Climate targets

Oliver Geden is a climate/energy policy analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. I’ve written before about Oliver Geden’s views and have, typically, been rather unimpressed by what he presents. He’s even accussed me of misrepresenting him, but I’m still not quite sure how. A few days ago he published another comment in Nature Geoscience called An Actionable Climate Target.

The key message in his comment is:

In the future, the main focus should not be on temperature targets such as 2 or 1.5 °C, but on the target with the greatest potential to effectively guide policy: net zero emissions.

I think there is some merit to this, but there is still much with which I disagree. He also still seems incapable of avoiding having a dig at physical scientists, saying:

The problem-centred approach pursued by physical scientists assumes that appropriate policy action will follow from an accurate definition of DAI more or less automatically.

where DAI means Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference. I really think the above completely misrepresents what physical scientists actually assume. I don’t think that physical scientists believe that appropriate policy will automatically follow from an accurate definition of DAI. In this context, physical scientists are expected to inform, not influence. What they present should be based on the evidence available, not on what will most likely lead to what they (or others) think is the most appropriate policy action.

The information they provide should not change just because the resulting policy does not appear consistent (according to some) with the information presented. In fact, I think it would be wrong if physical scientists were to do so; that the information they present appears to not be being influenced by the resulting policy action is – if anything – indicative that they’re basing it more on the evidence available than on what would most likely influence policy makers.

He then goes on to criticise temperature targets, saying:

Temperature limits are problematic since they create an ‘either/or’ situation: a 2oC limit can be either hit or missed. If climate research showed that failure is likely, this would drastically reduce the motivation of policymakers, companies, non-governmental organisations and the public at large — and would force governments to adopt a less ambitious target immediately.

I guess it is true that either you achieve the target, or not, but it’s not clear that this is a good argument for not, at least, having it. I realise that these temperature targets are somewhat political, and are not really boundaries between everything fine and catastrophe. However, they are regarded as targets beyond which we’d expect the impacts to get increasingly severe, and where the negatives likely outweigh the positives. It’s also my understanding that the 2oC limit was also chosen as boundary beyond which we might pass tipping points where some of the changes would become essentially irreversible.

Hence, even if we are likely to miss these targets, there would still seem to be some value in at least maintaining them so as to remind policy makers that there is probably a vast difference between just missing them, and missing them by a lot. What’s also slightly ironic about Oliver Geden’s suggestion is that it would seem – as I’ll explain below – to be essentially be arguing for a less ambitious target, while claiming that this would be the result of maintaining temperature targets.

He then goes on to argue in favour of a zero emission target, rather than a temperature target:

In contrast to temperature targets, a target of zero emissions tells policymakers and the public precisely what has to be done, and it directly addresses problematic human activity.

Well, I think it is wrong to claim that this tells policy makers and the public precisely what has to be done. This also gives me an opportunity to mention that I went, yesterday, to hear Chris Rapley talking at the Edinburgh Science Festival. He said something that illustrates the problem – in my view – with Oliver Geden’s argument. He mentioned the Paris meeting at which it was agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2oC, while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC. However, he then went on to point out that this requires getting emissions to zero.

In other words, a temperature target already includes that we need to get to zero emissions; stablising temperatures with respect to long-term anthropogenic warming requires that we eventually stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. The problem with Oliver Geden’s claim is that a zero emission target alone does not tell policymakers and the public precisely what needs to be done because it is not – by itself – associated with any kind of temperature target. A temperature target, however, is associated with a target of zero emissions.

You might argue that this isn’t clear from a temperature target alone. However, these temperature targets are normally associated with a carbon budget, which is intended to indicate how much more CO2 we can emit if we want a certain chance (normally 66%) of achieving the target. It’s doesn’t take much to realise that if there is a limit to how much more we can emit, that we eventually have to stop emitting (i.e., a carbon budget is explicitly associated with getting to zero emissions).

To be fair, I do think that it is good that Oliver Geden is stressing the need to get emissions to zero. However, I don’t think that this is, by itself, sufficient. The consequences of getting emissions to zero after emitting another 500GtC will likely be vastly different to doing so after emitting another 1500GtC. Admittedly, he does say

every country will have to reach zero in the second half of the century.

which would presumably constrain how much more can be emitted before reaching zero emissions. However, I still fail to see how focusing on zero emissions only is somehow preferable to some kind of temperature target that is then associated with a carbon budget and – as a consequence – a requirement to get to zero emissions. The problem I can see with a zero emissions only target is that it could lead to people thinking that all we need to do is eventually get emissions to zero, which is clearly insufficient. If we think that there is a level of warming beyond which there could be severe negative consequences, then we need to get to zero emissions AND limit how much CO2 we eventually emit.

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124 Responses to Climate targets

  1. Temperature limits are problematic since they create an ‘either/or’ situation: a 2°C limit can be either hit or missed. If climate research showed that failure is likely, this would drastically reduce the motivation of policymakers, companies, non-governmental organisations and the public at large — and would force governments to adopt a less ambitious target immediately.

    This can be said about any limit. Also about a zero emissions (at time X) limit or a carbon limit.

    I thought that policy experts see this as an advantage of a limit. That it creates political pressure to make it.

    The 2°C limit is an inherent compromise between how high we think the risks are, how large the political acceptable damages are and how hard it is to reach the limit. If mitigating climate change was easy, it would have been a 0°C limit.

    That consideration is something I like about putting a price on carbon emissions. You make these trade offs much more explicit that way. Personally I expect that building a carbon free energy system is much easier than the pundits make it out to be. Prices of renewable energy drop much faster than predicted, growth rates of renewable energy are much higher than predicted. If I am right, the right price on carbon would take us much faster to the solution than an emission or temperature target.

  2. Victor,

    This can be said about any limit. Also about a zero emissions (at time X) limit or a carbon limit.

    I agree. It seems odd that someone would argue against a limit on the basis that we might not achieve it.

    I thought that policy experts see this as an advantage of a limit. That it creates political pressure to make it.

    My impression is that there are a number of policy experts who seem to think that political reality somehow trumps physical reality. Rather than explaining how best to implement what might be regarded as the optimal policy, many seem to argue that the policy we implement should be based on some assessment of political reality that somehow overrides actual reality.

    Personally I expect that building a carbon free energy system is much easier than the pundits make it out to be.

    I don’t have strong views myself. Often I think it’s going to be extremely difficult. On the other hand, we have achieved amazing things in the recent past, and so maybe it will be easier than it might seem. What does seem to be the case, though, is that if we continue to increase our emissions, and if 2oC is some kind of reasonable limit, then we might be forced into a phase of drastic emission reductions, which will be difficult whatever technology might exist at the time.

  3. Physics, fully agree.

    The more we delay the more destructive the impacts and the mitigation will be.

  4. Magma says:

    Temperature limits are problematic since they create an ‘either/or’ situation: a 2 °C limit can be either hit or missed. If climate research showed that failure is likely, this would drastically reduce the motivation of policymakers, companies, non-governmental organisations and the public at large — and would force governments to adopt a less ambitious target immediately.

    Unless I’ve fundamentally misread this, Geden seems to be treating the individuals and groups involved like short-sighted, marginally-involved participants who will give up at the first hint of difficulty and who have to be spoon-fed simplified advice. Given decades of poisoning the well by AGW deniers as well as the reluctance of many governments to take (initially) costly early steps, “just trust us and do as we say” is a non-starter.

    In contrast to temperature targets, a target of zero emissions tells policymakers and the public precisely what has to be done…

    Let’s picture how that might play out.
    Geden: This is precisely what you have to do.
    Policymakers, companies, NGOs and the public: Um… why?

  5. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Calling Chris Shaw…

  6. Willard says:

    There might be a relationship between honest brokers and property developers:

  7. VB?

    Calling Chris Shaw…

    Why?

  8. Willard says:

    Let T be a newly agreed upon target.
    Recite the honest broker playbook.
    Ask for T = T+1.
    Repeat.

    Profit.

  9. I meant to add this in the last message:

    ‘The trouble with climate targetism’
    Oliver Geden
    4pm Wed 13 April
    ECCI Training Room, High School Yards, Edinburgh

  10. As you point out, Oliver Geden’s “actionable target” of net zero global emissions has no attached carbon budget, so it is as meaningless as any other end-date target simply because what matters for warming is the total emitted up to the target. I am puzzled how such an ill-founded commentary passes peer review in a journal where one would imagine the editors might have some informed understanding of the 2ºC carbon budget.

    Geden says “there is no scientific formula to solve the equity puzzle”. There may be no perfect or agreed formula (presumably policy advisors have failed to convince their masters) but there are certainly well-known and widely referenced formulas from the Potsdam Institute, the Stockholm Environment Institute, Raupach et al and others.

    Honest brokering requires at least some reporting of these; they may be imperfect but they point very clearly to the capacity and responsibility of wealthy, high per capita emissions nations to act with urgency. Not mentioning them at all smacks of a political bias in favour of excusing high-emitters and further enabling business-as-usual.

    Geden’s desire for “Differentiation between environmental quality objectives and policy action targets” reads as yet another social science effort at keeping reality separate from policy and excluding those pesky scientists with all their reality talk from the so much more important business of policy.

  11. todaysguest,
    Thanks, I might have to check my diary.

  12. Paul,

    yet another social science effort at keeping reality separate from policy and excluding those pesky scientists with all their reality talk from the so much more important business of policy.

    That’s certainly my impression.

  13. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP: ‘Why?”

    Chris Shaw has been campaigning against the 2C target for years and, as far as I can tell (that particular Geden article is paywalled), he and Geden share important reasons for opposing it: the 2C target is unscientific, it doesn’t work policy-wise and, even if it was scientific and it did work, scientists shouldn’t be lobbying for it because that’s not their job.

    There are differences. I doubt that Geden thinks that an unavoidable 2C means that mankind is doomed. But similariies from opposing ends of the political spectrum are worth considering, no?

    (Incidentally, John Russell of this parish once accused Chris Shaw of being a climate sceptic/denier/whatever because of Shaw’s views on the 2C target. Funny old world.*)

    ===

    *ATTP himself was once blocked by Greg Laden for being a sceptic/denier/whatever. Tricky old world.

  14. VB,

    Chris Shaw has been campaigning against the 2C target for years

    Ahh, but I think Chris Shaw regards it as way too high.

    the 2C target is unscientific

    To actually adopt it as a target is clearly a political decision. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t scientific evidence to support this. For example, the possibility that beyond 2C we will pass tipping points that will cause some of the changes to be essentially irreversible.

    even if it was scientific and it did work, scientists shouldn’t be lobbying for it because that’s not their job.

    I think you confuse the role of science in this context. Scientists are providing evidence that has lead to the adoption of a temperature target. Of course, some do lobby for it, but they have every right to do so as long as they distinguish between their role as a scientist giving evidence to policy makers, and their role as a member of the public who might have some relevant expertise but who has every right to express their views.

    *ATTP himself was once blocked by Greg Laden for being a sceptic/denier/whatever. Tricky old world.

    You’ll have to remind me of this as I don’t remember it. Are you sure it was me?

  15. izen says:

    2degC is a specific measurement that would provide an unequivocal criteria of policy failure. It cannot be delayed, offset, redefined or avoided. As such it is politically unacceptable. How it got adopted in Paris is a mystery and efforts to redefine the imposed limit into a future aim were inevitable.

    Zero emissions is an aspirational goal, to be achieved as soon as possible obviously, taking current difficult conditions into account. And of course there will always be some legacy use of fossil fuels, traditional purposes etc. The government will always be making real progress and striving towards improving the rate at which it is planning to reach zero emissions. No doubt it will always be able to claim that it is doing better than the last lot…

  16. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Do we really need a target to do something? Arguing about what the target should be seems like something of a second order issue (and an excuse not to take any action yet).

  17. Dikran,
    If we accept that the goal is zero emissions, then certainly one argument is that we should be aiming to get emissions to zero (or close to zero) as soon as possible. Of course, it’s still non-trivial to determine how fast we should be aiming to do so. A carbon tax, however, would certainly seem to be an obvious starting point.

  18. > he and Geden share important reasons for opposing it: the 2C target is unscientific,

    A quote might be nice regarding Oliver’s reasons. I thought it had something to do with pragmatic paradigms:

    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2015/05/die-paradigmgemeinschaft.html

  19. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP: ‘Are you sure it was me?’

    Up to a point. I’m fairly sure he accused you on Twitter of being a denier. He might not have blocked you, though. I was prolly thinking of Willard.

  20. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Willard, as I said I haven’t read the latest Geden paper. Pragmatics seems about right for what I’ve gathered of his approach. Perhaps I overstated the parallels with Shaw’s approach. (Or perhaps I didn’t.)

  21. Vinny,
    Well, I don’t really remember that. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, though; there are many bizarre things that have happened in the last few years. Since we wrote an article together recently, I doubt he still thinks I’m a denier.

  22. @VB wrote, “Incidentally, John Russell of this parish once accused Chris Shaw of being a climate sceptic/denier/whatever because of Shaw’s views on the 2C target. Funny old world.*”

    Please provide a link or withdraw that accusation. Are you sure it was me?

  23. Michael Hauber says:

    Within the field of business performance measurement and management it is certainly the widely accepted consensus that the best performance is achieved by setting a target at a level which is difficult but possible to meet. Too difficult and everyone gives up. Too easy and no one tries hard enough. For a field that is focused on making everyone else apply evidence and facts to decision making I assume that this key fact is backed up by good evidence somewhere. Or perhaps its fun to try and insist that everyone else do management backed by numbers and hard evidence, but us KPI people will make all our decisions on gut feel because what we do is art and not science…..

    From an economics point of view you don’t set a target, but assign a reasonable cost to reflect the damage caused by emitting CO2, and let the market place decide what level of Co2 to emit based on when the benefit of emitting an extra tonne of Co2 is balanced against the cost of emitting that tonne. Very good if you can get the cost correct, but how do we put a price on issues such as the low risk of an extreme result, eg methane clathrate explosion etc.

  24. Paul P says:

    Emphasizing a target of zero emissions is a favorite gambit of people who take the line that “renewable energy is not ready yet, let’s do nothing for now until scientists come up with the ultimate solution, after all thorium reactors, nuclear fusion, carbon sequestration. and a host of other options have been just around the corner for the last half century or so and must come to fruition some time” They ignore the fact that the path by which we get to zero emissions is critically important.

  25. John Hartz says:

    In the context of the OP and the ensuing conversation, this statemrnt caught my eye…

    Climate scientists don’t just do science for its own sake. Climate science is critical to mitigating climate change, and adapting to it. I have previously written on the many questions scientists still need to answer to deal with climate change.

    CSIRO must ensure climate science is maintained by John Church, The Conversation AU, Apr 6, 2016

  26. Ethan Allen says:

    What an overly wordy POS.

    “The Paris Agreement introduced three mitigation targets. In the future, the main focus should not be on temperature targets such as 2 or 1.5 °C, but on the target with the greatest potential to effectively guide policy: zero emissions.”

    See what I did, I removed the word net. That’s all that OG really needed to say.

    Actions are things that WERE done, a “plan of action” is just so many words until those actions are actually taken.

    Actions DO speak louder than words.

  27. MikeH says:

    @VB “the 2C target is unscientific”

    According to Stefan Rahmstorf, that were was a lot of scientific discussion in the lead up to that limit being proposed

    >One of the rationales behind 2 °C was the AR4 assessment that above 1.9 °C global warming we start running the risk of triggering the irreversible loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet, eventually leading to a global sea-level rise of 7 meters. In the AR5, this risk is reassessed to start already at 1 °C global warming.

    also from that article

    > A “tolerable temperature window” up to 2 °C above preindustrial was first proposed as a practical solution in 1995 in a report by the German government’s Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). It subsequently became the climate policy guidance of first the German government and then the European Union. It was formally adopted by the EU in 2005.

    >Victor & Kennel claim the 2 °C guardrail was “uncritically adopted”. They appear to be unaware of the fact that it took almost twenty years of intense discussions, both in the scientific and the policy communities, until this limit was agreed upon.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/10/limiting-global-warming-to-2-c-why-victor-and-kennel-are-wrong/

  28. Geden is someone who studied political science, who has been inside policy-making, and who has made a living advising policy-makers from the outside. His views on what work and what doesn’t deserve a serious hearing — particularly since climate policy has been around for some 25 years now without making a notable dent in emissions.

    Geden is right that temperature targets are useless. The global mean surface temperature is the result of my actions plus the actions of every one else on the planet over centuries. If the target is missed, it is most likely someone else’s fault. An emissions target, on the other, is an individual target: I am 7 tCO2/year removed from where I need to be.

    Geden is also right to warn against the 2K target. Opinions differ. Most say it will probably be missed, some say almost certainly, and a few say for sure. An unrealistic target has two problems. It may lead to disillusion. I woke up last week realising I will never win the Nobel Prize, so why get out of bed? It also invites deception. When confronted with an impossible target, politicians often redefine the problem or its measurement. This is not just the case for countries like Argentina (e.g., inflation) and Greece (e.g., GDP), but also for the USA (e.g., methane) and the UK (e.g., migration). The simplest way to keep the 2K target alive is to lower the estimated climate sensitivity.

  29. Richard,

    Geden is someone who studied political science, who has been inside policy-making, and who has made a living advising policy-makers from the outside.

    Okay?

    His views on what work and what doesn’t deserve a serious hearing — particularly since climate policy has been around for some 25 years now without making a notable dent in emissions.

    And that’s because we have chosen temperature targets, or – as an illustration – because we still have presidential candidates in the US who think that climate science is one massive hoax? I find it hard to take this argument seriously, given that it appears to completely ignore the misinformation campaigns that have made it difficult to convince people (public, policy makers) that emission reductions might be necessary. I can understand why you wouldn’t highlight this, but it’s still clear that this has played a major role in obstructing climate policy.

    I woke up last week realising I will never win the Nobel Prize, so why get out of bed?

    Exactly, that you probably won’t win the Nobel prize doesn’t mean that you don’t get out of bed and don’t keep trying your best. Oh, hold on, that wasn’t your point?

    The point, though, is that Geden appears to be arguing against a temperature target on the basis that it might be missed, while proposing a target that suggests we will miss the temperature target anyway. Maybe he should argue for missing the temperature target, rather than proposing a target that means we’ll do so while blaming others for the fact that we’ll do so.

  30. @wotts
    So, Cruz, Sanders and Trump are behind the worldwide failure of climate policy over the last 25 years?

    Maybe it is time to stop trying to find scapegoats, and wonder whether perhaps there is something wrong with the way in which climate policy has been conducted? In Europe and Japan, climate policy has been supported by all major political parties. Ditto in the USA until 2007 or so.

    Instead of hiding behind superficially plausible excuses, perhaps you should begin to investigate the actual reasons.

  31. Richard,
    Oh, not another one of those discussions?

    So, Cruz, Sanders and Trump are behind the worldwide failure of climate policy over the last 25 years?

    No, that isn’t what I said. I was simply pointing out that there are still leading politicians in one of the world’s strongest economies who think that climate science is a hoax. Given this, it is not a surprise that effective climate policy has been difficult. In the UK we have the Global Warming Poliy Foundation that includes an ex Chancellor of the Exchequer and a current member of the House of Lords Science and Technology committee. The misinformation campaigns have clearly played in role. I can, of course, understand why you’d rather not highlight that, although it is good to see you misrepresenting what I said as an illustration of what can happen.

    Maybe it is time to stop trying to find scapegoats, and wonder whether perhaps there is something wrong with the way in which climate policy has been conducted?

    Did you read Geden’s piece? Also, the point that maybe and Geden don’t get, is that Geden’s proposed target is already part of the current target (i.e., zero emissions). By dropping the temperature target, all that Geden is doing is weakening the target. That might indeed be fine, but it seem ironic to be arguing that a temperature target might be missed, and then arguing for an alternative that probably means that this will indeed be the case.

  32. Richard,
    Since you’re here, maybe I’ll make another point. What I was trying to get at in this post is that Geden appears to be arguing for a new target (zero emissions) without recognising that it’s already part of the target that he’s criticising (temperature target). A major issue with targets that I can see is how you constrain the trajectory. One possible solution (which I think you’ve claimed you support) is simply to impose a carbon tax. So, here we have a person that you seem to be suggesting is someone who has expertise in climate policy (and I’ve looked up his publication record; it’s not obvious that he does from that) who seems to not understand that his proposed target is already part of the one he is criticising, and writes an entire article about climate policy and targets, without mentioning a carbon tax.

  33. The GWPF was founded in 2009. Ed Milliband was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. He was succeeded by Chris Huhne in 2010, by Ed Davey in 2012, and by Amber Rudd in 2015. For the first 6 years of its existence, the GWPF had no notable effect on UK climate policy.

    UK climate policy has changed since Rudd is in charge, but her policy is about saving money by abolishing subsidies. Presumably, she is cutting civil servant numbers as well but no statistics are available as yet. Rudd’s programme appears to be entirely driven by austerity.

    Blaming the failure of the UK climate policy to reduce emissions in the period 1988-2009 on the GWPF is blatant nonsense. For the period 2009-2015, UK climate policy carried on largely as before and it is unlikely that the GWPF prevented a strengthening of climate policy. For 2015-2016, see above.

    So, stop scapegoating. Wonder why the GWPF-less Blair and Brown years did not lead to substantive emission cuts.

  34. Richard,

    Blaming the failure of the UK climate policy to reduce emissions in the period 1988-2009 on the GWPF is blatant nonsense.

    I’m not blaming it on them; I’m pointing out that the existence of such organisations – which tend to spread misinformation – makes it more difficult to enact effective climate policy.

    So, stop scapegoating.

    I’m not. Also, did you read Geden’s article? Somehow it’s the fault of naive physical scientists? Maybe you should speak to Geden about scapegoating.

    To be fair, though, you are kind of right. It’s not the fault of the GWPF, or physical scientists, or ill-informed social scientists. It’s really the policy makers who are making poor policy. All the misinformation, of course, doesn’t help, but it’s still the responsibility of policy makers to get advice and to make effective policy.

    You do kind of make an interesting point here, though

    In Europe and Japan, climate policy has been supported by all major political parties. Ditto in the USA until 2007 or so.

    I’m not sure this is strictly true, but what does seem to be true (as as Eli points out) is that most – if not all – governments accept climate policy; or, at least, they accept the COP21 agreement to limit temperatures. Given that a temperature limit already includes a requirement to get to zero emissions, all major governments appear to have accepted the target the Geden is proposing.

    So, what is he actually suggesting? Starting again, despite his proposed target already having been accepted? All that that would do would be weaken the agreement by removing the temperature target portion of it. It would seem to me that the next step is to work out how to start getting emissions to reduce. Unless I’m mistaken (and Richard can correct me if I am) is that most economists who work in this area think that we should impose a carbon tax. So, Geden appears to be ignoring that his proposed target has already been accepted and doesn’t actually appear to address how we would actually go about getting emissions to reduce.

  35. @wotts
    I did discuss these things with Geden. He is in favour of replacing a target-that-demonstrably-does-not-work by a target-that-might-work. I am for abandoning targets in favour of carbon taxes.

  36. He is in favour of replacing a target-that-demonstrably-does-not-work by a target-that-might-work.

    Except, his target has already been accepted.

    I am for abandoning targets in favour of carbon taxes.

    Yes, I agree that what we actually need to do impose a carbon tax. However, I’m not really in favour of simply doing so without any kind of target in mind. The impacts of climate change likely depend on how much the temperatures will change, and stablisiing temperatures (wrt long-term anthropogenic warming) will require getting emissions to zero (or petty close to zero). So, I do agree with you about a carbon tax, but I do think that we need to do so with at least some sense of what kind of target we’d like to achieve.

  37. Ken Fabian says:

    There is a huge difference between politicians or other community leaders saying they accept the need to greatly reduce emissions and promoting and taking the actions that will lead to it, even without raising the question of honesty and sincerity. And that question should be raised.

    In the case of Australia’s former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, he claimed, during his period in office, to accept the science on climate and the desirability of emissions reduction and that was the formal policy of his Government. Judged by his policies and relevant decisions it seems far more reasonable to believe that he did not accept that goal or it’s desirability, but refrained from being explicit about because that was politically expedient. It allowed him to sidestep serious questions, such as being put on the spot with respect to his government’s confidence in the formal advice and organisations that had given to the government; repudiating the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and other widely respected science orgs. It was like everyone, including the mainstream media knew the unofficial hostility to climate action ran deep, but so long as the main players kept to the cover story they could get away with their Big Lie.

    Covert climate science denial, I suggest, is alive and well within political parties that, officially, claim the opposite; that continues to impede the development and enactment of policies to achieve the goals even within nations that appear to have non-partisan agreement. I suspect that to be the case Germany, UK and other ‘proactive’ nations – and contributes even now to obstruction and damaging compromises to emissions reductions policies.

  38. @Ken F
    The issue what politicians say or believe is beside the point. The point is what policies are and aren’t put in place to reduce emissions.

  39. Richard,

    The issue what politicians say or believe is beside the point.

    How is this beside the point? If politicians claim that emissions reductions are important, while not actually believing this, then that might be one reason why climate policy has been ineffective at reducing emissions.

    In a sense, Geden (and your?) argument appears to be that climate policy has been ineffective because physical scientists have naively stuck to one narrative (the narrative that – I would argue – is largely driven by the available evidence). Even if there is some merit to this, it seems equally naive to dismiss all the other possible reasons why climate policy has been ineffective, like politicians not actually believing what they say publicly, and various organisations and individuals spreading misinformation. I’m sure it’s not only one thing, but dismissing all these other factors seems to be ignoring some fairly important factors.

  40. @wotts
    What politicians believe is besides the point because it is unknowable. What politicians say is besides the point because politicians are known to say whatever. What matters is what politicians do.

    From 1985 to 2015, climate policy has focussed on global, long-term targets. (I think that Paris abandoned these targets, and good riddance, but others disagree.) These targets appear to have had a minimal effect on emissions.

    We can have a long discussion about the provenance of these targets, and who really should take credit for them, but it is perhaps more fruitful to focus the discussion on what policies might work.

  41. but it is perhaps more fruitful to focus the discussion on what policies might work.

    I agree. I’ll repeat the point that I’m now made many times. Geden is arguing for a zero emission target instead of a temperature target while apparently failing to recognise that a temperature target already includes a requirement to get to zero emissions. Therefore, his suggestion is either equivalent to a temperature target or – given where we are now – weaker. Therefore it seems ironic that he’s potentially arguing for a weaker target while complaining that a temperature target may lead to a weaker target.

    He also doesn’t actually – as far as I could see – discuss what policy might actually reduce emissions. As far as I can tell, you and I both agree that we should start by imposing a carbon tax (I realise that I’m not an economist, but that is my understanding of what most relevant economists suggests). So, again, I fail to see how what Geden is suggesting is somehow better than what we have now; especially as almost all the world’s governments have accepted (I think) the COP21 agreement. They’ve agreed on the target, which includes getting to zero emissions. Why now change this target to zero emissions only, rather than actually starting to discuss what might actually make achieving this target possible (carbon tax?).

  42. Vinny Burgoo says:

    John Russell, Carbon Brief has lost the comments beneath the blog in question. Wayback still has them:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20140205120014/http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/06/mark-maslin-on-communicating-uncertainty-ahead-of-ar5/

    (Shaw sometimes comments as ‘Conqueringlion’.)

    I used ‘denier’ to mean ‘one who opposes (my preferred) policies to mitigate climate change’. Many consider that a legitimate usage but I’ll withdraw it and replace it with ‘mitigation sceptic’ if you like.

    Shaw wrote a blog about the misunderstanding:

    http://www.dangerouslimits.org/blog/why-do-people-keep-mistaking-me-for-a-climate-sceptic

  43. izen says:

    @-” They’ve agreed on the target, which includes getting to zero emissions. Why now change this target to zero emissions only, rather than actually starting to discuss what might actually make achieving this target possible (carbon tax?).”

    There are a series of ‘How?’ questions that derive from the aim of a
    2degC target –
    Q-How?
    A-By setting a target of zero emissions.
    Q-How?
    A-By a Carbon tax, ETS or a radical change in a centrally planned economy imposed by global government fiat to close all fossil fuel production within 10 years.

    By moving the target down one question it avoids the risk of failing to meet the first target which is an unequivocal physical measurement, and transfers the aim into an ethos. An absolute that everyone agrees is the desirable goal, but is most useful as a fixed point from which divergence can be measured.
    It transforms the target into an aspiration open to interpretation and policy method arguments rather than a fixed limit to be avoided. Pragmatically this is a paradigm acceptable to policy-makers.

  44. izen,

    By moving the target down one question it avoids the risk of failing to meet the first target

    Indeed, and it also produces a target that we will eventually meet. However, having a target that you can’t eventually avoid meeting, doesn’t mean that it is the optimum target. As I said in the post, one issue with a zero emissions only target is that it might send the message that all we need to do is eventually get to zero emissions. Most – I think – would argue that this is insufficient.

    It transforms the target into an aspiration open to interpretation and policy method arguments rather than a fixed limit to be avoided.

    Well, yes.

    Pragmatically this is a paradigm acceptable to policy-makers.

    Yes, this would seem to be the case. It might be my physical science bias, but I still have trouble seeing why we should put political reality ahead of physical reality.

  45. Jim Hunt says:

    Then there are those who argue that “negative emissions” will be necessary in order to meet “the target”:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bio-energy_with_carbon_capture_and_storage#Negative_emission

    According to @Oliver:

    Climate economists have started to stretch the remaining carbon budget for 2 °C by introducing vast amounts of negative emissions – the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – into their models, effectively masking political inaction.

    “Net” is a three letter word! What say you @Richard?

  46. MarkR says:

    Re: Richard Tol’s comments.

    Eurostat says EU emissions fell 20 % from 1990-2013.
    http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Greenhouse_gas_emission_statistics
    The US EPA says US emissions increased 6 % from 1990-2013.
    https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/ghg/us-ghg-emissions.html
    Are we sure that none of that difference is due to politics and policy?

    Also regarding politics: it seems silly to overemphasise the link between emissions and the people in power right then because policies take time. It took 12 years from the UK publishing a “Strategic Framework” for offshore wind to result in the London Array finishing construction. Most of the big wind farms that came online during the last parliament were born in the policies of the previous government, the solar power boom was driven by FIT and ROC support from the previous government, and car fuel efficiencies are changing in line with targest that’re typically agreed 5-10 years in advance.

    Even when policies can have very quick apparent effects, such as policies that have very quickly killed much of the UK solar industry, it takes years for the cumulative effect of a few hundred MW/month of missed installations to be felt in terms of emissions.

    So I’m not convinced that changes in emissions during the Blair/Brown years are representative of the effect of their policies.

  47. Jim,
    I also find Geden’s criticism of negative emission pathways a little strange. We have to consider things from now; emission pathways from the past are irrelevant if we haven’t been following them. As of now, it appears that a large fraction of the emission pathways that would give us a reasonable chance of staying below 2oC require negative emissions. There seem to be a number of possible ways to respond to this

    1. Start developing/investing in negative emission technology.

    2. Promote policies that will allow us to follow a pathway that doesn’t require negative emissions and will still give us a reasonable chance of achieving the target.

    3. Recognise that achieving the target is now likely to be very difficult and base policies on this recognition.

    Suggesting that those presenting negative emission pathways are essentially masking political inaction seems to be misrepresenting what those who do so are constrained to do. If scientists are asked to present pathways that – from now – will given us a chance of staying below some target, and if those pathways require negative emissions, than that would seem to be what they should present. They’re not – IMO – masking inaction, they’re highlighting the consequence of there being insufficient action to date.

  48. @MarkR
    You are smarter than this.

  49. Richard,
    It take it you disagree with Mark’s comment, but can’t be bothered explaining why? I think Mark’s point is reasonable; it takes time to both enact policy and for the consequences of this policy to be noticed.

  50. Dikran Marsupial says:

    “it takes time to both enact policy and for the consequences of this policy to be noticed.”

    I wonder if this is one of the things preventing progress. Action to reduce fossil fuel emissions will make the government that enacts it unpopular with a substantial proportion of the electorate and the benefits will only be seen too late to help them get re-elected.

  51. Dikran,
    Well climate change does indeed seem to fall into that awkward time scale. It’s slow enough that we will probably want to put things off till later, but fast enough that it could impact us or our children/grandchildren.

  52. Willard says:

    > Geden is someone who studied political science, who has been inside policy-making, and who has made a living advising policy-makers from the outside.

    “From the outside” is an interesting way to put where the SWP comes from, Richie:

    The SWP is also aiding and advising governments. The Cablegate leak produced evidence that leading representatives of the SWP (Volker Perthes, its head, and Walter Posch, an expert on Iran) had advised the U.S. State Department to proceed against Iran with a “policy of covert sabotage (unexplained explosions, accidents, computer hacking etc)”. These conversations were later linked to the Stuxnet malware attack against Iranian nuclear facilities in June 2010.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Institute_for_International_and_Security_Affairs

    Oliver’s pinned tweet mentions something about INTEGRITY ™, I believe.

    PS: I see what you did there, Vinny. Good ol’ Vinny.

  53. Willard says:

    Now that I can see Oliver’s feed, it seems that Oliver’s not against 2C after all:

    Now it’s all about priorities. And pragmatism. And paradigms.

    INTEGRITY ™ – Paradigms. Pragmatism. Priorities.

  54. Willard,
    Interesting. There’s quite a difference between “keep the temperature target but prioritize getting to zero emissions” and “ditch the temperature target and prioritize getting to zero emissions”.

  55. Joseph says:

    In Europe and Japan, climate policy has been supported by all major political parties. Ditto in the USA until 2007 or so.

    Richard, I don’t know why you keep repeating this about the US. There has never been bipartisanship on climate policy in the US.

  56. Joseph says:

    all the other possible reasons why climate policy has been ineffective, like politicians not actually believing what they say publicly, and various organisations and individuals spreading misinformation.

    And you also have to look at how vested interests are buying influence with politicians.

    See this:

    http://influencemap.org/report/Climate-Lobbying-by-the-Fossil-Fuel-Sector

    We find, estimating conservatively, that these five entities spent almost $115m per year combined on obstructive climate influencing activites, with the bulk by the American Petroleum Institute ($65m), ExxonMobil ($27m) and Shell ($22m).

  57. Pete Best says:

    I am on the side of Kevin Anderson who makes several noticeable points on this subject, namely that certain economists only think that carbon can be cut in line with growth and that’s the only game in town. No other economic paradigm will be considered which is not exactly the easiest way of cutting emissions. Secondly is that its the area under the curve that matters, namely total emissions over time. Any method of mitigating our GHG emissions or release by any other means so long as growth is preserved will be considered so long as it is economically viable by the looks of it.

    Personally as energy experts need to be consulted as well as to how we do this perhaps someone who works in the field could comment. Emissions are not going to suddenly come down significantly in any meaningful way. Its going to take longer than a 2C time frame presently so maybe other economic paradigms should be considered such as steady state or even personal carbon allowances (unworkable perhaps but worth a look)

  58. Willard says:

    > There’s quite a difference between “keep the temperature target but prioritize getting to zero emissions” and “ditch the temperature target and prioritize getting to zero emissions”.

    That’s because you’re not pragmatic enough, AT. Were you to prioritze correctly, you’d broker talking points differently and you would not shy away from sloganeering every odd hour on Twitter.

    You need a paradigm shift.

  59. John Hartz says:

    Speaking of negative emissions…

    From Carbon Brief’s daily broadcast email of Apr 11, 2016:

    Explainer: 10 ways ‘negative emissions’ could slow climate change

    Starting today (04/11/16), Carbon Brief is running a week-long series of articles looking at “negative emissions” technologies (NETs). With the Paris Agreement calling on the world to keep global surface temperatures “well below 2C”, compared to the pre-industrial era, most of the climate modelling to date shows that we will have to, in part, rely on NETs in the second half of the century to “suck” CO2 out of the atmosphere. The problem is there are a range of NETs to choose from – yet none have been demonstrated to work at a commercial scale. In this first article in the series, we explain the 10 technologies most often put forward as a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Tomorrow, we ask a wide range of scientists and policy experts for their views.

  60. Dikran Marsupial says:

    MMM, there appears to be a tiger* sneaking up behind me, let me think for a minute or two about the target for just how far I should run to evade him… ;o)

    * I don’t want to be accused of alarmism, so feel free to substitute an animal of your choosing to more accurately depict your own view of climate change. FWIW tigers are no real problem providing you take the appropriate precautions.

  61. Ethan Allen says:

    Carbon tax? Words only.

    No matter how you say it, the Koch brothers and the Tea Party only see that one word -> T-A-X …
    Where does that tax go and what does that tax do?

    I’m pretty sure that in the USA, at least, 100% of a carbon tax would go to offset our current 4+ decades of deficit spending.

    A carbon tax does nothing if that revenue stream is misappropriated.

    AlGoreIsFat ALMOST had it right from the get go, without a so called “lock box” I do not support a carbon tax. Simple as that.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Gore_presidential_campaign,_2000#Medicare_.22Lock-Box.22

    “Gore’s platform involved creating a “Medicare lock box” designed so that Medicare payroll taxes could only be used to strengthen Medicare and pay down the national debt”

    Should be …
    “XXX’s platform WILL create a “carbon lock box” designed so that carbon taxes WILL only be used to reduce carbon emissions.

    How about a progressive carbon tax credit (under the rubric of the general concept of progressive taxation)? Same rules apply, all carbon tax credits must further, or reduce, carbon emissions.

    Talk is cheap.

    Iverson: Man look, I hear you… it’s funny to me too, I mean it’s strange… it’s strange to me too, but we’re talking about practice man, we’re not even talking about the game… the actual game, when it matters… We’re talking about practice …
    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Allen_Iverson

  62. Ethan Allen says:

    So, to further the zero emissions/temperature targets …

    I fully support more, much more, tax subsidies/credits to wind and solar and electric vehicles and efficient (and retroactive, meaning to existing building infrastructures) building codes and mass transit efficiencies and -> new-cle-air <- and etceteras.

    Meaningful and substantive energy credits. See what I did there? I (sort of) disappeared the word tax.

  63. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    What’s wrong with a carbon budget as a target?

  64. Hyperactive,

    What’s wrong with a carbon budget as a target?

    Yes, I don’t get the problem either. It includes a total that can be emitted and that emissions have to be zero when we’ve done so.

    Ethan,
    With regards to your comment about a carbon tax, as I understand it (and, again, Richard can correct me if wrong) the formal goal of a carbon tax is to properly price carbon, so that we we pay all costs, including external costs. This is intended to produce a level playing field in which we pay the full cost of all energy sources. So, to first order, it doesn’t – I think – quite matter what happens with the revenue; at least as far as whether or not any energy sources have some kind of unfair cost advantage in the market. I realise that it won’t necessarily be that simple in reality, but that’s my understanding of the idea behind a carbon tax; at least with respect to how it is calculated.

  65. John Hartz says:

    What will Richard Tol say about this analysis?

    On 4 April 2016 the US Global Change Research Program released a comprehensive overview of the impact of climate change on American public health. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg criticizes the report as unbalanced. Ten scientists analyzed the article and found that Lomborg had reached his conclusions through cherry-picking from a small subset of the evidence, misrepresenting the results of existing studies, and relying on flawed reasoning.

    Analysis of Bjorn Lomborg’s “An Overheated Climate Alarm”, Climate Feedback

  66. John Hartz says:

    It’s one thing to discourse about Climate Targets in the abstract, and quite another thing to apply them in the real world. For example…

    In 11 days, on Earth Day, world leaders will assemble at the United Nations in New York to sign the Paris climate agreement. That document pledges to hold the planet’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and even to aspire to a 1.5 degree C temperature limit.

    The urgency of signing the agreement has been underscored by recent climate news and events, including devastating coral bleaching around the world, newly shattered temperature records and disturbing news about the vulnerability of Arctic permafrost and the Antarctic ice sheet.

    But there’s a problem: It is far from clear that, even if governments sign on to the Paris agreement and start implementing it rapidly, they actually know how to limit warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius. There are a number of problems with thinking that anyone does, argues Glen Peters, a researcher with the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway, in the latest installment of Nature Climate Change.

    Those ambitious global warming goals? The world may not know how to reach them by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Apr 11, 2016

  67. John Hartz says:

    What’s wrong with a carbon budget?

    From Mooney’s article cited above.

    2. Knowing how much we can emit.

    And then there’s the problem of the carbon “budget,” which the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defined as no more than 1,000 billion tons, or gigatons, of carbon dioxide emissions (emitted from the year 2011) if we want a 66 percent chance or better of holding warming to 2 degrees C.

    This number, too, is shot through with uncertainty. For instance, Peters notes that if you can tolerate less assurance of reaching 2 C, then you can suddenly allow for the possibility of vastly higher emissions: “The total quota for a 2C threshold increases by 800 GtCo2 for a decrease in the likelihood from 66% to 50%,” he notes. He also adds that there are big uncertainties related to the role of non-carbon dioxide gases, like methane, in shaping these budgets.

    These uncertainties mean that, from the year 2016 and on, for a 66 percent likelihood of staying under 2C, the carbon dioxide budget is about 850 billion tons, Peters calculates — but that’s plus or minus 450 billion tons. That’s a pretty big uncertainty in a situation where we’re emitting well over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, and thus close to 100 billion tons every 3 years.

    “It is likely that many of the uncertainties on the remaining quota will remain persistently large,” Peters writes.

  68. Ethan Allen says:

    ATTP,

    I just don’t see it, a carbon tax, working globally. In other words, would a carbon tax even touch total global GHG emissions?

    China, as the largest state, also has an autocratic form of governance, a country like that has a real long term chance to change it’s carbon path, simply because they don’t have to deal with election cycles. Yet, I’d guarantee that China will never impose a carbon tax on it’s own population, China will seek other means to reduce their carbon emissions.

    Has a ‘serious’ carbon tax been applied anywhere’s to date. One that captures the full economic demographics (meaning low income or below poverty line populations)? Any proposed or enacted legislation that you can point to? Including that population’s economic demographics and percentage of the total global population (e. g. small places like Denmark just doesn’t cut it IMHO). Drops in an empty bucket as it were.

    Calculating the externalities is a shell game IMHO. At the end of the day, FF’s need to go away in such a way as to have as minimal impact on the poor half of the world’s population as possible.

    Heck, where I live now, a sizable fraction of that population can’t even afford an old IC vehicle. Pricing FF beyond their reach is not an option. Thus, the requirement for low income carbon credits.

    The law of unintended consequences is always out there, just waiting to happen, arms sales and black markets and destabilized governments and FF pirates, don’t help the poor of the world one iota.

    Human history is very much overly rich is such hubris, I see no difference with regards to carbon taxes and basic human natures going forwards, as I have seen those same behaviors played out in the past of human history.

    A carbon tax would take decades to ramp properly and only in those most wealthy and stable of nations.

    Signed,
    Negative Ned and Donald Downer

  69. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Dikran Marsupial, thanks for asking.

    According to current consensus science you are being stalked not by a tiger but by an occasionally annoying koala that might go ape in a century or so. At this stage, it’s best not to panic. Slaughtering koalas would probably do more harm than good in that such slaughter would probably upset humans (and koalas, of course; and tigers too) far more than anything koalas would have done had they been managed more thoughtfully – by teaching them how to cross roads safely, for example.

  70. Phil says:

    Ethan,

    Googling “carbon tax pros and cons” came up with this article amongst others.

    A carbon tax is a punitive tax, i.e. it is there to discourage certain behaviour, so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t raise any revenue, in fact it would be ideal if it didn’t (because, when that happened no-one would burning any fossil fuels) – in this respect it is like a tax on disposable plastic bags, rather than a tax which is designed to raise revenue (such as income tax) which mustn’t be levied at too high a level to encourage tax-dodging. So some carbon-tax schemes are “revenue neutral” – in that they return the money collected to the populace – but evenly. That means that the governing body doesn’t get any revenue to spend/waste* (*delete according to political preference) it does favour people who burn less FF (either directly of indirectly), since they pay less of the tax but get all the rebate. I believe that businesses (e.g. electricity generators) get taxed but no rebate (since the point is to pass the cost onto the consumer so he can benefit by choosing less carbon-intensive products and services.

  71. Ethan Allen says:

    Phil,

    Here’s a Wikipedia listing for carbon tax …
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax

    So it is being employed … I remain skeptical …

    “Carbon taxes can be a regressive tax, in that they may directly or indirectly affect low-income groups disproportionately. The regressive impact of carbon taxes could be addressed by using tax revenues to favour low-income groups.”

    “Many large users of carbon resources in electricity generation, such as the United States, Russia, and China, are resisting carbon taxation.”

    I just really don’t like hand wavers, so, in my book at least, Oliver Geden gets a gold star.

    Here’s another article …
    The ‘best available science’ to inform 1.5 °C policy choices
    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate3000.html
    (paywalled, but if you register it pops up as a read only non-downloadable PDF)

  72. Ethan,
    I’ve just had a read through that new nature paper by Peter Glen. Quite interesting and pretty thorough. It mainly discusses the various pathways and uncertainties associated with them. I can’t quite work out what the bottom line is, though. Partly it illustrates how the carbon budget depends on the actual target and the probability we would like of achieving it. The differences can be 100s of GtCO2, but given that we’re emitting something like 40GtCO2/year, this seems to only amount to a variability of decade or 2. It also discusses negative emissions and various issues with them.

    As far as I can tell, all these papers and discussions of targets can be summarised in 2 simple points.

    1. Achieving any of the proposed targets (1.5oC or 2oC) is going to require substantial emission reductions starting about now.

    2. If we don’t start emission reductions about now, we probably won’t achieve any of the proposed targets.

    There may be more to it than that, but I think that’s roughly what I take from all of this.

  73. Another punitive tax:

    It’s punitive because, schools.

  74. Phil says:

    Ethan,

    Thanks for the link, It’s possible, though, that you may be suffering from this

  75. Michael Hauber says:

    25 Years of failed climate policy? I’m actually surprised by how well things have gone over the last 25 years. Even though if you’d given me the choice I would have done more (carbon tax).

    The problem with climate policy was that the strongest action was always going to involve significant costs to the public, specifically a rise in the price of electricity. It wouldn’t matter how much or little denial, as soon as the price of a core service goes up the government looks bad and loses votes. Despite this we’ve seen rapid growth in renewable energy over the last decade and more. While this has yet to make a dent in emissions there has been sustained growth at a rate which should soon see a major impact, with some current claims that Co2 may have peaked, and current investment in renewable energy a quite sizeable portion of total energy investment.

    This growth rate represents the building of infrastructure. Building factories, workforces and even technologies over time so that we can go from producing a negligable number of wind turbines and solar panels etc, to be able to produce the number required to start displacing fossil fuels. While a faster growth rate may have been hoped for, the result is farbetter than what I cynically expected several decades ago.

  76. Ethan Allen says:

    Phil,

    Its like you read my mind. It isn’t the 1st (or even the hundredth) time that has happened though.

  77. John Hartz says:

    The beat goes on…

    Top climate scientists will launch a study this week of how hard it would be to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), although many of them fear it might be too late to reach that level.

    The world’s average surface temperatures reached 1C (1.8F) above pre-industrial times in a record-hot 2015. They will rise by 3C (3.6F) or more by 2100 if current trends continue, many projections show.

    A 195-nation climate summit in Paris in December asked the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for a report in 2018 on limiting warming to just 1.5C. The IPCC began a three-day meeting in Nairobi on Monday to consider how to do that.

    UN panel to study a cap on global warming that may be out of reach by Alister Doyle & Nina Chestney, Reuters, Apr 11, 2016

  78. wheelism says:

    (Willard, Hans makes a common mistake when referring to Johan Adams. Credit actually goes to our sixth president, PDQ Adams.)

  79. Thanks, wheelism. Otters, please chill.

    ***

    Speaking of non-punitive non-taxes:

    If someone who studied political science, who has been inside policy-making, and who has made a living advising policy-makers from the outside could step up and explain this, that would be great.

  80. Anders,

    Yes, I don’t get the problem either. It includes a total that can be emitted and that emissions have to be zero when we’ve done so.

    GMST is intuitively easy to understand, and already widely reported and well-entrenched. I think it would make the best sense to start reporting both of them together, with the targets indicated right on the plots. Maybe a projection or two, updated “live”. A dashboard of sorts.

    If someone hasn’t already done it, I may just have to roll my own.

  81. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Vinny, I have this on which to base my position, how about yours?

    To be fair a more appropriate analogy would be that we can see that someone else is being stalked by a tiger and we are waiting to work out how far they should run before mentioning it to them.

  82. As opposed to the “we should burn more fossil fuels than everyone else to strengthen the economy” crowd, who apparently follow the rule of being chased by a bear: one not need run faster than the bear, only faster than the slowest person in the group.

  83. Ken Fabian says:

    Revenue neutral carbon pricing or taxes tied exclusively to specific expenditures are more about marketing to make them more palatable than an intrinsic requirement. I see government revenues and expenditures as things that are and should be eternally under review but I don’t think there is much advantage beyond that selling part in bound and tied revenues. Potentially it will limit the options of future policy makers. Yet if there were true acceptance of dire, planet rescuing need on climate/energy emissions policy, minus the obstructionism, the selling part would be much easier and probably not require the expenditures to be tied specifically to anything. Minus the obstructionism the community acceptance of the importance of effective policy, even past the point of acceptance of some financial sacrifice, would become stronger. When prominent leaders deny climate science it give climate science denial a degree of respectability that otherwise would not be achieved and prevents the depth of community support the problem requires.

    Commercial and industrial interests that are not directly in the fossil fuel businesses but seek to avoid a burden of costs that understanding of climate consequences imposes have been sucked into Doubt, Deny and Delay as the lowest cost, bargain basement option. They have decided where to stand on the issue based on the costs of climate responsibility being both more immediate and direct than those of the climate changing – and that responsibility and those costs are seen as avoidable via the extensive, well tested toolkit for influencing government policy that they have developed.

    Take away the option for businesses to avoid responsibility – by politicians and governments stepping up and taking it – and powerful influences that have been strong impediments are likely to be much more engaged positively.

    I suspect that nuclear might gain some powerful supporters by that, who will be willing to shift it from popular rhetorical tool for bashing environmentalist politics into real commitment to use it as emissions reducer for energy hungry industry. Around here (Australia) nuclear is far more likely to be ‘promoted’ by someone who denies the science on climate than by people committed to climate action – it embodies the application of “perfect as the enemy of good” (HT Phil) , (which I see as “bar too high” arguments), more intended to stall emissions reductions than achieve them by “better” means.

    Personally I think that the depth of opposition to nuclear has never been that deep, but anti-nuclear advocacy has operated for many decades in an absence of powerful counter voices; in a world rich in coal it has never had strong support in the energy industry. I also think that whilst nuclear will have a significant place it’s golden moment as the only and best has been and gone, deeply damaged by the expedient choice of not acting at all over the daunting option of fighting the long fight for low emissions via nuclear. Even a decade ago renewable options looked problematic – ie expensive; but since the costs crossed the price parity barrier – even if only periodically and intermittently – nothing has been the same.

  84. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Dikran, in most cases climate change is a threat-multiplier, and a small one at that – 1.1, 1.01, 1.001, probably that sort of size. Tigers are actual threats. Koalas are threat-multipliers of the right magnitude.

    (Irrelevant tiger fact of the day: at a royal canned hunt in Nepal 55 years and 44 days ago, the Duke of Edinburgh, noted consort and conservationist, pretended to have herpes of the trigger finger – not a euphemism – in order to avoid having to shoot a second tiger, his first bag having caused a stink. This pretence was known as the duke’s ‘diplomatic whitlow’.)

    (Irrelevant dentistry/press accuracy/wheelerism fact of the day: the famous foreign correspondent Sir Charles Wheeler reported that the second tiger had instead been bagged by a dentist riding an elephant but in reality the dirty deed was done in tandem by an admiral and a privy counsellor, neither of whom had any expertise in dentistry. Perhaps he just didn’t like dentists.)

  85. Jim Hunt says:

    Re: Anders April 11, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Perhaps incorrectly I like to think of @RichardTol as our friendly local neighbourhhod “Climate Economist”. I have to admit that I was rather hoping he would comment at length on that aspect of the extract from Oliver’s work that I quoted.

    Re: Pete April 11, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I sit on national and international “smart grid” standards committees. Does that make me an expert? Here’s the abstract of a pertinent seminar I attended not so very long ago at Exeter University:

    Click through to see the whole thing, if you have an hour or so to spare.

  86. The climate change denial industry will costs everyone dearly. Maybe we should call it a tax.

  87. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Vinny O.K. so your position is based on your own personal assessment. Fine, I prefer to listen to the IPCC who are (i) well qualified and (ii) have spent much time and energy looking into the science.

  88. @Jim Hunt
    Sorry for the delay: Correcting exams, lecturing, preparing lectures …

    I’m not sure that Geden is right to characterize this crowd as “climate economists”, but indeed after IPCC WG3 AR4 concluded that the 2K target was impossible, the relevant models have been extended to include negative-carbon-energy (essentially, biomass with CCS) so that IPCC WG3 AR5 concluded that the 2K target is possible after all.

    I believe that about half of the IPCC crowd writes tongue-in-cheek “if we assume negative carbon energy, then we can meet the target” whereas the other half writes “we can meet the target”.

    That’s not Geden’s point, however. Geden argues that, with negative carbon energy, it does not really matter how much you emit in the near future (say, before the next election) because you can always remove it from the atmosphere later (say, after your retirement).

  89. John Hartz says:

    Toaday (04/12/16) Carbon Brief posted the second its series of articles about “negative emissions” technologies, or NETs. The Introduction to the new article reads…

    To limit climate change to “well below 2C”, as nations agreed to do in Paris last December, modelling shows it is likely that removing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere later on this century will be necessary. Scientists have imagined a range of “negative emissions” technologies, or NETs, that could do just that, as explained by Carbon Brief yesterday. But are any of them realistic in practice?

    Carbon Brief reached out to a number of scientists, policy experts and campaigners who have studied both the necessity and feasibility of negative emissions.

    We sent them the following identical email:

    The Paris Agreement calls for “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”. However, as the IPCC AR5 report showed, the majority of modelling to date assumes a significant global-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies in the second half of this century, if such temperature limits are to be achieved.
    1) What negative emissions technologies offer the most promise – and why?
    2) Is it feasible to achieve the scale of deployment required to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement? If so, how? If not, why?

    In-depth: Experts assess the feasibility of ‘negative emissions’ by Carbon Brief Staff, Carbon Brief, Apr 12, 2016

  90. John Hartz says:

    Dr Oliver Geden is one of the the scientsits who received the Carbon Brief’s email questionnaire (see my prior post).

    Here is Dr Geden’s response:

    Despite the increasing prominence of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in emissions pathways compatible with 2 or 1.5C nobody can say today if we will ever see significant deployment – and if so, when exactly. Regarding economic and technological feasibility, afforestation and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) look promising today. In terms of social and political acceptability, non-terrestrial technologies like direct air capture (DAC) seem to offer the most promise, but they will need significant technological and cost improvements, depending on massive research and development efforts. Similar to mitigation technologies today, we will definitely see country specific priorities. Sweden and Finland, with their large pulp & paper industries, might prioritise BECCS, while countries like Saudi Arabia might opt for DAC.

    When accounting for all dimensions of feasibility, including social and political, it’s hard to imagine that carbon removal on the order of 600-800GtCO2 – equaling 15-20 years of current annual emissions – can be realised during the 21st century. Based on terrestrial CDR only (like in today’s integrated assessment models) one would need approximately 500+ million hectares of additional land, that’s 1.5 times the size of India. That’s obviously a political no-go, and the main reason why negative emissions haven’t been part of high-level climate negotiations so far, despite the fact that carbon removal has been seriously discussed in the IPCC since 2007 and is an integral part of RCP2.6, the IPCC scenario consistent with 2C. Until now, the introduction of CDR has mainly had the effect of covering political inaction. A strategic debate about how to use CDR within a broader portfolio of climate policy measures is clearly lacking. Most policymakers don’t even know the difference between net and gross negative emissions. For 2C, the world should cross the line into net zero around 2070, but the phase-in of carbon removal technologies will have to happen way before 2050.

    I will leave it to others to sort through how Dr Geden’s response impacts the OP and the ensuing commentary.

  91. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Dikran, where did the IPCC’s AR5 support your use of a tiger as a suitable metaphor for climate change? It didn’t, of course*, any more than it supported my use of a koala. Get a grip, man.

    ===

    *I had a look, though, just in case.

    IPCC AR5 WG2 had one only sentence about tigers. This predicted ‘a 96% decline in tiger habitat in Bangladesh’s Sunderbans mangroves with a 28 cm sea-level rise if sedimentation does not increase surface elevations’. This factoid came from a simple let’s-flood-a-DEM exercise by WWF and other NGOs that was published as a letter in _Climatic Change_. To the NGOs’ credit, their letter admitted major weaknesses in their approach (more of that, please, WWF), weaknesses that the IPCC didn’t find room to mention – but that’s perhaps understandable. The tiger habitat factoid was part of a punchy paragraph about the future effects of sea-level rise. Including the WWF etc caveats would have broken the punchiness.

    IPCC AR5 WG2 also had only one sentence about koalas. Again, habitat contraction.

    (IPCC AR5 WG2 had ten sentences about climate change being a threat-multiplier. I thought it’d be more.)

  92. Vinny,
    I have a feeling that Dikran was using the tiger story as an analogy (although, I suspect you know that).

  93. Must be. The death toll from coal power plants alone is so much bigger than the number of people killed by tigers.

  94. @John H
    Today, it is hard to see how negative carbon technologies would ever work.

    Fifty years ago, it was hard to see how genetic engineering or pocket-size computers would ever work.

  95. Richard,
    I agree. We should be careful of assuming that something is impossible/unlikely just because we can’t see, now, how it could work. However, there are some real constraint to certain technologies.

  96. Today, it is hard to see how negative carbon technologies would ever work.
    One of those technologies has been around for billions of years:

  97. TE,
    In this context, the word “technology” referred to something we would develop, or actively develop. I thought that was obvious.

  98. The death toll from coal power plants alone is so much bigger than the number of people killed by tigers.

    Similarly, I’m guessing people cause themselves more harm worrying about global warming than actually might occur from global warming.

  99. TE,
    In this context, the word “technology” referred to something we would develop, or actively develop. I thought that was obvious.

    Why develop something nature does for free?

  100. BBD says:

    Oh FFS.

  101. Why develop something nature does for free?

    Because, the evidence suggests that nature – by itself – is not going to be sufficient if we don’t reduce emissions fast enough (assuming that we want to achieve some kind of temperature target – which is the context in which negative emissions are discussed). There are, of course, some potential solutions involving nature. One I’ve heard is to use GMO crops with larger root systems that will sequester more CO2. Another is to use BECCS, in which you grow plants, burn them, capture and store the CO2, then repeat. That – as I understand it – may, however, require a land area similar to (or larger than) India.

  102. BBD says:

    Anyone who tries to divorce the thermal envelope of eg. rice from its performance under different levels of CO2 is either ignorant or disingenuous.

  103. verytallguy says:

    Today, it is hard to see how negative carbon technologies would ever work.

    Fifty years ago, it was hard to see how genetic engineering or pocket-size computers would ever work.

    Fifty years ago, the laws of thermodynamics applied.

    Today, the laws of thermodynamics apply.

    In fifty years time the laws of thermodynamics will apply.

    Dr Pangloss is subject to constraints.

  104. This video is worth watching, again (it might even be vtg who first posted it here).

  105. Joshua says:

    ==> Dr Pangloss is subject to constraints.

    50 years ago it was hard to see how anyone could get monkeys to fly out of their butt.

  106. verytallguy says:

    Not my credit AT. I’d just note that a very similar analysis could be done of several other Panglossian “solutions”

    Biofuels, negative emissions, geoengineering, I could go on.

  107. Kevin O'Neill says:

    Fifty years ago, it was hard to see how genetic engineering or pocket-size computers would ever work.”

    For some people this is undoubtedly true; for many others it simply isn’t true. Humans have been genetically engineering plants for thousands of years. Even before Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA, Huxley had written Brave New World.

    Computers are much the same story.

  108. I thought Oliver’s qualifications were into political science, so I’m not sure about his expertise on CCS. Since he’s been inside policy-making and has made a living advising policy-makers, perhaps he could have an informed opinion on a 2009 document from his think thank about restructuring financial markets:

    But Europe cannot take the lead in restructuring financial markets unless it finds a common voice and engages in a concerted effort to stimulate demand […]

    Compare to this, national efforts to condemn tax havens and offshore financial centers which are increasingly discussed at the moment are counterproductive.

    http://www.swp-berlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/comments/2009C01_dtr_ks.pdf

    (The SWP document forbids me to copy-paste the whole passage.)

  109. Stephan Singer, WWF – “A debate on the Paris objectives must not start with ‘negative emissions’, since this might be used to delay actions towards later decades.”

    too funny.

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-experts-assess-the-feasibility-of-negative-emissions

  110. Compare and contrast:

    (a) National efforts to condemn tax havens and offshore financial centers which are increasingly discussed at the moment are counterproductive.

    (b) Let’s prioritize measurable progress toward decarbonizing the world’s largest economies over the establishment of global climate treaties or long-term global targets.

    The second is inspired by one of Oliver’s paradigmatic editorials:

    https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/replacing-the-top-down-approach-to-international-climate-policy-by-oliver-geden

    Let’s go picking local and measurable low-hanging fruits, unless it’s counterproductive.

  111. Steven Mosher says:

    lets the debate the debatable tactic of trying to restrict where debates should start.

    Willard, where is the dude with the ‘debate trees’?

  112. Mal Adapted says:

    Richard Tol:

    So, Cruz, Sanders and Trump are behind the worldwide failure of climate policy over the last 25 years?…
    Instead of hiding behind superficially plausible excuses, perhaps you should begin to investigate the actual reasons.

    It sounds like you deny the existence of the AGW-denial industry, Prof. Tol. That’s puzzling, as there is abundant documentation in the public record of the US, of money spent by fossil fuel billionaires to forestall government policies that would internalize the costs of anthropogenic climate change in the price of fossil carbon. Surely you’re aware of Jane Mayer’s series on the political machinations of the Koch brothers beginning in 2010 with Covert Operations, now in book form as Dark Money? The 2012 interview with Charles and David Koch on Forbes.com, and subsequent Forbes coverage? Robert Brulle’s refereed article in Climatic Change two years ago, Institutionalizing Delay?

    The Kochs aren’t the only players in this arena, of course: prior to the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, it was possible to identify the sources of donations to what Brulle calls “climate change counter-movement organizations”. He found $millions/year donated by the Scaife, Bradley, Howard, Pope, Searle and Templeton families, to about 70 “non-profit” think-tanks in the business of AGW denial. All those family fortunes were made, largely if not wholly, by privatizing the benefits of fossil energy production while socializing much of the costs.

    It’s impossible to say just how much of the failure of the US Congress to enact a meaningful AGW mitigation policy can be blamed on money invested in AGW-denial, by the people with the most to lose if the socialized costs of their businesses are internalized. These people are smart investors, though. They know it takes money to make money. Since it’s perfectly legal in the US both to use the mass media to lie to the public and to purchase political influence directly, they’d be fools not to invest in those things; and it’s hardly far-fetched to assume that if they weren’t getting a satisfactory return on their money, they’d stop paying. Do you really deny their existence?

  113. Marlowe Johnson says:

    since it hasn’t come up yet, here’s a recent paper that looks at the global potential for biochar.

    http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/8439/1/Assessing%20the%20potential%20of%20biochar%20from%20crop%20residues%20to%20sequester%20CO2_Scenarios%20to%202100.pdf

  114. John Hartz says:

    We know less about the Earth’s ecosystems, including soils, than we think we do. For example…

    Researchers are only beginning to understand the complexities of the microbes in the earth’s soil and the role they play in fostering healthy ecosystems. Now, climate change is threatening to disrupt these microbes and the key functions they provide.

    Is Climate Change Putting World’s Microbiomes at Risk? by Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360, Mar 28, 2016

  115. Dikran Marsupial says:

    ATTP “I have a feeling that Dikran was using the tiger story as an analogy (although, I suspect you know that).”

    Indeed, Vinny has made it very clear that (i) he has no scientific basis for his position (at least he failed to answer the request for it) and (ii) is just trolling, but he needs to be a bit more subtle about it than that to be effective. Plus ca change…

  116. Dikran Marsupial says:

    “Fifty years ago, it was hard to see how genetic engineering or pocket-size computers would ever work.”

    I suspect fifty years ago people thought we would have fusion reactors within fifty years, but we haven’t. It is a bad idea to take risks on the assumption that technological improvements will solve any problems we cause by the time they arise.

  117. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Dikran, I’ll ask again: where is the scientific basis for your use of a stalking tiger as an analogy for climate change impacts? I at least attempted a justification for using a koala instead. You? A link to the IPCC’s website plus some of what people around here like to call ‘whining’.

    You made a stupid anaology. Get over it.

  118. Jeepers. Calm down. It was an analogy. All analogies are stupid to those who don’t want to get the point of what’s being illustrated.

  119. Willard says:

    > I at least attempted a justification for using a koala instead.

    You’re being quite generous about what you did, Vinny.

  120. Vinny Burgoo says:

    That was pretty much my point.

    Incidentally, here is the duke’s ‘diplomatic whitlow’:

  121. BBD says:

    Reducing the totality of climate change risk to a small marsupial that eats its own excrement is quite a stretch. Some might call it a stupid analogy…

  122. Jim Hunt says:

    @RichardTol,
    Sorry for the delay. I’ve been busy correcting cryoblogospheric BS from the likes of Curry, Peiser and Watts:

    Global Sea Ice “Comeback” Conspiracy

    Your “tongue in cheek” remark about “the IPCC crowd” sounds about right to me.

    Oliver’s “Until now, the introduction of CDR has mainly had the effect of covering political inaction. A strategic debate about how to use CDR within a broader portfolio of climate policy measures is clearly lacking. Most policymakers don’t even know the difference between net and gross negative emissions.” sounds about right too.

    Which specific CDR technologies do you think will emerge to “save the world” over the next 50 years or so, or are you merely relying on some sort of “climate economical” blind faith in human ingenuity?

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