Urbanity, Durbanity #2

The following was written by Aubrey Meyer in November before the United Nations climate change talks, reportedly in response to a proposal by Damian Carrington of The Guardian newspaper, although it was not published there.

UN = United Nations
UNFCCC = United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


What chance a climate deal in Durban ?

Representatives of over a hundred nations meeting in Durban at the end of the month will “seek to advance the implementation of the (UNFCCC) Convention and the Kyoto Protocol” in the words of the organisers of the UN’s seventeenth annual climate change meeting.

Kyoto was adopted in 1997, came into force in 2005 and will expire next year with dangerous emissions growing faster than ever. At this rate of advance we are at grave risk of being overcome by uncontrollable climate change. Many senior climate scientists think it could already be too late.

The International Energy Agency, in its 2011 World Energy Outlook, said that we cannot delay further action to tackle climate change and that the door to 2 degrees Celsius is closing. It says that the world is currently on a trajectory to a temperature increase of 6° Celsius or more.

As long ago as 2007, the UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change said that it is not now possible to ensure with high likelihood that a temperature rise of more than 2°C is avoided. It then assigned a less than even chance of success to its statutory emissions reduction plan in the Climate Act.

Since those calculations were made there have been developments in the science that give even greater cause for concern, with some government scientists saying there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature increase at or below 2°C.

A fresh approach is now required. We probably have no more than four years to effect a downturn in global emissions. That change in direction must initiate a fullterm global emissions reduction path to a point where a safe and stable temperature level is achieved.

The question is where do we start ? The voluntary national reduction plans emerging from the Cancun negotiations are completely inadequate. The notion that they can be advanced over time to a realistic global target will result in too little too late.

But behind the headlines, negotiating postures have shifted significantly since Kyoto. They have moved beyond the complete stand-off between developed and developing countries. By agreeing to set voluntary national emissions targets, developing countries have recognised that they too must participate in a global action plan from the start if the two degree limit is to be met.

This places the delicate issue of historical responsibility as a second order consideration and opens the door to negotiation within agreed global targets.

Even more encouraging is the wide recognition of the principle of equal per capita entitlements to emit, with the accompanying right to trade those entitlements. This principle is at the core of the climate mitigation policy framework proposed at the UN by the Global Commons Institute based in London and which has many supporters in the UN process.

The Contraction & Convergence (C&C) policy framework was first negotiated at the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, when Developing Countries led by the Africa Group, India and China, proposed C&C as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Contraction & Convergence (C&C) is an approach to meeting the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) : to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a value that is both safe and stable.

Contraction refers to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that is needed to prevent dangerous climate change. Within this contraction, the world’s nations would converge on an equal per capita sharing of that carbon contraction budget. With contraction we obviously get convergence, the only question arising is how to organise it.

The atmosphere is a global commons and everyone has an equal right to emit greenhouse gases into it. If you don’t stand for that, you have to defend inequality which the majority will clearly reject. Climate change is an issue of survival and equity is the price of that survival.

In July 2009, fully five months before COP15 in Copenhagen, the Chinese Government publicly accepted the C&C principle for UNFCCC negotiations, and stated a willingness to negotiate rates of C&C based on immediate convergence to per capita equality of emissions entitlements worldwide.

They stressed the difference between actual per capita emissions and emissions ‘entitlements’ and pointed out that international emissions trading can absorb the difference between the two.

The C&C principle is embedded in the UK Climate Act of 2008. However, the rate of convergence is prescribed to complete only by 2050, within an overall 100 year contraction of emissions. The UK was part of a group of developed country Governments that prescribed these rates of C&C to the rest of the world in Copenhagen.

Since overall this prescription gave Developed Countries on average twice the per capita entitlements of the Developing Countries while 80% of the budget was consumed by 2050, the entire thing was unsurprisingly rejected by those countries – China memorably amongst them – as prescriptive and unfair to them. The UK publicly and naively denounced China for ‘wrecking the negotiations’.

The US had supported C&C earlier in the UN process, but continues to reject any renewal of the ‘one-sided’ Kyoto Protocol, because it logically refuses a way forward that excludes Developing Countries from emissions control. They, on the other hand, continue to reject prescriptions from Developed Countries that they regard as unfair.

The way to break this deadlock is clear: the UK should stop prescribing and become willing to broker negotiation of an agreement at the UNFCCC based on the C&C principle but at a faster rate of convergence to equal per capita emissions entitlements globally.

This way all nations or regions become part of an agreement that will be rational, consensual and fair. We can get on with achieving UNFCCC-compliance at rates that retain some chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

On sight of a letter to this effect sent to Ban Ki Moon (another C&C supporter), the Chinese Government again showed interest. Why don’t we ?

Aubrey Meyer, Global Commons Institute


3 thoughts on “Urbanity, Durbanity #2”

  1. A number of “greens” freeze when they encounter any mention of emissions trading.

    Contraction & Convergence does not propose emissions trading in order to permit high emitting countries to carry on emitting at their current rates.

    Recognition of equal per person emissions rights, and the subsequent trade from low-emissions nations to high-emissions nations could form the basis of the proposed global climate change fund for adaptation in low-emitting countries.

    This will not however absolve high-emitting nations from making deep, steep cuts in emissions.

    Contraction to safer levels of emissions cannot be done by offsetting emissions from one country to another. The low emissions countries cannot reduce their emissions far enough to compensate for the high-emitting nations.

    And in any case, offsetting cannot reduce overall total emissions. Everyone has to cut. The high-emissions nations will cut more emissions than the low-emissions countries. The end point is convergence – where everyone in each country has the same emissions and the same rights to emit.

  2. Jo

    Have you really thought through what you are advocating, namely equal emissions per person worldwide? Not that I am a believer in the AGW story anyhow, but it seems to me that your impeccable logic is taking you places that you may not really want to go.

    If we start out saying that it is all man’s fault that the climate is changing and it is to do with carbon dioxide emissions therefore emissions must be curbed, it all sounds very nice but lets see where this takes us.

    We are told that we only have a couple of years to get emissions down otherwise it is too late and that we will enter a runaway warming, therefore immediate action is imperative.

    The needed restrictions would turn the world into a vast police state , as that is what would be required. First thing to go would be democracy as people would object to being starved or frozen to death. At the present, without any real restrictions there is a fair amount of opposition to the AGW story. Imagine what it will be like when people realize what is in store for them. No car, no heating in winter for you northern latitude types with freezing winters(which kill more people than heatwaves BTW) not much food around as transport has been restricted, with blackouts to boot. How long till the rioting starts? As there will be opposition to this state of affairs it will need to be neutralized. Think Stasi with a capitol S, big Stasi or even big Gestapo or KGB.There will need to be a huge network of informers to root out opposition, record comments of others who may not see things the right way.Dissenters such as myself will need to be permanently eliminated as our talk could infect others. There will need to be reeducation camps for those waverers with potential for rehabilitation.

    There will also be the certainty of a vast organised crime network to evade restrictions,think of the incredibly stupid “war on drugs” or even the mafia’s beginner steps of carbon emission permit counterfeiting writ ever so large it would be almost beyond comprehension.

    Are you really OK with all the above? Do you think that I’m exaggerating and say to yourself that I’m just a crazy denier cooking up crazy scenarios? Don’t tell me where I am wrong, tell yourself honestly where I am wrong, as that is what is important. Do you think that we are going to just enter this wonderful low carbon future where everything is just all sunshine and play? OK, even if the darkest aspects of my scenario do not come to pass, do you really think that democracy could withstand the restrictions called for? Are you happy to end the British(and world)experiment with democracy after a two and a half thousand year gestation period from the Greeks and the countless battles and revolts needed to get this far?

    Now for a practical problem. According to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_greenhouse_gas_emissions_per_capita

    China emits 5.5 tonnes per person pa and India emits 1.7t/p/pa, around a third. I only picked those two countries because they have large populations with rapidly rising CO2 emissions so they count in the greater scheme of things. If the proposed allowed per person output is higher than China’s then China and India can both increase outputs, so is bad for the climate(not that I agree personally, but for the sake of the story). If the allowed output is set at China’s rate now, then China must stop growing but India’s emissions can triple.Again very bad for the climate.
    If it is set below China’s current output but higher than India’s then China must contract her economy, which will not go down too well with the Chinese people (think revolution, they have tasted the good life only to have it snatched away) +resentment at India being still able to grow. This is again bad for the climate as India still grows,though China in a state of civil war due to revolution emits the same as usual. Set the emissions at India’s current level, China must contract her economy 60-70% to match India’s, India stays at current levels, China must reduce emissions by 60-70% but under these circumstances refuses, (actually would have refused long before this) therefore whole thing falls apart and we are back to square one except with a police state apparatus installed at least in the first world(as if we don’t have an incipient one already), damaged world economy, a massive organised crime network that really grew when carbon restrictions were implimented and makes the drug trade look like playtime, implosion of third world economies due to lack of demand from first world, mass poverty and hunger. And the climate is not changed one iota.

    cheers Ron Mortimer

  3. Jo, you’ve hit the nail on the head saying, “C&C does not propose emissions trading in order to permit high emitting countries to carry on emitting at their current rates.” You’re absolultely right.

    The moment an emissions contraction total [the whole of the contraction-event] is acknowledged as inevitably required for UNFCCC compliance, convergence inescapably follows.

    If the per capita average of future consumption is not acknowledged as the standard, two problems remain [1] trying to build a global consensus based on defending inequalty and [2] trying to achieve UNFCCC-compliance based on continuing with a random model of progress.

    So if we recognize the fundamental C&C structure needed for UNFCCC-compliance, then the primary ‘negotiation’ becomes primarily about the *rate of convergence* e.g. as here: – http://www.gci.org.uk/public/COP_15_C&C.swf

    That’s why the Guardian refused to publish the article. They took instruction from DECC who in turn failed to even recognize the issue – see Ed Miliband comment here: – http://www.gci.org.uk/support.html

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