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The Stern letter

Some months ago I asked the Treasury for copies of correspondence relating to the Stern Review in the year up to that paper's publication. I put in my request under EIR and was told, surprisingly (or perhaps not), that there was only a single document that could be construed as environmental information. After much to-ing and fro-ing they have decided to release this to me.

Here it is.

It's a letter from Stern to Gordon Brown sent shortly before the publication of the report and outlining Stern's ideas for possible policy initiatives that could follow the publication of the report. It's not desperately interesting. Nevertheless, while I find it hard to put a finger on the problem,  I don't get a warm feeling from what I see there.

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Reader Comments (32)

An interesting letter .................when it was written Stern is clearly a very worried man. He has been convinced that the world is facing CAWG and (my interpretation) he feels duty bound to do his bit to help galvanise the world authorities into action - particularly the UK, the EU and the UN. His behaviour is perfectly correlated to helping to manage the dangers that he perceives to be upon us. Paragraph 8 at the end of the letter captures this behaviour perfectly - "We have worked closely with the Energy Review ..... We have no reason to believe that our analysis will not be broadly consistent with its report". In other words he, will make sure that the analysis is consistent, because that is the contribution he can make to saving the world. Given that level of emotional attachment to the “problem” his work will always be biased. And it is ………..

Jan 29, 2014 at 8:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Thomson

Maybe it's the word "storyline " at the beginning.

Chambers Dictionary: the main plot of a novel, film, television series, etc; the line along which a plot has to develop..........

"Plot" and "novel" seem just about right.

Jan 29, 2014 at 8:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I've only had a quick flick through at this stage but it seems that, as Robert Thomson says, Stern was genuinely concerned. He considers both mitigation and adaptation which is more than many of the fanatics do (whatever they actually feel they tend publicly to pooh-pooh the idea of adaptation — wonder why) but on the other hand follows a variety of paths that trail off into nothing much.
As an example, he calls for less deforestation but doesn't appear to consider the implications for those who are, by economic necessity, doing the deforesting. He may be a fan of the Malthusians, of course — "let them die off!"
It would be interesting, to continue that line of thought, to know what his views are on the deforestation of swathes of the US to feed a power station 3,000 miles away that is sitting on several decades of coal!

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:08 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

It would appear that Gordon Brown was not the only person who thought Gordon Brown could save the world.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

A fine example of how taxpayers money is wasted by third rate politicians (Gordon Brown - sold our gold reserves at a rock bottom price, sold Westinghouse at a rock bottom price, stole from my pension pot, bankrupted the economy, said "the science is settled" "we have 50 days to save the planet") on producing a narrative, based totally on belief by a third rate economist (Stern) on the climate change scam which has been produced by third rate environmental activists posing as "scientists" (CRU et al).

That's better.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:15 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Its interesting from the angle that you recognise many aspects of "the story" being told. The letter (and I believe The Stern Review) is devoid of data and analysis. It is all based on belief. Belief in CAGW, belief in a Green utopia where dumping our energy past and embracing a Green energy future can be done whilst maintaining economic growth, belief that Britain can get the rest of the world to follow. And they're still trying. Even though the fairytale has turned into a nightmare.

The absence of data and / or the ability to draw correct conclusions from data lies at the heart of our current problems. This is an old post that illustrates the futility of unilateral action - I believe Lindzen drew on this point the other day.

The Failure of Kyoto and the Futility of European Energy Policy

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:17 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

Bish, did they provide any justification for the redactions in the body of the letter?

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:26 AM | Registered Commenter@warrenpearce

Well it's pretty obvious to me from the document, that the case for mitigation measures to prevent the effects from catastrophic global warming is clearly black and white :-)

I watched most of the commons select commitee yesterday and if I were to comment suffice to say they would not be allowed to appear.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

I don't think that the letter does more than make clear what has been apparent for several years: that by 2006 the likes of Stern and Gordon Brown had magnanimously allowed themselves to be persuaded not just that CAGW was an imminent and huge problem but that only they were wise enough and important enough to tackle it.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

It did not take many sentences to uncover one that generates much unease. It is on the first page.
“Climate change is central to the objectives of achieving growth and justice with environmental care.”
This arrogantly assumes that the level of environmental care was sub-standard, when it probably was not.
It assumes that measures to deal with climate change will generate growth. Measures implemented so far have reduced growth and are likely to do so for decades.
It assumes that ‘justice’ undefined is part of the consideration, when no evidence is offered in the unredacted part, that it is.
Much is made of the critical place of carbon capture and storage being in place before 2050. On the scale envisaged, there is absolutely no indication of this happening.
Therefore the whole financial analysis is now wrong and it should be ignored.
To the extent that these difficulties could have been foreseen, the letter is a ham, as it was when written.
It’s a model to shift money on a poorly documented set of contingencies. As we say here, “Dreamin’”.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Many thanks for this, Andrew- it is what I have been waiting for.

In essence the Stern report was a document put together to drive policy.
As such it must be subject to Judical Review if its premise(s) are false- which some clearly are.

I will be taking legal advice on this, as I have already found a serious misreprentation of the facts in a key area.

Watch this space!

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Under the headline, "Building the narrative on climate change"

Positively a Freudian slip - by using the term, "narrative" - I take it to mean, weaving the thread of a fantasy.

Scroll down to item seven, something concerning the EU ETS scheme is heavily redacted - what DO they have they to hide?

Let me postulate, er well how apt is that - just like climate change - is all postulation.

I would surmise that, in the missing paragraph it would hint at a compulsory scheme of an incremental but ratcheted carbon floor price and even to placing a per capita limitation on 'carbon footprint' - you know what they're like these Socialists/greens - if it's good it needs to be rationed and regulated.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Climate change is central to the objectives of achieving growth and justice with environmental care.
To open with such a woolly, utterly vacuous statement does not auger well for the rest of the report. As Messenger says, it has more the feel of a low-grade fictional drama – the numerous redactions merely help to build a feeling of Boy’s Own-type mystery. In the next instalment, expect to read, “In one bound, he was free! Laura felt his hot breath as he ripped…”

How can we get it across to these people that: yes, climates do change; yes, global temperatures do vary; yes, humans will have some effect upon both – but then, so does every other living thing on the planet. The fact is, what the effects of human (and others) are are infinitesimal compared with the real movers and shakers of the chaotic system of our planet, some of which are obvious (the Sun), some of which are not, and some of which we may yet have to find.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Messenger wrote:

Maybe it's the word "storyline " at the beginning.

Chambers Dictionary: the main plot of a novel, film, television series, etc; the line along which a plot has to develop..........

"Plot" and "novel" seem just about right.

It is a pity that Agatha Christie isn't available in order to produce a few unexpected twists in the story. Mind you, even Poirot and Miss Marple working together would probably be unable to solve The Case of the Missing Heat.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Re: warrenpearce

> Bish, did they provide any justification for the redactions in the body of the letter?

One of my pet annoyances with FOI/EIR responses is the way they cover what they classify as "personal data". As an example, the Cc field in the mail header. They will redact as personal data when what they should do is redact since "" is not personal data. The organisations the email was sent to is relevant to the response and could provide further lines of enquiry.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:17 AM | euanmearns

I liked your article, Euan. But, in my view, your discussion of and claims about the science (referring to AGW as "a non-existent problem" for example) were a mistake. They lessened the impact of an important message: that unilateral action by the EU is futile. The key argument surely - because it totally avoids the bickering (see the comments) about polar ice, the marine heat sink, views of national academies of science, the IPCC, etc.) - is that such action is futile even if AGW is a genuine problem?

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:58 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

"I don't get a warm feeling from what I see there."

No, it's deeply creepy.

I think it's partly the spectacle of the Great And The Good manipulating the world to save it from dangers they have imagined and made up themselves.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

We get a glimpse into the smarm skills("We would be very grateful for your guidance on the basic direction and priorities for further work") of a consultant who has delivered the goods as per previous guidance and who would very much like a bit more work along the same lines. The mind-numbing pompous portentousness of the rest of the letter is also part of the same skill set. I think it is just the sort of thing that Gordon Brown would have lapped up. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the business term for this sort of well-judged stroking.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Had to check the address bar on my browser - momentarily assumed I was looking at an un-broadcast "Yes Prime Minister" script... albeit in rather large type (is that normal?)

Climate change is central to the objectives of achieving growth and justice with environmental care.

struck me too - (channeling Geoff Sherrington) I can understand (being generous here) - the growth and environmental care - but justice? Where are sustainability and diversity? This bloated twaddle would shame a junior school pantomime script. As Don Keiller says this does rather look like policy based evidence making on the hoof. Hubris on a stick. I wonder if the noble lord is getting blink rate slowing lessons and shifty side glace reduction coaching - it looks like he might need it.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:18 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Nothing involving Stern or Brown, or indeed, Stern AND Brown, is going to give anyone a warm feeling. As weapons grade a pair of arseholes as one could ever come across.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

@Jan 29, 2014 at 10:18 AM | tomo
Never mind "climate justice", the Guardian are now touting "Climate Apartheid".

Don't read the article if you value your sanity.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:26 AM | Registered Commenterjeremypoynton


heh ... had my fill of GMG today after commenting on EA-PR churnalism by Damien Carrington Somerset Levels floods and passing several times through the comment mangle. I feel soiled sometimes dropping my pearls of "community standards compliant" wisdom in that place.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:44 AM | Registered Commentertomo

The key messages from the review are likely to build on the narrative that you have set out in your speeches on climate change in March 2005 and April 2006, and to underline that a multilateral response is the only way to tackle climate change

So, in the absence of binding commitments from China, India and the USA, why did we get the unilateral Climate Change Act 2008?

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil McEvoy

The release letter is here

It's mainly international relations.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:55 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

As for several others above, the words that jump out for me are “Climate change is central to the objectives of achieving growth and justice with environmental care”.

But I'd parse them the opposite way around. It seems to me that "the objectives of achieving growth and justice with environmental care” are assumed by Stern to be the given liberal desiderata shared by Brown and himself, and that "climate change" is being suggested by Stern as potentially very helpful in that cause. Re-phrasing:

"For the mission you and I both subscribe to, viz the advancement of Growth-And-Justice-With-Environmental-Care, it will be extremely helpful to be able to rely upon universal acceptance of the CAGW thesis in order to get the attention, resources etc we need".

The other aspect of interest, I suggest, is just how much emphasis / reliance Stern was putting on the EU ETS. As Mike Jackson says above, this at least puts him in the non-fanatic category. If you assume that reduction in (local) CO2 emissions is at least a legitimate goal of policy, full emphasis on a properly structured EU ETS as the primary tool could have spared us the ridiculous and costly governmental picking of winners and other manic piecemeal interventions. As things have turned out, (a) the EU ETS was flawed in its execution, and (b) when it resulted in a CO2 price that was "too low" (i.e. too low for certain pet projects to be economically justified) is was sidelined in favour of direct central intervention.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterNick Drew

I happen to have one of those Superman X-Ray eyesights that can see through the blank ink so I am happy to help you decipher those censored lines for you.

The letter is sent by a sidekick of Lord Stern and is mailed to Michael Jacobs and (censored recipients: Michael Mann, James Hansen, Kevin Trenberth, Phil Jones, Trougher Tim Yeo, Bob Ward, Roger Horrobin, Julia Slingo, Myles Allen, Stephen Lewandosky, George Monbiot, William Connolley, Skeptical Treehut Science and the impeachable Royal Society of Scientists ... and, oh, Ed Miliband)

On page 3: the censored fast growing economies that are supposed to be awed into submission are Russia and China.

On page 4: the censored bits talk of "challenges" of bringing in an emission reduction scheme. Thankfully the list of challenges consist of only a few censored lines. They say, "this will be a piece of cake once we awe Russia and China into submission".

On page 5: the entire Point 4 is censored. It consists of ten lines and they are all the repetition of same sentence: "Let's burn our wives and treasury to awe the enemy (Russia and China) into submission". The last lines are, "Let's burn our wives and treasury..."

On page 6: the censored bit is about how Mexico and Canada can be "convinced to walk the talk" about this worthwhile Western initiative.

On page 7: under the subtitle of 'Possible EU Initiatives' the censored parts say "We must convince our European partners to burn their wives and treasury also, otherwise we will not collectively be able to awe the enemy into submission. We have to work together in this to win the challenge". Further down on the page it says "Consider active engagement with [the Dark Side]".

From then on in every page, right to the very end of page 22, it is all the same. Every censored line in Lord Stern's letter about UK, EU, global initiatives to combat and to kill or capture the catastrophic threat of climate change is the repetition of the same thing, like some coded alien message: "let's burn our wives and treasury to awe the enemy into submission" and "let's engage the Dark Side" and "this will be a piece of cake". Occasionally, there are statements of fact such as "We have 97% consensus. The science is settled. The debate is over. We must emit less carbon sin, or we are doomed".

I am sure I am not the only one in this village with such a special eyesight. Any other Seers?

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx


Community compliance (no doubt to promote community cohesion) is de rigeur at CiF. Which is why I am thrice banned and more there! I keep away now, to avoid enraging myself :-). That said, I'll have to go and see that Dame has to say, as he's usually good for a cackle as well. The Guardians team of Climate Jihadis is without compare, that's for sure. No wonder their circulation is collapsing.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Richard Tol and others may debate the pros and cons of the low discount rate as employed in the Stern Review. But the absence of benefits in cost-benefit analysis is so absurd that it undermines my confidence in most CBA as applied climate studies, including the Stern Review.

My criticism off the Stern Review derives from teaching cost-benefit analysis (CBA) at the LSE many years ago, working in a team doing CBA for the UK Government (also many years ago) and performing CBA under contract to international agencies intermittently for 30 years up to 2000.

Most CBA climate-based studies consider only the costs of climate change and do not include the benefits.

Others may have found more studies that include benefits. I know of only two studies that address benefits, one relating to agriculture in Quebec showed a net benefit. The other, for New Zealand showed a benefit to New Zealand agriculture provided other countries suffer from climate change that causes world food prices to rise. Apart from these two studies, all the ones I have seen simply ignore the benefits.

If CO2 did not provide substantial benefits to food producers, greenhouse operators would not inject CO2 into their greenhouses. But that is a simplification. Anyone with an hour or two to spare can search the literature to satisfy themselves that there are substantial benefits to agriculture and forestry both from increased CO2 and from increased warming / precipitation. On a world-wide scale there may be expected to be winners and losers.

Whether or not these benefits would be sufficient to offset the costs is not my point. Nor is it my point that the net winning world regions exceed the net losing world regions.

Rather my point is that by leaving out the benefits altogether, most practitioners of CBA for climate studies appear to have structured their CBAs to produce either the results they wanted or the results their masters wanted.

Not that this is anything new with CBA. In my opinion, most of the studies I have reviewed over the last 50 years unconnected to climate have been manipulated to produce the outcome the practitioner or his masters wanted.

Nay, almost all the dozens of studies I have witnessed, been party to, or reviewed have have been massaged and manipulated to produce a pre-determined outcome.

However, CBA is not the only game in town. Long ago, I began to rely on engineers to design the least-cost solution to achieve various standards of service. The standard of service becomes the public-policy issue.

This approach is more relevant than CBA in situations where some level of service must be performed, such as municipal waste collection. Would this approach work with climate? What standard of service to mankind should the Earth provide, given our socio-political organizations and technology?

Can climate be manipulated to adjust the environment to provide more health and welfare than we anticipate in the future? If so, would manipulating climate be the least-cost solution? Or would the methods for manipulating climate result in reduced health and welfare?

As you might surmise, I think CBA is posing the wrong questions, using the wrong methodology and giving the wrong answers.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterFred Colbourne

Excellent point, Neil McEvoy (10:51 AM). But I would add to your list all the Non-Annex 1 countries plus Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Japan and (probably) Australia. That leaves little more than the EU - representing less than 10% of global emissions.

Yet the letter is replete with observations such as that you quote:

… a multilateral response is the only way to tackle climate change.
Co-ordinated global action will be essential ...
Building international collective action is essential for an effective response.
This will necessitate early action by both developed and developing countries.
... it is important to focus on how far UK actions can help to move the EU and international agenda forward.
… effective action against climate change requires a multilateral response … national policy should be seen in the light of its contribution to generating effective international action.
None of this has happened, is happening or is remotely likely to happen. Yet we still have the CCA. It's absurd.

Jan 29, 2014 at 12:11 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

"Professor Andrew Mountford"?!
[Montford?- BH]

Jan 29, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Registered Commenter@warrenpearce

Even the extension and room number is censored? I sure hope everyone in the EU at least got a good kiss out of this as they're surely getting...

I thought the sir stern guy was the financial whiz they're basing climate science costs from. In 'his' review, there is not one bit of cost or benefit summation.

£50 billion Euro research budget for all of the European Union, 12% of that, £6 billion Euros, is already dedicated towards 'climate change' and he wants the whole research budget reprioritized to devote more money to 'climate change'" Yet Sir Stern does not include any shreds whatsoever for a cost benefit justification? Which leaves the whole idea up to fear of 'climate change', and loathing for middle and upper income workers who actually work for their livings.

What is they devoted half of the 'CC' budget towards thorium and related nuclear research?

"...Nevertheless, while I find it hard to put a finger on the problem, I don't get a warm feeling from what I see there." - BH

You have a finance guy typing a bunch of fuzzy alarm phrases without any solid finance information; all the fuzzy language purports to be 'independent' but is clearly pre-decided for mitigation, carbon sequestration, carbon (CO2 I hope) restrictions and that this creep is certifying without evidence that all of this is 'cost effective'. There is no independence, there is not room for discussion and there is no indication who are actually controlling these decisions.

Add to that; you received a PDF file picture of a paper document that has blacked out areas in some mighty odd areas. Has it occurred to you that they could've typed this 'sole' document at any time? Just for occasions such as citizen requests?

Jan 29, 2014 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

Some of us suspected at the time that the prime aim of the Stern Review was to bolster Gordon Brown's green credentials in support of his bid for Labour leader and Prime Minister. Indeed, it was never credible that a group of civil servants would somehow be able to write an independent review.

In the introduction, Nick Stern writes that they "build on the narrative that [Gordon Brown] [had] set out".

Jan 29, 2014 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

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