We all agree that there is a problem and we all know that CO2 emissions must fall but there is simply a massive gulf when it comes to the solution.
We grew by polluting so we have no right to stop others.
The Economist sum up the current debate on this old problem is a good article. I like the Indian use of the term "carbon space" which provides a useful way to think about this issue (even if it brings us no closer to a solution).
The old "per capita" emissions is again on the table. I am on the side of developing countries on this - it is hypocritical of the west to demand pollution reductions from countries without enough to eat or with millions below the $1 poverty threshold.
The trade-environment implications of the new US legislation open up a whole new area for research. I smell an academic paper.
However, the implications of per capita emissions targets are dire for the future of the planet. Ironically, it is the developing countries such as India and China that will suffer the most from climate change.
That is why in true dismal scientist speak - "we are all doomed".
Wanted: fresh air [Economist]
WHEN argument fails, try metaphor. Shyam Saran, who heads India’s international negotiating team on climate change, says that greenhouse gases are taking up “carbon space” in the atmosphere. Past emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from rich countries have taken up much of that space. Now the poor countries are standing up for their right to a little bit of that space too.
Put in those terms, it seems a matter of plain justice. Mr Saran is merely defending India’s right to industrialise. But as a negotiating position, it is one of the reasons why the talks on climate change at the G8 meeting in Italy this week have proved so fractious. Mr Saran says that the only limit India will accept on greenhouse-gas emissions is the same per-person amount enjoyed by citizens of developed countries. From the planet’s point of view that would mean a huge, and possibly catastrophic, increase in overall emissions.
India’s tough approach is supported by other developing countries. China, now the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, is particularly annoyed about a provision in America’s new cap-and-trade legislation on carbon emissions that would let America impose tariffs on goods from countries that do nothing to control emissions. The bill’s drafters reckon that China and similarly energy-thirsty countries are in effect subsidising their exports by allowing their firms to dodge costly environmental standards. But the Chinese say the measure could lead to a trade war.
Brazil takes a similar position. The cutting down of trees in the Amazon alone releases 700m tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air annually, fully half of the country’s total emissions. Brazil says it wants to curb deforestation, but it is reluctant to let outsiders’ rules tie its hands on the management of its sovereign territory.
The rich countries think they have already done a lot to meet the poor world halfway. At the G8 meeting in L’Aquila they proposed a “vision” in which the industrialised countries would by mid-century cut their emissions by 80% (against which base year is unclear), as part of a global effort to reduce emissions by half. The developing countries could burn more carbon as they got richer, but far less than the rich countries did in the 20th century. If the sums are correct, this would cap the rise in average global temperatures at 2°C (though that may still cause a lot of harm). If the poor countries do nothing, the rich countries argue, their own expensive efforts will be in vain. But with no interim targets, by mid-week the “vision” was fading from the draft deal at the summit.
This failure threatens to unravel a flimsy diplomatic consensus that dates back to the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Signed by most rich countries, this spoke of “common but differentiated” responsibilities for cutting emissions. This was diplomatic language that required nothing binding of developing countries and was the main reason why America never signed up for Kyoto. Barack Obama’s green-minded administration has changed that. So the spotlight is now on the poor countries. Their past position, of denouncing the previous American administration for inaction and hypocrisy, was enjoyable while it lasted but looks flimsy now. Instead they are being pressed to explain what if anything they are willing to do to save the planet.
The rich-world coalition is getting rickety too. America’s new seriousness turns unwelcome attention on countries such as Canada, Japan and Australia. They are seen as having fallen behind by the Europeans, the leaders (relatively speaking) in clean green growth
A dose of Mr Obama’s eloquence may bring a breakthrough by the end of the week. But the departure of the Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, to deal with unrest at home, seemed set to jinx the meeting’s chances. If the L’Aquila summit fails, the deadlock will threaten the climate summit to be held in Copenhagen in December. Governments’ efforts to deal with what many voters see as the world’s biggest problem will look pretty feeble.
Fresh thinking, instead of stale arguments, has rarely been so badly needed. A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week offered a contribution, based on the idea that it is rich people, rather than rich countries, who need to change the most. The authors suggest setting a cap on total emissions, and then converting that cap into a global per-person limit. This would be low enough that if everyone stuck to it, the worldwide target would be met.
Each country would then have the task of reducing its national consumption according to its number of “high emitters”—people with an extravagant output of carbon. Such individuals are scarce in India, more common in China, and common in America. If the goal were to cap emissions at 30 billion tonnes in 2030, say, that would mean squeezing the behaviour of some 1.1 billion “high emitters” worldwide. So the high-living, carbon-guzzling rich minority in India and China would not be able to hide behind their poor and carbon-thrifty compatriots.
The paper suggests that the personal emissions target would be set at around 10.8 tonnes of CO2 per year. China would have 300m emitters over this level by 2030, meaning that the country’s 4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in 2003 should rise to no more than 8.5 billion in 2030, as opposed to a predicted 11.4 billion if China does nothing. The cuts required in Brazil and India would be far smaller, as they have fewer rich people. America’s cuts would have to be greater than those in the administration’s cap-and-trade bill.
It sounds a rather elegant idea—if implausibly complex to carry out. But as a thought experiment, it shows how even Mr Saran’s definition of “fair” falls short of the mark.