Rhein on Energy and Climate

Thinking beyond Cancun

There is agreement today that the next climate Conference scheduled for December in Cancun will not achieve a comprehensive agreement for global emission cuts and adaptation measures. The time for preparation is far too short; the US Congress is unlikely to have passed a convincing energy and climate act before mid-term elections November 4th; and the profound discords between major emitter countries – China, USA, EU, Russia, Japan and India on targets and implementation will not be settled during the six months until the start of the Conference.

But the time should not be left unused. It is essential to achieve at least three meaningful results at Cancun.

First, the parties should take the necessary decisions to stop the alarming pace of deforestation of tropical forests. Deforestation is presently responsible for almost one fifth of global GHG emissions. Halting it will therefore make a big difference! Preliminary work is well advanced. A draft text had been ready at Copenhagen. Forest countries would have to commit to strict policing and developed countries would have to devote some of the $ 20 billion emergency funds for 2010-12 to assist in policing and improving forest management.

Second, the issue of “technology transfer” should be clarified. In a way it is a non-issue. Green technology can be purchased by anyone. Like all technology its ownership is normally private, and it is no longer only within the domain of developed countries. India and China are far advanced in solar, wind, nuclear and hydro-power technology. Both have, indeed, become competitors to established Western companies.

Governments cannot order companies to give licences to other parties, let alone fix the conditions at which licences should be granted.

The international community should therefore limit itself to defining a few basic rules for the transfer of clean energy technologies.

What is much more important than the transfer of technologies is the transfer of basic – technical and economic – knowledge on how to reduce GHG emission. IRENA may play a role, but it is a drop in the ocean considering the massive needs for unbiased information on the most effective means to save energy, increase energy efficiency and encourage the use of green technologies. We need thousands of seminars every year to disseminate such basic knowledge among policy makers.

Third, the meeting should define the modalities for the three-year emergency climate fund that should start functioning as 2011.

However useful these three measures may be to restore trust between developed and emerging countries they do not resolve the key issue how to reduce GHG emissions fast enough to contain global warming within two centigrade.

To advance on this core issue the three most concerned powers – China, USA and EU– urgently need to enter into serious informal talks on the questions that have blocked a serious global climate agreement:

What is the scope for substantial reductions of C02 emissions by stepping up energy efficiency within the next 20 years?

What is the scope for replacing fossil energies by renewable energy and nuclear power?

What role for carbon capture and storage? Could China and the USA envisage making CCS mandatory to enable coal- fired power plants to continue operating beyond 2050, if the technology proves to be safe?

Is it possible to achieve a global GHG reduction of 50 percent until 2050 through higher energy efficiency, renewable energy, CCS and more nuclear power?

Can the transition towards an emission- free energy system by the end of the century proceed without hampering economic development?

Would the USA and China follow suit if the EU and other developed countries decided to introduce an even more ambitious climate policy?

Can the USA agree to cut its per capita emissions by 80 percent (to 4 tons) and China to stabilise its emissions around 4 tons until 2050, which would be an equitable burden sharing?

What type of international monitoring will be necessary to check the implementation of reduction targets?

Without the three parties answering in the affirmative to these crucial queries and committing themselves to take to the necessary action, Humanity will not be able to cope with climate change. The EU would be the best suited to formulate the draft answers and submit them for comments to its partners.

The first and foremost aim of such talks should be to establish that an emission-free energy system is necessary, technically possible and feasible without excessive economic in the medium term and huge socio-economic advantages in the long term. Presently, we seem to be far from such consensus.

The second goal should be to better understand the political and social resistances to climate policy in different countries. Without such understanding it will be difficult to find the compromises.

Thirdly, the parties should obtain a better understanding of the most effective instruments for encouraging the transition of the energy systems. Each country will have to define the methods that suit it best, from cap and trade to mandatory energy efficiency standards, fiscal incentives and user bans e.g. for coal-fired power plants or inefficient electric lamps etc.

Each party should encourage an intensive debate on energy and climate policy issues domestically and across borders. Such debate should embrace civil society, scientists, parliaments and, of course, civil servants.

At their most recent high-level meeting in Shanghai, China and EU have agreed to hold regular ministerial talks on climate policy issues. That is a first step, but not enough. The two sides have to step up the intensity of their talks in order to elaborate formulas that may advance the international talks.

Having the most comprehensive experience with climate policy, the EU should rapidly initiate such informal talks and invite the top negotiators from USA and China to Brussels for a discussion on format, subjects and calendar.

Brussels 08.05.10 Eberhard Rhein

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