Sunday, December 13, 2009

Will Copenhagen yield a safe climate outcome?

The international negotiations at Copenhagen to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions have some significant hurdles to overcome.

The governments of first world countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia wish to continue their high energy use and/or export of fossil fuels and do not seem willing or capable of undertaking structural and economic reforms to move to low carbon economies.

These countries also want the ability to "offset"some of their emissions by "purchasing credits" from developing nations. This is an exercise of smoke and mirrors, as offsets in reality mean no a country can avoid emission reductions.

Developing nations such as China and India wish to continue their growth in use of carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuels as their economies and lifestyles grow and change towards the levels of first world countries.

Small and poor nations, many of which are bearing the immediate brunt of climate change - such as many Pacific Island nations and African nations - want immediate significant emission reductions by first world counties and also money from them to improve their economies and living standards.

Given these tensions, it seems unlikely that the Copenhagen negotiations will yield a binding treaty that will move us collectively towards a safe climate future - one where global temperature increases are kept below 1.5C and atmospheric CO2 is below 350ppm.

I think it is likely that the outcome will be:
  • a voluntary "non-binding" political agreement
  • offsets will be allowed
  • emissions trading will be endorsed - even though in most cases it will not reduce emissions
  • greenhouse gas measurements and reporting will not be subject to independent reviews
If this is the case we will need to rethink our approach and mechanisms for addressing and tacking climate change - as "politics as usual" will have failed to give us the best chance of a safe climate future.

I have described the commercial, social and political pressures that were are facing in this wiki article: The end of the world as we know it.

I am documenting progress and outcomes at Copenhagen in this wiki article: Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009

I think the only fair and equitable policy to adopt is to decide on an appropriate carbon emissions per capita amount that all countries should commit to reduce their emissions too.

This figure would be lower than what China is currently emitting, and much lower than most other developed nations. Perhaps Costa Rica is at the best level already?

1 comment:

Grant said...

Peter, I agree that all countries should aspire to self imposed targets if necessary, with the objective of reducing emissions over the next 20 years,

However while groups (eg. G77) want to include accounting of emissions, from for example bush fires, no Western country will be prepared to accept imposed targets including items that are totally out of their control, we would all have to move back to the cave. Remember that over 80% of our emission increases over the past 20 years was from bush fires (refer Tim Flannery).

The other side of the game is the BINDING targets. It does not seem logical to me to have binding targets with democratic countries, when, a Government can be ordered by the electorate to tear up an agreement, or be kicked out of office, if the electorate starts to suffer major pain as a result of an agreement. I know, in theory, any agreement signed by a Government today should be adhered too the next Government, but if the electorate is only prepared to elect a party that will rip up an agreement, I am sure there will be no shortage of candidates ready to agree.

Personally I have great doubt that we can reduce emissions by much, as we need to keep some form of peak load electricity generation (i.e. coal, or maybe coal converted to natural gas) especially with a 30% population increase over the next 20 years. Our Governments could never afford to fit every house with solar hot water, or PV panels, and Australians are not going to stop using all their electrical appliances, and motor vehicles, not to mention the 800k+ additional new vehicles that go on our roads each year.

The best I would suggest we could achieve may be a retention of existing levels, but a long term reduction by, say, the Government legislating that all electrical appliances sold in Australia from 2012, must be 4 star rating, and all vehicles (not trucks) must be able to achieve a minimum of 10 l / 100km. This in time would reduce the emissions.