Mr Opponent, Mr Custos, Ladies and Gentlemen!
In my dissertation I have taken a bold, daring step by trying to draw an over-all picture of climate change, and by doing that seek to explain why so little has been gained in international climate politics during the last decades.
My study is an exceptionally wide-ranging review encompassing several perspectives which, on their own, could be the topic of a doctoral thesis. It is, however, a conscious choice in which I have benefited from the opportunity of crossing the frontiers between research and political decision-making. Parts of this study feature elements of action research: your candidate has participated as an active legislator in the topic at hand, as is the case for emissions trading.
The issue is important, because climate has been a dominant environmental question almost for 20 years to which politics, businesses, and academic research have attempted to find a solution. The economic costs of climate policies to EU have been hundreds of billions of euros – perhaps more than all other environmental protection programmes combined from 1995 to 2014.
The guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol were created some twenty years ago, and it was agreed upon for 17 years ago. Next year in Paris we expect to reach a new global agreement. So it is due time to analyse what went wrong in the first case. This is what my book is about.
First of all, it is fair to say that the success of climate actions has been disturbed by a massive and unpredictable globalization. In 1997-2002, nobody guessed that China, India and partly South America’s economic growth would absorb industrial production so forcefully out of Europe and the US. The emission share of Kyoto-target countries was marginalised from 63% at the entry into force to 13% under Kyoto II.
However, we need to ask if there is something in the structure of Kyoto that prevents it from being efficient. According to many climate policy researchers, there are plenty of them. One is the starting point, setting a ceiling for the emissions. From my philosophical studies I learnt that it is always useful to question things that are taken for granted. So I ask: Why ceiling, why not a floor? I will come to that point later on.
To start with, I would like to take an example from completely different area. Let’s compare the situation with cancer, for instance. There is too much cancer, everybody agrees on that. We can imagine that negotiation-hungry politicians could get the idea of a new binding international agreement, which would commit participants to reduce the amount of cancer-related deaths by 20% by the year 2040. The various Member States would ratify the agreement and start the work. Now we all know what really should be done: more money for research, more early cancer screening and other preventive measures, more right kind of nutrition, more recognition of carcinogens, more information and education. The correct measures would in due course bring the desired results.
But what about a political ambition and mindset? From the point of view of a politician who is after numbers, this set-up can entice the governments to look for loopholes. Again using analogies: A political solution: Should we reconsider from which parts of the world to take refugees – a bad thing to accept immigrants from areas suffering from chemical warfare or pollution, for example? Or a semantic solution: Should the ’cause of death’ perhaps be defined anew and made sure that the primary cause is really cancer? Thus massaging the statistics – and so on. The idea is against common sense but gimmickry could provide rapid help with statistics. Nevertheless, everybody understands that it is only through correct actions that the aggregate whole can be helped.
I was a firm supporter of the Kyoto Protocol in the beginning of last decade. For me, and for many others too, there were equivalences between supporting Kyoto and combating climate change. If you support Kyoto, you want to save the planet. If you criticize Kyoto or if you don’t ratify it, you are a villain, who doesn’t care about the environment at all. But in my role as a legislator I began to understand and anticipate the consequences of this agreement; therefore on the very same day when the Kyoto Protocol finally entered into force in February 2005 I said in a television interview and in my press release that, when it comes to climate, this treaty may be counterproductive. – ”The agreement is valuable as an expression of political will, but, as a matter of fact, there is a risk that the Kyoto Protocol will increase greenhouse gas emissions if, as a result of the agreement, industrial production is transfered to countries to which less strict emission norms apply. The global economy has led to the fact that it seems as if the world has slipped away from the ranges of the Kyoto Protocol. The carbon leakage threat should now be taken seriously and in regard to the continuation period, it is of vital importance that corrective measures will be implemented as rapidly as possible, Korhola says.” At that time, Kyoto was the only game in town, and my assessment was considered to be scandalous.
Indeed, it can be said now that the Kyoto Protocol has not met the expectations. Currently, global emissions are at a more than 50% higher level than during the Protocol’s reference year, 1990. In the light of current trends and the annual increase in emissions being around 2.5% on average, global emissions have been assumed to double by 2030. In that year the EU’s share of global emissions are predicted to be around 4 %, now it is around 9 %.
The Kyoto Protocol has not been able to intervene positively in this development. In the case of industrialised countries, no significant differences can be traced between countries that have taken up Kyoto obligations and those that have not. The ratifiers of the Kyoto Protocol have not succeeded any better than those who haven’t.
In addition to the absolute increase in emissions, a relative failure during the Kyoto period can also be observed. In this context, we can speak of carbon intensity, which is the proportion of emissions to GDP (the amount of CO2 produced per GDP unit). During recent years, the economy’s natural decarbonisation trend has slowed down and energy intensity actually increased. Production has become dirtier, and emissions per production tonne are increasing largely because of the rapid industrialisation of developing countries.
The EU’s situation is only seemingly better. Some very daring statements have been guiding our perception of EU climate policy: we seem to demonstrate “leadership”, we are “fore-runners”, our goals are “ambitious”, and emissions trading has been a “success story” as well as the “flagship” of our climate policy. And indeed, the EU is on the right path with regard to the agreed reduction targets. Last month it agreed on a new binding 40 percent emissions reduction target by 2030 from 1990 levels.
The image of the EU’s success is altered, however, if we take into account not only production- but also consumption-based emissions; that is, increased import from outside the EU. When analysing international trade volumes, we have to conclude that the EU’s total responsibility for emissions have increased. The imported emissions outweigh the achievements in domestic reductions. In practice, we have outsourced our emissions.
Gloomy emission levels do not even demonstrate the nature of the whole situation. During the 2008-2012 Kyoto commitment period, the global financial crisis has aided the reduction of production-based emissions. Therefore, at least some of the reductions have to be treated as a result of the economic downturn – that is, they are not due to successful climate measures.
I confess that, regarding greenhouse gas emissions reductions, I no longer believe in a policy of restriction and emission ceilings.
Why? They produce results too slowly and they mostly just pass problems to and fro in the planet’s atmosphere as they transfer emissions from one place to another. Moreover, while focusing mainly on carbon dioxide, other serious environmental problems have been neglected. Just like with cancer, it could be much more effective to reach out for reasonable and necessary political measures: decarbonisation, pollution prevention, combating poverty and the loss of biodiversity, forestation, energy-savings, clean energy, adaptation. The mere staring at binding ceilings may lead towards a self-delusion which may interpret emission reductions ensued from economic recession as a real achievement.
Another kind of self-deception lays in the criteria of emission source. According to Oxford-Professor Helm, whom I have quoted in my thesis, the basic problem of the Kyoto Protocol is that it does not pay attention to consumption, just production. The emissions of an individual country cover all the production that has taken place there and therefore the Protocol would punish those countries that have energy-intensive production even if that production would have been generated with lowest possible emissions – very often this is the case in Finland. Instead, consumption which should be decisive and could be a reasonable method as political steering isn’t practically considered at all. According to Helm, we have to remember that the consumer is a polluter, not the producer. Helm also refers to the problem of carbon leakage and to the competition distortion, which has been caused by this situation. “Whilst Europe has been deindustrializing its own production, it has not decarbonized its consumption. Indeed, once imports of carbon-intensive goods from countries like China are taken into account, the reality is that Europe’s carbon consumption has been going up. In Britain’s case, as we shall see, focusing on carbon consumption reveals the true scale of deception: whilst carbon production fell by 15% from 1990-2005, carbon consumption went up by 19%. Rather than boast of their achievements, our political leaders should hang their heads in shame.”
It may come as a surprise for many that during our climate actions we have actually increased our emissions. The EU strategy does not meet the expectations in mitigating the emissions globally. However, the EU has persistently emphasised that sooner or later the other emitters will follow EU’s example. But there is no evidence for this expectation: the big emitters have long since chosen a different strategy as they consider the EU strategy as expensive and inefficient. The major emitters favour decarbonising the economy and technological investments instead of emission ceilings and legislative burden.
In these circumstances, the EU`s unilateral and expensive climate measures cannot be considered as ’climate’ politcs. They can be called decarbonising of the production or outsourcing the jobs or emissions, but in spite of the best intentions the EU strategy does not mitigate the emissions globally.
My aim is to demonstrate one of the major issues that the climate-scientific discussion suffers from, that is the lack of an overall picture. Both scientists and politicians suffer from this. In decision-making the issue is rather aggravating. Most parties assume things on behalf of one another and think too highly of each other’s competences. There is much more uncertainty in the field of climate policy than it is commonly assumed. Only a broad overall picture will reveal the extent the climate change discussion is based on the assumptions concerning other people’s knowledge. Hence, they form a network of assumptions of which the soundness should be assessed since significant and publicly financed political endeavors are grounded on it.
The study examines relatively new and interdisciplinary research fields, climate change science in relation to classical operating cultures of science. Characteristics and indicators of fulfilling scientific criteria are discussed. One of the core arguments of this research is that preserving the epistemic or cognitivist ideal of science is still necessary in climate change science. Otherwise, the error margin of the research risks increase and even multiply, when the value-laden preferences accumulate at the various levels of this interdisciplinary field. Researchers should not make political accentuations or risk assessments on behalf of the politician or decision-maker, but rather restrict their research to the production of information that is as reliable and relevant as possible.
The complexity of the climate problem is a good example of problems that are called ‘wicked’. These are systemic, self-fuelling tangles of problems, which are multidimensional, hard to define and which get out of hand and easily generate new problems when one tries to solve the old ones. There is not necessarily a certain point, at which the problems could be declared as “solved”. The worrying aspect in the problem of climate change is that the wicked character of this problem is not generally acknowledged. This is the weakness of Kyoto too. This has led to implementation of inadequate and poorly functioning global solution models. These models are often contradictory with each other and override each other’s effects or shift the actual problem elsewhere. The main reasons for the increase of wicked problems lie in the massive growth of information, globalisation and technological development. Wickedness characterises the changed operational environment of politics. Politicians are increasingly concerned with problems, which are wicked or super-wicked. Ultimately, the climate problem can be seen as a problem of decision-making.
Next, the EU’s climate legislation is addressed, which has evolved with a view of committing to Kyoto. A large number of academic research papers has been written on this topic, and I don’t even attempt to refer to all of them. Instead, the insider view as a legislator may be valuable. When dealing with politics, coincidence, opportunism, plotting, vanity, personal chemistry, political passion and latest trends affect the final result just as much as content-related factual arguments – and we must face these other elements, too.
In this regard, emissions trading is referred to – an issue where I have been an active participant having significant responsible positions throughout the process – albeit as a rather critical voice. It seeks to explain why such a genius system in theory has not been able to show its strength and results in practice for the EU. The legislative overlaps and a severe lack of coordination can be considered a key reason. Different correcting measures to fix these overlaps have created an unpredictable and insecure investing environment for the European industry as well as failing to achieve the objectives.
Finally, the aim is to introduce certain alternative solution models and points of view to the climate problem. My estimate is that future climate policy will be more practical and is composed of parallel elements. Instead of emission ceilings the climate agreement could be based on the “emission floor”, scheme which favours clean production without setting a limit for the best performing, least emitting production. The consumption must be there too, otherwise our self-delusion will continue. The special role of carbon dioxide may be challenged and the prevention of pollutants like black carbon will also be placed next to it. Reaching a global agreement is more and more unrealistic, although desirable. The EU should approach others and it should stop waiting for others to jump onto the Kyoto bandwagon, if it wishes to attain a climate agreement in Paris. Emissions trading may well be functional as an emission-reduction instrument. It could also work well in the reduction of soot, that is black carbon, especially in China and India.
Climate policy should be split into pieces that are promoted decisively. The main environmental problems are caused by overpopulation, poorly planned land-use and over-exploitation of natural resources. Poverty, energy shortages, loss of biodiversity, desertification or the problems of developing countries cannot be reduced to a mere climate problem. However, by tackling these problems we can indirectly combat climate change. We need a principle of obliquity: obliquity means that complex goals are best achieved indirectly: the happiest people aren’t necessarily those who focus on happiness. The most profitable companies aren’t usually those who are profit-orientated. And the climate leaders are not necessarily those who call themselves fore-runners.
Professor Qi Ye, I now call upon you to present your critical comments on my dissertation.