The beginnings of a new industrial energy revolution that will allow the world to continue developing for the social good while preventing excessive global warming is already under way in the developing world, says renowned British economist Lord Stern.

The challenge was now to ramp this up from individual project level to a scale where it became the global norm, he told the COP17 climate change conference in Durban.

Lord Stern is the author of the influential 2006 Stern Review of the economics of climate change, which concluded that tackling the problem immediately would cost about one percent of global GDP (gross domestic product) each year, but that unabated climate change could cost the world at least five percent of global GDP annually or, if more dramatic predictions proved correct, more than 20 percent.

Lord Stern and the UN launched a Momentum for Change initiative that showcases projects in Africa, Latin America and southern Asia using the type of low carbon energy that could save the world from the ravages of climate change.

At a COP17 media briefing recently, Stern said climate data was showing very clearly that if the world was to have a reasonable chance of preventing global warming rising above 2ºC more than pre-industrial levels, there would have to be “radical” cuts in emissions of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years: from around 50 billion tons today to “well below” 20 billion tons.

That meant effectively reducing total emissions by a factor of two-and-a-half: “And to achieve that, it means a new industrial energy revolution” he said.

However, in the fight against poverty, there also needed to be strong growth in the developing world for some six billion people.

And if the world’s economy grew only “reasonably modestly” by a factor of three, this would mean having to cut emissions by three times as much as the required two-and-a-half reduction, Stern said.

It meant emissions per unit of output would have to be reduced by a factor of seven or eight – “That’s a new industrial energy revolution by anybody’s standards.”

“Now the good news is that it’s beginning, beginning in the developing world. And the projects that we’re going to talk about (in the Momentum for Change initiative) will show on the ground the kinds of things that can be done,” Stern said.

“It will show it’s all about development, it’s about rising living standards, it’s about saving energy and saving water, it’s about empowerment of disadvantaged groups – particularly women – it’s about mitigation as well as adaptation… This is a good, strong development story.”

The fight to manage poverty and the fight to manage climate change were “inextricably intertwined” he added.

“And that’s what these projects will show. There is no horse race between climate responsibility and development. If we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

The new industrial energy revolution was under way but was only at the beginning, Stern said.

“And the challenge is to take it to scale, and we have to recognise that this movement to scale has to be very quick.”

The projects in the initiative would tell the “very real and very exciting” low carbon development stories – “And we believe we can do it as a world.”