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Nick Stern’s new book

by Mel Starrs on May 7, 2009

in Economics, Events & Conferences

Sometimes it’s good to get to events which don’t have a construction or buildings focus. Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I heard that Nick Stern (aka Professor Lord Stern of Brentwood) was presenting a public lecture about his new book at LSE on 21 April. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to listen to a celebrated economist talk on 2 of my favourite topics after buildings – climate change and economics!

It’s been 2.5 years since the Stern review catapulted Nick into the public consciousness. Since leaving the government shortly afterwards he’s been keeping busy, proposing green new deal’s and writing “Blueprint for a Safer Planet“.

An mp3 of the event (76 mins) is available from the LSE website or the Guardian if you want to listen to the whole thing. Unfortunately the slides aren’t available. James Randerson has a slightly more coherent take on the event in the Guardian here. The FT also did a review of the book when it came out at the beginning of the month.

The need for addressing carbon was covered with a swift dash through the Hadley/IPCC climate data. I suspect most readers of this blog will know the headline figures, so I’ll not regurgitate here.

Three actions

  1. Energy efficiency
  2. Develop low carbon technologies and activities
  3. Halt deforestation

He illustrated many of the cost issues with McKinsey’s now famous abatement curve (first published in January 2007, revised this year and available here – the full report is 190 pages).

McKinsey abatement curve to 2015

How much will it cost? 1.95% of GDP (unless GDP drops). Stern admitted some flab in this number and cost is likely to drop with technological progress. Think of it as an insurance premium for a few decades. Drivers of growth over the next few years will be technological, towards a low carbon economy. Why not strive for zero growth now? He believes we need a growth story to deal with world poverty. We don’t need growth forever, afterall forever is a long time.

As it turns out, Stern’s views on CCS were fairly prescient, given the post-budget announcement that potentially all new coal power stations will have to have CCS. Stern asserted that CCS was fundamental, as we need to know quickly if can we do it in (i.e. in the next 10 years). 50% of the world’s electricity is currently coal fired. If not we move to plan B, which will be much more expensive. Developed countries have to take the lead on this to ensure China, India and other developing countries do not have any excuse not to follow it.

Some more in the press re:CCS since I went to the event – according to The Week (can’t find a direct link to the article) coal still provides a third of the UK’s electricity. Proportions abroad are much higher: 50% in the US, 70% in India and 80% in China. Ed Milliband’s requirement for CCS on new UK coal stations only covers 25% of their emissions, rising to 100% in 2025.

In the Q&A, we discussed political will. Stern made the very good point that if we want things to change, it is quite within our own remit to lobby politicians and businesses for the change – they are humans after all, and ought to listen to reason.