22 January 2013

Kyoto is doomed

From the Economist:
On January 15th ... the most comprehensive study of black carbon yet conducted was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. It concluded that the stuff was the second-most-damaging greenhouse agent after CO2 and about twice as bad for the climate as had been thought until now. The implications are profound. Global warming: the new black, the 'Economist', 19 January, [my emphasis]
Indeed. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we should reward people for tackling climate change, not for taking steps that, based on science stuck in the 1990s, might do something about climate change.

The climate, like many social concerns, is too hard for anyone fully to understand. Making policy on the basis of limited knowledge is what we do all the time. It's unavoidable. But, when we trying to solve huge, urgent problems and when our knowledge of the important scientific relationships is almost negligible, it is idiotic to waste resources on initiatives - like cutting greenhouse gas emissions (or, rather, pretending to) - that are just as likely to be irrelevant as helpful.

Which is why I advocate targeting outcomes, rather than the supposed means of achieving them. If climate change is seen as an urgent problem, and if we genuinely want to do something about it, we should acknowledge that our scientific knowledge is seriously deficient and instead of rewarding people for undertaking government-improved activities we should reward them for, yes, actually reducing climate change. Under a Climate Stability Bond regime, we could define our climate goals as an array of physical, social, and financial conditions, all of which have to be satisfied for a sustained period before the bonds are redeemed. We'd be rewarding people for achieving society's targeted outcome, however they did so. Crucially, these people would have incentives to investigate, start, adapt or terminate their initiatives, or those they finance, in line with our rapidly expanding knowledge of the myriad variables that influence the climate. The entire Kyoto process, as the quote above shows, is spectacularly inadequate in this. It is doomed to fail.

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