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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Climate Change Galore

Done. Ten days after Sir Nicholas Stern has published his findings on the Economics of Climate Change, I've finally found the time to sift through his results. Climate change campaigners have long stressed that action is needed now to avoid catastrophic consequences later, so there's not necessarily much news here (apart from the credibility this report has, bien entendu).

More interesting is how emissions should be cut: There's pricing of carbon according to the polluter-pays principle and public spending on research to develop low-carbon, high-efficiency technology. As a third focus, Stern proposes to actively remove barriers to behavioural change. He acknowledges that individuals might not contribute their share even if the appropriate measures are cost-effective. This is because reliable information is scarce, and triggers not strong enough to overcome behavioural and organisational inertia.

True, and I'm increasingly less at ease with rational appeals to individuals, including the iconic proposal to change lightbulbs and government campaigns titled "Changing our behaviour", "Get your act together" or "You control climate change". I believe that people do understand that changing their lightbulb is not going to stop climate change, and that they are reluctant to change their entire way of life if other main contributors do not follow suit. And here's governments responsibility to create incentives and remove barriers to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. This includes minimum standards, labelling, financing measures and public debate.

George Monbiot, an esteemed commenter for the Guardian, has published a list of ten concrete steps the British government should take to cut carbon emissions:

  1. Immediately set a target for greenhouse gas emissions based on latest science.
  2. By 2009, set personal carbon ratios in line with the long-term target (and cut these annually).
  3. By 2012, ensure all new houses comply with the Passivhaus standard, and set energy-efficiency requirements for refurbishments and rental homes.
  4. By 2007, introduce a "feebate" system for electronics appliances (and immediately ban the worst energy wasters).
  5. By 2007, use money earmarket to develop new nuclear missiles to invest in renewable energy.
  6. By 2020, develop an efficient and consumer-friendly national coach network.
  7. By 2011, supply leasable electric car batteries at all filling stations.
  8. Immediately abandon the road building and widening programme.
  9. Immediately freeze and reduce UK airport capacity.
  10. By 2012, close out-of-town superstores and replace them with a delivery system.
Ambitious or drastic proposals? Old-style regulating government? Maybe. But maybe not if you compare it with the size of the problem we're facing. As Stern put it:
Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.
On another note: While I've immensely enjoyed Gore's movie (and intend on purchasing the DVD), Camilla Toulmin has a point here. Gore talks to American voters as if the rest of the world didn't exist. Climate justice? Well, maybe next time.

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