Current pledges by nations globally are not sufficient to set us on a cost-effective path to an agreed 2°C limit in global temperature increase, according to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change.

As has always been said, the longer action is delayed, the more expensive it gets. It also forces us to become reliant on technologies that are not yet proven, for example carbon capture and storage.

Median estimates of business-as-usual global emissions in 2030 are 68 GtCO2e. Analysis of nations’ submitted proposals in advance of the Paris talks in December suggests global emissions would reach 53-55 GtCO2e in 2030. These would limit warming to around 2.7°C instead of 4°C by 2010. We need to be at around 40 GtCO2e by that year.

There is therefore a 6-13GtCO2e gap that needs filling. Around 50 countries still have to submit their pledges so there is a slim chance that this can be met that way. There’s also a chance that negotiations leading up to and including Paris will make an attempt.

But what is fair?

At every climate conference it always boils down to countries complaining that others are not playing fair. This time around the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has urged governments not to sign the Paris accord because China and India are not doing enough.

There have been many attempts to figure out what would be a fair way of dividing up the tasks and costs. Below is a summary of seven of them. Each of them addresses a different idea of fairness or combining several ideas. Talk at Paris this year will be around agreeing which model will work best, combining domestic action, trading and other forms of cooperation.

These come from the GLOCAF model using methods described in Averchenkova et al (2014):

  1. Equal cumulative emissions: nations are allocated an emissions budget over 1990-2050 on the basis of their share of global population.
  2. Brazilian proposal (or “index-based approach”): the share of emissions reduction (relative to a path of no climate action) is determined by contributions to historical emissions during 1990-2020.
  3. Contraction and convergence: all nations converge towards equal per capita emissions by 2050.
  4. Common but differentiated (CBD) convergence: as above, but using a staged approach in which low emitters can continue to increase emissions until they reach global average per-capita emissions.
  5. Equal fraction of GDP: each nation faces the same mitigation cost as a fraction of their national GDP.
  6. Income grouping: the amount paid by nations on mitigation is indexed by their GDP so that wealthier countries pay a greater fraction than poorer ones. “High income” nations (as decided by the World Bank) are allocated double the fraction of their GDP compared to others.
  7. Equal marginal cost: the marginal cost of mitigation (the carbon price) is set to be the same for all nations.

Analysis of these models has shown that the ones with the chance of creating the greatest reduction by 2030 for the EU and the UK are “Equal marginal cost” and “Contraction and convergence”, followed by “Equal fraction of GDP” and “CBD convergence”.

Anyone fancy taking bets on which one will come out the winner at the talks?

Who’s really to blame?

Maybe we should be looking at who is ready to blame for global warming and get them to pay the most. But this is not as simple as it seems either. It depends and what criteria you use. Check out these figures on total final energy consumption per capita of the G7 and BRIC countries from 2012. You can see that under this criteria Canada is by far the worst performer.

Countrytoe = tonne of oil equivalent/capita
United States4.6
Russian Federation3.2
United Kingdom2.0
South Africa1.4

Source: Federal Statistical Office, G7 in Figures, 2015

But if you use energy intensity as a criteria, which is a measure of how efficiently energy is used, particularly by industry (including power generation), the Russian Federation comes out worst by far:

This is supported by this graph comparing energy intensity, GDP and population:

And, finally, the G20 ranked by percentage of global emissions, puts China worst (though not per capita). But look at the last column – who is the most vulnerable to sea level rise amongst these countries – perhaps this should be another way of viewing fairness:

Carbon dioxide emissionsAverage annual deforestation (+) / afforestation (–)Population living in areas where elevation is below 5 metres
% of global emissionstonnes per capitakg per 1,000 int. US$ GDP% change on 1990% of total forest area% of total population
United States1516.63346.2-0.134.1
European Union (EU28)10.57.3222-
Russian Federation5.112.6508-26.102.9
Republic of Korea1.812.7261148.20.115
Saudi Arabia1.416.6151189.301
United Kingdom1.37.5254-19.2-0.318.6
South Africa0.96.246422.600.5

Carbon pricing anyone?

Regardless of who is to blame, where is the money going to come from? Who is going to pay the price of the changes in infrastructure that are required, especially in developing countries?

This is known as the North–South finance gap – the money that should flow from developed countries, who are the most to blame, to developing ones, who need it to get their lifestyles up to the same as ours, which, after all, is only fair.

Many business leaders, for example Shell, are calling for a global price on carbon as a way of providing this cash. Environmental NGOs like Greenpeace suggest this is a delaying tactic that would permit business as usual to continue for longer.

In 2013 (latest figures), 18 per cent of global emissions were already covered by carbon pricing schemes.

Also, 76 per cent of global surface transport emissions are covered by emission/fuel efficiency standards (2015 figures). These are constantly improving, but, as we have seen with the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, compliance is not always guaranteed.

So, if carbon pricing doesn’t work, I repeat:

Who’s going to pay?

Recent research on bridging the finance gap puts the cost of fixing the climate at between US$400 billion and $2 trillion by 2050. That doesn’t seem an awful lot compared to what has been paid out as a result of the banking crisis over the last eight years.

In fact, it seems like a bargain given that much money is already needing to be spent on new infrastructure in developing countries.

Still, it needs to come from somewhere. So where?

The researchers say most of the currently deployed means of attempting to bridge this gap – public aid, private investment, development banks and special climate-related facilities – are insufficient and the barriers “appear particularly hard to overcome”.

The researchers conclude that “expanding private finance, either in the form of Foreign Direct Investment or through the issuance of ‘green bonds’, appears to be a more promising direction”.

Maybe that’s the answer.

But if so, green bonds are going to have to beef up. This year so far (9 months) there have been around $21 billion worth of green bonds issued, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative. Over 14.3 years at the same rate it would in fact be US$400 billion, the bottom estimate figure above, and that just takes us to 2030.

So dare we think that we could do it?

The chief lenders are: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan, CITI, Morgan Stanley, Credite Agricole, CIB, HSBC and MEB. But there are many more smaller ones. If these people at the heart of capitalism see a profit to be made from climate change, who am I to argue?

The question is: is it going to the right place?

What do you think would be the fairest way to spread the cost and challenges?

David Thorpe is a UK based writer and author of:

  • The ‘One Planet’ Life: A Blueprint for Low Impact Development
  • Solar Technology: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Using Solar Energy for Heating, Cooling and Electricity 
  • Energy Management in Buildings: The Earthscan Expert Guide
  • Sustainable Home Refurbishment: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Retrofitting Homes for Efficiency, and
  • Energy Management in Industry: The Earthscan Expert Guide.

One reply on “What is fair in the run up to the Paris climate talks?”

  1. You, the CCC and many others too are certainly correct in stating that “current pledges by nations globally are not sufficient to set us on a cost-effective path to an agreed 2°C limit in global temperature increase,” –

    The statement about Contraction and Convergence where all nations converge towards equal per capita emissions by 2050 came from is not correct.

    You cited Averchenkova et al. When I originally wrote to them about that very paper saying that the rates of C&C were here in ‘CBAT’: – I had a letter straight back from them saying, “that is very useful; it is important that we quote that correctly; we will send this information to the GLOCAF team straightwawy for that purpose.”

    As we are its authors, C&C has been registered to GCI for many years. Precisely because there have been many misreadings of C&C over the years, CBAT was created to clarify various measurement issues: –

    Its had quite good press which is nice: –

    But the primary problem is that (sadly) we’re deeper in trouble with rates of changing climate than ever . . . . as your article rather suggests.

    Oh dear.



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