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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Climate Change and Public Policy After Copenhagen

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Richard Somerville argues that one of the most important factors left out of debates on policies to address climate change is population growth. He asserts that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report of 2007 probably understates the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere and rising temperatures as measured and observed from a wide variety of sources: CO2 levels, melting of ice sheets, sea level rising, changing ocean temperatures et cetera. Moreover, it is clear that these phenomenon result from human activities. If anthropogenic climate change is not mitigated a whole host of threats will manifest themselves that demand policy-makers address these challenges quickly and frankly. He hopes that scientists will have a central role in crafting and negotiating new policies as well as raising the public’s scientific knowledge of the problem.

Matthew Kahn agrees with the general conclusions presented by Richard Somerville and turns to some economic questions that emerge from climate change. Thus, he considers two important approaches to the problem, mitigation through national policies and international agreements and adaptation to the consequences. He is skeptical that strong policies will be enacted in the US because of voting patterns and variable energy-consumption at the state-level. Pointing to the failure of the Copenhagen summit and the “tragedy of the commons”, he also contends that international agreements are unlikely to reduce the kinds of human activity that contribute to climate change. He suggests that it is important to consider strategies for adaptation to the inevitable. He contends that self-interest and rational behavior will drive innovation. In turn, these new technological palliatives will be disseminated through global markets.

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Matthew Kahn lecture


Richard Somerville lecture