June 2009

Arts & Letters

‘A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a New Era of Progress and Prosperity’ by Nicholas St

By Alexandra de Blas

For Nicholas Stern, the UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen in December is the "most important international gathering since the Second World War". If we fail to get it right, we risk years of dangerous delay, with dire consequences for the Earth and for future generations.

In A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, Stern argues that we have the knowledge to act now, and that the outcome will be a cleaner, safer, more biodiverse and more prosperous world. The alternative - business as usual - will cost more, undermine growth and lead to immense conflict, dislocation and loss of life. Stern slices through the flawed arguments of prominent economists who call for initial action to be small-scale. Delay will greatly exacerbate the burden on society. There is no time to waste. The argument about whether we should act strongly and urgently is over - or should be.

Stern is a former Chief Economist of the World Bank and the author of the influential Stern Review on the economics of climate change. His short, accessible and comprehensive blueprint outlines how to move toward a global agreement, and gives those following the Australian debate a broader, international context.

Climate change and world poverty are the two big issues of the century and the solutions to each are inextricably linked. For Stern, we either succeed on both or fail on both. The book is sprinkled with examples of effective policies and strategies for reducing emissions while fostering new industries and jobs. It will be particularly valuable for those in business and politics and has the potential to be a significant catalyst for change.

Although Blueprint takes a stronger position than the Stern Review, many environmentalists and scientists will find the politically pragmatic target it aspires to - holding greenhouse-gas concentrations at or below 500 ppm CO2e - unacceptably weak. Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argue that it is dangerous to go beyond 450 ppm, while new evidence has led the Potsdam Institute's Hans Schellnhuber and others to call for tougher limits of around 300 ppm.

No matter how effectively we cut emissions, however, the climate is warming. This well-written book shows how and why all countries should be planning to adapt to the immediate threat.

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