Arabian desert, NASA photo

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:

  • Sustenance: an amount of energy is required for basic survival, including food production and preparation, and clothing manufacture. This is a per capita value, the same for all people.
  • Comfort: the use of energy to provide a comfortable living temperature, say not below 15 C nor above 30 C. This is a per capita value, but it will be climate dependent. Extreme temperature environments will necessarily require more energy to remain habitable.
  • Productivity: Agricultural production, manufacturing, transportation all require substantial amounts of energy. The energy for such purposes should be allocated on a per dollar of productivity (Gross Domestic Product).

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:

  • GOAL SETTING: Each country shall have an emissions limit, calculated in the same manner for all countries, from its national population, climate and productivity. These national limits will decrease year by year into the future, but their actual values will be subject to adjustment regularly as needed.
  • MONITORING of emissions, by an international commission, not unlike the International Atomic Energy Agency, to ensure that the assigned limits are met by all parties.
  • COMPLIANCE: Any country not meeting its emissions goals will be subject to international tariffs on its exports, paid to the importing country. As an example, a country which exceeded its emissions limits by 10% could have a (say) 10% penalty imposed on all its goods when imported into another country.

Would achieving such an agreement really be so difficult? We all share the one planet.

Post-Copenhagen Positions
Copenhagen Accord submissions fall far short of Copenhagen Accord goal
Chevron Discussion: Carbon Management and Economic Development

Carbon Dioxide Advocacy
Carbon Equity
Greenhouse Neutral Foundation
Zero carbon Canada
Auntie Carbon

Carbon Dioxide Monitoring
Carbon dioxide monitoring
CO2 Now
Recent CO2 data
Greenhouse gases accounting in Canada
Carbon dioxide monitoring
Carbon trackers
China about to pass US in greenhouse gases

Carbon Dioxide Politics
Canada's record
Stark depiction of CO2 emissions per capita by country
Obama's tar sand trap
Alberta carbon-capture project gets $865 Million

Carbon Dioxide Outlook
Carbon capture and storage
Carbon dioxide and coral reefs
Global-warming gases set to rise by 57% by 2030
Accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth
15 million years reversed in 150 years

The Colour of the Water
A question to climate change deniers might be:
How long can you piss in the pool before the water starts to change colour?

But we're really talking about our atmosphere, and the "colour" is starting to look different:

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