Obsession With Targets

May 27th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In my just accepted paper on the UK Climate Change Act (prepub version here in PDF) I argue that:

Policy should focus less on targets and timetables for emissions reductions, and more on the process for achieving those goals, and the various steps along the way. Setting targets and timetables for sectoral efficiency gains and expansion of carbon-free energy supply would be a step in the right direction.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu would seem to agree with at least some of this line of argument, based on this quote in a Reuters story:

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said on Tuesday that setting exact targets for carbon dioxide emissions had led to an “over-obsession” with numbers, as the United States moved closer to overhauling its energy policy.

The comment came less than a week after a congressional panel approved President Barack Obama’s landmark draft bill on climate change, bringing it closer to debate in Congress.

“There was a great deal of discussion on the Kyoto targets, and I’m not really sure which fraction of the countries that took part in that actually met their targets,” Chu, a Nobel laureate for physics, said at a conference in London. “In terms of the targets, whether it’s 17 percent or 20 or 25 percent, I think there’s perhaps … an over-obsession on these percentages.”

However, somehow I think that we are a long way from breaking from the auctioning of empty promises in the debates over targets and timetables for emissions reductions.

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