ABC to air Clout & Climate Change documentary

This just in from CNAS:

ABC News will air Earth 2100, the prime time documentary for which they filmed the war game, on June 2, 2009, at 9:00 p.m. (EST). You can view a promotional short report on the documentary from ABC News online, and hopefully you will all be able to view it on television or via Internet.

In conjunction with the airing of the documentary, CNAS has made the participant briefing book and materials from the game available online. We encourage other institutions to use and cite these materials to learn about the game and to stage their own scenario exercises. I also hope that they will be useful to you for your own future reference.

Finally, we are posting a short working paper of major findings from the game. While the game did not result in the kind of breakthrough agreements we all would have liked to see, this exercise achieved CNAS’s goals of exploring and highlighting the potential difficulties and opportunities of international cooperation on climate change. I know that everyone took away different observations from the game, however, and I hope that you will share your memories and your own key findings of the event with us, and allow us to post them online as a new section of the report.

Visit the Climate Change War Game webpage to view the CNAS report on major findings and background on developing the 2015 world, the participant briefing book, and materials generated from the game.

Climate War Game – Recap

I presented a brief review of my involvement in the CNAS wargame at Balaton today. My last few slides focus on some observations from the game. They led to a very interesting conversation about targets for future models and games. We have been planning to continue seeking ways to insert models into negotiations, with the goal of connecting individual parties’ positions to aggregate global outcomes. However, in the conversation we identified a much more ambitious goal: reframing the whole negotiation process.

The fundamental problem, in the war game and the real world, is that nations are stuck in a lose-lose paradigm: who will bear the burden of costly mitigation? No one is willing to forego growth, as long as “growth is good” is an unqualified mantra. What negotiations need is a combination of realization that growth founded on externalizing costs of pollution and depletion isn’t really good, and that fixing the institutional and behavioral factors that would unleash large low- or negative-cost emissions reductions and cobenefits would be a win-win. That, combined with a serious and equitable accounting of climate impacts within the scope of present activities and coupling of adaptation and development opportunities to mitigation could tilt the landscape in favor of a meaningful agreement.

Climate War Game – China's Position

Given its large global presence in 2015, by any measure, China’s posture in the negotiations was critical. The Climate Game Times reported:

Climate Game Times - China Headline

China put forth a set of principles yesterday that will guide today’s continued negotiations on migration, disaster relief, resource scarcity, and emissions reductions…. These principles included statements that China’s efforts in these areas will be consistent with its development objectives, and that historical contributions to greenhouse gas emissions be considered in setting targets and dividing the responsibility for global mitigation.

In perhaps the most important detail to emerge from yesterday’s negotiations, the China team will continue to lead in pushing for technology transfers for mitigation and adaptation measures, particularly in emissions reductions, in land use and forestry, and in agriculture so as to encourage a new ‘green revolution.’

I spent much of my time sitting in on the China team’s deliberations. The discussion was very realistic when viewed in the light of 2008 developing country positions, but I began to wonder whether that position could lead to a good outcome for the people of China. Some underlying assumptions that trouble me:

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Climate War Game – In Pictures

Two quick visualizations of the scenario data behind the war game:

First, a map of what happens to the concentration of atmospheric CO2 as a function of an emissions target to which participating regions adhere (y axis) and the regions participating (enumerated on the x axis). This is basically an elaboration of everyone plays. The color scheme on the surface shows atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2100 in slightly cryptic units (TonC). The important thing to know is that the bluest end of the scale (all in, aggressive targets) succeeds in staying under 466ppm, the reddest end (no action) is a disaster at up to 750ppm, and the green and turquoise bands are near 2x CO2. Click the graphic for a larger version.

Atmospheric CO2 as a function of global targets and regional participation

Second, a visual version of some of the data in the reduction illusion. Bubble size is proportional to regional CO2 emissions in 2015.

Regional population, emissions, GDP (2015 scenario)

Climate War Game – Reduction Illusion?

Is the cup half empty or half full? It seems to me that there are opportunities to get tripped up by even the simplest emissions math, as is the case with the MPG illusion. That complicates negotiations by introducing variations in regions’ perception of fairness, on top of contested value judgments.

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Climate War Game – Everyone Plays

A fundamental tension in the war game arose from the fact that, regardless of development and equity considerations, all large nations would have to make cuts eventually, because there simply isn’t enough atmosphere to go around. Consider the following graph, showing the tradeoff in emissions cuts for a two-region world.
Regional emissions reduction tradeoffs
The x-axis shows the size of emissions reductions in a major region, representing a quarter of business as usual emissions (think US or China). The y-axis shows how much the rest of the world would have to cut to meet a global target, given the action of the first region. You can see from the solid orange line that meeting an 80% global cut requires at least a 20% cut from the major region. Otherwise, it’s not physically possible to balance the carbon account (unless free-air capture, a thermodynamic loser, becomes viable). A global target of a 90% cut from current levels – not an implausible requirement in the long run – requires at least 60% participation from the major nation above. Clearly the developing country position of do-nothing-but-grow can be no more than a transient if we are to make real progress on mitigation.

Climate War Game – Is 2050 Temperature Locked In?

This slide became known as “the Angry Red Future” at the war game:
The Angry Red Future

Source: ORNL & Pew via Nature In the Field

After seeing the presentation around it, Eli Kintisch of Science asked me whether it was realistic to assume that 2050 climate is already locked in. (Keep in mind that we were living in 2015.) I guessed yes, then quickly ran a few simulations to verify. Then I lost my train of thought and lost track of Eli. So, for what it’s still worth, here’s the answer.

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Climate War Game – Takeaways

Over breakfast this morning (day three), I heard from several participants that the war game was “too easy” – that is, negotiators were too free to agree to aggressive commitments which their real-world constituents or bosses wouldn’t support. That wasn’t my observation in the China team room, and in closing statements it seemed that teams were taking their roles very seriously indeed. It’s not quite the Zimbardo Prison Experiment but it’s very real in some ways.

The following are some of the more poignant comments from players, with a little editorial license on my part. Hopefully I have attributions and the general drift correct; please comment if I don’t. (Actually, please comment either way!). I’ve colored a few points that I regard as particularly critical.

It was a little surprising that teams didn’t resist the underlying scenario of the game, which includes an aggressive 80% reduction from 2005 emissions by 2050. This may have been a recognition of the critical need, pointed out by Sharon Burke, to look past what is politically feasible and keep the real goal in sight (i.e. emissions that will achieve stable climate).

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Climate War Game – Model Support

Drew Jones of the Sustainability Institute stumbled on a great opportunity for model-based decision support. There are lots of climate models and integrated assessment models, but they’re almost always used offline. That is, modelers work between negotiations to develop analyses that (hopefully) address decision makers’ questions, but during any given meeting, negotiators rely on their mental models and static briefing materials. It’s a bit like training pilots in a flight simulator, then having them talk on the radio to guide a novice, who flies the real plane without instruments.

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Climate War Game – Coverage

Jeff Tollefson has great coverage of the Clout & Climate Change war game at NatureIn the Field.

CNAS has set up a web site for the game, which will include materials and a podcast of Rajendra Pachauri’s keynote.

Update 8/4/2008

Remarks from Rajendra Pachauri and Diana Farrell are now on the CNAS web site.

ORNL has a site documenting the scientific input to the scenarios, here.

Update 8/6/2008

ABC was covering the war game, as part of Earth 2100.

Update 9/24/2008

Drew Jones has an entry at Climate Interactive.