27 December 2005

Climate change: subordinate policy to outcomes not process

Dealing with climate change as if it’s just another problem is going to be disastrous. Governments, especially at the supranational level, subordinate all policy to process. Their only concern is that they comply with the rules – or rather, that they are not seen to have failed to comply with them. To politicians and officials, outcomes are irrelevant. This is especially the case with climate change, where they can easily escape or deflect censure because of all the scientific uncertainties and because their failures will not be directly attributable to them.

What’s prompted this diatribe? Researchers in the UK have found that warmer temperatures have stimulated microbial activity in 6000 soil borings across Britain. This means that much of the carbon that used to be stored in the soil is now being released into the atmosphere. “The quantities were large enough to negate all the work that Britain had done to switch away from coal to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.”

This is one of several scary feedback findings published recently. How will Kyoto absorb them into its mechanisms? How will policymakers respond? Answers: it won’t, and they won’t, respectively. That’s because Kyoto is a typical government conceit: it assumes government knew the scale of the climate change problem, the cause of the problem, and the best way of solving it in the 1990s. Kyoto cannot respond to our rapidly expanding knowledge.

Instead of Kyoto we urgently need an adaptive policy, that rewards people for preventing or mitigating climate change, however they do so. My suggestion is that we ditch Kyoto and governments, along with concerned non-governmental organisations and philanthropists issue Climate Stability Bonds instead. Even if the entire premise for Kyoto eventually turns out to be false – the climate is not changing, in other words – Climate Stability Bonds, because they are priced by the market, would still be the lowest-cost policy.

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