Warming World, Cooling Profits

Climate change could send the global economy into a serious recession, according to a report released today by United Kingdom chief economist Nicholas Stern. The study also makes recommendations on ways to slow and potentially stop further climate change.

Most studies on the effects of global warming have predicted that the detrimental effects on the world's economy will be minimal to modest. Those forecasting a more radical impact assume that changes in weather patterns will wreak havoc on fishing and farming and will displace millions of people via hurricanes, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events. Yet even these studies don't go far enough, according to Stern's report. Part of the problem, he and colleagues note, is that previous economic studies underestimated the rise in global temperatures caused by climate change. Using a more accurate estimate, the group predicts that climate change could slash the global gross domestic product by 5% to 20%.

On the positive side, countries could reduce this loss to 1% by investing in more environmentally friendly technologies, according to the report. Toward that end, Stern's team calls for an integrated international approach to tackling global warming. But it also reminds rich nations that they have to bear the brunt of the economic investment, especially those in Europe and North America that are responsible for 70% of all carbon dioxide emissions to date.

"The study establishes some very useful common ground," says Richard Richels, director of global climate change research at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California. "There are a lot of things in the report that people from different parts of the political spectrum already agree upon."

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