C&C: On climate change, the G8 has the chance to make history, not poverty.

Tony Blair has put tackling climate change and African poverty at the top of his agenda for the G8 summit. As David Hopkins reports, there is a way to meet both of these targets head-on, but only if there is the will.

As leaders gather in Gleneagles for the G8 summit this week, two topics are dominating headlines and discussions: Africa and climate change.

Tony Blair has said he wants to not only heal the ‘scar on the conscience of the world’, but also to tackle the effects of an issue ‘so far reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it radically alters human existence’.

That these are two noble, lofty ambitions is without doubt. Whether or not the G8 is willing to deliver on them, however, is another matter.

Thus far, the poverty and development agenda has dominated debate, with the Live8 concerts and Make Poverty History campaigns making headlines and receiving pledges from the heads of state.

Climate change, by contrast, seems to be falling behind in its wake, with no firm action or pledges made, as if tackling global warming is a wildly unachievable goal, compared to the relative ‘ease’ of banishing global poverty.

This seems a desperately worrying state of affairs as climate change and development are not mutually exclusive, and are likely to have a major impact on one another.

As a coalition of development and environment groups recently noted in their report Africa: Up in Smoke?, (see edie news story), development goals could easily be ruined by the effects of climate change, such as extreme rains, hail and droughts, that could erode soils and make large swathes of the developing world uninhabitable or unable to grow crops.

Equally, any breakthrough in development is likely to see a massive rise in emissions from the developing world, hastening the effects of global warming.

So, any deal on one should, by rights, offer a framework to take into consideration the other.

This framework already exists and is called Contraction and Convergence (C&C).

Developed and first proposed by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute in London 1990, C&C is widely accepted by climate and poverty campaigners alike as the only way to move both issues forward in a sustainable manner.

The first step on the C&C path is for the world to agree on a scientifically ‘safe’ or ‘stable’ level of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, and then work out the rate at which emissions would have to ‘contract’, ie rate of reduction, in order to meet that target at a specific time, 2050 for example.

“A sensible judgement has to be made as to what that limit is,” Mr Meyer explained, speaking exclusively to edie news. “We use 450 parts per million by volume (ppmv) CO2 as a reference [the current level is around 360ppmv] not because it is necessarily safe, but because we believe it should be central when comparing ‘more’ with ‘less’ dangerous.”

“The point is, the rate can be annually revised – that is why you’d have annual negotiations,” he added.

From this official target or ceiling limit, a global budget of tradable emissions allowances would be created. Crucially, these would be shared out between countries proportional to population, so that each country’s emissions entitlements would eventually converge on the basis of equity rather than relative wealth as at present.

This means that, over a phased amount of time, each and every person on Earth would be given the same emissions entitlement.

Rich, polluting countries, would immediately be at a disadvantage in the emissions markets and be forced to buy entitlements from cleaner, usually developing, nations. Depending on the level of contraction and the date for convergence, this could signal an enormous flow of money from north to south, or developed to developing, far surpassing that currently spent on aid.

“Nobody refutes that, to stabilise concentrations you have to have a contraction of emissions. If you have a contraction of emissions, then some form of convergence of emissions shares is already occurring,” Meyer continues.

“What you have to decide is whether you want an equitable, scientifically based framework, such as C&C, or roulette style guesswork, which is what we have now. By setting this up, as opposed to nothing, or the good intentioned pick-a-number politics a la Kyoto, what you’ve got is a frame of reference that is rights based, that is inclusive, and that deprives people, in principle, of a reason for saying, ‘I won’t play because they won’t play’. The game is already going on, C&C is the board on which you play the game.”

This could help overcome one of the major stumbling blocks of the Kyoto treaty and satisfy US demands, stipulated by the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, for a truly international process committing all countries to limiting their greenhouse gas emissions.

At present, under Kyoto, developing countries, eve rapidly developing ones such as China and India, have no incentive to curb their emissions. A point the US has used repeatedly as a reason why it won’t cut its own emissions.

However, C&C is a truly international framework, one whose full workings could be phased in over an agreed convergence timetable.

In addition, Meyer says, if there is agreement that global emissions should converge to equity, then developing countries would have a huge incentive to conserve energy and adopt a renewable, non-fossil fuel energy future. As part of the C&C framework they would automatically acquire a surplus emissions entitlement, based on their population to emissions ratio, which they could sell to finance the creation of a new, renewable, energy infrastructure.

The simplicity and equity of the framework have gained it support from a number of unlikely sources. Adair Turner, ex-head of the CBI and now with Merrill Lynch has voiced his support and oil giant BP recently invited Aubrey to explain and discuss the principles of C&C with their management.

Even Defra has admitted that its targets for future emissions reduction (60% reduction by 2050) were based on calculations from the C&C models.

More recently, the House of Commons Select Environmental Audit Committee has said the Government ‘should formally adopt and promote C&C as the basis for future international agreements to reduce emissions’, arguing that: ‘The real strength of the model arises from the manner in which the concept of equity underpins it’.

Throughout the election campaign in May, Aubrey and the GCI targeted all sitting MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates, asking them to make a simple online pledge to endorse C&C as the framework within which to negotiate climate change gaining a respectable parliamentary majority of over 300 signatures.

This is not to say that it is without criticism. James Cameron, one of the negotiators of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and a founder of Climate Change Capital, a specialist merchant bank for emissions trading, has said he found it impossible to apply in practice and that, if used as a negotiating strategy, would delay the implementation of Kyoto and the creation of a post-Kyoto regime.

Meyer, however, remains unperturbed. He has been campaigning at UN level for the adoption of C&C since he developed the framework in 1990 and has been critical of the Kyoto regime since its inception: “Its basis is guess work not science. And, it is inauspicious that Kyoto rewards only the long term polluters. The rule is to start as you mean to carry on, and if Kyoto is that start, then God help us.”

“In my opinion, this (C&C) is the only thing that can take us beyond Kyoto and into a safe and equitable future.”

So far, however, signs from the pre-G8 build-up do not look good. The American delegation still doubts the science behind global warming – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that large swathes of the country still doubt the science behind evolution – and the UK itself cannot keep its own emissions under control, let alone the rest of the world’s.

However, there is hope. All parties have said they favour technological boosts to the problems of global warming and investment in the developing world. C&C provides a clear financial incentive for clean technological development through its equitable system of emissions trading.

“What we’re saying to Tony Blair is that the empty chair is yours. When you go to the G8, speak for everybody in terms of this mandate and don’t miss the opportunity of your career,” Meyer says.

He is well aware that the agenda of the G8 is likely to be swayed by the momentum of the Make Poverty History campaign, but is desperately trying to make sure that people don’t forget that climate change could make us all history.

“We have the chance to address both poverty and climate change through this one mechanism and it is so crucial that we do this now. Please Tony Blair, you have this one chance. Make history, not poverty.”

By David Hopkins



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