Raising temperatures and offers: Climate experts’ forum

FT Energy Source is posting a daily question for our panel of expert commentators. Below, guest panellists Vivienne Cox of Climate Change Capital, Mindy Lubber of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, Jeremy Leggett of the Global Observatory, Julian Morris of the International Policy Network, Lord Browne of the Royal Academy of Engineering and David Jones of Havas respond to today’s question:

The offers countries made on emissions reduction prior to Copenhagen appear to be insufficient to prevent a 2-degree global temperature rise. Should industrialised nations or developing countries be expected to raise their offers first?

Vivienne Cox: This should not be a question of who blinks first because this is not an I-win-you-lose negotiation. Everyone has to understand that we are all in this together and we have to stop pretending it is a stand-off just because that is how it usually is. Cooperation has got to be the survival strategy because there is an obvious mutual interest in solving the problem. That will then allow business to do what it does best – invest across borders. We don’t want to see any politician claiming victory for their own narrow interests. They have to be bigger than that.

Mindy Lubber: Industrialised countries need to move first primarily, but not exclusively, because you have to fish where the fish are. Those are the countries where the bulk of emissions are generated. Those are the largest historical emitters by far – a fact that strongly implies an obligation to swiftly act. And those are the places where the low-hanging fruit of big emission reductions, especially through enhanced energy efficiency, are ripest.

Earlier this autumn, many of the biggest economic players in Europe, the US and Australia/New Zealand came together to say just that. These major institutional investors, 181 of them representing more than $13,000bn in assets, issued a joint statement in New York calling for strong action now and – most pertinent to today’s question – major upfront contributions from developed countries first.

Specific actions called for in the statement include:

  • Developed country emissions reduction targets of 80-95% by 2050, with interim targets of 25-40% by 2020, backed up by effective national action plans.
  • Measures to reduce deforestation and promote new forest growth – actions that cannot happen on a large enough scale without developed country leadership.
  • Support for adaptation to unavoidable climate change impacts – again a project that cannot succeed without developed countries’ lead.

In Copenhagen political leaders must heed this roadmap from economic leaders. They cannot play an international game of the old “Alphonse and Gaston” comedy routine – “You first, Alphonse. No, you first, Gaston. No no, I insist!” – while the planet heats up. That said, developing countries must also commit to meaningful actions to be sure.

So I’ll leave my response to today’s question with a final quote from that September investor meeting – from California state treasurer Bill Lockyer. Bear in mind that Lockyer represents a US state whose gross domestic product all by itself would make it the world’s eighth largest economy:

“In answering those who question why the US should adopt strong climate change policies, it’s not strong enough to say we have an obligation. We owe a duty to all those who come after us to act now,” Lockyer said. “If we fail to lead, if we adopt the attitude that we’re not going to act until enough other nations act, we will violate that duty. And we will run an even greater risk of leaving future generations a damaged planet and diminished hopes for prosperity.”

Leadership – and action – start with sentiments like this.

Mindy S. Lubber is president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a network of 80 institutional investors with collective assets totalling $8,000bn focused on the business impacts of climate change.

Jeremy Leggett: I recall the emotion in the air when I first heard a minister from the Alliance of Small Island States rage in a UN session against the injustice of low-lying countries facing obliteration as result of the willful greenhouse-gas profligacy of the industrialised nations. “We refuse to be a codicil to this monster”, he said of the flaccid intergovernmental declaration under consideration that particular day.

That was in 1990, at the World Climate Conference in Geneva, the gathering that kicked off the climate negotiations that are reaching a hopeful climax here in Copenhagen. Twenty years on, tragically, the codicil remains very much in place.

Two days ago, an AOSIS delegate was to be heard protesting “the industrialised nations can’t do this to us”. He had just been presented with what the sum of all current greenhouse-gas limitation commitments meant for the future of the coral-atoll nations: complete evacuation. For the island alliance – a quarter of the UN countries – that is the reality of these talks. Add to this, among other early developing-country victims, the African nations, who increasingly understand how grisly their destiny is in a business-as-usual world.

Every day at climate summits, the environmental non-government organisations’ award a booby prize for the “Fossil of the Day” – the country or organisation doing the most to obstruct the talks. Opec nations and the US are regular winners, self evidently. But yesterday, the award went to the industrialised nations as a whole. Many are guilty of what the NGOs consider to be a collective deceit. The issue is, as ever in this forum, arcane. Industrialised countries seem to be  angling for giant loopholes in any agreement on land use and forestry. They want not to account for emissions increases as long as they are already planned. This is a bit like asking for coal-fired power plants to be kept out of national carbon accounts if they are already on some utility’s drawing board somewhere. Yesterday, their dupicitous negotiating stance was very much in the open.

Industrialised countries should most definitely be expected to go first in upping their commitments in Copenhagen. And they should make sure that the rhetoric we have been hearing from their leaders in recent days translates into congruent tactics by their negotiators.

All that that is not to say developing nation should sit back and wait. Setting an example is the stuff of leadership, in this mess. Which is why the Maldives have committed to carbon neutrality by 2020.

Jeremy Leggett is founder and executive chairman of Solarcentury, a solar energy company, and is an ambassador of the Global Observatory at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Julian Morris: Neither rich nor poor countries should “raise their offers”. We do not yet know enough about climate processes to say what level of greenhouse gas concentrations would result in a global mean temperature rise of 2-degrees. Nor do we know whether 2 degrees warming would be “dangerous”.

For mild warming, adaptation is almost certainly the most cost-effective option. It is feasible that humanity could adapt at relatively low cost to a warming of 4 degrees (see e.g. the various reports at www.csccc.info). But for that to be possible, it is essential that existing barriers to adaptation be removed; especially restrictions on trade and weak property rights.

Worryingly, the introduction of restrictions on emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as further transfers to the governments of poor countries (including those done in the name of “adaptation”, or through REDD) would likely inhibit adaptation at the individual level.

Julian Morris is executive director of International Policy Network, a pro-free market think tank based in the UK. He is an economist by training and is known for his sceptical views on spending on climate change.

Lord Browne of Madingley: One of the (few) benefits of long and drawn out negotiations is that it gives nations a chance to scope out their fellow participants. Long before the delegates arrived in Copenhagen the major economies sent some tentative signals that they are there to do business. The EU promised to increase its target from 20% to 30% if a global deal is concluded; Australia did likewise from 5% to 25%. China’s promise to reduce carbon intensity by at least 40% can be viewed as a good starting offer. Now America has some room for manoeuvre after yesterday’s announcement that carbon dioxide emissions will be subject to heavier regulation.

We know all this. More importantly, so do the negotiators. The question now is who should make the first move?

I believe the initiative rests squarely with the industrialised nations. These counties are both wealthy and responsible for the majority of emissions in the atmosphere. That means they should take the early burden for reducing global emissions; it also means they should take the lead in raising their offers first.

This comes with a caveat. The current group of developing countries cannot be ‘developing’ forever. By 2030, the non-OECD countries will have crossed an important threshold: according to the International Energy Agency they will be responsible for more than half of cumulative emissions since 1890. By 2028, annual Chinese emissions will exceed those of North America, the EU and Japan combined. The quid pro quo for the developed countries moving first should be a binding promise from the large developing nations that their own emissions will peak by an agreed deadline.

Lord Browne is president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, managing director at Riverstone LLC, and was chief executive of BP from 1995 to 2007.

David Jones: I wouldn’t draw a line between industrialised nations and developing countries. I would use the concept that Kofi Annan has of climate justice, or put another way “polluter pays”. We need to help those who’ve contributed least to global warming, but are suffering the most. And that can only really be done by those nations who are having the most significant impact on climate change coming forward and making the commitment to improve this problem. Whether they are industrialised nations or developed nations is academic.

David Jones is global chief executive of Havas Worldwide and leader of Kofi Annan’s ‘Tck Tck Tck’ Campaign for Climate Justice.

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