In the TÃ¤llberg event we talked a lot about the deal we need, without really defining what was meant by that. I think it has at least four dimensions:
What science drives the goal? Is it 350ppm? 450ppm? 550ppm? 2C?
What regions or sectors will move first, and what transfers will the rich or the winners use to induce the poor or the losers to play along? Do transfers consist of money, intellectual property, or both?
What form will commitments take, who will make them, and how will they be implemented? Will the mechanism favor taxes or trading, for example? Will standards be expressed as intensities or absolute emissions or … ? How will goals and mechanisms adapt as we learn about uncertainties?
We don’t have a deal now because we don’t have the coalition needed to make it happen. Some combination of the public, politicians, media, religion, education, etc. needs to come together to create critical mass behind a policy. We have fragments (the EU, California) but not a whole. I rather doubt that there is a quick, transformative solution (unless catastrophe drives us to one, which I’d rather not contemplate).
I say “critical mass” deliberately, because what we’re all implicitly searching for is a reinforcing feedback that will grow policy out of its current dysfunctional state. The question is, what is that loop? My guess is that it involves starting gradually. Don’t shoot for the moon and fail. Instead, take a little medicine at first. Impose a modest carbon tax. Observe that the economy doesn’t collapse, and efficiency is cheap or even profitable. Greentech gets a little more profitable, and the more numerous low-carbon voters grow to enjoy their tax rebates. Enlisting their support allows the tax to be ratcheted up further, and soon you’re rolling toward real emissions controls. But is the gain on that loop high enough to yield emissions reductions in time to avoid catastrophe?
Today, Drew Jones and I presented a simple model as part of the TÃ¤llberg Forumâ€™s Washington Conversation, â€œThe climate deal we need.â€ Our goal was to build from some simple points about the bathtub dynamics of the carbon cycle and climate to yield some insights about what’s needed. Our aspirational list of insights to get across included,
- stabilizing emissions near current levels fails to stabilize atmospheric concentrations any time soon (because emissions now exceed uptake of carbon; stabilization continues that condition, and the residual accumulates in the atmosphere)
- achieving stabilization of atmospheric CO2 at low levels (Hansen et al.’s 350 ppm) requires very aggressive cuts (for the same reason; if carbon cycle feedbacks from temperature kick in, negative emissions could be needed)
- current policies are not on track to meaningful reductions (duh)
- nevertheless, there is a path (Hansen et al.’s “where should humanity aim” paper lays out one option, and there are others)
- starting soon is essential (the bathtub continues to fill while we delay – a costly gamble)
- international negotiation dynamics are tricky due to diversity of interests, coupled problem spaces, and difficulty of transfers (simulations shadow this)
- but everyone has to be on board or little happens (any one major region or sector, uncontrolled, can blow the deal by emitting above natural uptake)
A good moment came when someone asked, “Why should we care about staying below some temperature threshold?” (I think a scenario with about 3.5C was on the screen at the time). Jim Hansen answered, “because that would be a different planet.”
The conversation didn’t lead to specification of “the deal we need” but it explored a number of interesting facets, which I’ll relate in a few follow-on posts.
Jeff Tollefson has great coverage of the Clout & Climate Change war game at Nature – In the Field.
CNAS has set up a web site for the game, which will include materials and a podcast of Rajendra Pachauri’s keynote.
Remarks from Rajendra Pachauri and Diana Farrell are now on the CNAS web site.
ORNL has a site documenting the scientific input to the scenarios, here.
ABC was covering the war game, as part of Earth 2100.
Drew Jones has an entry at Climate Interactive.