The Road from Copenhagen
Ernest Moniz, Director, MIT Energy Initiative; Henry D. Jacoby, Professor of Management, MIT Sloan; Michael Greenstone, Department of Economics; Rob Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Harvard University; Edward Steinfeld, Department of Political Science; Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor, Department of Political Science, MIT and Professor of Government, Harvard University; John Sterman, PhD '82, Forrester Professor of Management and Engineering Systems, and; Director, System Dynamics Group, MIT
Description: Following the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, a five-member panel reviews the pros and cons of the events that took place. Moderated by Ernest Moniz, the panel includes Rob Stavins, Michael Greenstone, Stephen Ansolabehere (filling in for William Bonvillian), Ed Steinfeld, Henry "Jake" Jacoby, and a brief appearance by John Sterman.
Stavins opens the panel assessments by suggesting that climate change is not a sprint but a marathon; that international negotiations will need to be an "ongoing process and not some conference meeting which is the clear end point." Reasonable expectations of a conference of this nature would include political agreements, (though not necessarily legally binding ones) which recognize that all countries-both industrial and developing-must recognize their historical emissions and be responsible for their future emissions. He further considers the possibility of using other bi- or multi-lateral organizations in the future as a better forum for dealing with climate issues, such as Major Economies Forum, the G20+, or the G2, but that it is too soon to move from the UNCCC.
Greenstone presents five facts about climate policy and change and suggests that there may even be a cause for a shift in policy. First, the US cannot reduce global concentration of greenhouse gases alone; other countries will have to participate. Second, carbon-intensive fuels are cheaper than non-carbon intensive (wind, solar) per kilowatt-hour and that technology has not provided a cheap alternative solution yet. Third, current plans rely on unverifiable reductions; it is politically unrealistic to expect that the US would provide funds for monitoring emissions taken outside the US. Fourth, developing countries are poor. Fifth, we should not count on poor countries to spend their limited resources dealing with a problem that, for them, is far away.
Ansolabehere discusses the political realities and hurdles of passing energy legislation in our own Congress-the current short-term focus on the 2010 Senate elections, the costs associated with any energy bill, the slow-paced method of working a bill through the committee system. Add to that the complications of a recent Supreme Court ruling stating that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon without much further definition beyond that and it becomes clear that this a cumbersome process.
Steinfeld focuses on the "two contending realities operating on different planes" of US-China diplomatic relations, While Chinese diplomatic reality is pessimistic, the reality on the ground is that China is incorporating "broad and rapid . . . cutting-edge technology." Each has unrealistic expectations of the other, while the rest of the world thinks both are the source of the problem. China makes these huge investments because it recognizes it is vulnerable to climate change, because it is trying to solve other political issues "under the rubric of climate change," and because its self-identity is attached-politically and culturally-to incorporating and collaborating on the latest technology.
Jacoby holds the view that, although the Accord is a step forward, holding to certain key target levels risks freezing countries' actions because they are so difficult to achieve. His final analysis is "don't lose heart, press on, anything we do has its biggest effect on the most dangerous end of the risk outcomes."
John Sterman's summary is far more pessimistic. He concludes that there will come a time "when we cannot overcome the damage done" and that "we are slipping our goals." Nonetheless, he believes that there is hope in efficiency, which is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and often yields high return on investment. He provides the simple, yet effective, example of not heating and cooling a building at the same time.
A Q&A session follows.
Host(s): Office of the President, MIT Energy Initiative
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