Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Tuesday, 11 May 2010 01:26 UK

After the crash - a new direction for climate policy

Professor Mike Hulme
Professor Mike Hulme

Does the failure of December's UN climate conference mean the world needs a completely new approach to tackling climate change? It does, a group of academics is arguing this week - and one of them, Mike Hulme, explains why, and what it is that they are recommending.

Light bulb
Taming climate change will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals that are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic

The gap between the pre-Copenhagen rhetoric of "what must be done to stop climate change" and the reality of the Copenhagen Accord outcome was spectacular.

No agreement of much consequence was reached, and the very efficacy of multilateral climate diplomacy through large set-piece conferences was called into question.

During these same months that the multilateral policy orthodoxy unravelled, the limits were revealed of trying to use science to tame the acrimonious politics of climate change.

Climate change has been represented as a conventional environmental "problem" that is capable of being "solved."

It is neither of these. Yet this framing has locked the world into the rigid agenda that brought us to the dead end of Kyoto, with no evidence of any discernable acceleration of decarbonisation whatsoever.

So how do we extricate ourselves?

A small group of independent scholars and analysts, including myself, has published The Hartwell Paper, an attempt to offer a radically different way of framing the issues raised by climate change, and hence a different set of approaches for tackling them.

Emissions cut

To move forward, we believe a startling proposition must be understood and accepted.

It is not possible to have a "climate policy" that has emissions reduction as the all-encompassing and driving goal.

Air pollution in China (Getty Images)
Cutting transport emissions will benefit our health as well as the planet's

We advocate inverting and fragmenting the conventional approach: accepting that taming climate change will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals that are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic.

Without a fundamental re-framing of the issue, new mandates will not be granted for any fresh courses of action, even good ones.

The paper's first primary goal focuses on access; to ensure that the basic needs, especially the energy demands, of the world's growing population are adequately met.

The second is a sustainability goal; to ensure that we develop in a manner that balances social, economic and ecological goals.

Third is a resilience goal; to ensure that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever their cause.


Energy policy should focus on securing reliable and sustainable low-cost supply, and, as a matter of human dignity, attend directly to the development demands from the world's poorest people, especially their present lack of clean, reliable and affordable energy.

Present estimates suggest that about 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity worldwide.

Many scenarios for the "successful" implementation of mitigation policies leave what we believe to be an unacceptable number of people literally in the dark.

To reframe the climate issue around matters of human dignity and political pragmatism is not just noble and necessary; it is also likely to be more effective

If energy access is to be expanded to include those without access today while meeting expected growth in global energy demand in the rest of the world, the unit costs of energy will necessarily have to come down.

But the higher quality fossil fuels are in already tight markets. If the attempt is made to satisfy new demand using these fuels, then costs will rise.

Alternatives to fossil fuels must be made cheaper. In short, we need to ignite efforts to achieve an energy technology revolution in all the currently active areas: for example, solar panels, biofuels, batteries, and nuclear plants.

Very large investments in energy technology innovation will be necessary.

Such investments can lead to benefits coincident with the primary goal of decarbonisation - most importantly, economic growth from the creation of new, highly innovative industries.

We propose that nations fund innovation aimed at direct decarbonisation through a very modest (initially) hypothecated carbon tax.

The proposed tax would not be designed to change consumer behaviour; it would be used to conceive, develop and demonstrate, and even purchase, low-carbon or carbon-free technologies.


Fossil carbon emissions contribute only about 45% of the human forcing of the climate system.

We should not allow the difficulty of decarbonising energy technologies to hold hostage moves for addressing the other 55%.

Instead, we should aggressively pursue a diversity of public health, welfare and sustainability goals, recognising the climate co-benefits of doing so.

For example, black carbon (or soot) is a public health hazard.

Deforestation, Brazil (Image: PA)
Deforestation is one of humanity's biggest sources of emissions

Around 1.8 million people die every year from exposure to black carbon through indoor fires.

It is feasible to nearly eradicate emissions of black carbon through targeted and enforced regulation, which will deliver a relatively quick environmental payback.

Poor air quality in urban environments is exacerbated by emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, methane and other volatile organic compounds. These gases react in the troposphere to form ozone, toxic to humans and to crops.

Rigorous implementation of existing air pollution regulations, together with a move towards more efficient urban transportation systems, could more than halve these emissions of ozone precursor gases.

Tropical forests are a key asset for humanity's future for reasons that extend well beyond their function as a carbon store.

Rather than seeking to lock tropical forest management into an all-embracing global climate convention, and thus getting snarled up in the complexities of reducing industrial carbon emissions, forests should be managed in ways which recognise the integrated value of these ecosystems.

Issues of deforestation should be de-coupled from the UNFCCC.


We need to stimulate new thinking for enabling societies better to manage climate risks that they face today.

All societies - rich and poor - are mal-adapted to climate to varying degrees - for example, where expensive buildings are located on flood plains, or human settlements right on the shoreline.

All must evolve technologies, institutions and management practices that minimise costs and damages wrought by climate.

These initiatives and the sharing of good adaptation practice make sense irrespective of views on the degree to, and rate at which, climate risks are being changed by human activities.

Adaptation policies should be un-tethered from those focused on decarbonisation.

And the long-promised commitment of industrialised nations to commit 0.7% of national wealth to meeting the development needs of the poor should be honoured.

Just this one action alone would swamp the miserly amounts of money being offered under the Copenhagen Accord.

To reframe the climate issue around matters of human dignity and political pragmatism is not just noble and necessary.

It is also likely to be more effective than the approach of framing around human sinfulness - which has failed.

Building resilience to surprise and to extremes of weather is a practical expression of true global solidarity.

Improving the quality of the air that people breathe is an undeniable public good.

Significant public investment in direct decarbonisation of the global energy system is the most ambitious goal but is, in our view, more likely to achieve success than the existing illusory thinking about targets, timetables and trading.

Mike Hulme is professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia and one of the 14 authors of The Hartwell Paper

This article summarises the main arguments of The Hartwell Paper: A new direction for climate policy after the crash of 2009; published online on 11 May 2010

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Professor Hulme? Do we need a new framework for global climate policy? Is the current approach doomed to failure as long as emission targets are the driving goal? Can we afford to throw away the only deal we have on the table to curb climate change?

I do not think we can save the planet as unfortunately all our goverments first goal is economical growth. Greenpeace is shouting 20 years and for too long nobody was listening. just for example : How many detergents we use weekly just to have our body and our houses clean. These did not exist 50 years ago and now we take it for granted without thinking that our water is being constantly poisoned just to feel comfortable. And yes human is too comfortable to think and act more responsibly. Only 5 % of ocean are under the environment protection by law. We are too late....but nobody will tell us as we need to produce, buy, produce, buy,.......... I feel sory for the poor Africans who are going to be affected first and more severe.
kat, Europion Union

Agree with Philip Rutter. "We must keep everything we have, and more. And it has to be sustainable." Knowing some background and political interests of one author (here in Finland), it seems to me that the main interest of smiling professors is NOT really protect the environment or globe (not at all, in my opinion)... But just to protect the present way of life, mass consumption and market economics in post-industrialized countries - which is, whether or not producing CO2, too much for the Earth anyway. I strongly think these people are just populist politicians, who use their scientific profession as a disguise
LL, Helsinki, Finland

In my view this is an interim solution societies to do their own 'personal' bit, a sort of non-binding, refashioned Copenhagen Accord: a baggageful of good tips how to get there without any straitjackets, targets that politicians and businesses have not tolerated. I cannot see any progress until the purposeful dissemination of false climate information by tainted businesses and media opposed to climate is criminalised. If the law allows to mislead the public knowingly to err on the climate action, businesses will do so until the world ends. Targets are meaningless.
Veli Albert Kallio, Bracknell, Berkshire

Prof Hulme raises some interesting points, but does not come to what really should be done. Carbon tax yes, but providing electricity to the 1.8 billion people without it will not solve the basic energy requirements of these people. It will improve their quality of life, but they will still require energy to cook with and fuel the industrial and service sectors (supplying sufficient electricity to meet these requirements is a non-starter financially and physically).

What is more, the number of people without electricity is growing because of population increase. This latter is also the principal cause of deforestaion. So what is required is a big push to reduce population increase and a concerted effort to slow down and eventually reverse economic growth. The spreading of existing wealth within and between countries so that the world can live within means should be a primary goal coupled with a large effort to use many more renewable resources including carbon-based renewable resources.

After all humans are dependent on carbon-based energy and plants fix and release about 100 billion tons of carbon each year. Much more of this could be used before it returns by one means or another back into the atmosphere.
K Openshaw, Vienna, Virginia, USA

The correct meaning of 'politically attractive and a pragmatic approach' in my opinion would be to start with simple but very effective objectives/solutions. The definition of basic need in my opinion is fresh air, water, food or natural justice for all the living beings. Requirement of energy through fossil fuel and thermal & hydro power plants for non collective purposes comes at secondary level. There are certain critical areas where the socio and economic issues should be given less priority than the ecological issues because at the later stage every body is going to be benefited. We must keep on changing the climate policy in order to make it workable. The consumption of fossil fuel can be minimized by adopting many suitable ways and it must be reduced. Statutory warnings are needed on every fossil fuel pumps quite similar to cigarette packets. Alternative to fossil fuel must be explored and promoted. Radical changes are needed to enhance forest land and MPA. We desperately require 'continuity' on climate issues. Not 'gaps'.
Sanjay Singh Thakur, Indore,India

Reframing the issue sounds very much like moving the goal posts. Participants then claim individual successes while problems continue to increase. The planet, as a whole entity cannot sustain rapacious consumption to gratify the adult child, the bottom line of a corporation or the ideology of a nation. Real progress can only be measured by wholesome individual endeavours - where some stars shine brighter than others.
Jon Jarema, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I would like to say that the risk and potential consequences of climate disruption driven by human activities, and the urgent need to put effective response strategies in place, should be the primary focus of any climate services effort, domestic or international. The gravity of this risk has not been effectively communicated to the public, and the warning that arises from the science community's assessment of the implications of climate disruption is not really being heeded. The global implications of unchecked climate change pose a threat and create a need for preparedness that is just as real and compelling as the threat of terrorism, if not more so. Actively supporting, participating in, and promoting a well-designed international climate service could be one significant piece of an overall approach to the problem. A strong "climate services" capability can be one element of an overall preparedness strategy for a climate-disrupted world.
Engr Salam, Kalai, Bangladesh

I object to the way in which the term 'sustainability' is used in this, and similar documents. In my opinion sustainability is a myth. Nothing is sustainable. When using the term at the very least the standard method should be to describe whether something is less sustainable or more sustainable, relative to another.
Dave Sheehan, London

Regrettably, this plea won't precipitate beneficial change. As a species, we humans just aren't advanced enough to collaborate on the necessary scale. Our global population has risen to around 7bn (more than doubled in the last 50 years alone), entirely in line with our relatively new-found technical abilities to exploit massive but finite stores of ancient energy. It's self-evident that we are unwilling to either to conserve the remainder of that energy, or make the necessarily-massive investments in alternative energy sources or simply to reduce our number. So crises will occur and nature will decide the outcome. I just hope the crises aren't as apocalyptic for us all as the worst of the scientists' predictions.
Richard Casselle, Hoddesdo, Herts, England

In Norway we have a energy reflecting paint. It have the ability to save over 7 % usage of electrisity in all buildings. Energy policy should focus on securing reliable and sustainable low-cost supply, and, as a matter of human dignity, attend directly to the development demands from the world's poorest people, especially their present lack of clean, reliable and affordable energy. Less consumtion - more clean energy to poor contrys.
Stamatis Kagiavas, Oslo, Norway

A refreshing point of view. That will no doubt be shot down by every narrow minded ideologue pushing their agenda through the vehicle of climate change.
Ian Nartowicz, Stockport, England

As a climate scientist, Professor Hulme would be well aware of what needs to be done to stop dangerous climate change - and that is for all of us drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions. His new "pragmatic approach" is no cure to this disaster. What it is - a sign of the dire straits we are in while our leaders fail to show courage and the political will to avert this disaster.
mim lowe, melbourne, australia

"..taming climate change will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals that are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic." It seems to me that curbing our emissions and averting the chaos that rapid climate change entails is a significant benefit, is politically attractive, and is pragmatic. The problem is that many in the West don't see it like that because of the activities of denier groups and because, thanks to the activities of lobby groups such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation, regulations curbing our emissions are deemed politically unaccepted. Since regulation of our own emissions is politically acceptable, Mike now tells us to regulate what happens in the Third World. Whilst I'm all for improving conditions in the Third World (although I'm not entirely convinced about the long-term role of black carbon in forcing climate change), but we in the West also have to accept our responsibilities and curb our own emissions.
Paul A,

I agree with professor Hulme. I believe we have ALL taken this world for a ride long enough. It is now time to pay our debt back to the world which means everyone is to sacrifice and play their part to help the world. Emissions control is a good place to start. The deal that has been made is not to be thrown away but to be conserved and then to be worked on for drastic improvements. For the record the current approach sucks as the US seems to have got off very lightly almost scott free. It is the US that needs to work the hardest then China. Whoever is lawfully killing the planet the most should be the trend setters. The rest of the world must start squeezing the policies in place. UK should be heading the project with the worlds backing!!!!
Serkan Vasif, London UK

I do agree with the professor, we ought to act aggresively and pursue the course of climate change policy
Sedem m. Kumahor, Accra-Ghana

What "climate change"? It seems to have escaped the notice of all these "academics" that it's getting colder, and has been for several years. This despite the inexorable increase in atmospheric CO2. In real science this would tend to falsify the theory. This pathetic little report certainly doesn't deserve the headline attention that the BBC is giving it.
Jeff, Barcelona, Spain

Prof. Hulme's statements are right to the point, and IPCC and UNFCCC and the resulting megaconferences have miserably failed to provide any solution to global warming. However, his ideas my require further supplementary steps for achieving the required goals rapidly enough. In addition to forest management and protection, afforestations on degraded lands, restoring soil carbon in degraded or desertified farm and range lands, and creating sustainable tropical agriculture on the basis of agroforestry or permaculture will contribute to sustainable development, food security and resilience of supplies, and may deal with around 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions. A fraction of the sum invested recently to bail out criminal bankers would suffice to fund such a program, but for this to happen the whole climate bureaucracy will have to be revolutionized, and Kyoto and Copenhagen should be forgotten as fast as possible.
Stefan Leu, Sde Boker, Israel

All your efforts to save our planet from climate catastrophe are obviously vain. It only becomes worth and worth. Everybody appeals to somebody but nobody does something. Thus, the question is: WHO IS GUILTY AND WHAT COULD BEEN DONE? It is clear that only climate observations cannot bring much. Only new ideas and FUNDEMENTAL researches can save planet from known and what is more dangerous - unknown, unpredictable consequences of climate changes. The whole world waits from the leader country USA not money but some concrete scientific solutions. However, the American distributors of public money don not take these circumstances seriously. They use obsolete arrogant bureaucratic rules and famous American bureaucracy with CHERNOBYL mentality. It is clear now that American government administration is guilty for present hopeless climate - energy situation on our planet. If you want the terror leader Ben Laden plays the Robin Hood role in this theatre… What we must do in this situation? The people of good will all over the world and first of all in the world leader country USA must demand from American government the concrete scientific solution to the present dangerous situation. Otherwise, the present president of USA can be the last… In addition to questionable the "hothouse" (other known as greenhouse) atmosphere effect, there is another important adverse change in the energy processes of the atmosphere to which nobody pays attention, because it owns my know-how in this field. At the same time, these process can be controlled, which would allow the Earth's atmosphere self clean or in other words to recover, as it has successfully occurred after the ban on the use of gas Freon. But without me and my know how you never find out it and may to start of building PYRAMIDES because you never find solution for the present climate - energy desperate. And the last or better speaking it should be the first: What we see now is not warming or freezing but AGONY of Earth climate!
simkin, germany

We must become a agricultural society, not just in certain areas of the globe but everywhere possible. Separate ourselves from this globe capitalistic way of thinking and open our minds to true change. The reality of it all is we must control our population in order for us to control diease, starvation and pollution. Regional interaction and municipal economy. In short we must reduce in order for a change to be noticed or leave this planet. I don't think we have the tecnology for that.
Allen Sayies, Thompson, Manitoba

While I agree that Kyoto/Copenhagen was on the wrong path, we should (1) understand the root problem, and (2) not throw out the good with the bad. The root of the negotiation problem: Climate policy is a multi-player prisoners' dilemma game. We know, the prisoners won't cooperate unless we change the rules = design a proper treaty. But the design (national caps + trade) completely ignored this. Adding the cap rules makes the game less(!) cooperative. But the root of the climate problem is the fact that the price of fossil fuel does not include the cost of climate damage, and economics is right that pricing in the damage is by far the cheapest fix. (Check the level of waste in US subsidies; even just check corn ethanol.) So don't throw out carbon pricing. How to use pricing and some of your ideas about addressing practical problems: (1) Use a global price target [no this does not require carbon taxes]. Link that target to the strength of Green Fund payments. Then rich and poor will both want a high price target. The Green Fund gives out development credits as a reward for pricing carbon. I am told these ideas are being present to World Bank staff in Vienna this week.I think it's terrific that you are developing new ideas. Best of luck, Steve
Steven Stoft, Berkeley, CA, US

Alas, no. What Professor Hulme is offering us is very far from anything "radical". Basically it's just another academic re-vision. "We must keep everything we have, and more. And it has to be sustainable." Good luck with that. Listening to the professors' guesses on policy is a guaranteed path to nowhere at all. Please- look at their track record. They recommend this, and that- and the corporations go right ahead and do anything they want; hiring their own professors to keep things confused.
Philip Rutter, Canton, MN, United States

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