23 September 2009

That Tricky Business of National Sovereignty

In a very important decision with broad implications for cap-and-trade programs, an EU Court has found that the EU cannot impose emissions quotas on EU member states, calling into question the ability of the unified EU ETS to function. From Deutsche Welle:
In 2006, Poland and Estonia submitted their emissions plans for the years 2008 to 2012 to the commission. Poland gave itself an overall target of 285 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, while Estonia set itself a target of 24 million tons. Arguing that it needed to account for future economic growth, Poland's self-imposed target was more than 40 million tons higher than its total industrial emissions in 2006. Estonia's target was almost double its 2006 emissions.

In 2007, the commission ruled that the plans did not fulfil the potential for emissions cuts, and ordered Poland to curb its emissions by more than a quarter, and Estonia by nearly half. That decision has now been overturned by the EU court. . .

The EU court must also decide on similar cases involving Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic, effectively calling into question the way the entire system is run and potentially undermining the price of emissions permits across Europe.
Absent a world government, the ruling should make clear that which should already be obvious -- there is no global set of institutions capable of overseeing any sort of interlocking, multi-national cap-and-trade programs. If it can't work in the EU it certainly won't work in the UN.

So long as emissions are tightly coupled to GDP, then no country is going to cede authority over its economy to any other country by giving them any say over their emissions. If and when the link of GDP and emissions is broken, then such international coordination might be possible (as has been the case in say transboundary air pollution or ozone depleting chemicals, neither of which is at all coupled to national GDPs). But note the direction of causality -- technological innovation happens first, coordinated global governance second. Climate policies should thus be focused on breaking the link between GDP and emissions, which means a coordinated, international approach to technological innovation (i.e., specifically improving efficiency and reducing carbon intensity of energy supply).


Reiner Grundmann said...

Roger - I would doubt that your statement "technological innovation first, coordinated global governance second" is generally true. As it happened in the case of ozone layer politics, this sequence was reversed, as I argue in my book Transnational Environmental Policy (2001). Issues of national sovereignty (and level playing fields) were indeed of central concern during the negotiations.
Reiner Grundmann

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


Thanks for the comment. I'd welcome more details on your views.

Clearly on ozone depletion CFC substitutes long-preceded the Montreal Protocol. And on acid rain smokestack scrubbers existed before any international agreements.

Reiner Grundmann said...

OK, let me explain in greater detail.
First, I do not think that the close correlation between GDP and emissions has much to do with the technology / regulation question. Second, there are many different forms of environmental technology/policy change, one driven by technology, another driven by policy. Martin Jaenicke (2000) and others in Germany have used a 2x2 matrix to show different paths of innovation
[graph here]
More specifically to ozone politics, it is true that some substitutes existed before regulation (no matter if we consider the Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol): we had refrigeration technology before the invention of CFCs, we had low-ytech alternatives for some applications (such as pump sprays), and drop-in substitutes had been identified in the late 1970s. However, as I argue in my book, ‘CFC manufacturers were confronted with the following problems:
• in no area of application was there 100 percent substitutability;
• the substances identified as alternatives had to undergo (in some cases long-term) toxicological and ecological testing before they could be permitted;
• appropriate production procedures for the potential substitutes had to be developed (this does not apply for R 22, which was already in use long before Montreal).’ (p.149)
• more generally, it was not so much a question of technological alternatives but of profitable technological alternatives.
After the Montreal Protocol new (profitable) technologies emerged that came to replace former use of CFCs (such as orange based cleaning solutions in computer chip manufacturing).
I guess in a way we could say the same about climate change: we do have alternatives to fossil fuel based energies and applications, some of which very old, some new or emerging, some yet unknown. The question is how profitable they are and how much social resistance is encountered when trying to shift the current technostructure to alternative pathways. As you rightly point out in many entries on your blog, the climate change issue is above all a social issue, and less a scientific or technical one. In ozone politics, it was as a matter of political interference with the sovereignty of private companies as it was a matter of interference with national sovereignty. In both instances, this was a matter of principle, and there was stiff resistance to accept the idea that change was necessary and to accept regulations.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


Thanks for this additional info -- I think we very much agree, especially your point that:

"The question is how profitable they are and how much social resistance is encountered when trying to shift the current technostructure to alternative pathways."

This is why the CO2 per GDP issue matters. There are not presently profitable energy alternatives that meet social, political, economic and technical criteria of acceptability.

So perhaps I was too glob in saying that technology precedes governance, but it is undoubtedly true that politicians find action much easier when the solution is (mostly) already in hand.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Roger -
I guess it depends what you mean by 'the solution ... [being] already in hand'
* if you mean technological, I think I disagree because no matter how much renewables we could generate, there is still the issue of dismantling the carbon intensive sectors. Why does Obama not showcase the Prius? It would send a message to his rustbelt voters...
*if you mean political, I agree. But in this case, all problems would be easily resolved, by definition.

The interesting point about ozone politics is that despite some technological alternatives being available at the time of regulation, there was still huge political opposition. In this case it was overcome by a combination of leadership and hegemonic power (US) and a sense of imminent crisis. In climate politics we see many attempts at replicating the crisis (to invent the equivalent of the ozone layer, so to speak) but no true leadership. Two important differences are:
1 in climate politics we have far more public attention
2 in climate politics we have much more investment in the science basis, especially modelling, which was in its infancy in ozone politics.
Far more public expectations are generated about model based scenarios which are extremely costly -- this is the crux of the matter. These models tell us nothing about what to do.

Reiner Grundmann said...

sorry that should read "equivalent of the ozone hole" instead of "equivalent of the ozone layer"

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


The US story of action on ozone depletion is not one of imminent crisis, but incremental muddling through. The presence of technological substitutes was part of the equation that ruduced opposition. See:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and M. M. Betsill, 1997: Policy for Science for Policy: Ozone Depletion and Acid Rain Revisited. Research Policy, 26, 157-168.

Reiner Grundmann said...

In the run up to Montreal there were no new technological developments that eased the transition to a post CFC world. All chemical subsitutes and replacements for CFCs had been identified many years before. The decisive changes were all political, the change of tack by Germany (and then the EU), and the change of tack by Du Pont. To repeat my point: Du Pont’s change was not based on new discoveries but on fears of alienating the consumers, possibly also fear of law suits after an EPA study in 1986 found that 40 millions would suffer from skin cancer with 800,000 deaths in the USA alone.
The change of heart in German government came about after the Greens won seats in Parliament for the first time. Note that it was the conservative party under Helmut Kohl which made the switch, taking a stance against the chemical industry (BASF was in Kohl's own constituency).

Both developments were initiated by the alarmed discovery of the ozone hole in 1985/86. As Rowland put it, 'The big loss of ozone over Antarctica has changed this from being a computer hypothesis plausible for the future to a current reality and cause for concern' (New York Times, 7 December 1986)

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


In the US the story was very different. the introduction of technological substitutes for CFCs was a crucial factor in DuPont, NRDC and the Reagan Administration reaching a settlement on the NRDC lawsuit under the CAAA of 1977. Note that my timeline is a bit earlier than your , and covers the period 1975-1984. Once the US signed the Vienna Convention in 1984, Montreal was pretty much inevitable.

It may be that you are discussing the issue in its mature phase (1986 and beyond) and I am talking about its formative stage (1975-1984), where it is quite possible that different dynamics were at work. Ambassador Richard Benedict commented that the discovery of the ozone hole did not influence US commitments to Montreal, as that was decided earlier, and the historical record shows this to be the case.

In the US at least, technology was a major factor in leading to political agreement in the early 1980s, arguably helping to pave the way for broader international agreements.

Reiner Grundmann said...

So which substitutes do you have in mind? The CAAA banned the use of CFCs in aerosol spray cans. They were replaced by other propellant gases such as propane or butane, hardly 'new technologies'.
Even before the ban, there were voluntary policies by several companies and states in place and a consumer boycott, too. See the account by the Social Learning Group, Learning to manage global environmental risks, Volume 1, p.125

Benedick is wrong in his claim. It is true that the Montreal Protocol was not designed to deal with the ozone hole, but with secular ozone depletion. However, the stalling negotations came to an agreement as the dramatic developments over Antarctica were informally fed to delegates.

I am not convinced that Montreal had to follow automatically after Vienna was signed. There were very few countries keen to impose binding controls and in 1984 no model predicted huge losses of ozone. Had people relied on the models only there would have been no reason to regulate.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


It was actually the TSCA of 1976 that regulated non-essential uses of CFCs such as in spray cans. The CAAA of 1977 set forth a standard for endangerment that was met when Jimmy Carter issued "midnight regulations" (and ANPR) right before leaving office.

The ANPR was tied up in administrative neglect under Reagan until the NRDC lawsuit. That lawsuit was settled when DuPont and the Reagan Admin dropped opposition. And dropping opposition was an important consequence of the invention of technological substitutes that were marketable.

All of this occurred despite, as you correctly state, the presence of significant scientific uncertainty on the issue in mainstream scientific circles, e.g., the NAS.

Why regulation occurred despite these uncertainties is an important and under-appreciated lesson of the ozone case.

This story is told in detail here:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and M. M. Betsill, 1997: Policy for Science for Policy: Ozone Depletion and Acid Rain Revisited. Research Policy, 26, 157-168.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Pielke and Betsill is a good article and I quote it often but it does provide support for your assertion that
'dropping opposition was an important consequence of the invention of technological substitues that were marketable.'
You describe rather well what institutional decision rules helped the pro-regulation actors along. Again, these are politcal/legal aspects, not technology related.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


I don't think that we disagree (much) --- I do think that there is actually a complex interplay of institutions and technology (which I presume that you'd agree with). I think that Sarewitz and Nelson do a nice job laying out the issues in this piece:


Reiner Grundmann said...

Maybe its time to continue the beauty contest. The argument from Sarewitz/Nelson about a functioning technical core is too seductive ... to be entirely convincing. As we know, the biggest problem for any vaccination program to succeed is the rate of immunization across a population. Such programs are therefore near mandatory (from a public health viewppoint) as any significant amount of non-participation will throw the whole thing. Here in Britain people are extemely wary about gov plans to vaccinate. One severe case of neg sideffects and the nation goes into immunization strike. How's that for a purely functioning core?

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