07 November 2013

No surprises here

The United Nations says it is “less and less likely” that global greenhouse gas emissions will be low enough by 2020 to stop the atmosphere warming beyond the internationally-agreed safety threshold – 2°C above its pre-industrial level. A report by the UN Environment Programme says current undertakings by world governments to cut emissions fall short of that goal, and emissions “continue to rise rather than decline”. Source
No surprise. If world governments were serious about doing something to moderate climate change, they'd reward people who help moderate climate change. Instead they have agreed on an elaborate, expensive, divisive and ineffectual policy of hand waving. The relationships are too obscure, or can be made to appear so: cutting greenhouse gas emissions might reduce climate change. But it might not. Even if it does, any benefits are likely to be minuscule. The costs are immediate, the benefits obscure and remote. It's not happening and it's not going to happen.

There'd be more popular support for targeting climate change directly. Under a Climate Stability Bond regime we could define our goal in ways that encompass an array of indicators: physical, biological, financial, so that all targeted conditions would have to be satisified and sustained before taxpayers become liable. We could choose to target goals including the reduction of casualties from adverse climatic events - something that ordinary people can understand and with which we can identify.

Apart from being comprehensible, the other big advantage of a bond regime is that it would channel resources into where they will be most effective at achieving our climate targets. It would encourage diverse, adaptive approaches, of the sort that Kyoto, with its fossilized science, cannot. And we are going to need diverse, adaptive approaches: the scientific relationships are too uncertain, and our knowledge expanding so rapidly, that any approach that focuses exclusively on just one variable (like the concentration of the few compounds identified as greenhouse gases twenty years ago) is going to fail. And it would fail even if it enjoyed support that took the form of actually doing something about it.

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