The current Kyoto formula was signed by the U.S. in November 1997, but was vigorously opposed by the Senate during President Clinton's term, and by President Bush during his administration. The argument used by both the Senate and President Bush to justify their opposition is that they will not ratify a treaty that they think puts the U.S. at a disadvantage relative to developing nations such as China and India. While the total emissions from China are growing and may one day overtake the U.S., we must remember that China has four times the population. In 2004, the latest year for which I have full data, its emissions were just 3.84 metric tons of CO2 per person compared to 20.4 metric tons per person in the US If the US was to comply with its Kyoto target, it would still massively out-pollute China on a per-capita basis. The opposition of the White House and the Senate is therefore without any moral foundation and is an unfortunate manifestation of ignorance. The US now stands alone as a pariah state among developed nations in refusing to ratify the treaty. When the US signed the Kyoto Protocol, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 20 ppm lower than it is now. The increase in global emissions since 1997 represents a staggering 18% of the CO2 emitted since pre-industrial times. History will judge these politicians harshly for doing nothing.
Although the Chinese have been seen by developed nations as spoilers at Copenhagen, there concerns has some validity. The United States was still seeking a commitment from China and India that involved targets based on proportional reductions in absolute emissions, and failed to take into account these nations' much larger populations.
In a letter I wrote to the Prime Minister of Australia, I set out to show that the current Kyoto formula of requiring all nations to reduce emissions by similar percentages is inequitable, and that the only formula that developing nations could agree to is one that sets long-term targets, not according to 1990 emissions but according to current populations. The world is now moving towards emission trading schemes mechanisms that rightly set a dollar value on greenhouse emissions, perhaps of the order of $50 per ton of CO2 equivalent. The emissions that nations are permitted to release under any international agreement will consequently also have a theoretical dollar value, and the only way to fairly distribute this is according to population. Much of the world's wealth is based on energy that is too cheap, that has not factored in the cost of protecting the environment. Given that it is the developed world that is responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, there is justice in a formula that puts less developed nations on an equal footing with the wealthier nations in staking a claim to the Earth's resources. If they are low consumers of fossil-fuel energy, they can trade their surplus quota. For many it will be their most valuable export.
The leading model for distributing emissions rights between nations on a per-capita basis is the proposed international framework called "Contraction and Convergence." Formulated in the U.K. by the Global Commons Institute, it is really a more advanced version of the per-capita formula I described previously, and therefore has my full support. It recognizes that because the emissions cuts required by developed nations are so deep, convergence to per-capita emissions rights is only possible over time. Between the post-Kyoto start year (2013), and the convergence year (e.g., 2040), the emission quotas for all nations would contract (or increase) in a linear fashion. From the convergence year onwards, the emissions of all nations would contract on a per-capita basis. This model is gaining support from scientists, businessmen, politicians, and faith groups such as the Anglican Church (UK), Christian Aid, and Tearfund. At Oxford University in the UK, university students have initiated the Climate Justice Project to campaign for this solution. Their website explains how the model works. Contraction and Convergence sets emission targets for each nation, decisions about how those targets are met are entirely up to national governments. Contraction and Convergence is a means of setting targets for nations, but it still dependent on national governments choosing one of the three main mechanisms below to reduce their own emissions.
The global commons consist of the atmosphere, the oceans, Antarctica and outer space, including the moon and Mars, To date, only the terrestrial domains are covered by any sort of treaty. Meeting the challenge of climate change will require more ambitious, effective treaties covering the atmosphere and oceans. In his latest book "Here on Earth", Dr Tim Flannery has a vision of what is needed. He writes:
The immediate challenge is fundamental - to manage our atmospheric and oceanic global commons - and the unavoidable cost of success in this is that nations must cede real authority, as they do whenever they agree to act in common to secure the welfare of all. This does not mean the creation of a world government, simply the enforcement of common rules, for the common good.
Dr Flannery's last point is a particularly important one. I believe there is a need for global governance of the global commons, but not global government. Nations have always existed and always will exist, but their boundaries stop at the sea. The oceans and the atmosphere have always been the common heritage of mankind. The survival of every nation depends on its responsible joint management.
Even if we succeed in limiting the peak of global warming to 2 degrees C, paleo-climate data tells us that increase in temperature eventually leads to a rise in sea levels up to 9 metres above today's level, high enough to inundate most of the world's great cities. Given the catastrophic consequences of doing nothing, and the enormity of the task ahead of us, we need to move rapidly to a near-zero carbon economy. Furthermore, if we are to ever reduce atmospheric CO2 to a safe level, we need to extract the bulk of the CO2 emitted from 1750 up till now. That will require either carbon sequestration on an industrial scale, or geo-engineering. Both these solutions will involve decisions we make as a species, not as competing peoples.
At Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a warning that nations will "sink or swim together". At the upcoming Cancun Climate Conference in Mexico, we need global citizens, not hard-nosed negotiators. If the first priority of delegates to the Cancun Climate Conference is to protect their perceived national economic interests, then the process will fail. If however, delegates arrive with an understanding of the science, an appreciation of the numbers, a sense of urgency, and a vision for what might be achieved, then real progress is possible.
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