Getting warmer

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Getting warmer
A special report on climate change and the carbon economy December 5th 2009

The Economist December 5th 2009

A special report on the carbon economy 1

Getting warmer
Also in the section Is it worth it?
What economists have to say about mitigating climate change. Page 3

The green slump
Why investors have been deserting clean energy. Page 4

Good policy, and badSome mitigation policies are e ective, some are e cient, and some are neither. Page 5

Vampires on a diet
How a boring gadget saved $2 billion-worth of electricity. Page 6

Cap and tirade
America struggles with climate-change legislation. Page 8

So far the e ort to tackle global warming has achieved little. Copenhagen o ers the chance to do better, says Emma Duncan

Who cares?
Don’tcount on public opinion to support mitigation. Page 9


A long game
China sees opportunities as well as dangers in climate change Page 10

Closing the gaps
How the world divides on a global deal. Page 11

What needs to change
The prospects are gloomy, but they can be made brighter. Page 13

Unpacking the problem
The attractions of a piecemeal approach to global warming. Page 13Acknowledgments Many people who have not been quoted helped in the research for this special report. Thanks are due to all of them, but especially to Ulrika Barklund Larsson, ambassador at the Swedish permanent representation to the EU, who worked on this issue until three weeks before her death from cancer at the age of 45. A list of sources is at
An audio interviewwith the author is at

HE mountain bark beetle is a familiar pest in the forests of British Columbia. Its population rises and falls unpredictably, destroying clumps of pinewood as it peaks which then regenerate as the bug recedes. But Scott Green, who studies forest ecology at the University of Northern British Columbia, says the current outbreak is unprecedented inrecorded history: a natural background-noise disturbance has become a major outbreak. We’re looking at the loss of 80% of our forest cover. Other parts of North America have also been affected, but the damage in British Columbia is particularly severe, and particularly troubling in a province whose economy is dominated by timber. Three main explanations for this disastrous outbreak suggestthemselves. It could be chance. Populations do uctuate dramatically and unexpectedly. It could be the result of management practices. British Columbia’s woodland is less varied than it used to be, which helps a beetle that prefers pine. Or it could be caused by the higher temperatures that now prevail in northern areas, allowing beetles to breed more often in summer and survive in greater numbers throughthe winter. The Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the United Nations adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, is now 17 years old. Its aim was to achieve stabilisation of greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dan-

gerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system . The Kyoto protocol, which set about realising those aims,was signed in 1997 and came into force in 2005. Its rst commitment period runs out in 2012, and implementing a new one is expected to take at least three years, which is why the 15th conference of the parties to the UNFCCC that starts in Copenhagen on December 7th is such a big deal. Without a new global agreement, there is not much chance of averting serious climate change. Since the UNFCCC wassigned, much has changed, though more in the biosphere than the human sphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body set up to establish a scienti c consensus on what is happening, heat waves, droughts, oods and serious hurricanes have increased in frequency over the past few decades; it reckons those trends are all likely or very likely to have been caused by...
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