How to stop them breaking CO2 promises – part 1

13 03 2007

 Wikimedia - Stefan Wernli

 There seems to be a general agreement that to avoid dangerous climate change we need to get global CO2 emissions to at least 60% below 1990 levels by 2050.   At this level we will still see large scale extinctions and ecosystem changes but the most dire predictions of human suffering will be averted.

Knowing this, it seems that many well meaning governments at local and national levels worldwide are making pledges to achieve these targets.  Some of these promises take the form of legislation.  But how do we get there?  There are a variety of possible paths. 

We could:

a) go along merrily as we are and then panic as we get close to 2050 and bring in draconian changes to achieve a sudden and dramatic drop.

b) go along merrily as we are and quietly abandon the promises as we get closer to 2050 and realise we have no hope of making the targets.

c) set about achieving a steady predictable reduction in CO2 emissions on a year to year basis.

Clearly c) is the most desirable trajectory.  But what is needed to make governments behave themselves?  Well, the UK opposition Tory party has made some noise lately about setting a yearly target of a certain percentage reduction.  This could be legislated for and could be monitored by an independent emissions body.  Published figures would give us an idea of a government’s progress.  Should there be some extraordinary reason for not meeting targets (e.g. an exceptionally cold winter) then this could be taken into consideration and targets adjusted for the following 1-3 years to compensate for wandering off path.  Governments might be punished at the ballot box for straying.  Other sanctions might be triggered and come into force.

The federal government in Australia is oft heard telling us that despite not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, we are set to achieve our generous negotiated target of an 8% INCREASE in CO2 emissions above 1990.  There is some debate about this.  The target has been achieved largely through a reduction in land clearing, however there is dispute about the true extent of illegal land clearing in this country that goes undetected.  But lets assume that we are indeed on track.  Here is how a 3% year-on-year target would play out in Australia.

Year Emissions as % of 1990 level
2007 108
2008 105
2009 102
2010 99
2011 96
2012 93
2013 90
2012 87
2013 85
2014 82
2015 80
2016 77
2017 75
2018 73
2019 71
2020 68
2030 54
2040 40
2050 29
2100 6

Emissions (% 1990 level) =  (0.97)y x 108,    [where y = number of years after 2007]

So here we have a nice smooth drop in CO2 output.  Relative to 1990 we drop by almost a third by 2020, half by 2030 and a little over 2/3 reduction by 2050.

Certainty for business, accountability at the ballot box, the freedom to bring emissions down by diverse methods.  So what’s the hold-up?

Well,  I guess the politicians won’t voluntarily put the handcuffs on themselves.  They’ll need a big push from all of us.   Otherwise, the best of intentions can go badly off course.





5 responses

13 03 2007

you mention “governments not hitting targets” and “governments being punished”, but isn’t it private industry that generates most of the CO2? even if government programs were in place to encourage/cajole/legislate the ‘solution’ isn’t it possible/probable that industry and consumers will fail to take action and reach the targets? what then?

and do you seriously think that voters would be so united in their support of such targets that they would vote out politicians if targets aren’t met? “gee, I’ve voted for whoever the SierraClub /Greenpeace/whatev tells me to for decades, but since the Democratic house couldn’t hit the CO2 numbers, I’m going to vote Republican…” (I know you’re not in the US, so substitute your local liberal/conservative political parties.)

does that make any sense?

13 03 2007

st4rbux thanks for posting.

I believe you are right that it is private industry and private citizens that produce most CO2. Having said that, although governments mightn’t be big players, they are the ones who set the rules. Governments as representatives of the people are the bodies that must ensure we reach our targets. Unfortunately industry will not do this of it’s own volition, and private citizen choices alone will not be enough.

You may also be right that voting patterns alone will not ensure we stay on course. In the US and Australia interest rates are set by a indepedent body. Similarly, an independent body could be given the power (through legislation)to add a tarriff or tax to the price of tradable carbon emission permits if we strayed off course. We can’t let there be room to weasel out of CO2 committments as has been the case in many countries. Perhaps there are other mechanisms which could kick in.

15 03 2007
Adam R. Paul

I just wish that the debate that our (US) gov’t was having was over how much reduction targets should be, rather than over if global warming exists at all! *sigh*

15 03 2007

The last time I checked the US gov’t had not committed to reduce CO2 emissions. So have at it, let us know how well that works out.

I’ll take issue with your statement that “industry will not do this of their own volition” — there are a number of companies that are taking it on themselves to be Green, maybe even carbon-neutral. I can’t explain why markets/consumers (the ‘we’ you keep referring to) don’t benefit these companies and propel them to market-leading status… oh, maybe because when the rubber hits the road (more accurately, when it affect the wallet) the majority of the good, well-meaning people of the world are not that concerned about global warming. I mean, they’re DESPERATELY concerned (gnashing teeth, losing sleep), but not enough to actually do anything about it or pay more to make a difference.

Then there is the minority that is very concerned and is doing everything that they can personally to be Green and responsible, and wrongly presumes that everyone else is as committed as they are. They use terms like ‘our targets’. Even if it is a democratically government that signs up to targets, they are doing so at the urging of specific minority constituents (or simply pandering to them), not necessarily representing the will of the majority of their population.

in my defense, I’m swapping out all candescent (sp?) lighting in my house for CF bulbs and I think we should shut down most of our coal power plants (yay nuclear). see, I love the planet too.

15 03 2007

Hi Adam,

I appreciate your comments and sympathise with your concerns.


We humans have flaws. Sometimes we have difficulty getting to the destination we truly wish to arrive at. Some people find themselves gambling despite financial difficulties. So society decides to limit the number of poker machines. This is helping people realise their “second order” preferences.

Similarly, people profess their concern for the environment, but find it difficult to act in a way that reflects this. Government has a role here to help realise our fundamental aspirations.

And by the way…..I wish you all the best with the new globes. I’m sure you’ll never look back.

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