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Nicholas Stern


Nicholas Stern

This article is about the economist. For film producer, see Nicholas Stern (film producer).
The Lord Stern of Brentford
Davos, January 2009
Born (1946-04-22) 22 April 1946 (age 68)
Nationality United Kingdom
Institution London School of Economics
Field Political economics
Alma mater University of Oxford
University of Cambridge
Contributions The Stern Review

Nicholas Herbert Stern, Baron Stern of Brentford, Kt, FBA (born 22 April 1946) is a British economist and academic. He is IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE), and 2010 Professor of Collège de France. From 2013, he will be President of the British Academy.


Stern is the son of the late Bert Stern and Marion Stern and nephew of Donald Swann—half of the Flanders and Swann partnership. Richard Stern, former Vice-President, World Bank, and Brian E Stern, former Vice-President Xerox Corporation, are his brothers, and his sister is Naomi Opalinska. He was the Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank from 2000 to 2003, and was recently a civil servant and government economic advisor in the United Kingdom. In June 2007, Stern became the first holder of the I. G. Patel. In 2008, he was also appointed Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, a major new research centre also at LSE. He is also Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at Leeds University and LSE.

After attending Latymer Upper School, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and his Doctor of Philosophy in economics at Nuffield College, Oxford with thesis titled Location and the rate of development: a study in the theory of optimal planning. He was a lecturer at University of Oxford from 1970 to 1977, and served as a Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick from 1978 to 1987. He taught from 1986 to 1993 at the London School of Economics, becoming the Sir John Hicks Professor of Economics. From 1994 until 1999 he was the Chief Economist and Special Counsellor to the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. His research focused on economic development and growth, and he also wrote books on Kenya and the Green Revolution in India. From 1999 until 2000 Stern was Chairman of the consultancy London Economics founded by John Kay.

After a position as the World Bank Chief Economist from 2000 to 2003, Stern was recruited by Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, to work for the British government where, in 2003, he became second permanent secretary at H.M. Treasury, initially with responsibility for public finances, and head of the Government Economic Service. Having also been Director of Policy and Research for the Commission for Africa, he was, in July 2005, appointed to conduct reviews on the economics of climate change and also of development, which led to the publication of the Stern Review. At the time, he ceased to be a second permanent secretary at the Treasury though he retained the rank until retirement in 2007; the review team he headed was based in the Cabinet Office.

It was reported that Stern's time at the Treasury was marked by tensions with his boss, Gordon Brown:[1]

[...] several Whitehall sources told The Times that Mr Brown did not like some of the advice he received from Sir Nicholas, including some “home truths” about long-term trends in the economy and he never broke into the chancellor's tight-knit inner circle. [...] He subsequently lacked a real role and spent most of his time working on major international reports on global warming and alleviating poverty in Africa. His doom-laden report on the risks of failing to address climate change, published in October, caused tensions within the Government by triggering a debate on environmental taxes and leading to calls for big policy changes.

The Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change was produced by a team led by Stern at HM Treasury, and was released in October 2006. In the Review, climate change is described as an economic externality. Stern has subsequently referred to the climate change externality as the largest ever market failure:

"Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen. The evidence on the seriousness of the risks from inaction or delayed action is now overwhelming..The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay.."[2]

Regulation, carbon taxes and carbon trading are recommended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is argued that the world economy can lower its greenhouse gas emissions at a significant but manageable cost. The Review concludes that immediate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are necessary to reduce the worst risks of climate change. The Review's conclusions were widely reported in the press. Stern's relatively large cost estimates of 'business-as-usual' climate change damages received particular attention.[3][4] These are the estimated damages that might occur should no further effort be made to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

There has been a mixed reaction to the Stern Review from economists. Several economists have been critical of the Review,[5][6] for example, a paper by Byatt et al. (2006) describes the Review as "deeply flawed".[7] Some have supported the Review,[8][9] [10] while others have argued that Stern's conclusions are reasonable, even if the method by which he reached them is incorrect.[11] The Stern Review team has responded to criticisms of the Review in several papers.[12] Stern has also gone on to say that he underestimated the risks of climate change in the Stern Review.[13]

Stern's approach to discounting has been debated amongst economists. The discount rate allows economic effects occurring at different times to be compared. Stern used a discount rate in his calculation of the effects of "business-as-usual" climate change damages. A high discount rate reduces the calculated benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using too low a discount rate wastes resources because it will result in too much investment in cutting emissions (Arrow et al., 1996, p. 130).[14] Too high a discount rate will have the opposite effect, and lead to under-investment in cutting emissions. Most studies on the damages of climate change use a higher discount rate than that used in the Stern Review. Some economists support Stern's choice of discount rate (Cline, 2008;[15] Shah, 2008 [10] Heal, 2008)[16] while others are critical (Yohe and Tol, 2008;[17] Nordhaus, 2007).[18]

Another criticism of the Stern Review is that it is a political rather than an analytical document. Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, columnist Charles Moore compared the Stern Review to the UK Government's 'dodgy dossier' on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.[19]

In a speech given in 2007 at the Australian National Press Club, Stern called for one per cent of gross global product to be employed in global warming-related environmental measures.[20] He also joined the Cool Earth advisory board. In 2009, Stern linked recovery from the global economic crisis with an effective response to climate change.[21][22] His book, Blueprint for a Safer Planet, was published in April 2009. ISBN 978-1-84792-037-9

In 2009, he published the non-fiction literary work, The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity.[23] The book examines climate change from an economist's perspective, and outlines the necessary steps toward achieving global economic growth while managing climate change. In 2009, he also became a member of the International Advisory Council of the Chinese sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation.[24]

Stern is an advocate of vegetarianism as a climate change mitigation element.[25]

He is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain's Socialist Party's think tank.

Awards and recognition

Stern was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1993;[26] he is also an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Economic Association. In the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours he was made a Knight Bachelor, for services to Economics.[27][28][29] On 18 October 2007, it was announced that Stern would receive a life peerage and was to be made a non-party political peer (i.e. would sit as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords). His full title is Baron Stern of Brentford, of Elsted in the County of West Sussex and of Wimbledon in the London Borough of Merton, but he is usually addressed as Lord Stern, or Lord Stern of Brentford.[30]

In 2006, he was elected as an Honorary Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge.[31]

Stern was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Warwick in 2006,[32] an Honorary Doctor of International Relations degree by the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations in 2007, an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Sheffield in 2008,[33] an Honorary Doctor by the Technische Universität Berlin in 2009[34] and also in 2009 an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Brighton.[35]

Lord Stern participated at one of the showings of The Age of Stupid at The RSA. At the after-showing webcast panel discussion[36] was director Franny Armstrong, journalist George Monbiot, economist Nicholas Stern, and the Met Office head of climate impacts Richard Betts. In 2009 Nicholas Stern lent his support to the 10:10 project, a movement encouraging people to take positive action on climate change by reducing their carbon emissions.[37]

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award was awarded to Lord Stern in January 2011 for his "pioneering report [that] shaped and focused the discourse on the economics of climate change" and provided "a unique and robust basis for decision-making." [38]


“Where we can, we have to go to zero carbon, because of a growing population and a rising middle class in developing countries which wants the same standard of living the developed world already enjoys. GHGs must be cut by at least 50% around the world by 2050, with the rich, developed countries cutting by 80%, compared to 1990 levels. We are at the beginning of a technical revolution of the magnitude of the railway, the motor car ... The economic crisis is an opportunity to lay the foundation for the future ... You can tell a very positive story here.”[39]


External links

  • Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment profile page
  • Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy
  • Personal Website
  • Lord Stern of Brentford - LSE Experts entry
  • World Bank biography
  • Lord Stern of Brentford, FBA at CSA Celebrity Speakers
  • Stern at Oxford Uni
  • The man behind the British Treasury’s mammoth climate change report
  • The UK Government's Treasury web pages about the Stern review
  • Article about the Stern review's conclusions on China's development
  • Nicholas Stern interview at The Beaver, 13 February 2007
  • Speech to the Economics of Climate Change Symposium, Nov 2006
  • 'Green Routes To Growth' article published in the's Comment Is Free Section, 23 October 2008
  • Launch green economic revolution now, says Stern
  • Cool Earth
  • Lord Stern: The RIBA Trust Annual Lecture(Video)
  • Mathematics Genealogy Project
Business positions
Preceded by
Joseph Stiglitz
World Bank Chief Economist
Succeeded by
François Bourguignon

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