17 November 2011

Targeting outcomes: there's no alternative

When it comes to climate change, the uselessness of the current policy approach is plain. The way we do things now is: get the government or some bureaucracy to identify some activity that has an effect, then try to encourage or discourage that activity. In our complex society, that way of doing things is increasingly futile. Take climate change. Current reasoning has it that (1) climate change is caused by man's greenhouse gas emissions and that (2) cutting back those emissions will stabilise the climate. There are huge scientific uncertainties here, but let's move on to step (3) we need to cut back those emissions. So we end up with the Kyoto process, whereby some, but not all, countries say they will cut their emissions. And in the unlikely event that those countries do actually cut their emissions what do we find?
[A] significant and growing share of global emissions are from the production of internationally traded goods and services. Although this finding may follow directly from increases in international trade itself, it could have unintended consequences for climate policy, as it leads to a spatial disconnect between the point of consumption and the emissions in production. Source
or, as Naomi Klein puts it:
the rise in emissions from goods produced in developing countries but consumed in industrialized ones was six times greater than the emissions savings of industrialized countries. Capitalism vs the climate, 'The Nation', 28 November
We're going nowhere on climate change, because we refuse to accept that, if we want to stop the climate changing, we have to target climate change. We have to reward the achievement of climate stability. What we shouldn't do is exactly what we are doing: using fossilised science to prejudge how we shall achieve climate stability, and building all our hopes and a huge bureaucracy on top of that science only to find that: the science is faulty or outdated and the bureaucracy is failing anyway. In short, cutting back emissions may or may not be helpful but, either way, we're not even doing that.

I really don't think there's a better way of tackling climate change and its consequences than Climate Stability Bonds. Nothing, in the years since my paper was published, has changed my view.

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