KlimaCampus Kolloquium: Leviathan in the greenhouse: controlling climate change without extending state


Climate change is often presented as the ultimate challenge for collective action. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is claimed, requires substantial changes in consumer and corporate behaviour throughout the world that can only be achieved via internationally harmonised carbon taxes or emission permit schemes. Many mitigation measures already implemented, from bans on inefficient light-bulbs to subsidies for renewable energy, do indeed represent some kind of extension of the state. Enthusiasts for free-market economics are understandably concerned. But rather than offering a credible alternative, they have generally chosen to adopt a Panglossian view that the problem does not exist, will turn out to be tolerable, or can be addressed by some futuristic technical fix like geo-engineering.


I will argue that almost all of the measures currently proposed to "stop climate change" will do nothing of the kind, because they focus on reducing the rate of flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while the risk of dangerous climate change is primarily determined by the total stock of fossil carbon released over the entire 'anthropocene'. Suggestions that reducing emissions of shorter-lived climate forcing agents (like methane and soot) represent a way of "buying time" for carbon dioxide reductions are similarly misguided. Framing the problem in terms of carbon stocks suggests that the only way to solve the problem is by focussing "upstream", on the point at which fossil carbon comes out of the ground. Ensuring the net flux of carbon out of the ground is reduced to zero before we release too much into the atmosphere, through a massive increase in carbon capture and storage, is a formidable technical challenge that only the global fossil fuel industry has the resources and knowhow to meet, so the sooner they are simply mandated to get on with it the better.




Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science in the Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, and a member of the Climate Dynamics Group in the University's Department of Physics. His research focuses on how human and natural influences on climate contribute to observed climate change and risks of extreme weather and in quantifying their implications for long-range climate forecasts.


Myles Allen has served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as Lead Author on Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes for the 3rd Assessment in 2001 and 5th Assessment in 2013 and as Review Editor on Global Climate Projections for the 4th Assessment in 2007. He proposed the use of Probabilistic Event Attribution to quantify the contribution of human and other external influences on climate to specific individual weather events and leads the ongoing Opens external link in current windowwww.climateprediction.net project, using distributed computing to run the world's largest ensemble climate modelling experiments. This project has been the subject of two BBC television documentaries, winning the 2007 Prix Europa Internet Project of the Year. In 2009 he led one of a series of papers emphasising the importance of cumulative carbon emissions for long-term climate change.


In 2010, Allen was awarded the Appleton Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics for "his important contributions to the detection and attribution of human influence on climate and quantifying uncertainty in climate predictions". He has previously worked at the Energy Unit of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.




15:15 h


Bundesstr. 53, room 022/023
Seminar Room 022/023, Ground Floor, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Hamburg


Myles Allen, University of Oxford, UK


Bjorn Stevens

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