Scientists: emissions-based climate deal 'not possible'

| 12th May 2010

The summit in Mexico later this year will, like Copenhagen, fail to deliver any real action say the authors

Current climate policy of emissions targets and trading will not suceed and should be replaced by a 'politically attractive' one based on providing cheap, non-carbon energy, says new paper

An international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is doomed to failure and must be replaced by a drive towards low-cost green energy, says a group of academics and lobbyists.

Writing in a paper funded in part by the London School of Economics (LSE), the authors, who included University of East Anglia professor Mike Hulme and 'sceptical environmentalist' Ted Nordhaus, said the collapse of the Copenhagen talks showed that it was not possible to have a 'climate policy that has emissions reductions as the all encompassing goal'.

The paper argues for a change of tack based on government investment in non-carbon energy innovation, such as more efficient solar technology, funded by a 'small' hypothecation tax - where the revenue is dedicated to a specific purpose. The ultimate aim, say the authors, is to make green energy cheaper than using fossil fuels.

'As long as the technology and price gap between fossil fuels and low-carbon energy remains so wide, those parts of the world experiencing rapid economic growth will deepen their reliance on fossil fuels,' says the paper, pointing out that both India and China had made clear they would not accept externally imposed constraints on their rate of economic growth, and most of this growth continues to be driven by expansion in the use of fossil fuels.

'The bottom line is that there will be little progress in accelerating the decarbonisation of the global economy until low carbon energy supply becomes reliably cheaper and provides reliability of supply,' says the paper.

Copenhagen failed

Lead author Professor Gynn Prins, who is an adviser to a charity chaired by climate change sceptic Lord Lawson, said environmentalists had to accept the current top-down climate policy of targets and trading was not working and that the Mexico summit later this year would only compound the failure.

'Rather than being a discrete problem to be solved, climate change is better understood as a persistent condition that must be coped with and can only be partially managed more – or less – well. It is just one part of a larger complex of such conditions encompassing population, technology, wealth disparities, resource use, etc.

'Hence it is not straightforwardly an ‘environmental’ problem either. It is axiomatically as much an energy problem, an economic development problem or a land-use problem, and may be better approached through these avenues than as a problem of managing the behaviour of the Earth’s climate by changing the way that humans use energy.'

The authors argue a policy of investment in low-cost green energy would be politically attractive and have the contingent benefit of decarbonisation.

'It is now plain that it is not possible to have a ‘climate policy’ that has emissions reductions as the all-encompassing goal. However, there are many other reasons why the decarbonisation of the global economy is highly desirable.

'Therefore, the Paper advocates a radical reframing – an inverting – of approach: accepting that decarbonisation will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals which are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic.'  

Useful links

The Hartwell paper in full

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