26 October 2015

Climate change: the fundamental question

Social Policy Bonds impose a useful discipline on policymakers. They oblige us to be very clear about what we want to achieve. Nowhere is this more necessary than with climate change. The fundamental question, which I don't see posed in policymaking circles or indeed anywhere else is:

Are we more concerned about climate change, or about the impacts of climate change on human, animal and plant life?

There seems to be a pervasive assumption that the most efficient way of mitigating the negative impacts of climate change is to reduce that which current science suggests (but does not know for certain) are one of its major causes: greenhouse gas emissions.

A Social Policy Bond regime would not make that assumption. Instead we would specify very clearly what we want to achieve. We would express our policy goal as a combination of physical, social, biological and financial measures that must fall within specified ranges for a sustained period. Only then would holders of Climate Stability Bonds be paid out.

In fact, there's a strong case for ensuring that policy be independent of our views about what's happening to the climate. For instance: a family made homeless by an earthquake or a missile is just as homeless as one made homeless by rising sea levels. Perhaps we should target for reduction the human cost of all disasters, whether caused by adverse climatic events, other acts of God, or by man. Impacts on animal and plant life could be targeted by other bond issues.

Unfortunately an entire bureaucracy has grown around climate change as a discrete problem. It seems to me that the existence and activities of this bureaucracy embody the assumption that our trying to influence the climate is the most efficient way of dealing with problems caused by unfavourable changes in the climate. I think that assumption needs to be challenged.

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