Climate change policy, which, as understood and implemented by many of the world's governments, is guided by the Kyoto Protocol, has not lead to any appreciable reduction in world-wide green-house emissions in the past twenty years. The reason for this lack of progress lies in the structural weaknesses of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or Kyoto Protocol. This agreement was doomed to failure from the start because it was based on a misunderstanding of the ways in which climate change needed to be dealt with politically, a systematic misunderstanding which dominated thinking from 1985 -2014.
In the mean time, it has become obvious that a climate policy that focuses on only one outcome, emission reduction, and attempts to subsume all other goals under this heading, is not possible. Even if there are any number of good reasons for the global economy to be decarbonized, it is probably only possible as a by-product of the pursuit of other, more politically attractive and pragmatic goals.
It makes sense then to use human rights as the guiding principle of our efforts and indeed it presents us with the possibility of pursuing three overlapping goals: We must guarantee that
- everyone has access to energy,
- development does not endanger environmental systems and
- that our society is well armed to take on the risks and dangers of the vagaries of the climate, no matter what the causes.
A reorientation of climate policy so that it is directly coupled to human rights is not only noble, but necessary. It would also be more effective than the failed policy of simply harping on the environmental sins of man.
In the wake of the failure of the UNFCC approach, a new research methodology must be developed that can stimulate a reevaluation of climate change policy. Because every society has failed, to some extent, to properly accommodate climate considerations, this reevaluation should put societies in a better position to deal with climate risks. Weather extremes and climate fluctuations exact costs from societies but can, of course, bring profits as well. In light of the fact that climate-related expenses and damages are often avoidable, it is essential that the proper technologies, institutions and methods be developed to address these issues. We need to strengthen a society's ability to adapt to climate changes when both the society and the climate are in flux and the risks are greater. These initiatives and the spread of good accommodation strategies make sense, no matter what opinion one has on the causes or speed of climate change.
What might a successful alternative strategy for dealing with the consequences of climate warming look like in practice?
Firstly, it would have to be politically attractive so that a series of small measures that would attain demonstrable results and sustain motivation for the cause could be quickly enacted. Secondly, it would have to be politically inclusive, pluralistic to its core, so that it could encourage non-authoritarian governmental structures. And thirdly, it would have to be uncompromisingly pragmatic, so that it could target both short and long-term progress.
The need to invest in research that will support the above-mentioned goal of creating a new political approach to climate change and the likely consequences of global warming cannot be overstated. The Ladenburg Discourse "A Look into the Future: How Can We Achieve a New Climate Change Policy" under the direction of Professor Nico Stehr and in conjunction with international scientists and experts will provide a venue to examine these questions in detail.