IMAGE: GORDON BROWN AND AL GORE
Stephen Hird  /  Reuters file
Britain's Treasury chief, Gordon Brown, and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore pose for photographers in London on June 22. Brown commissioned a global warming report released Monday and said Gore would be consulted on strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/30/2006 11:45:52 AM ET 2006-10-30T16:45:52

Unchecked global warming will devastate the global economy on the scale of the world wars and the Great Depression, according to a major British report released Monday that seeks to quantify the costs and benefits of action as well as inaction.

British Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who commissioned the report and who could very well become Britain's next prime minister when Tony Blair steps down next year, said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who has dedicated himself to warning about global warming, would advise the British government on climate change.

Introducing the report, Blair said unabated climate change would eventually cost the world between 5 percent and 20 percent of global gross domestic product each year.

He called for “bold and decisive action” to cut carbon dioxide emissions and stem the worst of the temperature rise. And Blair called the report “the most important document on the future” that he had read since becoming prime minister.

Pressure on Bush administration?
The report is expected to increase pressure on the Bush administration — which never approved the Kyoto Protocol climate accord — to step up its efforts to fight global warming.

Report author Sir Nicholas Stern, a senior government economist and former chief economist of the World Bank, said that acting now to cut greenhouse gas emissions would cost about 1 percent of global GDP each year.

“The evidence shows that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth,” said Stern’s 700-page report.

“Our actions over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century,” Stern added.

Blair said the report had “done a crucial job. It has demolished the last remaining argument for inaction in the face of climate change.”

But it did not turn skeptics into allies. “The report’s estimates for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are laughably rosy, while the assumptions about the impacts of global warming are ridiculously overblown,” Myron Ebell, who studies global warming for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said in a statement.“The Stern Review may look professionally done, but it doesn't pass the laugh test.”

‘Consequences ... are literally disastrous’
Blair emphasized that the scientific community agrees that the world is warming, and that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are largely to blame.

“It is not in doubt that if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous,” he said. “This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime.”

“Unless we act now ... these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible,” he added.

Stern said the world must shift to a “low-carbon global economy” through measures including taxation, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon dioxide emission trading.

Brown said harnessing the power of markets through a global carbon trading system was one of the best strategies.

Sharing a platform with Blair and Stern, Brown proposed a new European Union target for emissions reductions of 30 percent by 2020 and 60 percent by 2050, and expansion of an existing carbon trading system to cover more than half of emissions.

Brown wants the EU warming strategy, which sets overall limits for carbon emissions but then allows businesses to trade their quotas, to be linked with Australia, California, Japan, Norway and Switzerland so as to set a global carbon price that fixes a clear cost for emissions. California is among a few states going around the Bush administration to push for trading.

Kyoto status report
The long-awaited report precedes U.N. climate talks, starting in Nairobi, Kenya, on Nov. 6, focusing on finding a successor to Kyoto, which ends in 2012.

Under the 1997 Kyoto accord, 35 industrialized nations committed to reducing emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

But emissions by industrialised nations rose in 2004 to the highest levels since the early 1990s, the U.N. climate change secretariat said Monday.

Britain is one of only a handful of industrialized nations whose greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in that time. Overall, there was a 2.4 percent rise in emissions by 41 industrialized countries.

Brown said Britain would lead the international effort against climate change, establishing “an economy that is both pro-growth and pro-green.”

The British government is also considering new “green taxes” on cheap airline flights, fuel and high-emission vehicles.

The Stern report is online at www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page10298.asp.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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