There’s a bit of a debate going on a about economics and ethics, mostly on MT’s blog, but also on Stoat, and a little bit here. I have to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what people are actually disagreeing about, as it seems to be more about how one should use economic models, than about what is actually ethically/morally right, or wrong. However, I came across a Carbon Brief Guest Post that would seem to indicate that we’re not alone in not agreeing about the role of economic modelling.
The Carbon Brief post is by Glen Peters and Oliver Geden, and discusses who will deliver the negative emissions to avoid 2C of warming. The context is essentially that we’ve now got to the stage where if we still wish to achieve a target of keeping warming below 2oC, then we may need to rely on technologies such as negative emissions, or carbon dioxide removal (CDR).
I wanted to simply highlight a few comments in the article that I found interesting. For example
Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) also indicate that it is cheaper to have large-scale CDR in the future, than to have deeper mitigation now.
However, it also says
[t]he criticism mainly focused on the conceptual use of untested methods of CDR to keep global warming below 2C above pre-industrial levels in model simulations, the potential risks of deploying CDR technologies at scale, and the role of science in climate policy negotiations.
So, some economic models suggest its cheaper to deploy CDR in the future, rather than undertaking deep mitigation now, despite CDR being largely untested, and there being risks associated with deploying at scale.
Another key part of the article was the political implications of deploying CDR, saying
[m]ost discussions of CDR have been at the global level. This is an unhelpful focal point, as individual actors must deliver CDR. A suitable compromise is the national level, which is particularly useful for climate policy negotiations.
This potentially creates significant political obstacles, for example
The output from the IAMs gives an indication of cost-optimal pathways, but these may deviate substantially from politically-optimal pathways. …..
India and others could argue that they should not provide CDR at a scale like the EU and the US, countries who have a much larger historical contribution to current climate change.
…. Brazil might argue the modelling assumptions behind one particular model overestimate the BECCS potential in Brazil, other countries may argue the opposite.
Okay, I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. Mainly, that this seems very complex and its not clear that there is any kind of simple answer. Do we have a specific target, or do we try to develop some kind of optimal pathway based on a cost-benefit analysis (as I discussed in this post)? Do we focus on technologies that we are confident can be deployed, or rely on technologies that have yet to be developed, and that may carry their own risks, such as CDR? Do we focus on the global scale, or do we try to incorporate the political realities of trying to actually implement the various possible solutions on the local scale?
I don’t have any good answers, but I’m not really convinced any else does either. I’m happy to be convinced otherwise, though.