Adam Ash

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Climate change: the cost of doing nothing vs. the cost of doing something

1. Change of climate
The key point about the economics of climate change, as the Stern review shows, is how little it costs to cut emissions sharply. Despite attacks from Bjørn Lomborg and others, Kyoto remains a good place to start
By Adair Turner/Prospect Magazine

Few respected scientists now doubt that the world is warming, that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are largely responsible, and that there will be significant further warming over the coming century. The pace of change and the impact on the climate of specific regions is debated. But it is clear that global warming is a reality, and that severe consequences—ranging from rising sea levels to the spread of tropical diseases—are likely.

Yet despite wide backing for the recent Stern review on the economics of global warming, the case for significant early action to combat it is still contested by opponents, such as Nigel Lawson (see his " Against Kyoto ," Prospect online, November 2005), who see themselves as introducing economic realities into an overly emotional debate. The House of Lords economic affairs committee produced a report in July 2005 questioning the severity of the problem. Bjørn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus project has argued that offsetting climate change should be a low priority compared with other global challenges, such as Aids. Business lobby groups argue that measures to reduce emissions would harm competitiveness. The Kyoto protocol, in particular, is often attacked as both ineffective and harmful, constraining rich-country emissions but leaving China and India free to use low-cost energy to gain competitive advantage. But these arguments are unconvincing. There is a sound economic case for early action to address climate change. And while Kyoto is an imperfect policy in an imperfect world, its broad approach is right.

(A reminder: the UN framework convention on climate change, signed in 1992, committed the signatories—including the US, China and India—to the principle of action to combat climate change. Within this framework, the 1997 Kyoto protocol committed developed countries, but not developing ones, to cut emissions by, on average, 5.2 per cent below the 1990 level by the end of the first phase in 2010. All developed countries, apart from the US and Australia, are committed by treaty to achieving their targets.)

Projections by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), the UN body charged with analysis of climate change, suggest that without action, global CO2 emissions could reach more than double 1990 levels by 2050. The House of Lords committee based its scepticism on criticism of the economic growth forecasts that underpin the IPCC projections. Some of its technical points were valid, but its conclusion that the IPCC's growth assumptions are too high was not. Over the first 20 years of the IPCC's forecast period (1990-2010), IMF projections now suggest that global growth, driven by China and India, will significantly exceed the upper end of the IPCC's range. Better methodologies in future IPCC reports may actually revise economic growth and emission projections upwards.

Economic growth under "business as usual" assumptions—with no action to curb emissions—will drive a massive increase in the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the half million years before the industrial revolution, CO2 concentrations oscillated between about 150 to 280 parts per million (ppm). They have now reached about 380, and without action are likely to reach between 540 and 970 ppm by the end of this century. The precise implications for temperature are unclear, and the emission reductions required to limit concentrations to a safe level are in turn debated. But avoiding major climate change will probably require radical cuts of 60 per cent or more below business as usual—rather than 5 or 10 per cent. Faced with that scale of adjustment, opponents of action put forward a second argument, stressing the huge costs and arguing that rather than accepting the implications for growth and living standards, the world should adapt to climate change.

But the most crucial finding of climate change economics is that the costs of achieving radical emission cuts are not huge. Relative to total GDP, estimates range from minute to very small. The Stern review's best estimate is that the cost of cutting global emissions by 25 per cent below current levels (and about 60 per cent below business-as-usual levels) by 2050 would be just 1 per cent of global GDP. Assuming global growth of 2.5 per cent a year, that implies average global living standards reaching in May 2050 the level they would otherwise reach in January 2050—by when they are likely to be over twice the current level. If the world does take the steps required to offset global warming, the impact on the growth path of 21st-century global GDP will be almost indiscernible.

This conclusion is central to any debate about climate change policy. It is also relatively uncontentious. Even economists who argue against early action use similar estimates: pessimists may suggest a 3 per cent cut in GDP, but almost no serious economist says 10 per cent. This unanimity reflects the following simple but robust logic. Energy costs in rich countries are typically about 4-5.5 per cent of GDP today, but will fall as the energy intensity of GDP declines. Most renewable technologies—wind power, biofuels, solar energy—are currently more expensive than fossil fuels, but not dramatically so, and their costs are falling. If the business-as-usual scenario is that energy costs would require 3 per cent of GDP in 2050, and we then have to pay 50 per cent more for renewable energy, the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy will be 50 per cent of 3 per cent—1.5 per cent of GDP. But it could be less if we achieve more rapid energy efficiency improvements (more fuel-efficient cars) or make lifestyle adjustments (more public transport and cycling). The balance between these three different types of adjustment—renewable energy, energy efficiency and life-style changes—drives the wide range of possible costs, but even the upper end implies only a minimal reduction in future prosperity. The idea that dramatically reducing emissions entails huge economic costs is a delusion propagated by business lobbyists defending vested interests, and by radical environmentalists who want climate change responsibility to mean the rejection of capitalism.

An economic argument against action to offset climate change can still be made, however. For although it would be feasible to move to a low-carbon economy at a cost of, say, 2 per cent of GDP by 2050, it would not be optimal if the adverse consequences of climate change, or the cost of adapting to it, amounted to less than 2 per cent. Modelling the comparative cost of climate change consequences, mitigation and adaptation is therefore vital to the debate.

Making such comparisons requires multiple assumptions, and different economists using different models produce widely divergent results. But the economic and human costs of climate change will almost certainly greatly exceed the cost of mitigation. The Stern review suggests that under business as usual, the long-term adverse consequences for human welfare could be as high as 5 to 20 per cent of global GDP. And two findings common to the more realistic models provide strong arguments for early action.

First, the implications of global warming combine a high probability of significant harm with an outside, but not negligible, chance of catastrophic effects. This reflects deep uncertainties in both the science and economics. The translation of a given rise in greenhouse gas emissions into temperature increase is inherently uncertain, and is made more so by the possibility of self-reinforcing effects. Warming could result in the release of methane currently trapped in frozen tundra; the resulting increase in greenhouse gas concentrations could drive yet more warming. Several such effects mean that the relationship between cumulative man-made emissions and temperature increase is likely to be strongly non-linear.

But the consequences for human welfare of rising temperatures are also likely to be non-linear: a rise of 4 degrees Celsius is likely to be much more than twice as harmful as a rise of 2 degrees. Given people's desire to avoid even a small possibility of disaster (on which the insurance whole industry is based), these uncertainties argue in favour of minimising the danger of temperature rises above the threshold at which self-reinforcing effects become likely. How that threshold is defined is uncertain, but 2 degrees is more likely to be appropriate than 3 degrees or more.

The second argument for early action is that warmer regions will suffer more than colder ones. Up to a certain level, warming could have positive effects in colder regions. A moderate temperature rise in Canada may result in increasing agricultural yields, but even slightly higher temperatures in India would harm both agricultural productivity and human health. Aggregating these effects, some models suggest that the global adverse consequences of modest temperature rises are insufficient to justify even small mitigation costs, but almost all models show that some regions—such as India and much of Africa—would be significant losers from a policy of inaction. Some economists therefore argue that the developed world, rather than acting to reduce emissions, should instead make income transfers to more vulnerable countries to assist adaptation. But there is no certainty that such transfers would occur and little chance they would be effective, given the complexity of possible climate change effects in fragile physical and political environments. If the sea level rises, there is at least a possibility that the cost of improved flood defences for London would be less than the costs of achieving carbon emission reductions. But if creeping desertification in parts of Africa produces famine and movement of people, the idea that aid transfers could be relied on to offset the consequences is naive. Even if we were confident that warming could be limited to below the threshold at which self-reinforcing effects become likely, policy should reflect the responsibility of rich countries for those likely to suffer the consequences of the industrialisation that made the developed world rich.

The argument that the rich world should begin to address climate change out of responsibility to the developing world is rejected by Bjørn Lomborg, organiser of the Copenhagen Consensus project. Lomborg asked eight economists to consider a set of initiatives that the developed world could fund, and to rank them on the basis of their benefit to mankind. The economists placed three variants of climate change mitigation policy (including the Kyoto protocol) towards the bottom of the list, favouring instead projects to combat Aids and malaria, malnutrition and poor sanitation. Lomborg cites this exercise as evidence that Kyoto was flawed.

This interpretation of the Copenhagen findings, however, is deeply misleading, given the specific question posed: "Where should the world invest, say, $50bn extra over the next four years to do the most good?" It is quite possible, in answer to that specific question, to agree that Aids and malaria programmes should have priority while also strongly supporting early action on climate change. Many actions to reduce emissions do not compete for limited resources but actually release them. If people cycle to work or buy more fuel-efficient cars, they will have more resources available for donations to Aids funds. If governments increase taxes on fossil fuels, thereby encouraging people to behave in a more environmentally friendly way, they will not have fewer resources for supporting overseas development, and may have more. If a company, encouraged by a higher tax on electricity but compensated by a lower tax on labour, identified energy efficiency improvements with a positive return, it would be no less able to make corporation tax payments to support the projects that the Copenhagen Consensus favoured.

The question "Should we spend £5bn more on education or on health?" is meaningful, even if some people reply, "Let's do both." But the question "Should we spend £5bn more on health or should we increase the tax on fossil fuels while cutting tax rates on employment?" is meaningless. Only to the extent that climate change initiatives entail budgetary expenditures—for instance, through subsidised research and development—can they be considered alternatives to the other desirable projects the Copenhagen Consensus project considered.

This does not mean that all climate change mitigation is costless. Improving energy efficiency can be, but requiring individuals to buy more expensive renewable energies would require them to sacrifice other forms of consumption. A key economic issue, therefore, is whether it is best for mankind to make sacrifices now or in the future. Several economists argue that although measures to reduce emissions will be appropriate at some point, most of the reduction should be delayed, since future growth will make people richer and better placed to sacrifice marginal consumption in the future.

But the models on which that judgement is reached are debatable in one respect and deficient in another. The optimal balance of emission reductions over time depends on two key factors: the "discount rate" used, and how the costs of mitigation change over time. The discount rate is the rate of return used to compare the present value of a pound spent today with one spent at some point in the future; for instance, an annual discount rate of 10 per cent would mean that £10 spent five years in the future would be worth about £6.21 now. The appropriate rate to use when discussing climate change is hotly debated. If the discount rate applied is high (some economists argue for about 4 per cent real), the cost in 2100 will count for close to nothing in present value terms, and action should be delayed. But pick a discount rate of 1.5 per cent (as William Cline proposed in his input to the Copenhagen project), and early action to offset future dangers becomes rational. The argument for a lower rate is that the trade-off between consumption sacrifice today and harmful consequences later should reflect rational consumer preferences and ethical considerations of intergenerational responsibility, and that using a 4 per cent rate undervalues the welfare of future generations. Say we knew for certain that climate change was going to destroy human life entirely in 150 years, unless we offset this danger by sacrificing 6 per cent of GDP today. Assuming an annual future global growth rate of 2 per cent—which would mean GDP growing almost 20-fold over the next 150 years—a discount rate of 4 per cent would still argue for taking no action now, since the discounted value of 100 per cent of GDP in 150 years' would be only 5.4 per cent of current GDP. The costs of mitigation would exceed the value of the future damage avoided. Economic theory does not provide a definitive answer in this debate. But it does, as Stern shows, suggest that the appropriate rate to apply to very long-term and very large costs and benefits is different, and lower, than that applicable to typical medium-term investment projects. People who place more value on the welfare of future generations can argue for a lower discount rate, and so for earlier action, without diverging from sound economics.

The evolution of mitigation costs over time was also considered in Cline's input to the Copenhagen project. All of the models cited incorporate assumptions on how renewable energy costs compare with fossil fuel costs at different points in time, and therefore how the costs of reducing emissions from a business-as-usual baseline change over time. But, crucially, all also assume that the costs at any time are exogenously (externally) given, uninfluenced by whether emission reductions have already been made. This must be wrong. The costs of renewable energy alternatives at any date are not predetermined facts but strongly influenced by research and development expenditures. The cost of wind-generated electricity has halved since 1990 and is now low enough to compete with fossil fuel-based electricity without subsidy. This would not have occurred without commitments to emission reductions, which created an assured market and provided an initial subsidy for wind power. Looking ahead, the cost of solar photovoltaic electricity in 2050 will be lower the tighter the controls on carbon emissions imposed in the preceding years.

One of the most important arguments for early action on climate change, then, is that it will not only begin to contribute to emission reductions, but will also provide future generations with a capital base and a set of technologies that will make it easier for them, in turn, to achieve further cuts. The models considered by the Copenhagen project fail to allow for this. Vernon Smith, one of the economists involved in the project who most clearly expounded the "leave climate change to later" view, argues that there is a responsibility on earlier generations to "leave subsequent generations a capital stock which has not been diminished by incurring premature abatement costs." But the capital we leave to future generations is defined in qualitative as well as quantitative terms. If early action to offset climate change reduces GDP in 2050 by 2 per cent (the upper end of typical estimates), the capital stock will probably be smaller by the same amount. But the idea that a capital stock of 100 which does not incorporate energy efficiency and renewable energy developments will better equip future generations to cut emissions than a capital stock of 98 which does is absurd. If all Chinese coal power stations were constructed so as to facilitate the subsequent fitting of carbon capture and storage, the ability of future Chinese generations to cut emissions would be increased, not diminished, even if Chinese GDP in 2050 were marginally lower as a result.

Economic analysis and modelling alone cannot define an optimal climate change policy—too many subjective factors (such as judgements about the value we place on avoiding catastrophic consequences, or on our responsibilities to low-income countries and future generations) come into play. But economic analysis can narrow the range of sensible options. It suggests that the long-term aim should be greatly to reduce the risk of going beyond potentially dangerous thresholds of greenhouse gas concentration and temperature increase. It implies that an optimal policy would be one that avoids early emission reductions so radical as seriously to impede economic growth, while establishing a framework for increasing reductions over time, achieving cuts of, say, 60 per cent below business-as-usual levels within 50 years. And it recognises that even modest early reductions can help to stimulate the technologies that make later reductions less costly.

Against these criteria, Kyoto scores well. The impact on growth of the initial commitments is trivial (models typically suggest at most a few tenths of a per cent of GDP foregone by 2010), but the targets are tight enough, if translated into sensible policies, to stimulate changes in behaviour and technology that will make it less costly to achieve more radical reductions in future. And the framework is designed to evolve over time, with new targets established as information on the science and economics becomes available.

Two arguments are made against Kyoto, however. The first, stressed by Lomborg, is that the reductions are insufficient to make an adequate difference. But this argument is flawed. Any policy framework that would guarantee emission cuts sufficient to offset harmful climate change would have to specify global emission levels from now until the end of the century. Many economists (and, one suspects, Lomborg) would rightly attack such a policy as inflexible, removing our ability to evolve policy in the light of new understanding. Conversely, any framework which preserves flexibility will, in its initial commitments, be inadequate. An optimal framework would entail initial commitments that are in themselves inadequate, but that are intended to evolve into adequate commitments later. Kyoto attempts to strike that balance.

The second criticism of Kyoto is that it constrains only developed countries. In the long run, it is obvious that a global framework must cover all countries, through globally agreed emissions caps or carbon taxation, or a mix of both. But it is simply not credible that developing countries such as India, whose per capita emissions are less than a tenth of those of America, are going to make commitments before they see the developed world taking action. Alternatives to Kyoto—such as William Cline's suggestion that the world should agree an optimal carbon tax—are classic examples of the best as the enemy of the good. The most likely route—probably the only route—to a globally agreed framework is one, like Kyoto, in which rich countries lead the way.

If enough developed countries commit to action, moreover, competitiveness concerns become groundless. Even for countries acting alone, competitiveness is only a constraint on adopting a specific subset of climate change mitigation actions. An individual choosing a more fuel-efficient car faces no competitiveness constraint. Nor does a supermarket investing in energy-efficient refrigeration, or any other business operating in the bulk of the economy not traded internationally. Only in internationally traded sectors where energy inputs account for a significant percentage of costs are competitiveness objections to emission caps or carbon taxes sometimes valid, and these sectors' concerns are hugely reduced if developed countries agree a common approach. Even without US membership of Kyoto, a common European approach covers a wide enough area to make effects on competitiveness trivial. The only exceptions are a few highly specialised sectors, in particular aluminium, where energy costs are huge. Arguments for sensitive treatment of sectors with real competitiveness concerns are valid; the assertion that competitiveness makes action on climate change impossible until Kyoto covers developing countries is nonsense.

None of this is to imply that Kyoto is a perfect policy. Nor is it to argue that flexibility, including political flexibility, isn't crucial in deciding the next steps. America's failure to ratify Kyoto, or to pursue emission targets unilaterally, is regrettable. But the reality is that the US, having failed to act, could not now reach its original 2010 targets without incurring big costs. And it is not going to say, "We were wrong, and we will now sign up"; superpowers do not eat humble pie. Once President Bush has left office, flexible ways will need to be found to re-engage the US with climate change policy, and if and when a comprehensive global framework is agreed, a new name may be cosmetically useful. But the basic approach of Kyoto, far from failing the test of economic realism, is precisely what sound economics dictates.

2. The Trillion-Dollar Question
What's the real cost of climate change, and where do all those numbers come from? -- by Kate Galbraith/Grist Magazine

As serious governments shift the climate-change debate from whether the phenomenon exists to the best means to combat it, one of the first things officials want to know is how much economic damage it will cause -- and how much measures to fight it might cost. It is the trillion-dollar question, and figures are flying everywhere. But what do these numbers really mean? And how can people who space out at the sight of so many zeroes make any sense of them?

The dwindling do-nothing crowd likes to cite the high cost of complying with the Kyoto Protocol, which is supposed to cut carbon dioxide emissions of the industrialized nations that ratified it. In the 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist , for example, Bjorn Lomborg put the cost of compliance at up to $350 billion per year by 2010 (in 2000 values). Even an outlay of this order, he has said, would merely delay warming for six years by the end of the century.

On the other side of the equation are those who tally the cost of inaction. Earlier this month, Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, delivered a major report on the economics of climate change to Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer. Concluding that inaction would essentially reduce global GDP by at least 5 percent annually, he suggested that mitigation, by contrast, would use about 1 percent of global GDP annually. In a widely repeated warning, Stern said that climate change represents "the greatest market failure the world has ever seen."

Many other figures are circulating as well. A 2005 study by Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research puts annual climate change-related costs at "up to 20 trillion U.S. dollars" in 2100 (though her paper does not sufficiently explain the assumptions underlying the model). Another 2005 study, prepared by British scientists for the European Commission's Directorate General for the Environment, set the figure at $73 trillion by 2200 (in 2000 prices).

Both sources are cited in a well-publicized report from Tufts University [PDF], prepared for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. Inexplicably -- and providing a cautionary tale about why one shouldn't blindly trust numbers flung around the internet -- the Tufts report adds an extra $1 trillion to the European Commission figure, bringing it to $74 trillion. That figure is widely cited throughout the report, but the Tufts authors admit that they muddled euros and dollars: the E.C. report clearly states a figure of 74 trillion euros, which equates -- at 2000 conversion rates -- to $73 trillion. Climate change apparently makes $1 trillion seem trivial, to take the charitable view.

All of these figures measure slightly different things. So which ones are right? None, most likely. If predicting changes in temperature and precipitation over the next century is difficult, it is even harder to guess the price tag. But number-crunchers on both sides of the debate will likely keep trying. If nothing else, they hope to remind the world just how much is at stake.

Variable, With a Chance of Showers

An economic figure can have almost infinite variables. Not only do the economic climate models need to predict policy shifts, population growth, and the pace and type of climate changes to come -- more droughts, more severe storms, higher temperatures in some places and lower in others, etc. -- but they also try to quantify things such as agricultural and forestry losses, damage from catastrophic storms, utility costs, savings from efficiency improvements, water shortages, and sometimes even the economic consequences of refugee flows. It is hard enough to put a figure on any one of those costs, let alone amalgamate them.

Whatever the exact figure, it is likely to be high. Losses from weather disasters are already well into the billions. In Texas alone, a drought that began last year has put crop and livestock losses over $4 billion, according to local economists. Losses from Hurricane Katrina have been estimated as high as $135 billion by insurer Swiss Re. These particular events may or may not be related to global warming (and, as always, such numbers should be subject to skepticism). But if global-warming predictions bear out -- with more prolonged droughts, more severe storms, more flooding -- then figures of this magnitude will become standard.

One of the most vexing aspects of predicting climate change, of course, is that future outcomes are highly uncertain. Most models of economic impacts discount the effect of events in the distant future, because they cannot be predicted as easily. But most do predict a range of weather scenarios, and warming watchers are eagerly awaiting next spring's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It will roll multiple models together, a useful exercise last done by IPCC in 2001. Data from the 2001 study, used by many for extrapolation, are already out of date.

As technology and forecasting techniques improve, predictions rapidly grow stale. Stern's report considers that "earlier models were too optimistic about warming," as temperatures may rise by more than 2 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. While the IPCC's next report should clarify that point, climate change may be moving faster than an intergovernmental panel can churn out labor-intensive reports.

Economic predictions, it should be noted, are just as vulnerable to time as weather predictions. If the United States miraculously institutes a carbon tax tomorrow, all the models that predict climate-change costs under "business as usual" scenarios will be immediately obsolete. Similarly, studies such as Stern's that predict the costs of mitigating climate change are also quickly outdated unless action is immediately taken.

Do the Math

If you're still reading, and not entirely scared off, consider a closer inspection of Stern's numbers. His calculations derive partly from 2001 IPCC numbers: he believes that business as usual is likely to "imply a rise of 4 to 5 degrees C or more above pre-industrial levels within the next 100 or 150 years." The study suggests that will lead to an "average reduction in global per-capita consumption of at least 5 percent, now and forever."

But Stern's objective was to find a range of possible outcomes, and 5 percent is at the low end. There are several things that number does not include. It does not take systematic account of "direct impacts on the environment and human health" -- things such as mortality from extreme events like heat waves or tsunamis, for instance. Were these included, Stern says, they could push the cost of ignoring climate change higher, from 5 percent to 11 percent of global per-capita consumption.

He also separately considers two other issues: increased "feedback loops," the sort of catch-22 of climate change -- for example, melting permafrost releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- and the disproportionate impact on the poor. Adding these on, Stern pushes the global-consumption impact number up to 20 percent.

As for the economic impact of mitigating climate change, Stern's 1 percent of GDP calculation rests upon an assumption of stabilization of emissions in the next 10 to 20 years, which he says would make a temperature rise above 4 degrees Celsius unlikely. Even the 1 percent figure is an estimate: It derives from two economic models, one of which shows a range from a 3.5 percent loss of GDP to a 1 percent increase, and the other of which shows a range of a 2 percent loss to a 5 percent gain.

The ranges reflect factors that include "the pace of technological innovation and the efficiency with which policy is applied across the globe: the faster the innovation and the greater the efficiency, the lower the cost." The future benefit of acting today to control emissions, Stern concludes, would be on the order of $2.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion.

Whose Coulds These Are I Think I Know

Stern's conclusions have stirred up severe criticism. Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute thinks his assumptions show signs of cherry-picking: the report used "upper-bound estimates for warming" (i.e., a rise higher than 2 to 3 degrees Celsius), but lower-bound estimates for the economic cost of reducing emissions. Another problem, says Taylor, is that Stern assigns probabilities that are too high to extreme weather events -- for example, the Gulf Stream turning Britain into an ice cube. "We haven't the faintest idea of whether the Gulf Stream will do anything," he says.

In early November, Lomborg challenged the Stern conclusions in The Wall Street Journal , terming them "fear-mongering arguments" that have been "sensationalized." Among his contentions is that Stern "assumes we will continue to pump out carbon far into the 22nd century -- a rather unlikely scenario given the falling cost of alternative fuels." Lomborg also challenges Stern for pegging the social cost of carbon dioxide -- meaning the net present value of the long-term impacts of one ton of carbon dioxide emitted today -- at $85 per ton, while William Nordhaus, a Yale professor and a respected authority on the subject, has put it at $2.50 per ton. (Lomborg's swipe seems to reveal yet another discrepancy: Stern used metric tons, while Lomborg's article referred to the short tons familiar to the U.S.)

It bears noting that scientists who have followed climate change for years have drawn grimmer conclusions as new data have trickled in. Among them is Nordhaus.

In 1999, Nordhaus and a colleague, Joseph Boyer, estimated that the impact of warming would amount to around 2 percent of global output for a 3-degree Celsius rise. This summer, a paper published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put forward a scenario whereby if carbon dioxide concentrations doubled, impacting temperature as well as precipitation, global output could be reduced by 3 percent. Though his model is, by his own admission, somewhat simplistic, Nordhaus says his conclusions reflect an estimated impact from global warming that is "larger than most existing estimates of market damages."

In the end, any calculations such as those put forth by Stern, Nordhaus, Lomborg, or others are enormously complex. They are bound to be subject to criticisms both valid and unreasonable. But are they useless? No.

As Jonathan Pershing of the World Resources Institute puts it, such studies "tend to help you frame your policy ideas," by forcing policymakers to think about different circumstances that might arise from climate change. In other words, we might not know all the answers, but at least we're working on the problem.

(Kate Galbraith is an Austin-based journalist.)


At 11/20/2006 6:07 PM, Blogger Tom Harris said...

61 climate scientists’ letter to the Canadian Prime Minister:

6 April 2006

* Sixty-one eminent scientists in climate and related fields disagree strongly with the “consensus” which Gore and other supporters of the UN say is unanimous. This is the text of the strongly-worded letter which they wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister on 6 April 2006.


cc. Hon. Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment; Hon. Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources

Dear Prime Minister,

As accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines, we are writing to propose that balanced, comprehensive public-consultation sessions be held so as to examine the scientific foundation of the federal government's climate-change plans. This would be entirely consistent with your recent commitment to conduct a review of the Kyoto Protocol. Although many of us made the same suggestion to then-prime ministers Martin and Chretien, neither responded, and, to date, no formal, independent climate-science review has been conducted in Canada. Much of the billions of dollars earmarked for implementation of the protocol in Canada will be squandered without a proper assessment of recent developments in climate science.

Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant. Directing your government to convene balanced, open hearings as soon as possible would be a most prudent and responsible course of action.

While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policy formulation. The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an "emerging science," one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary.

We appreciate the difficulty any government has formulating sensible science-based policy when the loudest voices always seem to be pushing in the opposite direction. However, by convening open, unbiased consultations, Canadians will be permitted to hear from experts on both sides of the debate in the climate-science community. When the public comes to understand that there is no "consensus" among climate scientists about the relative importance of the various causes of global climate change, the government will be in a far better position to develop plans that reflect reality and so benefit both the environment and the economy.

‘Climate change is real’ is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural ‘noise.’ The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to ‘stopping climate change’ would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

We believe the Canadian public and government decision-makers need and deserve to hear the whole story concerning this very complex issue. It was only 30 years ago that many of today's global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe. But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it does not fit with predetermined political agendas. We hope that you will examine our proposal carefully and we stand willing and able to furnish you with more information on this crucially important topic.


Dr. Ian D. Clark, professor, isotope hydrogeology and paleoclimatology, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa
Dr. Tad Murty, former senior research scientist, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, former director of Australia's National Tidal Facility and professor of earth sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide; currently adjunct professor, Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa
Dr. R. Timothy Patterson, professor, Dept. of Earth Sciences (paleoclimatology), Carleton University, Ottawa
Dr. Fred Michel, director, Institute of Environmental Science and associate professor, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa
Dr. Madhav Khandekar, former research scientist, Environment Canada. Member of editorial board of Climate Research and Natural Hazards
Dr. Paul Copper, FRSC, professor emeritus, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ont.
Dr. Ross McKitrick, associate professor, Dept. of Economics, University of Guelph, Ont.
Dr. Tim Ball, former professor of climatology, University of Winnipeg; environmental consultant
Dr. Andreas Prokoph, adjunct professor of earth sciences, University of Ottawa; consultant in statistics and geology
Mr. David Nowell, M.Sc. (Meteorology), FRMS, Canadian member and past chairman of the NATO Meteorological Group, Ottawa
Dr. Christopher Essex, professor of applied mathematics and associate director of the Program in Theoretical Physics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.
Dr. Gordon E. Swaters, professor of applied mathematics, Dept. of Mathematical Sciences, and member, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Research Group, University of Alberta
Dr. L. Graham Smith, associate professor, Dept. of Geography, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.
Dr. G. Cornelis van Kooten, professor and Canada Research Chair in environmental studies and climate change, Dept. of Economics, University of Victoria
Dr. Petr Chylek, adjunct professor, Dept. of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax
Dr./Cdr. M. R. Morgan, FRMS, climate consultant, former meteorology advisor to the World Meteorological Organization. Previously research scientist in climatology at University of Exeter, U.K.
Dr. Keith D. Hage, climate consultant and professor emeritus of Meteorology, University of Alberta
Dr. David E. Wojick, P.Eng., energy consultant, Star Tannery, Va., and Sioux Lookout, Ontario.
Rob Scagel, M.Sc., forest microclimate specialist, principal consultant, Pacific Phytometric Consultants, Surrey, B.C.
Dr. Douglas Leahey, meteorologist and air-quality consultant, Calgary.
Paavo Siitam, M.Sc., agronomist, chemist, Cobourg, Ontario.
Dr. Chris de Freitas, climate scientist, associate professor, The University of Auckland, N.Z.
Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology, Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dr. Freeman J. Dyson, emeritus professor of physics, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J.
Mr. George Taylor, Dept. of Meteorology, Oregon State University; Oregon State climatologist; past president, American Association of State Climatologists
Dr. Ian Plimer, professor of geology, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide; emeritus professor of earth sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia
Dr. R.M. Carter, professor, Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
Mr. William Kininmonth, Australasian Climate Research, former Head National Climate Centre, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; former Australian delegate to World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology, Scientific and Technical Review
Dr. Hendrik Tennekes, former director of research, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute
Dr. Gerrit J. van der Lingen, geologist/paleoclimatologist, Climate Change Consultant, Geoscience Research and Investigations, New Zealand
Dr. Patrick J. Michaels, professor of environmental sciences, University of Virginia
Dr. Nils-Axel Morner, emeritus professor of paleogeophysics & geodynamics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Dr. Gary D. Sharp, Center for Climate/Ocean Resources Study, Salinas, Calif.
Dr. Roy W. Spencer, principal research scientist, Earth System Science Center, The University of Alabama, Huntsville
Dr. Al Pekarek, associate professor of geology, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Dept., St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minn.
Dr. Marcel Leroux, professor emeritus of climatology, University of Lyon, France; former director of Laboratory of Climatology, Risks and Environment, CNRS
Dr. Paul Reiter, professor, Institut Pasteur, Unit of Insects and Infectious Diseases, Paris, France. Expert reviewer, IPCC Working group II, chapter 8 (human health)
Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski, physicist and chairman, Scientific Council of Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection, Warsaw, Poland
Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, reader, Dept. of Geography, University of Hull, U.K.; editor, Energy & Environment
Dr. Hans H.J. Labohm, former advisor to the executive board, Clingendael Institute (The Netherlands Institute of International Relations) and an economist who has focused on climate change
Dr. Lee C. Gerhard, senior scientist emeritus, University of Kansas, past director and state geologist, Kansas Geological Survey
Dr. Asmunn Moene, past head of the Forecasting Centre, Meteorological Institute, Norway
Dr. August H. Auer, past professor of atmospheric science, University of Wyoming; previously chief meteorologist, Meteorological Service (MetService) of New Zealand
Dr. Vincent Gray, expert reviewer for the IPCC and author of The Greenhouse Delusion: A Critique of 'Climate Change 2001,' Wellington, N.Z.
Dr. Howard Hayden, emeritus professor of physics, University of Connecticut
Dr. Benny Peiser, professor of social anthropology, Faculty of Science, Liverpool John Moores University, U.K.
Dr. Jack Barrett, chemist and spectroscopist, formerly with Imperial College London, U.K.
Dr. William J.R. Alexander, professor emeritus, Dept. of Civil and Biosystems Engineering, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Member, United Nations Scientific and Technical Committee on Natural Disasters, 1994-2000
Dr. S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences, University of Virginia; former director, U.S. Weather Satellite Service
Dr. Harry N.A. Priem, emeritus professor of planetary geology and isotope geophysics, Utrecht University; former director of the Netherlands Institute for Isotope Geosciences; past president of the Royal Netherlands Geological & Mining Society
Dr. Robert H. Essenhigh, E.G. Bailey professor of energy conversion, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, The Ohio State University
Dr. Sallie Baliunas, astrophysicist and climate researcher, Boston, Mass.
Douglas Hoyt, senior scientist at Raytheon (retired) and co-author of the book The Role of the Sun in Climate Change; previously with NCAR, NOAA, and the World Radiation Center, Davos, Switzerland
Dipl.-Ing. Peter Dietze, independent energy advisor and scientific climate and carbon modeller, official IPCC reviewer, Bavaria, Germany
Dr. Boris Winterhalter, senior marine researcher (retired), Geological Survey of Finland, former professor in marine geology, University of Helsinki, Finland
Dr. Wibjorn Karlen, emeritus professor, Dept. of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Sweden
Dr. Hugh W. Ellsaesser, physicist/meteorologist, previously with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Calif.; atmospheric consultant.
Dr. Art Robinson, founder, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, Cave Junction, Ore.
Dr. Arthur Rorsch, emeritus professor of molecular genetics, Leiden University, The Netherlands; past board member, Netherlands organization for applied research (TNO) in environmental, food and public health
Dr. Alister McFarquhar, Downing College, Cambridge, U.K.; international economist
Dr. Richard S. Courtney, climate and atmospheric science consultant, IPCC expert reviewer, U.K.

At 12/05/2006 6:51 AM, Blogger Tom Harris said...

Here is the complete text as published today:

No debate on Kyoto
On road to power, Tory MP Bob Mills stopped questioning the need for consultation on global warming science

By: Dr. Tim Ball and Tom Harris, Financial Post
Published: Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Today in the House of Commons, the environment committee meets to consider Bill C-288, An Act to ensure Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Conservative leading the demand for action is MP Bob Mills, the committee chair. What a difference a couple of years makes.

When the Conservatives were in opposition, MP Mills put forward a motion in committee, "That given the importance and impact of the Kyoto Protocol on Canada and the entire world, and given that this committee has never studied the science behind the Kyoto Protocol, that several prominent climate (and other related fields) scientists from both sides of the issue be invited to testify on the science behind the Kyoto Protocol before the Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development at a mutually agreeable time and date."

During the subsequent debate, Mills argued, "To just hear one side of an issue is certainly not what I think a committee should do and it's not in good conscience that we can do that." Committee chair, former Liberal MP Charles Cassia, rebuked Mills, saying, "I couldn't think of a more undesirable use of the committee's time." The motion was soundly defeated.

As the Opposition Senior Environment Critic, Mills often promoted a thorough examination of the rapidly evolving science of climate change. Through numerous Question Period debates, press releases, position papers, newspaper articles and speeches, he repeatedly condemned former Liberal environment minister David Anderson for listening only to climate experts who accepted the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide were causing a global climate crisis.

"The government has apparently accepted the myth that we can magically stop the Earth's climate variations by simply fiddling with our carbon dioxide emissions," Mills told the House of Commons as far back as March 19, 2002. Following the lead of his mentor, Preston Manning, Mills sensibly asserted, "only through encouraging open-minded investigation into the field do we have any hope of understanding what is really happening." Mills sponsored the 2002 science-focused Kyoto "Supply Day" in the Commons that completely dismantled climate change hysteria and he delivered the 11-hour climate science-based filibuster speech in December, 2002.

Somewhere along the road to power, Mills' questioning of the science of Kyoto and his demands for open consultations on the issue subsided. He removed all traces of his previous position from his Web site ( His conversion seemed complete when he told Avi Lewis on CBC TV this September that climate change is a "crisis" to which we urgently need "solutions."

Mills' change of heart has profound implications, not just on his own party, in which open discussion of the vast uncertainties in climate change science has been declared off-limits, but on Parliament in general. With the last of the leading dissenting voices mollified and the rest muzzled, Bill C-288 sailed through the Commons with the problems in the science a non-issue. If it passes final reading and receives Senate support, C-288 would compel the government to create a comprehensive plan to meet our Kyoto targets and to use regulations to implement that plan.

Since Oct. 26, the Commons environment committee, now chaired by Mills, has been examining the bill. Although a number of scientists have already testified and several more are scheduled to appear, not a single expert who disputes the hypothesis of catastrophic human-caused climate change has presented to the committee. Judging from the final list of witnesses submitted by MPs in early November, there are no plans to allow science realists to testify before the committee's work on the bill wraps up in mid-December. This event is for "true believers" only.

Hearing from David Suzuki was considered very important, of course, and so the committee worked hard to arrange its schedule in an attempt to make it possible for him to testify, according to the committee clerk. Following Mills' lead and using almost precisely the same words as Suzuki, Conservative committee member Mark Warawa (parliamentary secretary to the Minister of the Environment) concluded after the testimony of scientists on Nov. 7, "I think we all agree we've moved beyond that [climate science]. There is a sense of urgency. We are experiencing climate change and what we're looking for are solutions." On Sept. 23, Warawa even tabled motions to invite past Liberal environment ministers Anderson and Stéphane Dion, both polished climate change alarmists, to testify. The motions were defeated, although all Conservatives on the committee voted in the affirmative.

Considering how the Conservatives once stood for principled debate and investigation, Canadians are justified to ask why Mills has changed his stance on the need for tough questions. Environmentalist Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, a witness before the committee on Nov. 28, summed up the situation well when he remarked earlier this year that it is not uncommon for opposition parties to change their views on entering government.

It is hard to imagine a more complete U-turn than the conversion of Bob Mills on climate change. He may get the "A from the Sierra Club" that he said he sought during the last election, but future generations of Canadians will give him an F if he doesn't use his new-found influence to inject some science realism into the C-288 committee hearings he now leads.

Dr. Tim Ball, chairman of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project ), is a Victoria-based environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg. Tom Harris is an Ottawa-based engineer and the Executive Director of NRSP.


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