GPHY 314 Chapter 11: Fundamentals of Climate Change Policy

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29 Dec 2020
CHAPTER 11: Fundamentals of Climate Change Policy
Adaptation: responding to negative impacts of climate change i.e. build seawalls, relocate
communities away from encroaching sea
Mitigation: policies that avoid climate change in the first place, preventing impacts from
occurring i.e. reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, usually through policies that
encourage transition from fossil fuels to other energy sources
Geoengineering: active manipulation of climate system
o Society would continue adding GHGs to atmosphere but we would intentionally change
other aspect of climate system to cancel warming effects
Advantages of relying on adaptation as main response
o Allows us to wait for decades before we must start adapting
Resolve uncertainty how climate will change, focus efforts on severe impacts
without wasting effort dealing with impacts that don’t materialize
o Expect future generations to be richer and better able to bear costs of adaptation
o Many adaptations to address climate change will benefit society in other ways
Decrease vulnerability to SLR from climate change, also decrease vulnerability
to extreme sea-level events caused by hurricanes and other severe storms
o Of all three options, requires least intrusion of government into private citizens’ lives
Requires no government intervention at all
But some of these advantages are largely illusory
o Waiting until impacts of climate change are obvious is much more expensive than
adapting in advance
o Idea that adaptation can be a wholly local response -> Adaptation takes huge resources
Significant efforts require national/international assistance to provide resources
o Governments can also implement regulations to encourage citizens to adapt to changing
climate, eliminate existing regulations that encourage us to be poorly adapted to present
climate and that increase our vulnerability to climate change i.e. flood insurance (moral
hazard pg. 180)
o Government policies can also provide reliable information about climate change and
possible responses, including technical assistance
Help people plan for and adapt in advance
Significant disadvantages relying on adaptation as main response
o Effects of environmental disruption felt most strongly by poorest and most vulnerable in
society due to resource need i.e. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (2005), Haiti
earthquake (2010), Chile earthquake (2010) (pg. 180)
Connection between severity of climate change impacts and wealth means
adaptation fails a fundamental fairness test
Rich economies have built wealth by consuming massive amounts of
energy, responsible for most global warming over past two centuries,
able to deal most effectively with impacts
Poorest countries responsible for very little of GHGs in atmosphere but
least capable of dealing with impacts
Adaptation-only response frequently viewed as morally problematic
More realistic standard of success in terms of successful adaptation is
maintenance of our standard of living
Challenge that there is no single agreed-upon way to measure it
At its most restrictive, equated to amount of goods and services
consumed (GDP per person)
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More expansive might include value of nonmarket activities i.e. ability to
hike in wilderness (much more difficulty to measure)
o Few general rules about successful adaptation we have high confidence in
More warming we have, the harder it will be to successfully adapt
For given amount of climate change, how we define success in adaptation plays
key role in determining our ability to successfully adapt -> The more expansive
the definition (the more value we place on maintaining environment in present
state) the harder it will be to successful adapt
Because of lags in climate system and economy, future climate change is unavoidable so we must
adapt but relying entirely on adaption as our response is problematic so adaptation-only policies
not seriously considered in climate policy debate
Most view mitigation as centerpiece of any long-term climate change policy
Almost every country has agreed to warming +2°C above preindustrial would be dangerous
o Stabilizing at/below this requires reduction in global emissions by middle of 21st C of
GHGs by 50% to 80% below today’s emissions levels, reaching near-zero emissions later
in century
Problem of reducing emissions = problem of reducing one or more of these factors:
o Population i.e. “one-child policy”
Reducing emissions through population control requires more than just a
reduction in rate of growth requires significant reduction in actual number of
people on planet, creating demographic and social problems
o Consumption of goods and services
Not only stopping growth but deep reductions, causing several problems
Political -> People equate consumption with well-being
Moral -> Poorest people barely have basic necessities as is, so limiting
consumption would prevent them from escaping poverty
o ^Neither of these are serious considered due to issues with them
o Reducing energy intensity, carbon intensity, or both
Energy intensity determined largely by efficiency with which economy uses
energy -> Improving efficiency would not only reduce carbon emissions but also
have co-benefits like saving money, reducing air pollution
Would require reducing emission by approximately 2%/year
If GDP grows by 3%/year, energy intensity would need to decline by
5%/year to achieve necessary reductions
Historically, intensity has decreased at roughly 1%/year -> Can likely be
maintained and some improvement possible but most experts don’t believe rates
of decline of intensity of 5%/year for several decades are realistic
o Although improvements in energy efficiency can contribute to emission reductions, likely
only going to play supporting role -> Reductions in carbon intensity (amount of carbon
dioxide emitted per Joule of energy generated) that are required to stabilize climate
Technologies to reduce carbon intensity
o Switching to carbon-free or climate-safe energy sources
o Solar energy one of most frequently discussed renewable energy sources; two different
ways to generate energy from sunlight -> Solar photovoltaic or solar thermal methods
o Photovoltaic energy the most common form of solar energy and can see it in operation in
form of solar panels -> Takes advantage of fact that, when exposed to light, certain
materials such as silicon produce electricity
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