Climate Feedback

The wrong trousers

Belle's picThere’s an interesting commenary in Nature this week (currently free to access) by Steve Rayner of the James Martin Institute in Oxford and Gwyn Prins of the LSE, arguing that while emissions abatement is a global priority, the Kyoto Protocol is the wrong tool for the job — a one-size-fits-all approach that, among other failings, doesn’t actually look likely to deliver the reductions that it has promised. Unfortunately, as they argue, this sub-optimal approach has developed an iconic status of its own, so that in many minds to be against Kyoto is tantamount to being against any form of action on climate. They’re worried that this means people will uncritically attempt to follow up the Kyoto protocol (which expires in 2012) with a son-of-Kyoto that contains many or all of the same flaws, when they should be having a much more radical rethink.

In their words:

The Kyoto Protocol is a symbolically important expression of governments’ concern about climate change. But as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, it has failed. It has produced no demonstrable reductions in emissions or even in anticipated emissions growth. And it pays no more than token attention to the needs of societies to adapt to existing climate change. The impending United Nations Climate Change Conference being held in Bali in December — to decide international policy after 2012 — needs to radically rethink climate policy…Already, in the post-Kyoto discussions, we are witnessing that well-documented human response to failure, especially where political or emotional capital is involved, which is to insist on more of what is not working: in this case more stringent targets and timetables, involving more countries. The next round of negotiations needs to open up new approaches, not to close them down as Kyoto did.

They go on to talk about some of the things they are in favour of: concentrating on the economies that are big emitters rather than treating all nations as equal partners in negotiation, a massive “wartime footing” increase in R&D, “bottom-up” emissions markets, increased spending on adaptation, and a multi-scale “madisonian” approach to the problem like that advocated by David Victor, which I guess encompasses a bunch of their previous points. Their conclusion:

Sometimes the best line of attack is not head-on. Indirect measures can deliver much more: these range from informational instruments, such as labelling of consumer products; market instruments, such as emissions trading; and market stimuli, such as procurement programmes for clean technologies; to a few command-and-control mechanisms, such as technology standards. The benefit of this approach is that it focuses on what governments, firms and households actually do to reduce their emissions, in contrast to the directive target setting that has characterized international discussions since the late 1980s.

Because no one can know beforehand the exact consequences of any portfolio of policy measures, with a bottom-up approach, governments would focus on navigation, on maintaining course and momentum towards the goal of fundamental technological change, rather than on compliance with precise targets for emissions reductions. The flexibility of this inelegant approach would allow early mitigation efforts to serve as policy experiments from which lessons could be learned about what works, when and where. Thus cooperation, competition and control could all be brought to bear on the problem.


Cross-posted to Heliophage

Update 23 November 2007: Prins and Rayner have now published the full version of their analysis.


  1. Report this comment

    Keith J. Forbes said:

    The views of Rayner and Prins have a certain practical appeal on the surface. Make things more simple by involving fewer countries, because the big UN meetings are too complex, and focus on the large emitters. However, the actual text of the documents proposed during the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol COPs/MOPs are determined by pretty much the same few countries that they refer to, with the others basically making speeches and engaging in polite diplomatic chit chat in the corridors. So, nothing new here.

    With respect to more research, “coincidentally” what is proposed by conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere, and letting countries go their own way, and discover their own solutions, from which we could then choose one or a few for a global regime assumes a political willingness to make these investments and then actually develop mitigation policies at various levels across the globe, that doesn’t seem to exist. The authors point to no evidence for the same. If the research and development espoused by the authors actually led to policy change, then I suspect we’d see a lot more renewable energy than we do in the world. The barriers, sadly, are not technical.

    While the Kyoto Protocol is much less than what is needed, due to insistence from the now forgotten JUSCANZ (Japan, U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) for low targets and extremely flexible mechanisms, it is the only game in town at the global level, whether we like it or not.

    If we truly accept the dangers of climate change, then nothing more than mandatory cuts based upon the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (more or less equivalent to those who have been adding GHGs to the atmosphere from 1750 start first, others join later) in the order of 60-80% less than 1990 will work. Otherwise, we will continue to be entertained by proposals, counter-proposals, and “more research,” while the planet we all live on becomes increasingly less liveable.

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    Sudhir Chella Rajan said:

    Although they are accurate in their assessment that the Kyoto agreement has been a failure, Rayner and Prins seem to want to adopt almost exactly the wrong approach for a post-Kyoto regime. By arguing that it is better for a small group of countries to iron out an agreement, they seem to have forgotten the Byrd-Hagel resolution of 1998, which perfectly expresses the grass-roots political sentiment in the U.S., which is that all countries ought to chip in and make a contribution to addressing the climate problem.

    Moreover, what they are recommending is nothing more than an ad hoc, let’s-wait-for-thousand-flowers-to-bloom approach, which by any reckoning will be too little too late. The only realistic political solution is one that is based on sound ethical principles, i.e., one that recognizes the principle of fair burden-sharing while setting clear goals for greenhouse gas reduction. Rayner and Prins are right of course in saying that adaptation should not be left out of the equation, but what they are offering for the whole package is nothing more than homilies: more funding, more R&D and a laissez-faire economy that somehow gets the ball rolling. What we need though, is a collective strategy to make sure that the ball gets to the goal post.

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    Kevin said:

    I have been waiting for some rays of common sense to penetrate the clouds of fear around the climate change issue. Certainly, adaptation is the only sane solution; it is obvious that the climate has changed in the past, it should be equally obvious that it will continue to change in the future. To ignore adaptation is just plain stoopid.

    That we need new and better energy sources is clear. Oil is finite, and will one day run out. Simple common sense. It will cost a lot to figure all this out, again common sense.

    Basing incredibly dire predictions on a few hundred, or few thousand years worth of dubious climate proxies is sheer folly, when the climate has been in existence for millions of years or longer.

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    bigcitylib said:

    I wonder about the notion of the U.S. adopting a “wartime footing” with respect to R&D. If this means what it sounds like, it means TELLING energy companies what to research (command and control). I can’t see why the same people who yell “Socialism” when they hear “Kyoto” won’t hit all the same hot buttons over this.

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    Rick Green said:

    Rayner and Prins, in my opinion, make a fundamental error in placing much faith in the market and technology to solve global warming. Emissions are only one aspect of a broader problem that can be boiled down to overconsumption and overpopulation.

    The planet has finite resources. We are rapidly exhausting them and the natural capital we rely on to survive. Technology does nothing to address the overconsumption. It merely allows us to consume more efficiently, slowing down the onset of collapse.

    It reminds me of a scene in The Matrix where the Mr. Smith character says to the Neo character:

    “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

    Will we achieve equilibrium with our environment, or will exhaust our resources like a virus? If we continue to worship the deity of growth, the latter will be inevitable.

  6. Report this comment

    Oliver Tickell said:

    Rayner and Prins are correct in their broad thesis, that the Kyoto Protocol is a failed treaty and that it needs to be replaced with something effective which yields significant funds for adaptation, mitigation and energy research. However their contention that there is no elegant solution is not strongly founded. Perhaps they have simply not thought of one. The key to an elegant solution is to use the value of scarce carbon permits constrained by a global cap to raise funds for these purposes – value which is presently going to power companies to the tune of €billions (Reuters has reported €30 billion a year) under the equally flawed and in any case subordinate EUETS. It sometimes seems that everyone in the carbon business is making shedloads of money, except the people who actually need it. A comprehensive system of selling emission permits would make polluters pay instead of rewarding them, and yield funding on the required scale of €100s of billions a year for the purposes proposed by the authors. Such a system would aim for globality, but could begin at the level of the EU, the NAFTA zone, or other significant trading blocks. Further information on this approach maybe found at the Kyoto2 website.

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    Jason Acosta said:

    This article was great. We really don’t know what the solutions to the climate mess will be. I work as a residential construction energy rater in the USA and I see a huge opportunity for improving existing homes. These large, top down approaches don’t seem to value small contributions. I have seen the energy use of homes cut in half by taking simple approaches that mainly involve air sealing and adding insulation.

    Unless we are open to different ways to address the climate problem, we may ignore low cost steps that are a more practical use of our capital. Kyoto not only gives the carbon market to the polluters, but it also prints money for them in the form of carbon credits that all the sudden are valuable. The grassroots approach is much more inspirational and allows experimentation. Let local governments prove a system that works before it is implemented on such a large scale. If the public isn’t behind legislation, it won’t go anywhere anyways.

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    Philip Machanick said:

    Whichever approach is adopted: a few major players, or everyone at once, one thing remains constant. The big emitters have to exhibit leadership not only because the cost to them of effective action is highest, but because the cost to others of their failure to act is highest.

    The US, India and China in particular have to take the problem more seriously. Europe has a patchy record: some parts have done well, others not.

    The most worrying thing in the meantime is that we increasingly often see measures of environmental change (the oceans’ capacity for storing carbon dioxide decreasing faster than expected, faster than predicted sea level rise, more rapid than expected loss of sea and land ice) that exceed any accepted modeling.

    Even if some aspects of the article are debatable, putting relevant R&D on a “wartime footing” is something we should all support. That R&D needs to emphasize mitigation, especially alternative energy; the time for navel contemplation is past.

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    Richard Bronstein said:

    Keith Forbes says nothing more than mandatory cuts will work, without spelling out who sets the mandate and who enforces it. The UN Charter mandates that nations not make war, but who respects that?

    Sudhir Rajan says we need to act according to ethics. I wish it were so but I don’t observe a lot of ethical behaviour in all the national, ethnic and religious conflicts going on today.

    All I know is that since the government of Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocols, Canada’s GHG emissions have increased 30 per cent.

    I don’t know the solution but the Kyoto process seems flawed to me. Since the Rio summit of 1990, which started the whole thing,we have produced neither a silver bullet, nor a silver shotgun shell – only a popgun.

    Despite the best efforts of our scientists, all the goodwill of Kyoto protagonists and the super star status of Al Gore, the attention of humanity is simply not riveted on this issue as it should be. I further suspect we will muddle along by talking a good game and doing very little, until something very serious happens. That something big could be the end of the fossil fuel economy as we know it today. Some analysts say we reached peak oil production in 2006; others think we’ll reach that stage in 10 or 20 years. This is not to advocate that we sit back and do nothing. Only that when we are all impoverished by $200 barrel oil, when the food on our table is threatened, will we be motivated enough to take serious action. In the meantime, being for or against Kyoto is like arguing my God is better than your God . . . interesting but rather useless conversation.

    In Canada we are told that our iconic polar bear is threatened by global warming and if you believe what people tell the polling firms, we should do something to save them.

    However, I do not know a single person who has sold his car and walks to work in order to save polar bears.

    One hundred and seventy countries acting in unison to do something good is an ideal we ought to keep wishing for. But I wouldn’t bet five cents it will work.

    We don’t need more organization and uniformity to make this work. We need more madness and ingenuity. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

  10. Report this comment

    Christopher Cundy said:

    Oliver, by ‘interesting’ I presume you mean ‘interesting hatchet job’? I’d wholeheartedly agree that we need more than Kyoto to solve the climate crisis – not least because we’re never going to see the US joining up.

    But to say Kyoto is a failure is grossly misleading. So far its Clean Development Mechanism has saved 85 million tonnes of CO2 (and counting) from entering the atmosphere and is expected to reduce 2.2 billion tonnes between 2008–12. It’s also stimulated great efforts in other areas, such as measuring greenhouse gas emissions, that are essential for judging the success of whatever policy is in place.

    The vast majority of climate policy makers already realise this isn’t enough – which is why you’ll find that proposals currently being floated for a post-Kyoto agreement are much wider ranging.

    On cap and trade, Kyoto set the rules that created the market. Within this you’ll find vibrant ‘bottom-up’ innovation and entrepreneurial activity. Leave it solely to the ‘bottom-up’ to create emission reduction markets and you’ll get the mess witnessed in the Wild West of voluntary carbon offsets.

    I’d argue strongly against the assertion that there is “little sign of a stable global carbon price emerging”. Yes, carbon prices will go up and down in response to supply and demand – just like any other commodity market. But Certified Emission Reductions (equivalent to 1 tonne of carbon dioxide emission reduction generated by Clean Development Mechanism projects) have recently begun to trade and prices have been surprising stable. You can buy and sell futures contracts out to 2012, giving five years of clarity on carbon prices. Banks and industrial companies are confident enough to buying carbon credits from emission reduction projects that will be generated beyond 2012.

    Is spending more money on R&D is essential? I guess for your audience of scientists, the answer is yes. But there are strong arguments that we do have all the tools to hand, and what is missing is a mechanism to encourage the use of the low-carbon technology.

    The challenge in all this is how you address the problem without negatively affecting economic growth and other important goals such as alleviating global poverty. Prins and Rayner suggest we go to ‘war’ on climate change and encourage massive government spending. Is that plan any more realistic (on both political and practical levels) than what Kyoto tries to do?

  11. Report this comment

    Mark Bahner said:

    In Canada we are told that our iconic polar bear is threatened by global warming and if you believe what people tell the polling firms, we should do something to save them. However, I do not know a single person who has sold his car and walks to work in order to save polar bears.

    Well, good! That shows you Canadians have common sense! (Surprisingly. ;-))

    Canadians abandoning cars and walking to work won’t save polar bears. If y’all really want to save polar bears, you should be working on designing artificial ice flows, or insulating ice flows so they can last through the spring/summer/fall melt. Or even simply making the polar bear equivalent of Plump-n-Nutty and leaving it on beaches would probably work:

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    Rick Green said:

    The challenge in all this is how you address the problem without negatively affecting economic growth.

    Mr. Cundy, if by “economic growth” you mean an increase in GDP as it is currently measured, successfully addressing the problem is an impossibility.

    We are at the point of exploring the finite limits of our planet. This means at some point growth will cease because Nature will deal us a hand we cannot survive in order to return to equilibrium. There are historical precedents for this that we ignore at our own peril.

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    Bob Maginnis said:

    My United States emits twice the per capita CO2 as civilized countries, even while importing $800 billion more goods per year than it exports. There was precious little mention in the article about energy efficiency, but at least the comment from Jason Acosta mentioned it.

  14. Report this comment

    Francis MASSEN said:

    I fully agree with Prins & Rainer. Kyoto has some calculation conventions that lead to absurd measures. Two examples:

    1. Luxembourg is a very tiny independent EU country, with a population about 480000; it has lower taxed fuel prices than its neighbours, what gives a strong incentive for foreign transporter to pass through Luxembourg and fuel up there. This means that about 3/4 of our fuel sold is directly exported in the tanks of the lorries and cars. Nevertheless, this is fully accounted to Luxembourg itself, making all our CO2 diminishing measures futile. The only solution to be Kyoto compliant would be to rise our fuel taxes and kill this large contribution to the state budget. This painful measure would have no European CO2 impact, as the fuel consumption would remain unchanged, but would cripple our national budget.

    2. Luxembourg used to import the major part of its electricity from German coal- and oil-fired power stations (imported electricity is Kyoto neutral!). A couple of years ago, we built our own clean gas-fired power-station and heavily diminished the “dirty” electricity imports. Now the gas consumption is again accounted to Luxembourg, having the consequence that the effort to modernize and use cleaner energy back-fired spectacularly regarding our Kyoto burden.

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    Russell Seitz said:

    I do hhpe someone will report on this weeks (10-30?) RGS / I2 debate on AGW Redwood and Monckton should make an inetresting pair.

  16. Report this comment

    John McCabe said:

    While Rayner and Prins are correct in seeing Kyoto as a failure and, indeed, fundamentally flawed, I remain concerned that the general tone of the article sustains the idea that CO2 is driving the current changes in climate.

    Adaptation to and mitigation against climate change are certainly worthy of assessment and should be put ahead of any other policies, certainly those based on unproven science.

    The fact that reduing carbon emissions and, in particular, reducing fossil fuel usage, are of benefit to the environment is inarguable, whether it will prevent climate change is another matter.

    If the “consensus” scientists are wrong (as I believe they are), when it is eventually proven that CO2 is not driving climate change, where will Kyoto and the like leave us?

    It is time to look at alternative solutions to the problem, and to avoid the blinkered approach (to the wrong solution in my opinion) that the governments have followed to date.

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    Axel Michaelowa said:

    Government-operated technology programmes have a checkered history, as seen with nuclear breeder programmes. Moreover, it is unlikely that politicians will have an incentive to spend huge amounts of money on technology without any international agreement. Moreover, Prins and Rayner strongly underestimate the power of market mechanisms, like the CDM which has mobilized thousands of projects within a few years.

  18. Report this comment

    JohnofScribbleSheet said:

    Kyoto has always had its problems. As you mention it has a one size fits all perspective even when nations face completely different threats and have varying challenges.

    Secondly, Kyoto is about reducing the rate in which emissions increase not pulling them back. You may call this a step in the right direction or a failure to step at all.

  19. Report this comment

    JamesG said:

    There are certain things that can be done quite easily but they aren’t always initiated by market forces. For example, mandatory geothermal heating/cooling on new houses. Mandatory soot-removal on new cars. Make all taxis and public transportation non-emitting and green by some near-future date. Stop the sprawl of out of town hypermarkets that you can only reach by car – etc., etc.

    BTW. The respondent above who says India, China and the USA are not doing anything just doesn’t know the facts. All three are in fact leading us in several alternative energy fields, Kyoto or not.

  20. Report this comment

    RanD said:

    As a member of OneClimate. Some margin notes about the “Post Kyoto” debate can be found in:

    Telling for me is to look at the membership numbers on OneClimate’s Membership Geo Map: Canada out numbers the USA nearly 6 to 1.

  21. Report this comment

    Mike Serfas said:

    A strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions cannot succeed if its first goal is to make an ideological point in economics. This is especially true when that ideology is so blatantly unfair. The goal of the carbon emissions market is not to charge people for environmental damage, but to establish that the current polluters have an inalienable (though transferable) right to continue polluting. What’s more, polluters are defined in the way most effective for increasing economic inequality. After all, “grandfathered” carbon emissions rights could have been handed out to individual consumers to permit them and their heirs to continue consuming power with equivalent carbon emissions. Instead they are granted to large suppliers (and their heirs). This places the common people in a weakened economic position, with one more basic need defined as a commodity that has been given away, for free, to the wealthy. It also ensures that the consumer cannot pull away his permissions from a power source that produces large amounts of carbon in order to obtain a larger amount of power from a less-polluting source.

    Most people can be taxed at the pleasure of the state, for everything from smoking tobacco to making telephone calls. Carbon dioxide emitters can also be taxed as a simple reckoning of the damage they are doing to the climate. If that is impossible, then so is the control of carbon emissions.

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    Elisabeth Bui said:

    Initiatives to curb GGE at the State (e.g., California) and city government-level may end up being more effective than national-level agreements. It would be good to see more large cities joining in the efforts of the C40 Cities ( because as is pointed out on their web site: “Cities consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy and produce 80 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions.”

    I think Prins and Rayner are right, that we need to look beyond Kyoto-type targets. Post-UNFCCC and post-Kyoto, a number of local governments adopted Local Agenda21 planning and monitoring. Then there was the 2002World Summit on Sustainable Development—if all local governments (especially cities) adopted a sustainable approach to planning (especially transport), I think we would make significant progress towards reducing GGE.

  23. Report this comment

    Richard Marshall said:

    Kyoto, for all its faults, has at least served to highlight the biggest single issue facing the planet. And I am sure that Rayner & Prins are correct that, in a post-Kyoto world, it is essential to focus on the largest emitters. After all, a 5% reduction in Chinese or US emissions would probably exceed the best efforts of the UK economy. However, reducing GHG emissions must surely be only one of three key strands in mitigating climate change impacts.

    1. Population growth forecasts indicate that there will be another 3 billion people by mid-century all of whom, potentially, would aspire to the energy intensive lifestyle of the West. This growth alone will place a huge strain on all forms of resources and, so far, no one has found an effective method of curbing population growth.

    2. Adaptation of our society to use energy much more efficiently. For example, huge savings can be achieved at relatively low cost by better thermal insulation in buildings. The downside here is that reduced energy consumption would, left to market forces alone, only defer the development of low-carbon technologies for generating power.

    3. Reduction of GHG emissions. It is extremely worrying that recent data shows atmospheric concentrations of CO2 increasing more rapidly than assumed in any models and surely advances the year when global temperatures reach unsustainable levels. But it is difficult to be optimistic that this growth will be curtailed, far less reduced, while the policy makers argue if a problem even exists, never mind taking ownership of the issue. After all, in most cases, politicians need to keep an eye on the next election and, as another poster commented, how many people do you know who are prepared to seriously change their lifestyle for the sake of the planet.

    I’m afraid that it is already too late to avoid the awful consequences of our actions and perhaps the population issue will be solved the hard way.

  24. Report this comment

    john Burton said:

    If we were very concerned about global warming we would do as we did in the petrolreum crisis in the 1970s- limit auto speeds to 55 mph and adopt immediate and more stringent CAFE standards. And do as we did in WWII– switch auto manufacturers from making autos to products that meet the new needs- in this case bicycles,wind turbines, solar panels etc. John J Burton

  25. Report this comment

    JamesG said:

    Richard Marshall

    Population growth is virtually nil in Europe and Japan, so we apparently do know a very good method of stabilizing populations – prosperity. The US too is only growing by hispanic immigration.

    “It is extremely worrying that recent data shows atmospheric concentrations of CO2 increasing more rapidly than assumed in any models”.

    In fact, the very early models had over-predicted the concentrations of CO2 and were then corrected too much the other way.

    " and surely advances the year when global temperatures reach unsustainable levels". Only if you believe models which are consistently wrong with their predictions.

    In any event people DO want to change their lifestyles, primarily because energy bills are going through the roof, but it currently costs even more money to change. Have you costed geothermal heating for example? We have the will but we just don’t have the money: We need mass production to lower prices. Government institutions should start leading by example and actually buy these greener products instead of lecturing the rest of us.

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    Kps said:

    Well, I think if we were really concerned we wouldn’t be talking about CAFE standards at all. They don’t actually force change in America – they help some consumers get better gas mileage, but Americans only drive more when then happens resulting in no progress. I do some work with the Auto Alliance and higher CAFE is just something politicians push for because it won’t hurt consumers.

  27. Report this comment

    K. Madhava Sarma said:

    The article is good and parallels in some respects the arguments in our book, released recently on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the successful Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances, “Technology Transfer for the Ozone Layer: Lessons for Climate Change” by Stephen Aandersen, Madhava Sarma and Kristen Taddonio, published by Earthscan, London in 2007.

    The folllowing is my own contribution and not that of my co-authors.

    Kyoto Protocol copied many features of the Montreal Protocol rightly. Its largest failure is not roping in USA, the largets polluter per capita. It should have adopted any initial solution acceptable to all and then could have strengthened in time, as done by the Montreal protocol. One key lesson of the Montreal protocol is to start and strengthen, carrying everyone along. Sure, this is not the best solution that will stabilise the climate earliest. It will be criticised by many but it will work. The Protocol proved that action is a signal to the world that will encOurage technology innovations and will convince the sceptics that it is not as costly as imagined. The current debate on economics is speculative and highly unproductive. Another lessons is to have a stick in the Protocol, trade controls against free riders and rogue states, thAt can be applied after every one is convinced that climate change is a worthy cause. There are many more such practical lessons from the Montreal Protocol.

    There are now more than 50 papers adovocating post 2012 solutions for climate change and most of them have valid points. The Kyoto Parties should concentrate on the elements acceptable to all the governments, including some targets for all the countries with the fastest rising per capita emissions, voluntary to some and mandatory to others.

    Another failure of Kyoto is in implementation. It failed to energise voluntary action by developing countries, even though they are craving for it. It failed to operationalise its financial mechanism in the right way that the Montreal Prtotocol did.

    I do not agree that only a few coutries should be involved in the negotiations. In the globalised and fast changing world, no one knows which of the today’s small emittets, will be tomorrow’s large emitters.

    Incidentally it is absurd to identify large emitters by a country’s total emissions. The rate of per capita emission growth must be the main criterion to identify those that need some targets, voluntary or otherwise.

    There are many lessons of Montreal Protocol’s implementation, elucidated in our book, that Kyoto can follow even now.

    K.Madhava Sarma

  28. Report this comment

    Marvin E. Kirsh said:


    When we think of climate we are thinking of something common to the perspective and senses of all. This is a very difficult and unresolved problem in the approach to science-especially in theorization. If one digs deeply to the point of ultimate skepticism-i.e is the world a play conducted by some entity other than one self-he arrives at the fact that, beginning with ones own witness, to ask if it is the same as anothers, again to ask about what of it exists beyond witness “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it…?”….we all might agree that the climate has changed, is changing. As to what causes it, will a common cause satisfactory to all our combined witness be know in same manner and with the same common descriptive potential, as our initial observation, be determined? Scientific measurement (i.e. like elevated green house gasses at places, is and can always be substantiated as a viable theory of the problem when we test the idea anywhere on the Earth-leaving only the extensively rare and esoteric exception (hard also to test and verify).

    The remotest, and yet most accepted notion, that witness and associated activity related to the meeting of normally distant and separated places, propagates the means of environmental trouble, a vast industrialization, and inclination towards the employment of contrivances to make our lives more comfortable, and to find short cuts to avoid the suffering imposed by nature. Anyone might construe this fact on a first sense perception as valid, and associated theory to combat the problem will originate and grow from this first accepted thought as a seed(which sprouts roots, and more roots,and ideas about the problem e.g. heat,gas, changes caused by our own activities)..These valid observations lead onto more complicated analysis which never exceed our first perception, regardless of what factors are considered, what adjustments and compensations are made…a tree has only a single root. We may acknowledge even that our scientific technology is at the root of the problem and believe that we can conquer the problem from this view with our minds and the same tools that caused the difficulty, though we may seek to conserve more, change our habits, etc, but science theory applied by and with the economic, industrial not only does not ever lose an initial fallacy, is that fallacy in direct name, is a three part act rather than a fact of witnessing pairs and interpretation. Science involves more than numbers that fit to reality and measurement, it must involve the scientist and a sound notion of his(mankinds) part in natures act(which is still and always a two part act (witness does not come in numbers greater than pairs,as the scientist has invented it to. In all things ,science law included, intent is 90 percent of the law- ecomomic potential and practical fitting that includes good economic expectations are immiscible with natural law (and its’ intentions).

    In multitudes of attempts to understand life science, social science, in the light of our accomplished understanding and gains in the more symmetrical and perfect endeavors of physics and mathematics, some with an intuition of a missing component to science theories extend to comparison with economic concepts, in that they involve the less predictable, or nearly unpredictable or the unpredictable emergences of the inclinations of living beings: We are floundering around in a (“the”) descriptive mental orientation, with ontologcal puzzles, rather than a (“the”) solution mental orientation, and do not seem to perceive the difference. We do not think that some of the answers to questions perceived to be encountered and found at the next corner are essential to our entire orientation to the problem.

    In either approach, descriptive or (creative) solution, “witness”, I think, is the key word. In the history of the worlds current problems men have always reacted from witness, and without added wisdom, have not considered the possibility that reaction from witness, as is descriptive of immune disease, might be the primary nature of the worlds problems and at the real seed of a growing tree of failure- is a second sense verses immediate sense perception -of a more profound nature.

    Heat, green house gas…? we will in our current direction wind up producing expensive refrigeration from these symptoms in the name of a cure…in exact name such action is the causative agent. Though I am not a physician, one might compare this senerio, with intestinal trouble, e.g.,heat gas, and a poor cure – coolness, that can make one’s digestion feel better and also be very temporary, inflamatory to the trouble, or fatal. So.. dont swallow convincing scientific advise so readily to accept it for action on greenhouse gas and climate change, one might not be aware of what has already been in his(as well as the scientists’) palette .

    If one were to, step back from this situation a little, we now have some features not noticed that might be partiulars related to the whole issue…. a deceptive immunonological disease, related to something swallowed(A first sense approximation from a non expert)?.. there are many examples recently in medical literature of common viruses throughout the human genome, strange evolutionary behavior of things, that maybe with some research and creative reflection, actual (hypothetical) historical events can be proposed and paper-imagination searches (verses witness motivated action-i.e how can we withdraw from the third world?), that are reoriented for evidence in this direction-This maybe the last opportunity to know the natural changes occurred upon nature/the earth before they are fatal.

  29. Report this comment

    Erich J. Knight said:

    I thought the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP)soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass would interest you. Carbon to the soil for a really long time;

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.

    SCIAM Article May 15 07;

    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    (…PLEASE!!……….Contact your Senators & Repps in Support of S.1884……..NOW!!…)

    Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

    Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt

    National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    The organization 25×25 (see 25x’25 – Home) released it’s (first-ever, 55-page )“Action Plan” ; see; http://www.25××25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf

    On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: “The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration.”

    and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: “Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems.”

    I feel 25×25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

    Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as they try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer.

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.

    Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

    The Honolulu Advertiser: “The nation’s leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai’i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.”


    ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

    Glomalin, the recently discovered soil protien, may be the secret to to TP soils productivity;

    Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

    Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

    Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,………… and that now……… we are over doing it.

    The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.

    I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world’s forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

    On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

    It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

    The best estimates I’ve found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined

    pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of

    that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation

    the other 2/3.

    Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

    As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, “Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

    Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

    This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation.

    The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may

    provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power

    structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

    The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

    .Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

    Here’s the Cornell page for an over view:

    University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany

    This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

    There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

    Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

    The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it’s benefits is this one static:

    One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

    One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

    Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

    What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

    To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994).

    All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I’ve found:

    Carbon Diversion

    Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns

    BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis – Biomass – Clean Energy – Renewable Ene

    Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy

    Ensyn – Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals

    Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste

    Advanced BioRefinery Inc.

    Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

    3R Environmental Technologies Ltd. (Edward Someus)


    The company has Swedish origin and developing/designing medium and large scale carbonization units. The company is the licensor and technology provider to NviroClean Tech Ltd British American organization WEB: and VERTUS Ltd.

    The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)


    If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using “Slash & CHAR” verses “Slash & Burn”, it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

    Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

    We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

    Erich J. Knight

    Shenandoah Gardens

    1047 Dave Berry Rd.

    McGaheysville, VA. 22840

    (540) 289-9750

  30. Report this comment

    John Quiggin said:

    I submitted this letter to Nature but they declined

    In their criticism of the Kyoto Protocol, and defence of the Bush Administration’s refusal to ratify it, Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner (Time to ditch Kyoto, Nature 449, 973-975 25 October 2007) rely on spurious assumptions and make errors.

    Their central criticism of Kyoto is that the attempt to involve all 170 of the world’s governments leads to a ‘lowest common denominator’ for agreement, and that it would be better to exclude all but the 20 most important.

    Prins and Rayner offer no evidence that the participation of countries with relatively low emissions has proved problematic. In fact, the primary obstacle to agreement has been the sharp divergence between the positions of the large emitters, including the EU, US, China and India. In particular, the most determined opponents of any effective action have been the US and Australian governments, the parties praised by Prins and Rayner.

    Prins and Rayner also assume that because adaptation is as important as mitigation, it should receive equal attention as a focus of public policy. But emissions of greenhouse gases represent a market failure. No individual or nation has a strong incentive to reduce their own emissions. Hence, mitigation requires a global policy response so that this externality is taken into account.

    By contrast, private parties, in deciding how to adapt to climate change, will, in the absence of policy intervention, bear the costs and receive the benefits of their decisions in most cases. There is no reason to expect too little adaptation. There is a role for governments in the provision of information, and in large-scale adaptation decisions regarding infrastructure, urban planning and so on, but there is no role for the kind of crash program envisaged by Prins and Rayner.

  31. Report this comment

    Michael John Rickards M.Sc. said:

    Is it about right that there is a total of 3 200 000 000 000 000 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

  32. Report this comment

    Keith J. Forbes said:

    Richard Bronstein disagrees with my advocacy of manadatory cuts because I don’t provide details (not the purpose of my post), yet counters with nothing but a lament about the state of the world, and proposes “madness and ingenuity” instead. While I might agree, I find the vagueness of the idea much more vague than mandatory cuts.

  33. Report this comment

    Paul R. Epstein, M.D., M.P.H. said:

    SIR – “Time to ditch Kyoto” (Nature 449,973;2007) blames the ‘game’ instead of the absent players (the US and Australia). But Kyoto is not merely a Protocol; it is part of a multi-decadal process. Ditching it, not reforming and transforming it, would be a severe setback to a process of international collaboration that must strengthen the United Nations this century.

    Focusing on the G8+5 and omitting, early on, “the other 150 countries [that] only get in the way,” misses the international markets that must be revved up. Manufacturing new technologies and driving clean development will require transforming global marketplace and — with a substantive global fund for adaptation and mitigation – all nations can become purchasers and producers of the new, clean energy technologies.

    While the authors’ emphasis on adaptation is justified, they miss an essential element: constructing ‘smart,’ efficient, resilient and robust grids with distributed, regional and central generation, is necessary for adaptation, in the face of severe storms and heat waves that lead to supplies and transmission interruptions.

    Where ‘energy poverty’ prevails, distributed systems are needed to pump water, power clinics, light homes, cook food and drive development.

    Preserving ecosystems — as the authors correctly indicate — is crucial for buffering societies from extremes in a changing climate. But getting off oil and coal – the life cycle damages of which include long-lasting harm to coastal wetlands, river deltas, mountaintops, valleys and wildlife – is an essential part of environmental protection.

    Agreed, large “carrots” – incentives, procurement practices, and more – are certainly what Kyoto II should lead with. We will need a huge investment in our common future – on the order called for in The Stern Review (1% global output or $350 billion/yr), for several years. But we also need fully agreed upon targets, timetables and compliance mechanisms, though the targets might include steeply progressive efficiency standards (rapidly reducing GHG out put per unit of production). Voluntary goals by individual governments are just too uncertain, though each government must certainly determine their best path forward and be provided with the means to get there. (Remember, the Montreal Protocol was not agreed to until a fund was established.)

    A successful successor to Kyoto I does need a quantum leap. Indeed we need a “Manhattan project” to develop the technologies, a “Marshall plan” to fund it, an “Apollo plan” to launch it, and a “New Deal” to sustain it.

    As we move into the low carbon economy, we must leave much of the fossils in the ground and burn as little as possible, and the technologies and practices we choose should optimize adaptation and mitigation, maximize health and economic co-benefits and minimize the unintended consequences for health, the environment and the global economy. By aligning market rules, regulations and rewards – and removing misaligned subsidies and other ‘perverse’ incentives – the clean energy transition can be the first, necessary, though insufficient step toward healthy, equitable and sustainable development.

    Paul R. Epstein, M.D., M.P.H., Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, The Landmark Center, 401 Park Drive, Boston, MA 02215, USA.

  34. Report this comment

    Marvin E. Kirsh said:

    Dear Sirs: I noticed two phrases in the comments (Epstein, Forbes ‘perverse’ incentives, madness and ingenuity, respectively) that caught my eye. That the combination of money with life(or anything) can promote a loss of perspective. As a good mental exercise try to envision money as deleted from a mental image of the problem. I can image that it alone csauses a lot of the heat chages (and we are proposing ‘burning’ our pockets in search of a answer).

    From my perspective, the problem has two stages; an actual cause, and problematic cures. As obvious from the Kyoto incentive the environmentlal problems discussed are assumed to be man caused verses naturally occuring. However, the actual mechanism at the outset is not really established-collections of data and projections about the past environment of the earth in this case are very important. If a source were determined and a potential resolution found it might appear certain with a potential toinduce sacraifice and focusing of resources to that end-enhanced continuance. In the present state of statistically motivated, perceived orders in perceiced chaos with(huge volumes , power, positive economic input involved for industry and employment with a high priority good cause) I do not think our senses work correctly. Common sense ecomomics dictates that we cannot profit from our problems (but to exit in a wild romantic fling with “money”?). This description refers to an immediate perception of contemporary problems( a second stage assumed self imposed). At the primary stage remain many unanswered questions. It is my own intuition that men chronically( and yet by necessity) lean with with the winds of nature whether they be actually in a positive or negative direction, when he does not know an absolute course, suggesting that the problem is basically natural in origin, but amplified to a critical state by self action (over extended times causing a loss of perspective). This I believe, is a natural tendancy I believe that also is a major factor in the functioning of evoutionary change-“environmental assesment from wind diretion” which statistically proceed in a positive direction if past footing is sound,and with a strongly established course that always results in net progress. We should be (cannot be) too punative upon ourselves with a similar consequence of damage to nature. That our science efforts and associated language itself-understanding can be denigrating-self denigrating is firmly established philosophically for centuries, and yet goals incentives and plans of our communities have not changed(or appear to realize this situation); indicating that our purest reasonings are in serious conflict-most likely from factors beyond understanding or witness. In this described delicate situation(in analogy inthe grips of a boa constrictor) we have taken incentive to propose (impose?)blindly basic alterations to the elements. Awareness of false directions and subsequesnt steps from stage one make the solution a matter of abstinance until the grip subsides. The expression “don’t hold your breath” does not always apply. Dwelling and publicaton of issues can sometimes also sore them. Artificial methods can have only limited value, and it is a fool that thinks to change,control or conquer, when he perceives himself a struggling pawn, a consequential victum, to vast unknowns, that are only birthed livng of his own reflections.

    In moral philosophy, a doctrine of double effect, in the light of unknown consequenes, as third parties (which necessarily each endeavor is to other) not only prescribes a withhoding of decisions, but on deeper reflection, if a party does not directly perceive himself as involved (i.e scientific evidence for indirect effect is excluded from testimony) the party automatically acting on the proposed behalf of others, creates a chain of events, a change, that cannot be in his own self interest if mandatorily existing basic differences, exact uniqueness of the individual is considered. I believe a key word is “inactivity”, even with respect to natural population increases that render the problem critical. There are probably many difficulties with our approach to population difficulties; missionaries with poor incentives, lack of respect, chemical and biological means that potentially can have serious side effects, which by the same above argument concerning basic behavior and application most probably defeat efforts in some manner.

    If money alone, creates a “madness”, we also are not spending it wisely.

    Marvin E. Kirsh

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