The post-Copenhagen world?

Sigh. Just putting the latest MCFly (issue 29. Oh god, what a rod for my own back/enablement of my martyr complex).

And on the stepper last night read a rather fun (in a “we are so toast” kind of way) piece by Alex Evans and David Steven, of the grandly named Centre on International Co-operation.

It’s about the post-Copenhagen world, and it’s catchily titled “An Institutional Architecture for Climate Change.” It was commissioned by the Department for International Development.

So, the authors do that “scenario” thing that we have Per whatsit and Vince Cable to blame for. You know, they come up with three different ways things could go over the next 20 years or so, then spice it up with some glib “humour” about Chelsea Clinton becoming prez and so forth.

Their three scenarios are – (drumroll please)

“In Age of Climatocracy, early success in negotiations nonetheless fails to lead to a sustainable deal.

“In Multilateral Zombie, an early breakdown in international co-operation is followed by the eventual emergence of a new order based on a patchwork of bottom up solutions.

“Finally, in Operating System, a long-term deal proves sufficiently robust to deliver results, based on an ambitious effort to integrate all aspects of international reform, and an approach based on agreeing shared principles and a long-term route map rather than just incremental initiatives. “

In all of these I think they ignore what some of the smarter climate scientists are trying to say. Susan Solomon and the “it’s later than you think” line, Stephen Schneider and the “unpleasant surprises”, Wally Broecker and the Climate Beast thing. You see, Evans and Steven live in the dumb-bell world, and either won’t or can’t think about it all going horribly tits up in uncontrollable ways. I’m reminded of what some Daniel Finkelstein wrote recently in the Times about Robert McNamara upon the old fraud’s death
“The first less is this: that men of action want to act. They are paid to act, they are brought into government to act. From his very first visit to Vietnam, McNamara could have learnt- if he wanted to- how difficult things were. But he was an executive type and he wasn’t about to tell the boss that he couldn’t get the job done. So doubt was excluded. The facts were altered to suit the theory.”

The men of thinking (and they’re damn good at it, btw. Check out their Global Dashboard) want to think, and to plot out continuities. But we are facing such radical uncertainty that… Actually, maybe I am being unfair to these guys; I guess nobody pays you to throw your hands up in the air and say “fucked if I know” for 50 pages.

Good points are made throughout. Here’s a small selection that resonated with me as I stepped away on the stepper:
“This demonstrates a crucial point: action taken on climate change today is fundamentally influenced by expectations of what will happen in the future. By extension, the primary task for climate institutions is to shape expectations about future policy responses over the very long time periods associated with climate change. ” (p16)


“Today’s institutions are structured in such a way that assumes that:

The likely impact of climate change will be considerably less than predicted by the IPCC. Emissions are climbing at a rate that makes more rigorous stabilization levels difficult, or impossible, to achieve.

The cost of reducing emissions far exceeds the benefits, while there is little need to insure against catastrophic impacts. Countries, firms and individuals behave as if they believe that they cannot afford the transition to low carbon development.

Short-term economic imperatives outweigh longer-term interests, including both economic and – especially – non-economic ones. While there is growing appreciation of the damage we are doing to future generations, there is not sufficient commitment to overcome the obstacles to collective action.

The needs of the poor should be given less weight than those of the rich. The poor, both acros and within countries, will suffer far more from climate change.”
(page 17)

And there’s ammo to sling at Ed Miliband next he uses the “we’re 18% below 1990 levels” line on UK GHG emissions. Maybe (just maybe) we are on our production, but not on our consumption, not if you count the “embedded carbon”:

“Dieter Helm finds that on a crude calculation, the UK’s consumption of greenhouse gases increased 19% between 1990 and 2003, even though production declined 12.5% – in line with the UK’s Kyoto target.
Other research suggests that only around half of China’s rapid emissions growth is due to increased domestic consumption; the rest are exported.
In effect, rich countries have exported ‘dirty industries’ to emerging economies, who then hav to bear the cost of investing in technologies for reducing their emissions.”
(page 21)

And a good point on the UNFCCC negotiations:

“In climate change, this problem is compounded by the fact that agreements are negotiated by environment ministers who generally have low status within their governments, and whose position becomes increasingly exposed as the potential impact grows of any deal on economies. One understandable response is to increase centralisation, both within national governments (as heads of state take increasing responsibility for international issues), and at a global level (where there is a trend towards escalating hard issues to fora such as the G8 and, more recently, the G20).
However, the problem with centralisation is that it comes with very limited capacity. At national level, heads’ offices have small staffs that usually have to focus on the urgent rather than the essential. At international level, the limited ‘bandwidth’ of the network of sherpas that prepares the G8 agenda means that summit outcomes more often tend towards headline-friendly ‘initiatives’ instead of comprehensive plans to manage global risks. “ (page 23)

and the final bit I’ll cut and paste (promise) is one dear to my heart, namely, the complete lack of work done on “softening up” people for the meaning of a ‘successful’ Copenhagen deal:

“Public engagement is therefore paramount. At present, to a surprising (and alarming) extent, international climate policymakers act as though what takes place in the climate ‘bubble’ is the key determinant of success.

“But in fact, recent experience underlines the extent to which publics matter in foreign policy. The European Constitution and its successor, the Lisbon Treaty, were both examples of agreements where policy elites successfully reached a bargain, but then found it bluntly rejected during the ratification phase by publics who had been largely excluded from earlier deliberations. Many other international institutions struggle with public apathy or antipathy towards them.

“Accordingly, it will be essential for policymakers to engage early in the process with non-state constituencies – not only to gauge what public opinion is likely to bear, but also to build a broader sense of buy-in in order to prevent catastrophic public-driven ‘wild cards’ from defeating agreements late in the process. Yet it is astonishing how little governments and international agencies are actually doing to prepare publics for the prospect of a far-reaching global deal on climate change – particularly given that such a deal will, after all, be designed to catalyse a massive change in public behaviour. ” (page 39

In summary- read this essay, it is worth it. Just don’t take comfort from the scenarios….

About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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1 Response to The post-Copenhagen world?

  1. David Steven says:

    Thanks for the fab review.On discontinuities, yes – we take collapse seriously (eg, but think it would lead to a rapid loss of function in the international system.Thus it's not central to scenarios intended to help people think about different ways international institutions could evolve.Hope to get on with the 'fucked if we know' paper soon though.

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