Climate Feedback

Time to shift gears on climate policy? Maybe not.

Cross-posted from Jeff Tollefson on The Great Beyond

An international crew of academics this week boldly declared that the world is headed down the wrong track in trying to put a lid on global greenhouse gas emissions. But with global leaders pressing the issue in Italy this week, it’s not clear that anybody is listening.

The team includes Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and Steve Rayner of Oxford University, who made a splash with their 2007 indictment of the Kyoto Protocol, dubbed The Wrong Trousers (Nature also published a summary of the article). Their latest paper, which includes additional authors, including Roger Pielke, Jr. at the University of Colorado in Boulder, maintains a hard line and advocates policies that directly promote energy efficiency and decarbonization in place of a messy global carbon market that might or might not do the work it is intended to do. The researchers see a model in Japan, long a leader on energy efficiency thanks in part to a dearth of domestic resources.

Although the BBC posted a story and the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin included a blurb in his blog, the paper hasn’t garnered much traction. To be sure, Japan has lessons to teach the world, and carbon markets are unlikely to solve all of the world’s problems. But like it or not, given the amount of time and political capital that has been invested in the current negotiations, there’s little appetite for radical new ideas.

This perspective was nicely summed up in the BBC’s coverage by Tom Burke of Imperial College. He acknowledged that many of the authors’ criticisms are valid but suggested that “nothing could be more harmful” than the solution they propose, which is to reverse course.

So far, however, that doesn’t appear to be a danger. On Wednesday, G8 leaders backed the establishment of a global carbon market as part of a commitment to curb their emissions by some 80 percent by 2050. They also signed on to a goal, long held by the European Union, to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The question facing the Major Economies Forum, to be convened Thursday by US president Barack Obama, is whether major developing countries such as China and India will agree to the 2-degree goal and commit themselves to halving global emissions by 2050 in order to make it happen.

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