Prins and Rayner in Nature

October 24th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Gwyn Prins, of the London School of Economics, and Steve Rayner, of Oxford University have a brave and challenging piece in the current issue of Nature on why we need to rethink climate policy. Here is how it begins:

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.

Kyoto’s supporters often blame non-signatory governments, especially the United States and Australia, for its woes. But the Kyoto Protocol was always the wrong tool for the nature of the job. Kyoto was constructed by quickly borrowing from past treaty regimes dealing with stratospheric ozone depletion, acid rain from sulphur emissions and nuclear weapons. Drawing on these plausible but partial analogies, Kyoto’s architects assumed that climate change would be best attacked directly through global emissions controls, treating tonnes of carbon dioxide like stockpiles of nuclear weapons to be reduced via mutually verifiable targets and timetables. Unfortunately, this borrowing simply failed to accommodate the complexity of the climate-change issue.

Kyoto has failed in several ways, not just in its lack of success in slowing global warming, but also because it has stifled discussion of alternative policy approaches that could both combat climate change and adapt to its unavoidable consequences. As Kyoto became a litmus test of political correctness, those who were concerned about climate change, but sceptical of the top-down approach adopted by the protocol were sternly admonished that “Kyoto is the only game in town”. We are anxious that the same mistake is not repeated in the current round of negotiations.

The Kyoto Protocol was always the wrong tool for the nature of the job.

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.

Read the whole thing free on the Nature site.

2 Responses to “Prins and Rayner in Nature”

  1. SciBuff Says:

    I found the Prins and Rayner article refreshing and as you point out, it is a brave attempt to apply common sense to climate policy. I wish them and like minded individuals a lot of luck. To illustrate the point, in one of my early internet searches I typed in the words “global waming” instead of global warming. The site that was retrieved at the top of the Google heap was one from the Vegan Society which showed how becoming a vegan would help me fight global warming. There were many special interest sites below the vegans. (Apparently, each was trying to capture the numerous internet surfers who can’t spell).

    The entire global warming/climate change issue has become a huge political choo choo train. There is absolutely no end to the people and political interest groups who have hooked their private rail cars on to it. The science that spawned the political movement has seemingly become an afterthought.

    Dr. Pielke, I know you have been a proponent of adaptation for many years. This seems like a reasonable thing to do no matter who wins the scientific debate. The world will get hotter. Droughts and hurricanes will occur. Finding a way to lessen the local human suffering from these things sounds a lot easier than trying to act as worldwide carbon police force.

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  3. bigcitylib Says:

    I find their own “solution” however to be largely unworkable. Putting the U.S federal government on a “wartime footing” means the federal government starts TELLING energy companies what to research, in the way Roosevelt TOLD the auto companies that they were to start making tanks to aid the wartime effort in WWII. Good luck with that.