Last week, in the midst of COP16, I caught up with Lord Nicholas Stern at the World Climate Summit. Lord Stern is one of Great Britain's top economists and the author of the influential Stern Review on the economics of climate change. Given his important role in the negations, the only time Stern had for an interview was while he drove from one venue to the next (see video below).
Sitting in the backseat of the taxi, I asked what he expected out of the deal that was being negotiated. He responded that he didn't expect a "signing and dancing" agreement, but he was hoping for "progress on a number of different strands." And this hope was granted: the agreement adopted early on Saturday morning made significant progress on forestry, technology transfer, climate finance, and other issues. (To see a good summary, I recommend Andrew Light's piece in Grist.)
I also asked Lord Stern about the cost to the economy. Most economists say that it will be costly to switch away from fossil fuels and reinvent the way we use energy. Yet so many businesses were in Cancun talking about the exciting businesses solutions to climate change. Furthermore, most environmental campaigners talk about "green jobs." Do these opportunities and new jobs offset the costs?
Stern responded that the economic opportunity was real, and that instead of talking about "costs," we should talk about "investment." He did admit that there will be "some dislocation" as dirty energy jobs are destroyed and clean energy jobs are created. But he was also quick to add that "when the electric light came in, the whalers and the candle makers had to adjust." We shouldn't try to save the jobs of the old economy; we should instead celebrate innovative solutions.
When I asked how to communicate his research to the public, he said, "We need to show much more strongly the opportunities." He explained that this new industrial revolution would be "a much more attractive way of consuming and producing." This message, he says, has to come not only from economists like him, "but also in particular from businesses," as many businesses are already showing that solutions are possible.