Building on the Stern Review of the challenge of climate change this book sets out a relatively painless, but still difficult, response for business and government.
Nicholas Stern conducted the Stern Review for the United Kingdom government into climate change and its implications. He has built on that work and proposed a way forward which whilst still very challenging is less frightening than many proposed alternatives responses. However it will still not be easy for governments and other groups to accept. Stern makes clear that delay will only make matters worse and force much more uncomfortable and expensive change in the not so long term.
Blueprint for a Safer Planet is one of several books that provide a vision for dealing with climate change that does not require wholesale lifestyle changes unlike many commentators who propose rather more draconian hair-shirt responses. In that respect a consensus may be forming that will make action acceptable to governments and the business lobby. Indeed such business friendly approaches may be seen as offering a business opportunity as outlined by Adam Werbach in Strategy for Sustainability.
Stern makes the point that the cost of dealing with climate change is modest compared with the amount spent bailing out the financial and industrial economy. Any response to climate change needs to be equitable: climate change has been caused by the developed world. On the other hand the impact of changes to weather patterns tends to fall on the developing world that is less well-equipped to respond.
Ethics therefore needs to be a key consideration in developing a global approach and selfish national or regional interests need to be put aside to avoid conflict or creation of a widening gap between rich and poor.
Although governments have a major role to play Lord Stern makes the point that there are many opportunities for business and even individuals to make their contribution particularly by creating an example that others can follow. He cites examples from his work in India that leadership by example works and creates business opportunity.
Blueprint for a Safer Planet provides a clear vision for governments and business that Lord Stern acknowledges is expensive in absolute terms but is a one-off adjustment that is within the normal variations in the market at around 1-2%. Such variation is routinely accommodated by the market. However it is not just the cost but the political will as well as the perceived economic and business cost.
Like Jeffrey Sachs in Common Wealth Lord Stern sees an opportunity to address wider issues such as poverty and conflict; such issues will be exacerbated by the consequences of climate change causing migration and the displacement of populations.
The content is dense but the writing is straightforward so the arguments are readily understood. However the writing is a little dry which may make Blueprint for a Safer Planet feel a little academic; it would be a shame if the ideas were ignored as a result.
Lord Stern makes a strong case in Blueprint for Safer Planet that Planet Earth is in peril. But he is hopeful as he sees momentum growing and new leaders beginning to face up to the challenge. There is an opportunity in responding to the financial crisis by adopting an approach to rebuilding that is more sustainable. It should be an approach that addresses the need to stop, even reverse, human impact on the environment. He sees it as an inspirational and practical story.
Nicholas Stern is the I. G. Patel Chair at the London School of Economics and also chairs Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. He was Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank and has held senior roles in the UK Civil Service including Head of the Government Economic Service.
He was the author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change commissioned in 2005 by the Government of the United Kingdom.
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