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(This debate is closed and is a read-only archive)
Should we implement the Kyoto Protocol?
'Faced with uncertainty about global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has adopted a low-growth philosophy that will do little for developing nations.'
John Gillott
co-author of Science and the Retreat from Reason
After the conferences this year in Bonn and most recently Marrakech, it is clear that the initial measures to control greenhouse gases will amount to something nearer stabilisation rather than real reductions.

I draw two conclusions from this: 1) if mainstream global warming theory is right, some if not much of the predicted change for the next century will occur; and 2) environmentalists will push very hard in the next round of negotiations for an agreement to reduce emissions much further, which governments will find both hard to meet and hard to resist. The result will be an endless cycle of doom-mongering and self-flagellation.

I agree with Mike Hulme that the debate should not be reduced to a 'precise, yet inaccurate, benefit/cost calculation using numbers that economists disagree over, that scientist don't believe in'. But then, of course the whole debate is riddled with judgement calls about long-term trends that scientists and policymakers have modelled as best they can. What is most interesting for me is not so much the fine detail of the argument between Hulme and Lomborg over statistical trends, but the differing treatments of uncertainty and the underlying values driving the debate.

As I have argued before on spiked1 footnote reference, the IPCC's analysis is much more provisional about the harmful effects of global warming than the headline announcements would lead us to believe. The emphasis in policy recommendations is less a result of strict scientific judgement than adherence to a precautionary approach laid down in the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, which stated: 'where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures.'

Working within this precautionary framework, the IPCC has introduced an assumption of harm into its policy recommendations.

Hulme argues that the debate is about risk management, global justice and responsibility to future generations. This may be true, but it does not, I would suggest, prescribe an obvious direction for policy unless other values are acknowledged. The great virtue of Bjørn Lomborg's work on the issue is that he shows that once the IPCC moved beyond scientific analysis, global warming became a 'springboard for other wider policy goals' - centrally convincing people to devalue economic growth and adopt more 'appropriate lifestyles'.

Faced with uncertainty, the IPCC favours conservation over economic development. As attempts are made to integrate China and other developing nations into the next phase of emissions controls, it will be interesting to see if they are happy to sign up to this low-growth philosophy.


Archived list of responses

Debate home
The head-to-head
Professor Bjørn Lomborg
Author of The Skeptical Environmentalist
Dr Mike Hulme
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia
Commissioned responses
John Gillott
Margaret Mogford
Philip Stott
Charles Secrett
Dr David Viner
Peter Sammonds
Reader responses
View the list of responses

Useful resources
Climate change: scientific certainties and uncertainties

Climate change 2001: the scientific basis

UK government publications on climate change
Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions

Guide to the New Kyoto Rulebook
Lycos News

1. Global warming: where's the consensus?
John Gillott

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