Downturn 'could halve carbon emissions'


CLIMATE CONFERENCE:THE CURRENT economic downturn could result in carbon emissions worldwide falling by as much as 40 to 50 per cent if the slump persists for several years, according to Cambridge University economist Dr Terry Barker.

Dr Barker, who is director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Research, said the Great Depression in the 1930s had reduced emissions by 35 per cent globally because so many factories had closed down, particularly in the United States.

“The depression could be worse this time as a result of globalisation. Emissions in the US fell by 3 per cent last year and could fall by 10 to 20 per cent this year because the economy is dropping like a stone with up to 600,000 a month becoming unemployed.”

Dr Barker said he was “very pessimistic about how long it might last”, having started in earnest on September 15th, 2008, “when the world economy fell off a cliff”.

Since then, it had “come down very fast” and would take quite a long time to recover, in his view. “Early indications are that electricity production is falling or collapsing,” he said.

“Although we are not yet confident in the modelling, carbon emissions could fall by 40 to 50 per cent in a worst case scenario, but would come right back up again when the economy recovers.

“The current global financial crisis must be seen as a timely stimulus to tackling climate change, not a hindrance. If all G20 countries adopted a Green New Deal similar to that proposed by President Obama, the world economy could be greatly strengthened,” he said.

Dr Barker revealed the results of new research at Cambridge showing that combating climate change may be more of a benefit than a burden. “Even very stringent reductions of carbon can create a macroeconomic benefit, if governments go about it the right way.”

He said these benefits would come from greater innovation and distribution of low-carbon technologies, such as electric cars, as well as increased revenues from taxes or permits which in turn could be spent on further support for new technology and reducing indirect taxes.

“The prospect of extra growth for the economy from mitigating climate change also raises the possibility of generating funds for helping developing countries adapt to the changes that are now inevitable. This ‘New Marshall Plan’ for the climate would be beneficial to all.”

Dr Barker was speaking at an international scientific conference on climate change in Copenhagen, where 1,600 scientists were told by leading British economist Nicholas Stern that they need to spell out clearly the “devastating” impacts of global warming.

“You have to tell people very clearly and strongly just how difficult four, five, six or seven degrees Celsius is,” Lord Stern – author of a highly influential economic assessment of global warming – said at an international scientific conference here.

“Billions of people would have to move and there would be very severe conflict,” he said. Even with two degrees of warming, hundreds of millions would face water scarcity while with three degrees worldwide food production would fall, threatening starvation for many.

Lord Stern is on record as saying that scientists and others who still deny the reality of climate change were “flat-earthers”, just as much as those who denied the link between smoking and cancer, or between HIV and Aids.

“They are marginal and they are ridiculous,” he said.

Prof Hans Schnellhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said five degrees of warming would mean the planet could support fewer than one billion people.

But long before then, “we might have something like a global civil war” as people fought for survival, he said.

The conference, which concluded yesterday, was aimed at setting the agenda for the UN climate summit in Copenhagen next December by presenting the latest scientific evidence on global warming and its likely impacts during this century and beyond.