The IPCC and the cost of mitigation


in Daily updates, Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Butterflies and moths

The second half of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report has now been released (PDF). Much like the earlier Stern Review, it was intended to assess possibilities for mitigating climate change and the costs associated with them. As with the Stern Review, the conclusion is that the problem can be dealt with at a fairly modest cost. Certainly, the sums in question are much smaller than the costs that would arise if the worst possible consequences of global warming were realized: from large-scale migration, to problems with C3 crops, to widespread agricultural failures (see this article on the ongoing Australian drought). The Economist is calling it “a bargain.”

That the Stern findings and those of the IPCC broadly agree is not at all surprising. After all, the Stern Review was based almost entirely upon the scientific conclusions of previous IPCC reports. Even so, such agreement can only help to foster increased political consensus, both within and between states, that climate change should be and can be dealt with. More than ever, it seems as though we are witnessing the start of a serious progression towards a low-carbon society.

Dealing the the problem of climate change will require unprecedented foresight and cooperation. As such, it is not unreasonable to think that the emergence of the kind of international regime that would be necessary to address it will foster cooperation in other areas. Something like global fisheries management does not have the same level of importance as addressing climate change, but the tools that will need to be developed to sort out the latter may advance our ability to behave more appropriately in relation to the former.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon @ Wadh May 4, 2007 at 6:56 pm

Looks like someone was lucky in his choice of research topic. This stuff is all the rage now.

. May 4, 2007 at 11:42 pm
Antonia May 7, 2007 at 3:48 pm

‘global fisheries management does not have the same level of importance as addressing climate change’, except that the fundamental change in attitudes to the ‘cost effectiveness’ of exploiting resources should be expressed across the board or it won’t stick.

Milan May 7, 2007 at 3:53 pm


I disagree. It may only be possible for a climate change level response to be generated in response to issues as threatening as climate change. For it to ‘stick’ in dire cases doesn’t require that it be expanded to important but non-critical cases.

. December 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

“Uncertainty about the consequences of climate change makes it hard to persuade people to spend money on it, for where the damage is uncertain, so are the benefits of averting it. Yet uncertainty is also why mankind needs to take the problem seriously. If we were sure that the temperature would rise by 2-3ºC, then we could choose to live with that. But we do not know how far the rise might go. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body set up by the UN to establish a scientific consensus on the subject, puts the range of possible increases by the end of this century at 1.1-6.4ºC. At the bottom end of the range, the difference would be barely noticeable. At the top end of the range—well, guesses about what the world would look like then read rather like science fiction.

Although the benefits of averting that sort of catastrophe are incalculably large, the costs of doing so should not be enormous—as little as 1% of global output, if policy is well designed. This newspaper reckons that the world should fork out, rather as householders spend similar proportions of their income on insuring their homes against disaster.

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