Climate Policy after Doha: Turning Obstacles into Solutions

The international climate policy is in big trouble. The governments of the world cannot agree on a reasonable, enforceable cap on global CO2 emissions – not today and not in the future. Concerning a strict enough cap, this issue is politically not handleable today, because this would directly interfere with the options of countries to generate future economic growth. Problems in this respect are politically unfeasible.
The present text, therefore, argues for a new approach, for thinking out of the box, for overcoming the traps the negotiations are stuck in at the moment. The idea is to have governments agreeing only on a relaxed instead of a strict cap. This is politically much easier to achieve. In the text, we show that a relaxed cap is sufficient to solve the climate issue, if the private sector can be motivated to do the rest, given that there is an enforceable relaxed cap in place. The private sector can use at least two wild cards to contribute to this aim, and it can do this within the framework of climate neutrality for companies, organizations, and individuals to take legal CO2 certificates out of order on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to plant trees (all over the world for the purpose of biological sequestration) and to do this in huge volumes.

The so-called Copenhagen Accord is taken as an anchor for a global climate regime to reach the 2°C aim. The regime consists of two parts: a moderate dynamic global CO2 cap guaranteed via globally binding governmental accords, and a second part using two wildcards. These are used to fulfill the so-called WBGU budget restriction in spite of the relative weakness of the agreed upon dynamic cap: (1) a massive decomprising of emission rights in a wealth-compatible manner to close the so-called negotiation gap and (2) a massive forest and landscape restoration program to close the so-called sequestration gap. Implementing the wild cards is financed by the private sector (organizations, companies, individuals) to achieve individual climate neutrality for ethical or reputational reasons. This process has already started and has been activating millions of dollars of private money annually with additive positive effects on development of non-industrialized countries.

1. Prevailing Frustration
International negotiations on climate are stalling. Tens of thousands of traveling mediators are urging NGOs and journalists to play their part, since the volume of climate gas emissions continues to grow and there is frustration all over the place. Many observers have long since abandoned the 2°C target and no longer argue in favor of climate protection but in favor of population protection against the consequences of a climate disaster which can no longer be prevented.

2. Do we still stand a Chance?
There is still a chance, however, only if there is a change in the current negotiation logic. Over time, the present negotiation logic has outlived itself; the situation has changed drastically. What is now required are new approaches: increase system-related intelligence in order to get the global community out of the rat-race of the present negotiation logic.

3. All Balance Sheets have Two Sides
The present negotiation logic aims at the reduction of annual global climate gas emissions to a sufficiently low level. This should allow humanity to stay within the limits of a continually decreasing total budget of still acceptable CO2 emissions from fossil sources, summing up the emissions over the years until 2050. This amount is called the WGBU-budget restriction and is almost 750 billion tons (WBGU, 2008 and WBGU, 2011). There have been year-long debates as to the actual size of such a budget, its distribution among the nations and the related monetary transfers from the North to the South. A workable compromise has never been reached. Today, a climate contract as per the above logic is factually no longer feasible as the limitation of emissions would have to be to such an extent that it would render the preservation of wealth worldwide as well as the legitimate economic growth ambitions of emerging countries impossible. No government would be able to provide an answer to such a situation to its citizens. In the short term, present wealth is more important than potential future climate problems.

This is exactly why the world needs a new negotiation approach and a strong wildcard combined with an understanding of the fact that insisting on the present approach will bring about the ultimate climate risk. Increasingly stringent limitations while adhering to a con­tinually decreasing remaining budget for still acceptable emissions until 2050 will no longer suffice. In the short term, we will not be able to implement a limitation to the necessary extent. The new task at hand is now to actively manage the atmosphere’s CO2 content. In doing so, the following observation is critical:

The CO2 balance of the atmosphere has two sides. Besides the climate gas emissions aspect, there is the aspect of CO2 retrieval from the atmosphere.

The latter must be massively pursued in the future in order to win time for the still indispensable climate-sensible reconstruction of our global civilization.

4. A New Logic
A potential new logic for a global climate contract, which is a pragmatic approach, was developed in Copenhagen in the form of a common understanding between China and the USA. This needs to be appreciated, pursued and implemented. This pragmatic proposal makes sense even today, though it is admittedly incomplete. The Copenhagen formula conceived by China and the USA is a realistic compromise which smartly extends and improves the Kyoto formula, which was renewed at the last minute in Doha for welcoming the time of transition. The Copenhagen formula may function as a basis for a global climate contract which could be signed in 2015 for validity till 2020 (or even earlier). As per the following logic, it would result in a significant improvement of the Kyoto formula:
The industrialized nations will absolutely lower their emission levels and declare individually and voluntarily how much their emission levels are. The non-industrialized nations will lower their emission levels relatively to their economic growth rate and declare their current emission levels individually and voluntarily. Voluntary payments of industrialized nations into a climate fund for the benefit of non-industrialized nations shall support the non-industrialized nations.

The core of this compromise is voluntary self-obligation by the nations. Such a scenario is politically sustainable and allows the nations to orient themselves with their respective individual possibilities. All nations will be involved with the emerging nations, and will be required to curb limitations relative to their economic growth in the coming years. This will result in a (dynamic) cap of the overall emission volume, depending on the economic growth rates of the non-industrialized nations (Herlyn, E. L. A., Radermacher, F. J., 2012 and Radermacher, F. J., 2010). This is not yet the full solution to the climate problem but may be smartly amended in a modular way with other building blocks in order to finally form a complete solution. The solution’s weakness which lies in its incompleteness ultimately becomes its strength, as it (1) can be accepted by almost all states and (2) is extendable by including the private sector in the right way. All major nations have already signaled their participation. This fact allows for the integration of WTO border tax adjustments with regard to non-participating nations as a powerful additional lever for the implementation of an airtight climate regime. It is almost a “Munchausen” scenario. The perfect solution is within reach because its “anchor” part is sufficiently unambitious to allow broad approval. However, still missing is the second half for which proper design and implementation are crucial. In this situation, wildcards are badly needed.

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