Climate change: Back to the wrong drawing board

The head of the IPCC is reported today as saying that Barack Obama is unable to introduce the kind of carbon cuts EU countries are aiming at, lest he face social revolution. As a result, report the media, the new post-Kyoto climate deal is in jeopardy.


And the problem is, as with the perennial What about China? Conundrum, we have exactly the wrong approach to how climate agreements work. Look at it like this. Imagine that there are two hundred or so people – one for each country on the planet – standing in your neighbourhood park, evenly spread out, all wearing blindfolds and each carrying a gun. Every now and again they each fire in a random direction. Some, such as the ones representing the USA or China, fire more frequently than the ones who represent Somalia or Tanzania. Given how they are spread out, few bullets kill, but inevitably some do.

So what is the right solution to the rising death toll? To only stop firing when we all agree to stop? Or does it make sense for everyone to stop as soon as possible, regardless of what everyone else does? If I fire more slowly, I kill fewer people, and if I’m not firing at all, I don’t kill anyone. Why on Earth would I wait for anyone else to stop firing?

Likewise with climate agreements. If China and the USA and Australia and India and Russia go on putting carbon into the atmosphere – or depleting resources or encouraging population growth or allowing ecosystems damage – many will die. But regardless of what anyone else does, the rest of the world can minimise the casualties by slowing and then stopping the damage they are doing, and the USA and China and everyone else is more than welcome to join us – ASAP please.

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