Commentary

The Stern Report makes waves in Paris

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The Stern Report makes waves in Paris

Sir Nicholas Stern visited Paris on 5th February to present the results of his widely acclaimed report on the economics of climate change.

Responding to the invitation of Iddri (Institut du développement durable et des relations internationales), Nick Stern undertook two engagements during the day. In the morning he took part in a meeting with figures from the world of science to discuss the key issues raised in his report.

Later in the afternoon, Stern’s presence was the focus of a public debate at Sciences Po entitled ‘The climatic challenge: an opportunity for Europe?’. This open forum was the occasion to link his global findings to the specific role of Europe. He was accompanied by a rich panel of French personalities from the fields of energy, economics and politics.

A global solution for a global threat

Facing a swarming audience of students, scientists and top French civil servants alike (and also including former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin), Stern presented the main lines of his report, reminding the assembly that the costs of action, if undertaken early, would be very modest compared to the business as usual impacts.

Stern went on to emphasise the nature of climate change as a global public good; international cooperation is needed to avoid ‘free-rider’ countries benefiting from actions taken by others without committing to any shift themselves. Their reluctance to join efforts also undermines the overall effectiveness of initiatives to tackle climate change.

In response, Claude Mandil, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, showed some optimism about multilateral solutions on climate change. According to him, things have been moving very rapidly recently – particularly in the USA and China, but less so in India and Russia.

Arguing that growth and climate stabilisation are fully compatible objectives, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet MP warned against complacency for those defenders of the market as the ultimate tool to solve climate change. She highlighted the role to be played by public policies in accelerating the emergence of clean energy technology.

Caring about future generations

Economists decide upon the value they give to the future in a subjective way, based on their choice of discount rate. The use of a low discount rate in the Stern Report, which contributes to the estimates of high future costs of the impacts of climate change, was saluted by Claude Henry, Professor at Sciences Po, Ecole Polytechnique and Columbia University. He suggested that this use was well chosen as it reflects the care we do show for future generations. In doing so it also highlights how the current generation must internalise the costs of the climate liabilities that future generations will have to bear.

Christian de Boissieu, Head of the Conseil d’Analyse Economique, agreed that this is an essential assumption. If instead we were to project a very low level of intergenerational solidarity, then there would simply be no viable solution to the challenge of climate change. By orienting the choice upon the kind of society one wants to build for the future, tackling climate change is therefore equally an economic and a political choice.

Europe as a leader

It is Europe’s role to develop the right relationship of trust with India and China, Nick Stern explained. Europe has to lead the fight of ideas and solutions. It must lead by example through meeting its own targets in a cost-effective way and supporting the deployment of clean energy technologies elsewhere. These steps, he reckoned, are key to developing a strong international cooperative bloc for the fight against climate change. Europe’s mission to put the necessary political choices on the global stage seems indisputable in an economically globalised world where no corresponding globalisation of politics yet exists.

There was a consensus across the panel around the idea that energy and climate issues have the potential to be the new cement in the ongoing construction of Europe. Action on these issues would prove more efficient in strengthening the European project and engaging citizens than relaunching a debate on a Constitutional treaty,

Threats upon our values

While Europe has much to win from taking the global leadership on climate change, at the same time, not taking this opportunity would leave it at a serious risk to undermining its values. Indeed, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet commented on the democratic test embodied by the climatic challenge: a world forced to function under a strong carbon constraint would inevitably fall into authoritarianism.

Similarly, the pressures Europe is likely to endure as global climate deteriorates are likely to go against its most essential soft-power principles. As Claude Henry put it, as the geographical impact from climate change forces greater movements of population, Dutch migrants escaping floods will be quite easily sheltered across Europe; but how would Europe welcome millions of North African migrants fleeing a sterile land, if not with guns?

Paris, capital of climate?

Nick Stern’s visit closed a series of major events held in the French capital over the last week. These started with the meeting and publication of the first part of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, and was followed by the International Conference for Global Environmental Governance, hosted by President Chirac.

In the run up to the presidential elections where environmental issues are getting more visibility than ever, there is hope that the way forward in French politics may be greener.

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