Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Germans - And Their Convincing Case on Climate Change

The German Advisory Council on Global Change has presented some truly fine reports and papers on change - not just global warming - but much broader changes underway that mankind is going to have to collectively address if we're to preserve our civilization. Have no doubt on this - our civilization is at stake.

In Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach, the WBGU report foresees the very sort of horsetrading that's already broken out at Copenhagen and the Council has explained the perils inherent in that. Here are a few excerpts:

So far, in their preparations for Copenhagen, the world's countries have clung to their usual long-winded approach, in which complex interests are weighed up in minute detail. The major polluters lay the responsibility at each other's doors: China and the Least Developed Countries, point to the high per-capita emissions produced by the industrialized economies and their emissions based economic growth since the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile the industrialized countries emphasise that China is now the largest emitter of GHGs and that emissions in the developing regions, especially Asia, will increase substantially in the future...

This "Gordian Knot of climate policy" - a knot tied mainly by the USA, the EU, China and the G77 countries - can be described in terms of game theory as a 'social dilemma'; rationally justified individual preferences lead collectively to an outcome whereby all players end up worse off in the future and furthermore - in the case of climate change - sustain massive and irreversible damage. Unless the key players rise above the tactics of self-interest at the forthcoming climate negotiations, 'dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system' can no longer be prevented.

...even for the majority of developing countries, persisting with fossil-fuel-driven growth is no longer an option if dangerous climate change is to be averted. Economic and social development must be decoupled from greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

But any future attempt to accomplish this based on the present model of international climate policy would require all 192-signatories to the UNFCCC to negotiate emissions reduction targets for around 100 countries! The process is at risk of deteriorating into a 'talking shop' in which negotiators haggle over every decimal point and comma at marathon bargaining sessions even as global warming spirals out of control.

The Council proposes that a carbon budget regime be established based on three principles: the 'polluter pay' principle, the precautionary principle, and the principle of equality.

The polluter pay principle is obvious. "...industrialized countries have a particular responsibility to cut their greenhouse gas emissions due to their high cumulative emissions in the past. Unless the industrialized countries act on this responsibility, no global climate treaty will be achieved."

The precautionary principle is a common acceptance that emissions budgets must be established to stay within the targeted 2C "guard rail." "...The global emissions budget, capped by the 2 degree C guard rail, requires not only the industrialized countries but also the newly-industrializing and developing countries to adopt a course toward a low-carbon future."

It's the third principle, the principle of equality, that's going to be hardest to accept by people like Stephen Harper and most of the US Congress. "The principle of equality - which postulates individuals' equal rights, without distinction, to the benefits of the global commons - is recognized by many countries but is not yet enshrined in law.

...From a theory of justice perspective, this concern does not permit any differentiation based on national or individual interests. It requires emissions to be allocated in a manner which reflects the interests of the global community and humankind as a whole. The principle of equality cannot be used to derive an individually enforceable right to equal per-capita emissions, but it does imply that equity in per-capita emissions should be the basis for the allocation of national emissions budgets."

The Council doesn't claim that its budget proposal is the best in every respect. It claims that the budget approach is the only vehicle to achieve an effective carbon emissions reduction regime in time to make a difference. It has to be simple in order to be universal, verifiable and enforceable. Nothing else is going to work.

The Council gives a warning about political sleight-of-hand at Copenhagen resulting in apparently positive agreements to slash emissions that will actually see emissions rise substantially in the future. The examples given are too long to reproduce in this post but they do describe some of what we're already seeing played out at Copenhagen.

As I'm working my way through these German reports I keep coming back to the question of why my country hasn't provided my countrymen with this same quality of information. The answer is always the same. This is a discussion they don't want us to have and keeping this information from us is all about seeing to just that. When it comes to the Harper government, an informed public is an unwelcome, even dangerous thing to be avoided whenever possible.

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