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10 years on from the Stern report: a low-carbon future is the ‘only one available’

Economist says green development is the only route to global economic growth and points to China leading the world on climate change action.

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Clean, green development is the sole route to future global economic growth, according to British economist Lord Nicholas Stern, with a continuation of polluting, high-carbon growth only leading to self-destruction.

There is a strong argument that China is now leading the world in action on climate change, Stern said, making the country both a competitor and inspiration for other nations.

Stern, speaking ahead of two lectures to mark the 10th anniversary of the highly influential Stern report, said the cost of not acting to halt global warming had risen while the costs of doing so had fallen.

The 2006 Stern report, commissioned by the UK government, found that the economic damage caused by unchecked climate change could be 5-20% of global GDP each year, but that cutting carbon emissions would cost just 1% of GDP. The report warned against delaying action, but this has not been heeded, said Stern on Thursday.

“We have delayed action,” he said. “The potential damages now look bigger than I suggested then. In that sense I underplayed the consequences of not getting on with it. But the costs of action are a good deal lower than I indicated then, in that technical progress has been faster that we thought. The cost of solar power [for example] is not far off a factor of 10 less than in 2006.”

Today, he said, a low-carbon future is the sole option for prosperity. “It is the only one available and it is a very exciting growth story,” Stern said. “Any attempt to follow high-carbon growth will eventually be self destructive due to the very hostile environment it creates. There was an old alleged tension between growth on the one hand and climate responsibility on the other, but it’s a completely fake horse race.”

Stern said other drivers of economic growth, such as using interest rates, tax changes and structural reforms, had limited potential. “Sustainable development of infrastructure and cities is the growth story of the future,” he said. “We are winning the arguments intellectually and politically, but it has all been much too slow.”

To read the full article from the Guardian, please click here.

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