Socialist Worker

Climate change: The Stern report sees the dangers, but not the solutions

by Kelly Hilditch
Issue No. 2025

The Stern report, which was published this week, is a significant report into the economic effects of climate change. It acknowledges that climate change is happening and calls for immediate action.

It accepts that climate change is being driven by the free market. It says, “The full costs of greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of climate change, are not immediately - indeed they are unlikely ever to be - borne by the emitter, so they face little or no economic incentive to reduce emissions.

“Given the magnitude and nature of the effects [of climate change]… it has profound implications for economic growth and development. All in all, it must be regarded as market failure on the greatest scale the world has seen.”

But its solution is not to move away from the market.

The report states that the cost of acting now will be around 1 percent of the world’s economic output - a figure which will get much higher if nothing is done.

It lays out serious targets for reducing carbon emissions - 60 percent by 2050. This is an improvement on previous figures, but still not tough enough according to many.

Despite the positives the 700?page document is littered with references to solutions being, “cost-effective”, “without unnecessary cost” and references to “profitability”.

Transport is the fastest growing source of global carbon emissions. It is currently responsible for around 14 percent.

The report recognises that the market “may struggle to deliver” a reduction to this, but then goes on to focus on the development of biofuels and how to support private companies.

Respect environment spokesperson Elaine Graham-Leigh said, “We need an integrated public transport system which would provide a real alternative to driving and flying, but this is only possible if it is renationalised and run for need not profit.”

The report discusses the use of carbon trading. The basic idea is that the planet can only afford only so much carbon produced each year and that quotas to produce carbon can be bought and sold on the market.

The report says, “In practice, tradable quota systems - such as the European Union’s emissions-trading scheme (ETS) - may be the most straightforward way of establishing a common price signal across countries.”

Using ETS as a basis is flawed. It has been reported that in the first phase of the programme - January 2005 until the end 2007 - European governments have handed out more permits than were needed.

So the amount of carbon companies in Europe were permitted to produce allows them to increase emissions. The “value” of the permits on the market has also crashed.

Despite this Britain went over its limit in 2005.

The Stern report goes on to suggest that, “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol embody the core principles of a multilateral response to climate change.”

But some of the world’s worst emitters, including the US and Australia, have not signed up to Kyoto. Many of the signatories could fail to meet their targets - despite widespread agreement that the targets are too low.

Under the current system, carbon trading will reinforce the gulf that divides the world’s richest from the poorest.

It will take much more radical solutions than the report recommends to save our planet. Capitalism is based on the drive for profits above all else. Restrictions on this will be resisted by the corporations.

A society which puts human need and the environment first is the only way we will be able to tackle this crisis. To get this fundamental change it will take a huge challenge to those who rule our world today.

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