Australian Stern Review tilting towards Contraction & Convergence

More interesting post-election goings on in Australia.  Since April, a Stern-esque Review of climate change has been underway, headed by Professor Ross Garnaut, an economics expert from the Australian National University – and former boss, twenty years ago, of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

While the Review was initially commissioned by Australia’s states and territories, they extended a standing invitation to the national Government to join the Review.  Following his landslide election victory and return-of-the-prodigal-son on Kyoto, Rudd has done just that.

Last week, Garnaut delivered a lecture setting out his thinking on international climate policy.  He starts by calling for a quantified stabilisation target and a global emissions budget – and then continues:

What sorts of principles might guide the allocation of a global emissions budget across countries?  To be widely accepted as being reasonable the principles will need to be simply, transparent and radily applicable.  In the end, they will need to give much weight to equal per capita rights of emissions.  They will need to allow long periods for adjustment towards such positions – within the over-riding requirements to stay within an environmentally responsible global emissions budget.  One possible way of bringing these two elements together would be the “contration and convergence” approach that has been discussed favourably in Germany and India at times in the past.

Now that is interesting.  Obviously, I think he’s spot on (his position being exactly the same as the one I called for in my paper on The Post-Kyoto Bidding War, published here a few weeks back).  True, Garnaut is (as an op-ed in today’s edition of The Age notes) not the government’s only climate change adviser.  But still: who’d have guessed that we’d see the Australians, of all people, flirting with this line of thinking?

Angela Merkel proposes contraction and convergence

Here’s the chapter and verse from the German Chancellery website:

According to Merkel’s proposal, CO2 emissions would be measured per capita. The maximum COs emissions of a country would thus be measured in terms of population numbers. The larger the population of a country, the more CO2 the country would be permitted to emit. This would mean that every individual in the world would be entitled to emit the same volume of carbon dioxide.

In her proposal, Merkel presupposes that the industrialised countries cut their share of energy consumption as far as possible, thus reducing per capita emissions of carbon dioxide.

The emerging economies, on the other hand, need to grow if they are to reduce poverty. The downside is, of course, that their emissions of CO2 will continue to rise in the years to come. In the final analysis the per capita emissions in emerging economies will meet those of industrialised countries.

If the agreement is to be just, one thing must be clear, however, stressed the Chancellor, “I cannot imagine that the emerging economies will one day be permitted to emit more CO2 per capita than we in the industrialised countries”.

If the emerging economies were to accept this proposal, they would face the task of braking the rise in their CO2 emissions. This is possible with “intelligent growth”, explained Merkel thinking of the most modern of environmental technologies – many of which come from Germany.

With Merkel’s proposal, the emerging nations with rapidly expanding economies could be brought on board the global climate negotiations scheduled for 2009.

This is a big deal.

Is Brown getting behind Merkel on a convergence-based climate policy?

Interesting to see this little nugget included in the UK  / Indian communique resulting from Gordon Brown’s talks with Manmohan Singh:

Long-term convergence of per capita emission rates is an important and equitable principle that should be seriously considered in the context of international climate change negotiations.

Manmohan Singh’s getting pretty good at this – as readers will recall, he had a similar conversation with Angela Merkel after the Heiligendamm G8, which resulted in her pushing per capita convergence steadily through the second half of last year (as for instance in her speech at the UN High Level Event on climate at the end of September last year). 

I’ve been arguing since then that European leaders need to get behind Merkel’s position – because espousing convergence as the means of sharing out a safe global emissions budget is Europe’s best shot at securing developing country buy-in to a globally agreed ceiling on greenhouse gas levels in the air, an absolute prerequisite for limiting warming to two degrees C (as Europe says it wants to). 

India is the obvious partner in this enterprise. Its per capita emissions (a little over a tonne of CO2 per person) are way below the global average of 4.18 t/CO2 – so any system based on convergence will be plenty profitable for India.  (I set out a fuller analysis of this argument in the speech I did for the Institute of Environmental Security after Bali.)

What’s ironic in all of this is that India was widely criticised for being ‘awkward’ at Bali – whilst China was lauded for being willing to talk about ‘commitments’ (even if not binding targets).  Manmohan Singh looks, in other words, to be pushing a much more progressive position than his own negotiators.  Maybe this is a subtle two track negotiating strategy, maybe it’s just incoherence in the Indian government – the balance of opinion in the climate debate would probably say the latter, but who knows. 

Either way, Europe and India have a real chance here to grab the political momentum in climate talks between now and the G8 in Japan, if they can pull together a robust joint strategy.

A high ambition coalition of the willing on climate change

As the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder and Alice Lepissier noted in their post from the COP19 climate summit in Warsaw last month, there was “lots of cloud and not much silver lining” in evidence there, what with Japan’s announcement of reduced emissions targets and the further diluting of the already dubious ‘pledge and review’ approach.

For me, though, the most depressing thing of all was the deafening silence among governments attending the COP about the issue of global carbon budgets. It’s a deep irony that, just as the IPCC publishes by far its most unequivocal analysis to date about the need to define (and then stay within) a safe global carbon budget, governments are less willing than ever to talk about the issue.

Part of the problem is that governments and other UNFCCC process hacks assume that a carbon budget is just too difficult to talk about. Not just because countries would have to agree on a way to share it out, but also, even more fundamentally, because of a sense that agreeing a carbon budget would depend on a ‘big bang’ moment at which all countries agreed on an allocation mechanism – and good luck with that.

This set Owen, Alice, and I thinking about whether there’s a way for some countries to go ahead with a carbon budget-based approach, but without all governments having to be on board at the outset: a high ambition coalition of the willing, in other words. (more…)

A reply to Jeff Sachs and Johan Rockstrom on fair shares and planetary boundaries

Dear Jeff Sachs, Johan Rockstrom, Marcus Ohman and Guido Schmidt-Traub,

I’m a long-standing admirer of your work, especially Johan’s pioneering research on planetary boundaries and Jeff’s critical contributions to connecting the dots between environment and development. But I’m struggling a bit with a couple of aspects of your recent paper on Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries, and wondered if I could ask you a few quick questions for clarification.

First, some background. Back in November last year, I published a think piece on how sustainability issues, and especially planetary boundaries, might fit in to the post-2015 development agenda. Like you, I argued that it was essential that the successor framework to the MDGs should explicitly recognise the centrality of planetary boundaries – and the consequent need for future growth and development to take place in a fundamentally different way.

I also argued that the only way to start making this agenda real is to recognise explicitly that “no developing country will assent to goals on natural resource limits without explicit assurances about fair shares to environmental space, and protection of their right to develop”. In practice:

“at regional and global level … emphasis on fair shares within environmental limits would reframe equity discussions around how to share out entitlements or assets rather than – as now – burdens. This would nudge policy discussions towards clearer recognition of the need to protect fair shares of finite environmental space for developing countries and poor people – and of the need for all countries to bring (and then keep) their own consumption levels within their fair shares, or else pay others a fair price for the right to use some of their entitlement”.

As you will recognise, my argument is based on the principle of “contraction and convergence”, an idea first developed in the context of global climate policy by the London-based Global Commons Institute. In essence, C&C argues that global greenhouse gas emissions must contract to within sustainable limits; and, at the same time, that countries’ entitlements to emit carbon should converge to equal per capita shares of the atmosphere, for reasons of both justice and realpolitik.

So I was interested to see that your paper explicitly mentions C&C at the outset – summarising it as a policy whereby “rich countries need to substantially reduce their standard of living, and developing countries can grow until they converge at the lower income of high-income countries [at which point] economic growth would need to stop.”

This, you argue, is one of “three unattractive alternatives” for reconciling economic growth and planetary boundaries – the other two being for the rich world to “kick away the ladder” and keep poor countries poor; or for all of us to head over the environmental precipice together. Like the ‘kick away the ladder’ scenario, you suggest, C&C appears “politically impossible in HICs, MICs and LICs alike”, given that

“Developing countries around the world want to achieve economic progress, end extreme poverty in all its forms, and achieve higher per capita incomes. These aspirations are right and cannot be compromised on. An agenda that posits barriers to growth will not be supported by politicians and people around the world. Likewise, it seems impossible that politicians in rich countries would ever agree to drastically lower the standard of living. And why would developing countries agree to  stop economic growth at a level of income that is below the income enjoyed by rich countries today?”

However, this is where I started to get confused by your paper.

First of all, I’m unsure as to whom you have been reading to give you the impression that contraction and convergence was ever about ending growth, or about trying to equalise per capita income; certainly the Global Commons Institute, which as noted above applies C&C to the much more specific context of the need to cap and then find a way to share out global emissions, argues no such thing.

To be sure, the underlying logic of C&C can in principle be applied to other international level planetary boundaries besides carbon – as for example I did in my paper on post-2015 and sustainability. However, this remains a very far cry from calling for it to be applied to growth or income.

(Indeed, in a paper I wrote for Oxfam and WWF in 2011 on Scarcity, Fair Shares and Development, I argued explicitly that campaigners should resist the temptation to jump into the limits to growth argument, and should instead maintain a clear distinction between limits to growth on one hand – where the jury is still out – and limits to key resources and ecosystem services on the other hand, where the basis for action is already evident.)

In fact, I have yet to come across any paper that argues that the idea of contraction and convergence is about limiting and equalising per capita incomes – and would see any paper that does argue this point as being based on either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation. I wonder if you could clarify where you got the impression that C&C was about this?

The second question I’d like to put to you is about the ‘Sustainable Development Trajectory’ that you posit as the desirable alternative to the “three unattractive options” that you identify at the beginning of your paper.

In your first recommendation, you argue that:

“The science of planetary boundaries makes clear that are on an unsustainable trajectory. The world must reject the three baseline scenarios outlined in Section I (kick away the ladder, contract and converge, business as usual) and strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Trajectory.”

In your second recommendation, you then argue that (emphasis added):

“Achieving the Sustainable Development Trajectory will require an unprecedented effort by all countries – rich and poor – that will only be possible under a shared global framework for sustainable development. Such a global framework must have the following global features:

a) Provide an ethical foundation based on the principle of convergence and the “right to development”

As far as I can tell, what you are calling for here is more or less what I would understand by the logic of contraction and convergence: namely, explicit recognition that: (a) global problems need global solutions; (b) global consumption levels of key resources and environmental services must be brought within sustainable use limits; and (c) for reasons of both practicality and ethics, this has to be coupled with respect for the right to develop, and fair shares within finite environmental space.

So I wonder whether you would:

1) be happy to agree that the definition of C&C used in your paper is based on a misunderstanding – or, alternatively, point me towards the source for your definition?

2) concur that the logic of C&C as its advocates understand it (i.e. as defined above) is actually indispensable in reaching a viable synthesis of environment and development objectives at point when we risk overshooting planetary boundaries?

3) acknowledge that in cases where multilateral approaches based on quantified targets and timetables are needed – in the case of climate change, most obviously and urgently – then, by extension, the application of C&C must also be quantified, through the definition of (i) a global carbon budget and (ii) entitlements for all countries that are determined on the basis of convergence to equal per capita levels by some agreed date?

I should wrap up by saying again that I’m a huge admirer of your work, and agree very much with where I think you’re coming from – but since we all clearly agree on the crucial importance of the issues we’re discussing and their relevance to the post-2015 agenda, and since I think you may have got the wrong impression about contraction and convergence, I thought it would be helpful to write this note up to try to clarify.

Warm regards,

Alex Evans