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The Great Recession May Have Been the Best Chance We Had To Address Climate Change

UK economist Lord Nicholas Stern says world leaders see economic prosperity and efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions as antithetical — and that's a mistake.
Imagen por Jose Jacome/EPA

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Conservative political pundits who have long made a sport out of pitting economic prosperity against environmental responsibility. But at least one economist, the UK's Lord Nicholas Stern, says the two are not mutually exclusive.

In fact, Stern said, the financial crisis presented the ideal opportunity to make progress on climate change — but politicians failed to seize the day.

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"Why it is impossible to think about the recession and climate change at the same time I don't really know, but it seemed to be too much for them, when in fact this should have been the period when we were investing like mad," he said.

"Interest rates on the floor, unemployed resources, so much technical progress showing you what's possible — that was the moment we should have really gone for it and we didn't," he added.

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Stern authored the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which explored the impacts of climate change on economic growth and international development. He has argued for years that by postponing action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, governments are in fact making the financial consequences worse than if they take action now.

Stern estimated that a lack of action on climate change could cost as much as 20 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) per year, while investing in carbon cutting strategies might cost around 1 percent of global GDP.

World leaders could yet seize the opportunity to address climate change and achieve economic growth at UN climate talks in Paris at the end of this year, Stern suggested. Diplomats will meet to hammer out an agreement on keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial era levels.

"It is very important as well that we have an objective to go zero-carbon for the world before the end of this century," Stern said. "That is a big ask but perfectly possible and we understand how to do it."

Related: Shell's CEO says we can't burn fossil fuels in an 'unmitigated way'