Even if all industrialized countries were to reduce emissions to zero by 2050, without any action by developing countries to reduce absolute emissions, the world will not be able to prevent 2°C of global average warming, a level considered dangerous by many scientists.
That's a pretty powerful statement and one of the reasons why the UNFCCC is convening another set of climate talks this week, this time in Accra, Ghana. It's also the starting point for Carter Bales and Rick Duke's article on "Containing Climate Change" in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.
Containing climate change will require reducing the current levels of greenhouse gas emissions not only in the United States and other wealthy countries but also in rapidly developing nations such as China. ... The international community must therefore urgently implement a durable global strategy to address the climate threat.
This is what the article sets out to do. It gets many things right and is definitely worth reading. Need for US leadership at home and internationally? Check. Inadequacy of Clean Development Mechanism and most sectoral approaches? Check. Importance of a global trading system? Check.
It also mentions something close to "Clean Investment Budgets" in all but name. Those are the reason why I'm heading to Ghana myself. How do you convince developing countries to take caps on emissions and join a global trading system?
Use the limited atmospheric room left under a global emissions reduction pathway that prevents 2°C of average warming. It's the snow cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro in the graph on the right. It's decreasing quickly and is extremely valuable. At the moment, there's something like 100 gigatons of CO2 equivalent emissions left under that cap. At $30 per ton, that's 3 trillion dollars.
But that space is disappearing fast. By 2015, it's about half as big. By 2025, it's gone completely.
In the meantime, though, we can use some of this space as a bargaining chip. Bales and Duke seem to agree:
Under this plan, wealthy countries would commit to progressively stricter emissions caps, ensuring an 80 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2050. Developing countries with high emissions, such as China, would receive easy-to-meet caps through 2020, granting them tradable pollution rights up to the emissions levels currently projected for them by the International Energy Agency. After 2020, each heavily industrialized developing country would be required to freeze its cap at its currently projected 2020 emissions level. Once wealthy countries have brought their average per capita emissions down to the level of the major developing countries, countries such as China would commit to progressively stricter caps in line with the commitments of the wealthy countries.
This would give Beijing an immediate incentive to start reducing emissions below current projections, freeing up allowances for sale in the global carbon market. After 2030, however, China would have to assume a declining cap. Skeptics may wonder why China would choose to participate in such a system. The answer, in short, is that China would easily stay below the emissions levels projected for it by the International Energy Agency because it would spend less on abatement efforts than it would receive from selling carbon credits to the rich countries.
The basic logic here is right on, although I would disagree with the actual mechanism and dates. Our analysis shows that 2030 is too late for major emitting developing countries like China to start having declining caps themselves. That needs to occur by around 2020 to avoid the 2°C target.