September 21, 2006

Time for Kyoto 2.0?

Writing about web page

It’s a fact universally acknowledged that the Kyoto Protocols just don’t work. Not just by denial lists, but by groups across the spectrum up to and including Greenpeace itself. The reasons given as to why it doesn’t work varies of course. Green groups think that it doesn’t go far enough. Denialists think that it’s based on a non-existent problem. Business groups think that it’s trying to stop and unstoppable juggernaut instead of trying to simply adapt to things.
Global Warming
Really, though, I think the reason that it doesn’t work appeals to a flawed psychology in its invention.

The real reason why Kyoto fails

Think about it – it’s a scheme where a number of states commit their resources in a way that benefits the rest of humanity. (possibly)

Analysing this using game theory throws up a simple fact – the best strategy in this game is not to join into Kyoto! Instead, it is far better to continue to pollute – in this case, you benefit from your industrialisation, whilst the suckers in the agreement do the real hard work so that you don’t suffer the consequences. The incentive in this scheme is to lie, to astroturf, to make up excuses and pretend that you don’t believe in the problems, because no matter if GW turns out to be real, you win from it. In the worst case scenario, you have breathing space from your accumulated wealth, poor nations are happily screwed over, and the agreement nations have to pay again when their actions fail.

The only motivation to join Kyoto is out of a sense of moral responsibility, and we all know how politicians are with moral responsibility.

It’s obvious by this stage that the world is not going to get its act together. It is inevitable due to simple human nature that all current political actions will be in vain. Either the projections will occur to some extent, or some random miracle will save us. We’re simple not going to do anything that changes the core of this reality.

What we need is an agreement that takes account of this fact.

My Kyoto 2.0

The central principle of my proposed Kyoto 2.0 is that if nothing we do today will affect whether or not we’ll be screwed tomorrow, we can at least make sure that we will be screwed proportionally to the amount of blame we have for it. Specifically, the proposal declares that:

Future adaptation efforts will be paid out of an international fund, with payments into the fund proportional to what the science of the time determines to be the responsibility of that nation to the problem.

What will this mean?

Firstly, it means honesty. Skeptics at this point in time generally believe that either nothing will happen, or that if something does happen, ‘better’ science will show that it was not their responsibility. K2 calls them on that belief. If they genuinely believe in this, then they have nothing to fear from the new agreement. If however they were lying to excuse their own greedy actions, then the new agreement stops them from taking advantage.

It also means fairness. It means the costs of adaptation will probably be paid by those morally at fault. This also happens to be the richest countries, so in general this means that no one should have to suffer too much due to lack of money. Because, I think, this agreement is so clearly just, it should be very hard for dodgy states to squeeze their way out of it.

Finally, it means flexibility. New inventions that eliminate the problem will not mean wasted money. But on the flip side, practical mitigation efforts will be rewarded if they turn out to have an effect, by reducing the degree of responsibility for the state involved. If a state believes that the consequences will be worse than others predict, green measures will be a wise investment.

Of course, as an adaptation based measure, there will be a danger that short sighted politicians will choose to bankrupt their future for short term gain. But hey, that’s going to happen anyway. At least with this, there will be some political pressure against screwing over one’s children.

Any thoughts?

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. The problem with Kyoto, as you point out, is that it’s not beneficial for a country to join – it’s just not in it’s own personal short term interests (politics, of course, looks a maximum of 5 years into the future). When you consider that it is widely reported that even something as unpalatable as Kyoto isn’t nearly enough according to most climate scientists, if you’re going to do something about the problem it’s clear that the Kyoto approach isn’t the answer. Countries just won’t voluntarily sign up for something that does nothing but damage to them in the short term. And you can’t force countries to sign international treaties.

    Step forward the Asia-Pacific Partnership, or AP6. Combined, these six countries represent over 50% of the world’s emissions, including the biggest polluter the US. They have not set mandatory punitive limits like Kyoto, rather their aims are to take a more capitalist approach by turning a problem into an opportunity. As opposed to seeing climate change as a big expensive problem, AP6 seeks to develop and deploy clean technologies that will almost certainly help them become market leaders. I believe that this approach will initially see poor results compared to Kyoto, but as the technologies become profitable as resources become scare the take-up rate will be extremely high, and in the long term it will lead to massive reductions in emissions via a complete technology shift. With the sorts of reductions being banded about by climate scientists, a technological shift is the only solution, and the AP6 route is about the best route we have that countries will agree to.

    21 Sep 2006, 20:07

  2. I agree with your identification of the game theoretic problem with Kyoto, but I think your solution suffers exactly the same problem. The same problem applies to many other similar problems, for example, taxing companies. If all countries but one have a corporation tax, all companies who are large enough to be able to afford it can set up in that one country which doesn’t tax them. Therefore, no country will tax corporations and the worst possible solution is inevitable (assuming that you thinking taxing corporations is a good idea).

    22 Sep 2006, 01:34

  3. Arancaytar

    Well, I’ll be darned. FZ! I haven’t seen you anywhere for ages and ages!

    It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma, apparently. If you don’t cooperate, you beat the guys who do cooperate, but if nobody cooperates, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

    Your approach is a good one, but how would it be enforced if nobody cooperates?

    22 Sep 2006, 03:12

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