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Former World Bank Chief Economist on Climate: “I Hope Historians Will See This as a Turning Point”

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In 2006, Lord Nicholas Stern, the prominent British climate economist and former chief economist of the World Bank, published a pioneering report, “The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” We speak to Lord Stern about where we stand almost a decade after he published the nearly 700-page report and what he would like to see come out of COP21. “I hope that the historians will see this as a turning point, where the countries of the world got together to change direction to say we are now moving together towards the low-carbon economy, that this is the growth story of the future,” Stern says. “This is the way that we can get secure growth. This is the way that we can get clean growth.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from COP21, from the U.N. climate change summit in Le Bourget, just north of Paris, France, as we turn to an interview I just did with Lord Nicholas Stern. He’s the prominent British climate economist. In 2006, he published a pioneering report titled “The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” I asked Lord Stern—700-page report—where we stand nearly a decade later.

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: I think when I said that the costs of inaction are much bigger than the costs of action, nine years ago, I think one can make that statement much more strongly now. In the intervening nine years, we’ve seen the science grow clearer and clearer about the risks, the intense risks, of climate change. We risk rewriting the relationships between human beings and the planet. And that, I think, has become clearer and clearer. And, of course, emissions have gone on rising, so the dangers are ever more strong than they were nine years ago. On the other hand, the costs of action, the kinds of technologies we have available, have moved very quickly, much faster than I think many of us anticipated at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: What are those changes in technology that you hold out hope for?

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: I’m not holding out hope for them, in the sense that I can see them. I mean, the price of a solar PV panel has come off by a factor of 10. It’s 90 percent less than it was 10 years ago. That’s remarkable change. And they’re going on down. That hasn’t stopped yet. So it’s not just hoping for; we’ve seen a lot of it. And we can see a lot more coming. Same is true of wind. We’ve learned much more about energy efficiency. We’ve got new materials that help us along the way. We’ve got digital methods of controlling our appliances and our cars and so on, which are much more strong than they were before. We know much more about energy storage, and there’s much more coming. So, I think that the changes are real, because some of them are already with us. But there’s so much more to come.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the greatest threat to the planet right now?

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: Greatest threat to the planet right now is climate change. If we went to 3 degrees—that’s the increase in average global surface temperature above the end of the 19th century—

AMY GOODMAN: Celsius.

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: Celsius, of course—this is science. We would be at temperatures that we haven’t seen on this planet for 3 million years. We would rewrite the relationships between humans and the planet. Some areas would become deserts. Probably much of southern Europe would become deserts. Other areas, like Florida, would be underwater. Other areas, like the Gulf of Mexico and the Philippines, would be hit still more strongly.

AMY GOODMAN: When?

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: Well, they’re coming now. We’re 1 degree now above where we were at the end of the 19th century. We’re going to try to hold to 2 degrees. Some of that’s going to come. And the answer to when is, well, some of it’s here now, and there’s lots more coming. But you’re seeing extremes now. In North West England, you saw rainfalls bigger than they’ve ever been before in the last week or two—not something that’s rare, that becomes less rare; that we’ve never seen before. In southeast India around Chennai, you saw hundreds of people die as a result of rainfalls that have never been seen before. We’re seeing records all the time around the world. So, some of it’s with us now, but that’s at 1 degree centigrade. If went to 2 or 3, the things that we see now as very big would look small.

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.N. climate summit here, COP21, do you think that it will change things?

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: I think and I hope that the historians will see this as a turning point, where the countries of the world got together to change direction to say we are now moving together towards the low-carbon economy, that this is the growth story of the future. This is the way that we can get secure growth. This is the way that we can get clean growth. And it’s going to be much more attractive than what went before, and we can see all the actions that we have to take now in terms of the technologies we’ve got, and we can anticipate all kinds of other opportunities coming forward, as we do and we learn.

AMY GOODMAN: But the countries are putting forward voluntary targets, not mandatory. So what would guarantee any change?

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: The way to get things done is that people want to do them, not because there’s somebody standing around with a sledgehammer to whack them on the head if they don’t. They have to see—and they do see—this is the much more attractive route. That’s the way to get things done.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lord Nicholas Stern, the prominent British climate economist and former chief economist of the World Bank. When we come back, I ask him about Donald Trump and his views on climate change. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Agolo” by Angélique Kidjo, the Grammy Award-winning musician from Benin. She serves as both an Oxfam global ambassador and UNICEF goodwill ambassador. We spoke to her this week here in Paris, France, and we’ll be playing that interview next week, as we talk about the conclusion of the conference, which, by the way, has been extended into the weekend.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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