Letter to the Editor – The Economist

From; Harley Wright, 20 Victoria St, Roseville, NSW 2069, Australia

8 Dec 2011

Fairness and objectivity overcome obstacles

You note "how wretchedly the world is failing . . to minimize the risks of [climate induced] catastrophe" ("The sad road from Kyoto to Durban" Dec 3, 2011). In "Wilted greenery" you show that the main hurdle is the form of future agreements for constraining emissions: "The Europeans want a legally binding successor to Kyoto. Developing countries, and America, want a looser arrangement." Eg, like the 'pledges' made at Cancun. The necessary emissions reductions are daunting. Over 80 per cent by 2050. It is absurd to think that 'pledges' will achieve this. Pledges will not provide the necessary trust needed for many aspects of international abatement and lower costs; eg, emissions trading.

Why don’t' we use the Contract & Converge model (C&C)? This provides incentives for developing (poorer) countries to commit legally to carbon constraint. Countries with low carbon intensity (per capita emissions) receive increasing emissions allocations under C & C for many years. Most allocations go to develop their economy (eg, more energy) and allocations above their measured emissions are sold to high carbon (developed & rich) countries.

Developed countries have to legally commit to progressive emissions reductions. Their purchase of allocations (emissions permits) from developing countries provides significant income to developing countries. This income is in the order of the $100 billion a year now being negotiated for the Clean Carbon Fund. The bases for contributing to the CCF are subjective and endlessly debatable. So are its disbursements to developing countries. C & C provides similar large financial support to poor countries but on a strictly objective basis. It is also free of conditions, another current obstacle. Developed countries will pay a lot to developing countries for some years, whatever model is used. But the longer we delay, the more it will cost.

Contract and converge is founded on fairness. That each person has an equal right to pollute the atmosphere – but total emissions have to be rationed to avoid human-induced climate catastrophe. Developing countries have a strong incentive to commit legally to emissions constraint under C & C. They are paid when selling excess permits – but their emissions have to be formally estimated. Developing countries now argue against this – but this surely evaporates when they are paid to do so.

Developed countries know they must cut emissions now as they did under Kyoto (with several exceptions). But how fast should their emission fall? C & C can provide objective criteria to lessen the difficulties in setting legally binding targets.

Countries that commit legally have the carbon price embedded in their economies, which drives every conceivable technology and lifestyle change. Economic measures based on legal commitments can provide least-cost outcomes. Pledges can never do so.

Contract and converge is fair. It overcomes most of the current obstacles. It stands above the convoluted processes now stifling urgently needed progress.

Yours sincerely

Harley Wright

C&C Endorsements from Right and Left
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