11 May 2010

The Hartwell Paper

[UPDATE #2: The Hartwell paper is now available in German, French and Japanese here.]

The Economist provides a very thoughtful and comprehensive review of the Hartwell Paper here.]

I am part of a team of 14 authors who have co-authored a new paper on how to reform climate policy. The paper, titled The Hartwell Paper after the location outside London where we met in February, focuses on what to do in the aftermath of the climate policy "crash" that occurred in Copenhagen last December. From the Executive Summary:

The crash of 2009 presents an immense opportunity to set climate policy free to fly at last. The principal motivation and purpose of this Paper is to explain and to advance this opportunity. To do so involves understanding and accepting a startling proposition. It is now plain that it is not possible to have a 'climate policy' that has emissions reductions as the all encompassing goal. However, there are many other reasons why the decarbonisation of the global economy is highly desirable. Therefore, the Paper advocates a radical reframing – an inverting – of approach: accepting that decarbonisation will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals which are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic.

The Paper therefore proposes that the organising principle of our effort should be the raising up of human dignity via three overarching objectives: ensuring energy access for all; ensuring that we develop in a manner that does not undermine the essential functioning of the Earth system; ensuring that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever their cause may be.

Mike Hulme, also a co-author, has an essay on the paper in the BBC today. He writes:
To move forward, we believe a startling proposition must be understood and accepted. It is not possible to have a "climate policy" that has emissions reduction as the all-encompassing and driving goal.

We advocate inverting and fragmenting the conventional approach: accepting that taming climate change will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals that are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic. Without a fundamental re-framing of the issue, new mandates will not be granted for any fresh courses of action, even good ones.

The paper's first primary goal focuses on access; to ensure that the basic needs, especially the energy demands, of the world's growing population are adequately met.

The second is a sustainability goal; to ensure that we develop in a manner that balances social, economic and ecological goals.

Third is a resilience goal; to ensure that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever their cause.

You can read The Hartwell paper here. Comments are welcomed.


  1. I read Hulme's BBC piece, and breathed a sigh of relief. At last some realism, pragmatism, and humanity.

  2. I am really interested in what you are doing, but I wonder how you will react when somebody, like me, sees that much of the funding for your project seems to come from the automotive industry. I'm not attacking, but just wondering out loud how you will reply.

  3. -2-nations within

    As we state up front, some funding for our meeting did indeed come from industry. Other funding came from foundations. We are appreciative to all of our funders for enabling the work to occur. I can assure you that no one told us what to say, and I'm pretty sure most participants were unaware of where all of the funding came from at the time of the meeting (I was).

    However, knowing who supported the meeting is a fair question to ask. I hope that people will evaluate our arguments on their merits.

  4. -2-nations within

    I should add also that the automotive industry has an interest in sustainability of their industry, so I don't think that their support of the meeting is particularly problematic in any case. Do you?

  5. I am very interested and intrigued by this approach. It certainly makes a lot of sense to have a multi-pronged assault on the problems of climate change. I was wondering if the idea of the "tipping point" was discussed in the meeting. I have noted that, in the news at least, there seems to be a glossing over the problem of the tipping point. What work is being done to plan for the results if we are too late to do much of anything to stop a radical shifting of the climate patterns? I'd like to see a map of the world after the Greenland cap melts, after the Antarctic thaws, and the new patterns start to solidify. A LOT of people are going to lose their homes and the land under them! Aside from the occasional mention of this possibility are any groups studying how to deal with the new land mass outlines, and are they studying likely new weather patterns? I've heard Siberia will be a new bread basket while most of America will be in a more or less constant drought. It would be great to know we have a Plan B in case we can't mitigate the changes.

  6. Roger, I'm halfway through the paper. I was reading it with a political eye, ie imagining myself not as one of the converted, but as, say, a RC reader. On that basis I think they may stop reading on page 1 of Part 1, where you cover climategate and IPCC errors, query the 'the legitimacy of the institutions of climate
    policy and science', all as part of commenting on the accelerated erosion of public trust.

    I can imagine Gavin's comments on that - I would think you could have simply said that there has been an erosion of public support. You've given the hard-core a reason to rubbish the whole thing, as you are compelling them to start arguing with you on page 1, which is a shame.

  7. -6-Roddy

    Thanks for this comment. It would also be fair to say that our views will be rejected immediately by many who think that the climate issue is a hoax or scam.

    Obviously, our piece is not written for the "hard-core" on this issue, but rather for the pragmatists who want to see action take place. You can be sure that we discussed these issues at length and decided to call things as we see them.

  8. If there is not a CO2 caused climate crisis underway, then can you please tell us the merits of radical decarbonization, and why there is a focus on lcimate instead of energy in the first place?
    Dr. Hulme talks about 'taming climate change' what is the difference between that concept and controlling the climate?
    Thank you for at least recognizing that people must come first.

  9. Do you think we will need a "Climate Policy" when the end result of the European and Obama debt profligacy comes home to roost?

    I'd give it 18 months before Mr. Reality imposes his will on Mr. & Mrs. Wishforit.

    At that point, discussion about Climate Policy will not likely be on anyone's radar screen.

    Discussions about Climate Policy are for countries that are rich and can afford to support a class of people who discuss Climate Policy.

    That's not where we are going . . . .

  10. -8, 9- FoFaS, Fred

    Please do read the paper

  11. Roger,

    From your paper:

    "For nuclear plants to become
    much cheaper they will probably need to be smaller, mass manufactured,
    proliferation-proof and need to store, recycle or otherwise find a satisfactory
    solution to their own waste."

    The thorium fuel cycle combined with molten salt (e.g. LFTR, liquid-fluoride thorium reactor) addresses well ALL of these needs. The technology is proven but needs to be pulled of the shelf and updated.


  12. Was any polar bears harmed in this process?

    PS Energy access for all is a principle not a goal, nor even an aspiration. It should not be tied to decarbonisation.

  13. I almost stopped reading in the very beginning when I got to the part about never letting a good crisis go to waste. Given the context and history of that statement, it's going to be pretty darn offensive to about half of the people in the U.S. But then again, reading on, the proposals inside would likely be offensive to that same population.

    Why is the solution to every problem massive tax increases to fund hundreds of billions of dollars a year for a huge government bureacracy?

  14. Seems like a well balanced paper. It is definitely a more comprehensive argument for a way forward. I'm still far from convinced though.

    "One important reason that more than 1.5 billion people presently lack access to electricity is that energy simply costs too much. Obviously, if energy were free, then its provision would be simple. Even if such access could be supplied from fossil fuels – which is plausible but also debatable – this demand for access to energy, for reasons of cost and security should not be satisfied by locking in long-term dependence on fossil fuels"

    Why not? Don't financial projections of various different options need to be shown here to make this case?

    "Providing the world with massive amounts of new energy supply to meet expected growth in demand, while simultaneously vigorously increasing access to energy for people currently without it, will therefore require diversification of supply."

    A similar statement to the last paragraph. I haven't seen a convincing case that this is true.

    "All societies are ill-adapted to climate to some degree. In other words, climate extremes and variability imposes costs on all societies (as well, of course, as generating benefits)."

    Agree with the general statement. If the costs of trying to reduce variability are more than the costs imposed by a varying climate, should we not deal with the varying climate when and if it occurs?

    Issues listed to focus on outside of CO2 are:

    1) Ensuring energy access for all
    2) Ensuring viable environments protected from various forcings
    A) Reduce tropospheric ozone
    B) Work towards effective protection of tropical forests
    3) Ensuring that societies can live and cope with climate risk (‘adaptation’)

    1) While a great humanitarian practice, as mentioned, this requires cheaper alternatives to fossil fuels. I don't see why it is in the best interest of countries that have access to energy to retard their economies to either move to higher cost energy so developing countries can use cheaper fossil fuels, or somehow develop competitive low carbon technologies. You must convince people to vote against themselves to help people half a world away who will take their jobs as they modernize.

    2) I see a few death figures, costs, and vague concern over ecosystems because of these issues, but no similar comparison of the lives lost and costs of decarbonizing our economy.

    3) I think this must necessarily be tied to a comprehensive understanding of the science around climate change. How do you know the costs of adaptation when you don't know exactly what we have to adapt to?

    I think it's obvious that, if we can develop a low carbon energy source that is cost competitive with fossil fuels, we should go that route. Also, correct in the fact that government is in a better position to do this than private industry. I don't believe a carbon tax is the best solution. I rather see existing funds redirected to this cause. If that is not possible, I would rather see funds obtained from a progressive income tax increase. Using a carbon tax is more likely to have negative economic consequences since your incenting people to use less energy.

    I also think we should not take action against the current economy, except in areas where low-carbon solutions can already be competitive, until we've developed this competitive solution that can be used worldwide or at least close enough to such a solution that the costs are more known.

  15. Roger,

    I think you are correct in shifting away from short term artificial 'decarbonization targets' to longer term 'affordable energy sustainability' issues.

    I'll illustrate what I believe are substantial current structural impediments.

    One of the reasons for lack of energy related R&D in the developed world is a lack of market.

    The failure of the Washington State Whoops nuclear project wasn't technical or political. The projected increase in energy demand didn't materialize.

    The 10+ year lead time for a nuclear power project in the US exceeds our ability to accurately forecast demand.

    Even with the 4-5 year lead time for a coal fired plant a significant portion of 'announced new capacity' in the US never gets built. Someone invents a better light bulb or the localized building boom comes to an end.

    In the developed world we end up choosing electric generating capacity that has the least capital risk despite the potential for longer term cost disadvantages in order to minimize our 'lack of demand' risk.

    In the developing world there is no 'lack of demand' risk at the current time. Non-fossil based options are already cost effective. The problem that presents itself in the developed world is 'need it now'.

    Hence we see the Chinese slapping up coal fired plants like they are going out of style while they wait for nuclear plants and hydro projects to be built.

    So thats one problem.

    The artificial CO2 emissions goals present other problems.

    Windmills are fairly quick and easy to deploy, so they give us a 'need it now' carbon reduction. But they need backup generating capacity. Having spent our money on 'need it now' carbon savings, the public is going to be reluctant to spend again on 'non-fossil based' backup generating capacity.

    I believe this is the current problem in the British Energy policy debate. In an effort to meet the 2010 goals, the British political leadership has expended it's 'political capital' and is now faced with a public that is unwilling to 'pay again' in order to meet the 2020 goal. If one concludes that one will need to move to nuclear power in order to meet 'long term' decarbonization goals then building windmills now is just a waste of money, there is no savings, economic or environmental to be made running a nuclear power plant at less then capacity when the wind is blowing.

    Unfortunately, once one has committed to a treaty, fulfilling the terms of the treaty takes precedence over sensible long term solutions.

  16. Roger,

    I haven't had a chance to read the paper yet, but will later. I want to offer a few comments, however.

    I have believed for the better part of a decade now that the best way forward is to accelerate the Third World toward economic prosperity (i.e. alleviate poverty worldwide). From an energy policy point of view, this is BAU and in the short term may mean increased carbonization. But supply and demand will then accelerate the time frame over which renewables become cost effective relative to fossil fuels. Rapid decarbonization would proceed from that point on.

    From this point of view, decarbonization is not desirable except that it occurs naturally by market forces (though sound governmental policy can smooth the transition) and issues of climate change play no role at all. But in the end, I think this trajectory gets us to accelerated decarbonization worldwide faster than any other option.

    The Hartwell paper seems to acknowledge that poverty alleviation should be the primary driver of energy policy. This is a step in the right direction, but the paper still seems to think that climate change matters as a major driver of policy. At best it should be a minor (and perhaps nonexistent) perturbation to energy policy.

  17. Roger, I do not understand why you and the other authors believe a carbon tax is somehow politically feasible. Did you not follow any of the recent debates in the Congress? And if you are proposing a small carbon tax, then why cannot you simply implement the actions without that carbon tax?

    Any credible strategy beyond Copenhagen must focus on building political support for a sustainable energy transition. The fact that something is feasible -- reducing trace gas concentrations is indeed easy -- does not mean that it is useful.

    Johannes Urpelainen

  18. Thanks Roger

    Interesting paper.

    I'll admit that I skimmed it rather than reading in detail.

    There is lots in there I can agree with
    - agressive focus on short-lived climate forcers (methane, trop O3, BC etc.). The kyoto focus on 100 yr GWP rather than a shorter time frame equates to a ridiculously low discount rate IMO
    - protection of tropical forests - (many co-benefits beyond climate)
    - adaptation (why not since we're committed!)

    and I think lots of mainstream climate scientists would agree with those points as well. Certainly there is a fair bit of literature on the benefits of aggressively reducing SLCFs.

    Framing this as a response to:

    "the legitimacy of the institutions of climate policy and science are no longer assured."

    is a mistake IMO.
    An alternative approach is not needed because climate science is in doubt. An alternative approach is primarily needed because the current approach is NOT WORKING.

    More generally I think some "climate type" policies can and should be pitched to the public primarily on their non-climate co-benefits (air quality, public health, energy security) rather than their GHG reductions. The bulk of the co-benefits are typically enjoyed locally and immediately while the climate benefits will be diluted over the whole globe and felt only in the future.

    A quote I think is relevant and interesting:

    "First, advocates of climate change–mitigation policies should start talking about the sizeable public health benefits that many of those policies can create. Even a politician who is convinced that global warming is a scientific fraud, or who refuses to work to save the world unless every other nation does so first, cannot ignore proposals that will directly improve the health of his or her constituents."
    Michael R. Bloomberg, Rohit T. Aggarwala
    Think Locally, Act Globally: How Curbing Global Warming Emissions Can Improve Local Public Health
    Am J Prev Med 2008;35(5)

  19. Why is there a need for climate policy vs environmental policy where the connections to cause and effect are more demonstrable?

  20. "The … problem is epistemological. It is a characteristic of open systems of high complexity and with many ill-understood feed-back effects, such as the global climate classically is, that there are no self declaring indicators which tell the policy maker when enough knowledge has been accumulated to make it sensible to move into action. Nor, it might be argued, can a policy-maker ever possess the type of knowledge – distributed, fragmented, private; and certainly not in sufficient coherence or quantity – to make accurate ‘top down’ directions. Hence, the frequency of failure and of unintended consequences."

    This is eminently sensible and superior to imminent catastrophic tipping points that were bandied about not that long ago. It has been my view since I understood the issues (to the best of my ability)

    It is something one imagines being discussed behind closed doors with policy makers, and not so much in the public domain, because it is hard to believe large sums of money would be involved.

    With promising new carbon technologies like the ones below, the reasons not to use them would have to be compelling.

    However, I totally support the subsidised development of sustainable technologies. The vision of a clean, quiet and sustainable world must be the goal. The Copenhagen disaster was cause by the unseemly haste of carbon trading profit seekers.

    Shale Gas Will Rock the World (WSJ)


    Introduction to Underground Coal Gasification Technology


    As for political tribalism, it seems to me that AGW was very deliberately framed within the American culture divide. That works by having a rough 50/50 split and each issue (or election) is decided by the insertion of corporate money on one side or the other. AGW was 100% supported by the corporate sector. Obama had three times the television money of McCain in the election.

    Apologies for the last post. I did try to avoid the offence, but was in a rush and made a mistake.

  21. I don't agree with reasoning behind the proposal but a lot of the actions make sense. Another "easy" action that you could include in the paper is eliminating subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

  22. Anyone want to bet on how long it will take the Joe Romm and realclimate folks of this world discrediting this paper has "deniers" propaganda?

    Since, I agree with a lot of what is written in this paper, I can't see these folks being happy with the proposal and conclusion.

  23. I think this represents meaningful progress. It not only establishes politically acceptable rationales for decreased reliance on fossil fuels, but it will take the pressure off climate science to provide incentive to policy makers. I hope it is widely accepted.

  24. The Economist take on the paper was extremely encouraging to me. It portends a far more productive dialogue than we've had from the extremes on both sides of the subject. Now I'll have to go read it. Thanks!

  25. Upping the anti and the price of energy (as I predicted)


    Europe's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard is to set out the case for a unilateral 30% EU cut in CO2.

    At the end of May she will unveil research examining the consequences to Europe's economy of outdoing the current 20% target.

    The commissioner admitted that she was worrying that public scepticism about climate change is on the rise in some countries - particularly, she said, the UK. "The day we have 100pc certainty it's too late to act," she said.

    Commenting on the suggestion from the Hartwell Group that the Kyoto Protocol would not deliver and the carbon markets would not work, she told BBC News: "Given the huge disappointments of this year it is understandable that some people would say we should find a different approach.

    "But I would remind people that we now have all the world's major nations agreeing that they bear a share of the responsibility for protecting the climate and keeping temperature rise below 2C - that would have been inconceivable if you had suggested it a few years ago.

    "It is too soon to kill off Kyoto. And the carbon markets can provide us with more finance for clean development if we can drive up the carbon price somehow. "It's not an accident that China is now developing trial carbon markets with major firms."

  26. Europe's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard...

    "But I would remind people that we now have all the world's major nations agreeing that they bear a share of the responsibility for protecting the climate and keeping temperature rise below 2C - that would have been inconceivable if you had suggested it a few years ago. "

    The price of coal in China wasn't $100/ton a few years ago.

  27. -26-Harrywr2

    Where can I find historical data for the price of coal in China?

    (send me an email or respond here!)


  28. Roger,

    I sent an email of info I could find.

    To summarize -
    In 2002 China was agreeing coal export deals at $27 a ton for steam coal. Now they are paying $108/ton for imported steam coal.

    pre-2004 global coal prices had been pretty stagnant since the 1970's at least.

    I don't think it was improper for the IPCC folks to assume a commodity price that had been stagnant for 30 or 40 years would remain stagnant.

    The last 6 years of coal price increases have proved the assumption incorrect. It would be nice if someone could run the new numbers thru an emissions model.