Rhein on Energy and Climate

The 17th International Climate Conference in Durban has terminated its two weeks` work with a procedural conclusion to work for an international climate agreement to be signed by 2015.

This result owes much to the tenacity and negotiating skill of the EU delegation, but also to the EU`s credible climate policy, demonstrated once again by its pledge for additional emission cutting in conformity with the Kyoto Protocol.

An effective and comprehensive climate agreement by 2015 will be extremely hard to negotiate.

  • It will require a change in negotiating techniques: instead of convoking huge annual gatherings the international community should advance informally through countless bilateral and multilateral meetings, where participants exchange their views and experience on how to best reduce fossil energy consumption without inhibiting economic development.
  • But it will also need more focus on substance: how will different countries best meet the requirement of lowering their fossil energy consumption and C02 emissions? How to cope with air and maritime transport? How to preserve forests? How to cope with ultra-dangerous methane emissions from cattle and sheep raising? And, last not least, how to account for population growth that may contribute up to one third to the increase of green house gas emissions until 2050?

Big formal meetings like Durban or Cancun should take place after crucial questions concerning the content of the future climate compact have been clarified. The EU should therefore try to convince its partners to delay the C0P 18 scheduled in Qatar for the end of 2012, when there will not yet be a new US Administration, to the end of 2013.

The EU offers the only paradigm of an effective national climate policy. It should therefore share its experience with all countries interested in following its example.

China should be the EU`s priority partner. As the biggest emitter of green house gases its action will be felt at the global scale.

It has become much more aware of climate risks than 10 years ago, due to the heavy toll it pays to climate change by increasingly damaging floods and droughts. As the world`s leading technology provider for wind and solar energies on the one hand and rare earths for their manufacturing on the other, it has realised that energy efficiency and renewable energies could become the twin key drivers of its future economic development.

It aims at pricing CO2 emissions into the costs of energy and thereby exert more pressure on business to use less fossil energy and use it more efficiently. It has therefore decided to introduce an emission cap and trade system similar to that of the EU as of 2015. Both sides are engaged in an intensive and constructive exchange of views and experience.

The next stage in Chinese-EU climate cooperation should be the elaboration of parallel energy/climate road maps up to 2050. The EU has already prepared a draft road map that aims at reducing CO2 emissions by 80 per cent until mid-century. It would be a triumph for global climate policy if China were able to align itself on a similar goal.

Both sides should try to figure out the implications for China of such an ambitious objective:

  • How can energy efficiency be lifted?
  • What are the limits to wind, solar and hydro power?
  • What investments in smart grids will be necessary to insure stable supply?
  • How will mobility be ensured by “green power”?
  • What energy prices are “sustainable”?
  • Will green power be competitive with coal, if all coal power plants were to be equipped with CCS installations?
  • What building standards will have to be introduced to ensure “zero-mission buildings”, which will be vital for achieving an 80 per cent reduction of C02 emissions?
  • Is such an energy revolution compatible with rising living standards?
  • These will be some of the questions which Chinese and European policy makers will need to answer.

Chinese-EU energy and climate talks should be open to all parties seriously interested in tackling climate change.

Australia, that has recently introduced an ambitious C02-emission taxation scheme, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and South Africa might be potential candidates to join as observers or active participants.

The UN Secretariat for Climate Change will, of course, have to be invited to be able to coordinate the various bilateral dialogues.

Any such talks should remain informal and confidential. They should not turn into diplomatic proceedings where participants would have to commit their governments. That would doom them to failure.

But the EU should do more than engage in bilateral or multilateral dialogues.

It should also start reflections on the structure of the future climate compact and share these with China and other partners.

Here are some elements for further thought.

  • The climate compact should be a composite of specific agreements dealing with various aspects of climate mitigation, among these one for C02 emissions, methane emissions, and forest preservation.
  • C02 emissions have to dealt with under three headings: emissions falling under national sovereignty, emissions from shipping and air transport.
  • A 2050 objective for global and per capita C02 emissions will be required, in combination with a global trajectory and interim check points in 2030 and 2040. These objectives should be consistent with the desirable level of global warming until 2100.
  • Only major C02 emitter countries will have to join, say those 20-odd countries that account for 75 per cent of global emissions. This will substantially facilitate the negotiations .
  • Each of these countries will have to elaborate and submit to peer review energy road maps until 2050, which set out the targets to be achieved and the instruments to be put in place. Countries will have little choice but to set a price for each ton of C02 emitted. They can do so indirectly by fixing “emission caps”, as the EU has done, and allow the emission rights to be auctioned. Or they can follow the Australian method of imposing a C02 tax.
  • In addition, all countries will need complementary instruments , like fuel efficiency standards for trucks, cars, and machinery as well as insulation standards for buildings. Ideally these should also be laid down in specific international agreements, e.g. for automobile efficiency standards or the ban of incandescent lamps
  • The pace of reduction will depend on the level of per capita emissions.

The USA will have to reduce their per capita emissions from 20 tons in 2010 to 2 tons in 2050, the likely sustainable global average by the middle of the century. China will need to reduce from 6 to 2 tons. It can therefore proceed at a more leisurely pace.

The debate on the relative rates of reduction will be the toughest aspect of the future negotiations.

  • The compact must provide for a very strict reporting and monitory system. Any deviations must be made public immediately: and flawed countries will have to pay some sort of penalty. This will also be a hard nut to crack.
  • For shipping and air transport the most efficacious system would be a global excise tax on kerosene and bunker to be imposed by the UN, the revenues to be transferred to the global climate fund. Compliance with the taxation will have to ensured by very strict mandatory accounting systems. Alternatively world airlines may also align on the cap and trade system the EU will impose as of 2012.
  • Methane emissions are twenty times as toxic for the climate as C02. Presently there are two major sources of methane emissions: cattle/ sheep raising and wetland paddy rice cultivation. The first priority will be to reduce the global consumption of beef and lamb, which will be increasingly unsustainable as the global population rises. A substantial level of taxation seems to be the most expeditious way of reducing meat consumption, while encouraging cattle/sheep farmers to intensify research for varieties emitting nor less methane.The agreement on methane emissions could be limited to less than 20 countries that raise the bulk of cattle and sheep: Argentina, Brazil, USA, Australia, New Zealand and EU would certainly have to sign up.
  • The 30 odd countries endowed with big forest areas should commit to protect these and prevent a temporary explosion of C02 emissions due to deforestation. The outlines of such an agreement exist in the REDD programmes, on which negotiations should build.
  • Last not least, a small number of countries should take commitments to slow down their demographic growth. The expected increase of world population by an extra two billion ( 30 per cent) until the middle of the century, will be one of the driving forces of future green house emissions and global resource stress. It is therefore legitimate to ask the governments concerned, mostly very poor countries with extremely low per capita emissions, to make their contribution to a sustainable world, and the governments of wealthy countries to offer the assistance required to prevent unwanted births.
    There is no need to finalise negotiations in these different fields simultaneously. They should be carried to the point of initialling the texts for signature in 2015 with all other draft agreements that should be ready by then.

This is a huge programme to negotiate within three years! Time will therefore be of the essence. Let us hope that those who have agreed on this tight schedule in Durban are fully aware of the time constraint and will lose no time to get down to serious work.

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