Prins and Rayner on Kyoto

by John Quiggin on October 29, 2007

Not surprisingly, this Nature article by Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner entitled Time to ditch Kyoto, has attracted plenty of attention. I’m responding quickly and therefore somewhat brusquely. I’ll try to write something more considered a bit later.

Before giving a detailed response, let me observe that a reader with limited time need only look at the following few sentences

In September, the United States convened the top 16 polluters. Such initiatives are summarily dismissed by Kyoto’s true believers, who see them as diversions rather than necessary first steps. However, these approaches begin to recognize the reality that fewer than 20 countries are responsible for about 80% of the world’s emissions.
This argument is premised on the assumption that the Bush Administration, representing the world’s largest source of emissions (though China is catching up fast), sincerely wants to do something about climate change and called the September meeting with this purpose in mind. If anyone believes this, I have just become aware of a business opportunity from Nigeria in which they may be interested.

Unfortunately, the credulity with which Prins and Rayner accept Bush’s position is characteristic of their entire piece, which is little more than a recapitulation of the positions stated by the Bush Administration and (until it begin backing away a year or so ago) its Australian ally. The main claims are

(i) Kyoto has not delivered any reduction in emissions and further steps on the same lines are unlikely to do so
(ii) We need an agreement focusing on the top 20 emitters rather than a global process incorporating 170 nations
(iii) We need to pay more policy attention to adaptation and R&D and less to price incentives for mitigation

The first point is merely asserted. We don’t know what would have happened in the absence of Kyoto, nor what would have happened if the US had ratified and made a serious attempt to meet its target. Prins and Rayner don’t develop the point, and neither will I.

The second point is critical, since it’s the only part of the argument that’s even remotely novel, and the area in which the authors seem to have at least some expertise. The crucial para here is

The notion that emissions mitigation is a global commons problem, requiring consensus among more than 170 countries, lies at the heart of the Kyoto approach. Engaging all of the world’s governments has the ring of idealistic symmetry (matching global threat with universal response), but the more parties there are to any negotiation, the lower the common denominator for agreement — as has been the case under Kyoto.

The central claim then, is that the problems observed with Kyoto are the result of the need to get consensus not merely of the 20 nations that count but of 150 or so that do not. But this picture bears no resemblance to the actual problem. The difficulties in reaching an effective agreement have been almost entirely due to the incompatible positions of major emitters including the EU (largely backed by Japan), the US and Australia, and the major developing countries, China and India. Restricting negotiations to a group of 20, or even 10, would not change this.

In particular, the most determined opponents of any effective action have been the Bush Administration in the US and its supporters in the Howard government (at least until its very recent capitulation). While their rhetoric almost exactly matches that of Prins and Rayner, their actions clearly indicate a desire for inaction. In particular, while the stated US position is that it is only willing to act if China and India also reduce emissions, US negotiators have actively encouraged their counterparts from China and India to hold resolutely to the opposite view, refusing any definite commitments. The resulting standoff is not a consequence of trying to reach consensus among 170 parties, but the outcome actively pursued by the US.

Turning to the final point made by Prins and Rayner, it is notable both for the extent to which it mirrors the rhetoric of those who have consistently opposed any effective action, and for its failure to take account of basic economic principles of policy analysis. As regards rhetoric, Prins and Rayner go on at length about how “adaptation” was viewed as a dirty word, without noting that the IPCC reports have always been divided into three Working Groups, one of which covers effects and adaptation. More importantly, they don’t note that adaptation has served in the past and in their article as code for doing nothing about mitigation.

The idea that, in the formulation of a global response to climate change, equal policy effort should be allocated to mitigating climate change and to adaptation to its consequences sounds plausible, but does not stand up to scrutiny. Emissions of greenhouse gases represent a market failure, since no private party has any incentive to reduce their own emissions. Hence, mitigation requires a policy response to ensure that this externality is taken into account.

By contrast, private parties, in deciding how to adapt to climate change, will, in the absence of policy intervention, bear the costs and receive the benefits of their decisions in most cases. There is no particular reason to expect too much or too little adaptation. Of course, there is a role for governments in the provision of information, and in large-scale adaptation decisions regarding infrastructure, urban planning and so on, but even here, there is in most cases no need for any co-ordinated international action.

A similar point may be made with respect to technology. As in other areas, there is a role for governments in undertaking fundamental public good research. But for most of the R&D required for an effective response to climate change, the crucial requirement is a price incentive to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Given this incentive, firms will have a natural incentive to develop innovative low-cost solutions.
Coming back to the policy debate, it is striking that, had the Australian government sought to defend its policy position as of early 2006, it could hardly have done better than to commission Prins and Rayner to write their Nature piece. That position has collapsed in the light of public and academic scrutiny, and the arguments of Prins and Rayner will do likewise.

{ 50 comments }

1

bi 10.29.07 at 8:59 am

Oh, so now it’s the environmentalists’ fault for not supporting efforts to actually take effective international action to curb global warming. And ‘effective international action’ here means doing nothing.

(At this point I might say, “let the jaw-dropping commence!” but my jaw has dropped so often that the main problem now is how to shut it back up.)

2

James Wimberley 10.29.07 at 9:05 am

“There is in most cases no need for any co-ordinated international action [on adaptation]”.
There’s a very big issue of distributional justice. I agree that Bangladesh can organise its own flood defences better than outsiders, buying in expertise from the Dutch. But why should Bangladeshi peasants have to pay for huge costs inflicted on them by the rich emitters?

3

John Quiggin 10.29.07 at 9:11 am

I agree James, but I don’t think this was the point P&R were making.

4

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 9:20 am

The analysis here is pretty straight forward and correct.

However, there isn’t much point in implying a problem with Prins and Rayner on point 1. Even a Kyoto with the US would have done little (e.g. no credible compliance mechanism and built in options for delay and retreat on both missed target penalties and future targets). This is of course supported by your own views on the international political economy of the problem, and on the need for strong price mechanism you note.

In fact I think your over all argument is much stronger if you give then point 1.

5

Brett Bellmore 10.29.07 at 10:41 am

“though China is catching up fast”

Your info is dated; Seems that once you take into account China’s raging coal mine fires, they’ve been in first place for quite some time.

6

mugwump 10.29.07 at 11:40 am

So let me get this right: the spectacular failure of Kyoto signatories to meet their targets is not their own fault, it’s the fault of the countries that didn’t sign.

Ah, the twisty little mazes of the mind of a true Kyoto believer.

7

Rich B. 10.29.07 at 11:40 am

I don’t know. I’d give serious consideration to ANY paper written by both Wonder Woman AND Green Lantern.

8

Slocum 10.29.07 at 11:41 am

Actually, China passed the U.S. by a non-trivial margin in 2006:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/jun/19/china.usnews

So now, it not ‘catching up fast’ but rather pulling away fast. And I’d expect China to keep putting on additional coal-powered generating capacity as fast as possible — both for the power itself and to establish as high as possible a baseline before making any kind of agreement.

This argument is premised on the assumption that the Bush Administration…sincerely wants to do something about climate change.

But it isn’t you know. It’s not about Bush any more — he’s on his way out. The question of whether or not this is a useful approach going forward really has nothing to do with Bush’s level of sincerity.

9

Katherine 10.29.07 at 11:50 am

Of course, one itty bitty detail that is always missed out when going on about China overtaking the US is that it is a country of 1 billion people. That’s why it has overtaken. Its per head emmissions are still far lower than those of Europe or the US. They may well take over per head emmission eventually, of course, but not for a good long while.

In the meantime, using China as an excuse not to do anything, on the basis that they are the largest emmitters, is the kind of twisty, self-serving “logic” that’s just going to convince China, India and any other developing country that the West wants to have its cake and eat it too.

10

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 12:05 pm

#6

“So let me get this right: the spectacular failure of Kyoto signatories to meet their targets is not their own fault, it’s the fault of the countries that didn’t sign.

Ah, the twisty little mazes of the mind of a true Kyoto believer.”

The goal of Kyoto was to achieve collective action on mitigation. If you decide not to cooperate with the others then you are undermining collective action. That should not be too hard to understand.

Note that pretty much everybody who has seriously looked at the political economy of the problem (i.e. both those that think we should mitigate and those that don’t) agree that we would need to broad scale global effort with all the major emitters and at least the large developing countries if we are to have any hope of implementing an economically manageable mitigation strategy.

11

John Emerson 10.29.07 at 12:06 pm

It’s probably true in general that it’s easier for a group of big offenders to come to an agreement if none of their victims are hanging around making things complicated for them.

12

John Quiggin 10.29.07 at 12:10 pm

To be clear, the alleged spectacular failure is mainly in mugwump’s mind. Most of the ratifying Annex 1 countries, and in particular the EU (which has a single target for the EU-15 as a whole) and Japan, appear likely to meet their targets, though not with much room to spare. If they miss them, it won’t be by a spectacular margin.

Canada certainly won’t meet its commitment, so maybe the comment was directed as Stephen Harper.

13

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 1:19 pm

I suppose mugwump’s point is that Kyoto is a spectacular failure in the sense of achieving any significant mitigation of global warming and not on the degree to which the few countries with commitments under Kyoto come close to meeting these weak demands.

14

Slocum 10.29.07 at 1:31 pm

Of course, one itty bitty detail that is always missed out when going on about China overtaking the US is that it is a country of 1 billion people.

Well, of course that’s true, but the atmosphere doesn’t care. And it’s not just that China is now the world’s largest polluter but more to the point, it now accounts for a huge share of the annual increase in emissions (I have seen the claim that China’s annual increases are equal to France’s overall emissions).

In the meantime, using China as an excuse not to do anything, on the basis that they are the largest emmitters, is the kind of twisty, self-serving “logic” that’s just going to convince China, India and any other developing country that the West wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Of course, out of fairness, the U.S. should commit itself to subsidizing China’s development and adoption of cleaner technologies while, at the same time, spending large sums to reduce emissions in the U.S., effectively driving more industries offshore in search of not only of cheaper labor but also cheaper energy and carbon costs. I will be interested to see the reaction on CT in 2009 when a protectionist-leaning Democratic president and Congress facing a probable economic slowdown surprisingly fail to adopt such a plan…

15

SG 10.29.07 at 2:17 pm

well what’s your suggestion Slocum? That we all stand around blaming each other? That China and India do the extra hard work of staying in their 3rd world status to subsidise US SUVs? Kyoto was meant to be a start that we all adopted, and China and India have given US non-adoption as their excuse for same.

So what would you recommend instead?

16

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 2:42 pm

SG,

That is the problem with climate change. Any sensible suggestion slocum could think of would be almost impossible for him to swallow ideologically. Any suggestion that fits with the ideology is obviously silly. And since questioning the ideology means questioning one’s firmly held beliefs one seriously risks shaking the grandeur of a self-image that has failed to see the inevitability and value of being wrong sometimes. Simply put one gets pushed into a corner.

Eventually the pressure becomes too great, some strike out like rabid dogs denying that there is any problem at all. Others shut off into a deep mental apathy; they lie down on the floor, tug themselves tightly into the fetal position and do nothing.

17

SamChevre 10.29.07 at 3:58 pm

John,

How many of the individual countries in the EU would meet their targets, if targets were country-by-country? One talking point I hear often is that the EU is basically free-riding on the collapse of East German industry after reunification; I’m trying to get a sense how true that is.

18

Slocum 10.29.07 at 4:11 pm

Any sensible suggestion slocum could think of would be almost impossible for him to swallow ideologically. Any suggestion that fits with the ideology is obviously silly.

In general, I think technical solutions will prove to be more feasible than political ones. I don’t see much chance of even a Democratic U.S. government taking the U.S. into Kyoto and even if that happened, the increasing emissions by China and India will swamp any reductions by the U.S. Up until now, the thinking has been that the U.S. was the critical player, but in just a few years it will completely obvious to all that that’s not the case — and yet China and India will, justifiably, point out that their per capita emissions are still quite low and refuse restrictions.

But cheaper, non-polluting energy sources would have the great advantage of not requiring international treaties — if they are cost competitive with carbon-based alternatives, they will be adopted independently out of self-interest.

So, I would like to see much greater investment in non-carbon based energy — solar power, thorium reactors, and so on. Also carbon sequestration. In the short-term, in the U.S. I would like to see an expansion of our existing uranium-based nuclear industry. I think a higher gasoline tax would be a good idea and perhaps even general carbon taxes, though I am concerned about that resulting in the offshoring of energy-intensive industries as well as the problems of setting ‘carbon tariffs’ to offset that tendency, so for that reason we’d probably be better off starting with a gas tax.

19

c.l. ball 10.29.07 at 4:31 pm

I support a global warming treaty (GWT) based on the Montreal Protocol and US SO2 trading model — staggered phase-ins for countries based on their level of development and emission trading w/ annual reductions in allowed levels — but it seems that three of Quiggen’s criticisms of P&R are off:

First, Kyoto as implemented has not produced significant reductions among many states that ratified the treaties. While the counterfactual may be correct — things would have been worse w/out Kyoto — Kyoto as such is not working for many for the countries that have implemented it. Less than half (17 of the 40 annex-1 ratifiers have met their targets so far). And 13 of the 40 have exceeded their 1990 levels and the 5 that were allowed to remain or exceed are beyond those points.

Second, Kyoto essentially was not really a universal treaty because of the Annex I v. the rest division. A top 20 emitter treaty would be better than trying to get 190+ on-board.

Third, adaptation and R&D are useful avenues to pursue especially if we can show that the costs of adaptation and R&D are equal to or exceed the costs of mitigation. Moreover, even if we cut back by, say, 2030, it might still be too late to avoid some of the consequences.

20

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 4:46 pm

“In general, I think technical solutions will prove to be more feasible than political ones.”

“cheaper, non-polluting energy sources would have the great advantage of not requiring international treaties—if they are cost competitive with carbon-based alternatives, they will be adopted independently out of self-interest.”

You need a political solution to generate the incentive structures necessary to achieve the infrastructural and technological change that would result in meaningful reductions in GHG emissions. The level of incentives necessary for us to change course won’t just come out of thin air. GHG emissions are externalities that have little or not cost for those polluting. Given the extremely short time frames for action if we do not want to be locked into highly damaging climate change we can say with confidence that the technological solution is dependent on a political solution. It is dependent on GHG emissions becoming costly and fast (especially CO2). For obvious reasons this cost needs to be global, i.e. all the big players (i.e. rich countries, high emission developing countries, and high population developing countries). This is the only way to make the costs effective enough to get widespread adoption and if we only have some large players taking on huge costs they will not sustain action over the long term undermining such efforts and the conditions for incentives for technological change.

The idea that self-interest can get us out of this problem is obviously silly. If that were the case we would not be in this situation in the first place. The impacts of our pollution will harm people in the future not us, and any mitigation we can achieve over our life times will have little to no impact on the climate change we will experience over own life times or over the life times of our children. We do not have self interested reasons to invest heavily in alternatives which is why we do not currently invest heavily in alternatives.

Believing that we can just come up with “cost competitive with carbon-based alternatives,” by somehow magically getting “much greater investment in non-carbon based energy” just demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the global collective action problems involved in mitigation strategies. Or maybe it indicates that you do not want to see these realities for some reason…

21

c.l. ball 10.29.07 at 5:00 pm

Re #17,

Data on emission reductions by all Annex I countries is available via PDF from the UNFCCC here.

It really doesn’t matter how the EU levels are disaggregated or what the source is for the purposes of treaty-compliance or reduction. It does matter, of course, when assessing the feasibility of mitigation strategies for other countries.

Also, keep in mind that it was not the Bush administration that refused ratification only; the Senate said it would not approve w/out a universal commitment treaty and Clinton did not recommend ratification for the treaty he signed unless there was universal commitments.

That said, the US’s 16.3% increase in emissions since 1990 shows nothing in the way of effective reduction for the world’s largest emitter (24% of the total), but the developing world (non-Annex I) emissions is sizable — their emissions in 1994 equaled 64% of Annex I 2005 emissions.

22

Brett Bellmore 10.29.07 at 5:21 pm

“That said, the US’s 16.3% increase in emissions since 1990 shows nothing in the way of effective reduction for the world’s largest emitter (24% of the total),”

To repeat, second largest.

23

Tracy W 10.29.07 at 5:47 pm

We don’t know what would have happened in the absence of Kyoto, nor what would have happened if the US had ratified and made a serious attempt to meet its target. Prins and Rayner don’t develop the point, and neither will I.

Nor do we know what would have happened if those countries who ratified the Kyoto treaty, like Europe and NZ had had to make a serious change in economic structure to meet their targets. (NB, moving to gas-fired power stations in order to break the power of the coal miners or shutting down your ridiculously uneconomic soviet-era polluting plants, whatever their virtues in themselves, do not impress me as serious attempts).

In particular, the most determined opponents of any effective action have been the Bush Administration in the US and its supporters in the Howard government

Personally, I think the reluctance of people around the world, including myself, to undertake serious changes in living standards, are the most effective opponents of any effective action.

I personally hope for a technological rescue as I see no hope of the sorts of cuts needed to make a significant reduction in climate change happening otherwise. Even if not merely the Bush administration and the Howard government but the whole of the US and Australia disappeared from the planet tomorrow. (Not that I want them to disappear, there are people in both countries I am extremely fond of).

24

Brett Bellmore 10.29.07 at 6:01 pm

We’ll have a technological rescue when the problem finally gets bad enough for the enviromental movement to abandon it’s reflexive opposition to nuclear power. Which is already beginning to happen, I’m happy to say.

25

Quo Vadis 10.29.07 at 6:02 pm

aarron_m:

You need a political solution to generate the incentive structures necessary to achieve the infrastructural and technological change that would result in meaningful reductions in GHG emissions…

The level of incentives necessary for us to change course won’t just come out of thin air….

The idea that self-interest can get us out of this problem is obviously silly.

And yet you seem to be surprised to find that there is no incentive for people to sign up for the incentive program.

If people could be motivated to sign up for an incentive program to address the GHG problem the incentive program would be superfluous. Let’s focus on motivating people and ditch the politics, it’s just a distraction.

26

Quo Vadis 10.29.07 at 6:05 pm

Sorry, my italics are screwed up. Everything up to “The idea that self-interest can get us out of this problem is obviously silly.” is quoted from aaron_m in #20.

27

Slocum 10.29.07 at 6:09 pm

You need a political solution to generate the incentive structures necessary to achieve the infrastructural and technological change that would result in meaningful reductions in GHG emissions.

But the politics in support of technological change don’t need need to be global, and that’s the big difference. Neither the Manhattan nor Apollo projects required “global collective action” to succeed. And politically, I see a much better chance of convincing the American electorate to support a green-energy Manhattan project than Kyoto.

The idea that self-interest can get us out of this problem is obviously silly. If that were the case we would not be in this situation in the first place.

Self interest gets us out of this problem if we have cost-competitive non-carbon energy sources. And, in fact, standard operating procedure for new technologies of all kinds is:

a) Advanced countries invent new technologies, and
b) Developing countries adopt those technologies — and not because global agreements require them to do so, but because it makes economic sense (e.g. self-interest).

In terms of silliness, I think it’s silly to focus on Kyoto exclusively when the politics and economics just. don’t. add. up. China and India are not going to agree to restrictions when their per capita emissions are low, and if they don’t agree, the U.S. won’t either, but it wouldn’t matter anyway because potential U.S. reductions could never make up for the rate of Chinese and Indian increases.

28

bi 10.29.07 at 6:27 pm

Slocum:

You advocate a gas tax, but the gas tax is going to actually work its magic only within the US. In that case, how are you going to sell your new-fangled technologies to your “developing countries”? Perhaps the US should institute a gas tax only if China and India do likewise, so it’s the same problem all over again?

“potential U.S. reductions could never make up for the rate of Chinese and Indian increases”

Which is _every reason_ why we — as a world — should try our very best by whatever means to persuade China and India to cut their emissions. (Which, surprisingly, you keep trying to avoid, because somehow the flooding of vast tracts of arable lands is nothing compared to the End Times of US jobs getting offshored.)

29

James Wimberley 10.29.07 at 6:45 pm

John in #3, responding at the speed of light to my #2: yes, my point doesn’t help Rayner & Prins, but my niggle is with your gloss on adaptation.

Can we take adaptation a bit further? Morally, the world’s carbon-frugal poor are owed compensation by rich emitters for climate-driven damage. But this is infeasible, for any number of reasons – politics, measurement uncertainty, institutions. An obligation you can’t discharge is a cost to anyone with a conscience. Add this to the many other costs of business-as-usual, in which adaptation realistically includes starvation, mass displacement, ecosystem disruption, and revenge terrorism as well as rational engineering projects. Many countries’ governments would be overwhelmed by the problems; optimal rational adaptation is a pipe dream, of the same order as hoping for a technological miracle.

It’s pretty obvious that the costs of the adaptationist strategy, so far as you could value them on any basis other than complete f*ck-you selfishness, are much larger than those of mitigation.

30

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 6:55 pm

#25

“And yet you seem to be surprised to find that there is no incentive for people to sign up for the incentive program.”

I am not ht e least bit surprised. What made you think that?

31

aaron_m 10.29.07 at 7:01 pm

Slocum,

Read the literature. Nobody thinks that US government investment in technology is going to get us out of this problem.

I am not focused on Kyoto, I am just telling you what kind of collective action problem we have. We need some kind of mechanism for creating incentives at the global scope (probably prince instruments at this scope), if we are to successfully avoid dangerous climate change. Even if it is true that states won’t agree to such a plan this fact does not change the nature of our collective action problem. That way of thinking is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute and then deciding that gravity is not a problem.

32

Brett Bellmore 10.29.07 at 9:36 pm

“We need some kind of mechanism for creating incentives at the global scope (probably prince instruments at this scope), if we are to successfully avoid dangerous climate change.”

Given the nature of so many of the world’s governments, are we perhaps not lucky that there’s no such mechanism? It would probably be morally neutral in it’s nature, as capable of enforcing evil as good.

33

Slocum 10.29.07 at 9:40 pm

bi: You advocate a gas tax, but the gas tax is going to actually work its magic only within the US. In that case, how are you going to sell your new-fangled technologies to your “developing countries”?

Think of the U.S. and E.U. as the rich ‘early adopters’ who buy the big, low-capacity iPods at $500 a pop so that later they can be manufactured and bought for a fraction of the cost. Although I don’t see a gas tax as driving that kind of innovation — I think that’s going to serious R&D investments on the part of the federal government.

aaron_m: I am not focused on Kyoto, I am just telling you what kind of collective action problem we have. We need some kind of mechanism for creating incentives at the global scope (probably prince instruments at this scope), if we are to successfully avoid dangerous climate change.

And I’m saying that globally co-ordinated collective action of this type has never been done and that there are powerful conflicting political interests that make such a thing even less likely, so that if we are to successfully avoid climate change, we’re going to have to come up with a different approach (or, more likely, set of approaches).

Time will tell which of us is right — but not too much time. We’ll know in a few years.

34

roger 10.30.07 at 2:14 am

It is easy to foresee scenarios in which adaptation, relying on private incentives, will make things worse. For instance, adapting to the collapse of the snowpack water supply in the Rocky Mountain states and the Southwest and the Pacific states could lead to crazy schemes to keep, say, Las Vegas going by buying and transporting glacial water from British Columbia, which would only spread one ecological disaster to another region. Since we are operating in terms of short term profit, adaptations like this are to be expected.

There is no way that the changes that the spiking CO2 content in the atmosphere are going to bring are going to be ‘contained’ by the free market, or by one nation. Instead, coordination between states will have to be at the level it was in, say, WWII – which of course is a nightmare for the Bushite psychos. After all, the U.S. had to concede continually to the U.S.S.R during that war. Such concessions cause deep psychological wounds among the denizens of the American right – and unfortunately, these aren’t laughable. They can and will do quite a bit to make the situation infinitely worse. It is a bad time to hit an unprecedented global crisis, but there you are.

35

mugwump 10.30.07 at 5:06 am

Morally, the world’s carbon-frugal poor are owed compensation by rich emitters for climate-driven damage.

That’s a very selective view of a small portion of the balance sheet. When we send them the bill for all the technology we’ve developed on the back of our cheap, carbon-fueled energy, I think you’ll find they owe us, not the other way around.

36

bi 10.30.07 at 5:17 am

Sure, the Bangladeshis owe “us” a huge bill for the technology “we” have developed for them absolutely gratis (oh really), to deal with problems partly caused by “our” own emissions the first place.

roger: When people’s very lives are at stake, the most important problem now is to prevent big companies from offshoring their operations.

37

mugwump 10.30.07 at 5:50 am

To be clear, the alleged spectacular failure is mainly in mugwump’s mind.

The proof is in the market: at 7 euro cents a tonne there ain’t a whole lot of CO2 reduction going on.

[Put that in perspective: your average Hummer produces about 500g of CO2 per km. Let’s say gas costs roughly 1 Euro per liter (it is more in Europe, but this is a rough calculation), and the Hummer gets 5km/liter (a little low, but the low gas price cancels the underestimate).

So the Hummer can travel 2,000km (most of the way across Europe) before producing 1 tonne of CO2 at a cost of 7 Euro cents, but the price of the gas to get there is 400 Euros. So about 0.02% of the cost of driving across Europe in a Hummer is due to its CO2 emissions.

With that level of Hummer disincentive I say what are we waiting for?? Kyoto here we come!]

38

mugwump 10.30.07 at 5:54 am

Sure, the Bangladeshis owe “us” a huge bill for the technology “we” have developed for them absolutely gratis (oh really), to deal with problems partly caused by “our” own emissions the first place.

That’s not the technology I am talking about. Happy to write the Bangaldeshis a check for climate damage caused by CO2 if they do not use any “unclean” technology as they modernize. That is, any technology developed anywhere using high CO2 energy. Unfortunately for them, all technology is unclean, so they’re going to have to modernize without any help from the developed nations.

39

Tracy W 10.30.07 at 9:26 am

Instead, coordination between states will have to be at the level it was in, say, WWII

So you think we can tackle climate change with:
– a large chunk of the European states doing their best to stay neutral (eg Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden)
– China in a state of civil war
– the Australians hauling home when they feel threatened
– military occupations of any countries that get in the way of the grand scheme (eg Iran)
– Germany breaking treaties left, right and centre?

40

Tracy W 10.30.07 at 9:36 am

After all, the U.S. had to concede continually to the U.S.S.R during that war. Such concessions cause deep psychological wounds among the denizens of the American right – and unfortunately, these aren’t laughable.

I think more people than just the American right who were upset by the fact that WWII resulted in many Eastern European nations becoming satellite states of a cruel dictatorship. I am not American, but that result of WWII upset me. And I get the impression from his writings that it upset Churchill, who was only half-American. Personally I think anyone who cares about liberty should be upset by that outcome of WWII.

They can and will do quite a bit to make the situation infinitely worse.

Indeed. The lack of democracy in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union probably explains the severe environmental damage in those areas.

41

John Quiggin 10.30.07 at 12:46 pm

#37 Indeed, mugwump, if I understand the situation correctly, your Hummer can travel cheaply for another couple of months, until it runs into the new and tighter rules for vehicle emissions, and more expensive emissions credits, that apply from 2008 onwards. Seems like a fair deal to me.

I’m glad you agree on the desirability of Kyoto.

42

James Wimberley 10.30.07 at 12:51 pm

Mugwump in #38: I tried to point out that compensation won’t work anyway, like other adaptationist strategies. Mitigation is TINA.
You don’t accept that we rich emitters owe the Bangladeshis anything. OK. Then you might try thinking of the practical consequences of your position. What would be the likely feelings of the tens of millions of Bangladeshis who would very probably be driven from their farms in the Ganges/Brahmaputra flood plain, if they managed to survive? What forms might their resentment take? Current political or religious terrorists don’t go for economic targets; but these would be entirely appropriate for a revenge cult blaming rich countries’ energy wastefulness. It could do an awful lot with a few RPGs or hijacked oil tankers.

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roger 10.30.07 at 2:04 pm

Tracy w – that coordination would be like WWII doesn’t mean that the pattern of who coordinates would be like wwii. I know, comprehension of a complicated analogy like that one might be difficult. Or it just might be that you are misreading pointlessly. I chose option number two.

As for the terrible result of WWII, which has been much lamented lately on the far right – there’s been a meme about how the U.S. should never have coddled those russians, but attacked for freedom’s sake in 1947! – well, that is one of those swampy little sentiments that derive from the right’s addiction to playing computer war games. After you’ve bought your Clancy approved Limited Nuclear War game and scored the surprise direct hits, you get all warm and hard and Patton-ish. And you are playing for freedom! Your throwing in of Churchill, the far right’s Britney Spears+Mother Theresa figure, was truly a bonus. Since Churchill signed on quite blithely to send the Russian Displaced persons back to Russia, and felt the main thing to do, after the War, was to retain British rule over its empire, his beliefs about the freedom of Eastern Europe strike me as meaningless rhetorical ploys.

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mugwump 10.30.07 at 6:48 pm

#41: You’re the economist, and you’re the one touting the success of Kyoto, so please tell us, by how much do you think a price of 7 euro cents a tonne has reduced CO2 emissions?

#42: I’m not saying we shouldn’t help the Bangladeshis, just that I don’t believe the rich countries have a moral obligation to do so just because we have historically been the biggest emitters. The CO2 is a common “bad” that helped create a much larger common good from which all of us (Bangladeshis included) are benefiting.

Current political or religious terrorists don’t go for economic targets; but these would be entirely appropriate for a revenge cult blaming rich countries’ energy wastefulness. It could do an awful lot with a few RPGs or hijacked oil tankers.

And states that harbor terrorists should be prepared for the “appropriate” response.

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John Quiggin 10.31.07 at 6:00 am

I’m an economist, and won’t waste any more typing than this on people who can’t/won’t read.

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Tracy W 10.31.07 at 9:46 am

Tracy w – that coordination would be like WWII doesn’t mean that the pattern of who coordinates would be like wwii.

What I meant was that the world, on the whole, did not do a very good job of coordinating in WWII. To tackle climate change politically we would need *far* more cooperation than in WWII, not the same level. Sorry for not spelling it out in my comment.

As for the terrible result of WWII, which has been much lamented lately on the far right –

Okay, I’m lost. What view do you hold about the Soviet’s takeover of Eastern Europe at the end of WWII? Do you lament it? If not, why not?

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bi 10.31.07 at 7:01 pm

mugwump’s Plan for Peace and Security: make other people hate you to the point of attacking you, then bomb them into a huge parking lot.

Quick, someone give this guy a Nobel Peace Prize. Now.

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mugwump 10.31.07 at 11:35 pm

RE #45: I can read fine. But your position is ambiguous: either you are claiming Kyoto is a success when CO2 is trading at 7 euro cents a tonne, or you are admitting it is a failure, but claiming that the next round of restrictions will be a success.

The first position is indefensible, so we can assume you agree Kyoto has thus far failed to reduce CO2 emissions.

Whether the next round of cuts has any effect remains to be seen. Most likely, if the cuts genuinely bite, CO2 production will simply move to those developing nations that don’t have their own targets, and we’ll see no overall reduction.

But we will see a transfer of wealth from Europe to the developing nations, which, after all, is the main (unstated) aim of the Kyoto Eurocrats. Just like the communist apparatchiki of yore, the Eurocrats’ privileged position is secure regardless of the underlying economic conditions, and Global Warming represents the perfect vehicle for the spread of their soci4list agenda.

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mugwump 10.31.07 at 11:39 pm

RE #47: If people are violent towards me because I hold a differing moral viewpoint, then they deserve all they get.

I gather you are in favour of capitulation to the Islamofascists. After all, they hate you for your morals.

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engels 11.01.07 at 4:22 am

I gather you are in favour of capitulation to the Islamofascists. After all, they hate you for your morals.

Is this supposed to be a parody?

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