Fixing the climate takes two steps, organizing and acting.
Organizing is slow but cheap. The trick to making real progress is to get past the organizing stage so that action becomes effective. The trick to getting organized is to postpone the discussion of how stringent the policy should be until after the organization and policies have been put in place. That means designing the policy around an easy-to-live-with cap or incentive that can easily be made stronger once the policy is agreed on.
This approach is opposite to what happened with the Kyoto protocol. At Kyoto most of the effort went into arguing about how strict the caps would be. But because China, India, Brazil, Australia and the United States were unhappy with the caps they rejected the policy itself. Third world countries signed on, but only after they got exemptions from the limits—in other words from the fundamental policy. Nothing was required of them. In the end, there was little cooperation, the policy was weak, and compliance was spotty at best.
The result of this failure is that fifteen years after the world started to organize, CO2 is being emitted 25 percent faster than in 1992 when the U.N. started the process, and the rate of emissions growth has accelerated in recent years. The organization process is now starting over, with not all that much to show for the last fifteen years.
The IPCC estimated global temperature change through the year 2100 based on six “equally sound” emission scenarios. The graph shows three of these, and the bars at the right show all six. The lowest line on the graph shows what would happen if greenhouse gas concentrations stopped increasing in 2000.
Climate science has spoken [see figure above]. There is more than enough reason to organize a global policy that it capable of sustaining and even enforcing effective emission controls. With stringency and costs set low at the start, there is no excuse for anything short of “full speed ahead.” Once the organization is in place, the science will be clearer. Assuming the climate is changing as it now appears to be, that will make setting stricter limits or stronger incentives easier than it is now.
These are excerpts from chapter 4 of my forthcoming book Carbonomics.