Let me recommend Conor Clarke’s interview with economist Thomas Schelling to you all. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he does make a couple of what I think are very valuable points. First, on Copenhagen:
Well let me first respond about Copenhagen. I don’t think anything’s going to be accomplished at Copenhagen. But they might agree that they will cap the global temperature increases at 2 degrees Celsius — that’s one of these useless things that people love to talk about. Or they might come up with an agreement that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere should not exceed 450 parts per million. Again, that’s no commitment because it’s just setting a goal that’s supposed to be aspirational.
And you say that because there’s no enforcement mechanism?
Not just because there’s no enforcement mechanism. I don’t worry much about enforcement. I think that if the major countries reach an agreement they’ll do their best to do what they said they would do. But if you say what you’re going to do is get emissions down by 15% in 20 years, none of them knows what that means. That’s not a commitment to something they’re going to do; that’s a commitment to some vague aspirational goal or something.
Sound advice; if you’re going to negotiate, negotiate about something that matters. Schelling also says that enforcement mechanisms aren’t that important — countries generally do what they’ve promised. The problem is that it needs to be clear what the countries have to do. It’s easier to say we’ll negotiate goals and then let the countries figure things out for themselves, but that’s probably not going to be as effective as actually negotiating the policies themselves.
Next, on signalling:
Occasionally you see from people who are critical of Waxman-Markey — or any mechanism for pricing carbon today — you see the argument that the developing world will be best served by ignoring a pricing system altogether, and having the world grow as fast as possible, and having the kind of massive redistribution scheme you described above. So is it necessary to price carbon at all, if you assume that in the future some institutions will emerge that do the kind of redistribution you describe?
That’s a hard thing to talk about — this notion that we’re going to commit ourselves to massive redistribution long after you and I are dead. I think it makes more sense early on to display some kind of sacrifice.
It’s an interesting interview, throughout.