Climate change

By Carlo Jaeger

“The facts, ma’am, just the facts”: these words, attributed to the detective Joe Friday in the American 1950s crime series Dragnet, resonate in today’s eurozone crisis. Will anybody help Angela Merkel, German chancellor and a trained physicist with a sharp analytical mind, to get hold of the facts blurred by this misguided eurozone debate? Or must we wait for François Hollande, Socialist challenger for the French presidency, a European with hyper-sober realism, to grasp the facts his country’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has so far ignored? Read more

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The Copenhagen summit on climate change is going to fall short. Does this matter? Yes and no: yes, because the case for action is so strong; no, because the likely agreement would be inadequate. Tackling climate change will be hard. It is crucial that we achieve the goal effectively and efficiently. The likely further delays should be used to achieve just that. Read more

Ingram Pinn illustration

Barack Obama, president of the US, met Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China, for a private meeting on Tuesday. The agenda was long, covering the world economy, climate change and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The last two are the most important, over the long run. But the first is the most urgent. If we do not achieve a healthy global economic recovery, hope of a co-operative relationship is likely to prove vain. Yet such a recovery is far from ensured. Worse, some of what is now happening – particularly China’s decision to depreciate the renminbi along with the dollar – makes healthy recovery less likely. Read more

By Alan Greenspan

The rise in global stock prices from early March to mid-June is arguably the primary cause of the surprising positive turn in the economic environment. The $12,000bn of newly created corporate equity value has added significantly to the capital buffer that supports the debt issued by financial and non-financial companies. Corporate debt, as a consequence, has been upgraded and yields have fallen. Previously capital-strapped companies have been able to raise considerable debt and equity in recent months. Market fears of bank insolvency, particularly, have been assuaged. Read more

By Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern

We face two crises: a deep global financial crisis, caused by inadequate management of risk in the financial sector; and an even deeper climate crisis, the effects of which may seem more distant but will be determined by the actions we take now. Read more

By Susan Schadler

The debate about how to prevent future crises focuses largely on improving financial sector regulation. Few  ideas have surfaced for strengthening institutional capacity to prevent macroeconomic policy faults, a key factor underlying the current crisis. Here, politicians seem to be settling for more of the same – “firm surveillance” by the International Monetary Fund. Clear thinking on a fresh start is needed.

First, some history. After 25 years of an essentially rules-based international macroeconomic order (fixed but adjustable exchange rates), the post-Bretton Woods system abandoned rules. Instead, flexible exchange rates (initially adopted by large countries and gradually by many others) were expected to put market pressure on countries with unsustainable policies. IMF surveillance -annual assessments of each member’s macroeconomic policies – was to buttress market discipline, especially when countries impeded market forces or markets sent wrong signals.  Read more

by Willem Buiter

From a cyclical perspective, things look bad for Europe, the US and most of the global economy. My contribution to summer cheer is to note that longer-term local and global economic prospects are likely to be worse than expected. So welcome to boom and bust. Welcome to subdued long-term growth prospects. Read more

Something has changed in the debate on man-made climate change: the US is engaged. But its engagement – or at least the engagement of President George W. Bush – is neither enthusiastic nor unconditional. In particular, at discussions among the heads of governments of the Group of Eight leading countries in Japan, Mr Bush stressed that China and India had to participate. In this, he was right: it will be impossible to tackle the problem without the participation of leading emerging countries. The question is on what terms they do so. Read more

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By Martin Wolf Read more

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By Martin Wolf  Read more

By Martin Wolf

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By Lawrence Summers

With the accumulation of scientific evidence and its persuasive presentation to the public, the global warming debate has reached a new stage. Those who still deny that human activity is warming the planet, or claim that “business as usual” can continue indefinitely without profoundly adverse consequences, are increasingly seen as the moral and intellectual equivalent of those who deny that tobacco has adverse consequences for human health. While there is probably excessive euphoria in some quarters over the economic benefit of green policies, it is now beyond debate that there are huge opportunities to reduce emissions with economic benefit or negligible economic cost. It has been estimated that worldwide subsidies to energy use approach $250bn. Read more

In the public at large, including sizeable sections of the business community, a new consensus on climate change has emerged: it is happening; it is important; and something needs to be done. The publication last week of the latest assessment from the intergovernmental panel on climate change and discussions at this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos made the growing agreement on all these points plain.

Yet there is one group among whom dissent reigns: economists. It was to them, above all, that Sir Nicholas Stern’s review on the Economics of Climate Change was addressed. It has failed to persuade. So much the worse for economists, the environmentally minded will declare. Read more

Those who believe in the free market are highly resistant to the idea of man-made climate change, let alone to arguments for government action to halt emissions of greenhouse gases. Is this resistance rational? Or is it another case of the human desire to believe true what is merely convenient? On one point these sceptics are correct: the man-made climate change hypothesis appeals to believers in environmental limits to growth, the evils of capitalism and the need for government regulation. Lord Lawson, the former British chancellor of the exchequer, makes that point well in a recent assault on the activists.* But what should matter is not the emotions that drive the people on either side of the debate, but rather whether the arguments advanced are persuasive. Sceptics start by arguing that the science behind the man-made warming hypothesis is flawed. Some even argue that it is a fraud, in which case it would be the biggest and potentially the costliest ever. Scientific knowledge is indeed provisional. The remainder of Martin Wolf’s column can be read here ( subscribers only). Discussion from our guest economists is free.

What is the chance of effective action to curb climate change? “Not much” is the answer. This is not because the costs of action would be prohibitive, at least according to the report on climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern published last week.* It is because the obstacles to achieving the necessary global co-operation are so steep. Sceptics worry that costly action is likely. But believers in climate change have far better reason to be worried.

The report produced by Sir Nicholas last week called for efforts to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at between 450 and 550 parts per million by 2050. By then, global emissions would have to be at least 25 per cent below current levels, even though the world economy may be between three and four times bigger.

Yet, according to the report, stabilising concentrations at 550ppm might cost only about 1 per cent of gross domestic product, with a range between minus 1 per cent (a benefit) and plus 3.5 per cent (a cost). Thus, the report says comfortingly, we can tackle climate change at minimal cost to living standards. So why, given the growing consensus on the threat, is it so hard to forestall it? It is because this is an extraordinarily difficult challenge for humans to deal with.  Read more

Repent, for the end of the world is nigh. That is a warning one would expect to come from an evangelical preacher or an environmental doomsayer, not from a sober economist. Yet that is, in essence, what Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the British government’s new report on climate change, is saying. The tone may be sober, but the conclusion – act now before it is too late – is not. Hitherto many economists, business-people and politicians, particularly in the US, have argued that, given both the uncertainties and the high costs of taking possibly unnecessary action, the best policy is to wait, see and, if necessary, adapt. The contribution of this report is to reverse that logic. It argues that, given these very same uncertainties and the relatively low costs of acting now, the best policy is action. How and how convincingly does the review make this case? The Read more