Sovereignty and climate change

John Bruton has a peculiar piece in the Irish Times of last Saturday. He argues that there are so many externalities between nation states that countries should grant their sovereignty to a “new system for global decision making”. Bruton puts climate change forward as his main argument.

Bruton makes two factual mistakes: “The failure of world leaders to come up with a meaningful and binding agreement on climate change at the long-planned meeting in Copenhagen means that the binding, if incompletely applied, agreement in the Kyoto protocol will now expire and will not be replaced in time, if ever.” The targets in the Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012, and the rest of the Kyoto Protocol has no sunset clause. There are three more major international meetings scheduled before the Kyoto Protocol expires, in 2010 (Mexico City), 2011 (Johannesburg) and 2012 (location to be decided).

He also write that “many in the US Senate are still wedded to the idea that international rules should not bind the United States and should never override US law.” Once ratified, an international treaty is binding in US law, and it is exactly because of this that the US is so reluctant to ratify international treaties. EU countries happily sign up because rules will be ignored if inconvenient — the “growth and stability pact” of the monetary union being a prominent example.

The main flaw in Bruton’s analysis, however, is the apparent assumption that, if the USA and China were to give up their sovereignty over their energy, transport, industrial and agricultural policies, they would follow the European aspirations for a low carbon economy.

If the “new system for global decision making” would be in any way democratic, chances are that Europe would be forced to abandon its visionary climate policy and focus on things that matter now to the majority of the world population, such as clean water, enough to eat, and freedom from infectious disease.

It is our sovereignty that allows our pretensions as planetary saviours.

57 replies on “Sovereignty and climate change”

“It is our sovereignty that allows our pretensions as planetary saviours.”
Excellent line.

You can add all sorts of other do-gooderism to your list… democracy (as we know it), pluralism (as we see it), legalism (as we practise it)…

Our Ambassador has been served too much lately.
Far has he gone from his farm.
Far has he been from real work and national duties and responsabilities.

Pericles seems fitting tonight:

“Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors’, but is an example to them…
We rely not upon management or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands.”

All the best

“It is our sovereignty that allows our pretensions as planetary saviours.”


Antropogenic Global Warming is a lie.

But hey,

Pretenions this, pretensions that.

Follow the money.

“And the 18th-century United States constitution insists on impossibly large majorities in the Senate to ratify an international treaty.”

How considerate of a small farmer from Ireland to wipe his arse with the Constitution of the United States of America.

We can all learn from this man.

One would have to wonder what the small farmer thinks of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland.

But then, he probably thinks it not sovereign.

Maybe he hates his own country.

Maybe he sold it out for 30 peices of AGW.

Maybe he has shares in Blood & Gore.

“If people did not buy bigger cars, bigger houses further from town, and buy more and more food that goes to waste, there would be less climate change.”

I take it all back. The man is a genius.

But hey, maybe not.

How many cars does John Burton have at his command?

How many houses does he own or have at his command?

How much food has he wasted in the cause of “Climate Change”?

Somebody should give John Bruton a medal.

You know, like the one they gave Gore for Peace.

AGW is a lie.

“We are all affected by forces we cannot see or control, but also in our daily spending decisions, we all of us create forces whose effects in other places we neither see nor control, and often do not want to see or control.”

Good God.

Read that again.

I think this man has been smoking too much Carbon Dioxide.


What a leader.

All bow to the leader.

“Anyone who studies the history of Europe between the years 1900 and 1914 will see how dangerously weak and ineffective such political understandings can prove to be.”


14 years of history. [UNPARLIAMENTARY LANGUAGE]

“As in 1914, we now live in an interdependent world, where no one power is any longer completely dominant, and where there is no properly functioning system for making binding decisions collectively between nations.”

I take it back.


Of course the outstanding thing is this.

The Irish Times actually published this gibberish.

There is a good discussion on the senior civil service paycuts on this thread on

Poster He3 quotes the minister’s most recent budget speech when he again
said the pension levy was a cut. It also slipped his mind to mention that he was including the pension levy as part of the 15% cut total cut i.e. when you hear them say we were cut 15% remember 10% was the pension levy which they themselves said at the time wasn’t a cut.

“The salary of the Taoiseach will be reduced by 20 per cent. This reduction, together with the pension levy means the Taoiseach’s salary will be cut by close to 30 per cent in total.

Ministers and Secretaries General of Government Departments will take a pay cut of 15 per cent: an overall cut of close to 25 per cent when the pension levy is taken into account.”

The same poster quotes from a letter to The Irish Times by a Brian Flanagan:
“Having sat on it for three months, the Government slipped out the latest report by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector in the wake of the Budget. Its approach was to compare Irish salaries with those in Germany, UK, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium and Finland.

It found that the Taoiseach’s and ministers’ salaries were the second highest and that salaries of secretary generals were the highest. Even after adjusting for pensions, tax and purchasing power, Irish salaries were still well ahead of most countries. In comparison with Finland (population 5.4 million), the Taoiseach’s salary was 33 per cent higher than his opposite number, ministers were 20 per cent ahead and secretary generals were 52 per cent higher.”

Cuts of 5% (ministers and secretary generals) and 3% for Assistant Secretaries and 5.4% for Deputy Secretaries will make little inroads on these.

As poster DCon observes:
“A great stunt by Lenihan. He announced in the budget that the review would be with “similar sized countries”. The actual review included Germany and the UK.”

Poster Mushroom speculates the reason for the U-turn was:
“The truth of the matter is that the payscales of the hundreds of FF/Green Monkey ‘special advisers’ (sic) are linked to higher civil service grades,”
I don’t know if there is such a link but if there is it might well be a factor.

Poster laidback also says this, which if true would suggest the senior civil serpents, as mushroom refers to them, are really part of a ruling caste:
“Some of these senior civil servants sit on state boards representing their depts. They receive fees for this which vary but most boards seem to pay €14,000 pa plus expenses.

I suspect they are allowed to keep these fees on top of their decent salaries. Does anyone know for sure?

Board fees have increased over the years. Will they now be cut or will these senior civil servants continue to get these fees on top of their very slightly to be reduced salaries?”

When will we get an internal devaluation for ministers, reducing them to the level of comparable countries like Finland?
Answer: Not with this government – they’ve had multiple chances and now they are trying to get away with it by comparing themselves to the UK and Germany!

Greg, can you perhaps combine that into one post next time? Eight consecutive posts is a little excessive.

Richard, one point:

“Once ratified, an international treaty is binding in US law, and it is exactly because of this that the US is so reluctant to ratify international treaties. EU countries happily sign up because rules will be ignored if inconvenient — the “growth and stability pact” of the monetary union being a prominent example.”

Do you mean there’s a culture within the EU countries to ignore the organisation’s rules (there is), or that EU countries don’t enshrine international treaties in law the way the US does?

The main difference is that the US government is governed by its own laws.

If the US would miss its emissions target, then one can sue the government and probably win.

Contemporay European history is littered with targets that were ignored with impunity, or worse. When Italy was found cheating on its milk quotas, it got extra. When Greece was found cheating on its olive subsidies, it got more subsidies to improve monitoring. When Ireland missed its 3% emission reduction target for the second year in a row in 2009, there were conciliatory sounds: “at least, they’re trying”.

The US has a stiff attitude at international negotiations because they will be bound by the outcome.

The US may be characterised by its exceptionalism in matters of governance and repeating cycles of isolationism and international engagement. It is possible to list any number of examples where EU rules are bent or broken, but it remains the most successful example of nations pooling sovereignty under treaties in an attempt to achieve common goals. Regional groupings of countries in South America, West, East and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia are drawing from this experience and working to replicate aspects of it in their regons. The EU is having some limited success in extending its processes to the countries of the Mediterranean Littoral. It does, however, exhibit weaknesses in dealing with failed, or poorly-functioning, states and with Russia and China. Despite this, I would argue that the EU’s approach is replicable internationally, but the US’s exceptionalism most definitely is not.

It seems that, having developed a collegial, yet often fuzzy, association of nations (that has largely expunged the bloody traumas of the 20th century), the EU fails to grasp why other, in particular large, nations, seeking to expand and project their military and economic power, are unwlling to develop and engage in similar arrangements.

This naivete must be overcome and the sinews strengthened to engage more robustly with Russia and China. The sovereignty of nations is diminished when their peoples do not freely give their consent to be governed and the EU should focus on this.

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the Global Warming theory is so delightful,
And since Copenhagen didn’t flow,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn’t show signs of pausing,
And I’ve bought some corn for burning,
The energy efficient light bulbs are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

“Once ratified, an international treaty is binding in US law, …”

..unless it is decided (as was done with the Geneva Convention under the Bush administration) that a treaty is quaint and old fashioned. Then it is ok to abrogate it … and start torturing whomever you choose, even though Ronald Reagan, that Conservative demigod, signed a convention against torture.

I do not think the China or the USA is being asked to “give up” soveriegnty, only to pool it with other states along the lines of the EU model.

Richard pious assertion that the people of the Third World would vote for “clean water …” etc. made me smile. Isn’t that the old Bjorn Lomborg trope? Except Lomborg (and I suspect Richard) don’t really give a rat’s ass about the Third World – its just another stick to beat “liberals” and other evil folk who want to take action against climate change, undermining conservative dogma in the process.

It is difficult to know what other people care about, particularly if you have never met them.

The argument is Schelling’s, by the way, not Lomborg’s.

I strongly agree with Paul Hunt that while the enforcement of EU agreements may often be imperfect to say the least, it “remains the most successful example of nations pooling sovereignty under treaties in an attempt to achieve common goals.” The idea, seemingly shared by several contributors to this thread, that the EU is all talk when it comes to international law is in my humble view very myopic indeed. All the more so when placed in a supposed contrast with the USA.

Don’t get me wrong. The EU does many useful things.

It is premature, though, to try and emulate the EU experience at global level. It is silly to base international climate policy on the desired rather than the actual geopolitical order. It is not wise to try and reshape international law on the basis of a single issue.

As I understand there is a core group of democratic senators who stick to the appalling position that they will not adopt any climate change treaty that does not provide for India and China reducing net emissions in tandem with the USA notwithstanding that these are developing countries that emit a tiny fraction per capita of what the USA emits.

Furthermore, the USA regularly adds provisos to its ratification of international treaties such as its proviso that the international laws of genocide shall not apply to the USA. If the USA did adopt the treaty they may well put in a proviso in their own ratification that it will not be binding.

John Bruton is correct that the nation state is inadequate for the administration and direction of a systemically interconnected world that has embraced technology and complexity. Writers of fiction have been expressing the inevitability of huge technocratically organised states for years. Others have expressed it in more philosophical and scientific terms. Jacques Ellul’s “Technological Society” clarified it for me some time ago.

Personally, I do not believe we will achieve effective treaties or co-operation in time to ameliorate climate change as much as we could or to stabilise global economic balances. However, I do believe that technological development in the physical and human sciences will proceed apace and that ultimately, after a degree of disaster and breakdown, greater international structures will be put in place at the expense of nation state sovereignty.

An alternative utopia might be where the state units were sufficently small and disconnected as to allow modular relations and redundancy such that the collapse or isolation of one might not affect others. In such a scenario people could vote and have political power within their own nation. However, population growth, economic integration, developments in communication technology, developments in transport networks and climate issues make such a scenario wholly unattainable.

Apologies for the multiple posts; we must have hit “submit” at the same time. Premature, silly and unwise, eh? It may be premature to assume it may be emulated easily – I would fault the EU for this – but it is never premature to put in the hard graft to demonstrate and illustrate the benefits in a global context so that nations and peoples can see the benefits and decide to replicate the beneficial aspects appropriate in their own contexts. I have done work in many developing countries and, in most cases, failures to implement sensible policies lead back to failures of democratic governance and failures to develop effective regional co-ordination of policies.

I agree that the EU may be naive about the aspirations of the BRICs and other large emerging economies, but “silly” should be reserved for the behaviour of self-centred teenage girls and similar behaviour. And I don’t think there is an attempt “to reshape international law on the basis of a single issue”. My view is that John Bruton is suggesting that the structure and functions of the UN (and other multi-lateral bodies) should be altered to avoid a repeat of Copenhagen and to deal with climate change and other global issues. He ends with, for Britain and France, the ire-provoking suggestion that the composition of the security council should be changed to reflect current geopolitical realities. Not surprisingly I would go much further and argue for a distinction between de facto and de jure sovereignty. The former simply recognises the sovereignty secured by the exercise of power by a government; the latter recognises the exercise of power derived from the freely granted authority of the people.

As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the only way the composition of the Security Council and its voting rules can be changed is if the populations of the countries who currently hold vetoes demand it.

@ Richard

In relation to the first “factual error” it is commonly understood that in order for an agreement to be in place by 2012, the outline of an agreement would need to be reached at least two years in advance in order for the new treaty to effectively succeed Kyoto.

When you say: “When Ireland missed its 3% emission reduction target for the second year in a row in 2009, there were conciliatory sounds: “at least, they’re trying”, you are not suggesting that this target has anything to do with the EU, are you?

Examples we have for how the EU and member states react to international environmental treaties is the EU’s implementation of the KP, which it is on target to achieve. Even countries such as Ireland who have not controlled emissions in line with proscribed targets have made provisions to purchase credits as necessary. Or perhaps the Montreal Protocol. Why use the SGP as you example when surely these experience is much more relevant?

@Joe Curtin
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, finalised in 2001, and entered into force in 2005, with targets for 2008-2012. A Johannesburg Protocol in 2011 could similarly set targets for 2022-2026.

The Irish target is a domestic target. It is aspirational rather than binding. The sanction is egg on a politician’s face.

The EU will probably meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol, but this is not by virtue of its climate policy. The main reason is lacklustre economic growth.

@ Richard Tol

I rather agreed with John Bruton’s piece on the limits of the nation state. Only thing I found somewhat ‘peculiar’ was that it was John Bruton – as EU Ambassador to the U.S. he did well – and he is simply ‘stating the obvious’ in terms of where US global policy places its interests.
We are in a global risk society as Ulrich Beck puts it – and global risk demands some form of global co-operation – and at the mo, as Jurgen Habermas reminds us, global governance is not up to the challenge; he also reminds us that only the state can act – or in the Irish case – not act (as in financial regulation) or act in error (Naa-Maa; protect elites; take your choice ……….)
This is not about ‘giving up sovereignty’ but finding some means of agreement on addressing global problems ……… next phase of political economy … EU ain’t perfect but better than most ……….

@David (Paul, Zhou)

I fully accept the limitations of the nation state, and the intellectual argument that supranational problems require supranational governance.

That said, supranational governance does not come about easily. While I’m not in the least convinced that climate change is a terribly urgent problem, we do not to get going before we can hope to get international law right.

Furthermore, John Bruton’s argument is counterproductive. It is easily argued that this is a solution (world government) looking for a problem (climate change). If you listen to the right-wing opposition in the USA, you would find that a crucial point (to them) is that big government, let alone world government is a greater concern than climate change. Bruton reinforced that view.

Finally, a world government that is remotely democratic would not look like Europe’s at all. We’re only 0.5 out of 6.8 billion people.


Climate change may not be urgent for us but it is already too late for some people such as those of Darfur and Eastern Chad.

The americans are right to be afraid of big government because it impinges on personal freedom, devalues the voter’s influence and impinges upon man’s spirit. That doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary and inevitable in a world with scarce energy resources and an ever expanding population. The question is not “if” but “when” and “how”.

There is no evidence that Darfur has anything to do with climate change. Such stories are spin. High-profile dramas like Darfur are commonly used by politicians and activists for dramatic effect. Darfur was also blamed, for instance, on the Irish rejection of Lisbon.

I thought Darfur was about oil. Is it not Israel/Palestine that is about climate change (water resources)… but then again, maybe it is about water over-use, population growth in a limited space and excessive urbanisation…

@Richard Tol

Minor point: global ‘governance’ does not necessarily mean global ‘government’ ……… but global risks could be addressed by the main ‘power constellations’ [and not all democratic] if another level of communication emerges – ASEAN/China The Americas, Europe, ….a few more ….. and at this supranational level certain people may be nominated to address such risks …..and reach agreements….. but we are way way far away from this and international law will not reallly become a reality until this is reached (if ever ……… ). The recent appointments of EU President and Foreign Minister [acknowledging them personally] does not represent a positive move in this direction – they are unknowns in terms of global politics and power – and the power of the main EU states’ leadership [Germany;France] ensured this outcome – state sovereignty over EU interests. Militarily the EU also remains too weak in terms of ‘enforcing’ any agreements and one only has to look at the disaster in Bosnia in particular, and the non-debates on both neutrality and nuclear power in IReland, to recognise that there is a long way to go ………….. US Military power is essentially focused on protection of energy sources and resources (take a scan at their overseas bases) which leads to


…. and my agreement that ‘ The question is not “if” but “when” and “how”.’ some form of global Governance becomes a systemic necessity ………

I’m no expert on climate change – but Copenhagen demonstrates that 5/6 or 7 power groups would stand a better chance of some agreement and relevant action emerging.

If your figures had been followed on that email to Pat Kenny ……… and we had that dosh in the interim – I calculate that we could be well on the way to building the third nuclear power plant on the island [solving a lot of energy worries and climate change concerns and penalties] and exporting power to the rest of Europe generating useful revenue and employement and general welfare.

@Richard (again)
You have expertise in this area – how much nuclear power would we need in the medium term and how much would it cost etc ? ………. I really would like to know ……………


That sounds very like Bjørn Lomborg of The Skeptical Environmentalist. I’m a little confused though by your use of the term ‘visionary’ in relation to EU policy.



As far as I am aware (I don’t have online access), four articles in the London Review of Books have posited that Darfur is linked to desertification/climate change as displaced persons have moved south in search of more fertile land. I understand that this is not the sole cause of the war as there are political and tribal tensions between the Sudan and Chad. However, I am not aware that anyone has questioned that climate change is an important contributory factor. Do you posit that climate change is not an important contributory factor to the civil violence in those countries?

@David O’Donnell

I was saying that bigger and bigger government is inevitable, not global governance. We could well end up like the advanced ant super organisms. One of the features of such super-organism colonies is how viciously they attack competing super-organism competitor colonies!

Exactly my point. Four articles in the London Review of Books, N articles in the Guardian, M in the New York Times … and none in the peer-reviewed literature. It is an urban myth.

The academic literature will tell you that resource degradation is at most a contributing factor to violent conflict, but never a decisive one. Resource degradation itself has multiple causes, climate change being only one and often a minor one.

@ Richard

Climate change is not an urgent challenge to be addressed? I am genuinely interested in what exactly you mean by this. Do you think that:

A) mainstream science has it wrong; business as usual emissions would not likely result in, say, 4+ degrees warming by 2100 (to take one projection by UK Met)


B) that relatively rapid warming could be adapted to at relatively low economic cost?

If it is A, what would convince you on this? Would a global mean temperature record in 2010 be statistically significant after the warmest decade on record?

If it is the latter, then we are into the territory of value judgement, eg: agriculture (human life) in Australia becomes impossible, but higher altitudes and latitudes open up to new types of agriculture.

Just interested. Thanks.


Many thanks for initiating this thread and encouraging a lifting of the eyes from the frequently frenzied, Ireland-focused, navel-gazing to consider, as you put it, “things that matter now to the majority of the world population, such as clean water, enough to eat, and freedom from infectious disease.”

I understand your point about the climate change issue being used to lever major changes to international law and governance. Yes, multiple objectives, many hidden, are being pursued by a wide range of players, but “world government”? I think this is a Star Trekkie fantasy. But it is one which advocates of “small government” in the US, and elsewhere, are only too ready to raise as a bogeyman.

For me, the issue remains the pooling of sovereignty by nations to tackle problems that, on their own, they are unable to resolve. And this pooling has to governed by the democratic consent of the people in the countries involved. And yes, the EU has some way to go in this respect. It is unlikely a genuine European polis will emerge to provide legitimacy to the European Parliament. It may be that national parliaments will need to exercise more control over their governments in the European Council and the other ministerial councils as the Danish Folketing does. Or that national parliaments will have to be more involved, collectively, in the scrutiny of EU legislation. But the democratic mechanisms exist to effect these changes.

One would be surprised how, for many small countries internationally, Ireland’s story resonates. The slow, and hard-won, emergence from the overbearing shadow of a former globally-dominant neighbour, the pooling of sovereignty within the EU, the maintenance of a distinct national identity, the openness to international capital and labour and the implementation of beneficial, EU-driven policies that local politicians feared to table all strike a chord.

Yes, Ireland has serious problems with the institutions and process of democratic governance that need to be addressed urgently, but they pale into insignificance when compared to the problems confronting most of the earth’s population. By resolving these problems, involving itself more in the institutional reform of the EU and, crucially, spreading the message further afield, Ireland can do more than it thinks to encourage the spread of democratic governance and the pooling of sovereignty that provide the only effective basis to tackle these global problems.

There are many organizations that require that each country move towards a New World Order. They are tasking individuals with providing the levers for this. One is “Terror”. Another is “Drugs”. Another is “people smuggling”. Another is flying pig Influenza. And Climate warming is another.

Except the climate is not co-operating because weather control is insufficiently advanced to deliver what special forces can: bodies and “events” that drive the sheeple into the hands of those who see our salvation in this New World Order.

At least everybody gets to feel important and involved in solving a non-problem. The real problem, theft of resources, primarily, dooms many to an early death. But that can all be answered with by relying on a greater evil to be addressed. One that is a fiction. There is no terror, drugs or climate problem! There are only manipulative pukes who gain a fat living of the labour of others.

Please use your brain before helping these guys make a fortune out of fear that we help them to propagate!

Of course resource degradation can only be a contributing factor as perfect government can always stop conflict. However, resource shortages can bring down governments and cause other contributory factors. One could posit that all wars and civil unrest are about resource distribution, ergo resource shortage is hugely important.

To say that it is never decisive is pedantic. One could argue that no one factor is ever decisive in conflict. It is clear that it is a major factor.

It is also not valid to separate out climate change from population and energy issues and to say that climate change alone is unimportant because it is not the sole cause of resource shortage. It is akin to the defence of the armed robber that it was he only loaded and supplied the gun but his aggressive accomplice shot the bank teller and therefore he is innocent of all wrongdoing.

I would have thought that the London Review of books attracted high calibre contributors worth taking seriously but obviously not. I am aware that you think that somem in the UN are a crowd of bluffers too but I am posting these links nevertheless so others can make up their own mind. I preface these links witht he comment that the quotes are selective and climate change is a contributory factor rather than the sole factor. That climate change is not the sole factor is a truism that is beside the point that is a major factor imho.

United Nations Environment Programme: Environmental Degradation Triggering Tensions and Conflict in Sudan
“The scale of climate change as recorded in Northern Darfur is almost unprecedented, and its impacts are closely linked to conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on traditional agricultural and pastoral livelihoods.”

Ban Ki Moon: “Nor is the crisis confined to Darfur. It has spilled over borders, destabilizing the region. Darfur is also an environmental crisis — a conflict that grew at least in part from desertification, ecological degradation and a scarcity of resources, foremost among them water.”

Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General:
“The roots of the present conflict in Darfur are complex. In addition to the tribal feuds resulting from desertification, the availability of modern weapons, and the other factors noted above, deep layers relating to identity, governance, and the emergence of armed rebel movements which enjoy popular support amongst certain tribes, are playing a major role in shaping the current crisis.”

“The Committee attributed the current conflict to seven factors. The first factor is the competition between various tribes, particularly between the sedentary tribes and nomadic tribes over natural resources as a result of desertification.”

At present, the most vocal opposition to climate policy comes from people who think the EU and the UN have too much power as it is, rather than from people do not believe in climate change.

Decarbonising the economy requires a revolution in energy, industry, transport, and agriculture.

International climate policy therefore implies international energy, industrial, transport, and agricultural policy.

In the EU, for instance, environmental policy is set by qualified majority, while industrial policy is unanimous. However, the EU cannot meet its emissions targets without affecting its industry. The EU emission targets are therefore a de facto expansion of majority voting.

I would think that climate change is a difficult problem enough without being drawn into a debate about supranational governance.


I expect we will have to agree to disagree. I see the pooling of any amount of sovereignty under a treaty as distinct from “supranational governance” and I can’t see how the international energy, industrial, transport and agricultural policy aspects of climate change policy may be tackled effectively without some pooling of sovereignty.

The alternative, as I see it, is a combination of the “Great Games” and ill-conceived alliances among the major international powers and power blocs similar to those that charcterised the period prior to the first world war. And that I fear.

@Richard Tol

I would be grateful if you could, when convenient, quote the academic sources which state that there is no evidence that Darfur has anything to do with climate change. I do not have easy access to a university library at this time.

Thanks for that. I am now already a Thomas Homer-dixon fan!

Thomas Homer-Dixon:

“Interactivity has a number of critical implications, the most important of which is that arguments about the relative importance of one cause over another are usually a waste of time.”

“Research on causation in complex systems over the last two decades suggests that such mental manipulations almost always produce erroneous and even meaningless results. The causal variables and links within complex systems are so numerous, so many of these variables and links are unknown, and so many causal relations are reciprocal and/or nonlinear that we can’t possibly know a priori the consequences of subtracting or altering only one factor.”

“In this case, we have absolutely no way of knowing the consequences of holding the climate constant in Darfur (whatever “constant” means).

“In the case of Darfur, it’s pointless to ask about, or to argue over, the relative importance of climate change as a cause of the violence. But based on the evidence available, we can say with considerable confidence that any adequate description or explanation of the crisis must include climate change as a causal factor”

@ Richard

Thanks for that – a well written and reasoned piece.

I disagree as you know. 4 degrees warming, considered likely before the end of the century and possible within our lifetimes, could result in catastrophic regional warming and the impacts are pretty much impossible to calculate, at least without making numerous value judgments and assumptions.

As you say though, we have been through this before.


It’s useful to have your opinions set out on the Irish Environment website. As there’s no facility there for comments or queries, I hope you won’t mind my commenting here.

At the start of the piece you use the term “we” in a manner which makes the reader think you are referring to our species. Suddenly one realises that the “we” you have in mind is the rich, or the Irish, or something like that. Whoever it is there are 2 types of people, us and them, them being the poor. (You say: “Climate change primarily affects poor people in faraway places. Poor people often live in hot places. They are more exposed to the weather. They cannot afford to protect themselves against the vagaries of the weather. This means that climate policy is not for our benefit, nor for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.” )

At the start you suggest that “The benefits of climate policy are the impacts that would be avoided.”

But your valuation of these benefits is not their objective value to the people who would otherwise suffer the climate impact, but their subjective value to people who aren’t faced with the impacts! I know this because you say:”There are four important assumptions in the estimate of the social cost of carbon. How serious is climate change? How much do we care about remote probabilities? How much do we care about people in distant lands? How much do we care about the far future?”

This is in direct conflict with your earlier statement that: “We have a moral obligation, however, to avoid harming others or to compensate them if we do.”

Such a moral obligation is of course not met by simply asking ourselves how much would we like to pay to avoid or compensate!

These are not my opinions. These are the results of 20 years of research.

There are no subjective values in the piece, only objective ones. Particularly, impacts are valued from the perspective of the affected. Most of the values are positive, but there is also a sketch of what would happen if normative values are used instead.

To my unexpert eye, it appears from the quotes provided by zhou_enlai that Richard Tol’s reference to work by Thomas Homer-Dixon, to support his claim that climate change’s effect on Darfur is an “urban myth”, turn out to actually support zhou’s claim that it is a factor on the conflict.

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