Nicholas Stern, former World Bank Chief Economist and policy wonk to Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, produced the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change. The Stern Report provided estimates of the economic costs of abandoning fossil energy to combat climate change, concluding that the economic impact would be a fraction of the losses that would be inflicted from doing nothing.
On the 10th anniversary of the report, Nick Stern has a confession - he got it wrong.
In his report, published in October 2006, Stern warned that the cost of inaction would be far greater for future generations than the costs of actions taken today. “With hindsight, I now realise that I underestimated the risks. I should have been much stronger in what I said in the report about the costs of inaction. I underplayed the dangers.”
“We have been too slow in acting on climate change,” he told the Observer. “In particular, we have delayed the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions for far too long. When we published our review, emissions were equivalent to the pumping of 40-41bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year. Today there are around 50bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. At the same time, science is telling us that impacts of global warming – like ice sheet and glacier melting – are now happening much more quickly than we anticipated.”
But Stern's stern warning comes with a ray of optimism. He's buoyed by how quickly world leaders moved to ratify the Paris climate agreement. And he rejoices in how we now seem to be "getting it."
Stern points to the fact that in recent years there has been an encouraging increase in the use of sustainable technologies that should help us to wean us of our fossil fuel dependency. Cities like Barcelona and Bogotá have made themselves cleaner and healthier. Coal burning has peaked in China. Hybrid cars and electric vehicles are being sold in increasing numbers and the cost of making solar panels has been reduced by a factor of 20. “We have reached the point where we can now see that the alternative route is not really something that should be regarded as a cost. It is actually a much better way of doing things, even if you had never heard of climate change,” says Stern.