Saturday, December 13, 2008

Australasian Contributions to International Climate Change Negotiations

While we await Kevin Rudd's statement on the Australian Government's carbon emission targets on Monday, much attention has turned to the international negotiations on future climate change agreements.

Ross Garnaut wrote a very useful op-ed in the Australian this week. He notes that these negotiations will be much more difficult than either trade or arms control agreements, and proposes some warning signs for difficulties in such talks.

If you hear negotiators from the respective countries arguing that Australia needs high per capita entitlements because it is big and lightly populated, or Canada because it is cold, or Japan because it has few opportunities for geo-sequestration of emissions from fossil fuel combustion, or China because it is the workshop of the world, you will know that the world has lost the battle to avoid dangerous climate change.

It's a cheap shot but I can't resist pointing out that some of New Zealand's statement in Poznan sounds exactly like this

New Zealand is unique among Annex 1 countries. With nearly 50% of our total emissions coming from agriculture, no other developed country comes close to having such a large percentage of its emissions arising from food production.

(Hat-tip: Charles Finny)

Given the ACT party's clutch on climate change policty, some aspects of the New Zealand statement were reassuring. But would Rodney Hide agree with this?

As a consequence we are reviewing our suite of climate change policies. The objective here is not to step back from Kyoto. The Government fully understands and accepts its long-standing international obligations under Kyoto for the first commitment period.

Prior to the election Hide stated his preference for leaving Kyoto.

In any case, Garnaut has become convinced that the eventual target for international negotiations must be equal per capita emmissions from all nations, and that progress should be measured in terms of per capita emissions reductions rather than reductions of particular nations or groups of nations from benchmarks in 1990 for example. This seems pretty sensible to me.

I was happy to see the mention of research on agricultural emissions mitigation in New Zealand's statement, and the emphasis on forms of agreement that will be satisfactory for developing nations. These aspects are very consistent with Garnaut's thinking about ways in which developed countries can contribute initially.

My work on The Garnaut Climate Change Review (Cambridge University Press, 2008) has led me to the view that any allocation of emissions entitlements with a prospect of being accepted by most developing countries must be based on convergence towards low levels of per capita entitlements at some time in the future. There will need to be headroom for rapidly growing developing countries. Through a transition period, the commitments of lower-income developing countries would be one-sided, with compliance encouraged through incentives rather than penalties.

The agreement over emissions entitlements would need to include developed country commitments to public support for research, development and commercialisation of low-emissions technologies. The agreement could embody firm commitments by developed countries to cover additional development assistance for complying developing countries to adapt to the climate change that will inevitably be faced in the period ahead. It could be supported by a proposal for World Trade Organisation rules to constrain individual countries' measures to restrict trade with countries that are not reasonably complying with the requirements of an international mitigation effort.

At the centre of the agreement would be an understanding on the allocation across countries of a diminishing total of annual emissions entitlements. These would be allocated on the basis that emissions would converge towards equal per capita entitlements at some time in the future.

The difference between the basis of allocation of emissions entitlements proposed here, and the Kyoto approach of fixed but differentiated reductions, is large. Within principles designed to reduce global emissions through convergence over time towards equal per capita entitlements, a reduction of 10 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 in Australia would represent a full proportionate contribution to a global effort to hold concentrations of carbon dioxide equivalents to 550 parts per million. It would represent a larger per capita reduction than was required of the US or the European Union. It would represent a larger per capita reduction for Australia than the EU's implementation of its proposed unconditional commitment to reduce emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels.

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