Martin Wolf writes in the Financial Times: The point of the story of the boy who cried wolf is that, finally, a wolf did appear. I feel the same way about the intellectual heirs of Thomas Malthus. Malthusians have finally found a wolf called climate change. Many now agree. But it is far away and coming slowly. "If the worst comes to the worst," mutter the rich to themselves, "we can always let our children cope."

This is the complacency that the latest Human Development Report from the United Nations Development Programme attacks. It does a good job, too. But does it do a good enough job to turn the Bali climate change conference into a call for effective action? I fear not. This is not because it fails to make a morally sound case. It is rather because humanity will change its behaviour only when convinced that the lifestyle the better off enjoy now - and the rest of the world aspires to - remains in reach. This cynical view of human behaviour is fully consistent with what has happened so far. For it is as if the Kyoto treaty had never been. Is this judgment too harsh?

Consider just a few of the many facts contained in this report: atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to rise at a rate of 1.9 parts per million a year; over the past 10 years the annual growth rate of emissions has been 30 per cent faster than the average for the past 40 years; if the rate of emission were to rise in line with current trends, stocks of CO 2 in the atmosphere might be double pre-industrial levels by 2035; and that, argues the International Panel on Climate Change, would give a likely temperature increase of 3°C, though rises of over 4.5°C cannot be excluded. If the science is right, the world is doomed to significant climate change.


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