18 December 2009

Before and After Copenhagen

As the Copenhagen climate meeting comes to its end, with the exact outcome still to be announced, I thought I'd re-post my expectations for the meeting published in October.
The good news for international negotiators and politicians who have promised action is that the stage is set for a global agreement of some sort but, we are told, perhaps not with I's dotted and t's crossed. This means that government claims to be taking action can be backed up with evidence of some sort of an agreement at Copenhagen, while at the same time ineffectual domestic actions can be sustained. If the negotiators are really clever, they will find a way to package the ineffectual domestic policies as a sort of patched-together global agreement.

However, for those who care about emissions reductions, especially leading environmental groups and activists in the science community, the joke will be on them - they will get just about everything they campaigned for, except any prospect for actual reductions in future emissions. Meanwhile, India and China will be able to continue their current round of securing oil, gas, and coal from sources around the world to fuel their booming economic growth. Similarly, as we march toward Copenhagen, the Obama Administration has quietly set forth plans to build a pipeline from Canada to exploit carbon-intensive oil locked in tar sands. The United Kingdom and other EU countries are considering building new coal and gas plants to meet growing needs for power. As long as leaders of the climate movement continue to pretend that progress is being made, the climate policy charade will go on for a while longer, while business proceeds as usual.
In July a group of us concerned with the fact that climate policy is off course published a White Paper suggesting an alternative way to think about the challenge of decarbonizing the global economy:
Prins, G., Cook., M., Green, C., Hulme, M., Korhola, A., Korhola, E.R., Pielke, Jr., R., Rayner, S., Sawa, A., Sarewitz, D., Stehr, N., and H. von Storch, 2009. How to get climate policy back on course. Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, Oxford University and London School of Economics, The Mackinder Programme, LSE.
In that paper we argued that a more direct approach to decarbonizing the global economy would be more likely to lead to progress than the current, indirect approach being discussed in Copenhagen:
We should switch decisively to a radically different but also very familiar approach to policy which focuses upon actions that have worked in the past and which we know to be politically feasible. This track stands in contrast to current conventional wisdom which, oddly, is grounded upon policies that have not worked in the past and which we know never to have been politically feasible except through the application of unacceptable political forces.
Please have a look at that paper for the critique and suggested alternative approach. Will post-Copenhagen discussions be more or less open to alternatives? Will we repeat the Copenhagen exercise next fall in Mexico City? Time will tell.