A “Portfolio” Approach to Climate Change

Negotiations over what comes after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 will have one advantage over the earlier efforts, because governments now understand the need for a portfolio of adaptation, mitigation, and research efforts. None of these approaches, if implemented alone, yields benefits that outweigh the costs.

The world has tried with little success to cut carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. The enormous effort expended to bring the Protocol into force nonetheless indicates how much work will be required to produce the next treaty, due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December 2009. Campaigners will push for tough and far-reaching policies, but strong resistance will continue from countries concerned about their economic vitality.

The new negotiations will have one advantage over the earlier efforts, because governments now understand the need for a portfolio of adaptation, mitigation, and research efforts. New research that my colleagues and I undertook for the Copenhagen Consensus Center in Denmark explores the effectiveness of different responses to this global challenge, but it strongly supports the portfolio approach for several reasons.

First, we now know that adaptation will be essential, because temperatures will rise by another 0.6°C by 2100 even if greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated tomorrow. We also know that the impact of climate change will not be evenly distributed across the globe.

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