A group of scholars, rallying against the deadlocks of past years’ international treaties and legislative initiatives, urges a bottom-up ‘pragmatic’ approach. But they offer no target for emissions reductions, no deadlines, and no enforcement mechanism.

An informal collection of academics and analysts banded together as “the Hartwell group” is advocating an overhaul of how climate policy is made, pointing to disappointments with years of international negotiations and “top-down” policymaking as a prescription for further failure.

The authors build their case on the concept of “pragmatism,” with a value on “pluralism over universalism, flexibility over rigidity, and practical results over utopian ideals.” But they offer no suggested “acceptable” threshold for greenhouse gas emissions or concentrations, no enforcement, and no deadlines, inviting liberal bloggers such as Joe Romm to severely question their proposed approach.

Few might argue with their point that “continually deadlocked international negotiations and failed domestic policy proposals bring no climate benefit at all.” Instead of more of the same, they argue for a new era “led primarily by example, not global treaty.” (You can be excused for thinking the concept somewhat Utopian.)

In contrast to the United Nations’ framework convention on climate change, for instance, they maintain that their pragmatic approach would build upon established, successful institutions and proven approaches (but they don’t venture a guess on what institutions would play what roles). Instead of a tightly knit policy regime built around a global treaty seeking to discipline “a widely diverse set of policies,” they urge allowing “policies and measures to stand — and evolve — independently and according to their own logic and merits.” No more lockstep in the interest of the same goals, but rather a call to “refrain from centrally justifying energy innovation, resilience to extreme weather, and pollution reductions as ‘climate policy.’”

In their bottom-up approach, no policies or measures would be pursued “in a centralized manner, readers need not agree with all of them, and policymakers should avoid unnecessarily combining them.” While acknowledging that some “small carbon charge should be implemented,” they say the goal is not to penalize energy use or make fossil fuels unaffordable, “but rather to ensure that as we benefit from today’s energy resources we are setting aside the funds necessary to accelerate energy innovation and secure the nation’s energy future.”

They caution against increasing costs of fossil fuel energy supplies in ways that would slow development prospects for the “global poor” and emphasize a need to focus on a strategy that can “promise near-term economic, geopolitical, and environmental benefits to political economies around the world, while simultaneously reducing climate forcings, developing clean and affordable energy technologies, and improving societal resilience to climate impacts.”

Bringing ‘Unlike Minds’ Together … Agreeing to Disagree

By favoring what they call “multiple pathways to climate progress” over a “single, unifying global treaty,” the authors write that their approach would require no unanimous agreement on the nature of the problem and no international treaty. “Each strategy delivers near-term benefits that can be captured by those taking action, creating incentive to steadily gather momentum” and doing so “on multiple fronts, in diverse venues, supported by wide-ranging constituencies.”

They point to extended debates over the past 20 years as having “polarized the American people and their representatives in Washington, D.C.” However, those debates “also created an opportunity for the unlike-minded to come together” on a new approach, they say. Continued “climate wars” seem inevitable, but those need not delay progress, they hope, on their “pragmatic” approach.

“There is much that people and nations can agree to disagree on, even as they agree to work together on practical actions,” they conclude. “It is time to get started.”

Among the 14 authors identified with the “Climate Pragmatism: Innovation, Resilience, and No Regrets” paper are several particularly well known — and to some controversial — in the climate change dialogs: Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute; Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado at Boulder; Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute; and Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University. The full report is available as a PDF here.

For a biting critique of the Pragmatism report, see Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm’s “The Road to Ruin: Extremist ‘Climate Pragmatism’ Report Pushes Right-Wing Myths and a Failed Strategy.”