Yesterday I talked about using some of the ‘climate reparations’ being clamored for in Paris to improve the present condition of those in the developing world. Making the poorer countries more resilient will advance their capabilities and productivity and make them resilient enough to help us all deal with whatever climate change throws our way. In addition, we could build a safety margin into whatever infrastructure we finance to prepare for the impacts of global warming.
Although I think this strategy is sound, I recognize that climate activists will not agree–they think that adaptation is local, while their preferred approach, mitigation, is global.
At the risk of writing off the activist community completely (as if I didn’t alienate them years ago), let me take the opportunity to also advocate the other two elements of a real plan to deal with climate change.
The first is Fast Mitigation, which I’ve written about before. It is a strategy of going after the low-hanging fruit of deforestation, black carbon, methane, ozone and hydrofluorocarbons. This approach will not solve the problem of CO2 emissions. However, it is projected to, if adopted in full, reduce temperature forcings by 0.6 degrees this century, something that would allow us to develop better technologies and techniques to address the larger problem posed by CO2.
Activists hate the idea, but that’s not why I like it. I like it because it can form part of a strategy that aims at ‘Fifty 2% Solutions‘ instead of trying to use a Grand Solution aimed solely at reducing emissions of CO2. Getting contributions to the struggle from disparate tactics such as quickly spreading improved fuel efficiency through the world’s air fleet, ratcheting up the fight for energy efficiency in all appliances, creating a workable plan for modular and prefabricated small scale nuclear power plants–all of these and more would have a measurable effect on climate change, but they need time to get into the field and scale up. Going after Fast Mitigation will buy us that time.
The third leg of the stool is a modest carbon tax, which I have advocated for most of a decade. It will have to be a pure, revenue neutral, purer than Caesar’s wife carbon tax to have any chance of passage in the developed world and it will have to be small enough not to cripple the developing world economies. My strike price is $12/ton, but I also advocate re-evaluating the price every 10 years, based on climate change itself and our emissions. This would nudge heavy emitters closer to adopting cleaner technologies and hasten the climb up the energy ladder that is so desperately needed in the developing world.
For all those who characterize climate change as a ‘wicked’ problem, this three-part strategy poses a conundrum. There is little doubt that it would be effective. There is little doubt that it would be orders of magnitude less expensive than the ideas being tossed around today. But it doesn’t bring political or financial advantage to those who have been playing this new version of The Great Game for more than two decades now.
Which is why this idea will languish here on a little-read weblog instead of being trumpeted at Paris.