When I posted yesterday about my disappointment in the public infighting by the climate change policy wonks I turn to for guidance, Greenpa left behind a comment saying, "What you have here, I think, is THE argument in favor of individual action, instead of 'policy.'"
The problem is, of course, that in 2050 there are going to be 9 billion people on the planet and only 1 billion of us will be in the currently developed economies.
It's not just that we have to find a way to consume less in the developed world. We must also find ways for the developing world to consume more sustainably. And that means developing ren ewable technology and finding ways to transfer that technology to economies that can't afford it.
Further, we have to find ways to make the halting of deforestation economic acceptable to the developing economies, like by forgiving debt so they don't have to cut down trees to service it.
These are goals that can't be accomplished by personal action here in the United States or elsewhere. We need political action to push forward the climate mitigation agenda, too, and even that is the wrong way to put it, because involvement in the democratic process *is* individual action.
But that still leaves open the question of a vision for how global climate change mitigation should be achieved. What policy should we be fighting for?
On the one hand, there is no point limiting climate emissions here in the United States if industry will just move to developing countries--taking their jobs with them--and carry on their emissions happily ever after. On the other hand, China says that it is not fair to cap emissions in developing economies like theirs before their citizens achieve European-style standards of living.
Meanwhile, back here in the good old USA, policy people argue amongst themselves as to whether we have sufficient technology to solve the climate change problems across the globe. Therefore, should we make our first priority regulations limiting emissions or investment in technological development?
A conundrum of impasses.
But according to the Business of Green:
...there are signs that medium-sized polluting nations including Britain and Germany are beginning to favor one possible solution to this impasse that would allow the rich world to cut back on its pollution gently, and allow the developing world to increase polluting until it reaches improved levels of prosperity.
In Britain this idea is known as Contraction & Convergence, so-called because the process would aim to equalize the levels of emissions — measured on a per capita basis — between rich and poor nations.
The website of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has posted a paper on this "Contraction & Convergence" by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern (pictured above) that points to the benefit of both solving the climate crisis and alleviating world poverty
(and if that's not an example of happier planet, happier people, I don't know what is!). It also integrates the deployment of current technologies with investment in new technologies.
[Thanks to prompting from Sharon Astyk, let me say that I don't mean to endorse this plan but to bring it up as a discussion piece. What I like about it is that emphasizes both deployment in current technology and investment in new and that it suggests that developed economies shouldn't get a larger share of per capita carbon emissions and that it attempts to send wealth into emerging economies. On the other hand, it's numbers are not aggressive enough since we actually need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.]
Here is the thesis of the paper, and if you don't read the rest of this admittedly overlong post, read this:
"The priority for poorest countries [meaning their own policy priorities] is to get more access to energy and consequently to emit more carbon, even though, a long term preference for a low carbon economy has to be integrated if only for energy security reasons. Africa will host 1.4 billion people in 2050, most of them living in cities. To overlook such developments can produce unsustainable ways of life conducting to further impoverishment. Developing models of an integrated, climate resilient and low carbon path of development is therefore an urgent task."
I thought summarizing some of the paper's key points might be useful, both in their own right but also to familiarize readers with some of the key issues that come up in climate policy discussions:
- Global emissions should be halved by 2050 to give us a reasonable chance of averting the most dire of climate change consequences.
- Implicit in an equitable arrangement would be the idea that all world citizens are entitled to the same carbon emissions and therefore the allowable per capita emissions should be the same for all countries (an average of about 2 tonnes or 2.2 imperial tons a year).
- This will require 80% reduction by developed Western European economies and significant reductions in emissions trajectories of emerging economies like China but it will give room for developing economies to grow.
- Since developed economies like the US emit much more per capita carbon than this arrangement would allow and developing economies still emit much less, developed countries like the US, in order to achieve their targets, would have to buy emissions rights (carbon credits) from developing economies.
- This would have the effect of helping to alleviate poverty in developing countries and to improve standards of living by funding the acceleration of low carbon growth and purchase of renewable energy technology.
- Emissions targets can be met, in part, by adopting efficiency measures to ensure energy is not wasted with positive economic effects.
- Increases in efficiency are limited, however, "so ultimately the control of energy emissions must come through the decarbonisation of energy sources--moving from unabated fossil fuels to renewables, nuclear and the capture and storage of fossil carbon."
- Within each nation it is likely that carbon pricing--the levying of a charge on industries for carbon emissions--will help spur the shift of carbon abatement, though this is not sufficient.
- Policy guidance in each economic sector will also be required--for buildings in urban areas, for land use planning, for transportation and infrastructure.
- Carbon pricing alone will not make renewable energy solutions cost competitive enough fast enough to avoid the building of, for example, new coal plants in the developing economies. The technologies to bring about the near-complete decarbonisation of our energy supply do not yest exist at commercial scale and cost.
- Public support for huge growth in the research and development of large-scale renewable energy is needed to quickly bring down the price or renewables to make the most economically sustainable choice for growing economies.
- Deforestation contributes 15 to 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. A program to stop up to half the deforestation could be constructed for $10 to 15 billion a year. Sustainable forestry policies are required as well as changes to international financing which requires small economies to harvest their forests to service debt.
- Even if all these measures are taken, adaptation to the effects of the unavoidable planetary temperature rise of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius which will be particularly difficult for the poorest and most vulnerable.
- Developed economies have a moral obligation to help emerging economies in this regard since the existing carbon in the atmosphere was put there by the developed nations. Discretionary funding is unlikely to work and a system of global taxation of should be examined.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.