The Hartwell Paper: climate policy for the real world

What would be the best outcome from Bali? It would be a post-Kyoto regime that ditches universalism with respect to mitigation efforts: Fewer than 20 countries are responsible for about 80% of the world’s emissions. It would make a serious commitment to technological innovation. And it would agree to spend as much time and money on adaptation as on mitigation.

…Adaptation is central to any serious climate response strategy. We have to deal with the amount of change to which the climate system is already committed due to past emissions, as well as the increasing amount of people and property that are already in harm’s way. Just as the Dutch built their dikes to survive in a hostile environment, the Bangladeshis need to be protected from storm surges and the Filipinos from flooding today.

For over a decade, adaptation was kept off the policy agenda by those who feared it would attenuate support for reducing emissions. Yet any reduction in greenhouse-gas concentrations would take decades. Adaptation has a faster response time cycle and a closer coupling with innovation and incentive structures. It thereby confers more protection more quickly on more people, especially the poor currently dependent on marginal ecosystems.

Those selected paragraphs introduced my earlier post Kyoto Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy, which celebrated the 2007 LSE/Oxford paper of the same title by Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner [PDF]. I continue to believe today that these papers offer a policy path that could actually work – unlike the failed Kyoto model.

The second blockbuster joint LSE/Oxford  paper was released 6 July 2009. How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course [PDF], is authored by a formidable dream team. Inverting the concept of an “ad hominem attack”, my defense would highlight the ten additional expert coauthors who have joined Prins and Rayner. Here by example are just a few names familiar to those who have been seeking a practical policy framework: Christopher Green, Mike Hulme, Roger Pielke, Jr, Dan Sarewitz and Hans van Storch. The report exhorts policy leaders to drop the failed Kyoto-style framework and instead focus directly on decarbonizing global energy systems by applying the Kaya Direct Approach.

Now in May 2010 we have the third joint LSE/Oxford publication The Hartwell Paper. The author team has grown to fourteen, and the concepts are further refined. Though I have to say that the “crash of 2009” validates the methodology developed in the first two papers:

Climate policy, as it has been understood and practised by many governments of the world under the Kyoto Protocol approach, has failed to produce any discernable real world reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in fifteen years. The underlying reason for this is that the UNFCCC/Kyoto model was structurally flawed and doomed to fail because it systematically misunderstood the nature of climate change as a policy issue between 1985 and 2009. However, the currently dominant approach has acquired immense political momentum because of the quantities of political capital sunk into it. But in any case the UNFCCC/Kyoto model of climate policy cannot continue because it crashed in late 2009.

I hope the new paper generates serious debate on its recommendations. Whatever the outcome, the “Kaya Direct” approach must be the foundation.

(…) Underlying all is the degree to which the “Kaya Direct” model can help restore public trust. The restoration of public trust, as we observed at the beginning of this paper, is the indispensible prerequisite for any productive action at all on the vital, complex and hitherto badly misunderstood and mismanaged subject of climate policy.

UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. links to an Economist editorial on the Hartwell Paper. Roger’s blog will be a very good place to monitor progress on the debate.