PARIS, France ~ Reactions to a major climate change report warning against environmental catastrophe ranged from chilly skepticism in the US and Australia to tepid-to-warm endorsements in Japan and Europe.
The 600-page Stern Report, released on Monday in Britain with the backing of Prime Minister Tony Blair, concluded that unchecked global warming could destroy 5-20 percent of global gross domestic product every year unless economic measures are quickly taken.
Former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern, who headed the study, singled out the United States, China and India as powerhouse nations whose backing is crucial for a global solution, though he said rich countries should pay more than poor ones in efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
There was scant official reaction in Washington, where the White House only acknowledged the report’s release, but the market-oriented Cato Institute – whose views on this issue are similar to the Bush administration’s – challenged both the science and the policy prescriptions in the study.
The Stern Report “flies in the face of the academic literature on the subject, which finds that climate change would have only a modestly negative effect at best” on developed economies, insisted Jerry Taylor, a Cato senior fellow and energy expert.
“There are approximately as many economic gains associated with warming as there are economic costs,” he said.
Neither Beijing nor New Delhi, the second- and fourth-largest producers of carbon dioxide emissions in the world after the United States, commented on the report.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, however, pointed an accusing finger at both countries as major polluters, saying Australia had not ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol mandating reduced emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming because neither Asian giant was subject to restrictions.
“You cannot have an effective response to global warming unless you have all of the culprits in the net,” he said during a rowdy session in parliament on Tuesday.
“Kyoto does not impose the obligations it would have imposed on Australia on countries like China and India.”
Australia, rich in the fossil fuels such as coal, which are blamed for global warming, is the world’s worst polluter on a per capita basis, but is responsible for only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In Japan, where the Kyoto Protocol came into being, the government offered cautious approval to the British government study. By sharing information “we will increase awareness of global warming through the world,” said Go Kobayashi, head of climate change policy in the ministry of environment.
Reaction in Europe to the report – which calls for carbon pricing and major support for the development of low-carbon technologies – was more positive, with the European Union and individual member nations endorsing its findings.
“The conclusions of this report impose a new political orientation,” said Italy’s Ecology Minister Alfonso Pecorario Scanio.
“Translating the impact of climate change into costs and financial impact must have an effect on even the most recalcitrant government,” the minister said, according to press reports.
France also backed the findings and announced that ministers would meet in the coming days to decide on a raft of new measures in favor of sustainable development.
Environment Minister Nelly Olin said she was “absolutely in agreement with her British colleague on the question” and that they would defend a common position during UN climate change talks in Nairobi on November 15.
French Economy Minister Thierry Breton however noted that France ranks favorably when it comes to per-capita greenhouse gas cuts, and appealed to the United States, India and China in particular to cut greenhouse emissions.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has welcomed the report, saying Monday that the “European Union has to take the lead in the fight against climate change.”
Stern’s findings received even stronger endorsement from the Greens-European Free Alliance, a political grouping in the European Parliament, which said “climate change has to be the top priority for global leaders.”
“The EU must drive for an agreement between all nations” at the upcoming UN conference on climate change in Nairobi, it said in a statement.
By Marlowe Hood