What Would a Real Treaty on Carbon Emissions Look Like?
As the world watched the departure of so-called “leaders” from the crime scene that Copenhagen has become, it was hard in that numbed state of shock to think of historic parallels. Probably the Munich Accord of 1938 would come to mind. The shear cowardice of world leaders to defend and uphold any principle of international caution and order is mind-boggling. Let history judge if Canada can sink any lower - for all our sakes, I hope not. Is the world now doomed, as it was in 1938?
Rather than dwell on such depressing thoughts, we need to turn our attention now to what should have happened, and what must ultimately happen, if climate catastrophe is to be averted.
Perhaps we should examine the huge flaw in all that rhetoric that has surrounded our approach up to this point. Countries have all been talking about getting back to 2005, or 1990 (or more realistically, 1950) levels of carbon emissions or whatever. An early date favors countries that have curbed their emissions; a later date favors laggards like Canada. What really matters for the biosphere of the planet is total global emissions, but no date establishes a meaningful limit for any one country. Just because we have been wasteful of carbon-based fuels in the past, does that entitle us to do so in the future? Does bad behaviour in the past justify it in the future? This has been Canada's whole and very flawed position all along! Would such an argument hold up in court to defend a thief or pedophile?
Thankfully, and most importantly, sustainable energy is distributed almost uniformly over the whole face of the Earth: after all, most of it comes from sunlight, which shines everywhere on our planet in the course of time. Smaller amounts of sustainable energy derive from tidal effects and from the heat flow of the Earth's interior. In other words, there are no haves and have-nots for sustainable energy; only the form it which it presents itself (direct sunlight, falling water, wind, wave action, etc.) differs.
All peoples and nations have access to sustainable energy, which is CO2-free. We need only apportion by nation the energy derived from fossil fuels.
Back in the 1950's, when global temperatures were stable, and atmospheric CO2 was just above 300 parts per million and rising slowly, human-caused CO2 emissions were about 6 or 7 Gigatons annually, roughly 25% of present levels. Let's now, for the sake of argument, assume that amount is something the biosphere can reprocess effectively, allowing the atmospheric sources and sinks to stabilize. We then have a global budget for how much fossil fuels can be burned in any year. The exact number can be refined: for now let's just recognize that such a limit exists. The question is: how can it be allocated among the peoples and nations of the Earth?
Energy is what makes things happen in the world. We need to recognize three components or purposes in our use of energy:
So a successful climate treaty will be one which allocates the amount of fossil fuel use by country based on sustenance, comfort and productivity requirements. The total allocations for all nations shall not exceed the limit CO2 emissions the planet can reprocess.
Then a climate treaty (as any law) must contain three components:
Would achieving such an agreement really be so difficult? We all share the one planet.
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