Six ways to save the planet

Stern: relaxed

British academic Nicholas Stern shocked the world last year with his simple statement that we have to pay now for the pollution already done to the planet, or else we will pay a lot more soon. Since then, the bill has already doubled he says. And now he is back with a six point plan.

“The plan is not ambitious in relation to the problem,” he told Prospect Magazine. “It is ambitious in relation to world politics. It has been out for only a few weeks, but has already been picked up by people in ministries around the world.

The proposed deal has six basic elements. “First, we need to cut total world carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, with rich countries committing at Copenhagen to cut by 80 per cent by 2050. That would reduce the probability of temperatures rising more than 5 degrees in the next century from 50 per cent to 3 per cent. And there has been progress: France made a 75 per cent commitment in 2004, Obama’s proposed target is 80 per cent, McCain’s 60 per cent, and Gordon Brown is considering whether to raise the target in the climate change bill from 60 per cent to 80 per cent.

The figure of 80 per cent is not arbitrary. The world needs a 50 per cent overall cut by 2050 to stabilise greenhouse gas levels; that would take us down to two tonnes of annual emissions per capita as a world.

The whole world needs to converge on that figure by 2050. Europe and Japan are currently at 10-12 tonnes of annual emissions per capita, so an 80 per cent cut would get you in the region of two tonnes. The US would have to do a bit better, but my own view is that we should get everyone in the rich world on 80 per cent and sort out the rest later.

Second, poor countries need to recognise that they will be 8bn people out of the 9bn world population in 2050; there is no way to succeed without them. They should plan for two tonnes per capita, but they won’t need to make their commitments until 2020. They make their commitments after looking at the experiences of the rich countries in going low-carbon, after seeing that the financial flows to them through carbon trading are real and that technology is transferred. It is, if you like, a reversal of the usual conditionality of aid. Poor countries will deliver on condition that rich countries meet their targets. That is an interesting difference. But they all have to start planning and acting now.

Third, carbon trading has to be developed. We ought to be thinking of private sector carbon trading flows of the order of $100bn a year 15 years from now in order to help bring the developing world into the story. This is a key part of the glue of the global deal. The EU already has a large emissions trading scheme and Australia is developing one, as are several US states. Linking these together may be the best way to start building a global scheme.

Fourth, we have to act globally to prevent deforestation because you don’t simply want to be moving the problem around. Deforestation is the source of 20 per cent of global emissions. Cutting deforestation in half will take around $15bn a year of public money, but as trading in deforestation comes into the picture, that figure would go down.

Fifth, strong development and sharing of technology. We probably need some major financial support for carbon capture and storage for coal, for example.

Finally, we must deliver on our commitments on development aid. The Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 promised to double aid between 2005 and 2010, and the European commitments are to devote 0.7 per cent of GDP to aid by 2015. That is essential to help poor countries adapt to the further 2 degrees of warming we can expect to see even if we cut emissions drastically. The developed countries have put the majority of the greenhouse gases responsible for that warming into the atmosphere, and should take the main responsibility for the consequences.

So that’s the package. I hope it’s the basis for a global deal in Copenhagen next year.”

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