Rhein on Energy and Climate

Fighting climate change requires action by all countries, but in particular the small number of major emitting countries- China, USA, EU, Russia, Japan, India, Gulf states, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Korea, South Africa – on which effective mitigation of global climate change hinges.

Up to now only the EU and Japan have taken stringent actions they had committed to under the Kyoto Protocol. All other countries have ignored climate change and continued increasing emissions instead of reducing them, putting narrow national economic interests beyond the requirements of the planet.

The USA and China have been the two main wrong-doers. They posture as “reckless super-powers” refusing to take effective action, whatever the impact on the planet. Combined they account for some 40 percent of global green house emissions (14 GT in 2007), and so far neither is prepared to sign up legally binding commitments, as demanded by the international community, above all the EU.

By declining to join the Kyoto protocol in 1997 the USA has done more damage to the global climate in the past 10 years than any other country on earth. Instead of reducing its emissions by some 5 percent like between 1990 and 2010 as it ought to have done like all other OECD countries, it has taken exception and increased emissions by a quarter since 1990.

No country on earth has dared to call the USA to order and make it accountable to humanity. All governments have cowardly resigned to accept the perverse consequences of US “democracy”! Some governments like the Canadian, Australian, and Korean were even quite happy to hide behind the US refusal.

In 2009 the US Administration has finally understood the need for the USA to act. But it is hamstrung by the Congress and powerful economic interests. After one year of deliberations it has not been able to adopt an even meagre legislation, which would at best reduce emissions by four percent until 2020 instead of the 25-40 percent called for by the scientific community.

All this happens in the name of national sovereignty, which forbids other countries to have a say in “domestic affairs” of any country. But the level of US green house emissions has long ceased to be a domestic affair. It will increasingly affect the living conditions of hundreds of millions of human beings in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The case of China is similar.

Since 1997 it has become the single biggest emitter country. But in the name of national sovereignty and to boost its economic development it refuses to submit climate data/actions to international monitoring and take any international commitments for curbing, let alone reducing its emissions. The only pledge it has made so far is to enhance its macro-economic energy efficiency. But with scheduled GDP growth rates in the order of 8 percent annually energy efficiency must jump dramatically before leading to a decline of emissions. Under the pledges made so far Chinese emissions are bound to grow substantially over next two decades, making it next to impossible to stabilise global emissions at safe levels.

The examples of the USA and China demonstrate the absolute need for a “global climate authority”, composed of the major emitter countries, with powers to “impose” emission reductions and enforce them by appropriate “sanctions”. The 2050 global reduction objectives – 50 percent for all countries and 80 percent for developed countries – need to be transformed into binding targets for individual countries, which will have to modify their energy policies accordingly. Emission quotas to individual countries should be attributed on the basis of past emissions, per capita emissions and future emission paths.

This will be the challenge for 2010! For it to be achieved requires first of all the rapid adoption of the US climate legislation, which will be a major step forward towards attaining an 80 percent reduction until 2050 and give a powerful push to China to follow suit.

The EU has to be the driving force, with the new climate commissioner travelling around the world and trying to convince other governments and legislatures that the EU approach to climate policy can be an inspiration for them.

Brussels, 19.12.09 Eberhard Rhein

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