Climate change research by ILRI informs Stern Review on the economics of climate change

Livestock systems analysts pinpoint communities most vulnerable to the double threat of climate change and severe poverty.
In July 2005, the British finance minister asked Sir Nicholas Stern to lead a major review of the economics of climate change, to understand more comprehensively the nature of the economic challenges and how they can be met in the UK and globally. Stern is a Head of the Government Economics Service and Adviser to the Government on the economics of climate change and development. The report calls for urgent action on climate change and a raft of new ‘green’ measures were announced at the launch of the report earlier this week.

Innovative analyses by agricultural systems analysts working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partner institutions were used in development of the seminal Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change, published on 30 October 2006 and available online at

A report ILRI published in August 2006 for the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Mapping Climate Vulnerability and Poverty in Africa, as well as an earlier study by two of the leading authors of the report, ‘The potential impacts of climate change on maize production in Africa and Latin America in 2055’ (written by Peter Jones and Philip Thornton and published in Global Environmental Change in 2003) are cited in part 2 of the Stern Review.

ILRI produced its 200-page Mapping Climate Variability report in partnership with the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and The Energy Research Institute (TERI). Mapping Climate Vulnerability locates the African communities likely to be most vulnerable to the double threats of climate change and poverty. Regions likely to be hurt by climate change include the mixed arid-semiarid systems in the Sahel; arid-semiarid rangeland systems, the Great Lakes and Coastal regions of eastern Africa; and many drier zones of southern Africa.

Several other high-level assessments are using ILRI’s report and maps. These include a report of a UK Foresight project on Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases in April 2006, the July 2006 UK White Paper on International Development, and an August 2006 review draft of the IAASTD Global Report (International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development).

These reports stress that farmers in many places will need to adapt to climate change, by investing in alternative crops and livestock, adjusting their management regimes, or by diversifying their income-generating activities (particularly off-farm activities). Raising awareness about the possible impact of climate change, and improving consultation between all levels of government and civil society, will be essential.

The Stern Review argues that climate change could devastate the global economy on a scale of the two world wars and the depression of the 1930s if left unchecked. Introducing the report by Nicholas Stern, the British Government also said Monday that the benefits of coordinated action around the world to tackle global warming will greatly outweigh any financial costs.

Sir Nicholas Stern, former Chief Economist at the World Bank, who oversaw production of the 700-page report commissioned by the British Government, concludes that ignoring climate change could lead to huge economic upheaval.

‘Our actions over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century,’ he said. The report said global warming could result in melting glaciers, rising sea levels, falling crop yields, drinking water shortages, higher death tolls from malnutrition and heat stress, and outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever.

And richer nations must be prepared to pay more than poor ones to counter their higher emissions output, for example by green taxes or carbon trading schemes.

The poor countries will be hit earliest and hardest . . . It is only right that the rich countries should pay a little more,’ Stern said.
The report spells out key elements of future international frameworks, which include:

  • Technology cooperation: Informal co-ordination as well as formal agreements can boost the effectiveness of investments in innovation around the world.
  • Adaptation: The poorest countries are most vulnerable to climate change. It is essential that climate change be fully integrated into development policy, and that rich countries honour their pledges to increase support through overseas
  • development assistance. International funding should also support improved regional information on climate change impacts, and research into new crop varieties that will be more resilient to drought and flood.Key messages from the section of the Stern Review informed by ILRI’s systems research are provided below. For the full section or book, go to ILRI’s latest research findings on climate change, Mapping Climate Vulnerability and Poverty in Africa, published in July 2006, are found on ILRI’s website in full at: The conclusions are reproduced in a briefing of the same title found at: