Like it or not, the Kyoto treaty on climate change is pretty much dead. The U.S. has flatly rejected it; Russia is playing games with it; and even the E.U. quietly admits that most member nations will not hit their targets. And, frankly, many environmentalists weren't too thrilled with the Kyoto treaty to begin with -- it didn't do enough, was too complex, and left many issues unaddressed.
So what's Plan B?
According to an article in this week's New Scientist, Plan B is something called "Contraction and Convergence," or "C&C." Supported by the U.K.'s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the United Nations Environment Program, the European Parliament and the German Advisory Council on Global Change, C&C has numerous advantages over Kyoto. It's more straightforward than the earlier treaty, it addresses the American government's concerns about developing world participation, and it ultimately would be more aggressive about actually dealing with atmospheric carbon build-up than was Kyoto. The C&C concept has been around for about a decade, but is receiving new attention as the death of the Kyoto treaty has become clear.
Contraction and Convergence simultaneously moves towards a reduced overall carbon emissions total and a universal per-person carbon emissions allowance. The convergence aspect, according to this plan, would be settled by 2050; by then, all nations would have the same emissions-per-person target. The plan includes some emissions trading, but all nations would be included, and the restrictions would eventually be more stringent than in the Kyoto treaty. The article has a useful graph illustrating how the Contraction and Convergence process would work over time.
Frankly, even Kyoto was too late. The changes are going to happen. The US will be one of the more seriously affected countries: Florida, southern Louisiana, New York and Boston are all going to disappear under the rising ocean levels brought about by global warming. Bangladesh and the Maldives are toast. Canada may be one of the least adversely affected. Global warming will give Canada a warmer climate but it will lead to more tornados and flooding. The Northern Arctic Way of Life will disappear.
The only country with experience in dealing with rising sea levels (15 cm/century) is The Netherlands but that requires a Canal Authority (Rÿkswaterstaat) with specially trained Mathematical Engineers to monitor, maintain and improve their system.
So Plan B has to deal with coping with rising ocean levels and melting of glaciers. It may also have to deal paradoxically with the destruction of the Gulfstream and the cooling of Western Europe.
As long as there is oil, there will be no real accord on such things.
I disagree. As long as oil is the cheapest form of fuel, we'll have problems. Once we have alternative(s), though, there will be strong political pressure to shift away from petroleum, both for climate reasons and for global-strategic reasons. Given that the end of the oil era is over-determined, there are numerous groups (commercial and state) trying to be the ones to develop the dominant post-petroleum fuel/energy medium. We will have one or more strong competitors to oil in the next decade or so, and that will have cascading effects.
In short, I think we'll give up on oil before it actually runs out.
AC, the scenario you present is certainly possible, but a less-extreme outcome is also a possibility. I'm not arguing that climate change won't be bad, mind you, only that it's an incredibly complex process. Nobody should feel confident in their predictions.
You and I agree on oil... But I'll point out that alternative energy DOES exist. There are still homes in the United States that are selling power to the electric company - their home solar systems are helping to power their grids. This is a holdover from the energy crisis of the 1970s...
Why isn't it being used? I have no concrete answers on that, just normative analysis.
I'm glad something is being planned, but that graph is still frightening. There's a lot of inertia in this system; even if we cut carbon emission levels down right now, the global climate would continue to change. Under this proposal, it will be almost 50 years before carbon emissions drop below their current levels. Fifty more years at current rates, and a hundred years after that before all that CO2 has been reabsorbed! For all we know the world climate will have already flipped over and found some other equilibrium by then.
This plan sounds fair and achievable, but it hardly seems like it will be any more successful at stopping global climate change than "plan zero". If we do nothing, ecological collapse will eventually take the global economy down with it, and then we won't be able to extract fossil fuels on this scale anymore. We'd all be screwed, but from the sounds of it we're all going to be screwed anyway.
Maybe. But to flip your argument on its head, if we don't do anything (your aptly-named "Plan Zero"), we *know* we're hosed. If we make an effort, even one as hesitant as this, we may have a chance. More importantly, it moves us towards dealing with the climate, focusing on remediation and climate-change-related technologies, so that if things get worse than we hope, we're in a better position to react to those new changes.
That's a good point. Perhaps, in any case, it's the notion of getting the entire world on board an effort to solve the climate change problem that really matters. Once that framework is in place, we can start lobbying for acceleration. Climate-related problems will only get worse, and perhaps that will create an increasing global sense of urgency about the problem.