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The Kyoto process has failed to deliver meaningful reductions in emissions and the Copenhagen climate meeting is doomed to failure. The only solution is to abandon the cap-and-trade approach, re-frame climate change as an energy issue rather than a "green" issue, and persuade governments to invest massively in clean technology to provide increasing energy in a way that protects the climate.

 That is the thesis of Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who founded the Breakthrough Institute in California to smash the jam on the climate and energy debate. They brought their acerbic and sharp analysis to London a few days ago in a conference jointly organised by the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank and the centre-right Policy Exchange in a display of non-partisan resolve over climate change.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus' figures suggest that when you take into account the differing economic growth rates between the US and Europe, the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) has brought barely any emissions cuts. Critics in the audience said the analysis did not take into account that the coming phase of the EU ETS would be much tougher.

The speakers countered that governments would continue to be unwilling to force genuine emissions reductions on their industries in the absence of a global agreement that would almost certainly not be forthcoming in a meaningful way.

They believe that cap-and-trade will never produce the desired results. Its energies are subverted by the sort of political manoeuvring which is hampering the Waxman-Markey Bill. It is the best-established industries with the biggest voices inside government which benefit most, whilst investment in cutting-edge technologies which might provide our future clean energy continues to be starved.

It should be noted that cap-and-trade is itself an American invention, foisted on the world by the Clinton administration as a price for agreeing the Kyoto Protocol which President George W Bush then abandoned. Cap-and-trade was devised to tackle a single pollutant - sulphur dioxide (SO2) - in the closed market of American industry.

Its adoption as a device to control multiple pollutants across the world - including CO2, which underpins the activity in modern societies to which most aspire - has caused more problems than predicted at the time. Shellenberger and Nordhaus were also scathing about carbon offsetting. They argue that a straight carbon tax would send the correct market signals and would be less vulnerable to lobbying than cap-and-trade, whilst also raising the finance necessary for technological investment.

Here, there was more resistance from the audience, which seemed to me to be largely ready to accept the diagnosis of Shellenberger and Nordhaus, but to be sceptical of the cure. Oxford University economist Dieter Helm said a carbon tax would over-reward some people, whilst failing to reward some key technologies in their infancy.

Carbon offset entrepreneur Mike Mason said offsets were clearly not a long-term solution, as shortly the whole world would need to start contracting emissions. From my post-meeting soundings there did not appear to be widespread audience confidence that governments, having underfunded energy for decades despite repeated energy warnings, would suddenly do the "right" thing now.

 It was thought more likely that governments would pocket carbon taxes and use them for economic recovery, especially if the moral imperative of an equitable solution for climate change were to be replaced by a more expedient policy based solely on energy security.

 
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