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February 19, 2013

Energy Seminar: Science and the Validity of an Economic Case for Action on Emissions

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This was the first of an  extended half day series of Parker seminars  for 2013 on the theme of  ‘Climate Policy in Crisis?’. The first seminar, ‘Science and The Validity of an Economic Case for Action on Emissions’,  looked  at the current state of knowledge on the science of climate change, on the economic implications, and the technological possibilities.

Prof. Sir Brian Hoskins , Director of the  Grantham Institute for Climate Change at  Imperial College,  gave a  presentation outlining the Scientific Case for Action.  This summarised the essentials of climate science,  noting the scale of man-made additions to the CO2 stock in the atmosphere, the inevitable uncertainty in specific projections, and implications for future global climate. By continuing to emit greenhouse gases to the atmosphere we were performing a very dangerous experiment with planet Earth.  Possible policy responses grouped included mitigation, geo-engineering, and adaptation.  On geo-engineering, the main drawbacks were potential cost, global governance, and potential irreversibility of commitment to geo-engineering solutions.

Prof Sam Fankhauser progressed to discussion of economic considerations and the policy case for action. Conventional cost benefit analysis (CBA) had been successful in exposing the sensitivity of policy questions to a range of specifics, such as the discount rate, but thinking was moving towards insurance principle, or“rational risk management”. Climate policy was not per se a major issue for public finance, nor need it inhibit “Green growth”. Recession was no reason to delay the low-carbon transition, but it had undermined the price signals intended by the EU ETS.  UK/EU leadership on climate issues was “at risk”, and we should look outside at countries like China where the dynamics of policy was changing rapidly.


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