Rhein on Energy and Climate

The news from the climate front is extremely worrying. After 10 days of debate on formalities and secondary issues the Bonn preparatory meeting has ended without offering much hope for a substantive outcome in Copenhagen at the end of year.

The gulf between what humanity needs to do to prevent a dramatic deterioration of the global climate and what diplomats from rich and developing countries are offering to do remains as wide as ever.

Humanity has to act fast and effectively to prevent global temperatures from climbing beyond two centigrade threshold that would provoke uncontrollable chain reactions with disastrous consequences for humanity. To that end, global C02 emissions have to decline by two thirds, from roughly 30 billion tons today to only 10 billions, rapidly.

This challenge defies all imagination! Far from declining C02 emissions continue rising by 2-3 percent annually due to rising population and living standards! It requires a war-like mobilisation of humanity’s political, technological and economic forces (Lester Brown), in particular by those with the biggest consumption of fossil energy.

Humanity possesses the basic technologies. It has achieved stunning remarkable progress in recent years. But due to social inertia and the sheer dimension of the task climate change risks of running out of control.

The rising concern with “adjustment measures” in the preparations for Copenhagen is indicative of a dangerous mood of resignation. Adjustment should not be the right priority. Humanity should focus all efforts on mitigating climate change. If it fails, the damage from climate calamities will progressively exceed the dimension of what international solidarity will be able to cope with. An international fund for climate calamities can therefore not be much more than a gadget or a symbol of overstressed solidarity.

The debate has hardly touched upon the ways by which humanity should achieve the reduction targets that might finally be agreed. It has not done so in preparation for Kyoto; and it does not seem to be keen this time…

Targets do not reduce emissions, unless transformed into effective policies and actions by millions of business and hundreds of millions of citizen across the world.

It is for national governments to decide these. But the international community has a legitimate interest in effective measures being taken rapidly and in learning from successful experience gained by the most advanced countries.

The Copenhagen agreement should therefore provide an extensive annex in which every signatory country will indicate it’s the agreed reduction targets and the precise measures it commits to take for achieving them.

This is indispensable for transparency and will enable the international community to monitor compliance.

The success of the Copenhagen agreement will depend on three essentials:

  • Ambitious reduction targets,
  • Effective implementation,
  • Strict monitoring of compliance.

The precise nature of the measures may differ among countries, but should be a combination of:

  • Immediate abolition of existing subsidies on fossil energy.
  • high taxation of all sources of fossil energy;
  • ambitious caps of C02 emissions from major emitter sources,
  • ban on new fossil-fired power plants;
  • strict fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, electric appliances, and buildings, coupled with subsidised programmes for massive energetic refitting of existing buildings;
  • ban on incandescent lamps;
  • Subsidies for wind and solar power generation.

This catalogue of measures should be applicable to all signatory countries of the new agreement. But the depth and speed of measures should differ according to their level of development.

Very poor countries should only have to take minimal action, e.g. abolish subsidies on fossil fuel and make energy-efficient lamps mandatory.

OECD countries will have to set an example to the international community, including commitments for financing effective energy and climate strategies in developing countries.

The IEA should invite its member countries to present their energy-climate strategies immediately after the summer break.

All countries with extensive tropical areas should, as a matter of priority, commit to stop any further destruction of their tropical forests. In return, they should benefit from substantial assistance from OECD and oil producing countries for financing effective surveillance/policing and compensation for the loss of budget revenue. The precise provisions will need to be negotiated separately. Such an arrangement is crucial for the effectiveness of any climate agreement, as deforestation contributes almost as much to global C02 emissions as China or the USA, the two biggest emitter countries.

The Copenhagen Agreement should finally contain provisions for reducing emissions from maritime and air transport. To that end, both sectors should be subject to high “climate taxes”. IATA and IMO have to submit appropriate proposals. The new measures should enter into force as of 2013.

This catalogue of actions might look like wishful thinking. But without agreeing on something like it those in charge of climate policy will not have fulfilled their mission.

Brussels, 15.04.09 Eberhard Rhein

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