Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Global climate talks

Dr. Richard S J Tol, Research Professor, Economic and Social Research Institute; and Professor of the Economics of Climate Change, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, writes that the 18th UN Conference on climate change negotiations has just started in Doha and he argues that the probability of success is a mere 2.3%. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent on fruitless negotiations. Tol suggests that having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UN should close that chapter and try something new.

Tol writes,
The previous 17 conferences have failed to reduce emissions. There were glimmers of hope in 1997 and 2001 when the Kyoto Protocol was, respectively, initiated and finalised. This international treaty, however, bound Europe and Japan to do nothing much and most other countries to do nothing at all. The US and Canada would have had substantial obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, but the US decided not to ratify the treaty and Canada withdrew after ratification.
Tol then argues that if we assume that the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in 1995 had a 50-50 chance of succeeding and if we also assume that the successive negotiations were independent tries, we can estimate the probability of success in Doha. The outcome of the series of negotiations follows a binomial distribution. Initialising with a Jeffrey uninformative natural conjugate Beta prior, then there is a 2.3% change of success in Doha, and we are 95% confident that the success probability is smaller than 22%.

Tol also says,
The international climate negotiations are expensive, though. Almost 1,000 delegates attended in 1995 [...]. This rose to almost 11,000 in 2005 and to 24,000 in 2009. The numbers have fallen somewhat since then, with only 16,000 delegates in Durban in 2011. 17,000 delegates are expected in Doha. Almost 7,000 person-working-years have been spent on the conferences alone.

But the UNFCCC organises more than one meeting per year. In 2012, 107 meetings were held, down from 111 meetings in 2011. Meetings were (much) rarer in the earlier years. I reckon that the UNFCCC has organised 682 meetings since 1995. Some of these were small. Negotiation meetings, now held once every quarter, attract thousands of participants. Assuming an average attendance of 200 delegates (one per country) and a duration of one week (including travel), 3,000 person-working-years have been spent at subsidiary meetings. Travel and subsistence for these meetings (say $2,000/person for a subsidiary meeting and $3,000/person for a conference) would amount to over $700 million. If delegates earn $30,000/year on average, the total costs of the UNFCCC meetings alone (ignoring preparation and overhead) would be $1 billion.

[ ... ] Recently, over $100 million per year was spent in fruitless negotiations. This is not a large sum of money, but [the data] suggests that ever more effort has been put into an increasingly obviously hopeless venture. This seems foolhardy.
This does seem a hell of a lot of money to have spent for nothing.

1 comment:

FC said...

"Initialising with a Jeffrey uninformative natural conjugate Beta prior"

Last time I tried that I broke a leg.