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The world is slow to organize [Carbonomics, Ch. 4]

December 28th, 2006 by Steven Stoft, Berkeley

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.

Steve Stoft

These are excerpts from chapter 4 of my forthcoming book Carbonomics.

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2 Responses to “The world is slow to organize [Carbonomics, Ch. 4]”

  1. Phil Says:

    I am nor sure that getting people to sign up without any commitment is of much value lon term. The one advantage of Kyoto is that it is incremental and long term- the developed countries caused the pollution and so they start ‘paying’ first and then from 2012 – 2020 developing countries start to come onboard. By then Australia under new management and US also soon to be under new management will probably be onboard.

    So Steve Scott is right incremental is better – get organised first which is what the EU has been doing so that the World’s emmissions have been going up but the EU’s have been going down. Imagine what woould have happened if the EU had not made a start with the Kyoto Protocols.

    No I think in a few years we may have to use trade as a coercive encouragement to ensure the problem of ‘free riders’ is managed but that is better than conflict over pollution.

  2. Steven Stoft Says:

    Thanks for you comment. I think it shows I did not write clearly because I agree with you. No commitment has no value.

    My complaint is that with Kyoto, most of the world has no commitment. So, as you say, it is not of much value. Better to get everyone committed. This requires a different approach — Global Carbon Pricing, which is described in Part 4, which concerns international cooperation. It allows national caps, but the international requirement is for an average national carbon price.

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