I. The Need for Fundamental Reframing
During the last months of 2009, two watersheds in the general public perception of climate policy orthodoxy were crossed, one political and one scientific. The political watershed was crossed on 18th December with the confusing and disjointed ending to the climate conference in Copenhagen. Not only had no agreements of any consequence been reached, but the very process of multi-lateral diplomacy through large set-piece conferences had been called into question. The scientific watershed was crossed on 17th November with the posting of more than a 1,000 emails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. These emails offered prima facie evidence that scientists were acting outside publicly recognised norms of science. Not long after this, and partly as a consequence, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also came under increased scrutiny as a consequence of errors and sloppiness in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. In consequence, the legitimacy of the institutions of climate policy and science are no longer assured.
The climate emails debate has shown the limits of trying to use science to tame the acrimonious politics of climate change and has induced a more honest narrative of scientific uncertainty. Copenhagen has shown the limits of what can be achieved on climate change through centralising and hyperbolic multilateralism.
These failures stem from a fundamental framing error. Climate change was represented as a conventional environmental "problem" that is capable of being "solved." It is neither of these. Yet this framing has locked us into the rigid agenda that brought us to the dead end of Kyoto, with no evidence, despite vast investment of time, effort and money, of any discernable acceleration of decarbonisation whatsoever: not anywhere; not in any region.
However that dominant current approach has acquired immense political momentum because of the quantities of sunk political capital.
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