Friday, April 6, 2012

Solving Climate Change? Let's make another committee!

Committee: a group of men who individually can do nothing but decide as a group that nothing can be done. This is just one of the countless jokes about the ineffectiveness of committees sprinkling the Internet world. Committees, when utilized properly, can definitely be a useful tool. Personally, however, I fall into the camp that committees are a knee-jerk reaction for solving complex issues, which I don't think is an effective approach. So naturally, I was dismayed to hear that the Secretary General has plans for not one, but two new committees on perhaps the thorniest issue of the century: climate change.

Secretary Moon has said he intends to appoint a chief scientist adviser or a panel of scientific advisers before June, claiming that “Policy-makers often fail to turn to scientists for advice, or discount it too easily owing to electoral or other political considerations”. So what scientist(s) do they think will provide the best advice? Ideally, if they appointed a panel it would include scientists from a diversity of backgrounds who could all agree on the best course of action for reducing emissions. Seeing as these negotiations, summits, talks, recommendations, guidelines, what have you, have been in progress since 1992, this is not likely. Climate change is a difficult problem, and scientists disagree over whether or not we can even stop it now that it is in motion. Whichever way Secretary Moon chooses to go, a single adviser or a panel, the UN is going to have to make very subjective decisions about what angle they want to take on climate change, and will inevitably anger some groups with their choice.

The other committee-making in progress is the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Sustainable Development, which is intended to oversee the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The purpose of the newest Intergovernmental Panel is to have a group of scientists "assessing the assessments" coming from both panels and assure that the science used to make both panels' decisions meshes.

My final recommendation to the UN (which I am sure they will take extremely seriously): Stop. No more committees. You are appointed/elected by your countries because we trust you to make decisions. More science is not going to help solve climate change because climate change encompasses too many different kinds of science. Now it is a political decision that should be informed by science, but not entirely dependent on science. Climate change is not just a scientific problem, but a political, social justice, and economic problem. Cynically, I think they are only putting committees in place to double check everything because the UN fears public backlash if their measures have unintended consequences or unpopular consequences.  But who knows: maybe I should just appoint a committee to evaluate that statement and cover my butt.

1 comment:

  1. Libby I love your honest definition of "committee." This whole blog post is great.