Hockey Sticks and Inaction

Kevin Vranes pretty much nails it with an insightful analysis at Prometheus about the way the hockey stick debate has become such an odd sideshow:

Inaction was the political response to the 2001 SPM* presentation of the hockey stick. The hockey stick both as science and icon could not have been more hyped. But They saw it and They didn’t care. By that inaction, the HS lost its salience.

This might not be quite what Kevin meant by that, but here’s the evidence I think supports his point – the greenhouse gas inventory submitted last Thursday to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Overall, greenhouse gas emissions from the industrialized nations of the world dropped 5.9 percent, according to the report. That might sound like good news to those who believe in the importance of greenhouse gas emissions, and it probably is. But if you look carefully at the details, you see that most of the reductions came from what are delicately called “economies in transition.” That’s a diplomatic way of describing the nations of the former Soviet Bloc like Lithuania (current king of greenhouse gas reductions, with a 66.2 percent drop in emissions from 1990 to 2003). The 14 EIT countries, collectively, have seen a 10 percent drop in their gross domestic product. Meanwhile the “non-EIT countries” (in other words, countries whose economies aren’t sucking wind) have seen GDP growth of 34 percent and greenhouse gas emission growth of 13 percent.

Canada, for example, where Steve McIntyre complains about his government’s costly embrace of the hockey stick and Kyoto, has seen greenhouse gas emissions rise 24.2 percent amid apparently continued healthy GDP growth. I don’t know if this is exactly what Kevin meant when he said that “inaction was the political response.” But if this is what happens when a government takes the hockey stick as an icon and runs with it, then it seems pretty clear it’s not a terribly influential bit of work in the political and policy circles about which we’ve all been arguing.

* (SPM – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2001 Summary for Policymakers.)