A critique of climate change mitigation policy

somervillePeter Somerville

At last climate change is moving to the top of the political agenda worldwide. I joined Extinction Rebellion in October 2018, frustrated at the lack of action by governments generally in the face of accelerating increase in global greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular by the UK government’s decision to go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow Airport, which can only contribute further to this great acceleration. Much has changed in the last year but governments have largely continued with ‘business as usual’, with all that that means in terms of supporting the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, the intensification of agriculture, the destruction of rain forests, the pollution of the world’s oceans, and so on.

My recent Policy & Politics article entitled A critique of climate change mitigation policy challenges this complacent attitude, reviewing the literature that shows it to be due to capture by incumbent fossil-fuel and other vested interests. At a deeper level of causation, however, the paper points to the dominance of beliefs in market-led approaches, technological innovation and voluntary behaviour change, which are all associated with an apolitical stance on the issue. The paper is particularly critical of academics who have failed to frame climate change as, above all, a political problem and have therefore been complicit in governmental inaction.

It is difficult to be optimistic as political regimes are highly entrenched and we are fast running out of time, but signs of hope are to be found in the various social movements that are currently springing up and growing throughout the world. If membership of these groups can reach 3.5% of the population and if people can get into power who are willing and able to enact the urgent policies required (the paper makes some suggestions here), then there could still be a future for our grandchildren.

Below are my urgent policy recommendations which could avoid irreversible catastrophic climate change if enacted within the next two years:

1)  end all subsidies for fossil fuels by 2020;

2)  end all public investment in fossil fuels by 2020 (Dixson-Declève and Wijkman, 2019), including export finance (most of which goes towards fossil-fuel projects);

3)  no new coal mines permitted (with immediate effect);

4)  end extraction of coal by 2020;

5)  planned just phase down and out of steam coal combustion by 2023;

6)  end fracking for oil and gas (with immediate effect) (already Labour Party policy);

7)  no new oil or gas fields permitted (from 2020);

8)  planned just phase down and out of oil production by 2025;

9)  planned just phase down and out of natural gas by 2030;

10)  end Drax’s biofuels with carbon capture and storage scam (with immediate effect);

11)  significant tax on carbon embedded in imports (from 2020);

12)  significant tax on methane-emitting livestock (from 2023);

13)  significant aviation fossil-fuel tax from 2020;

14)  invest in renewable energy, particularly solar and wind (on-shore as well as offshore), sufficient to power the national grid.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Somerville, Peter (2019) ‘A critique of climate change mitigation policy‘, Policy & Politics, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557319X15661682426163

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Brokering behaviour change: the work of behavioural insights experts in government

Legitimising a radical policy idea: framing basic income as a boost to labour market activity

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