Futile Climate Action Would Also Hurt Poor

December 1997

Futile Climate Action Would Also Hurt Poor.

Attempts by governments to cut emissions of greenhouse gases would not only be futile, but would aggravate poverty, slash economic growth, and cause job losses, a British study said.

The study, “Climate Change — Challenging the Conventional Wisdom”, includes contributions from academics in Britain and the United States.

It was published by the privately financed right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) ahead of the United Nations summit meeting on climate change which starts in Kyoto, Japan, this week.

That meeting is part of a process started at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992,  which urged that emissions of carbon dioxide — the most important of the greenhouse gases blamed for warming the atmosphere — be cut back to 1990 levels by 2000.
IEA assistant director Julian Morris, who edited the study, said claims that the world’s climate will change dramatically because of man’s emissions of greenhouse gases — mostly from the burning of fossil fuels — had been exaggerated.

Futile And Harmful
“The authors argue that since emissions of greenhouse gases are unlikely to cause catastrophic climate change — and may even be beneficial — attempting to control the world’s climate by reducing these emissions would not only be futile, it would be harmful, causing poverty and reducing our ability to adapt to a changing world,” Morris said.

But many scientists do not share this sanguine view of the world’s prospects, and believe global warming is a dangerous reality.
The British weekly magazine New Scientist said climatologists fear a lack of action in Kyoto will condemn the world to decades, perhaps centuries, of global warming and climatic chaos.

“IPCC (The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists warn that big cuts are essential soon to slow rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” New Scientist said.

Legally Binding
The Kyoto meeting is charged with setting legally binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions as most nations fall hopelessly short of the goals they signed up to in Rio.

U.S. President Bill Clinton is pushing for industrialised countries to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels by 2012, and wants an international system of trading emissions credits to let industries find the lowest-cost ways to meet the targets.

The European Union wants industrialised countries to agree to 15 percent reductions from 1990 levels by 2010, and says the U.S. plan for emissions trading would allow too many loopholes for countries to escape real cuts.

Impact Exaggerated
The IEA’s Morris said IPCC scientists had exaggerated the likely impact of climate change to heighten public perception of the issue and encourage governments to spend more on research.

The IPCC said in 1990 that world temperatures would rise 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of next century. In 1992 this was scaled back to a gain of 2.5 degrees, and in 1996 to about two degrees.

“Even if a warming of two degrees does occur, the impact on humankind will not be catastrophic. In fact agricultural productivity is likely to increase in many parts of the world due to longer growing seasons and increases in uptake of CO2 by plants,” Morris said.

“Estimates suggest that the cost of reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 are likely to be around one per cent of global output. Even assuming costs were only half that, the result would less investment in the development of new technologies and considerable industrial downsizing and job losses,” Morris said.

Neil Winton – December 1997

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