Lord Stern's dodgy dossier exposed

Lord Stern was responsible for the 2006 Stern Review (Photo: EPA)

Lord Stern was responsible for the 2006 Stern Review (Photo: EPA)

Apart from Al Gore, NASA’s Dr James Hansen, and the soon-to-be-much-missed head of the IPCC Dr Rajendra Pachauri, no one on earth has been a more voluble and extravagantly hysterical harbinger of Man-Made Eco Doom than Lord Stern of Brentford. (hat tip: Climategate.com and others)

The former Sir Nicholas Stern, you’ll remember, is the funny little World Banker with the accountant’s voice responsible for the 2006 Stern Review. This was the 712-page document, taken very seriously by world leaders, which claimed that Climate Change would be so damaging to the world’s economies it could reduce global GDP by as much as 20 per cent, certainly by at least 5 per cent “each year, now and forever.”

Melting glaciers would cause water shortages for one sixth of the world’s population.

Wildlife would be so devastated that up to 40 per cent of the world’s species might become extinct.

Up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes were hit by drought.

By 2200 the annual cost of dealing with extreme weather events caused by “climate change” would be $23 trillion.

Since writing the report, Lord Stern has by no means seen fit to tone down his Cassandra-like screechings. (The key difference being of course that Cassandra’s predictions were accurate) Here he is in the Times, shortly before Copenhagen:

“If we continue with business as usual we would be looking at temperature increases of 5 degrees centigrade by early next century,” he said.

“We have not seen those sort of conditions for 30million years. These kind of changes will have huge consequences — southern Europe is likely to be a desert; hundreds of millions of people will have to move. There will be severe global conflict.”

It is a crisis, he said, that “will come to us incredibly fast and the scale of the risk is huge”.

Only through massive carbon reductions, swingeing taxation and massive governmental expenditure, argued Stern, could the crisis be resolved:

Rich countries would need to commit themselves to spending $50billion (£31billion) a year by 2015 to help poor countries to deal with the costs of adapting to the climate change that was now inevitable. The US would need to provide perhaps $20billion of this total, he said, while the UK would need to spend $5billion a year — equivalent to £53 for every man, woman and child.

“In the next five years if the rich world can’t put $50billion on the table then there will be real questions about whether or not they are serious,” Lord Stern said. “I would see the US as giving at least $15billion to $20billion, but that is small beer in terms of the US economy. I believe President Obama understands this very well.”

Also, Lord Stern argued, we should all turn vegetarian.

“Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

But as Roger Pielke Jr – environmental sciences professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder – first noticed in a 2007 peer reviewed paper, the numbers in the Stern Review just don’t add up. He estimated that as much as 40 per cent of Stern’s projections for the costs of unmitigated climate change are a crock, based on misuse of a single study  (Muir-Wood et al. 2006) about the effects of hurricanes.

Now, Pielke has noticed, some discreet, face-saving tinkering has been going on. In the original version of the Stern Review the estimated damage caused by hurricanes in “costs as a percentage of GDP” was 1.3 per cent. But in the new version in the British government online archive, this has now been sneakily amended to the rather more modest 0.13 per cent.

What Pielke finds slightly worrying is the underhand nature of the correction:

There is no note, no acknowledgment, nothing indicating that the estimated damage for hurricanes was modified after publication by an order of magnitude. The report was quietly changed to make the error go away. Of course, even with the Table corrected, now the Stern Review math does not add up, as the total GDP impact from USA, UK and Europe does not come anywhere close to the 1% global total for developed country impacts (based on Muir-Wood), much less the higher values suggested as possible in the report’s text, underscoring a key point of my 2007 paper.

Consequently, anyone wanting to understand or replicate my analysis from the original source would no doubt be confused because evidence of the error in Table 5.2 was quietly changed after the publication of my paper. Had they noted the error it would have obviously led to questions about the implications, and ultimately the bottom line estimates of the costs of unmitigated climate change. Rather than rewrite the report, apparently, it was decided instead to rewrite history. Fixing facts to fit a policy conclusion is not a good idea for any government, but to do so with the quiet participation of leading academic advisors is doubly bad. Once again, not good.

This is not, of course, the first time the Stern Review has been found wanting. Not long after his report came out, Dr Richard Tol, one of the world’s leading environmental economists, dismissed its more lurid projections as “preposterous”.

Dr Tol concluded: “In sum the Stern Review is very selective in the studies it quotes”, invariably seeking to emphasise only “the most pessimistic” of them. The report, Dr Tol added, could only be “dismissed as alarmist and incompetent.”

Yet on Lord Stern’s expert say-so, we are supposed to give up meat, squander 1 per cent of our GDP and ruin our industry with ever-more-stringent carbon emissions reductions. Mightn’t it have been nice if this leading economist learned the difference between his 1.3 and his 0.13 first?