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The United Kingdom is about to publish a report warning that climate change will cost the world trillions of dollars — far more than the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report was prepared by Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist. He presented his findings to a private meeting of environment and finance ministers from 20 industrialised and emerging economies in Mexico this week (2-3 October).

In a statement summarising Stern's analysis, the UK treasury said: "Action is urgent — the earlier we start, the greater the chance we will have of limiting the risks of dangerous climate change."

Margaret Beckett, Britain's foreign minister, told delegates in Mexico that Stern's report would show "that it is sound economic sense to respond to climate change and economic nonsense not to".

"Our task as governments is to build the biggest public-private partnership ever conceived," said Beckett. "We must give investors the certainty they are seeking that investment in low carbon today will yield growing returns."

She said it was a myth that "effective action on climate kills growth", and added that if the correct choices were made now, the agenda for tackling climate change would show itself to be an opportunity not a sacrifice.

Beckett cited action being taken in Brazil, China and India as leading examples of attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Yesterday, the UK Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research revealed a new study that indicates nearly one-third of the world's land surface could be at risk of extreme drought by the end of the century.

Based on drought records for the second half of the 20th century, the findings will be published by the Journal of Hydrometeorology at the end of this month.

The Mexico meeting was a follow-up to the 'Gleneagles Dialogue' on climate change that began at the G8 summit in Scotland in 2005.

Ministers at the Mexico meeting were expected to discuss a framework for tackling climate change after the Kyoto Protocol's remit ends in 2012, but the outcomes of the meeting have not yet been announced.

Activist organisation Friends of the Earth has expressed disappointment that the meeting was not open to civil society.

Link to Margaret Beckett's full statement