Investment summit: Climate change debate

Allegations of hysteria and false claims regarding the extent of global climate change were debated in the third session of the Fund Strategy Investment Summit in St Moritz today.

Both speakers in the debate, James Heartfield, the author of Green Capitalism: Manufacturing Scarcity in an Age of Abundance and Trewin Restorick, the chief executive of the Global Action Plan charity, agreed that the extent to which the climate is changing has been exaggerated by some.

In his opening address, Heartfield argued there is a “world of difference” between what the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) – a group of international scientists – says is happening and how it is reported by many. For example, the IPCC forecasts that by 2100 the average global temperature will rise by between one and four degrees Celsius, while many in the media suggested there would be an 11 degree rise.

“It’s all about grabbing attention,” said Heartfield. “Hysterical projections have been made over time but with little basis in fact. Where would President Obama’s Green Deal come from if it wasn’t for a terrifying prospect behind it?”

Heartfield’s argument is the creation of this hysteria has become a way of making money: what he calls “green capitalism”.

However, Restorick said he had no problem with individuals or companies making money out of climate change. He also agreed that there has been some hysterical projections related to climate change but said the extent of the real problem is worse than Heartfield makes out.

“The science behind climate change is very complicated and difficult to pin down, but we are in unprecedented territory,” he said. However, he argued the IPCC statistics quoted by Heartfield are probably too conservative and that scientists have since said carbon emissions are rising faster than they initially predicted.

Restorick also pointed to the £3 billion cost of the floods in Britain between June and July in 2007. He warned of the further financial costs to come if nothing is done to address the problem of extreme weather-related events caused by global warming.

So what should be done? Curbing and cutting the cost of energy was agreed to be the wrong response, but Heartfield argued the proposed green growth solution was a “square the circle solution”.

Indeed, while Restorick argued proposed reforms to carbon trading will improve things, he conceded that nuclear energy was part of a “needed solution”, despite having started out as an anti-nuclear campaigner. He said one reason for his change of stance was that technology has solved the problem of nuclear waste.

“A lot of the environmental movement is coming round to nuclear,” he said.