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Amartya Sen, Terry Barker and the Stern Report

Terry Barker (Co-ordinating Lead Author, Working Group 3 (Mitigation), Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and Director, 4CMR, Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research) responds to Nigel Lawson in a letter to the Financial Times that “the Stern review has been praised by the Nobel Prize-winning economists Kenneth Arrow, Robert Solow, James Mirrlees, Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz“.

Is that true? A well-known quote by Mr Sen on the Stern review: “The stark prospects of climate change and its mounting economic and human costs are clearly brought out in this searching investigation. What is particularly striking is the identification of ways and means of sharply minimizing these penalties through acting right now, rather than waiting for our lives to be overrun by rapidly advancing adversities. The world would be foolish to neglect this strong but strictly time-bound practical message“.

Case closed? Not yet.

Here’s some more in-depth thoughts by Mr Sen: “[…] for the purpose for which the report was solicited, the job that was done […] adequately, and you know to say that whether you can judge whether it’s a good economics report that’s a different issue, its not a good economic question to ask the very specific question […]

As Clive Spash reports, one is left wondering if Mr Sen has read the Stern review, or perhaps just a brief summary. For example, how else could a Nobel Prize in Economics make the mistake of “wrongly refer[ring] to the control benefits as costs and the Report as a cost-effectiveness analysis. This is not a cost-effectiveness analysis as the statement from Stern makes clear“?

The conclusion is: endorsements by famous names are no guarantee of quality.

Actually, such endorsements may mean absolutely nothing, because famous names may be too busy to read what they are endorsing.

And in the case of Amartya Sen and the Stern review, it appears that the former was already convinced enough of the urgency of the climate change issue, not to deem it necessary to read what Stern had actually written.


My feeling is that Terry Barker knows all that very well. The whole polemics with Nigel Lawson would have no meaning, without Barker’s mentioning of “The prospect of climate chaos is alarming but not, I submit, alarmist.”

In other words: the only way the IPCC Co-ordinating Lead Author for the WG3 (Mitigation) is able to justify mitigation, is by talking of the “prospect” (i.e. a future possibility for which no probability is given) of “climate chaos“: a prospect that goes beyond the IPCC’s own WG2 findings.

Comparing that unknowable prospect with the real-and-present evidence of climate change mitigation policies including biofuels being one of the causes of worldwide hunger and unrest, I opt for no mitigation, thank you.

0 replies on “Amartya Sen, Terry Barker and the Stern Report”

I’m not surprised at Dr Barker’s defence of the Stern Review, he wrote large chunks of it, with some colleagues from the Tyndall centre.

A brief reminder of some of the comments from the Tyndall Web site re Dr Barker and the Stern Review:

“Terry Barker, leader of Tyndall’s CIAS programme of research (Community Integrated Assessment System) and Director of 4CMR, set up a project to conduct a meta-analysis of the literature on the costs of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) mitigation with induced technological change, funded by HM Treasury. This generated a report for the Stern Review.”

A Tyndall Briefing Note from April 2005 is available on Terry Barker’s area of Tyndall Centre research, called ‘New Lessons for Technology Policy and Climate Change. Investment for Innovation; a briefing document for policymakers’:

Tyndall Briefing Note 13
Terry Barker, Rachel Warren, Robert Nicholls and Nigel Arnell were asked for their comments on various parts of the draft Stern report. Finally Terry Barker read and edited the Modelling Costs Chapter of the Stern Review.”

Tyndall also had a researcher seconded to Stern for a year

He was a Co-ordinating Lead Author (CLA) for the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report taking responsibility for the chapter on the effects of greenhouse gas mitigation policies on the global energy industries and a member of the core writing team for the Synthesis Report Climate Change 2001.
He was CLA for the Fourth Assessment Report for the chapter on cross-sectoral mitigation.

4CMR was opened in January 2006 by Sir David King, then Chief Scientific Advisor to HM Government.

A few of Director Dr Barker’s comments are here:

“The Centre is focussed on computer modelling of mitigation, or slowing down, of climate change. It would be better to stop the change, but that is impossible. We are committed to it. But hopefully future generations are not yet committed to catastrophic change.”

“It may seem astonishing, but the global climate models, providing governments with estimates of the costs of climate stabilisation are nearly all reliant on one year’s data.”

“I also want to thank Cambridge Econometrics, who is working closely with us to support the research programme. We would not have been able to build our global model without the company’s help.”

This was the entry for Terry Barker on the web site of the Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge, on a page updated 05/18/2006: (‘4CMR’ opened in January).

“Dr Terry Barker is Chairman of Cambridge Econometrics, the company originally formed by DAE researchers under his leadership to apply the Cambridge Multisectoral Dynamic Model (MDM) of the British Economy. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of Economic Systems Research.”

He produce a pre-cursor of some of the Stern material in 2001:

How high are the costs of Kyoto for the US economy?
Terry Barker and Paul Ekins (Department of Applied Economics, University of Cambridge), School of Politics, International Relations and the Environment, Keele University.

Tyndall Centre Working Paper No. 4 (4 July 2001)

“Estimates of the costs of implementing the Kyoto protocol are uncertain and most are based on assumptions that necessarily imply high costs. A selection of alternative (often more realistic) assumptions gives estimates that suggest net benefits rather than costs.”

“Provided policies are expected, gradual and well-designed, the costs for the US of Kyoto are likely to be insignificant.”

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