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Climate Hustle

Explainer: Dealing with the ‘loss and damage’ caused by climate change

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Carbon Brief

Scaling down our emissions and building resilience against climate change can only take us so far. Some negative impacts and damages are now unavoidable. The inevitable consequences of human-caused climate change have collectively come to be known as “loss and damage”.

First emerging decades ago as a relatively obscure plea by small island states, loss and damage has now gained recognition as the third pillar of international climate policy, after mitigation and adaptation. But turning the concept of loss and damage into something more tangible for countries bearing the brunt of extreme weather or rising seas has proved more fractious.

As the latest UN climate change conference gets underway in Bonn, Germany, this week, Carbon Brief charts the journey of loss and damage through the international policy apparatus, and looks at the role that climate science (and scientists) can play in addressing it.

Climate risk

From contributing to shrinking the world’s glaciers to boosting flood risk in southern England, climate change is having discernible impacts across all continents and oceans.

While it’s hard to pin a dollar value on damages, economic models suggest climate change already costs hundreds of billions in damages globally during the 20th century through lost crops, rising seas and more extreme weather.

Looking ahead, the consequences will worsen as temperatures climb further. And with those facing the greatest risks often the least able to absorb the damage, climate change is expected to exacerbate economic inequalities and erode progress on reducing poverty.

The surest way to avoid future climate impacts is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive them – known as mitigation. But even with efforts to limit warming to “well below 2C” above pre-industrial times – the ambitious goal set out in the Paris Agreement – some climate impacts are unavoidable because of the warming already “baked” into the system.

Strengthening flood barriers, planting trees, using new crop varieties and other forms of adaptation can complement mitigation by helping to build resilience. But the capacity for humans and nature to adapt is not indefinite. In other words, there are limits to adaptation.

The societal and financial costs of climate impacts that can no longer be avoided tend to be grouped under the catch-all term “loss and damage”. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, explains to Carbon Brief:

“Loss refers to things that are lost for ever and cannot be brought back, such as human lives or species loss, while damages refers to things that are damaged, but can be repaired or restored, such as roads or embankments.”

Warsaw Mechanism

An intuitive understanding of loss and damage has been, informally at least, part of international policy discussions since the very early days.

In 1991, even as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was being drafted, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) – a negotiating group of nations facing some of the worst climate change risks – highlighted the need to address loss and damage for vulnerable countries. The group proposed establishing an international insurance pool that could, for example, compensate victims of projected sea level rise.

It took another 16 years for loss and damage to be included in a formally negotiated UN text, however. As part of enhancing adaptation action, the 2007 Bali Action Plan called for:

“Disaster reduction strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.”

At the UN climate talks in Cancun, in 2010, countries agreed on a two-year work programme to consider various approaches to addressing loss and damage in developing countries.

Then In 2012, in Doha, all parties finally agreed to establish a formal mechanism on loss and damage. Arriving 19 years after the birth of the UNFCCC, the “Warsaw International Mechanism” to address loss and damage “in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner” was a pivotal moment in the issue’s long running history.

Liability and compensation

The Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage came into being in 2013. It acknowledges that “loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change includes, and in some cases involves more than, that which can be reduced by adaptation”.

The mechanism, and the Executive Committee responsible for overseeing it, was assigned several tasks. These can be broadly grouped into several categories, including: enhancing knowledge and understanding of loss and damage; strengthening dialogue and coordination; and enhancing action and support, including finance and technology.

Not only did the Warsaw mechanism give a sense of purpose to the long-floundering discussions around loss and damage, but it also, in a sense, stripped the topic of its taboo.

But while the Warsaw mechanism established the all-important groundwork upon which loss and damage could be discussed more thoroughly, it arguably shied away from the debate around blame and liability. For decades, developed nations had tiptoed around the idea, concerned that it could lead to compensation for those feeling the impacts of the decades of pollution for which they, the richer nations, had been largely responsible.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 moved this particular issue forward somewhat. Developed countries agreed to include loss and damage in the agreement, but only with an added clause that the specific article which relates to loss and damage “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”. As for how international policy should treat loss and damage, there was little in the way of extra clarity, says Dr Dáithí Stone, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab studying the changing risk to human and natural systems. He told Carbon Brief just after COP21 in Paris:

“[Paris included] a very explicit statement that [loss and damage] is not liability or compensation. [But] it is still unclear, I think, coming out of Warsaw, Cancun and Paris exactly what loss and damage is under the UNFCCC process.”

Some legal scholars have even suggested that the paragraph about liability and compensation in the Paris text is sufficiently vague that it does not prevent liability and compensation entirely. They suggest that the Paris Agreement, in fact, leaves “all options open” for loss and damage.

Adaptation

Rewind to before the Paris Agreement, and another issue of contention around the Warsaw mechanism had been that it wasn’t permanent. Its initial two-year workplan of activities was set to expire in 2016, when the mechanism as a whole would be subject to review.

Another issue unpopular with many was that the Warsaw mechanism also incorporated loss and damage as a subcategory of adaptation, rather than in its own right. This was seen as symbolically important to many countries, who argued loss and damage warranted recognition as the “third pillar” of the UNFCCC.

The Paris Agreement set these two issues largely to rights, making the Warsaw mechanism permanent and including loss and damage as its own separate article, on an equal footing with mitigation and adaptation. As Stone told Carbon Brief in 2015:

“Supposedly, the funding that we’ve been talking about with adaptation is now separate from loss and damage. So, loss and damage is really standing out on its own.”

Extreme weather

While loss and damage as a concept is slowly taking shape, how it should it be dealt with remains a far thornier issue to resolve.

Extreme weather – for example, heatwaves, hurricanes and floods – offers, perhaps, one of the most tangible ways to view loss and damage because of their often devastating impact on society.

Through the rapidly growing field of research known as “event attribution“, scientists have a way to gauge whether climate change has altered the chances of particular types of extreme weather occurring. For example, such studies have shown that rising temperatures doubled the risk of the torrential rains behind the Louisiana floods last August and that climate change was responsible for 70% of heat-related deaths in Paris during the 2003 heatwave.

Attribution studies can look ahead, too, using scientists’ projections of how climate change will unfold in different parts of the world. A recent study worked out that a repeat of the severe floods caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 could be up to 17 times more likely by 2100, for example.

But while it is easy to see how event attribution could be treated as motivation to reduce emissions, using it in a loss-and-damage context is more difficult, says Dr Rachel James, a climate modeller specialising in African climate change with the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. She tells Carbon Brief:

“Climate change attribution seems to be a recurring topic of discussion in connection with loss and damage. But it’s also very difficult to talk about.”

The results of attribution studies could have big political implications, James explains. Developed countries fear that attribution evidence will be used to try to push for compensation and in this context, any mention of the science might be assumed to have a vested interest. She says:

“This is quite an awkward position for scientists: just speaking about your research can be seen as a political intervention.”

Dr Rachel James of the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, discusses the role of science in the discussion around ‘loss and damage’.

Attribution could, in theory, be used in a broader sense to indicate impact hotspots and prioritise funding. But this, too, can be problematic, because scientists can only make confident attribution statements if the climate data for a given event and part of the world is of a high enough quality, James explains:

“This could leave out vulnerable people, who might experience climate change impacts, but without evidence to attribute it to climate change due to uncertainties or limited data availability.”

Using event attribution may also place too much emphasis on exposure to extreme weather, when there are other drivers of vulnerability that need to be addressed, James adds.

Loss and damage has so often been conflated with the notion of compensation that it can be hard to conceptualise what it could involve beyond this. If not compensation, then what?

Changing risk

Taking the theme of attribution more broadly, there’s a role for it in aiding our understanding of how climate change is altering risk, says James:

“If we are going to be prepared, we need to understand how climate change is influencing the probability of extreme weather events…Climate change attribution is one way of investigating these changes in probability.”

In instances where climate change is shown to be altering the risk of damages, these can be collected together to build an evidence base to underpin loss-and-damage discussions, says Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, who has been behind a lot of important recent attribution research. She explains in the video below:

“We know that the largest damages are through extreme weather events…[By] linking event attribution with the damages we see and say[ing] which ones of those are made more likely by climate change (and it is by no means all of them), we can get an inventory of the impacts of anthropogenic climate change, which can then inform the loss-and-damage debate.”

Dr Jan Fuglestvedt from CICERO on calculating historical contributions to global emissions and Dr Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford on the role attribution can play in loss and damage.

Research questions

Alongside attribution science, work is underway on a number of other topics that will equip countries to deal with losses from climate change, while steering clear of compensation.

In the video above, Dr Jan Fuglestvedt, research director at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO) in Oslo, explains how assessing historical responsibility is likely to play a role in future discussions. But countries’ contributions to climate change will be strongly dependent on the method chosen for doing this, he says.

Separately, the Paris Agreement determined that a task force should be set up to figure out how to deal with the problem of displacement. The members have already been picked, and had specific tasks assigned. The task force is due to hold its first meeting during the Bonn talks (18–19 May), where members will begin preparing a draft work plan. Topics on the table include identifying legal, policy and institutional challenges, good practices and lessons learned.

The Paris Agreement also outlined eight specific areas of action to support the task of “averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”. The list includes early warning systems and resilience-building.

At the Marrakech COP22 summit in 2016, a year on from Paris, the executive committee of the Warsaw mechanism approved a follow-up five-year work plan on loss and damage.

What started out as a broad statement of intent has some extra detail now that countries have submitted their views on what the overall objectives of the mechanism should be. The plan now is for the committee to draft a workplan over the summer, with details of specific activities, to be discussed in Bonn at the next Conference of the Parties (COP) in November.

With a list of priorities that covers slow-onset events (e.g. sea-level rise), risk management, and migration, climate scientists can contribute to policy discussions on loss and damage, says James. The opportunities may not always be obvious, however, because the UNFCCC’s calls for evidence may be “written in a different sort of language”, she tells Carbon Brief:

“For example, there was a call coming out on slow-onset events, which, in the UNFCCC language, means sea-level rise, glacial retreat, ocean acidification, desertification. And perhaps the people who are experts in those areas may not even realise that they’re doing work that’s relevant.”

Finance

Over the next five years, finance is also expected to be a theme, though how this will materialise remains woolly at present. The Warsaw mechanism will be reviewed again in 2019, which will, in particular, include a technical paper looking at potential sources of financial support for addressing loss and damage, as well as how to access this support.

Julie-Anne Richards, international policy manager at the Climate Justice Programme, tells Carbon Brief:

“Given the urgent need, and the delays already behind us, the WIM [Warsaw international mechanism] needs to start work immediately on how to raise in the order of $50 to $100 million in the very near future. This work should include exploring options for finance that are not currently tapped (what are often called ‘innovative’ or ‘alternative’ sources of finance). These might include a global fossil fuel extraction levy, or aviation levies, or financial transaction taxes. There are a number of ways of raising funds that won’t come from government treasuries, and will instead come from the industries that are causing climate change.”

On that topic, a side-event is scheduled for COP23 in November, also to be held in Bonn, to discuss financial instruments and tools to address the risks of loss and damage “with a focus on highlighting innovative tools/schemes”.

A the same time, how to deal with non-economic losses caused by climate change presents a perennial problem, says Harriet Thew, a postgraduate at the University of Leeds focusing on loss and damage. UN climate negotiators are “not social workers”, she tells Carbon Brief, and can, therefore, find the topic intangible. She says:

“At the moment, the focus is quite heavy on the economic categorisation of loss and damage, and we want to highlight the things that people value that can be damaged by climate change or lost to climate change that aren’t accounted for in these assessments.”

Defining point

Discussions about loss and damage have evolved as the necessity for them has crystallised, but it’s clear that a huge number of questions remain.

While the concept of loss and damage has arguably come a long way, the specifics have not. On the opening day of the Bonn talks this week, for example, the Maldives, on behalf of AOSIS, once more highlighted the need to not only address loss and damage, but also to define it. A full 26 years after AOSIS first proposed loss and damage, this is slow progress by any standard.

However, the talks taking place in Bonn over the next fortnight will take on a distinctly technical flavour, as parties largely attempt to further flesh out the “rulebook” for putting the Paris Agreement into action. This means the far meatier topic of loss and damage is not officially on the negotiating agenda until the next COP in November, also in Bonn, when the Executive Committee of the Warsaw Mechanism reports back on its progress.

Having gained considerable traction on the issue in recent years, many will be working hard over the next two weeks to prepare the ground for more substantive progress later in the year, and to remind governments loss and damage is an issue they can’t shy away from.

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Comments 1 to 25:

  1. Developed countries are the larger emitters per capita, and are a bigger contributor to more severe weather, so some compensation should be given by developed countries to developing countries. We have caused them some harm, and this is normally the basis for compensation and various laws. It's a just approach to the whole thing, but its unreasonable to expect it to be sort of huge money give away either. 

    But determing such things in international court cases would be a nightmare. The only winners would be lawyers and bureaucrats. No country is going to want to admit liability over this huge climate issue.

    Proving and quantifying liability over specific weather disasters will be very, very difficult for several reasons. It will be hard to get countries to agree on how much certainty you need to determine if a weather event is caused by climate change. It would be hard to determine levels of compensation, as there are no innocents, everyone is an emitter.

    It would seem that countries donating money as aid, or some sort of international aid fund might be the best solution, that recognises developed countries have some sort of duty to provide some extra help to developing countries. In fact if countries are severely hurt by extreme weather we often already help with international aid, and regardless of causation.

    Of course this would all require a determination of how much aid. But we could at least approximately quantify costs of climate change as a whole going forwards, and determine how much of this is caused by higher emitting countries. Levels of compensation will be a decision ultimately made by governments and populations, and some already give aid, but history indicates people are usually mostly willing to give some help through taxes or private donation or both.

    One thing about money given in aid or some form of international fund or insurance fund, as opposed to legal cases, is the use of that money can be monitored and controlled to some extent by the donors. Levels of aid money might also depend on whether developing countries are making efforts to curb their own emissions.

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  2. The assistance to developing countries should include "Giving Away" Carbon-Free technology (no patent profit-taking), and providing "Free to the developing nation" research assistance to develop location specific carbon-free systems suited to the divesrtity of regional population requirements.

    We really need to all be in this together working to improve the future for all of humanity, as a robust diversity of humanity (not all Drinking Coca-Cola or Pepsi - I like Dr. Pepper). Anyone not interested in helping with that needs to have their life truly be "Of No Consequence - Living on their own for their own amusement in ways that have no impact on anyone else."

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  3. For me, the most important question in the climate change debate is: who is going to pay for this ?


    Perhaps your reaction is: Shouldn’t we focus on choosing the best solution and implementing that solution, and let’s find out later who will pay the expenses ?


    But the point is: we are not reaching a solution BECAUSE this question isn’t answered.


    The viewpoint of scientists has shifted. First, they thought only about mitigation: what can be done to stop climate change ?
    Then it became acceptable to think about adaptation – which is already an acknowledgment of defeat – we can’t stop it anymore, how can we adapt ?
    Now, apparently, we are starting to contemplate the possibility (well, it is not just a possibility, it is already the daily reality) that we won’t be able to adapt, so there will be loss and damage to pay.
    And even geo-engineering, which scientists would deem unthinkable a decade ago has become a serious possibility . Geo-engineering is btw not the best term, because it wrongfully implies that it is a precise science with known outcomes. Climate interference is a better term: taking desperate measures, injecting sunlight reflecting aerosols into the atmosphere, hoping it will have no adverse effects we don’t know about. In reality, it is another way of playing russian roulette with the planet at stake.


    WHY are we contemplating one possibility after the other, one even more grotesque than the other ? Because the fundamental question: who is going to pay for this ? is not getting answered.


    Climate mitigation is by far the cheapest and least risky solution. Why does the world not choose to go for the best solution ? Because the bill is not always paid by the same stakeholders.


    Climate mitigation would largely be paid by the polluters.
    Climate adaptation would most likely have to be paid by the tax payers
    Loss and damage would be paid by the countries that suffer the most from climate change, either in the shape of money or in the shape of lost human lives and property.
    Geo-engineering ? That would be a giant perpetual bill that our generation leaves to future generations.


    And in such cases the bill tends to end up at the people with the least influence and the least power. That means: the developing countries and the future generations.


    The only way to get out of this deadlock is to say: no matter what, no matter which solution is chosen, the bill has to be paid by the polluters. It is the only logical decision, and the only fair decision.


    Once fossil fuel companies realize that the bill will end up on their desk anyway, they will quickly choose and support the cheapest option, which is climate mitigation.


    If we fail to let the polluters pay, I don’t believe we will succeed in avoiding catastrophic climate change.

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  4. bvangerven@3,

    I like your passion and honesty. so, Is there a positive answer to your quest?

    In current political situation, nope. At the international level, the AGW problem can be viewed as a typical tragedy of the commons (I know some poeple here don't like this term but I cannot use a better term to describe what I mean here) without any global regulation or incentive that historically was always needed in resolving similar problems. If the best we have so far (Paris accord) is so weak that the biggest polluter to date (US) can quit it at whim without any conseqences, it means we have practically nothing.

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  5. @4 chriskoz: I hear you.


    The Paris agreement is as weak as any agreement can be. That’s the reason even the fossil fuel industry supports it. Trump asked to renegotiate this agreement but it is hard to imagine an agreement that asks even less of its participants.


    The Paris agreement is entirely voluntary. Every country announces how much emission reduction they want to achieve, but this cannot be legally enforced, and if a country breaks his promise, it has no consequences.


    If a government official proposed to collect taxes in a similar manner he would be declared mad. Imagine that every citizen in the country can freely choose the amount of taxes he will pay. Nobody with half a healthy brain cell left thinks that this could work.
    But this is the scheme they have thought out to tackle the biggest problem of our time with ZERO margin to get it wrong.


    I do see one way out: appealing to the universal declaration of human rights. Global warming will threaten several human rights – among which the right to a livable environment for current and future generations. And therefore a government taking no or insufficient action can be legally sued and enforced to take action. On this subject I can recommend the book by the Dutch lawyer Roger Cox: “Revolution Justified”.

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  6. bvangerven,

    I encourage you to revise your "Most Important Question" to be something like: "Why are people in supposedly advanced or advancing nations, particularly the most fortunate in those nations, still allowed to get away with activities that are well understood to not be Sustainable into the distant future and are actually understood to be imposing negative consequences (challenges, costs, and reduced opportunity - less buried ancient hydrocabons available for future sustainable good uses), on Others, especially future generations."

    The thought that "making a payment" can justify allowing an unsustainable damaging activity to continue is wrong.

    The requirement is effectively curtailing unsustainable and damaging pursuits of personal interest regardless of the perceptions of prosperity and opportunity that develop due to being able to get away with them. That means ending the ability of someone to do something they should have understood was unacceptable and penalizing them based on how much they should have known better (not requiring proof that something contrary to a specific interpretation of some written rule has occurred since new rules and revisions of rules always happen to try to correct unacceptable developments). The wealthier or more powerful a person is the higher the expectation that they know better and the more severe the penalty for behaving less acceptably.

    That understanding undeniaby leads to the awareness that many of the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet unjustifiably got their wealth and power. And that explains the magnitude of the "Resistance to better understanding". Not every wealthy powerful person is equally undeserving, but the games of popularity and profitability definitely give an advantage to those who want to and can get away with behaving less acceptably.

    International legal consequences based on investigation of the evidence of a person's behaviour is where things need to get to. Crimes against Other Members of Humanity, particularly against the entire Future of Humanity need to be internationally applied disregarding claims of national or personal sovereignty.

    John Stuart Mill warned that "If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.". To ensure that the advancement of humanity to a sustainable better future is not being compromised by personal Preferences to believe and do whatever is desired - unjustifiably doing harm to Others, the international collective of humanity has an obligation to ensure that no sub-set society is failing to responsibly educate its members in matters that can be sensibly rationally evaluated based on observations and experience. The wealthier or more influential a person is the higher their obligation is to help in that effort.

    The international collective of rational considerers of distant motives has developed the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Those goals are understandings that are open to improvement if good reasons are provided. They are the improvement through 43 years of international collaborative effort of the 1972 Stockolm Conference.

    Reviewing the declared intentions and actions to date of the Trump/Republican Lead Government-of-the-Moment in the USA many, potentially all, of that groups interests are contrary to achieving the Sustainable Develpopment Goals. It is almost as if they are a last-ditch battle front against rational sensible justified internationally imposed limits on national and personal freedoms to believe and do whatever is desired.

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  7. It angers me that Trump has left the Paris accord, and yet America will benefit from the efforts of those countries in the accord (if it ever actually gets going and achieves anything). There always seems to be one free loader in agreements.

    Climate change is indeed a tragedy of the commons problem, and ideally the polluter should pay. This is why I favour some sort of carbon tax aimed at the polluter, and with money then targeted at renewable energy or given back to the public in some way.

    Tragedy of the commons problems are usually resolved with preventative rules, and also in some cases taxes on polluters to pay for damages caused. Of course its notable  that some of such costs will tend to be passed onto everyone, but at least polluters and shareholders pay a decent proportion.

    It's interesting that the ozone hole problem seemed to be quite well resolved with international agreement and rules and phasing out of cfc's. So why are we having such troubles with CO2 emissions?

    Is it because the power of fossil fuel lobbies so much greater than the cfc lobby?

    Is it the simple scale of the problem, or fear of voter backlash against any rules or taxes? Is it public  fear that they will end up paying for the problem?

    Has the tragedy of the commons concept and remedies not been discussed enough publicly?

    Of course certain powerful politicians and business interests have attained their positions through vested interests in fossil fuels and allied industries, and are reluctant to let go. This behind the scenes pressure and its associated denial campaign is larger than the public realise.

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  8. nigelj@7,

    Regarding "Free-loaders":

    I see it as the irresponsible immaturity of someone pursuing their personal interest any way they can get away with, something that is understandably unacceptable in a grown up, who is able to Win up to high levels in human societies which is the fault of the society that allows it. As John Stuart Mill advised, a society should collectively teach those type of people not to try to get away with understandably unacceptable behaviour. Responsible people do not require rules or laws regarding understandably unacceptable behaviour. The obvious example is sports which need “new” rules and revision of rules (with the challenge of effective monitoring and penalizing) because someone is discovered to be getting an advantage by doing something understandably unacceptable that is not yet Specifically Proven to be Breaking any Already Written Rule. That Sport example also applies to the economic and political games played in societies.

    The required correction of the over-development of societies in the wrong direction, allowing people to grow up mere children (John Stuart Mill's description) and also allowing them to Win up to high levels of wealth and influence is the Rule of Ethics focused on the best understanding of what can be sensed and learned from to help improve the near term and distant future for a robust diversity of humanity governing over the Rules of Law and Enforcement.

    Regarding a Carbon Tax:

    A very effective measure would be a High Fee per unit of CO2 equivalent impact (burning fossil fuels, chopping down trees) with all of the collected money distributed equally to all members of the society including the homeless (the least fortunate).

    One temporary benefit of a higher fee-rebate program would be the significant increase in wealth transfer to the less fortunate because they the impacts of their lives are well below the average level impact. But that must be recognized as a temporary benefit. It would be disastrous if a government tried to maintain that fee-rebate transfer of wealth to appear to reduce poverty. The objective is "Ending the generation of GHG impacts" not "Deciding who should pay and what can be done with the collected money".

    Regarding the Ozone Hole:

    The global agreement to curtail the impacts on the ozone layer was not as effective as it could have been. Though the unacceptability of certain activities was clearly understood, compromises were made that allowed continued impacts on the ozone layer by those who had the most to lose if they were required to more rapidly transition to behaving more responsibly. Basically, the worst offenders were granted permission to behave less acceptably because they were wealthy and powerful people (if the behaviour of poor people had been causing the problem it is almost certain that rapid correction would have occurred including mobilization of enhanced policing).

    The agreed long term plan regarding the ozone challenge was made almost as soon as there was a reasonable understanding of the cause and the required changes to activities that had been developed.

    The unacceptability of burning fossil fuels was internationally understood at the same time as the ozone problem (both are mentioned in the 1972 Stockholm Conference). Yet many of the most developed nations deliberately pursued over-development in the wrong direction long after 1972 (with many examples of irresponsibility at the highest levels of government including: The Government of Canada and Alberta trying to promote the expansion of Oil Sands extraction, and President G.W. Bush declaring that Americans do not need to change the way they live when he announced that the USA would not ratify Kyoto).

    And the fight against curtailing the understandably unacceptable activity escalated as climate science became more certain about what was going on and the required changes. And the people fighting against the understanding of the required changes became wealthier and more powerful. That behaviour could be claimed to be excused because the threat to humanity was not imminent. In fact, a major tactic of the denier/delayers was to claim that other things are more urgent threats (even fabricating excuses to destabilize regions of the planet to create longer lasting cases of those distracting Alternative Threats).

    The climate change challenge has exposed the unacceptability of a larger number of wealthy powerful people than the ozone challenge. And in spite of leaders in government and business knowing better since 1972 the highest impacting nations have over-developed in the wrong direction. They now claim that the required larger climate mitigation action created by their deliberate development in the wrong direction is “too expensive or unfair to them”. And it is easy to gather support in many regions for resistance to measures that would effectively rapidly curtail the understandably unacceptable behaviour.

    In 1972 there clearly was less sense of significant negative consequence for the people who desired to benefit from the understandably unacceptable creation of excess GHG. The already created South Pole ozone hole and the thinning of North Pole ozone layer was a threatening real-time impact on wealthy powerful people and the populations that support/defend them. However, even today the many voters in high-impact nations are easily influenced to perceive the need to curtail their “way of living” as a Threat rather than caring to understand the Threat of their way of living. That makes it easier for wealthy and powerful people who should (and mostly do) know better to drum up support for what is understandably unacceptable behaviour, including getting support to make-up laws that do not penalize the bad behaviour they want to get away with or change laws that restrict their Freedom to Win by getting away with understandably unacceptable behaviour.

    That type of Winning clearly has no future. It is actually a threat to the future of humanity. And the sooner the international community of rational considerers of distant motives develop effective ways to thwart those who attempt to Win in understandably acceptable ways, the sooner and more rapidly humanity can develop toward a truly lasting better future, climbing out of the down-ward spiral hole of damage created by those who compete to get away with being less acceptable (the real Threats).

    It is very likely that the future of humanity, and effectively addressing the climate change challenge, requires a return to Successful People/Deserving Winners proving they are worthy of their wealth and influence by embodying Culture of Character traits rather than getting away with Winning because of the easier pursuit of popularity in the currently popular Cultures of Personality (Terms developed by historian Warren Sussman as presented in Susan Cain's book “Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” Culture of Character: Citizenship, Duty, Work, Golden deeds, Honour, Reputation, Morals, Manners, Integrity vs. Culture of Personality: “Magnetic, Fascinating, Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful, Energetic”).

    The Culture of Personality traits can easily be achieved by Mill's grown up mere children - unable to be moved by rational consideration of distant motives. But such people need significant help to understand the importance of becoming people of Character (and some of them can be expected to become angry rather than change their minds).

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  9. OPOF @8 yes there's a certain degree of difference between the ozone issue and climate change. An ozone hole immediately affects everyone in significant parts of the world, climate change is slower and also some people may feel they can escape the effects of climate change. Clearly if you are financially really well off, it's easier to move houses, etc and insulate your children and their clildren from the consequences, or so the uber wealthy think ( in fact it may not be all that easy).

    It's also a life cycle issue, as the older and more self sufficient people get the more they resent paying taxes to help others etc etc. I'm pretty relaxed and accepting about things like public health care etc, but even I have felt this a little at times, but at least make the effort to pull back and think it through a bit.

    But it's almost like there are two species of humans, one accepting of some collective responsibility, taxation and public services, and  one deeply resentful. You call it grown up children, and this is an apt description, but I suspect it goes beyond this and is quite deep. I have just bought a book called "Behave, by Robert Sapolsky" that looks into the biological origins of all this.

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  10. Nigelj,

    I will check out "Behave".

    Based on human behaviour studies that I have read about in detailed magazine articles and brief news reports and seen documentaries about, people are born with varying degrees of altruistic and selfish character qualities (along with ranges of other qualities) and their upbringing and personal experience can alter or reinforce those characteristics to different degrees (it is both Nature and Nurture with character specific Nurturing being able to make almost any character grow up to be a helpful member of society).

    My issue is with the people who have grown up being encouraged to continue to be more competitively selfish, caring more about believing what they want and trying to get away with doing whatever they please than they are willing to understand how to be cooperatively helpful (be sure they do not harm others - outgrow the desire for freedom without responsibility).

    What is particularly vexxing is seeing those type of people become significant Winners, with a significant percentage of their wealthy and powerful peers willing to excuse and defend their understandably unacceptable behaviour because they also have Won by getting away with behaving less acceptably (when one type of undeserving Winner gets taken down the other types of unacceptable Winners are at higher risk of also becoming losers).

    That is why my point is about the need to have the Winners of the games played in society prove they ethically deserve to be Winners, prove that their actions help develop a sustainable better future for humanity (measuring their actions against the Sustainable Development Goals  established in 2015 and considering penalizing bad behaviour that occurred after 1972 based on the good understanding that was established by the Stockholm Conference).

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  11. I have signed up today after perusing your excellent website extensively over the last few weeks. Using the following webpage for conversation “How reliable are climate models?” https://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-models.htm

    I have three questions based on the thought process below.


    • Your website infers a “call for action”. In your opinion what realistic actions should be taken?
    • Does science (scientists) bear any responsibility for inaction on climate change? https://www.skepticalscience.com/loss-damage-climate-change.html
    • Do individual people living in developed countries bear any responsibility for climate change? Remember individual people in developed countries will ultimately have to bear the cost of any mitigation of climate change.

     

    How reliable are climate models?
    Basic description
    “Models successfully reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally, by land, in the air and the ocean.”
    Intermediate description
    “While there are uncertainties with climate models, they successfully reproduce the past and have made predictions that have been subsequently confirmed by observations.”
    1. Why the subtle difference in your basic/intermediate descriptions, successful vs uncertainties?
    2. Climate change identified by science in 1896; why so long for science to accept vs relatively short time span for general public? Why insist acceptance now? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science
    3. Is science more certain about climate change today, compared to history? If so why the need for this website?
    4. Over 120 years and science cannot accurately predict climate change, even with evolving technology; why?
    5. Were comprehensive, reliable, numerous, geographically comprehensive temperature reading done worldwide, “since 1900”? What is the difference between land and air temperature?
    6. How far into the future are predictive models confirmed “successful”?
    7. Do ALL models use ALL pertinent data to “reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally”, as well as into future?
    a) Are there multiple sets of data that can be ‘plugged’ into models to arrive at different conclusions? Which data sets are used below? What was the criteria to select those data sets?
    b) Why is it hard to successfully “reproduce” existing historical data for climate change models? Just values measured historically, yes/no?
    c) Since it is hard to successfully reproduce existing historical temperatures since 1900 globally in models; how hard is it to extend those models into the future?
    d) When using forcing… how much data/which data ‘plugged in’ is related to human interaction relative to natural climate change? Is this a small or large ratio?
    e) Are ALL models predicting future climate change confirmed by future observations?
    f) What criteria was used to select the “correct” predictive models, shown below.
    g) How do predictive models account for global variations in climate change?
    h) How does someone decide who to believe when trying to make an informed decision about climate change?

     

     

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] We strongly prefer that discussion be kept strictly to topic. Please copy you comments on models, and place as a separate comment on the models thread. Put other questions on relevant threads. Bashing a whole lot of objections in one comment is called a "Gish gallop" and any repeat will be deleted. Please see the comments policy.

    In general it is best to address questions one at a time.

    Responders: Please put any responses on the appropriate thread. Thank you for your cooperation.

  12. WatrWise @11,  your post is a very long list of rhetorical questions. I find such long lists of questions to be by definition content free, and extremely irritating, reminding me of aggressive lawyers, so it just gets my back up, and is not conducive to open and useful discussion.

    One or two perceptive rhetorical questions can clarify, but your list of over 10 is just ridiculous. We are not your students, Mr / Mss Waterwse.

    It's especially frustrating because I know a simple google search would answer many of your questions, so why didn't you just do that first?

    And most of your questions are off topic.

    One point is worth comment because it demonstrates what I'm getting at. You say "Over 120 years and science cannot accurately predict climate change, even with evolving technology; why?"

    If you had done a simple google search, or taken a more relaxed approach to your writing,  instead of trying to intimidate people with long lists, you would know that some climate influences are known to be  chaotic or variable (like el nino cycles) and so models will probably never be 100% accurate, no matter what technology is available,  same issue as predicting outcomes of illness.  But climate models have shown useful and reasonable levels of accuracy.

    Sceptics like have been told this a million times, and still dont get it. I mean it gets to a point that you are just exasperating, and I dont want to know you people any more.

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  13. Watrwise @11 , 

    on your first point ("call for action"), the required realistic actions are very obvious — reduce CO2 emissions to "net zero" as quickly as practicable.  Perhaps it is better to turn the question around :- What realistic actions do you consider should be taken?

    Second point :- for 30 years or more, the scientists have been pointing out that the AGW problem is severe — yet ultimately it is the politicians that bear the responsiblity for action & inaction.   But the Past is unchangeable : so it is better if you turn your attention to dealing with the present & the future.

    Your third point really leads back to the fundamental question :- Are you your Brother's Keeper?     Society is made up of individuals.  And so each individual has personal responsibility to contribute to the health of present & future society (and the health of the planet itself, of course).  Can you argue otherwise?

    Watrwise, you raise a large number of other points — but those are relatively trivial in comparison with your first three.  Best if you address & discuss the first 3, before proceeding.

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  14. Regarding the comment by WatrWise "Do individual people living in developed countries bear any responsibility for climate change? Remember individual people in developed countries will ultimately have to bear the cost of any mitigation of climate change."

    I do not understand this question. Does it mean are individuals responsible for causing climate change as against other parties?  Or does it mean are individuals responsible for reducing emissions, as perhaps against governments or corporations? Or does it mean are individuals in the west responsible for problems caused by people in the third world?

    But here are some attempted answers. Individuals are causing climate change varying dependent on their lifestyle. That much is obvious.

    But governments and corporations are responsible for causation as well by continuing to drill for oil, and by not offering alternatives that we know have viability: renewable power, recharging stations for electric cars,etc.

    Individuals are responsible for fixing the problem as an issue of personal responsibility as noted above. But it goes further, I would contend its always ideal that individuals take the initiative, but history shows this doesn't always work sufficiently to resolve community scale problems, so communities and governments have historically imposed rules, taxes and limits.

    Certain corporations also have a responsibility for both causing climate change, and reducing emissions. Again it would be nice if they didn't have to be asked, but history shows corporations have a poor record of using their own initiative in fixing environmental problems, so governments have set rules, penalties, and sometimes taxes (that dreaded word, do forgive me).

    I dont think individuals in the western world have responsibility for choices made by people in other countries, but given western countries have been the biggest emitters, and some small countries could end up in dire straits over climate change, the humane thing is to assist, just as countries often do with other natural disasters.

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  15. Thank you for your prompt replies.

    First, I apologize for my overbearing entrance into the debate over responsibility for climate change.

    My concerns are centered on those “responsible” for climate change accepting responsibility. My attesting to personal mitigation of climate change will not answer this question; though I have in my own small way tried to mitigate my own climate change footprint.

    NigelJ @14, in his/her third paragraph and continuing, makes an excellent effort to answer my questions.

    I agree with Nigelj that governments and corporations are principally responsible for climate change.

    My observation is that the scientific community is better equipped to promote societal change as well as governmental and corporate change. The individual is very limited in this regard.

    As I stated, while limited in their ability to affect change the individual will be stuck paying for mitigation of climate change.

    The scientific community has an obligation to improve its climate change message in order to make progress.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Suggestions welcome. The scientific community is throwing enormous effort at this but unfortunately cant cure wilful ignorance.

  16. Moderator,

    Suggestion would most likely be better discussed in a Marketing Thread. Is there a marketing thread?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Marketing is needed to sell a product. Truth is not a product. Try putting "science communication" into search box and take your pick.

  17. WatrWise @15, thanks.  It's Mr Nigel as opposed to nigella. Doesn't matter anyway.

    I may have missinterpreted your first post, you came across as a climate sceptic asking long lists of annoying questions. Maybe you are not.

    I find it hard to see scientists being able to do more. Their prime duty is the science, and communicating this. They have done this very well over many years, being very particular to explain both in detail and also with simplified versions, and being very particular what aspects they are certain about and what they are less certain about. I mean what more is possible?  You can lead a horse to water, but cant force it to drink. 

    I think humans are largely followers, by nature, and so leaders are needed in the climate issue like with anything else in life. Ideally it should come from corporations and politicians, but there are clear impediments in the way. Im not sure we can expect it to primarily come from scientists other than leading on the science, and by personal example as many already do

    However if you look at history many issues in society reach "tipping points" with the public and / or leadership and things suddenly start to change more dramatically. I think we may be getting near that point on climate, maybe this dedcade, but it will only happen if everyone from top down pushes for change.

    I would stress that ideologically I personally see reducing emissions requiring both personal, collective, and government and corporate efforts in combination, as opposed to trying to suggest it should be more narrow. 

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  18. nigelj@15 Mr. Nigel it is! My comments were/are not ment as criticism. My goal is to discuss how to move the climate change message forward. I agree that - given an inspired message - people will readily follow.

    While I agree that we should not narrow the playing field, perhaps focusing the message might speed things up.

    I just now did a quick search of the web and apparantly there are papers written about this subject!

    “Selling climate change? The limitations of social marketing as a strategy for climate change public engagement
    Adam Corner a, *, Alex Randall b a School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Tower Building, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, United Kingdom b Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, United Kingdom”

    I haven’t read this example in depth… but a brief scan perked my interest.

    I have done a search of this website and apparently there is no thread for “Marketing” Climate Science/Change. Without criticism I wonder why not? It would seem to be a topic that would be well received on this website. I would be interested in hearing your thought as well as others on starting a Marketing Thread. 

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  19. Apologies for double posting! Error addressing previous post!

    nigelj@17 Mr. Nigel it is! My comments were/are not ment as criticism. My goal is to discuss how to move the climate change message forward. I agree that - given an inspired message - people will readily follow.

    While I agree that we should not narrow the playing field, perhaps focusing the message might speed things up.

    I just now did a quick search of the web and apparantly there are papers written about this subject!

    “Selling climate change? The limitations of social marketing as a strategy for climate change public engagement
    Adam Corner a, *, Alex Randall b a School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Tower Building, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, United Kingdom b Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, United Kingdom”

    I haven’t read this example in depth… but a brief scan perked my interest.

    I have done a search of this website and apparently there is no thread for “Marketing” Climate Science/Change. Without criticism I wonder why not? It would seem to be a topic that would be well received on this website. I would be interested in hearing your thought as well as others on starting a Marketing Thread.

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  20. Moderator Response:
    [PS] Suggestions welcome. The scientific community is throwing enormous effort at this but unfortunately cant cure wilful ignorance.

    Watrwise response: Sir, I have apologized for my initial post and offered an explanation of my intentions, which are not threatening. While I am not educated in climate science I am quite intelligent and not willfully ignorant. You claim that “suggestions are welcome”, then in a later post place restriction/conditions on suggestions.

    Moderator Response:
    [PS] Marketing is needed to sell a product. Truth is not a product. Try putting "science communication" into search box and take your pick.

    In my humble opinion the scientific community generally, and you in particular, could refrain just bit from beating interested laypersons over the head with empirical evidence and heavy handed arrogance.

    Without malice or criticism I have put forth that “selling or marketing” climate science/change could improve acceptance by the general public. In response you have just given a perfect example of why many people reject your “Truth”.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Sorry but in science integrity has to come first or it is no use at all. Marketing - not so much. Either we are warming or we are not. We are to blame or we are not. You cant have your truth and mine being different. Empirical science seems the best way to answer that question. Ideological/identity-based motivated reasoning seems the worst and yet it seems to dominate especially in the USA.

    The comments policy is designed for calm, on-topic,  discussions of the science. The policy is not up for discussion. Please use that guidance to find suitable threads. Other sites such as ThinkProgress may be more to your taste. 

  21. WatrWise @20 and prior posts,

    you will have to explain yourself rather more clearly.   You are coming across as somewhat confused in ideas & terminology.

    (a) Scientific information is not a "product" requiring marketing (a very nebulous term, in itself).  Perhaps you mean "how best to educate people" .

    (b) The essential problem with education (in this particular case) is that there is a widespread highly-determined strongly-funded effort by vested interests, to oppose real education.   That effort includes both a corrupt pressure on politicians and deceitful propaganda to the general public.   That's a Double Whammy — and it will be interesting to hear your own ideas on how to counter that, reasonably effectively.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] This is not the place for such discussion. It has nothing to do with the topic of this thread. Nothing further on this thread unless it is on-topic please.

  22. bvangerven@3, you ask, "who is going to pay".

    Well, let's hope that each country is made responbsible to pay for its emissions over a 200 year time-frame, and let's also hope that emissions also include those associated with land use changes, including deforestation.  But there still remains the question of where that money goes and how that money is used to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Also, depending on the rate and severity of the change, geo engineering might actually be the cheapest and best solution over the short to medium term. Sure, there may well be very undesirable side effects, but those would be weighed against the even more severe consequences of 3 or 4 degrees of planetary warming. 

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  23. Nijelj@1, just to offer the comment in reply, that the west's total contribution to GHG's will soon be overtaken by developing countries in Asia. Yes, per-capita emisisons are higher in the west but a large population naturally incurrs higher emissions. Ultimately, it's emisisons per square foot or meter of land that a country will be paying for.   

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  24. Art, what do you mean by soon? If I look at historical contributions (using data from here), and then current emissions, it looks to me like its going to take a while for the difference in emissions between Asia and just USA+EU to catch up that historical gap. Especially when China seems to be actually taking emission reduction seriously.

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  25. Art Vandelay@23,

    I disagree as passionately as is possible in text to the following claim: "Ultimately, it's emisisons per square foot or meter of land that a country will be paying for."

    People, not land area, are causing the problem. The accumulation of the per-person impacts of everyone in a nation, through the entire history of that nation, make up that nation's total impact. Land area is irrelevant.

    However, nations/regions/societies need to get their acts together and correct/penalize those in their populations who are producing the biggest impact. The people who are causing the biggest impact through their personal consumption need to be limited, even if imposing the limits goes against their personal interest in being free to believe and do whatever they please. Popularity and profitability clearly do not justify anything, neither does a claim to the Right to Freedom to Believe and Do whatever you want.

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