A low-carbon economy is 'attractive in its own right', says Lord Stern

Madeleine Cuff

Eminent economist backs low carbon technology to deliver a 'cleaner, quieter, more efficient' global economy

Former Treasury adviser Lord Stern will today call for world leaders to accelerate efforts to deliver a low carbon economic transition, arguing "remarkable advances" in clean energy technologies makes the development of a green economy "attractive in its own right" even before the impact on climate risks is considered.

Stern will today publish a paper that reconsiders the findings of his landmark 2006 climate change study, which was commissioned by the Labour government to investigate the economics of climate change and famously concluded the costs of inaction on climate change far outweighed the costs of action.

In his new paper Stern says far from being solely a means of risk mitigation, the transition to a low carbon economy is now "attractive in its own right" thanks to swift technological progress and falling manufacturing costs.

"The transition to a low-carbon economy looks to be a path of development and growth that is very attractive in its own right: cleaner, quieter, more efficient, less congested, less polluted, more bio-diverse and so on," the report states.

"And in addition, and fundamentally, it carries much less climate risk. It does require investment and change. It will involve some dislocation. But it seems a very sound and attractive strategy."

The new paper marks Stern's election as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the latest in a long list of accolades for the respected economist. His 2006 study was a landmark analysis into the economic cost of tackling climate change, and grabbed headlines around the world for its conclusion that the cost of tackling climate change would be roughly equivalent to just one per cent of global GDP.

In his latest paper, Stern revises this figure up to two per cent, a result of a decade of rising emissions and stricter guidance on the amount of carbon we can safely burn. However, Stern says the new figure would be far higher without the rapidly falling cost of clean energy.

Negotiators debating an agreement at the upcoming Paris Summit should take the falling cost of clean technologies into account when drawing up a framework for any agreement, Stern advises. He backs proposals for a five-year review mechanism in any new areement, which he argues will allow commitments to be progressively "ratcheted up over time" as the cost of low carbon technology falls and countries increasingly see the advantages of low-carbon growth pathways.

However, governments have a tough task ahead of them if they are to successfully limit warming to 2C as previously agreed. Recent assessments from the International Energy Agency conclude the world is on a pathway to a medium to high emissions scenario over the next few decades that would deliver temperature increases of over 4C this century.

Getting back down to a low emissions pathway - equivalent to limiting warming to two degrees - will require huge investments in energy and infrastructure delivered at an unprecedented pace, Stern warns. Yet both on a national and international scale, huge questions remain over how to fund climate change policies.

The report comes as the UK government is this week expected to announce further details of its plan to cut renewable energy subsidies, with developers and green campaigners fearing sharp reductions in clean energy deployment rates will result.

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