A Missed Opportunity: The Stern Review on Climate Change Fails to Tackle the Issue of Non-Substitutable Loss of Natural Capital
The Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change is one of the few cost-benefit analyses of climate change to come out in favour of immediate and decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The choice of a low discount rate is the main reason for the Review’s divergence in conclusions compared to other economic studies. I argue that the Review’s ethical reasons for a low discount rate are defendable, but unlikely to find wider public support. In order to justify spending a large amount of scarce resources for the purpose of limiting climate change, it is necessary to move beyond the discounting debate. Unfortunately, the Review did not develop a persuasive argument for why climate change threatens to inflict upon future generations irreversible and non-substitutable damage to and loss of natural capital. This represents a missed opportunity as it would have provided a much more compelling case for drastic action than the Review’s arguments for a low discount rate.