Negotiators from more than 180 countries around the world are arriving in Bali this month to begin two years of negotiations under United Nations auspices on a so-called post-Kyoto world.
At issue is what may or may not happen by way of collective global action on climate change policy, and specifically reduction of carbon emissions, as the 1997 Kyoto protocol terminates. The protocol is itself already a blemished treaty arrangement, with limited country coverage, incomplete implementation in several countries, and no dispute or enforcement mechanism. As such, it provides a poor basis for negotiating on a post-Kyoto world if the severity of global warming-related difficulties in the rest of the century accelerate and correspond, even by pale reflection, to some of the worst case scenarios.
Research at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo has focused on alternative negotiating approaches, globally, in this situation.
The starting point for this work is an appraisal of the work of the earth scientists as to the likelihood
of the more extreme global warming scenarios. Much of this is reflected in the reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The general message of the panel's most recent report is the portrayal of a growing probability of rapidly escalating global difficulties.
The New York Times, in its commentary on the report, cites a recent International Energy Agency report claiming a global warming of 6C will likely occur by 2030, and also reports IPCC scientists as suggesting that computer models predicting the melting of sea ice are outdated in their predictions and do not reflect recently observed, more-rapid melting and go on to suggest that an entire melting of key polar areas
could occur over this same time frame, with a sea level rise of 40 feet across the globe, causing widespread devastation.
These portrayals, however, stand in somewhat alarmist contrast to the contents of the IPCC's report and summary document. The panel says that actual sea level rise has been increasing at an average rate of 1.8 millimetres per year since 1961, and 3.1 millimetres since 1993. This seemingly points to massive further increases in these rates being needed by 2030 to reach 40 feet. It also says that for the next two decades a warming of about 0.2C per decade is the central case projection.
What does all this imply for global negotiation on a post- Kyoto-world?
At CIGI, we begin by suggesting that even if the more dire scenarios only have a two per cent probability
of being correct, this set of issues will dominate global economic and political debate over the next 20 to 30 years -- and we simply have to constructively think through globally what we do at a policy level to respond.
Outside of the Bali process, we have proposals on the table from the European Union to go to deeper cuts on emissions: 20 per cent by 2020, and 30 per cent if other countries match.
There are to be serious discussions among the G8 nations on a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.
Proposals from German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggest sufficient reductions in carbon emissions be imposed to maintain a target of temperature change of no more than, perhaps, 2C.
The latest IPCC report provides claims that 60 to 80 per cent of the reductions involved would come from changed industrial processes with improved energy efficiency playing a key role -- what economists in other areas often refer to as a "free lunch."
Whether we can indeed so drastically reduce key economic inputs, such as energy, without correspondingly large decreases in economic output is a central issue, along with the need for realistic assessments of what exactly the economic costs of temperature change are.
Hence, we come back to the same conundrum. What do we do at a policy level in light of all of this and how do we negotiate globally? Do we simply commit to deeper and deeper cuts?
The response of researchers at CIGI is an argument that we need to do more, and that what we may need is the recognition that we could negotiate and commit ourselves today to contingent actions tomorrow depending upon circumstance, rather than commitments to definitively act independently of what happens. The essential arguments within climate change negotiations are so large their complexity is such that we should seek to agree now to mutually act in various ways if things should happen in the hope that they do not.
For instance, we could globally make commitments today to deeper carbon emission cuts depending on actual temperature change. Admittedly, it would take 50 years for some of these emissions to
rise into the upper atmosphere, but we can make joint commitments today as to what our actions are, if needed. We would then be prepared to act jointly and swiftly together.
If, by way of further example, we have major desertification in Africa, globally we will potentially need to move millions of people across borders.
The potential scope of a global response to catastrophic outcomes may well involve social engineering on a scale we have never even contemplated. None of these countries, as poor as they are, will agree to admit the refugees unless major commitments from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and other nations are made in advance. We don't know what the aid flows are that we would need to deal with catastrophic events accompanying major global warming, but they will likely be large, possibly even 10 to 15 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Major discussions and negotiations could start now as a part of the Bali process on dealing with these contingencies. The global structure of finance, redistribution, trade, aid, and much more will become embroiled in it. Seemingly this must involve international leadership in global environmental policy, which is already reshaping the global economic order.
In a nutshell, research at CIGI suggests that, if there are large uncertainties as to what global warming scenario will occur, it seems prudent to negotiate contingent arrangements today in the hope they are not needed in the future.