Rethinking carbon diplomacy

September 22, 2009

Climate change was initially billed in a leading role at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Now it looks set to make the briefest of cameo appearances.

Nonetheless, the gathering offers a crucial chance to recast the talks. The United Nations carbon process is in deep trouble and desperately needs help from the top. If the G20 heads of government want to avoid embarrassment at the Copenhagen Summit, they need to start to steer the talks in a new direction.

The first step is to move away from the flawed Kyoto model on which the talks are based. Haggling over overall emissions caps is unproductive. Nations have an incentive to push for targets that are easy to hit — giving themselves plenty of headroom in the event of faster economic growth.

Even then, it is hard to check up on compliance, since countries like China and India lack the ability to track their emissions.

And not much happens to countries that blow through their targets. Canada will surpass its Kyoto limit by close to a third. Yet this failure has clearly not turned Canada into an international pariah.

World leaders should set aside this failed framework. One way of doing so is to move toward energy efficiency goals — targeting emissions per unit of GDP. Recasting the debate in this way would reassure developing nations that climate talks would not infringe on their right to grow.

Blunt overall targets punish nations with vibrant economies and growing populations while rewarding those with a dwindling workforce. Europe was able to breeze through the Kyoto test partly because of the collapse of the Eastern bloc in the 1990s.

China has already moved toward targeting the carbon intensity of economic growth, a position outlined today by President Hu Jintao. The concept may have been tarnished when George W. Bush — the nemesis of environmentalists worldwide — used efficiency measures to throw a spanner in the works.

But if set at far more ambitious levels than Bush envisaged, efficiency targets would make much more sense. Leaders should also reconsider shifting the base year for reductions from 1990 — an arbitrary date based around the setting up of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Resetting the start date to 2005 would better reflect any efforts by China and India, whose emissions have rocketed since 1990.

More important still, climate diplomacy needs to descend from the clouds. Nations are far more likely to agree to a series of detailed policies rather than inflexible and grandiose targets. It would also be much easier to monitor compliance and hold leaders responsible.

Rich nations would be more willing to stump up cash to promote efficiency if they had a clearer idea where the money would be used.

“India’s plan, for example, might include efforts to harness its IT know-how to build a smart-grid and use electricity more efficiently,” notes Michael Levi, a climate expert at the Council on Foreign Relations
.

In Brazil, where most emissions come from deforestation, there need to be concrete plans to discourage clearance, by promoting greater productivity among ranchers, providing secure titles to land and offering alternative economic opportunities.

China could be given greater help achieving its bold efficiency targets. Assistance from the United States in ensuring access to uranium could increase China’s willingness to ramp up nuclear output, some experts argue.

This more granular approach offers the best hope of rescuing the climate change talks, which are starting to bear an alarming resemblance to the interminable global trade round.

A more detailed agreement might be harder to market as a triumph to voters than a grand accord. But to come out of Copenhagen empty-handed risks creating the impression that the process is a lost cause.

4 comments

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1. About two thirds of deficit in the U.S. accrue from oil import.

2. As with “Inaction” cost, $9trillion over the next decade in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, supposedly the same is of inaction on the 21st energy bill to determine war & peace, catastrophe & prosperity. For the global economy to reign in the runaway price of fossil fuels, “Sustainable Option” will be indispensable.

3. Looking to worthless, painful and wasteful oil wars, namely, the “Original Source” of this great recession, to waste time bickering over meaningless things and drag feet on a defining energy bill are sure to shake the embryonic effect of stimulus package that is an interim measure for build-out of a new foundation.

4. As the overall oil reserve in Middle East, let alone the rest of oil-producing areas, is on the decline more than known, the region blessed with affluent sun rays also needs to ready for a new groundwork, particularly in this context AEU is beginning to concentrate on future energy and Iranian EV is rolling out recently, the countries in the region will never stand still on the occupation, that means no matter what the result is, the repetitious mistake at the cost of invaluable lives and gigantic spending will end up with a heartbreaking tragedy once again.

5. Facing a sharp downturn in fossil fuels all over the world, the world-wide overpopulation growing consistently is using up tremendous fossil fuels at an alarming pace. Especially when the own conventional resources in some dense countries is facing drastic dent, it adds up explicitly.

6. For that reason, it is widely accepted that the price of fossil fuels is expected to go up and up simply, which is behind all but major states taking a bold and speedy action in a bid to put the global economy on a sustainable and solid ground.

7. Thankfully and interestingly enough, 100s of Companies (with $13 Trillion) Are Demanding Strong Climate Deal in Copenhagen just like environmental activists, a coalition of more than 500 Global Businesses is also demanding ambitious new climate deal, and the report by Blair and the Climate Group, a London-based nonprofit organization, found a climate-change accord among all countries would spur economic growth and create as many as 10 million jobs by 2020.

8. Currently, a 21st energy bill has passed the House and is making its way through Senate. According to CBO, this bill known as more progressive generally would trim budget deficit by $24.4 billion of a net gain.

9. I think the world is eagerly looking forward to Americans’ participation, and if it were not for world-wide massive job creation, the world can not pull the economy out of this recession successfully.

10. I’d say only science and innovation can meet this challenge, and the science enough for all around the globe to live in harmony is awaiting final assembly by way of innovation. It seems to me that this great recession is pitching us a serious lesson to make sure we build a bridge for future generations, otherwise, our generation, too, is falling off the cliff.

Thank You !

Posted by hsr0601 | Report as abusive

There is only one number that matters. 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. Above that and the climate begins to change. Corporations may spin, politicians may argue and bicker but Physics and Chemistry doesn’t negotiate.

The consensus among scientists is that 350 ppm can maintain the earths climate approximately the way we know it. We are at 390. The glaciers are melting, the sea is acidifying, the polar ice caps are receding. they’re boating through an Arctic passage now. The Insurance companies are refusing to insure coastal properties.

350 ppm must be the target. It must be the number in the treaties and the agreements.

350.org

Posted by thebob.bob | Report as abusive

Well written and balanced article.

‘targeting emissions per unit of GDP’ = human footprint ?

The theme here is there are too many people, too few resources.

Water, Food and Energy is running out, nuclear is bad.

Catch 22, we are stuffed, that procreation gene outwitted us.

ps: What did we expect when 100 000 000 000 people have walked the Earth to date ?

Posted by Casper Lab | Report as abusive

…sorry Christopher, me again, the main problem lays with the water masses (micro plankton), and I think it has been compromised. Also, on CNN this morning – China is leveraging from the fact that they are now suddenly a ‘developing’ country, the West has been leading with the chin. The following article most probably put me in a cynical space this morning before the long weekend:

http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Co ntent.aspx?id=82250

Posted by Casper Lab | Report as abusive