A New Direction for Climate Change Policy: The Hartwell Paper

A new paper published by the Institute for Science, Innovation & Society of the University of Oxford and the Mackinder Programme of the London School of Economics begins with the provocative thesis that the international climate change policy process, as embodied in the UNFCCC/Kyoto framework failed to result in meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and that the Copenhagen meeting “crashed” the process. The path forward advocated by the authors focuses on incentivizing change by furthering the goal of “human dignity,” which the authors argue, will concomitantly help us to effectuate the kind of reductions in emissions that are essential to avoid serious climatic impacts. The contours of this “radical reframing” is the focus of the study.

Among the take-away messages of the study:

  1. Two momentous events occurred in 2009, the serious undermining of the credibility of the scientific consensus on climate change in the “Climate Gate” affair and the failure at Copenhagen, which the authors indicate reflect the limits of what can be achieved on climate change through centralising and hyperbolic multilateralism.” The authors contend that climate change cannot be addressed through a single, coherent, enforceable thing called “climate policy.”
  2. Energy policy and climate policy are not the same thing, though successfully pursuing energy policy that can provide access to the 1.5 billion inhabitants of the Earth who do not currently have access to electricity, can also help us address climate change, because it necessarily requires a diversification of energy sources (because fossil fuel prices would rise if we tried to satisfy this need through more use of such fuels) which can move us to decarbonizing our economy. Effectuating this goal will require innovation;
  3. We currently pursue climate change policies with the idea that any co-benefits are secondary; we need to invert this thinking and seek to improve the quality of life, which in many cases can concomitantly help us reduce emissions. For example:
  • Black carbon emissions result in 1.8 million deaths annually, while also contributing to 5-10% of total human forcing of the climate system, with particular implications for Arctic ice loss. One ton of black carbon causes about 600x the forcing one ton of carbon over a 100 year period. There are feasible ways to eradicate black carbon emissions, which would produce large public health benefits, especially in developing countries;
  • Tropospheric ozone emissions exact serious health costs and diminution of agricultural productivity, while also contributing about 5-10% of human forcing of the climate system. Rigorous implementation of air quality standards can halve these emissions;
  • Forests are not only a carbon sink but contribute substantially to livelihoods and biodiversity. Forest management need not be effectuated within a climate framework, but rather could be managed in a way that recognizes its integrated values;
  1. The UNFCCC/Kyoto framework relies upon a “pollution paradigm” which sought to apply the approach that was successful in other regimes, e.g. ozone and sulfur emissions. However, climate change is a fundamentally different issue; it is not an issue to be “solve,” but rather managed. It is also, the authors contend, not predominantly an “environmental” problem, but rather an energy, economic development, and land-use problem that might be better approached through these avenues;
  2. Climate change policy has been driven by the assumption that we have a consensus of values, and that solutions should thus be value-driven. In reality, the diverse political framings of the issue reveal themselves in different views of science itself;
  3. We should lead with policies that can “command the broadest assent and achieve the quickest results” to building political will; this does not mean to forego efforts to achieve decarbonization, but that should begin more slowly through research and development, demonstration and deployment through a low carbon tax;
  4. While climate science is more clouded that the positivistic view only propagated by its proponents, the very trend line of rising carbon dioxide emissions and other forcings in itself justify action to abate the rise even if we don’t know, indeed because we don’t know, fully the implications;
  5. Limiting the growth of energy demand to the extent necessary to achieve a reduction of GHG emissions associated with energy use by 50% seems highly unlikely; moreover, to achieve the reductions necessary to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at a very low level would require a near complete decarbonization of the energy supply. However, given the uncompetitive status of renewable energy sources vis-à-vis fossil fuels, we need to achieve an “energy technology revolution.” To effectuate this, several policies should be pursued:
  • Much higher research and development funding by the public sector, given the unusually low levels of R&D expenditures by the private energy sector, and other barriers to private sector development, including high capital costs, low end-use product differentiation
  1. The lessons from Sweden and France, which have effectuated high levels of decarbonization, have both pushed innovation through R&D expenditures and standards setting, but have also “pulled” new energy technologies through their role as early adopters of such technologies;

8. As has been demonstrated in the context of the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme, countries have lacked the political will to antagonize constituents. This has resulted in inadequate carbon prices and questionable schemes e.g. carbon offset programs;

9. A better approach is to establish a hypothecated carbon tax with an emphasis on long-term energy transformation rather than on reducing emissions.  Governments would also have an important “pull through” role as lead customers, which does not mean that they would pick winners among technologies beforehand.

This could be an excellent student reading, because it emphasizes a markedly different approach to addressing climate change, emphasizing the innovation-driven philosophy of the Breakthrough Institute.

Among the questions for class discussion could include the following:

  • Does an emphasis on “human dignity” provide critical political support that currently doesn’t exist for climate change policy, and would it come from sources that currently resist addressing climate change?;
  • Is a carbon tax, often considered a “third rail” of politics in many countries, more likely to prove viable if driven by an emphasis on energy innovation;
  • Why is there likely to be less political resistance to address some of the non-carbon based sources of forcing, e.g. black carbon or air pollution given the fact that many of the major producers are concomitant major producers of carbo dioxide?

New EIA Report on Energy/Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The U.S. Energy Information Agency released its latest report on energy trends, International Energy Outlook 2010, yesterday, and several aspects of the analysis are extremely foreboding from the perspective of climate change:

  1. Under a business as usual scenario, world energy consumption is projected to grow by 49% from 2007 to 2035, with 84% growth for non-OECD States v. 14% in OECD States;
  2. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise from 29.7 billion metric tons in 2007 to 33.8 billion metric tons in 2020, and 42.4 billion metric tons in 2035, or 43%;
    • By 2035, the emissions of non-OECD States are projected to be double those of OECD States;
    • Assuming no new climate policies in the interim, projected global increases in in carbon dioxide output per capita and relatively moderate population growth could overwhelm projected improvements in energy intensity and carbon intensity.
    1. The share of electricity produced from renewable energy sources increases from 18% in 2007 to 23% in 2035, increasing at an average rate of 3% annually; however, the second fastest growth source is coal-fired generation, growing at an annual average of 2.3%.

    Of course, as the study emphasizes, these projections assume no changes in energy or climate change policy. In many ways, they emphasize, however, the transformative changes that are necessary to avoid pretty frightening business as usual scenarios. The projections also could afford instructors the opportunity to discuss equity issues associated with burgeoning future emissions from developing countries.

    Implications of Copenhagen Pledges

    There is an excellent new potential reading on the Copenhagen Accord for climate change law and policy classes in a recent issue of Nature, Rogelj & Meinshausen, Copenhagen Pledges are Paltry, 464 Nature 1126-28 (2010) (subscription required). The authors analyze the likely implications of the pledges made by UNFCCC parties under the Copenhagen Accord.

    Among the key take-aways of the analysis:

    1. Present pledges are likely to lead to emissions of 47.9-53.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020, about 10-20% higher than today’s levels;
    2. The pledges of most countries are extremely tepid: The lower end of the EU pledge would lead to smaller annual reductions through 2020 than what occurred on average of the past 30 years. The U.S. pledge translates into a mere 3% reduction below 1990 levels. The least ambitious end of China’s pledge tracks the business as usual scenario. Japan and China are the only two developed countries to make pledges consistent with the 2C goal;
    3. Even if emissions are halved by mid-century, there will be only be, at best, a “flip of the coin” chance of meeting the Accord’s goal of not exceeding a 2C temperature increase;
    4. Under the most pessimistic assumptions (assuming maximum used of banked emissions and surpluses from land use, land-use change and forestry), potential 2020 emissions from developed countries could be 6.5% above 1990 levels, substantially above projections if no additional mitigation measures were taken. Under the more optimistic scenario, without according land-use credits and using surplus allowances, results in emission of developed countries falling by 15.6% by 2020, far exceeding an emissions pathway to the 2C target;
    5. Given the current few pledges made for 2050, the Copenhagen Accord will almost certainly miss the 2C target, and there’s a 50% chance of exceeding 3C by 2100.
    • If nations agree to halve global emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels, we will need to reduce emissions 3-3.5% annually from 2020-2050, which would require “unprecedented political will;”
    • The only way to avoid cuts of this nature post-2020 is to substantially increase pre-2020 commitments, namely a 30% reduction below 1990 levels for developed countries, and 20% below business as usual levels for developing countries.

      EU Emissions Map Available

      The NGO Sandbag has released a new interactive emissions map of Europe, including the ability to see how the EU-ETS works. This would be a good site for classes engaged in climate change negotiations.

      Further Commitments of Annex I Parties Document

      The Secretariat of the UNFCCC has just posted a valuable new document, compiling the commitments of Annex I Parties beyond the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The document is also valuable because it catalogs the emissions of all Annex I Parties through 2007 and also discusses the role of land use activities in helping to meet emissions commitments.

      World Climate Teach-In Day in June

      Dear Colleagues,

      To foster the search for local solutions to tackle the global
      challenge of climate change it is important to raise awareness about
      this topic at universities and schools. This is the central aim of the
      "World Climate Teach-In Day", to be held in the run-up of CLIMATE 2010
      on the 4th June 2010. Under the patronage of EU Climate Commissioner
      Connie Hedegaard*, the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences/Germany
      organizes this truly worldwide event in the frame of the International Climate Change Information Programme
      (ICCIP = http://www.iccip.net).
      University lecturers and teachers are encouraged to hold a 1-hour
      lecture on climate change and discuss with their students one of
      today’s most important topics. Pre-formatted lectures can be
      downloaded free of any charges from the internet. To encourage further
      information exchange and networking, students can discuss the topic
      online with other students from all over the world in an online
      -> Download the presentations free of charge, watch climate videos,
      find a climate library and many more interactive features at:
      -> Watch welcoming words by our patron EU Climate Commissioner Connie
      Hedegaard and Achim Steiner, UNEP Director at
      -> Join the interactive discussion with UNEP’s  Chief Scientist Dr
      Joseph Alcamo on 4. Juni 2010, 11-13 at: www.world.climateday.net

      Climate Denialism in the United States

      An excellent video to assign students is U.C.-San Diego Professor Naomi Oreske’s presentation “The American Denial of Global Warming” (approximately one hour). Oreske provides a lively and extremely thorough history of climate change denialism in the United States, including the colorful track record of many of the major actors in the denialism camp.

      SBSTTA of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Climate Geoengineering

      An interesting emerging development in the context of climate geoengineering is the potential assertion of jurisdiction over such operations by a number of different international regimes, and the possibility of conflicting mandates. For example, in 2007, the Parties to the International Maritime Organization’s London Convention issued a decision asserting jurisdiction over ocean iron fertilization activities and urging the Parties to restrict such operations to small-scale activities. In 2008, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity passed a resolution calling upon its Parties to adhere to the London Convention decision, but arguably going further by urging its Parties to restrict fertilization operations to coastal areas and requesting that the Parties not allow such operations to generate or sell carbon offsets, or for other commercial purposes.

      Last week, the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice issued a draft recommendation that calls on the CBD’s Parties to go further, essentially banning all climate geoengineering operations until certain scientific criteria are met:

      (w) [Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, and in accordance with the precautionary approach, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts;

      The resolution is extremely vague in several aspects, including criteria for developing “an adequate scientific basis” to justify geoengineering activities (would the risk assessment procedure being developed by the Parties to the London Convention, for example, fit the bill?), as well as what constitutes an “activity” (does this include, for example, modeling, lab-based experiments?).  However, assuming the CBD Parties adopt this recommendation, it could severely restrict climate geoengineering research.

      Several interesting issues could be raised with students in this context:

      1. Is the CBD an (the) appropriate regime to regulate geoengineering activities?. What other regimes might be more appropriate?
      2. If there is a potential conflict between the regulatory approach of the CBD and other regimes, how would one resolve such conflicts under international law?;
      3. Are risk assessment protocols adequate in the context of geoengineering?

      Ocean Acidification and Marine Trace Gases

      While the lion’s share of studies on the direct impacts of increased uptake of carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans have focused upon potential acidification effects on marine organisms, especially calcifiers, there is growing evidence that this uptake may also feed into changes in the Earth’s future climate. A recent study focuses on some of the most important potential biogeochemical processes, Frances E. Hopkins, et al., Ocean Acidification and Marine Trace Gas Emissions, 107 PNAS 760-765 (2010) (subscription required). The study used a mesocosm carbon dioxide perturbation experiment in a Norwegian, examining a transition from present day concentrations of 38p ppmv to a projection of 750 ppmv in the year 2100.

      Among the key take-aways of the study:

      1. A 57%  reduction in dimethylsulfide (DMS) was observed under high carbon dioxide for the bloom period of the experiment; by the end of the experiment DMS was 3x higher under present day carbon dioxide conditions than under the high carbon dioxide treatment. DMS produces particles that interact with incoming solar radiation and affects planetary albedo, potentially exerting a very potent positive feedback.  The projected decrease in DMS “could result in enough net cloud radiative forcing to increase surface air temperature by 1.6ºC.” However, the results differ from a 2005 mesocosm experiment which showed only small differences in DMS between elevated and ambient carbon dioxide treatments. Differences in the planktonic communities in the two respective experiments may explain the different results;
      2. Lower levels of pH associated with higher ocean carbon dioxide concentrations could result in substantial decreases of iodocarbon gases and increases of bromocarbon gases. While the study did not assess the implications, it explains that iodine oxides contribute to particle formation and production of cloud condensation nuclei, with potentially significant effects on radiative forcing. Moreover, longer-lived halogen species are involved in natural regulation of the stratospheric ozone layer.

      While the authors caution that much more research in this context is necessary, this would be an excellent student reading (graduate level course) to demonstrate the complexity of potential feedback mechanisms and the ever-growing potential perils that ocean acidification and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the world’s may pose in this century and beyond.

      Videos: Responses to Climate Deniers

      There is an excellent group of videos entitled “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” available on You Tube that would be especially appropriate for undergraduate students. The author, Peter Sinclair’s blog, Crock of the Week, is also full of interesting information, including a “Solution of the Week” section.