Posted by: Matthew Hoffmann | April 16, 2012

Climate Response Through Simple Measures?

A recent article coming out of the UK by Steven Connor in the Independent “Painting roofs white is as green as taking cars off the roads for 50 years, says study” reports on a scientific study that examined the potential impact on global warming from painting the world’s roofs white.  The study, by Hashem Akbari and colleagues appeared in the recent volume of Environmental Research Letters.  The upshot is that we could realize significant effects by something as simple as painting roofs and roads white or some other reflective color.  The effects are two-fold as the white paint would increase the albedo effect reducing solar radiation and it would reduce the temperature in buildings reducing the need for energy intensive air conditioning.

This is a neat finding on its own and I hope it is both substantiated and finds its way into practice.  My interest in it is the implications it might have for governance.  There are dozens if not hundreds of this kind of simple options being touted for producing relatively large scale emissions reductions–reducing global warming by reducing soot was another recent one.  The question is what kind of governance infrastructure–what kind of rules and institutions–will be best able to figure out which ones are relevant/effective and how to scale them up?  I suspect that the traditional multilateral approach is not a good fit–small scale options that should be scaled up is not what multilateral treaty-making is good for.  Instead, the key will be to match these innovations with climate governance experiments that can more quickly get them implemented in transnational city networks, corporate-NGO alliances, and other initiatives. How to do such matching and scaling should be a matter of serious scholarly attention and policy inquiry.

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