Climate change legislation is an interesting concept.
Taken literally it implies that governments can pass laws that somehow have a consequence for climate change.
For example, legislation that forces us to reduce carbon emissions will slow or stop global warming
Clearly this is crazy, even delusional. Climate change has many causes than human activity in relation to greenhouse gas emissions and most of the significant ones [a wobbly orbit, fluxes in the solar wind, shifting continents] happen irrespective of legislation or climate change policy.
So why do we have legislation for climate change at all?
It is necessary because people expect governments to take actions on behalf of the collective good. We want governments to deliver actions that are beyond the individual. We want healthcare, education, public order and defence.
Most of all we want to actions to thwart or deal with problems that as individuals we cannot handle.
Many of us perceive climate change as one such serious problem.
The knee-jerk response is that we should be doing something about it. There should be climate change policy.
A dozen countries plus those in the European Union have passed clean energy targets and energy efficiency standards.
Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, United States and the European Union have national or state based carbon pricing and vehicle performance standards.
These policies focus on greenhouse gas emission reduction by encouraging energy efficiency and alternative fuels usually by putting a a price on carbon either directly as a tax or through some form of market mechanism. This is policy designed to discourage activities that emit greenhouse gases by making them more expensive than alternatives.
This emission reduction policy implies that we can prevent climate change, and this is how they are sold. Only, as we have mentioned many times on climate-change-wisdom, King Kanute had a better chance with the tide.
This overselling of climate change policy as a means to stop or stabilize climate change has given climate change skeptics everything they need to either deny claim hoax or even a swindle
No politician would be some dumb as to create such a rod for his own back, surely.
There has to be another reason, and there is one. It is secondary right now but is close enough even for politicians to notice.
The prospect of the price of oil spiking and careering toward $200 a barrel is the real reason for climate change policy.
Now this is obviously a controversial assertion for there are companies, tax departments and sectors of the modern economies who would welcome high fossil fuel prices even though the net effect economy wide would be negative, especially in agriculture.
On balance governments understand that there will be a transition away from fossil fuels at some point in the future and that it is best if this transition is as smooth as possible.
Climate change legislation is really about making fossil fuel less attractive before the rules of supply and demand spike prices. It is a transition policy.
In 50 years from now petrol vehicles will be for a handful of enthusiasts. All everyday journeys will be in electric vehicles powered by fuels cells or some form of what we now call alternative fuel. In the 2070's it will just be regular fuel. There will still be some coal power but this will provide a declining proportion of total consumption.
Most of the legislation on climate is about getting to this point with the least economic impact.
Climate change legislation should also be about climate change.
Not the notion that we can stop it (crazy idea), but the creation of coping mechanisms that we will need when global warming effects arrive.
Policy for climate change adaptation should be right up there with emission reduction through a focus on:
Current climate change legislation is tackling only part of the problem, and not even the most important part.
Emission reduction is immediate and tractable. There is also feeling of control both in the way the policy works (forcing a behaviour change by imposing a cost) and that we can alter climate (lowering greenhouse gas emissions will slow global warming). It is easy to see why it's popular.
Only food security and climate change adaptation really need attention too.