13 May 2013

The dog's breakfast that is Kyoto

George Monbiot laments our failure to cut back greenhouse gas emissions:
The European Emissions Trading Scheme, which was supposed to have capped our consumption, is now, for practical purposes, dead. International climate talks have stalled; governments such as ours now seem quietly to be unpicking their domestic commitments. Practical measures to prevent the growth of global emissions are, by comparison to the scale of the challenge, almost non-existent. Via dolorosa, George Monbiot, 10 May
Attempts to cut back greenhouse gas emissions were always doomed to fail. And, in the form that they have taken, they deserve to. Why? Several reasons:

The causal relationship between emissions and climate is too obscure, scientifically and (largely) hence politically. Nobody's going to take serious action when the relationship between cause and effect is so difficult to pin down. All the costs of emission cutbacks are upfront. All the supposed benefits are uncertain and, if they ever do arise, it won't be until decades into future. At a time when our scientific knowledge of the existence, causes and effects of climate change is expanding rapidly, Kyoto and the attendant nonsensical emission trading schemes rely on science that was fossilized in the 1990s. Perhaps it was all an elaborate conspiracy designed specifically to do distract us while allowing the continued exploration for and exploitation of fossil fuels. A few windmills and higher electricity bills notwithstanding, that's basically the sum achievement of Kyoto and the millions bureaucrat-days that have been spent on the climate change issue.

A Climate Stability Bond regime would have been different. For a start, it would not assume that climate change is happening; it would not assume that if it is happening it's caused my man; and it would not have as its goal the cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. Instead it would start by specifying what exactly are our climate-related goals, all of which would have to be achieved before taxpayers lose a penny. Our climate goals would include physical, biological and financial measures of the world's climate and its impacts, all of which would have to fit into specified ranges in, say, the years 2030, 2040 and 2075, before the bonds would be redeemed. The bonds would stimulate diverse, adaptive approaches, that would stimulate and continuously respond to our rapidly growing knowledge of the climate. Despite the very long term goals of a bond regime, people would still be rewarded along the way, by doing what they can to achieve our climate goals and so benefiting from the consequent increase in the market value of their bonds.

Incentives matter. The incentives under the current system are, as Mr Monbiot has discovered, to misdirect the public and scour the planet for fossil fuels. Climate Stability Bonds would instead reward people for doing whatever we can to prevent climate change and its depredations. Because the targeted outcomes of a bond regime would be meaningful to ordinary people, they would generate participation in, and buy-in to, the approaches adopted by investors in the bonds.

The contrast with the current dog's breakfast of failed regimes is total.

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