September 2008


The Garnaut Climate Change Review has released its Final Report. It is available for download here. There is an open comments thread at Larvatus Prodeo.

I intend to comment more on this report, including on what is has to say about transforming rural land use (Chapter 22); and what it has to say about targets, trajectories, and international negotiations (Chapters 9, 12 and others).

On 16 September 2008, Ms Sunita Narain, Director of the Centre for Science & Environment and Director of the Society for Environmental Communications, delivered the 2008 K R Narayanan Oration on “Why Environmentalism Needs Equity” at the Australian National University. The podcast is now available from here, a video is available from here.

I would highly recommend this lecture to anyone interested in environmentalism, equity, or climate change issues.

How is it that Australia, as the highest per-capita emitting Annex I country, only needs to reduce emissions in 2020 by 10% for a 550 ppm target, and 25% for a 450 ppm target? Australia’s increasing population only tells part of the story. The main factor, that undermines the integrity of these targets, is the time taken in the ‘contraction and convergence’ model until convergence, which is when all countries are allocated the same amount of per-capita emissions, which can be traded.

Garnaut proposes that this time period should be 42 years (until 2050). There is no detailed justification for this figure, or sensitivity analysis, but as usual Garnaut has some very good comments (Supplementary Draft Report, p14):

A system of targets based around per capita principles can ‘add up’ to the required global effort while being broadly acceptable to most players, as shown in below. A relatively gradual convergence to equal per capita allocations, with the year 2050 proposed by the Review, could be seen in developing countries as developed-country-biased, as it perpetuates for some time the current unequal patterns of use of the atmosphere. What is outlined is probably at the limits of acceptability to developing countries—it demands a modest departure from developing countries’ current emissions growth path in the short term, and strong deviations in the medium term. [my emphasis]

The situation in very similar to the permit allocation problem in a domestic ETS — do large polluters get free permits to pollute based on their previous emissions, or do they have to pay for the right to pollute, and buy the right to pollute off the public? The former situation is a form of rent-seeking, the latter situation is based on the polluter pays principle. A slow rate of convergence implies much higher rents that go to high per-capita emitters such as Australia. The rate of convergence has an overwhelming influence on what Australia’s target should be for a given stabilisation target.

Professor Garnaut states, very eloquently, that

There will be no progress towards an effective international agreement if each country lays out all of the special reasons why it is different from others, and why it should be given softer targets. When climate change negotiators from any country list reasons why their country has special reasons to be treated differently, and take them seriously, we should be quick to recognise that the negotiators, and the countries they represent, intentionally or not, are inhibiting effective international agreement.

Unfortunately Professor Garnaut has not made sound arguments for the low convergence rate that he has chosen.

There is another reason for a fast convergence rate: as Garnaut very much understands, successfully tackling climate change requires resolution of the international prisoner’s dilemma, preferably very quickly. One of the main barriers to international cooperation is the fact that some countries are very high per-capita emitters. A fast convergence rate removes this barrier much more quickly.

Garnaut also states (p7):

The process of international cooperation, escaping the prisoner’s dilemma described in the Draft Report, is perhaps the most formidable of international relations challenges; more formidable than the multilateral trade negotiations which have recently collapsed.

The prisoners dilemma isn’t the game that is related to climate change. International negotiations, like many bargaining problems, is very much a game of chicken. The reason that international trade negotiations continue to collapse is that developed countries refuse to accept a fair deal with developing countries. Unfortunately it seems likely that the same situation will happen with climate change negotiations.

The other issue with this target is that there is a huge risk that 450ppm will overallocate emissions, leading to dangerous climate change. More on this later.

Update: I have expanded on this subject in a submission to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper (pdf). Professor Garnaut has also written an open letter to scientists and environmentalists on the subject. Robert Merkel from Larvatus Prodeo has blogged about the letter here.

Update: Andrew Macintosh, from the ANU Center for Climate Law and Policy, has written a detailed critique of Garnaut’s Targets and Trajectories.