Problems caused by climate change are more serious than the current financial crisis. That warning by a leading economist came as German scientists weighed in with their own grim predictions about rising sea levels.
German scientists warn that water levels will increase substantially
It would be a big mistake for leaders to ignore climate change during the financial crisis, said Nicholas Stern, a former British Treasury economist, who released a seminal report in 2006 that said inaction on emissions blamed for global warming could cause economic pain equal to the Great Depression.
"That's a very important lesson, tackle risk early," Stern told a climate and carbon conference in Hong Kong.
There have been worries that countries will be unwilling to commit to climate change goals at an international meeting scheduled in Copenhagen at the end of next year. Stern said he was optimistic that countries would agree to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
Green revolution offered as solution
Stern warns that climate change will bring economic hardship
Stern said that the financial crisis represents an opportunity to use public spending to boost green technologies and mass public transportation.
"The lesson that we can draw out from this recession, is that you can boost demand in the best way possible by focusing on low carbon growth in future," Stern said.
Greenpeace has taken up a similar call. Governments should use the global financial crisis as an opportunity to kickstart green technologies, Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) said in a "practical blueprint" presented in Berlin on Monday.
Governments should aggressively invest in renewable power generation and energy, which could create a $360 billion (285 billion euro) industry that could provide half of the world's electricity, according to the study.
"Especially in the context of today's economic instability, investing in renewable energy technologies is a 'win-win-win' scenario: a win for energy security, a win for the economy and a win for the climate," the group said.
Scientists warn of big rise in ocean levels
Governments have been called on to invest in renewable energy
German scientists announced Monday that ocean levels will rise much more than previously thought because climate change is happening much faster than predicted. They expect a one meter increase this century.
Earlier estimates had predicted a rise of 18 to 59 centimeters.
"We now have to expect that the sea level will rise by a meter this century," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who heads the Potsdam Institute for Research on Global Warming Effects.
He and Jochem Marotzke, a leading meteorologist, have been looking at ocean levels.
Schellnhuber said it is "just barely possible" that world governments will be able to limit the rise in average global temperatures to just 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, if they all strictly adhere to severe limits in carbon dioxide emissions.