The climate business

After a long career in economics, John Llewellyn has turned his attention to the business of climate change. He talks to Stuart Crainer.


Alot has been written about climate change. John Llewellyn provides a unique perspective. He is Lehman Brothers’ Senior Economic Policy Advisor for Europe and author of The Business of Climate Change published early in 2007. Dr Llewellyn, a New Zealander, received his undergraduate degree at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and his doctorate at Oxford University.

He then worked at Cambridge University and was a Fellow of St. John’s College and Assistant Director of Research in the Faculty of Economics. He then spent 17 years at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, where for the first eight he was in charge of international economic forecasting and policy analysis; he was also editor of the OECD Economic Outlook. He then became Deputy Director for Social Affairs, Manpower and Education, and for the last five years he was Chief of Staff. From 1995 to 2006, he was Global Chief Economist at Lehman Brothers.

How did your work as an economist lead you into working on climate change?

I had been global chief economist at Lehman’s for a decade. I went to see our CEO and told him that I’d decided the time had come to bow out gracefully. He said, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to do anything for three months and then I’m going to start to think.” He said, “If you really are going to retire, you have my blessing; but if you’re going to work, I’d rather you work for us.” The end result is my job, which they called senior economic policy advisor.

I began looking into climate change and, as soon as I did, I realized that I didn’t want to make my mind up on the basis of other people’s interpretations. And, therefore, I was going to read the science for myself. So I did all of that; it took me several months, and resulted in a presentation.

Did you come with any preconceptions?

I certainly didn’t come to this with any green credentials but after having reviewed all the evidence I decided there was something serious here.

So you read through all the climatology papers?

Yes. I’m not a scientist, but I was comfortable enough reading the science. I felt I could make up my own mind and, by and large, I’ve been able to. You don’t have to be able to do the science to be able to read it and to evaluate it and certainly you can, I think, separate the bogus arguments from the genuine arguments.

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