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Nicholas Stern: I Got It Wrong On Climate Change–It’s Far, Far Worse

Another day, another climate expert explains the deadly combination of inaction and faster-than-expected impacts.

This time the man ringing the bell is Lord Nicholas Stern, the author of the famous Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. The UK Guardian reports:

Stern … said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”

A 4° to 5°C (7° to 9°F) increase would be catastrophic (see World Bank Climate Report: ‘A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And Must, Be Avoided’ To Avert ‘Devastating’ Impacts). Stern continues:

“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”

Stern was not alone in raising concerns at the World Economic Forum:

Stern’s comments came as Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank, also at Davos, gave a grave warning about the risk of conflicts over natural resources should the forecast of a four-degree global increase above the historical average prove accurate.

“There will be water and food fights everywhere,” Kim said as he pledged to make tackling climate change a priority of his five-year term.

The time to act was a long time ago but now is infinitely, existentially better than later.

Joseph Romm's picture

Thank Joseph for the Post!

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Richard Rodriguez's picture
Richard Rodriguez on January 31, 2013

Thanks for the editorial Mr Romm. The sense of urgency is growing. My reserch tells me biomass grass could accomplish more then other biomass in addressing carbon omission concerns short turn.

Truth be told new power plants that can generate power from biomass grass requires subsidies or a catastrophic event to get the worlds attention. A carrbon tax on coal plants could help together with, conversion and cofiring current plants. Financing ultimately is the hold back. Viaspace Inc with their Giant King Grass has demonstrated and proven a dedicated feedstock is available.


Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on January 31, 2013


"The time to act was a long time ago but now is infinitely, existentially better than later."  Sorry but the Lord Nicholas Stern is late to the death dance. Due to several factors that no one included in their "climate models" like methane venting from the permafrost and oceanic methane hydrates and the fact that the gulf stream has turned northward, a diminished albedo etc.. means that we are going to make 4deg C look like it's sitting still when we blow past it.

In 2010 methane started venting from the Siberian permafrost and became exponential a year later. We (humans) have made a blunder of epic proportions and it now looks like we are headed for extinction before mid century. Professor Guy McPherson has been carrying the message {} that was first sent from the arctic by Malcolm Light last February. {}...I have run down all of the references that both McPherson and Light offer and can find no slight of hand anywhere. Nor could I find an agenda other than saving our lives.

It's alarming stuff and I fear that we will ignore it at our own peril. So Stern is correct. We should have acted ages ago but now it's imperative. Light offers a short term plan to address the methane (project LUCY) but we will then need to get serious about stopping carbon emissions ASAP. Considering our track record on that front I'm not sanguine about the outcome.

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