Climate in 2009: predictions

2009-01-01

in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Robert Pini

Two related events are likely to dominate climate news for 2009: the first year of the Obama administration and the UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen. Arguably, the biggest open question is just how dedicated Obama will be to domestic and international climate change action. It may be that he lives up to the high expectations of the environmental community, setting the stage for the rapid deployment of a cap-and-trade carbon pricing system in the United States and playing a constructive role in the creation of an international legal instrument to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. It may also be that his focus lies elsewhere, or that Congressional opposition makes his platform harder to implement. The Obama administration failing to make climate a priority issue from the outset is probably the most likely ‘bad news’ climate story of 2009, whereas successful domestic and international engagement is probably the most likely ‘good news’ story.

American re-engagement with the UNFCCC process is a necessary condition for progress, but it will not be sufficient in itself. Much depends on whether India and China can be brought into the agreement, as well as whether deforestation can be successfully incorporated into a new accord. Given the urgency of reducing emissions (starting the long path to stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses), it must be hoped that all the key states will rise to the challenge and develop a fair and effective approach.

If there are going to be big climatic surprises in 2009, they are more likely to be physical than political. It is nearly certain that there will be strange and destructive weather somewhere, and that at least some people will attribute it to climate change (whether plausibly or not). A big surprise could take the form of an extreme weather event, or simply the sharp acceleration of a tend such as glacier loss, permafrost melting, or changes in precipitation patterns.

With luck, 2009 will be seen as the year in which the world really began turning the corner towards emissions reductions. Most of the governments most bitterly opposed to action on climate change have been eliminated, and an accord between the big players (the US, China, Japan, Europe, etc) would have the momentum to drag everyone else along. The road ahead will continue to include shifts in policy – as well as very active debates on who should bear which costs – but the general outlines could be affirmed this year and global implementation could begin in earnest. Those broad outlines include the need for both total and per-capita emissions to start falling globally (perhaps with a brief period of residual growth in very poor states), that per-capita emissions should converge between all states, and that many of the costs of global mitigation and adaptation be borne by the societies that have created the problem.

For the sake of all future generations, let’s hope this will be a year of great progress.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily January 1, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Amen.

Also, Robert now has to write a book because he officially has his author photo for the sleeve of it.

Milan January 1, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Tristan once said he would use this photo on the dust jacket of a book.

(It was either this one or one taken a few seconds earlier or later, with him in the same spot.)

R.K. January 5, 2009 at 5:07 pm

The Obama administration failing to make climate a priority issue from the outset is probably the most likely ‘bad news’ climate story of 2009, whereas successful domestic and international engagement is probably the most likely ‘good news’ story.

How is this possible? If it is well over 50% likely in one direction, it must be well under in the other.

All you are really saying is “either progress or the lack of progress on climate change will be a big news story.”

Given the state of the global economy, a lack of progress seems a lot more likely to me.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: