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Tuesday 25 August 2015

Seeking a fair GHG reduction target - Part 1:The problem

As we approach the next critical Climate Change conference in Paris, the focus on countries' Greenhouse Gas reduction targets is intensifying. Countries are starting to position themselves by releasing their 'commitments' well ahead of the conference. No doubt these are the starting positions as the real work will be at the conference and the final positions will be achieved by some sort of compromise. So too interest groups are honing their best arguments to encourage greater commitments or indeed to lower the targets to minimse costs to jobs and the economy as a whole.

CC more challenging than any other in history

Unlike many global problems CC is especially problematic, I believe this stems from just four fundamental reasons; -

  1. CC affects every country but the impact is not borne equally by all countries. Smaller Pacific islands face CC catastrophe while land-locked countries in temperate zones will have little direct impact. For example compare the Maldives to Switzerland.
  2. The successful achievement of a global reduction target is totally dependent on the largest emitters. If China and US don't play ball, efforts by the rest of the world come to naught.
  3. The costs of reducing GHG emissions also varies by country. For developed countries it may represent a few percentage points off their GDP, whereas for developing countries, like India and China, it can mean a large proportion of their population remains in poverty for a longer period.
  4. CC is a zero sum game. If the total GHG reduction is sufficient to meet the agreed target (limiting global temperature rise to less than 2C degrees), then if one country commits more towards the mitigation then another country can commit less without affecting the outcome. This effectively rewards laggards.
These factors make the task of addressing CC more challenging than any other global problem in history.

Nevertheless the world has united around the problem and progress is being made. The most significant success has been the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the reasonably effective cooperation between all the key emitters. It is far from perfect, but given the factors noted above, that is not surprising.

Seeking consensus on GHG reduction targets

There has been and continues to be disagreement between nations as to how much they should commit given their relative contribution to the problem and /or their high costs of mitigation. There have been arguments about the rate at which mitigation should occur and there have been calls for compensation to be paid by the developed countries, that have caused the problem (to date), to the developing countries.

A range of 'measures' of GHG emissions have been developed to 'objectify' the arguments. These have been used to rank countries and gauge their success in meeting past commitments.

However given the number of factors which determine any country's GHG  emissions, currently there is no objective way to set reduction targets. Ideally, a formula can be developed that takes into account all the relevant elements such as GHG emission rate, GDP, stage of development, and so on, and uses these to generate a Fair Reduction Target(FRT). To be an FRT, it must be seen to be equitable and therefore acceptable to each country and to the global community.

My objective in this series of posts is to explore how such a FRT formula can be developed.

In my next post I will look at the structure of reduction target statements, the various measures currently used in comparing and ranking countries, and the validly of these measures in determining a country's contribution to CC.

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