The Hartwell paper was published this week by a group of 14 academics from USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Finland and Japan. It proposes that the failure of the UN Copenhagen summit (COP15) to enforce meaningful targets and the lack of noticeable progress from the global agreements and targets on reducing carbon emissions actually provide an opportunity to address concerns on climate change in different ways.
The authors argue for the expansion of measures that are popular and pragmatic, offering energy security and also aiding human dignity by providing the poorest with safe, available energy. They point out that a majority of human activity that forces climate change is not due to carbon emissions but other causes, such as the loss of tropical forests, black carbon and the emission of other greenhouse gases. These causes can be addressed in ways that do not generate the controversy of capping carbon emissions.
The proposed approach suggests incentives for investing in alternative energy sources, which speaks to the desires of many nations to increase their energy security, and for helping underdeveloped countries to use more effective energy – for example by providing more efficient stoves for the poorest to dramatically reduce the 1.5 million annual premature deaths due to soot which is addition would cut the effect of “black carbon” on warming and on the melting of glaciers. The BBC’s “Costing the Earth” programme this week looks at this in some detail and examines the practicalities of such approaches.
The report switches the focus from CO2 emission targets and this has been criticised by other leading figures in the field such as Bill Hare, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, as reported in Nature’s Climate Feedback blog.
In discussing how to put their proposals into practice, the authors suggest funding via an hypothecated carbon tax, which they claim will be low. But it is not clear how low this would be and any tax would seem to counter their argument that their approach would be more popular than the current emission caps and carbon trading.
Whether practical or not, the paper opens up other strategies for changing the damaging by-products of humanity’s energy usage. The question is whether these are useful additions or alternatives to current approaches or whether they would mainly damage the efforts to focus on carbon reduction. The proposals are likely to prove additional distractions to such efforts as the American Power Act, as noted in Discovery’s article on this bill by US Senators Kerry and Liebermann