Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Climate snapshots

European Parliament approves a partial fix of its cap-and-trade program, whose allowance price collapsed because industry found it too easy to meet the overall cap goal. The fix, needing approval by member states, "backloads" some of the unneeded allowances to a future time (and hopefully they'll just be eliminated at some point). I criticized the EP for its failure to do this earlier, so they deserve acknowledgment when they fix it.

I'll just note that it's not the worst thing in the world for the Europeans to find they set too-easy goals on carbon. It reminds me a little of a post by Roger Pielke Jr where he claimed the German feed-in tariff on solar was a failure because so many people had installed solar panels that the funding for the program was being overwhelmed. Consider the contrary possibilities:  allocation prices through the roof because reductions were too hard, or no financing problems for solar because it was still too expensive to install.

I provoke a partial disagreement among Same Facts bloggers when two of them say that cap-and-trade has assessment problems that carbon tax doesn't, because a cap requires consideration of the social cost of carbon and mitigation, while a tax only considers the social cost of carbon. My response at the same post:
I’m not sure I’m buying this argument, although I can’t claim to be an expert. It does seem pretty clear that we need to be in the vicinity of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 or so. Whether you get there in 2050, 2060, or 2070 might be a function of economic analyses, but that’s a marginal difference. So it might be easier to start with a cap allocation over time than it is to know you have to head in that direction and figure out a tax that takes you there.

The other and better argument IMHO is that allocating rights is how you grease the wheel. It’s not pure, but it gets things done.
A third blogger agreed it's not a technical issue, but argues a tax is still simpler.

More generally, I think scientists and some public policy academics may not accept political problems as being legitimately hard in the same way that scientific and engineering problems are legitimately hard. More about this at a later point, but for now I'll just say that if the politics are so easy to solve, then go make it happen.

Provocative paper arguing for what I'd call a boomerang carbon policy:  we overshoot the 2C target in this century and then use carbon-negative biomass-plus-carbon-sequestration to get back to the target by  2150. (BTW, I realize the economic argument they make somewhat contradicts my point #2 above about cost/benefit analysis.)

I think something like this is the reasonable-best case outcome: we overshoot, and then the wealth and technology of future generations allows carbon-negative solutions that pull us back from disaster. Not exactly a low-risk approach.

Noted with one comment:
The impact of adding such uncertainties would weigh for or against the conclusion that uncertainty should imply moderation.... And this is where I depart most sharply from Williams' conclusions. Uncertainty implies moderation only if the sources of uncertainty, on balance, add more to the risks of action than they do to the risks of inaction.
My comment is this wasn't written about climate change, but could have been pretty easily.

UPDATE:  I can't resist adding this from William:
This is just silly, you need to slap yourself about the face with a wet fish and reconsider.
I might have to try that the next time I get stuck on a problem.