12 May 2010

A Response to Richard Black

Richard Black, of the BBC, posted some thoughts on The Hartwell Paper on his blog. Below is how I responded to him. Such an exchange is exactly why we wrote the paper -- to open up a broader discussion of climate policy. I thank Richard for the exchange.
Below please find a few comments in response to your very thoughtful piece on The Hartwell Paper.

I have taken the liberty of copying the set of co-authors to my reply, however these comments are of course my own. On to them ...

1. You write:
"Firstly, its advocacy of first chasing warming agents that may be more tractable than carbon dioxide assumes that isn't happening already; but it is."
I don't think that we assume this at all. In fact, we cite such efforts and arguments in the paper. But as in your BBC news article which quoted Bill Hare of PIK, there are many who are opposed to anything other than a narrow focus on CO2. The very design of the FCCC reinforces this myopia. The various efforts to broaden the focus to other human influences on climate beyond CO2 is certainly gaining steam. Our work should be viewed as part of this broader trend.

You might check your claim the the CDM is being used to address black carbon. While this may be an ancillary benefit of some CDM programs, it is my understanding that black carbon is not considered under the Climate Convention, and efforts to bring it in have been objected to, notably by India.

2. You write,
"Secondly, there's no notion here that developing nations would buy into the kind of voluntary mechanisms espoused here."
I don't think that this is correct. For instance, we cite in the paper the Indian proposal to levee a 50 rp tax on coal to support clean energy innovation. Just this week China re-floated a similar proposal. Further, given that expanding energy access is already a top priority of India, China and others, the only part of the proposal that would need buying into is how to pay for it and through what mechanisms. That debate of course is what would make international negotiations far more productive.

3. You write,
"That not one of the 14 academics behind the Hartwell Paper hails from the developing world perhaps tells its own story."
A bit unfair I think. Why not ask some people from, say, China and India what they think? We did.

4. You write,
"perhaps the biggest hole in the Hartwell principles concerns the notion that western governments are going voluntarily to increase their spend on the issue - by coughing up the 0.7% of GDP in aid, and by imposing a hypothecated carbon tax that would kick-start renewable energy research and development."
If this is a hole in our proposal, then it is also a hole in every other proposal, as every climate policy proposal, not least the FCCC, requires increased spending. So this criticism is not specific to our proposal.

We believe that governments, and the people that they represent, are far more likely to invest in energy innovation and adaptation if there is a clear and direct connection between those investments and tangible benefits, on time scales where costs and benefits are comparable. The current approach to climate policy does not offer such a connection.

No one would claim to have all the answers, however after 20 years of experience following the approach outlined by the Climate Convention, it has become familiar and comfortable. It has also been a failure. There are many reasons to question new proposals, and not all such questions have ready answers.

However, one point seems inescapable ... if we do not change directions we will end up exactly where we are headed.

Thanks again for the comments!



  1. The massive, staggering deficits that are crippling the Western Democracies - with some exceptions, will impose a harsh reality on the wishful Peter Pan thinking associated with the efforts required to reduce CO2 outputs in pursuit of dubious claims that this gas causes Global Warming.

    People aren't going to buy into the pain when they are already being "pained" severely by ruinous government economic policies.

    It is pipe dream, and the pipe ain't loaded with tobacco.

    Take a moment and look at Greece today and ask yourself if Greeks would self-inflict a huge economic hurt so they could be "part of the solution to global warming" or would they be too preoccupied by street protests, pension and salary reductions and general economic chaos?

    Climate Policies are the stuff of rich nations with budget surpluses and the ability to afford being able to keep up appearances. The problem governments face is they hopped onto the Global Warming bandwagon that had been orchestrated by the Environmentalists and now need to find a way to hop off because the bandwagon has become a boat anchor.

    A really big political career killing boat anchor.

    Economic reality always, in the end, wins out over political do-goodism.

    Always. It is just a matter of time and that load ticking sound you hear means "Time's Up"

  2. "Take a moment and look at Greece today and ask yourself if Greeks would self-inflict a huge economic hurt "

    Yes they would. In fact they are going further than before, as I posted previously. Carbon trading is the universal government / corporate policy which will restore health to the financial system and reward Co2 emitters for their co-operation. The climate is an irrelevance. Greece is in no position to complain.


    Europe's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard is to set out the case for a unilateral 30% EU cut in CO2. At the end of May she will unveil research examining the consequences to Europe's economy of outdoing the current 20% target.

  3. Fred

    The British economy is not vastly different from Greece at the present time, but our new right wing government wants to be even more carbon unfriendly than the last one.

    Roger, not everything in the world can be understood through the lens of American divide and rule tribalism. Religion and sexuality play no part in British politics. For example, abortion is not an issue (your example in the Hartwell paper).


    For Mr Cameron, the coalition is something of an environmental God-send. The Liberal Democrats were judged by far the greenest of the main parties by Friends of the Earth, and their presence in government gives weight to Mr Cameron's Vote Blue, Go Green slogan.

    The Liberal Democrat cohort also buffers the Prime Minister from his own back-benchers, many of whom are sceptical about man-made climate change.

    In their first press conference Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg both pledged a low-carbon economy, but there will be doubts about whether low-carbon energy targets will be met and whether Conservatives will be prepared at this time to continue to underpin low-carbon jobs.

    Before the election, they indicated a determination to cut funds to the North-East, for instance, a major low-carbon hub. This may be a source of future tension.

    On broad energy policy there is, though, wide agreement on policy. Ministers will commit to a "huge" increase in energy from waste digestion by bacteria and the roll-out of "smart" interactive local electricity grids.

    They will mandate a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, though it is not clear what "mandating" means and who is to be mandated.

    No new coal power stations will be built unless they pass a carbon emissions standard, though the standard is still to be decided.


  4. -eric144-

    Thanks for these comments. Do note that the reference to "abortion politics" is a reference to an analysis in my book, The Honest Broker, and not an allusion to unique American-style politics.

    That said, every political context has its "abortion" equivalents, which is the point.

  5. Roger

    I read that section very carefully and you are quite correct to point out that it was simply an example which illustrated that other views and factors come into play when evaluating a situation.

    However, politically it relates more closely to the American experience, and I only included the comment because (contrary to tribal expectations) the new right wing British government is going to be more environmental than the last one. We discussed the potential scepticism of the Conservative party before.

    It is off topic on this thread, but I replied to Fred, primarily to provide an excuse for linking you to the information from the BBC which you may not have seen.

  6. -5-eric144

    An example of such (abortion) politics in the UK might be how the Lib Dems view nuclear power. It does not appear to but open to negotiation.

    I agree with your view about the potential for environmental policies under the Blue-Yellow coalition (blue + yellow does = green, after all;-). I can even envision a scenario where Labor seeks to gain advantage but turning against green policies in a populist manner, such as by highlighting rising fuel poverty as a consequence of coalition policies. It might be difficult, given the bi/tri-partisan origin of many of those policies, but not inconceivable.

    Thanks very much for the link to the BBC link. The call to tighten targets and increase the price of carbon helps to make the points in The Hartwell Paper;-)

  7. "The Hartwell Paper initiative was supported by funding from the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, the US-based Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Fondation Hoffmann, Geneva."

    A-ha! Toadies of the plutocrats! Are you now, or have you ever been funded by Big Business?

  8. Are you now or have you ever been funded by theft from the people (taxes)?


    The only clean (heh) way to make decarbonization happen is to invent energy sources that are carbon neutral (bio fuels for example) or carbon negative (nuclear power for example) that costs LESS than current sources. Otherwise governments have to distort the economy and you get all the waste fraud and abuse that goes with such distortions.