The fact of ecological debt in an age of climate change moves the balance of power in international relations. Using ecological debt as both an analytical framework and political argument, it is possible to imagine a paradigm shift from centuries of global economic expansion and divergence to one of Contraction and Convergence (Meyer 2000). In other words, to imagine the architecture necessary for the global economy to work within natural limits and equitably distribute its benefits. It has become a logic necessary for our collective survival.

Contraction and Convergence

It is unlikely that everyone in the world will ever use identical amounts of fossil fuels. However, it is highly likely, says the RWEO that any deal to manage the global commons of the atmosphere will have to be based on the principle that, in a carbon-constrained world, everyone should have equal entitlements to their share of the atmosphere's ability to safely absorb pollution. Such an agreement implies that those people and nations that take the economic benefit, by polluting more than their fair share will have to somehow pay compensation to the "under-polluters" by purchasing their spare entitlements. Otherwise, they run up a huge ecological debt (Greenhill and Simms 2002). The process necessary is to cap total emissions, progressively reduce them and equally share entitlements to emit. If a target is set for an acceptable concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and an "emissions budget"' set to meet it, it becomes possible to work out for every year from now until the target is met everybody's logical and equal share of the atmosphere's ability to soak up our waste emissions.

To do this, a formula is used such that, in an agreed timeframe, entitlements to emit are pre-distributed in a pattern of international convergence so that, globally, shares become equal per capita. This procedure- unavoidable if chaos is to be prevented- was given the term "contraction and convergence" by the London-based Global Commons Institute (Meyer 2000). It is opposite to the dynamic that has characterised the global economy up to now.

In essence, it says that the world has a "carbon cake" strictly limited in size - beyond certain dimensions it rapid ly becomes poisonous for everyone - and that the only way to begin negotiations on how to cut the cake is to start with the principle that we all have equal access rights. What we do with them is another matter.

How Contraction and Convergence Reconciles the Ecological Debt of Climate Change

Under a plan proposed by Meyer (2000), all countries collectively agree on a target for a stable atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A "global emissions budget" is then calculated that is derived from the target atmospheric concentration figure. The target is reviewed annually so that it can be revised with new scientific findings. Once the "contraction budget" has been chosen, the next question is how to distribute the entitlements within it between countries. Under contraction and convergence, the allocations of emissions entitlements among countries would converge by a specific date. By that year, entitlements would be allocated in proportion to the national population in a specified baseline year. Full emissions-trading is a design feature of Ihe concept. Contraction and Convergence would reduce the complexity of climate negotiations to two simple variables that would need to be agreed upon: the target atmospheric concentration of CO2 and the date at which entitlements would converge at equal per capita allocations.

The approach offers the best chance of solving a great and immensely destructive international paradox. Less developed countries stand to be hit first and worst by global warming. The New Economics Foundation's report “The End of Development, Global Warming, Disasters and the Great Reversal of Human Progress" makes the case that all the internationally agreed targets for reducing poverty to emerge out of the 19905 decade-long series of UN conferences - collectively known as the Millennium Development Goals - will be tragically undermined by climate change (Simms and Walter 2002). Yet developing countries have been reluctant to play along with the climate negotiations as conducted to date. They see no reason - if rich countries have had a free ride on the Earth's finite fossil fuel resources for the whole of their development - that they should jeopardize their own development through accepting any perceived restraints on their economic activity. But contraction and convergence deals with this seemingly inescapable trap.

Developing countries have consistently refused to take part in a framework that pre-allocates the property rights to a finite carbon budget in a manifestly inequitable way- so-called grandfathering- in which the starting point is one where countries "inherit"' their historical emission levels. That approach creates in effect, a carbon aristocracy.

By specifying a set date for convergence at equal per capita rights, the contraction and convergence approach would give developing countries surplus emission allocations that they could then sell to countries thaI need extra permits - most of them developed countries. The revenue flow from the sale of surplus permits would give developing countries an income flow from climate change policy, which would encourage participation and would also create an added incentive to invest in clean technologies. Less developed countries also stand to benefit more the sooner such an agreement is made because as time passes, the cuts needed to prevent runaway global warming get bigger and so tradable emissions get fewer. And, in the interim, it means that rich over-polluting countries are abusing the global commons of the atmosphere without having to pay.

Contraction and Convergence and the United States

Interestingly, contraction and convergence would also fit with the stated position of the otherwise recalcitrant United States. In his statements on climate change, President George W. Bush has set out specific criteria for what sort of treaty the United States would be will ing to support. These include a truly global deal that includes emission targets [or from another perspective, entitlements] for developing countries and the need for a science-based approach. Contraction and convergence, with its global participation design and formal greenhouse gas concentration target is exactly such an approach. Contraction and Convergence is also fully consistent with the famous 1997 Byrd-Hagel U.S. Senate Resolution that stipulated that the United States would not be a signatory to any treaty that did not include developing countries.

Contraction and Convergence has enormous, and from a development perspective very positive, consequences in that it can liberate resources to finance development. But, as action to combat global warming is delayed, emissions grow and populations rise, the sustainable size of a carbon cake slice will get smaller and smaller. In other words, the sooner we act. the better.

But the notion that there are limits, however unpredictable and flexible within which we must work is still difficult for many to grasp. This can be demonstrated by how easily even senior civil servant can completely misunderstand the challenge. Take a graph from the U.K. governments environment department, DEFRA reproduced in the RWEO (figure 4.2). Without an overlong explanation, it's enough to say that their projection for cutting emissions to "stabilize" greenhouse gases at a certain level shows that by around 2070 there will be no fossil fuels at all for countries, outside the First World club - not a barrel of oil, heap of coal or canister of gas to burn. How they explain that logic to India, China, Brazil or Ethiopia will make for an interesting ministerial meeting. They have shown the necessary contraction but not the convergence. Yet the two must occur together.

There are several subtly differing equity-based proposals for global frameworks to tackle climate change that could supersede the Kyoto Protocol when the Protocol’s first phase has run its course in 2012. They are assessed in Evans (2002). Only Contraction and Convergence however, passes the tests for both environmental integrity- working within secure environmental limits - and political feasibility offering real entitlements to less developed countries.

It is all very well making abstract theoretical arguments, but is there any chance at all that the advanced industrial economies could possibly make the kind of resource cuts necessary to fit into such a model? History suggests the answer is yes.

War economies provide an approximate analogy (Simms 2001). All the major industrialized countries have relatively recent experience of them. They can generate senses of extended responsibility, purpose and focus. They always involve the complete re-gearing of the economy. The enemy here, of course, is a hostile climate, not another country. The victims of climate change could also be greater than in any war.

Resource efficiency was a major focus for British people during the Second World War. In the six years beginning in 1938, there was a 95% cut in private vehicle use. Public transport increased significantly. Consumption of all goods and services fell 16% in a similar period. A change in diet meant that although people were eating less, they were eating better, Life expectancy for people away from the bombs and bullets increased and infant mortality fell. For some, less really was more.
Behaviour changed partly in response to a massive government information campaign, itself amplified through media as far reaching as Good Housekeeping and Feeding cats and Dogs in Wartime. New patterns of behaviour became self-policing. Profligacy with food, material of fuel was seen as anti-social. Rationing was a fact and parameters were set by government, but without public support the country would have been ungovernable.

But is this asking too much of people in rich countries? Poor Countries with conventional foreign debts and lacking the systems of social support that the North enjoys, have lived with badly designed ‘structural adjustment programmes’ for decades. These are imposed to in the name of the economic discipline necessary to make debt repayments. To tackle the ecological debt of global warming, rich countries could now run the equivalent of environmental war economies, working within the framework of "sustainability adjustment programs”.

]n 1943, Hugh Dalton, President of the UK Board of trade, said, "There can be equality of sacrifice in the war. Some must lose their lives and limbs, others only the turn-ups on their trousers.” Today in Bangladesh some twenty million people are threatened by homelessness caused by flooding in order that we can drive sport-utility vehicles.

At the times of the first OPEC crisis,  a US Congressional declaration of purpose to sahpe domestic policy called for “Positive and effective action” to protect “general welfare . . . [and] . . . conserve scarce energy supplies . . . [and] . . . ensure fair and efficiency distribution.”  Applied more generally, there is a sentiment absolutely in line with contraction and convergence and a way of reconciling the ecological debt crisis.

But it is possible that neither the contraction and convergence framework nor the approach of the environmental war economy will succeed alone without reform of our monetary system to reconnect the abstract world of finance with the physical world of natural resources. Coming full circle, there was once a link between the money supply and gold and silver. Their availability was to a degree a limiting factor on what economies did.

If the trade in emissions permits were to be conducted in U.S. dollars for example, there would still be a built-in bias in favour of the dominant hard-currency countries. The United States could further exploit its position as the key currency holder and print money to meet its needs. This would mean that it could escape pressure to reform and entrench existing imbalances in the world economy.
The point is not to reduce the amount of energy that people use per se but to reduce the amount used that comes from fossil fuels.

A proposal for how this could be done comes from Richard Douthwaite [1999] He says spare emissions permits from under-consuming countries in the contraction and convergence framework could be traded in a special currency, the "EBCU" (energy-backed currency unit). The EBCU issue to governments would be a one-time event on the same per capita basis as the emission permits. Spare permits under a given ceiling would be made available upon payment in EBCUs.
Thereafter, when ‘spent’ the EBCUs are withdrawn from circulation, and used permits are destroyed. This strictly controls the volume of spare emissions permits or "special emissions rights" in the market. Such an approach creates a parallel monetary system and incentives to case the managed withdrawal from the fossil fuel economy. The complexity of implementation is reduced by the fact that, according to Douthwaite (1999). "80 percent of the fossil carbon that ends up as man-made CO2 in the earth's atmosphere comes from only 122 producers of carbon-based fuels.”

Sovereign Debt at the Crossroads
Chris Jochnick Fraser A Preston

UNFCCC C&C Submission - Support for Submission - CBAT - Responses to CBAT