October 10, 2011
For the last two decades the international community has unsuccessfully attempted to control climate change. The next Climate Conference due to start November 29th in Durban, South Africa, does not augur any better!
The failure stems from:
- the impossibility of reaching a consensus among 200-odd countries with widely divergent interests;
- the absence of tangible targets and means by which to tackle climate change.
As long as the international community will continue with abstract emission reduction targets, so far committing only Europe and Japan, it is bound to fail; and climate change will accelerate inexorably and imperil future life on the planet.
To change course the international community should:
- focus on concrete actions in seven crucial areas: power generation, road transport, air transport, maritime transport, heating/cooling of buildings, deforestation and subsidies on fossil fuels;
- proceed by “enhanced cooperation”, limiting the number of negotiating parties to the 15 countries that account for about three quarters of global C02 emissions (China, USA, EU, Japan, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Iran and Australia) andallowing for varying participation according to sectors;
- mandate a small group of independent personalities with profound understanding of climate and energy issues to make substantive proposals and chair the negotiations;
- invite these countries to negotiate effective agreements that should in due time also apply to other parties.
Power generation constitutes the single biggest source of man-made C02 emissions. It is technically possible:
- to save one third of the power consumption by higher efficiency of generation, transmission, lighting;
- to generate electricity without C02 emissions by applying appropriate technologies: hydro, wind, solar, biomass, nuclear. Some of these technologies like solar and wind are still more expensive than conventional fossil-fired electricity; but thanks to rapid technological progress and rising costs of oil, gas and coal the cost differential is shrinking rapidly.
With the necessary good will from all parties it should be possible to agree on three basic objectives:
- generate 80 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050;
- define national road maps with precise targets for the share of renewables in power generation in 2020, 2030 and 2040, allowing for differentiated pace among countries a according to their capita GDP;
- submit implementation to annual verification control by the UNFCCC.
Buildings are the number two polluter world-wide, due to heating and air-conditioning.
The 15 major emitter countries should make authorisations of new buildings subject to the respect of minimum insulation rules, e.g. double glazing and double walls, including layers of insulating material.
That should be easy to achieve. Within less than three years they should be capable of agreeing on the basic standards to enter into force as of 2016.
Road Transport (cars, utility vehicles, trucks, buses) constitutes a rapidly rising source of C02 emissions, as motorisation goes ahead in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
To tackle C02 emissions from road transport it is necessary to follow a dual track:
- fix strict fuel efficiency standardsIt should be easy to reach an agreement among the main vehicle producing countries on the imposition of progressively stricter fuel-efficiency standards.Latest by 2030, the average produced passenger car should consume less than three litre fuel/100 km compared to 6-8 litre today. Each country should define its specific road map, which must be transparent. International competition will facilitate implementation, as the standards will have to apply to domestic and imported vehicles.
- Impose high fuel taxesMost countries impose fuel excise taxes; but their levels vary widely. Emitter countries should exert peer pressure for all of them to impose such taxes and agree on minimum tax levels.
Aviation constitutes an even faster rising source of CO2 emissions (>3 percent annual increase projected for the next 20 years), though its share in global emissions is still below four per cent. Despite many efforts, the IACO, the UN organisation responsible for aviation, has failed to reach an agreement among its 200-odd member countries on how to lower or reduce emissions from aircraft.
That has induced the EU to go it alone and introduce, as of January 1st 2012, a timid cap and trade system, covering all flights from and to EU destinations. This has angered the international community, above all the USA, whose carriers have challenged its legality at the European Court of Justice.
The short-term solution for slowing the rise of emissions will have to come from higher fuel-efficiency. This process is in full swing; an international agreement defining efficiency standards might accelerate the process and give an additional push to aircraft manufacturers to further reduce fuel consumption.
The long-term solution for the middle of the century must be CO2 emission-free flying, by 100 per cent use of biofuels.
The parties of the UNFCCC should invite the IACO to present, before the end of 2012, a draft agreement for stricter aircraft efficiency standards and the introduction of a kerosene tax by all IACO countries.
The EU should suspend the implementation of its cap and trade regulation until 2014, the time necessary to put in place an international agreement.
Maritime Traffic accounts for about three per cent of global C02 emissions, rising fast due to globalisation.
Most recently there has been a glimpse of progress towards reducing emissions. Under a ruling by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) big container and cargo ships, to be built between 2015-20 will have increase fuel efficiency by 10 per cent, those to be built between 2020-24 by 20 per cent.
Though developing countries need to comply only after 2020, this ruling deserves applause as the first, however inadequate, effort to tackle climate change through a technical and sectoral approach. It should therefore constitute a helpful precedent for air transport.
Deforestation is most often overlooked, though it is a major factor behind climate change. With a share of an estimated 12 per cent of global emissions it comes third after electricity consumption and heating in global importance. Developing countries bear the main responsibility by failing to properly police illegal logging and deforestation for agricultural use.
Brazil, Indonesia and Congo represent the three main culprits. Maintaining existing forests is first and foremost in the interest of the forest countries themselves. They will suffer most from the droughts that wait at the horizon when their forests will have disappeared.
But forests, in particular tropical ones, represent also a “common good”. The international community should therefore offer technical and financial support to forest countries that are serious in their efforts to curb deforestation.
The UN Redd+ programme and bilateral assistance from Norway, Germany and USA have started to go into that direction. But their results still leave much to be desired because of inadequate collaboration and compliance from forest countries.
The UNFCCC parties should therefore address an urgent plea to:
- forest countries to engage in effective deforestation control;
- potential donor countries to conclude bilateral agreements with one or more forest countries on technical assistance for sustainable forest management;
- consumer countries to ban timber import, including derivatives, from all countries refusing to stop deforestation and practice sustainable forest management.
- forest and consumer countries to introduce fiscal levies in order to discourage the use of paper and other forest products;
- FAO to organise regular satellite and plane surveillance of the most threatened forest zones.
The creeping deforestation of the earth’s forests constitutes the single biggest challenge for the viability of the planet in the coming centuries. It therefore requires infinitely more attention and efforts by all parties concerned.
Subsidies on fossil fuels have been largely ignored in the international climate.
debate. The $ 400 billion spent in 2010 by OECCD countries constitute a major source of climate change. The G 9 has rightly demanded their phase-out in 2009. Some progress has been achieved; but the G 9 countries need to adopt a verifiable road map for their phasing out until 2020 latest and show the example to emerging and developing countries which also indulge in such subsidies.
It is crucial that this issue is duly debated at the forthcoming Durban climate conference.
This down-to-earth approach against climate change is far from perfect. Compared to the fruitless efforts undertaken during the past 20 years in the framework of the UNFCCC it offers concrete and flexible paths of action by the main polluter countries to tackle climate change.
Agreements should be easier to reach considering the small number of parties; they should start where it is rapidly possible to establish common ground.
The actions should be simple, straightforward and easy to monitor.
The EU should take the initiative by proposing agreements for buildings, power generation and passenger cars. This will oblige it to become more flexible on the arsenal of instruments and abandon the hope of rallying all the world behind its cherished system of emission caps and trading.
Before 2015 multilateral agreements in these three sectors should be in force, complementing the provisions on maritime shipping and the ban on incandescent light bulbs.
This pragmatic and incremental approach might also help establish confidence and joint global leadership among the main actors, something that has been totally lacking throughout the last years and led to the immobility in which the international community is finding itself.Author : Eberhard Rhein