When it comes to climate change, uncertainty is the enemy

16 Oct

Uncertainty is a common word when it comes to scientific research and, in many cases, unavoidable. But, the public doesn’t like this word and in politics it poses an opportunity for debate and polarization. The science related to climate change demonstrates this perfectly.

According to new research at the University of Gothenberg and Columbia University, the current climate threshold that states an increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, is not helping combat the problem. In fact, it may be having an adverse effect.

The problem is that the threshold number doesn’t stem from pure science, but instead is determined by Nature.

The research showed that if this number was proven without any uncertainty, then negotiations would go smoothly and countries would be happy to participate in collective efforts toward a greener and cooler planet. The problem is however, that this “certain” number that is being looked for does not exist. There will always be uncertainty.

“Climate negotiations are more complex that the game played by the participants in our experiment. The basic incentive problem, however, is the same and our research shows that scientific uncertainty about the dangerous threshold changes behavior dramatically,” Astrid Dannenberg, Postdoc researcher at the Environmental Economics Unit, said in a press release.

It may be for this reason that the UN centered the negotiations around the 2 degree celsius mark, but according to Professor Scott Barrett, Columbia University, the outlook looks dim. He suggests alternatives for negotiations that do not depend on an uncertain threshold.

“We will not know until 2020 if the Copenhagen Accord pledges will be met, but if our results are a reliable guide, countries may end up emitting even more than they pledged – with potentially profound and possibly irreversible consequences. Our research suggests that negotiators should focus their attention on alternative strategies for collective action, such as trade restrictions or technology standards,” Barrett said in a press release.

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