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WBGU : Equity, Today : Agreement, Never

File under : “That’s never going to ever happen if the United States of America have anything at all to do with it”.

The illustrious German Advisory Council on Global Change, the WBGU, or “Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveraenderungen” in longhand, have done some excellent work on proposals for a global Carbon framework.

As part of their 2009 paper entitled in English “Solving the climate dilemma: The budget approach” they came to some useful conclusions, but also some startlingly unworkable recommendations :-

Consider for one moment the implications of the following graph for proposed future emissions :-

The first question one could ask is, “why does the red curve for industrialised countries drop so fast ?” And the answer for that would be that the WBGU propose an immediately effective “convergence” of carbon emissions rights.

As of today, they say, we should treat everyone has having the same rights to emit, and that means that those who are over-emitting need to cut their emissions the fastest.

Of course, that will never happen. The United States of America will never agree to it.

Besides which, a principled policy of “equity today” is impossible to achieve in practical terms. Even though the wealthy industrialised countries nominally have the greatest financial capacity to act on carbon emissions, they also have the highest lock-in to high-carbon systems, which will make action more expensive than in other parts of the world.

The WBGU partly address this problem by proposing that lack of achievement in industrialised countries can be compensated for by Carbon Trading with developing countries, who will have emissions rights to spare :-

But have you seen how much Carbon they expect to be traded ? It’ll never happen. The rate at which the Carbon Markets are building will never support those kind of traded flows of emissions rights. America has a partial Carbon Market in operation, but not an overall federal commitment – and failing generally to get Climate Change legislation.

Australia is still struggling with the politics of developing Carbon finance, and the European Emissions Trading Scheme has been plagued by volume-pricing “elasticity” issues. China’s Carbon Market is lightyears away, and there are numerous abuses of the globally dispersed markets that are in place already, including fake permits, tax dodges and market “swamping”.

The Clean Development Mechanism, the chief “flexible mechanism” of Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, isn’t working very well, and the World Bank cannot see high levels of new certified Carbon being made available to market in the near future.

So, the WBGU proposal looks highly unlikely from the practical point of view, but what about the ethics behind it ?

The reason why the WBGU propose “equity, today” is to circumnavigate a common skirmish of accusation around what is known as the “grandfathering” of Carbon emissions rights.

The industrialised countries start their Carbon Descent from a position of high emissions, and many organisations agree that this effectively means that the industrialised countries have been granted free emissions rights over and above their fair share “entitlement”.

Other groups that take this approach include EcoEquity with their framework they call “Greenhouse Development Rights”, which has been adopted by many Non-Governmental Organisations.

Pinning down countries like the United States of America over this issue would be near-nigh impossible for this one simple reason – there is another way of looking at the situation.

The Americans have been operating on the basis of “Economic Production is Good” for over 60 years. They haven’t had an agenda of “Greed is Good”. Instead, they have been living by the simple rules of meritocracy, the “American dream” of personal advancement and the benevolent, if patronising, concept that economic development can help the whole world. Their economic expansion has not been a moral issue, they’re not guilty of any crimee, and they would not permit anyone to try to make it so.

It’s no use trying to pin “historical responsibility” on countries such as the United States of America. Back in the day, nobody realised that excessive Carbon Dioxide emissions could be so dangerous, so nobody should be to blame for past behaviour.

Why should “the polluter pay” ?

The WBGU shoot themselves in the foot when they suggest that in addition to incredibly high rates of Carbon Trading, which would cost America a lot of money; that America and its industrial peers should also donate huge sums of money for “adaptation” funds, money that would also be used to halt deforestation in the Global South.

America won’t play, because it won’t pay. And it definitely won’t pay twice. There’s no way to get the American administration to accept that they owe the world.

There’s also no way that the WBGU proposals can be tinkered with to give more acceptable numbers. The number of parameters in any global Carbon framework has to be kept to the absolute minimum. No use of ethical reasoning will hold sway.

The only logical, agreeable framework for the United Nations decarbonisation treaty will be the straight-forward proposals of Contraction and Convergence, whereby the world will approach equity, tomorrow, under a safe global carbon budget, at rates that can be easily accommodated in the global economy.

America will not agree to anything less. And without America, a global treaty cannot be made.

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