Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Adequacy, Realism and Equity In a Climate Change Framework

In a brief update to my last major article "What is the future of action on Climate Change" I am going to look at a report by Paul Baer(of EcoEquity ) and his co-workers. The report entitled "Cutting the Gordian Knot" asks the question: how can we get to an adequate outcome for climate negotiations, bearing in mind the constraints of 'realism' and 'equity'. You can download the report from here but the main point of interest to me is utilisation of 'realism' in a well constructed argument against the use of 'contraction and convergence' as a principle of 'equity'. In my previous article i argue for contraction and convergence so i was naturally interested when a Stanford University political scientist suggested I might want to look again at my support for this concept.(continued...)

My support for contraction on convergence has been based on several considerations but most importantly:
  1. The principle of equity; equal access to the global commons of the atmosphere and
  2. The simplicity of the system (lack of subjective factors) and the existence of a global cap, which is essential for environmental adequacy.
The report starts with a harsh but realistic view of the situation we are in and the level of emissions cuts required to avoid not dangerous but catastrophic climate change. The severity of this situation along with the basics of climate science are explored in my earlier report "Climate Change Facts and Impacts".

The slant the report is going to take on the principle of equity first becomes apparent relatively early on.

"If we are to hold to an adequacy trajectory, then Southern countries can never reach today's Northern levels of per-capita emissions. To the degree that emissions levels remain correlated with development and wealth, Southern countries will remain forever in a second class world."
The former sentence is clearly the case, the second sentence is key to the report. Development is seen as being limited by the essential emissions curbs required for adequacy.

The rate of the emissions cuts is also shown to be a major factor in deciding upon an equitable framework, it is possible to analyze the requirements of C&C on emissions of the 'North' and 'South' and then to look at the implications these scenarios place on who pays and under what circumstances of development. Infact we see that all trajectories which are adequate

"...are also trajectories that require developing countries to cut back soon."

The critical thing abut "soon" is that this 'gap' under the per capita carbon quota level is one of the main ways that countries of the 'South' would pay form emissions reductions and development according to C&C. To illustrate just how soon emissions reductions will have to occur both in the 'North' and the 'South' the chart below is presented.

The emissions levels of the South are permitted to grow by only 2% per year until 2020 and then remain stable and decline. This is hardly the room for development that is usually thought of for developing nations when considering C&C.

"The fundamental equity problem is that...any adequate transition, the South is quickly cast into a world where it is forces to radically curtail its emissions, long before it has reached a level of wealth even vaguely comparable to that which Northern countries enjoyed when they first started to curb emissions."
The argument put forward by the report is that C&C fails on equity because these countries have a right to develop there economies and this right would be denied them by this framework.
An alternative approach to emissions rights is:
"the right to a climate transition that does not compromise sustainable development"
An interesting and attractive idea. For the sake of brevity I will not go into details but one of the most powerful parts of the report is the argument for the acceptance of this principle for both sides, from the developing nations because narrow self interested necessity requires them to hold out for such a strategy and for the developed nations because they would loose enormously if they didn't accept such a strategy. I am a fan of logical arguments and not only did this one win me over to the principle but I appreciated it's elegance.

The framework proposed is described as 'Greenhouse Development Rights' and envisages commitment based on a measure of wealth not an emissions trigger;

"These three elements-an adequacy trajectory, a development threshold, and an indicator of each north countries obligation to pay for mitigation-add nicely to gether into the GDR framework."
The key advantage of this system over C&C is that we have a better definition for 'equity', right to sustainable development, not the abstraction of emissions rights. This is lead to by a careful consideration of 'realism' which informs us that due to the life or death nature of development in many countries of the south, and the costs of rapid mitigation efforts, that the only 'adequate' outcome is a result of low carbon development funding by the 'north'.

As I have already stated I am actually-to my surprise-moving towards being a convert to this framework. However there are two key issues which I believe need further attention.
  1. The necessity of the link between development and emissions, currently strongly evident, but for how long? In New Zealand wind power is now the cheapest form of energy according to a recent news story. These countries have a right to development but is this really antagonistic to GHG policies, Practical Action (formerly ITDG) and many other organisations see synergies not antagonisms.

  2. It is assumed that apart from a few countries such as Bangladesh and numerous small island states, that climate change will be a small factor in most peoples lives, and stronger forces deserve priority from domestic financing. I don not think that evidence backs this up and I therefore question the 'nothing to loose' argument for developing nations taking a hard line in negotiations.I don't see adequate commitments from developing nations as much less realistic than such commitments from developed nations. The barrel may not exist.
Finally from the point of view of negotiations, C&C does have the advantage of simplicity, we shouldn't under estimate the importance of this. I support GDR but the argument does rest largely on the previous two points and C&C is dificult to abandon without these questions being answered. In my next report I will take a look at the link between development and climate change mitigation, are there real and significant synergies?

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At 12:08 AM, Blogger Almuth said...

I suggest that you discuss this with Mark Lynas or others who try to get C&C adopted.

There is another advantage to C&C, apart from equity or simplicy (or because of both): It is the only credible post-Kyoto proposal which really has massive international support. When it was first put on the table, it was supported by India and the Union of African Nations - ie some of the poorest nations. Many politicians in the EU, including the UK, and many churches have endorsed it. A post-Kyoto agreement will need to be thrashed out by 2008, so we surely need to start with a scheme that is already widely popular and at least has a chance of becoming a consensus.

Perhaps some of the concerns raised by EcoEquity can be answered within the C&C scheme, as refinements? There are other serious omissions within C&C - a scheme which does not also protect and restore key ecosystems in the world cannot prevent catastrophic climate change (just think of those peat fires in Borneo, largely lit by plantation owners, easily extinguished if the peat swamps were re-flooded - in one year alone it is estimated that they gave off the same CO2 as 20-40% of global emissions). There is no doubt scope for improving C&C, without replacing it. And there is a great idea about Ecological Debt, which would redress some of the injustices.

As for this new idea, I would be very worried about measurements of development - who sets them, who defines them? Is the current idea of development sustainable or desirable? Even at 2% growth? Or 1% growth? After all, India's modest growth post colonialism led to the displacement of tens of millions of people, desertification of large areas, massive deforestation, massive loss of some of the most fertile soils on the planet - read Arundathi Roy about the devastation it has caused. It's a can of worms, and if the development definition was discussed at climate change negotiations I fear that all major cities would be flooded before anybody agreed.


At 11:01 PM, Anonymous James Salsman said...

Dear Calvin Jones:

Your blog has been nominated in a search for independent third parties to comment on this graph because of a dispute arising in another forum.

You and your readers' participation is strictly voluntary. Would you please comment on this graph, and/or post it to your blog where others might comment on it?

Questions to be answered are:

1. Is the extrapolation reasonable?

2. Does the graph imply anything about the causes of the variation shown?

3. Does the graph have a neutral point of view?

4. Is the graph as a whole merely a review and display with extrapolation of the source data or is the graph original research?

When you have at least one comment, please email james at readsay dot com. Thank you.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous James Salsman said...

P.S. Correction to broken link: source data.


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