26 July 2011

Climate Pragmatism

In February, 2010 I participated in a workshop outside of London organized by Gwyn Prins (LSE) and Steve Rayner (Oxford) to discuss post-Copenhagen climate policy.  One important result of that workshop was a white paper, called The Hartwell Paper (named for the location of the meeting).

The Hartwell Paper continues to receive a lot of attention around the world -- particularly in Europe and Asia.  But it has received only minimal attention in the United States.  That is perhaps understandable as only four of the paper's co-authors are based in the US (Shellenberger, Nordhaus, me and Frank Laird) and the arguments did not engage the idiosyncrasies of the contemporary US political landscape.

So a small group of academics and think tankers from across the political spectrum decided that it might be worth trying to explicitly re-interpret the message of The Hartwell Paper in a US context.  So a while back we met in Washington, DC to discuss and debate.  The result is the paper released today -- Climate Pragmatism.

Here is an excerpt:
A new climate strategy should take a page from one of America’s greatest homegrown traditions — pragmatism1— which values pluralism over universalism, flexibility over rigidity, and practical results over utopian ideals. Where the UNFCCC imagined it could motivate nations to cooperatively enforce top-down emissions reductions with mathematical precision, US policymakers should acknowledge that today’s global, social, and ecological systems are too messy, open, and complicated to be governed in this way. Whereas the UNFCCC attempted to create new systems of global governance, a pragmatic approach would build upon established, successful institutions and proven approaches. Where the old climate policy regime tried to discipline a wildly diverse set of policies under a single global treaty, the new era must allow these policies and measures to stand—and evolve— independently and according to their own logic and merits. And where the old regime required that everyone band together around the same core motivation and goals, policymakers today are likely to make the most progress to the degree that they refrain from centrally justifying energy innovation, resilience to extreme weather, and pollution reduction as “climate policy.”
As far as I'm concerned (not sure if my co-authors would all agree), any debate over whether climate policy should move in a more pragmatic direction has been decided -- decisively.  It has and will.  the only real question is how quickly climate activists and policy experts decide to sail; with the prevailing winds, rather than against them.

Please read the paper and come back here and debate, discuss, critique.