For international climate conferences, level setting expectations is as much a part of the process as the policy negotiations. Historically, these summits, known as Conference of Parties or COP, have had high prospects but failed to deliver. Echoing the sentiments of many pundits, The Economist warned that COP26 will be “crucial but disappointing.” No matter the outcome of the next two weeks, policymakers and the public should feel optimistic about the problem of climate change and about climate solutions.
- The worst climate outcomes are becoming increasingly unlikely. Despite some of the rhetoric that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report communicates that global greenhouse gas emissions would have to increase significantly to reach the most extreme temperatures and most catastrophic climate scenarios. The probability of that happening is not zero, but it’s shrinking, and that’s a good thing. To be clear, there is still risk and cost for the current emissions trajectory, and policymakers cannot ignore the low-probability, catastrophic outcome scenarios. But the imminent doom and gloom projections are far less likely than alarmists make them out to be.
- Economic growth and emissions reductions can go together. Ensuring that people have access to affordable power and have better living standards, while tackling climate change sounds like a daunting task. At the very least, the common perception is that one must be sacrificed for the other. But the reality is that we can decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions increases. Largely through private sector investments where natural gas is displacing coal, the U.S. has demonstrated leadership in reducing emissions without any major legislation in place. As the Breakthrough Institute emphasized in an April report, 32 countries (many of which have high economic freedom scores), have had an absolute decoupling of economic growth and emissions.
- Plenty of low-hanging policy fruit to go after. Much of the defeatist attitude around COP is that the problem is too big, coordinating international actions is too challenging and country-specific commitments are too underwhelming to keep warming in check. Skepticism, particularly of countries like China and Russia to play ball, is justified. However, there are numerous policy initiatives policymakers should champion that drive private sector investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Policies that establish efficient permitting, incentivize technology-neutral investments, expand trade, promote natural climate solutions, and protect private property rights are solutions developed and developing countries should get behind.
Over the next two weeks journalists, delegates and pundits will provide many narratives of catastrophe, failure and disappointment. Instead, we should approach the challenge of mitigating the risks of climate change with urgency and optimism and with policy solutions that empower climate entrepreneurs.