30 November 2009

Kyoto-Copenhagen: deeply flawed

The warming effect of carbon dioxide has been known since at least the 1900s, and that of ozone since the 1970s, but the importance of black carbon was discovered only recently. ... no on knows exactly how much warming [black carbon] causes, but even the most conservative estimates indicate a nontrivial impact. The other climate changers: why black carbon and ozone also matter, Hessica Wallack and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, 'Foreign Affairs', Sept/Oct 2009 (subscription, but see here)
Black carbon is a widespread form of particulate air pollution and mostly originates from the burning of biomass or fossil fuels. But the important phrase is 'no one knows'. It is that phrase that exposes the flaw in the entire Kyoto-Copenhagen approach to climate change. Even if titanic efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are made, at great social, financial and political cost, no one knows if they'll have any effect. Perhaps all such efforts will be swamped by any of the myriad other variables about which no one knows.

It's imperative that we shift from trying to work out the causes of climate change and acting on those, to an approach that targets the outcome we want to achieve and rewards people for doing so. We need an approach that will respond quickly to our rapidly expanding, but still deficient, scientific knowledge, and to new events. We need an array of adaptive, diverse approaches. Kyoto-Copenhagen is none of these things. It's deeply flawed and it's going to fail, however much money is thrown at it.

I've been talking and writing about Climate Stability Bonds for many years now, and will continue to do so until I see a better solution. It's a bit disheartening that the bonds' outcome-based approach is not generating any interest at political level, but I cannot see any better solution either to climate change or to any of our other social and environmental problems whose complexity will defeat any approach based, like Kyoto, on deficient, fossilised, information.

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