on 12 November 2009
Nicholas Stern is author of the 2005 Stern Review and an influential paper titled "Key Elements of a Global Deal".
Throughout the book the author focuses on two key dates: the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 and a target to cut emissions by 50% by 2050. He envisages that the blueprint he constructs in this book could provide a basis for the negotiations at Copenhagen.
Some argue that the current global slump provides the wrong environment to tackle the issue, but Stern considers the crisis to be an opportunity. He points out that low carbon energy is of real economic and social value, and we must recognise the potential a new era of progress and prosperity.
Stern considers the motivations of the "deniers", emphasizing that they are usually economists, journalists and politicians - not scientists.
He emphasizes that it would be well for economists to realise that climate change is primarily a market failure where prices are not reflecting the true cost to society of production.
The author emphasizes in several places that the issues of global development and climate change cannot be separated.
He asserts that scientific evidence of long-term trends is undeniable: "The time for argument is over; it's now time to formulate policy and strategic response."
Two notable characteristics throughout are a sense of urgency and a sense of optimism. He devotes as much attention to the benefits of a low-carbon era than to the costs of inaction; even the slowing world economy and the prospect of rising oil prices are considered by Stern to be valuable opportunities. He predicts that a low-carbon future will unleash a new era of wealth generation, global equality and international co-operation.
It should also be noted that his target of 500ppm CO2e is much higher than those given by some other respected authors, and one gets the impression from Stern's justification of the target that he himself considers it to be an unfortunate compromise. However, the general policy framework he constructs would be just as effective a blueprint for global action whether or not the detailed figures can be relied upon.
The last paragraph of the book encapsulates Stern's spirit of optimism - he asserts that this is a "special opportunity" and the the "prize if enormous": tempered by the final warning that the "planet is in peril" if we fail.
I would consider this work to be a useful contribution to the debate because it avoids dwelling on the well-rehearsed scientific arguments. Rather it focuses on economics, challenging conventional wisdom by portraying a low-carbon future as a positive driver for wealth generation.