The debate on whether the current climate change is caused by human activities has effectively ended with the publication of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in Paris earlier last Friday. The announcement by the most authoritative body on the science of climate change were preceded by calls of several large corporate players for a system to regulate carbon emissions, Exxon Mobil’s new stance on climate change and the 2007 State of the Union which expressed concern on climate change. Even several months or years before the publication of the latest Assessment Report, the momentum towards acceptance of human-induced climate change has been growing. ASEAN recently has agreed to a weak energy pact that perhaps gives lip service to climate change.

While the debate is over, whether or not the greens had unilateral declared such closure, a new debate has arisen and rightly, it is on how to move from here onwards. Even the once-skeptics have realigned their positions to accept the modern reality of climate change. Though their positions might not be aligned with the greens, the realization that the current climate change is caused by human beings is central.

There seems to be three schools of thought at the moment. One favors mitigation of the effects of climate change. Two, adaptation. Three, centrist.

Those that favor mitigation are advocating the most controversial policy of all — emissions reduction. Within this camp itself, there are many suggested ways to limit carbon but that most popular is emissions trading. Digressing, it is a sign that the market could solve environmental problems. Regardless, the politically charged question is how high should the limit be? How much cut should an economy make or take?

The Kyoto Protocol, the most famous of all emissions cutting schemes, demands Annex 1 (a dull jargon to roughly describe industrialized countries) parties to cut their collective greenhouse gases (there are six gases governed by the Kyoto Protocol, including carbon dioxide) emissions by 5% below the 1990 level within 2008 and 2012. There are a few ways to achieve that target: through Clean Development Mechanism, Annex 1 members could reduce their emissions commitment by aiding the others to undergo clean development like the introduction of clean energy or reforestation. The CDM by itself is a huge growing industry as it becomes clear that many Annex 1 members are having trouble adhere to Kyoto’s target. There are those that have suggested an even drastic cut while others, more modest. But Kyoto is the the benchmark.

An economist, William Nordhous garners influence among emissions cutting scheme. I came upon his work while I was attending an environmental economics class at Michigan. That class and Nordhous’ work helped me understand the economic rationale of mitigation policies. Nicholas Stern is another economist that is involved in the economic of climate change though his report has been criticized.

And then, of course, the question of who should bare the cut?

Previously, it was a question of why should be bear anything at all. So, as far as the greens are concerned, it is a step forward in the right direction.

The Bush administration has consistently reasoned that emission reduction measures are useless if the developing world does not share the burden of emissions reduction. While true, the developing world on the other hand argues that the majority of the emissions in the air were those produced by the developed world, which is also valid. It is because both have valid arguments and because of externality, this is an explosive political issue.

Those that favor adaptation are the ones whom believe adaptation is cheaper than mitigation. Adaptation includes realignment of economies according to the new prevailing climate pattern. For instance, migrating agricultural activities northward as it gets warming there.

And then, there are centrists that push for both.

In reality, adaptation is essential as a response. No. adaptation is inevitable. Therefore, the bigger question is should we try to mitigate the effect at all?

For me, effective policies will need to commit to mitigation actions while accepting the eventuality of adaptation policies.

For former climate change deniers which have accepted the cause of the current climate change but are reluctant to shoulder the undeniably huge burden, they scoff at mitigation effort and are content that we should simply adapt to whatever the climate brings us.

There is a subgroup that believes climate change is just one of many issues we as humanity have to face. To the group, led by Bjorn Lomborg, the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, resources are better spent at other issues like poverty or disease fighting. Their point is, there is a trade-off.

And then, there are some that believe it is too late to act and thus, mitigation is the only way forward.

Regardless the positions, none of the new directions in the debates are based on denial of the human-induced climate change. And certainly, those that deny climate change is actually happening are currently practically unheard of, unlike, roughly, a decade ago.

More importantly, while the debate on causality is over, the larger debate has not. The larger debate is undergoing an evolution, moving from one stage to the next. The debate on climate change is more than alive and it will not be over any time soon.

In Malaysia however, while people are moving on to the next level, we are at the back, just about to join the departing crowd.

3 Responses to “[1084] Of new direction in climate change debate”

  1. […] and it revolves around the effectiveness of two economic policies: carbon tax and quota. It is a question of how, not what or why anymore. The successor of the Kyoto Protocol, which is to be discussed later in […]

  2. […] we as a species now are more certain that human is the cause of the current climate change. That helped steered debate on climate change from “what caused it?” to “how to prevent and mitigate its […]

  3. […] place at the Germany-hosted G8 summit in the week of June 6 2007. The discussion stayed true to the current trend that no longer doubts the existence of human-induced climate change but rather, seeks to mitigate […]

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