International climate change goals such as keeping warming within 2˚C are “meaningless and hubristic”, says a leading professor in environmental and climate change politics.
“We cannot have such a thing as a climate change policy. Goals such as the 2˚C limit display complete ignorance about what science is telling us about climate change,” Professor Gwyn Prins, Director of the MacKinder Programme at the London School of Economics (LSE), told me.
Professor Prins was speaking in the wake of the Hartwell Paper – new research investigating the failure of the Copenhagen summit last December. It was the result of international work co-ordinated by LSE and was co-authored by Professor Prins.
The paper was urgently commissioned after the ‘crash’ in climate policy in 2009, to look at why policy has not caused any discernable decreases in greenhouse gas emissions in 15 years.
The authors write that the Kyoto protocol and policies so far are structurally flawed and doomed to fail. “We cannot have a climate change policy which has emissions reductions as the all-encompassing goal. It’s hubristic to think that our policies can change the climate, we simply don’t know enough about the complex linkages,” said Professor Prins.
However the scientists state that the past problems, failures and crises of policy should not be wasted. They advocate a different, ‘Capability Brown’-style approach, writing that de-carbonisation can be achieved as a benefit contingent upon other, more social and humanitarian-based, goals.
These goals should be popular and pragmatic, including expanding energy access, energy security and, ultimately, making energy less expensive and more abundant. They write that future efforts should focus on “the raising up of human dignity”.
Their recommendations for these goals include working towards higher energy efficiency. However they put most emphasis on de-carbonising energy supplies. For this to be achieved they call for substantially increased investment into non-carbon energy sources to diversify supply technologies, with the ultimate goal of making these cheaper than fossil fuels. To aid this, they support the idea of a carbon tax.
The authors also say repairing fractured public trust is essential, and that this would happen in conjunction with the new approach they describe.
They say their paper is intended as a starting point, and more work is needed on the details. “We write this paper as a first, not a last word on the radical reframing that we advocate.”
Have a look at the paper here.