviro armaggeddon with even worse and more forceful biofuel adoption AND we would likely be facing a public hostile to enviro and green issues as they would be fighting the pres and kyoto AND all we would have to show for it was an already wrecked econ a hosyile to green public and even MORE ghg.

What bush has done accidentaly or not is a classic tech/econ rush and frankly it worked ALOT better then it should have AND it has left the american public EAGER for green and an econ that just might have enough money left in it to buy a green future... teched in usa and made in china and india;/

Framkly I was betting on armmaggeddon by now so im just waiting to scream I told you SOOOO before I mutate into a giant pigmy marmoset as the earth glows... green.


If renewable energy was easily stored and half the price of coal, the CO2 problem would disappear fairly quickly.

Fortunately this seems to be the way the renewables sector is going (think about the recent progress in 6 MW class offshore turbines, solar thermal and nanosolar PV at $1 per watt).


Renewables are already cheaper than New Coal.


Now if you want to compare it without coal subsidies, and with coal unpaid externalities.

There's just no comparison.


Jonas, Biomass with Carbon Sequestration and Storage is called a Tree.

Grow the tree, then leave it alone.
Presto, done.

Especially in the tropics.

If anything a more pragmatic route would be developed nations paying rents to keep rainforests up.



A very interesting proposal re rainforest. If we were to take some of the oil/gas/food subsidies and pharma biochem license fees, redirect those $$ to rainforest stewards - it would help those economies (provided payments are not squandered) and guarantee our carbon sink / oxygen generators. Big challenge is enforcement, but maybe some of those wiz-bang spy sats could help.

"giant pigmy marmoset..." How does one measure such a creature??



I have one word for you.



Greyfalcon, a tree does not deliver energy. Do you understand this?

Carbon-negative bioenergy provides *both* carbon sequestration and the energy we need so much.

You clearly still haven't grasped the basics of the concept.


Because Greyfalcon hasn't grasped the absolute minimum minimorum, I will be so kind to explain it to him.

-planting trees and just keeping them standing there is the absolute most stupid thing to do with a piece of land. The tree grows and after a few years it stops sequestering CO2 (in temperate climates they even become net carbon contributers; in tropical climates they merely become carbon stores that yield no energy).

-so planting a tree is creating a carbon store; nothing more. It's an inefficient way to use land, given that you can use it for creating both a carbon store and energy, simultaneously.

-you grow the tree, and after it has done its work of sequestering carbon, you use the biomass to extract its energy; while doing this, you sequester the carbon that gets released; you store this carbon in soils (biochar) or in geosequestration sites.

-this way, you can continuously withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere, while generating energy.

That's why it's called "bio-energy with carbon storage", not merely "carbon storage" (which is the tree just standing there).

Just planting trees is really dumb.


Which would also be called "forestry management." However, you'll have a hard time selling this to the rainforest stewards. And trees fall down, die and recycle. A natural process - how dumb is that?

country mouse

I believe if you analyze the carbon cycle, you'll find that grasses are far better than trees. The root system holds and fixes more CO2 and nitrogen in the soil. The system also provides a better mechanism for holding soil in place. If you use a grass which is well suited for conversion to ethanol or one of the better hydrocarbons, you get carbon sequestration, soil conservation and fuel.

Besides, trees are evil. I had one hit my house and it cost me $8,000 to repair the roof and walls. I got off cheap.

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