All this talk about climate change has misled us collectively. It has made us search for a mega solution to a mega problem: it has created the impression that if we solve the problem of climate change, all other problems would also be solved. This is not the case. – Eija-Riitta Korhola
This thesis is remarkable not only for its insightful analyst, but also for the background of the author. Roger Pielke Jr writes:
Eija-Riitta Korhola is a rare politician. She was a long-serving member of the European Parliament from Finland as a member of the European People’s Party, the largest block in the legislature. She has also recently completed an academic dissertation for a PhD in a policy field that she specializes in – climate policy. I can’t recall ever hearing of another politician completing a PhD while in office. Rare indeed.
Korhola’s dissertation is titled, “The Rise and Fall of the Kyoto Protocol: Climate Change as a Political Process”.
Some context is provided from the Preface, excerpts:
I was not the only one, but without doubt, I was one of the first Finnish politicians to knowingly push the issue of climate change and its threats onto the political agenda. I was worried about the effects of climate change on nature and society. I read the warnings issued by various environmental organisations. I followed scientific research on climate change and I had no particular reason to doubt its credibility.
We are increasingly concerned with problems, which are wicked or super-wicked. These are systemic, self-fuelling tangles of problems, which are multidimensional, hard to define and which get out of hands and easily generate new problems when one tries to solve the old ones.
My aim is to elucidate the difficulties which are arisen when this kind of wicked problem is misunderstood and processed with an outdated and prolonged decision-making procedure. We still try to solve wicked problems using traditional methods, as if they were tame problems. Thus, the final result may be even worse. These kinds of wicked problems may be, for instance, the war against terror, biodiversity loss, waste problems, the debt crisis and climate change.
When I entered politics, I wondered why climate change was not discussed at all. The time then came when I began to wonder, if it was possible to talk about anything without being forced to mention climate change. This happened during the great climate hype in 2007 when the political agenda changed abruptly. It seemed as if no issue could be promoted without mentioning the threat of global warming.
Because of the financial crisis, the climate hype is definitively over now. Politics is always a factor of “attention economics”, and now, economics seems to have taken the attention. The interest towards climate questions had dropped radically: the climate scare turned into a climate fatigue and also in this regard, overreaction can be expected. At the same time, the atmosphere has liberalised: critical opinions are no longer outright rejected and there is no single climate truth. We are living in times of some kind of a climate glasnost. We start recognizing some religious elements in that hype and perhaps question them.
However, the decisions arrived at during the hype are still in force and we are experiencing their consequences. My research is even more topical taking into account the fact that in 2012, 20 years have lapsed since the Rio Conference, and the Kyoto Protocol expired at the end of the same year. It is time to ponder the past 20-year period, its rise and decline – the whole narrative.
Along the way, my views have changed and I have often been forced to check my presumptions. I also have to face my own mistakes. I accept change and welcome it positively: I would not wish to finish up as a politician who ends up being on bad terms with the facts. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”, asked the famous economist John Maynard Keynes. I believe that changing one’s mind is not the same as turning one’s coat – something politicians are often blamed for. However, someone who changes his values may be considered a turncoat. A value, such as the requirement for intellectual honesty, could also steer a person to change their opinion.
The chapters within the thesis that intrigued me particularly are:
5 Climate change as a grand narrative
6 Wicked and other problems
Chapter 5 is probably worth an addition post, it is a very nice synthesis of a topic that I haven’t really covered here at Climate Etc.
Chapter 6 provides an excellent resource regarding climate change as a ‘wicked problem’.
The Bibliography/References is a treasure trove.
The Afterword summarizes her findings/conclusions, excerpts::
The key message of my thesis can be summarised as follows:
• During climate actions global emissions have increased forcefully, especially in developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol has not been able to intervene 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 significantly better, especially if also consumption is taken into account. The carbon-intensity (CO2 per GDP unit) of human kind has not decreased.
• UN Climate Conferences present a series of failures: they have created a conference culture that promotes postponing difficult issues to later meetings. The desired and pursued global treaty has not been produced in this framework.
• Climate change is a problem that we would not even know of without climate science. But this scientific field does not give as frightening a picture of the situation as the catastrophe discourse that has been born out of it. The relationship between science and politics has been problematic in climate science. The linear model of science has been dominating in such a way that in climate issues more certainty and more precise information than what science is able to provide has been expected. The political and public debate around climate change has been fierce. Many scientists were seduced to act as committed advocators rather than objective scientists. It is important that despite the pressure posed by political discussions the scientific community retains its cognitivistic ideal also in climate science, in order to preserve the credibility of science.
• Climate change became the next grand narrative after the Cold War dominating the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century. It bypassed many concrete and severe problems and a record amount of attention and resources were sacrificed to it. During this hype, emissions increased both relatively and absolutely. Environmental thinking took some steps backwards while climate change was cannibalising other problems. Still, the main environmental problems are caused by overpopulation, poorly planned land-use and over-exploitation of natural resources.
• Climate change has turned out to be a so-called wicked problem, which is hard to define, hard to solve, and whose solving does not have a clear end point and whose resolution attempts generate additional problems. Climate problem is a problem of decision-making.
• The Kyoto Protocol is not suitable for the solution to a wicked problem, because it is a copy of other agreements for tame and clearly definable problems. Thus, Kyoto has, as a matter of fact, worsened the situation as demonstrated by the increase in emissions. EU climate action cannot be considered successful, neither from the viewpoint of emissions reduction nor the angle of decision-making.
• The success of climate actions has also been disturbed by a massive and unpredictable global change. In 1997–2002, nobody guessed that China, India and partly South America’s economic growth will absorb industrial production so forcefully out of Europe and the US. The emission share of Kyoto countries was marginalised from 63% at the entry into force to 13–14% under Kyoto II.
• Climate policy should be split into pieces that are promoted decisively. Poverty, energy shortages, loss of biodiversity, desertification or the problems of developing countries cannot be reduced to a mere climate problem. These issues have to be dealt with as such because they are concrete problems.
• Scientific uncertainty is an acceptable fact of life, and the discussion on the causes of climate change will continue. We will never reach a stage in which research should end and politics should start based on this. Both have to be advanced simultaneously, also while uncertainty reigns. This poses a challenge to politics: it has to be so robust, sturdy or grounded in certainty and focused on relevant issues, that it does not have to be regretted significantly when scientific truths change.
On the grounds of all the elicited preceding information, we may state that the Kyoto Protocol is a failed climate strategy since emissions have neither been reduced absolutely nor relatively.
Poverty will not save the planet, unlike the environmental movement often seems to assume. Poverty forces people to think shortsightedly and destroy their environment, the same way as limitless and irresponsible greed. Secondly, poverty makes us more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and weakens our ability to be prepared for all kinds of catastrophes.
Therefore, we must find a better strategy. We need to humble ourselves politically and acknowledge that the chosen way was wrong. We must do this, at least for the sake of the future generations. Those who are able to learn from their own mistakes are the real heroes of democracy.
All this talk about climate change has misled us collectively. It has made us search for a mega solution to a mega problem: it has created the impression that if we solve the problem of climate change, all other problems would also be solved. This is not the case. Although, according to the saying, the media can handle just one issue at a time, and although obviously the same is also valid for humankind and its relationship with grand narratives, the real world is much more complicated. Combating climate change does not solve the problem of biodiversity, pollutants, poverty or energy shortage. As Hulme said, we have created a political log-jam for ourselves, one to which we now offer a vision of the “mother of all solutions”. There is no such thing at all.
So, how should we proceed from here? In the previous chapter, I outlined the theses presented by the so-called Hartwell Paper, which are well-founded in my opinion. Climate policy must be split into parts. The problems have to be tackled in a determined manner but not at the expense of creating or increasing other problems as has happened too often lately. We have to make policy that systematically rewards those who invest in energy efficiency and high environmental standards. We also have to return to the basics and give other problems the value they deserve. Poverty, the high price of energy, pollution, biodiversity degradation, desertification or problems of the less-developed countries cannot be reduced down to a climate problem. These problems must be taken as such since they are concrete problems.
It is thus at least equally as important to get inside our heads and demythologise the problem. Climate change cannot be solved by means of technology or science, because it is largely a product of culture and a pain of our hearts. What are we going to lose, if the climate changes, as Hulme asked? Perhaps nothing dramatic. The climate does not have the same value as biodiversity or the ozone layer; the depletion of both is clearly a threat to nature and humankind. When the climate changes, certain climatic conditions will just become rearranged; we do not lose the clouds, cast off rains or deny the sun. Certain climatic conditions will change, but not in such a way that we would have either a good or a bad climate as a result – somewhere else, other than in our imagination.
Our visions have caused future fear and anxiety, they are depriving our children of sleep, optimism and hope. I am not so sure at all whether they would have needed all this fear. I am not sure at all whether it is even possible to change the provocation of fear into a constructive action.
Even though I criticise many of the means to combat climate change in this book, I consider fostering a healthy environment as one of the most important pillars of life.
I’ve read Korhola’s thesis in its entirety; I can’t find much to disagree with, and parts of it had me jumping up saying “Yes!” Her thesis echoes two points that I have been making:
- It has been a mistake to assume that both the problem and solution to climate change is irreducibly global
- We have vastly oversimplified both the climate change problem and its solution, mistaking a wicked mess for a tame problem.
Korhola’s thesis will be a valued resource for me as I ponder all this.
If you are interested in additional background on topics related to Korhola’s thesis, see these previous CE posts:
- Messes and super wicked problems
- Hartwell paper: game changer?
- Climate pragmatism
- A precautionary tale: more sorry than safe
- End of climate exceptionalism
- Conflicts between climate and energy priorities
Korhola has a blog http://www.korhola.com, which is in Finnish. She tweets at @ER_Korhola, I am now a follower.