What comes after Kyoto? (1)

27 May 2005
What is wrong with Kyoto and what comes next? Last week on openDemocracy, Michael Grubb argued that for all its shortcomings it at least marks a start.

This week, Tim Harford picks up on some of Michael Grubb's own concerns and suggests a way to overcome at least some of them.

The European Emissions Trading Scheme is a central achievement of the Kyoto process. But the fact that European Union countries can decide their quotas within the ETS makes the whole thing "a charade".

Harford suggests as an alternative: emulate the sulphur dioxide auctions held in the US in the 1990s. Do away with national quotas altogether and fix a global supply of emissions permits which would be sold to the highest bidders. The overall emissions would be the same as with a quota system, but instead of giving the emissions permits away as quotas, every ton of carbon dioxide would have to be paid for. Money from the auction could then be distributed equally among the world's people, he suggests (full text here).

Difficulties with Kyoto are widely acknowledged. Diana Liverman, Director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University speaking at a seminar this afternoon at the James Martin Institute at Oxford's Said Business School, listed the following concerns, among many others:

* Kyoto establishes property rights to the atmospheric commons and establishes a market for carbon which entrenches interest groups difficult to escape;

* the 1990 baseline was set by negotiation, not science;

* it locks in inequalities and coincidences of property rights;

* adjustment to include sinks (e.g. forest and soil management) reduces effective cut to 2% which is biophysically negligible;

* there is no cap on trading, which makes the developing world a potential waste dump;

* it is silent on aviation, exports and (mostly) adaptation.

Moving beyond these, Liverman concluded, will be a huge challenge. New approaches include technological options, carbon taxes, non nation-state approaches, internalisation of externalities (for example via law suits drawing on improving science of attribution), and more work on adaptation.

That may all well be true, but, as Diana Liverman says, the carbon trading mechanism now in place will be very hard to move. Given that, can it - should it - be transformed in the kind of way Harford suggests? If so, how, for one thing, would the global level of emissions be set?

Clive Bates, who works at the No 10 policy unit (the UK Prime Minister's office) but writes in the openDemocracy forum in a personal capacity, explores another option: the challenge of contraction and convergence. He identifies what he sees as a problem of "grandfathering" which, he thinks, is shared by both the Kyoto Protocol and contraction and convergence as described by Global Commons Institute (see, for example, Aubrey Meyer on openDemocracy).


[Addendum 25 May: yesterday at UNFCCC SB 22, Bernd Brouns of the Wuppertal Institute (WICEE) addressed these issues in a talk titled 'Enabling climate change action in the north: targets, instruments and strategies'. He said industrialized countries must make larger emissions cuts and assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation. He noted the need for further 'differentiation' among industrialized countries in any post-2012 climate regime and called for an open, transparent and systematic framework that takes into account differing national circumstances. Source ENB]

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