Science Public Policy Institute [SPPI]

An event was held at the Chatham House Tuesday 28th February 2012 and it was called: -

"An International Climate Treaty: Is it Worth Fighting for?"

The speaker was Yvo de Boer - Special Global Advisor on Climate Change and Sustainability, KPMG;
Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2006-2010)

The Chair was Michael Jacobs - Visiting Professor, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment


Chatham House published the Q&A transcript to the web straight afterwards
Question from Dr Mayer Hillman after the speech:

"What concerns me most about your lecture is the fact that you didn't project, in my view, sufficiently, the gravity of the situation. You used the word 'important' on several occasions, that it was important to achieve an international climate treaty. It's not important, it's essential. You know that. Why didn't you use that word?

Beyond that, you also said in your introductory remarks that you are unaware of anything that approaches towards a global solution. You are I'm sure aware of the Global Commons Institute's framework proposal on contraction and convergence. It seems to me that that should be the point of departure on the understanding that we now know that the atmosphere has a finite capacity to absorb further burning of fossil fuels. That seems to me should be the subject on which we focus. When we then divide that by the world population, we arrive fairly logically, morally, practically at an equal share across the world population because as we contract so we converge towards equal per capita shares."

Answer from Yvo de Boer:

"Well I think for me to say in all honesty that an international legally binding treaty is essential; I would want to understand better what exactly it means. I think part of the problem at the moment is that people are using those terms very loosely. I would agree with you absolutely that we need an international agreement that measures up to the environmental challenge we are faced with. I think in terms of measuring up to that challenge, we need to be realistic.

I know about contraction and convergence; I think that the first time I asked an American negotiator what do you think of contraction and convergence - I think it must have been in 1996-7 - his reaction was well we don't contract or converge on anything else in life so why should we do it on climate change. I fully agree with you on the merits of the concept, but I think we need to be pragmatic in terms of how we can build an architecture that gets us to that concept. I think the concept in itself is very difficult to get adopted in a formal sense. Therefore, being a pragmatist, I would much more focus on the architecture that will get us to that result, rather than having a conceptual debate."

So what is wrong with de Boer's answer to Mayer Hillman?
It is a variant on classic 'solution-denial'.

[1] Firstly Yvo De Boer is clearly in a time warp. For this answer, he refers back to 1996/7 [i.e. 15 years ago and even before COP-3 Kyoto] when he was just a Dutch Bureaucrat attending UNFCCC meetings. We are presently post COP-17 2012 after several years of his failed [and occasionally tearful] 'leadership' [2006/10]. What a memory for trivia.

[2] Yvo De Boer cites this piece of what is essentially US gossip from 1996/7 [from an un-named US source] saying, "we don't contract or converge on anything else in life so why should we do it on climate change?" So what - its irrelevant at best and delusional at worst? Why choose this example? Its worthy of the gossip recycled by Michael Grubb who dutifully reported how some un-named US bureacrat had stormed out of the room when C&C was mentioned. [Raul Estrada rebukes Grubb about this].

[a] The record shows that at COP-3 1997 Kyoto the US - in response to India China and the Africa Group - said in the negotiations,

" . . . . It does seem to us that the proposals by for example India and perhaps by others who speak to Contraction and Convegence are elements for the future, elements perhaps for a next agreement that we may ultimately all seek to engage in . . . . "

[b] The UNFCCC Executive said about achieving the objective of the UNFCCC, to the record in 2004 that C&C "is inevitably required."

[c] Furthermore, the US comment about what we do 'in-life' is fundamental error. Yvo de Boer's citing of this comment simply compounds the error. Every single act of all living things - in the case of humans, both voluntary and involuntary - involves burning glucose to make muscles 'work'. When they do this they [muscles] 'contract and converge' to 'pull'. Muscles do not, cannot, nor to 'work' can they ever, 'push'. A lever is required for that pushing-action to occur which in turn results from the prior muscle-action which is pulling or 'contracting and converging'. Mr de Boer and his 'anonymous US negotiator' appear to live so much in their heads, they have obviously forgotten what it takes to walk, eat or even breathe. There are many people in the 'policy-debate' like this.

Aside from this, why didn't Yvo de Boer cite the example of Jan Pronk, Dutch Development Minister who hosted COP-6 in the Hague in 2000 and to whom Yvo de Boer was the 'assistant' at the time, who wrote for COP-6: - "Contraction and Convergence” - most equitable . . . easier & cheaper than alternatives

[3] Yvo de Boer says he agrees with the C&C concept but, "being a pragmatist, I would much more focus on the architecture that will get us to that result, rather than having a conceptual debate." This is like saying I agree with gravity but being a pragmatist I'd rather focus on reaching escape velocity and exiting the biosphere altogether.

[4] At the same time he says, "we need an international agreement that measures up to the environmental challenge we are faced with" failing to acknowledge that C&C is absolutely about *measuring UNFCCC-compliance*. He goes on to say, "I think in terms of measuring up to that challenge, we need to be realistic," which so far is anything but *measuring up to UNFCCC-compliance* and everything about making it up and making it worse and worse as you go along.

De Boer's answers here are at the very least deeply confused. What is this 'Architecture' he refers to, if not 'conceptual'? Is he thinking that just the increasingly random and rancorous row that the UNFCCC generates each year is 'the architecture'? If it is, it is precisely because people like him uncritically entertain the dangerously deluded 'arguments' like the 'US one' he cited?

De Boer's answer here is also dangerous. He says the architecture 'exists' [whatever it actually is] in that it apparently will get us to the C&C 'result'. But there is no evidence for this. Unfortunately, the record shows that year-by-year we continue to generate 'results' that are precisely the opposite of C&C - i.e. more Expansion and Divergence - and that we are more and more dangerously pointed at runaway rates of climate change as a result of this failure [C&C avoidance].

*All of this is classic 'solution-denial'*

Like many people in this process, he can't distinguish between cause and effect or means & ends.

[a] we need a full-term strategy for UNFCCC-compliance
[b] 'implementation' is simply a facet of that strategy and
[c] there is no C&C-result without a C&C-strategy as input
[d] there is no point in implementing anything that is not guided by and mediated by that strategy
[e] a non-C&C-result is as stupid as having done nothing at all [why implement inadequate plans that fail?]

His argument is the equivalent of saying because I wave my arms around furiously, I play the violin like Jascha Heifitz . . . this is self-deception and misdirection . . . no wonder he was in tears when he left his job at the UNFCCC.

After twenty years, in 2012 [and counting] . . . . we are faced with this situation, whether we like it or not, of causing the problem faster than we are responding to avoid it - and refusing to discuss this.


Mike Hutchinson writes to the group discussing this matter: -

Dear Aubrey and Mayer,

The challenge is to enable the UNFCCC to evolve from the UN Framework for Confusion on Climate Change into the UN Framework for Consensus on C&C. Architects are pragmatists because they create buildings, but must obviously persuade clients and planners about their concepts first. Innovative architecture depends on persuasive advocacy of imaginative concepts that overcomes business as usual attitudes and planning regs. Like many local planning departments, the UNFCCC is hung up on small print and has lost sight of the big picture. I guess that's why de Boer and others are wary of C&C as an overarching principle, but he may also be frightened that its logic and fairness will undermine the architecture of UNFCCC. If he were a real pragmatist, he should have done more to make the case for the architecture of C&C.

All the best,


Terry O'Connell writes to the group discussing this matter: -

Dear Aubrey and all above,

De Boer acknowledges the need for a measured response to the threat of climate change:

"we need an international agreement that measures up to the environmental challenge we are faced with. I think in terms of measuring up to that challenge, we need to be realistic."

This challenge and the required response was quantified in general terms at Copenhagen COP15 in 2009: the Accord limited temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade. No progress has been made on this since. Many informed individuals are already saying, some in public, that it might already be too late to meet this target.
Any solution or framework must serve the temperature objective. In the interest of pragmatism, it follows that the target should be expressed in terms that enable us to define necessary action: maximum concentrations. Until we have agreed this and the consequential emissions budget remaining, there is little point in debating who does what and how much. This was made clear in the UNFCCC treaty itself about twenty years ago.

Unfortunately, self-styled pragmatists like De Boer cannot face up to this and allow endless discussion (well, Durban gave them another 4 to 8 years at least) of how much each treaty signatory is prepared to donate to achieving an unquantified cause.
C&C is direct, practical and transparent about the scaling of the problem and reaching a rational and quantified response. It provides for any concentrations limit that politicians and their advisors agree on. C&C should be at the core of any proposed solution. How then would we then implement that required solution? This is where politicians should surely apply their undoubted skills in convincing the rest of us of the necessity of doing what is required and fixing it. I fear they think they are not up to it. I can't believe they don't get the maths.


Jelle Hielkema writes to the group discussing this matter: -


Catching on to both Aubrey's and Mike's comments on YdB's Q5 answer, would it help that 'poor Yvo' has a '16' in his name for his last name 'BOER', same by 'chance' as the word 'FEAR' and called 'Destruction' by the Ancient Chaldeans!

Over time I have come to realize, understand and accept that what is called the 'implicate order of Nature' determines to a large extent who and what we are and what we are doing. Possible the biblical expression "Lord forgive them for they don't know what they are doing (or saying)" stems right from there and we shall have to live with it.

May we develop and implement a better 'vetting system' for senior officials!!!!
My two cents that is with best regards from truly Spring-like Rome over 20 degs!


Fred Pearce writes: -

Just as a mild corrective here:  Yvo was one of the good guys, relatively speaking. The current climate diplomats are entirely focussed on measure success in diplomatic terms.  Agreement on almost any terms.  Whatever you think, Yvo did try very hard to keep the climate objectives in focus.  For those of us with too much experience of climate talks than is good for us, the change since Yvo moved on his marked and dispiriting.

Jelle Hielkema writes: -


I do think that Fred Pearce 'hits a nail' there in that it's the diplomats depending on governments in place to keep their seats (and warm too) who are the real bottlenecks in all of this. Doesn't remove the '16' from (Yvo de) BOER but definitely gives the wider perspective and.....outlines the rather formidable task too!
Good weekend to all.


Marie Loh writes

I consider myself to be an average ‘Joe Blogs’, being in my early 30’s the reality of climate change and talks are relatively new to me and I would imagine a large proportion of my generation. We are coming of an age where we have young children and this makes us think more about the world we are leaving behind for them. My parents, now in their 70’s, still drive to the local shop that is 300 yards down the road for milk,  as do my in laws, they are not interested in climate change at all and are utter C&C deniers. They have absolutely no intention of changing their ways and take great comfort in the thought that they will be in a box before it’s too late to turn back the clock. I think it fair to say the majority  of their generation are climate change ‘deniers’ or else something would have been sorted by now.  

I think nothing radical need occur, “being realistic” we are living in a time of electronic empowerment as well as electronic greed, the message and urgency of the message needs spreading and it needs to be digestible by all audience levels, not so much an esoteric group of people. Which I feel has been the main problem relating to the concept of C&C for too long, not the concept itself. Magnitudes of advocates, believers and active supporters voicing their support and demanding change I believe would sway opinions and the boundaries of what is not only realistic, but what is expected from the top down….

It’s not at all hopeless, unless everyone gives up hope. But that is just my humble opinion.



Mike Hutchinson writes

Dear Marie,

Spot on.  We should all put our heads together to think what the priorities are.  The C&C Foundation now has a charity number and an offer of a small amount of seed funding to start creating short sequences for the web etc.  Any thoughts or contacts about singers/actors who have a big following and who might be well disposed toward C&C would be useful.


Marie Loh writes

Thank you Mike

I have a couple of musician friends who are 'connected' to big bands, The Darkness being one.  I'll approach them over the weekend, any chance of a bit more info?

Best, Marie

Aubrey Meyer writes

Dear Terry

Fred's right - Yvo's a nice enough guy [aren't we all? and so what].

Considering his talk was called, "Is a global climate deal worth fighting for?" his point was way off the point. It reads to me as though he's completely given up and joined KPMG as an advisor to dull the pain. You are right on your main point. It is the main point. It is the one we have to deal with. Without this we're all beginning to look really, really stupid: -

"C&C is direct, practical and transparent about the scaling of the problem and reaching a rational and quantified response. It provides for any concentrations limit that politicians and their advisors agree on. C&C should be at the core of any proposed solution. How would we then implement that required solution? This is where politicians should surely apply their undoubted skills in convincing the rest of us of the necessity of doing what is required and fixing it. I fear they think they are not up to it. I can't believe they don't get the maths."

Of course they get it - but then they're behaving as though the question is inconvenient or doesn't really exist. Then they're getting away with that by treating compliant most-everybody else as though we/they are umpteen blind, chattering monkeys who've probably given up too. Well facing this is simple [but not easy]. However, creating consenus of what we're actually for is not 'a miracle' [and is not easy] and putting pressure on is not an accident [and is not easy]:

However, what I think is the central epistemological ['meaning'] challenge is this - correcting the 'error' where for example Leo Hickman recently defended the Guardian effectively saying, 'there are many viewpoints that we publish reflecting many truths'.
From any view-point, I see this as post-modernist-error [electron smudge] and this goes to the heart of the epistemological chaos within which the Corporates like KPMG - with the likes of the Guardian in tow - blow smoke around how they really make their livings while we all fail to resolve the problems that we face.

Of course there are many 'viewpoints'! I don't believe anybody is suggesting that isn't so [any more than anyone is suggesting that Yvo isn't a nice guy] or that 'it shouldn't be allowed'. It is just a sloppy slur by Leo [et al?] to imply that it is with with comments like that.

However, this focuses attention around two inter-linked problems: -

[1] that 'bio-diversity' has now become 'portfolio-diversity' in a market-gone-mad, and this obscures the mortal danger we are now all in.

[2] the simple truth underlying this is obscured by Yvo, the media etc, all encouraging the idea that 'many viewpoints' need to be reflected for the many truths there are in play.


Leo Hickman wrote [correctly] in his book about climate that, "C&C is a simple mathematical truth.' Yes.

While we all know that there are many 'viewpoints', that doesn't alter that 'simple mathematical truth'. Agreed?

So, in the light of that 'observation', I asked Leo to look at this simple and actually beautiful animation to make a point. It shows clearly the maths that whether you look at this from the 'different viewpoints' that are: -

[a] Sun Centred or
[b] Earth Centred or
[c] Venus Centred

. . . the 'simple and structured mathematical truth is the same' from any of these viewpoints [think of the row between the Vatican and Galileo].
Note how both sides in that row missed this point.

C&C is like that! Having 'Americans', Yvo, Leo, the Guardian rubbish C&C which they now routinely do is absurd.

Ask only which rates of the C&C are they talking about: -
. . . and you get a silence which really says two things: -

[a] we don't know and
[b] we're doing it incrementally [i.e. there many viewpoints of many truths, so we don't need to know]

If only. But after twenty year of failure, many people openly say now that incrementalism is obviously an insufficient response.

Here is GCI's 'Memo to the UNFCCC': -
Things do get very 'teleological' when you get to survival being on the agenda.
"Don't Ever Give Up" [smile] . . .


Of all my crimes, turns out 'persistence' hasn't been the greatest: -

Mayer Hillman writes


You are, of course very justified in observing that ‘C&C is at the core of any proposed solution’ as it provides the essential framework for assessment. You go on to ask how we should ensure that that is seen and immediately adopted by Governments? It seems to me, and maybe to all those who have examined C&C and have recognised both its significance and simplicity, that the drive for obfuscation and, beyond that, leading to evermore delay lies with:

a)  those appointed to act as their special advisors (who are conscious of the attractions for their Ministers of not proposing action likely to lose votes ‑ or resulting in the Minister’s dismissal and their own sacking

b)  journalists (accountable to their editors, who in turn are accountable to their proprietors) who continue to unduly influence politicians and public alike.

Anyone involved in seeking a totally reliable solution surely recognises that, in the absence of a framework, failure is as good as inevitable. I cannot see how the de Boers, Tom Burkes, Nigel Lawsons and Christopher Bookers of this world, and others that Aubrey describes as ‘solution deniers’, can reasonably deny the essentiality of a framework setting out the safe limits for further greenhouse gas emissions (and thereafter their consequent sharing out) so that proposals for preventing ecological catastrophe can be objectively appraised?

The challenge now is getting increasingly formidable: a consensus must be achieved entailing all countries and their populations speedily agreeing to and then implementing the adoption of lifestyles with close on zero levels of emissions. That cannot be met without the framework that enables decision makers to come to terms with this harsh reality. It is all too obvious that the Durban invitation to each country to set down what contribution it is prepared to volunteer to that end is very unlikely to reveal much more than, in aggregate, a high insufficiency of outcome.

So critical and urgent is recognition of this issue that I continue to fail to see why perhaps the most important Conference that has ever been convened is not set in train very soon. Its aim would be to explain C&C, and to invite those who have their reservations about its efficacy to, first, seek to justify their opposition to it and, second, to put forward their alternative for equivalent scrutiny. One would hope that the responsible media could be relied on to draw attention to the significance of the Conference, to report objectively on its content and outcome and to expose those who have their reservations but chose to decline the invitation to debate the pro’s and con’s of C&C compared with their alternative.
Do any of those to whom this email has been copied consider this proposition inadvisable? If so, what better procedure do they recommend. We are running out of time!


Jelle Hielkema writes

Excellent message about the 'Reality of Things C&C and Non' as they 'lay in the field' Mayer! The Top seems indeed 'frozen with fear' for interest sake from a wide variety and ''suitably' complementary angles.

One of my 'wrenching remedies' would be to 'organize' around the Spring Equinox a True Twitter groundswell for C&C, to, if anything, show that C&C is ALIVE AND KICKING at the Bottom where people instinctively understand, if only because they 'look out of the window' every now and then!

I'd say that between this group we could easily reach say 1-2 million souls and it's amazing how fast these could multiply with well-worded Twitter campaign messages and images for which enough material is available. I'm 'good' for about half a million contacts at this stage.

Aubrey what say?! Hasn't the Time come?!

Best to all.


Prof William Rees writes


I read your note with interest and despair.

It seems we are dealing with a case of deep cognitive denial because the actions you propose, intelligent and logical as they are, would require major changes in the status quo, enormous losses to the corporate sector (particularly the fossil fuel industry) and a redistribution of economic and political power.

When faced with structural and political change of this magnitude, those in power do not act from reason and intelligence, but rather from instincts and emotions rooted in self- and tribal preservation. The American historian, Barbara Tuchman, describes the phenomenon precisely in her book, "The March of Folly." This volume traces the failure of intelligence in politics over the Centuries. To her, 'wooden-headedness' or 'folly' "...consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions [i.e., ideology] while ignoring any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.

I try to explain the innate behavioural, cultural and cognitive roots of this phenomenon and one potential solution in the paper on "what's blocking sustainability" here or available here.

I hope this is of some use. Best of luck in breaking through on C&C.

Bill Rees, PhD, FRSC
University of British Columbia





Regarding Decisions at COP-17 for ‘increased ambition’ equals 'accelerated convergence'.
Negotiating UNFCCC-compliance globally, *Accelerating the rate of Convergence relative to the rate of Contraction* provides *the Main International Equity Lever.* “C&C has the virtue of simplicity. Equal per capita emissions is a natural focal point. Contestable computations based on economic variables do not need to enter the allocation formula.”
Review of Climate Change Economics to the Australian Government by Ross Garnaut - 2008

“Since the principle of ‘contraction and convergence’ was first proposed by the Global Commons Institute in 2000, it has been widely embraced by some industrialised countries. Under contraction and convergence, each country will start out with emission entitlements equal to its current real emissions levels, and then, over time, converge to equal its per capita entitlements, while the overall global budget contracts to accommodate the emissions reduction objective. The convergence principle should be applied immediately rather than later as the ‘converged point’ in the future.

‘Real emissions’ is a different concept to ‘emissions entitlement’. A country’s high/low per capita real emissions cannot justify its high/low emission entitlements. In the process of convergence, the rights and interests of country B are really infringed by country A. In the National Emissions Account-based solution, the concept of convergence can still be incorporated, but it now merely means ‘convergence of real emissions’ rather than ‘convergence of emission entitlements’. Each country’s gaps between its emission entitlements and real emissions need to be balanced by the traded emissions quotas.”
Development Research Council to the Chinese Government - 2009

“We believe that it is difficult to imagine a global deal which allows the developed countries to have emissions per capita which are significantly above a sustainable global average.”

UK Government’s ‘Committee to the Climate Change Act



C&C 'Sceptics' engage with C&C
Why not
Why not