Climate Policy: Too Little, Too Late?

A reviewer at Real Climate (briefly) pooh-poohed
Six Degrees, the recent book by Mark Lynas,
author of the op-ed  below.  Lynas  emailed the
reviewer with questions.  The reviewer then read
(or re-read?)  Lynas’ book, and retracted the
dismissal in a subsequent Real Climate posting,
saying that Lynas’ Six Degrees is actually very
well-based on the available science.

Unfortunately, most climate policy under current
consideration still isn’t. Below, Lynas looks at
the still-popular Kyoto-based model as one of 3
policy options that merit examination, and
question.
Lance

———————————————————
” … conventional wisdom from governments and
environmental groups alike insists that ‘Kyoto is
the only game in town’, and that proposing any
alternative is dangerous heresy.”

“If current policy continues to fail – along the
lines of the “agree and ignore” scenario – then
50% to 80% of all species on earth could be
driven to extinction by the magnitude and
rapidity of warming, and much of the planet’s
surface leftuninhabitable to humans. Billions,
not millions, of people would be displaced.”
——————————————


The Guardian
guardian.co.uk
June 12 2008

Climate chaos is inevitable. We can only avert oblivion
At best we will limit the extent of global
warming, but Kyoto barely helps. Does humanity
have the foresight to save itself?

Mark Lynas
    
Sometimes we need to think the unthinkable,
particularly when dealing with a problem as
dangerous as climate change – there is no room
for dogma when considering the future
habitability of our planet. It was in this spirit
that I and a panel of other specialists in
climate, economics and policy-making met under
the aegis of the Stockholm Network thinktank to
map out future scenarios for how international
policy might evolve – and what the eventual
impact might be on the earth’s climate. We came
up with three alternative visions of the future,
and asked experts at the Met Office Hadley Centre
to run them through its climate models to give
each a projected temperature rise. The results
were both surprising, and profoundly disturbing.

We gave each scenario a name. The most
pessimistic was labelled “agree and ignore” – a
world where governments meet to make commitments
on climate change, but then backtrack or fail to
comply with them. Sound familiar? It should: this
scenario most closely resembles the past 10
years, and it projects emissions on an upward
trend until 2045. A more optimistic scenario was
termed “Kyoto plus”: here governments make a
strong agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, binding
industrialised countries into a new round of
Kyoto-style targets, with developing countries
joining successively as they achieve “first
world” status. This scenario represents the best
outcome that can plausibly result from the
current process – but ominously, it still sees
emissions rising until 2030.

The third scenario – called “step change” – is
worth a closer look. Here we envisaged massive
climate disasters around the world in 2010 and
2011 causing a sudden increase in the sense of
urgency surrounding global warming. Energised,
world leaders ditch Kyoto, abandoning efforts to
regulate emissions at a national level. Instead,
they focus on the companies that produce fossil
fuels in the first place – from oil and gas wells
and coal mines – with the UN setting a global
“upstream” production cap and auctioning tradable
permits to carbon producers. Instead of all the
complexity of regulating squabbling nations and
billions of people, the price mechanism does the
work: companies simply pass on their increased
costs to consumers, and demand for
carbon-intensive products begins to fall. The
auctioning of permits raises trillions of dollars
to be spent smoothing the transition to a
low-carbon economy and offsetting the impact of
price rises on the poor. A clear long-term
framework puts a price on carbon, giving business
a strong incentive to shift investment into
renewable energy and low-carbon manufacturing.
Most importantly, a strong carbon cap means that
global emissions peak as early as 2017.

This “upstream cap” approach is not a new idea,
and our approach draws in particular on a
forthcoming book by the environmental writer
Oliver Tickell. However, conventional wisdom from
governments and environmental groups alike
insists that “Kyoto is the only game in town”,
and that proposing any alternative is dangerous
heresy.

But let’s look at the modelled temperature
increases associated with each scenario. “Agree
and ignore” sees temperatures rise by 4.85C by
2100 (with a 90% probability); for “Kyoto plus”,
it’s 3.31C; and “step change” 2.89C. This is the
depressing bit: no politically plausible scenario
we could envisage will now keep the world below
the danger threshold of two degrees, the official
target of both the EU and UK. This means that all
scenarios see the total disappearance of Arctic
sea ice; spreading deserts and water stress in
the sub-tropics; extreme weather and floods; and
melting glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas.
Hence the need to focus far more on adaptation:
these are impacts that humanity is going to have
to deal with whatever now happens at the policy
level.

But the other great lesson is that sticking with
current policy is actually a very risky option,
rather than a safe bet. Betting on Kyoto could
mean triggering the collapse of the West
Antarctic ice sheet and crossing thresholds that
involve massive methane release from melting
Siberian permafrost. If current policy continues
to fail – along the lines of the “agree and
ignore” scenario – then 50% to 80% of all species
on earth could be driven to extinction by the
magnitude and rapidity of warming, and much of
the planet’s surface left uninhabitable to
humans. Billions, not millions, of people would
be displaced.

So which way will it go? Ultimately the
difference between the scenarios is one of
political will: the question now is whether
humanity can summon up the courage and foresight
to save itself, or whether business as usual – on
climate policy as much as economics – will
condemn us all to climatic oblivion.

· Mark Lynas is the author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

————————————————————————————-

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed