Contraction and Convergence

The climate change policy platform that’s floating just under the surface of negotiations

I was privileged to attend COP15 in Copenhagen this week as a member of the Global Commons Institute delegation, headed by Aubrey Meyer. During our attendance, I spent a fair bit of time talking about C&C theory with Aubrey, and felt motivated to share what I’ve learnt and the synthesis that this has led me to. Essentially, I think it’s the only sensible framework on which to base an international treaty that aims to be effective, simple and equitable – in this post I want to explain why.

It’s worth reading the Wikipedia page about contraction and convergence before going further with this post.

Remember that the objective is to reduce atmospheric carbon levels through reducing net carbon emissions.

Remember also the importance of equity in securing a workable policy framework. The only really fair deal would give every person in the world equal entitlement to emit carbon.

Banana LeafLet’s do a quick mental exercise. Work out the total amount of carbon that can be emitted over a set time (say 50 years) to avoid Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change (CACC). Create a simple graph of carbon emissions over time, where the area under the line of the graph is less than or equal to the maximum amount of carbon that can be emitted to avoid CACC – that line will necessarily be heading down and to the right, as we’re currently emitting too much carbon – that’s contraction. Adjust the rate of contraction to suit a realistic carbon emission reduction schedule. Divide the amount of carbon under the line of the graph by the number of people in the world to arrive at per capita emissions entitlements.

Then, it’s simple. Nations emitting more carbon per capita than their entitlement need to reduce their emissions, or trade entitlements with nations who are under their entitlement. This provides a stable and workable framework for carbon credit trading. Nations can either reduce their carbon emissions per capita, trade to increase their per-capita entitlement, or (importantly) reduce their population to increase the per-capita amount of carbon. Inevitably due to market forces (yes this is capitalism people – but in a sensible framework),