WASHINGTON -- Failing to curb the impact of climate change could damage the global economy on the scale of the Great Depression or either world war, according to a report issued yesterday by the British government. The environmental devastation could cost between 5 and 20 percent of the world's gross domestic product, the report found.
The report by Nicholas Stern, who heads Britain's Government Economic Service, calls for a new round of international collaboration to cut greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.
"There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally," Stern said in a statement. "But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close."
However, some economic specialists questioned the study's projections, noting other analyses suggest developed countries will suffer a modest economic hit.
"There's just a very small part of GDP [in industrialized nations] that's affected by weather in a direct or indirect way," said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, which accepts contributions from fossil-fuel companies. "It's very difficult to sketch out this disaster scenario."
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has been trying to persuade President Bush to take a more pro active stance on global warming, and Britain announced it had hired Al Gore, former vice president, to advise it on lobbying the US government.
The issue of how to approach global warming has been a sticking point between the United States and some of its European allies since the Bush administration disavowed the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, saying it opposed requiring limits on carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.
Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for Bush's top environmental adviser, James L. Connaughton, said yesterday that Bush will continue putting the emphasis on research and technology rather than mandatory curbs on such carbon dioxide emissions.
"The president has long recognized that climate change is a serious issue, and he has committed the US to advancing and investing in the new technologies to help address this problem," Hellmer said. "His administration has already dedicated more than $29 billion to climate change sciences and technology programs and is working in strong partnership with nations around the world to accelerate progress. . . . The US government has produced an abundance of economic analysis on the issue of climate change. The Stern report is another contribution to that effort."
Last month, the Bush administration unveiled its "strategic plan" for using technology to curb global warming, asserting that basic scientific research and voluntary actions such as sequestering carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere and promoting hydrogen-powered cars can curb the greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
"The Stern report exposes the bankruptcy of the arguments of President Bush and some in Congress and industry that taking action on global warming will hurt the economy," said Alden Meyer, strategy and policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. "In fact, just the opposite is true -- it's the refusal to take serious action that poses the true risk to our future economic prosperity."