Over the past years, some thoughtful pieces have been written on managing the climate crisis that call for thinking outside the climate box. We should leave too narrow climate-as-an-environmental-problem-thinking behind and accept that climate change is as much an environmental issue as it is, for example, a development challenge, or a problem of ecological modernization. Therefore, we shouldn’t focus too much on climate change science, and think more about the socioeconomic challenges we need to address in order to manage climate change.
One of these strands of thinking focuses – naturally, I might add – on the necessary transformation of our energy infrastructure from the outdated fossil-fuel and nuclear based system towards a shiny new, low-carbon-clean-energy-thing. This is about the reasoning guys like Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute advance. As they put it recently: “Climate Science Divides Us But Energy Technology Unites Us.” Yeah. Roger Pielke Jr., himself a Breakthrough Fellow, explains in his book The Climate Fix, we have basically two options to do something about climate change: Increase energy efficiency, and come up with competitive low-carbon energy sources.
It ain’t that difficult, I’ll admit.
Originally from NASA, via Micael Tobis via Dennis Dimick
A new paper titled “Normalizing economic loss from natural disasters: A global analysis” by Neumayer and Barthel (NM2010) in the top journal Global Environmental Change introduces a new method to normalize disaster-related economic losses over time. In the past there have been a few papers dealing with the issue that we see rising disaster losses, yet also increasing wealth, so the question is whether more disasters or more fancy beach houses are ultimately behind the upward damage figures. NM2010 state in their abstract (emphasis added):
In this article, we argue that the conventional methodology for normalizing economic loss is problematic since it normalizes for changes in wealth over time, but fails to normalize for differences in wealth across space at any given point of time. We introduce an alternative methodology that overcomes this problem in theory, but faces many more problems in its empirical application. Applying, therefore, both methods to the most comprehensive existing global dataset of natural disaster loss, in general we find no significant upward trends in normalized disaster damage over the period 1980–2009 globally, regionally, for specific disasters or for specific disasters in specific regions.
I have myself thought about this issue in German at Die Klimakrise here and here, and I can’t help to notice that this paper, just as several others before, fail on one crucial account: They do not look into mitigation, i.e. defensive measures against disasters (I don’t really know why this isn’t called adaptation, maybe it’s meant as mitigating e.g. storm damages?). In a word, these papers treat present-day disaster preparedness as if it was the same a few decades or even a century ago. And that’s simply not the case.
In an article posted at Die Klimazwiebel, Eduardo Zorita asks where environmental and energy innovation ought to come from. One question he has in mind is whether governments may successfully induce innovation. He is doubtful, though:
In my personal experience, I do not have the feeling that forced innovation, i.e. a deliberate search for new inventions, has been very successful in the past.
He can only think of the Apollo Project, but there’s definitely more. Jänicke and Lindemann recently published a helpful overview paper about the various instruments regulators can use to encourage environmental innovations.They have come up with a matrix where market-based, regulatory, and supporting instruments can cover the invention, the innovation (market launch), and the diffusion phase of a new technology. Overall, this leads to a quite complex picture of how governments may cover the various phases of innovation, and employ different types of instruments in order to achieve the goal of having new environmentally-sound technologies developed and distributed.
In short: There’s no silver bullet in innovation and environmental politics, but rather necessary to establish a well-targeted and integrated approach. Otherwise you’re going nowhere.
The two degrees temperature target, favoured by the European Union and the G8, and mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord, has quite an interesting history. It can be understood in rather different ways (PDF), ranging from a threshold beyond which catastrophe looms, as a level at which costs and benefits of mitigation policies are optimised, or as a simplifying measure in a highly complex management process.
Not so long ago, my colleague Oliver Geden at SWP published two papers suggesting that sooner or later, politicians might have to reconsider the two degrees target because global greenhouse gas levels will have made it unlikely to stay below that threshold (see also the discussion at Die Klimazwiebel or at Roger Pielke Jr.’s). This was not welcomed by everyone, since some people thought Oliver had argued against the target as such. Far from it, he merely questioned its future viability as a political strategy once the risk of overshooting two degrees will have become obviously high.
In fact, the numerical risk of exceeding the target is a key variable, with possible GHG levels corresponding with a two degrees temperature increase ranging from 330 to 700 ppm, according to Boykoff et al. 2010. This huge range is due to the uncertainties regarding climate sensitivity, which the IPCC AR4 put at 2-4.5°C for a doubling of CO2.