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Tuesday 20 October 2015

Seeking a fair GHG reduction target - Part 4: Propositions for consensus

With the upcoming Paris conference on Climate Change (CC) nations are starting to announce their reduction targets for the coming decade. Admittedly these are only starting positions as the conference invariably raises issues forcing compromises from most countries.

The selection of a reduction target is always controversial. Passionate CC adherents will always push for greater commitments from their, and indeed every, country. More conservative proponents will put greater emphasis on compliance costs, especially in light of current economic conditions.

This article is the fourth in this series "Seeking a fair GHG target". From the outset our objective has been to find a process for setting equitable Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction targets that would receive widespread acceptance.

In our previous posts...

In this journey we have come a long way.

In part 1 we recognized the core problems in reaching a target;-
  • 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.  Compare, for example, the impact on the Maldives to the impact on Switzerland.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 by the turn of the century), then if one country commits more towards the mitigation then another country can commit less without affecting the outcome. This effectively rewards laggards.
In part 2 we looked at Reduction Target statements and found that the common measures used in these do not reflect a country's contribution to climate change.

The most commonly used measures are misleading in several ways;
  • By using Production Emissions, ignoring a country's imports and exports, they overstate the contribution to global warming of producing countries (eg China), while understating the contributions of consuming countries (eg most countries in Western Europe). 
  • By using Gross Emissions, adjusted for the change in land use only, instead of Net Emissions, which account for all forestry absorption, they overstate the contribution of countries that have extensive forested areas (eg Canada, Australia) and understate the contribution of smaller industrialized countries which have largely deforested (eg many countries in Europe). 
  • By using per annum figures as opposed to cumulative figures they understate the very significant contribution to global warming of countries which industrialized decades ago, and overstate the contributions of developing countries which are now or only recently going through industrialization. 
And in part 3 we looked at how the world ranking of countries changed as we took into account the shortcomings of the most commonly used measures.

For example the two graphs below show the ranking for the top 10 GHG emitters based on annual GHG emission rates and the ranking of the top 10 emitters based on total emissions (since 1850), respectively.

Clearly, the ranking of countries varies greatly depending on the measure used. 

In short, consensus on reduction targets cannot be reached if measures are used that do not correctly reflect a country's contribution to CC.

In this fourth post we look at the essence of consensus and identify four propositions that will ensure consensus on reduction targets.

The essence of consensus

What is the essence of consensus when it comes to CC? 

There have been many disputes between countries with regard to their reduction targets, but they break down to the following three issues; -

  • There is disagreement on each country's contribution to CC 
  • Developed countries have already benefitted from 'free emissions' to achieve better living standards for their people.  Developing countries want their share of 'free emissions' so their people can achieve higher living standards.
  • the cost burden of addressing climate change can fall on poorer developing countries that have contributed little to the problem. They want compensation from those who caused the problem.
These are all valid arguments and consensus will not be achieved unless each of them is addressed in a way that is seen to be equitable.

Lets look at each of these and set some guidelines for addressing them.

Propositions for consensus on responsibility for CC

Climate change is just one symptom of humans utilizing resources at a greater rate than they are being replenished. For any advanced society to survive over millennia, they have to replenish all resources they use. This applies not only to the air we breathe but equally for all other resources we use; water quality, food supplies, the diversity of our ecology.

The basic tenet of sustainability requires that if we have emitted GHGs to the environment greater than nature will recycle, we must remove them. Moreover every country has an equal responsibility to remove their own excess emissions.

This argument leads us to the first proposition for creating reduction targets; -

1. Each country has to mitigate their own contribution to CC.

While this proposition makes a clear obligation as to the extent of mitigation effort, it does not provide a timetable. 

The timetable is determined by the stated, and generally accepted, goal of limiting global temperature increase to less than 2C by the turn of the century. We will revisit this limit and what it means for calculating the reductions for each country in due course. For now, however, we encapsulate this global warming limit in proposition 2;-

2. If global emissions are projected to produce global warming beyond the 2C target, then all countries have to reduce their emissions in the same proportion that they contributed to CC.
These two propositions set the core rules for determining how much each country has to reduce their emissions, and when. However there are two adjustments to these rules.

Propositions for consensus on 'free emissions'

No doubt the freedom to emit GHG enjoyed by the now developed world has contributed to their
standard of living. Countries now undergoing industrialization, China, India, Brazil, and countries that have not even commenced this path, most of Africa, cannot be denied the right to the same level of 'free emissions' to enhance their standard of living.
To compensate these 'developing countries' we have proposition 3; -

3. Developing countries are allowed a proportionate quota of 'free emissions'.

The application of proposition 3 is not straight-forward. Who qualifies, what is the quota, when does it apply, and when does it cease, are all valid questions we will have to address in the future. For the present it is sufficient to note that proposition 3 fully compensates developing countries with the same level of free emissions that have been enjoyed by countries that undertook industrialization some time ago.

Proposition for consensus on sharing the cost of remediation

Some smaller Pacific nations, face CC catastrophe. They validly argue they have not contributed to the problem yet the consequences fall on their country disproportionately.

It is only fair that those countries which have contributed most to CC should fund remediation.
While it may be possible to identify which countries are responsible and the extent to which they are responsible for CC to date, it is much more difficult to re-mediate the problem, and even whether remediation is possible. For example how do you stop the submersion of some pacific islands if/when CC causes sea levels to rise.

I have no answer other than to offer financial compensation. Those countries which caused it should pay compensation to those who have been damaged.

This leads us to proposition 4.

4. Countries which face the burden of climate change have to be compensated by those who caused it.

In practice this requires the establishment of a CC Compensation Fund on which countries facing the cost of CC can claim. The total amount to be contributed to the fund would be determined by how much victim countries can justify are their real costs. No doubt this can be problematic, but I will leave the justification to actuaries and the resolutions to judges. The amount contributed should be based on each country's contribution to CC to date.

Note that this contribution should be re-calculated periodically, so that as countries continue to pollute their contribution to the CC compensation fund should be adjusted.

Putting it together

Agreement on any issue can only be achieved if all parties feel their point of view has been considered and addressed. The core issues of the climate change debate have been identified and we have identified four propositions which address these three concerns.

The propositions are ; 

1. Each country has to mitigate their own contribution to CC.

2. If global emissions are projected to produce global warming beyond the 2C degree target, then all countries have to reduce their emissions in the same proportion that they contributed to CC.

3. Developing countries are allowed a proportionate quota of 'free emissions'.

4. Countries which face the burden of climate change have to be compensated by those who caused it.

In the next part of this series we will use these four propositions to derive a set of rules what can be used to calculate equitable reduction targets.

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