The global financial crisis provides an opportunity to move fast on climate change, says economist Nicholas Stern. In an interview with the magazine New Scientist, he points out that in a recession, development costs are lower. Key sectors like construction can get a boost from investment. And if we spend now while energy prices are lower, we will see the benefits when they rise again.
'In the long term, investments in low-carbon technologies could provide sustainable and well-founded economic growth, in contrast to the recent booms, and eventual busts, driven by flaky dotcom ventures or inflated house prices,' he says.
Nicholas Stern is the former chief economic of the World Bank who in 2006 equipped the UK Government with a detailed assessment of the massive economic damage that climate change is likely to do.
Since then, he says, it has become clear that the risks and costs are even greater. This means, he says, that we must move fast with low-carbon technologies.
'We will need a revolution that surpasses the scale and impact of previous world-changing technologies such as railways and personal computers.'
He outlines three areas for action.
'First, action is needed to further spread existing low-carbon technologies, such as 'green' household applicances.
'Second, we need more support for the development and scaling-up of technologies that could become commercially viable within the next 15 years, such as second-generation biofuels – which do not directly affect food production – and carbon capture and astorage.
'Third, more effort is required to stimulate new breakthrough technologies that will need to major cuts in emissions beyond 2030.'
And if we can fast enough on all three fronts, says Stern, we have a chance of stopping the global temperature rise from going above 4 degrees C and into a 'potentially catastrophic' region.
And not only that – we can take a big step towards reviving the global economy. But, he says, there is only a very short window of time in which to move.
'The policy decisions have got to be taken in the next three to four months. They take time to kick in. The urgency of decision-making should be very clear to everybody.'