In remarks to the World Bank’s “Financing Climate Action” event on April 21, Baron Nicholas Stern, one of the world’s most influential climate economists, spoke about what he sees as necessary global actions on climate change, including the sale of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles.
“The right kind of policies have to be put in place, including the abolition of fossil fuel subsidies, the advancement of carbon pricing, but clarity on timescales for decentralization of the grid, clarity on timescales for stopping the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles, and so on—making sure the sense of direction is clear in those ways,” said Stern, who served as chief economist for the World Bank from 2000 through 2003.
The World Bank—a multilateral group founded in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and headquartered in Washington, D.C.—lends to poor and middle-income countries. Its private-sector lending is coordinated through a subsidiary, the International Finance Corporation.
The discussion was part of the annual spring meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.
Stern chairs the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Economics at the London School of Economics, founded by members of the socialist Fabian Society in the 1890s, thanks in part to a bequest from a wealthy Fabian “for propaganda and other purposes.”
In his 2006 publication, “The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” the British economist argued that climate change is “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.”
Stern was also asked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has contributed to rising energy prices in the United States and around the world.
“The right thing to do is to move away faster and harder from fossil fuels,” he said, later adding that making that move entails “much bigger capacity for electricity.”
Both Stern and current World Bank President David Malpass, who also participated in the virtual summit, spoke of moving away from coal power, including in developing countries the World Bank works with.
“We’re at the point now where we have to be very concrete in how to close a coal-fired power plant in South Africa or Indonesia. And those proved to be really difficult challenges because of the large cost and the long lifespan of the project,” said Malpass, who served in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Trump administrations, during a conversation with Indonesia’s Minister of Finance Mulyani Indrawati.
“We have to put in place a big transition, and we have to do it now. And of course, exiting coal, moving away from coal, [is an] absolutely core part of that—it’s the lowest-hanging fruit,” Stern said.
“We’re headed for something closer to three degrees than two degrees” Celsius of global warming, saying of recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that “each one that comes through is more worrying than the one before.”
Yet the most recent IPCC physical science report projects that the highest emission scenarios and greatest warming are unlikely.
This suggests that even those scientists who credit carbon dioxide with large-scale global warming may not anticipate the sort of warming that Stern describes.
The report states: “Studies that consider possible 17 future emission trends in the absence of additional climate policies, such as the recent IEA 2020 World 18 Energy Outlook ‘stated policy’ scenario (International Energy Agency, 2020), project approximately 19 constant fossil and industrial CO2 emissions out to 2070, approximately in line with the medium RCP4.5, 20 RCP6.0 and SSP2-4.5 scenarios.”
The SSP2-4.5 scenario wouldn’t yield three degrees Celsius of warming, as shown by the IPCC’s own assessment results for 20-year averaged change in global surface temperature, on page TS-31 of the executive summary for the 2021 physical science report.