Sunday, February 22, 2009

Global Warming Action Plan

Global warming requires a comprehensive response, consisting of at least four parts:
- Emissions reduction
- Carbon stock management
- Heat transfer and radiation management
- Adaptation

Each of these parts requires a separate and appropriate policy framework - details should be worked out as soon as possible in an international agreement, say, at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference end 2009.

To achieve the reduction in emissions that we need to have, emissions need to be reduced for each country.

There should be separate policy frameworks for emission reduction and for radiation management. This will avoid that a country can seek a cheap way out, e.g. by causing some albedo change somewhere on Earth, in efforts to "trade" itself out of its emission reduction obligations.

Many types of radiation management require political agreement at international level, which can require delicate diplomatic negotiations. On the other hand, no international agreement will be breached if a country decided to build more solar or wind farms, in its efforts to reduce the emissions from its coal-fired power plants that could then be decommissioned as a result.

Having separate policy frameworks allows countries to largely decide individually how to achieve emission reductions, without requiring the international approval that would be necessary in many cases of radiation management.

Countries can each decide how to achieve their emissions reduction targets, provided they each do indeed reach their target. This should be backed up by the threat of sanctions against countries that fail to reach their reduction targets. A check on a, say, annual basis, should verify whether each country did reach its target.

Similarly, carbon stock management deserves a separate policy framework, which should include the oceans and preservation of rainforests and associated biodiversity.

Finally, adaptation to climate change also requires a separate policy framework, as one country's actions may damage another country. Issues like fresh water supply, refugees and preservation of biodiversity need to be worked out at international level.

In conclusion, there should be separate policy frameworks for each of these parts. This will ensure that each country will make sufficient efforts to reach the targets in each of these parts. What should be done, though, when a country fails to reach its carbon emission reduction target and proposes to make up for that shortfall by means of carbon capture and storage (CCS)? In that case, the amount of CCS should be punitive. The offset ratio should be punitive, to avoid that countries will start using CCS as a routine way to escape their obligations to reduce their emissions.

This paradox is worked out in proposals such as cap and capture, that acknowledge that we need to aim to do both, i.e. reduce emissions in addition to capture carbon. Carbon capture can be used to offset emissions, though, but in that case the offset ratio should be punitive, to avoid that countries will stop making an effort to reduce emissions.

As an example, a country could be allowed to offset a shortfall in its emission reduction target, if it demonstrated successful capture and safe storage of, say, twice the amount of the shortfall. Failing to do so, the country would face sanctions, as arbitrated by the WTO, and tariffs could be imposed on to the cost of such CCS (by international tender) with the proceeds of such tariffs used to ensure that such CCS does indeed take place.