As climate changes, can we?

If there were any remaining doubt about the urgent need to combat climate change, two reports issued last week should make the world sit up and take notice.

First, according to the latest data submitted to the United Nations, the greenhouse gas emissions of the major industrialized countries continue to increase.

Second, a study by a former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, called climate change “the greatest and widestranging market failure ever seen”, with the potential to shrink the global economy by 20 per cent and to cause economic and social disruption on par with the two world wars and the Great Depression.

The scientific consensus, already clear and incontrovertible, is moving towards the more alarmed end of the spectrum. Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that warming has reached dire levels, generating feedback loops that will take us perilously close to a point of no return.

A similar shift may be taking place among economists, with some formerly circumspect analysts saying it would cost far less to cut emissions now than to adapt to the consequences later.

Insurers, meanwhile, have been paying out more and more each year to compensate for extreme weather events. And growing numbers of corporate and industry leaders have been voicing concern about climate change as a business risk.

The few sceptics who continue to try to sow doubt should be seen for what they are: out of step, out of arguments and just about out of time.

A major UN climate change conference opened on Monday in Nairobi. The stakes are high. Climate change has profound implications for virtually all aspects of human well-being, from jobs and health to food security and peace within and among nations.

Yet too often climate change is seen as an environmental problem when it should be part of the broader development and economic agenda. Until we acknowledge the all-encompassing nature of the threat, our response will fall short.