|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
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 ?