Review Essay - Tackling Dangerous Climate Change: Slow-Ramp or Springboard?

The Politics of Climate Change by Anthony Giddens . Cambridge : Polity , 2009 . 256 pp., £12.99 paperback, 978 0745646930

A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies by William Nordhaus . New Haven, CT : Yale University Press , 2008 . 192 pp., £17.99 hardcover, 978 0300137484

A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a New Era of Progress and Prosperity by Nicholas Stern . London : Bodley Head , 2009 . 256 pp., £16.99 hardcover, 978 1847920379

In the wake of the failure of the UN climate negotiations in December 2009, hindsight unfairly benefits any review of the various manifestos on climate change policy published before the Copenhagen meeting. The three books in question – by a renowned sociologist (Giddens) and two eminent economists (Nordhaus and Stern) – merit attention on the basis of their comprehensive assessments and aspirations to global policy relevance. All recognise the great difficulties in securing international agreement on strong climate mitigation and adaptation measures, though Giddens’ volume was the most prescient in anticipating the lowest common denominator structure of the Copenhagen Accord. Significantly, given the continuing attacks on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), all three authors also accept its scientific account of global warming. In this review, I highlight the key differences in their prescriptions for policy action to prevent dangerous climate change, which can be characterised as ‘slow-ramp’– gradually increasing restraints on carbon emissions (Nordhaus) – and ‘springboard’– immediate deep cuts in emissions, whether mainly by market mechanisms (Stern) or a broader mix of policy instruments (Giddens).

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