"Economics of Fighting Climate Change Trivial Compared to Defeating Nazism"

06/03/2015 05:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2016

In the 1960's, the US spent $150 billion to put a man on the moon. If we spend the same amount of money today, we will able to pull our planet back from the brink of catastrophic climate change.

That's according to a group of distinguished British scientists, economists and businessmen, including the UK's former head scientist, Sir David King, Lord Nicholas Stern, ex-World Bank chief economist, and former head of BP Lord John Browne:

"In the past, when our way of life has been threatened, governments have mounted major scientific programmes to overcome the challenges. Today, we need a global Apollo programme to tackle climate change, but this time the money needs to be international," to fight "the greatest material challenge facing humankind."

The report comes less than six months before world leaders gather in Paris to strike a make-or-break deal to rein in carbon emissions responsible for the warming of our planet.

Such emissions are the by product of burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil, and they remain trapped in the atmosphere for decades, if not centuries.

According to the United Nations, our planet is currently on track to warm by up to four degrees celsius before the turn of the century. Such a temperature rise will usher in changes not seen since the last Ice Age.

Five years ago, world leaders vowed to limit the warming of our planet to two degrees celsius.

But, there are many who believe that even this is too high, describing the 2C target as a "prescription for long term disaster." According to the head of the World Bank, it will push millions of people into poverty as basic resources such as food and water slip out of reach.

$150 billion therefore seems like a small price to pay, especially when one considers that it is a mere fraction of the $5.3 trillionthat global governments spend every year on fossil fuel subsidies.

Lord Turner, another member of the group and former head of the Confederation of British Industry, acknowledges that it whilst it may be a challenge to convince governments to fund such a huge project during peacetime, he says:

"What the present generation of humanity has to do in order to deal with climate change as an economic challenge is trivial compared with what our parents and grandparents did to defeat Nazism in the Second World War. So it would be sad if we think humanity is incapable of agreeing something like this."

At present, governments only spend around $6 billion per year on research and development for renewable energy.

And, according to the report, large countries need only spoon out around 0.02 percent of their annual GDP over the next decade.

This will inject 15 billion dollars every year into a global kitty which will be plowed into R&D to create even more innovative forms of renewable energy. The project's goal is to make clean energy cheaper, and more effective than coal within the next ten years.

Coal is one of the most polluting forms of fossil fuels.

And, as it is one of the cheapest forms of energy, it currently accounts for nearly half of the world's electricity use. But, according to Lord Stern, coal fired power only seems more affordable as the costs of air pollution and climate change have not been priced in.

According to Sir King, the UK is willing to endorse the project, if other nations are also willing to step up to the plate. He says that many countries have expressed interest in the scheme including the US, China, India, Japan, Korea and the UAE.

The idea will be tabled at next week's G7 summit in Germany, and the authors hope that enough countries will sign up by the time world leaders gather in Paris at the end of this year.

According to the UN, three quarters of known fossil fuels must stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming. And, there are some countries, including France and Germany, which want to phase out the use of oil, gas and coal sometime this century.

Last month, Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter revealed that it could stop using fossil fuels within the next 35 years:

"In Saudi Arabia, we recognize that eventually, one of these days, we are not going to need fossil fuels. I don't know when, in 2040, 2050 or thereafter."

Despite accumulating its vast wealth from its huge oil reserves, the Middle Eastern kingdom is already hatching plans to become a "global power in solar and wind energy" and it may replace oil with renewable electricity exports in the not too distant future:

"I believe solar will be even more economic than fossil fuels," said Saudi's oil powerful oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month.

It is unclear whether calls to phase out fossil fuels this century will be included in the final Paris treaty, but there is growing pressure from politicians, corporations, and investors alike to do more to tackle climate change.

In a unusual public move aimed at influencing this December's summit, European oil giants including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total and Statoil have called on the UN to replace coal with natural gas as it has fewer emissions. Gas forms a large proportion of their collective profits.

Last week, Ségolène Royal, France's environment minister, criticized the glacial progress that negotiators are making on the 80 page long text:

"The procedure isn't really suited to what we need for climate change. If you tried to run a business like that it would have gone bust long ago."

Negotiators will try to firm up the text this week in Bonn, Germany, and there will be two more meetings before the final summit kicks off in Paris at the end of November.

Although many countries, including major emitters such as the US, EU, and Russia have already handed in their proposed emission cuts, scientists say that the sum total is not enough to limit the warming of our planet to two degrees celsius.

In fact, according to a newreport out this week, the pledges made thus far "will only delay dangerous warming by two years."

Later this month, Pope Francis is expected to deliver an encyclical letter calling on the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to stand up against climate change.

The encyclical is the most important form of teaching by the Pontiff, and it is the first one that will be completely dedicated to the environment.

In the past, the Pope has said that a Christian who does not protect God's creation "is a Christian who does not care about the work of God". And, "if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us."