Shortly after the collapse of the climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009, a group of academics put forth an alternative roadmap to kick-start meaningful action on global warming, one that would be “politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic". Now some of those same academics – and a few new ones – have put out version 2.0, from an American perspective.
Dubbed “Climate Pragmatism: Innovation, Resilience and No Regrets”, the document is billed as an update of last year’s Hartwell paper, which followed a 2009 piece titled “”http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-2731-2009.17.pdf">How to get Climate Policy Back on Course" (see our initial coverage here). Indeed, the 14 authors strike many of the same chords, once again advocating for smaller steps that everybody can agree on rather than comprehensive political frameworks that try to solve all problems at once from on high.
“This new approach recognizes that continually deadlocked international negotiations and failed domestic policy proposals bring no climate benefit at all,” the document says. “It accepts that only sustained effort to build momentum through politically feasible forms of action will lead to accelerated decarbonization.”
The idea is that instead of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (a nebulous and expensive idea whose benefit comes far into the future) we should clean up pollution from coal-fired power plants (which kills people every day). In doing so, we will make those plants more efficient or even close them down in favor of natural gas, thus reducing emissions. There is also broad support for energy innovation that will ultimately get people off of their current fossil fuel pathways and onto a more secure, sustainable and presumably cleaner energy future. Similarly, nobody is going to argue with the notion that people would be better off if they were better prepared for climate extremes (an idea that combines global development and adaptation).
These ideas have been floating around in various forms for a long time, and few would disagree with the general thrust of the report. Indeed, even the insulated world of climate negotiators took a step in their direction with the Copenhagen accord, which represented not a binding treaty like the Kyoto Protocol but a collection of national commitments that countries were already instituting at home. That approach was affirmed at last year’s talks in Cancun.
“At the same time, tackling climate through other guises may only get us so far,” says Elliot Diringer, who tracks international climate talks for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia. Some things – like carbon capture and sequestration – simply don’t make sense unless you believe in global warming, he points out. “In the long run you can’t address climate effectively unless you address it directly.”
David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, says the paper is generally correct but incomplete. While the authors talk about boosting spending from $3.5-$4 billion annually to $15 billion, for instance, Victor says they don’t explain how that money should be spent or coupled with possible taxes, fees and regulations. “What’s missing in the debate isn’t a supply of general ideas. We have those in spades,” says Victor, who recently penned a book on the subject. “What’s missing are practical visions for how they are put into place.”
For his part, Victor has looked at international trade negotiations as a model for understanding climate negotiations and argues among other things that smaller groups of countries – meeting in venues outside the formal climate negotiations – might be in a better position to push things forward.