Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Unsolicited Advice for the Bali Brigades

From EconoSpeak:

The eco-elite have descended on Bali to devise a successor regime to the Kyoto Protocol. I think most of them are asking the wrong questions and are likely to come up with the wrong answers.

To begin with, we should be clear on what the limitations of Kyoto are. They are not primarily the weak targets that were set for carbon reduction, nor were they the forbearance shown to developing countries. Why not?

The targets proved not to matter because they have not been met. In fact, there is no way at present to force a country to act decisively on curbing greenhouse gases, so discussion of specific targets is a sideshow. In any case, no country should pull back from taking aggressive action because an international treaty sets the bar several notches lower.

For the same reason, it was never a problem that Kyoto exempted low income countries from the expectations put on the industrialized world. Aside from the question of equity – climate change is driven by accumulated emissions, most of which came from us and not them – there is no way to force a country like China or India to make its development conditional on reaching carbon goals.

The one thing Kyoto did that “worked” shouldn’t have, carbon offsets. The evidence shows that much of the offsets actually offset nothing at all: they are fictitious carbon reductions. And others take money to mitigate one environmental hazard by creating another, like tree plantations that replace living forests.

So the first thing an enlightened eco-diplomat in Bali should understand is that Kyoto should not be fixed; it should be scrapped. I appreciate its symbolic value, but surely the time for symbolism is past.

What to do then? The starting point for reasonable negotiation is the awareness that the majority of the world’s people will be direct financial beneficiaries of controlling climate change, if the job is done properly. Any country that sets up a system of carbon permits, auctions them off and rebates the money to its citizens on a per capita basis will find that most will come out ahead. This is because climate-bashing consumption is disproportionately done by the rich. Make them pay for it, and distribute the proceeds equally; the lower- and middle-consumption majority will get back more than they pay in. To put it another way, societies have been giving away their crucial environmental resources, like the atmosphere in its role as a waste sink, for free to anyone who wants to take them. Charging a price puts money in the pockets of the owners – us....MORE