Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Is 'Post Kyoto' now?

I've been somewhat silent on the One Tonne Challenge, and yet there is definitely news on that front, and I'll write more soon. The progress is promising.

My One Tonne Challenge took an interesting turn... I ended up getting elected to represent the Liberal Democrats in an area of Cambridge. And then I went to Conference in Brighton.. and agreed to write an article for the Liberal Democrat Greens.

Well. Here's the article.

And before I start, I'd like to say a big thank you to Dave Hampton - Carbon Coach, Aled Jones, and David White for their support and contribution to the article.

Is 'Post-Kyoto' Now? (A Framework for Global Progress?)

Neale Upstone looks at the failures of the Kyoto Protocol and charts the way to contraction & convergence

Finally, it seems, the inconvenient truth is out. No, I'm not referring to Al Gore's film, but, yes, I do mean 'climate change'.

From village halls, to multi-national corporations, the conversation has moved from “Surely it's no where near as bad as those tree-huggers make out” to “It's happening. What on Earth do we do about it? How on Earth could something this huge have crept up on us?” Instead of small talk about the weather – conversations about the weather are now rather more significant.

We could be forgiven for thinking that our world 'leaders' already have it in hand? What of all the fanfare and jubilation when in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was announced? Didn't this secure the future of the planet?

The Kyoto Protocol agreed that by 2012[1] the signatories reduce greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% compared to their 1990 levels. The specific targets vary from country to country. Some are for bigger cuts and others allow emissions to grow, but by a limited amount. For example: the UK target is a 12% cut; Japan, a 5% cut; France, no change; and Iceland are permitted a 10% increase.

The protocol finally came into force early in 2005, when, in a bizarre twist, Russia ratified it. They realised they had everything to gain and nothing to lose from Kyoto coming into force. Russia's economic collapse had also meant the collapse of their emissions – a demonstration of how their economy to date had been highly dependent on fossil fuel.

Russia's 'success' has not been mirrored here. UK CO2 emissions have risen 3% since 1997, and, as Chris Huhne points out, we'll only hit our target by accident, due to a mass switch from coal to gas in the early 1990s.

While Kyoto was quite an achievement at the time, globally, the picture is bleak. It’s 'business as usual' with total emissions rising, and each seeming success mirrored by a bigger disaster. For any savings we make, have we done anything other than displace our emissions to China? Rather than cutting emissions, the new bandwagon, bio-fuels and it’s demand for palm oil, is clear cutting its’ way through our remaining rainforests.

And what of the planet's response? Far from 'ecosystem as usual', and gradual change, mother earth has been giving us even more cause for alarm. Events that we thought would take decades, are instead happening in years. In some cases, we do not yet understand how they happened so fast. From the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf, to the droughts in the Amazon, it's not a comforting picture.

Mother Earth's negotiating position is hardening. The most recent research tells us that we must achieve a global reduction in emissions of at least 60% by 2030[2]. We need a global carbon emissions budget that solidly guarantees the survival of our species, our ecosystem, and hopefully too, the beauty of this planet.

Kyoto cannot and will not deliver a global reduction, so we must look beyond it for a solution. Whatever this is, it must not be another part measure that fails to provide a guaranteed global reduction. We cannot afford that luxury this time.

How might this solution look?

As liberals we believe in fairness and freedom. In relation to climate change, this means giving every person on the planet an equal (i.e. fair) share of the global 'carbon emissions budget' and within that to give each of us the freedom to do with it as we please.

I suggest that an appropriate framework would instinctively be liberal, and that it would have the following attributes:

Safety: The framework must give us the best chance to deliver the required results. The targets and rate of contraction must be set, not by politicians, but by scientists. These cannot be politically-hindered scientists, like Sir David King, the government's chief scientific advisor, who has talked about what is 'politically achievable', rather sticking to making the case for what is 'necessary'. There must be no room for influence or compromise.

For example, in the same way that it is the Monetary Policy Committee that sets banking interest rates, we could empower a global and independent Climate Change Committee to set initial emissions rates; ongoingly assess progress; and if necessary, set more stringent rates of contraction.

We must become subservient to the experts working on the latest available evidence. Our job as political leaders will then be to manage social and economic stability within the imposed constraints. If our scientists agree that, say, 437ppm is the highest we can go, then we listen and act accordingly. Whether they say 490ppm, or 400ppm, we must listen!

I will re-iterate a hugely important point here. This is not about what we believe we can achieve, it is what we must. If we must, the human race 'can' cease all oil and coal use. There are no economic or political 'realities' here. Those 'realities' are human creations that the planet does not care for. We are discovering that the true realities are those that we were able to predict, and now find happening faster than we expected.

Fairness: Within the available, and reducing envelope of global emissions, we should allocate emissions rights based on population. A transition to equity could be implemented in several ways, for example:

gradual convergence of allocations by a given date, starting with 'grandfathered' emissions rights

instant change, giving an abrupt transition to equal per capita rights

convergence of allocations by a given date, plus a period of 'over-convergence' to allow developing countries to enjoy a period of higher emissions than others, as the developed world has done to date.

Whatever the debate over allocations, it should not be whether they will eventually be a per-capita allocation, but instead over the rate of convergence. 'Over-convergence' may be historically fair, but is frankly a debate for a later decade.

Freedom: So long as the overall global emissions are adhered to, each emitter (country, corporation or individual) should be permitted to buy and sell or even give away their current, past and future emissions rights. This is a key point of a liberal approach.

Some environmental organisations say that historical emissions must be taken into account, but it is not their decision to make. The developing world seems to have embraced the politics of amnesty, rather than of blame. There is huge 'southern' support for the 'Contraction and Convergence' protocol[3], which currently proposes to ignore past emissions. In this scenario, the 'south' would not only be forgiving past emissions, but also appear willing to forgive a short-term continuation of inequity during the period of convergence.

Economic Efficiency: To be economically efficient, it must allow businesses to make long-term investments. This will not be possible unless, it is the framework we intend to still be using in 2030 and beyond. Each country should be encouraged to reduce distortions such as taxes and subsidies and only use them as tactical short-term measures. It is counter-productive to continue to use "here today, gone tomorrow" subsidies such as those the U.K . has recently had.

Accessibility: It should be easily understood. Complex arrangements, however optimal some economist might say they are, would become like our tax system: hated, expensive to administer, and full of holes. A simple framework would allow people to confidently engage, and would be easy to audit.

Certainty: Having tasked the scientists with setting the rules, we also need an unswerving referee. There must be a clear precedent for economic, and if necessary military sanctions. I say this because we have recently seen Canada retreating from their Kyoto obligations, in part due to their trading neighbour, the U.S., not being involved. We must have 'zero tolerance' policing on this, otherwise the whole scheme would be in jeopardy.

The need for certainty puts a completely different perspective on international relations, such as with North Korea, and the 'war on terror'. The shift could see us talking about 'climate terrorists' – those countries and organisations that work against solutions rather than for them. I might, perhaps naively, suggest that it could create a very different relationship between some groups that currently see themselves as enemies.

Co-operation: In many cases a preferred and more likely application of military and intelligence resources would be in supporting other countries with internal compliance, such as tackling illegal logging operations. An international agreement must support and encourage co-operative intervention if a country is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to deal with internal challenges.

So how might a post-Kyoto framework look?

I believe that it could and should be based on the “Contraction and Convergence” (C&C) protocol. C&C is widely supported, both in the developed and developing world, by governments political parties, businesses, non-government organisations and religious groups. In the UK, both we, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party, support C&C as party policy, and there is vocal support within the Labour and Conservative parties too.

The principle of Contraction and Convergence satisfies the fair, free, efficient and accessible criteria above. Within this, the rate of contraction and rate of convergence are easily adjusted, and can therefore be set (in the case of contraction) and negotiated (in the case of convergence) with ease. It would also be very easy to adapt to create a period of 'over-convergence' should developing countries demand this.

Beyond this, governments, within the framework of the United Nations, must satisfactorily address the 'Certainty' and 'Co-operation' requirements.

Lastly, but not least, there is the issue of urgency. As individuals, families, communities, businesses and nations, there is so much that we can do to get started down a new path, and many have already have.

Within the UK, our government has the power to transform the energy efficiency of our country overnight. While liberal economists might rightly worry about over-regulation, this is an emergency that warrants appropriate use of all instruments we have to hand. For example, we could: force all new homes to be built to passivhaus (zero heating) standards; ban old fashioned light bulbs; ban electronics that waste power on standby; remove VAT and fuel duty subsidies on air travel.

What is mad is that this 'red tape' would be hugely beneficial to our economy and competitiveness. These are actions that would be appropriate even if we didn't have the challenge of climate change.

Beyond the UK, we can build on Kyoto and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The EU could demonstrate resolve and leadership by:

Expanding the ETS to cover all emissions for all sectors of the economy (at the moment it excludes sectors such as aviation, and only covers CO2 emissions).

Putting the ETS onto a “Contraction and Convergence” path. Under C&C the EU countries would have a defined path. We can ensure that the ETS follows that same path. As a free market the EU is big enough for this to be viable without causing an economic down turn. We could also, if necessary, and with sufficient resolve, impose proportional penalties on trading partners that would be unfairly advantaged while outside of an emissions trading scheme.

In summary, I would argue that 'post-Kyoto' is now, and that in it's heart, it is “Contraction and Convergence”.

I have a challenge for our world leaders. I challenge them to immediately set the world free to work on solutions by:

agreeing on Contraction and Convergence as the fundamental framework

agreeing to put the contraction rate in the hands of scientists, not politicians

setting some initial values to give the most lenient rates of contraction, and of convergence (for example, a contraction target of 450ppm by 2050, and convergence of allocation by that date would probably be agreeable to most, and would almost certainly require tightening up).

These could be sufficient to allow investment decisions to be made now, not in 2012, or later.

Now is the time!

Neale is a councillor on Cambridge City Council, where he is known for his outspoken commitment to climate change solutions.

For more information on Contraction and Convergence, this article in the BBC 'Green Room' is great

[1]the assessed emissions are taken as an average of the 5 years 2008-2012

[2] “The Cutting Edge Climate Science to April 05” – Colin Forrest.

[3] Good overview of C&C can be found at

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