Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bloody-Freaking-Obvious Headline of the Day (and a terrible article, too)

. Wednesday, October 14, 2009

And the award goes to... (drumroll)... The New York Times, for "Biggest Obstacle to Global Climate Deal May Be How to Pay for It"!

Quite frankly, that's the only obstacle to a global climate deal. What else is there? Some states are just baddies who want to ruin the globe for everyone else?

But it's just a headline, and those are usually created by someone who didn't write the actual article, so surely the meat is better. Let's take a peek at the lede:

As world leaders struggle to hash out a new global climate deal by December, they face a hurdle perhaps more formidable than getting big polluters like the United States and China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: how to pay for the new accord.

Oh. I see. Elizabeth Rosenthal of the NY Times thinks that there are two distinct hurdles: 1. Cutting emissions; 2. Paying for cutting emissions. But the only reason why #1 is an issue is because of #2. They are the same hurdle. This is pretty much a single-hurdle issue.

Maybe it gets better. 2nd paragraph (bold added):

The price tag for a new climate agreement will be a staggering $100 billion a year by 2020, many economists estimate; some put the cost at closer to $1 trillion. That money is needed to help fast-developing countries like India and Brazil convert to costly but cleaner technologies as they industrialize, as well as to assist the poorest countries in coping with the consequences of climate change, like droughts and rising seas.

Two things of note here. First, as one of the liberal econobloggers (is it Mark Thoma or Dean Baker? I can't remember) is fond of saying, just who are these "many" and "some" economists? Do they have jobs? Research experience on the questions at hand? Any political agendas? Why the anonymity? These questions might not matter much in every article, but because of the second point I think it is very important. Namely: the difference between $100bn and $1tn is 1,000%. This is not a rounding error; this is a difference of $900bn each year, starting in 2020 and projecting into the future in perpetuity (I'm guessing it's real dollars, but the Times doesn't bother mentioning it). Now, "some" economists may lowball their estimate to encourage aggressive action on climate change to suit their political priors, and "many" other economists might overestimate to discourage same, but we'd never know because we have no idea who these people are.

In the third paragraph we get more nameless experts, only this time they are "negotiators and scientists". It isn't until paragraph five that we get any meaningful information at all, and it is not very meaningful, but at least this source has a name and some words have quotes around them:

But to date there is no concrete strategy to raise such huge sums. There is not even agreement about which nations should pay or in what proportion.

“The level of ambition in funding is not matching up to the sense of urgency everyone now has,” said Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, the lead climate negotiator for Brazil, which hopes to get financing to preserve its rain forest.

He added, “Financing and an inadequate level of financing are a deal breaker for us.”

Financing is a deal breaker for everyone, which is why there has (so far) been no deal. This bit, like the rest of the article, implicitly bemoans the fact that states tend to be self-interested, that there are collective action problems, that states have difficulties making credible commitments, and that cheap talk is rampant. Strange concepts to a journalist, apparently, but any actual economist ought to have been able to come up with at least two of those. Someone who studies international interactions might even be able to fill in the gaps. Such a person might even have a name.


GabbyD said...

might another reason for a climate deal not to push thru be that the leaders aren't convinced of the science?

Kindred Winecoff said...

Possible? Yes.

Is it among the most important factors? No.

GabbyD said...

why not? in a sense this is two sides of the same coin -- if you dont believe in climate change, then any attempt to lower emissions will be costly.

Bloody-Freaking-Obvious Headline of the Day (and a terrible article, too)
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