3E Intelligence

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol might have been useful as a symbol for governments’ commitment to act against global warming but it has failed to reverse the trend or bring greenhouse gas reductions. This is the analysis of two British scientists writing in Nature this week.

“Kyoto was always the wrong tool for the nature of the job”, write the two authors of the report: “Kyoto’s architects assumed that climate change would be best attacked directly through global emissions controls, treating tonnes of carbon dioxide like stockpiles of nuclear weapons to be reduced via mutually verifiable targets and timetables. Unfortunately, this borrowing simply failed to accommodate the complexity of the climate-change issue“.

The international agreement also “stifled discussion of alternative policy approaches”: “As Kyoto became a litmus test of political correctness, those who were concerned about climate change, but sceptical of the top-down approach adopted by the protocol were sternly admonished that “Kyoto is the only game in town“.

The two scientists recommend a “radical rethink of climate policy” based on five “central elements”:

  1. focus mitigation efforts on the big emitters instead of trying to reach a common denominator compromise with the whole world;
  2. Allow genuine emissions markets to evolve from the bottom up;
  3. Put public investment in energy R&D on a wartime footing: “It seems reasonable to expect the world’s leading economies and emitters to devote as much money to this challenge as they currently spend on military research — in the case of the United States, about $80 billion per year. Such investment would provide a more promising foundation for decarbonization of the global energy system than the current approach”;
  4. Increase spending on adaptation;
  5. Work the problem at appropriate scales.
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