Random Reflections on The Deal

The following are some stream-of-consciousness insights that struck me from other presentations and audience comments during the Tällberg event. Apologies to Bo Ekman, Bob Corell, Christine Loh, Johan Rockström, and other unattributed sources of these thoughts – my notes just aren’t that good.

There’s much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth in attempts to interpret the UNFCC objective, “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” But the convention actually provides a useful definition in the very next sentence, “Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” That’s already a fairly stringent and specific requirement.

    The mood of the Club of Rome, and of statements about the state of ecological and social systems in general, is gloomy, i.e. that issues raised 40 years ago regrettably are now more acute and immediate.

      Climate is not a future problem, it’s happening now.
      It’s not a gradual process; it could happen drastically.
      It’s not globally uniform; regional variations are large.
      It’s not an environmental problem; it’s connected to an array of issues in many domains (oil security, ecosystems, water, refugees, the real and money economies). Developments in the money economy rely on the underlying real economy, which in turn relies on resources, yet finance ministers routinely trump environmental decisions and few environmental agreements are honored.

        Sovereignty is one of the notions that stands in the way of agreements; such fundamental principles need to be rethought. The philosophical problem leads to practical problems. For example, enthusiasm for cap & trade, at least in some quarters, stems from the idea that it could be used as a mechanism for transfers from rich to poor nations, for example via allocation of emissions permits on a per capita basis. An ideal system would have to operate person to person though. If governments receive allowances, the system risks becoming a mechanism for the elites of the poor world to fleece the rich world, with limited benefit to the poor.

          As soon as one accepts the framing of climate change as, how to sustain GDP growth, or as a cost-benefit problem, half the battle is lost. The ‘economy as means’ is confused with ‘economy as end’. The solution needs to connect to well being. This is difficult, because of role confusion – so many of the interests involved in creating a solution are also dependent on the creation of consumer demand. Seen in that light, there might be a silver lining to the financial crisis. It is distracting, but it might also be the storm of creative destruction that provides fertile ground for growth of new interpretations of well being and new economic goals.

            The world of climate negotiation is closed. Negotiations are driven by diplomats who’ve been at it for years, and resist information sources and constraints representing reality. Environment ministers complain that they have no influence over the outcome. Nature needs to be brought into the room (exactly what we’re trying to do).

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