Climate change in the news (Jan 25 - Jan 29, 2010)
To be effective, multilateral regimes need to get three things right. They first have to ensure levels of participation adequate to solving the problem at hand. They then need to require adequate action from all parties. And finally have to encourage, or enforce, compliance.
Participation. Action. Compliance. Achieving only two of these three objectives is not enough.
Without adequate participation, encouraging action and compliance is meaningless. Consider a non-proliferation treaty where even one of the proliferators is left out: this would lead at best to non- compliance and at worst to a collapse of the regime itself.
Similarly, without compliance, achieving adequate participation and requiring action would lead to underachieving on the objectives, and alienate complying parties: a fisheries regime where the quotas are constantly overshot would lead to a collapse of fish stocks and of trust between parties.
And without adequate action, compliance and participation become meaningless. If the prescribed reduction in total warheads is not sufficient to reduce the dangers of proliferation, then whether or not parties comply does not matter. Equally, there is no point in agreeing to fishing quotas whose limits are largely beyond what is required necessary to preserve the stocks.
There is a self-interested economic logic that often holds true for political questions relating to climate change. As reflected in the poll of public attitudes toward climate change commissioned by the WDR and published last month, citizens of the poorest countries—those most vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change—are much more likely to rate climate change as “very serious” than are citizens of high-income countries, who possibly perceive themselves as less vulnerable. The shares ranking climate change as a very serious problem were: U.S. 31%, Japan 38%, and France 43%, in contrast to Senegal 72%, Kenya 75%, and Bangladesh 85%.
Yet, while the livelihoods of a fisherman in Senegal, a pastoralist in Kenya, and a rice farmer in Bangladesh’s delta might be the most immediately vulnerable to climate change, it’s worth noting that the assets of an insurance company on the U.S.’s Gulf Coast, a real estate investor in Japan, and a champagne-producing giant in France are vulnerable too.
As my colleague Mike Toman noted recently, Geoffrey Heal of Columbia University said the following in a recent blog post:
"neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."
However, this view does not factor in future technological innovation, which I think is very significant.
The IEA Energy Technology Perspective projected that renewable energy could contribute around 50% of the power mix by 2050 under their Blue Scenario to achieve a 450 ppm world. Many other global leading energy/climate scenarios have the same projections, including those from Shell. Of renewable energy resources, geothermal, hydro, and biomass can provide base-load power. Indeed, solar and wind are intermittent.
As WDR 2010 observes in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 7, "Technological innovation and its associated institutional adjustments are key to managing climate change at reasonable cost." The development as well as diffusion of climate-smart technology was an important part of the debates leading up to Copenhagen. A recent blog by Professor Geoffrey Heal of Columbia University, whose work on climate change damages is referenced in the WDR, addresses this topical and controversial issue. Writing at voxEU.org, a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, Heal argues that
..."neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."
Heal's blog can be found at http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4138.
Friday morning, I braved the snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures and hopped on the train around 7.30 a.m. to avoid what was billed as "extensive delays" as the 119 heads of state would be making their way to the Bella Center.
The main questions on the train were "when does he touch down?", "has he arrived?", and "will he be able to help seal the deal?" And just after 9 a.m., Barack Obama's Air Force One touched down at Copenhagen Airport.
Meanwhile, delegates had been hard at work for much of the night. We understood that 26 ministers met the night between Thursday and Friday, preparing the core document for the leaders.
On Friday we spent a lot of time waiting. First we waited for the Heads of State to take their seats. Word in the corridors had it that they had agreed to 2 degrees, which would imply serious emission reductions, as well as to the provision of long term finance. The issue of whether any agreement on emissions reduction is "MRV-able", i.e. whether emission reductions are monitorable, reportable and verifiable, has been key when it comes to reductions from the economies in transition such as India, China, Brazil, and others. These countries can only accept MRV on the condition that the developed countries make an ambitious and legally binding target for emission reductions. The developed countries, meanwhile, have put serious cash on the table, on the condition that the big emerging economies will commit to MRV. Further, the governance and financial architecture of the resources, should they be realized, remained unclear. The G-77 has pushed direct access to the financial mechanism, as well as for giving the COP the power to appoint the Board for the mechanism, while other countries have been more comfortable drawing on existing financial institutions and mechanisms.