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Greenhouse development rights and global carbon budgets

Darryl D’Monte continues his reportage of the Climate Action Network International meet on in Bangkok where, he says, two NGOs put forward blueprints that could be templates on which the new climate treaty is based

Two NGOs -- the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and a consortium led by Greenpeace -- have put forward blueprints that could be templates on which the new climate treaty, due to be negotiated in Copenhagen in December, is based. 

WWF employs the concept of greenhouse development rights (GDRs), which have earlier also been propagated by the Stockholm Environment Institute and others. This August, it released a report titled ‘Sharing the effort under a global carbon budget’. 

WWF says: “A strict global carbon budget between now and 2050 based on a fair distribution between rich and poor nations has the potential to prevent dangerous climate change and keep temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius.”

The report is based on research and shows different ways to cut global emissions by at least 80% globally, by 2050, and by 30% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Both the EU and US have agreed to this 2050 target but differ drastically on the intermediate goals, which have a vital bearing on keeping global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees C, beyond which there will be catastrophic climate changes.

“In order to avoid the worst and most dramatic consequences of climate change, governments need to apply the strictest measures to stay within a tight and total long-term global carbon budget,” said Stephan Singer, director of global energy policy at WWF. “Ultimately, a global carbon budget is equal to a full global cap on emissions.”

According to the analysis, the total carbon budget -- the amount of tolerable global emissions over a period of time -- has to be set roughly at 1,600 Gt CO2 eq (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) between 1990 and 2050.

As the world has already emitted a large part of this, the budget from today until 2050 is reduced to 970 Gt CO2 eq, excluding land use changes. 

The report evaluates different pathways to reduce emissions, all in line with the budget. It describes three different methodologies which could be applied to distribute the burden and the benefits of a global carbon budget in a fair and equitable way.

These are:

  • Greenhouse development rights (GDRs), where all countries need to reduce emissions below business-as-usual based on their per capita emissions, poverty thresholds, and GDP per capita.
  • Contraction and convergence (C&C), where per capita allowances converge from a country’s current level to a level equal for all countries within a given period.
  • Common but differentiated convergence (CDC), where developed countries’ per capita emissions converge to an equal level for all countries and others converge to the same level once their per capita emissions reach a global average.

The report says that by 2050, the GDR methodology requires developed nations as a group to reduce emissions by 157% (twice what they are contemplating). “Given that they cannot cut domestic emissions by more than 100%, they will need to finance emission reductions in other countries to reach their total.”

While the greenhouse development rights method allows an increase for most developing countries, at least for the initial period, the two other methods give less room for emissions increase. Under the C&C and CDC methodology, China, for example, would be required to reduce by at least 70% and India by 2-7% by 2050, compared to 1990.

The poorest countries will be allowed to continue to grow emissions until at least 2050 under the GDR methodology, but will be required to reduce them after 2025 under the two remaining allocation options.

The Greenpeace proposal, which has WWF and other partners, was released at an earlier UN climate meet in Bonn this year. It also talks of a global carbon budget. Industrial countries would have to phase out their fossil fuel energy consumption by 2050. The trajectory would be as follows: 23% between 2013 and 2017, 40% by 2020 (twice the EU commitment), and 95% by 2050. 

Globally, deforestation emissions would need to be reduced by three-quarters by 2020, and fossil fuel consumption by developing countries would have to peak by 2020 and then decline. 

The proposal envisages that industrial countries will provide at least $160 billion a year from 2013 to 2017, “with each country assuming national responsibility for an assessed portion of this amount as part of its binding national obligation for the same period”. 

The main source of this funding, which could prove controversial, would be auctioning 10% of industrial countries’ emissions allocations. There would also be levies on aviation and shipping, since both add to global warming. 

Greenpeace proposes a Copenhagen climate facility which would apportion $160 billion as follows:

  • $56 billion for developing countries to adapt to climate change.
  • $7 billion a year as insurance against such risks.
  • $42 billion in reducing forest destruction and degradation.
  • $56 billion on mitigation and technology diffusion.

Talks at Bangkok are deadlocked between the G77 and China that want to continue with the Kyoto Protocol, and the US which wants a new treaty. The EU is open to a continuation of the old treaty with a new track to include the US (which has not ratified Kyoto), as well as emerging developing countries. Where and how such proposals will dovetail with the document now being negotiated is by no means clear, and it will be nothing less than a catastrophe for the entire planet if Copenhagen ends in a stalemate. 

Infochange News & Features, October 2009