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How it works

The explanation below, by Laurence Matthews, is taken from Feasta’s book Sharing for Survival: Restoring the Climate, the Commons and Society. You can read the whole chapter here.

CapGlobalCarbon is a global version of Cap and Share (C&S), which is a way of securely limiting the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels.

As the name implies, there are two parts to Cap and Share:

Cap: The total carbon emissions are limited (capped) in a simple, no-nonsense way.
Share: The benefits, from the huge amounts of money involved, are shared equally.

These principles are simple, but there are a number of ways of interpreting them, especially the ‘Share’. The principles are more important than the details, so let’s look first at the main principles themselves.

The Cap

The cap is a limit each year on overall, total CO2 emissions. This is set, in line with scientific advice, at a level which will bring concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere down to a safe level. But how do we ensure this cap is met?

The ‘Cap’ in Cap and Share is ‘upstream’. A good way to explain this [2] is to think of watering a lawn with a hosepipe connected to a lawn sprinkler, with lots of small holes spraying water everywhere. If you wanted to save water, what would you do? One idea is to try to block up all the sprinkler holes one by one. But wouldn’t it be simpler to turn off the tap a bit?

It’s the same with fossil fuels, where the sprinkler holes correspond to the millions of houses, factories and vehicles ‘downstream’ (on the right-hand side of Figure 1), each emitting CO2 by burning these fuels. But corresponding to the tap (on the left-hand side of Figure 1) there are only a few primary fossil fuel suppliers (e.g. oil companies) who introduce fossil fuels into the economy – by importing them or extracting them from the ground.

Figure 1

So it’s easier to work ‘upstream’, on the left-hand side of Figure 1. The cap operates by requiring the fossil fuel suppliers to acquire permits. A permit for 1 tonne of CO2 entitles a fossil fuel supplier to introduce fossil fuel with that CO2 content – that is, the amount which will emit 1 tonne of CO2 when burnt. The number of permits issued equates to the desired cap. By controlling the supply of fossil fuels coming into the economy, we automatically control the emissions which occur when those fossil fuels are burnt somewhere down the line.

For imports of fossil fuels, the cap may best be applied at the point of entry to the country (port, pipeline); for domestic production the best place is likely to be the mine (for coal) or the refinery (for gas/oil). The details need to be sorted out, but will be able to make use of systems already in place for accounting and taxation purposes, and will be in any event much simpler than trying to account for everything downstream.

Figure 2

Now look at Figure 2. This shows the two halves of our carbon footprint (‘direct emissions’ and ‘indirect emissions’). Some fossil fuels are burnt by companies producing goods and services on our behalf – these are our ‘indirect emissions’ and form the upper line in Figure 2. The goods that reach us have these emissions ‘embedded’ in them. Meanwhile we also buy fossil fuels (such as petrol) directly and burn them ourselves – these are our ‘direct emissions’ and form the lower line in Figure 2. The permits are represented by the small rectangles. Direct and indirect emissions are both taken care of by the same system.

In other words, it doesn’t matter where the emissions take place (the emissions are indicated by flame symbols in Figure 2). We don’t need to monitor and measure emissions at all, because instead of focussing on the emissions, we are focussing on the fossil fuels themselves. This focus also makes clear the connection between controlling emissions and ‘keeping fossil fuels in the ground’.

(Elaborations to this simple basis for the cap are possible: for example, offsets might be allowed against sequestration using methods like scrubbers or biochar. But abuse of the ‘paying someone else to cut their emissions’ type of offset has to stop).

The Share

Next, the Share. In Figure 3, the curved arrows represent flows of money. The fossil fuel suppliers must buy the permits to cover the CO2 content of the fuel they supply. They will seek to recoup this cost by building it into the price of fuel. This mark-up then flows through the economy like a carbon tax, making carbon-intensive goods cost more. There is thus a flow of money from the end-consumers to the fossil fuel companies, represented by the upper curved arrow in Figure 3. This sounds like bad news for the consumer. But wait – the fossil fuel suppliers paid for their permits, so where did that money go? The trick is to share this money out, back to the people (the lower curved arrow in Figure 3), which compensates for the price rises.

Figure 3

There are two possible mechanisms for returning (‘recycling’ or ‘rebating’) the money to the population. In the version called Cap & Dividend in the USA – which is the version used in CapGlobalCarbon – permits are auctioned and the auction revenue distributed to the citizens on an equal per capita basis. Alternatively, under ‘classic’ C&S each adult receives free of charge (say, monthly or annually) a certificate for his or her share of the cap – that is, of the country’s carbon footprint. These certificates are then sold to the fossil fuel suppliers (through market intermediaries such as banks) and become the permits. Under ‘classic’ C&S people thus receive certificates instead of money, so that if they should wish to, they can retain (and destroy) a portion of their certificates – and thus are able to reduce the country’s carbon footprint by that amount.

That’s C&S in a nutshell. It’s simple and transparent; fair; cheap and fast to implement; positive and empowering; effective and efficient. The same principle could also apply to other greenhouse gases – in fact any other common resource such as a fishery could be incorporated: it is easy to maintain a cap using permits, auction these permits and distribute shares of the revenue to the population. This is a resonance with emerging so-called ‘commons thinking’.

Read more (from Sharing for Survival)

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Not a fair COP…a report from Paris by Robert Hutchison

While six years ago the big Copenhagen conference ended in tears of anger and disappointment, the 21st Conferences of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris ended in tears of relief and Mexican waves of approval last Saturday – even though the outcome is a rotten deal for the world’s poorest people.

Let’s take the positives first. For the first time 195 nations have been brought into a common cause in taking collective action to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change. And in reinforcing the agreement to limit average global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the Paris conference has given a clear signal that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. Whether it will end soon enough to maintain a reasonably safe climate remains an open question. What happens in the next few years remains critically important.

But it was not a fair COP. Because those most vulnerable to extreme weather events tend to be those who have done least to cause the problem, human-caused climate change is a major issue of social justice. And at Paris the Least Developed and most vulnerable countries were sold short. The hollow centre of the outcomes are the dependence on voluntary action and the continuing failure of the wealthiest countries to commit to the finance needed for mitigation, adaptation and ‘Loss and Damage’. Given the scale of the problems – and compared with the hundreds of billions that went to shore up the banking industry on both sides of the Atlantic – very little funding has been guaranteed. And the track record of rich countries on making such transfers is not reassuring.

For many of the Least Developed Countries and Small Island States the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ – those impacts from climate change to which vulnerable countries can no longer adapt – was an important strand of the negotiations. For the first time the Paris Agreement includes ‘Loss and Damage’ as a stand-alone item, but, at the insistence of the USA and the EU the Agreement explicitly states that this ‘does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation’. But make no mistake, many of those most badly hit by extreme weather events will be seeking compensation. And not least because of the grossly deceitful nature of the fossil fuel companies, we should expect a growing stream of litigation on climate change impacts in the years ahead.

The dependence on voluntary action – on it being left to each government to decide what to do – does not put the world on the path to avoid dangerous climate change. At present the world is gambling on the potential of unproven technologies – like Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) – to reduce emissions in the second half of the century.

At the conclusion of the Paris negotiations, David Cameron announced that ‘We’ve secured our planet for many, many generations to come’, an utterance as bland and inappropriate as it was irresponsible. If we are to stabilise the climate for future generations wealthy countries need to make much steeper – and more immediate – cuts in our emissions than those currently planned. We need to invest more heavily in renewables – and discontinue subsidies to fossil fuels. The British government is leading us in completely the wrong direction – with bogus assurances and misplaced investments.

After a fortnight in Paris I came home with the belief that the main tasks of those seriously concerned with the injustices of climate change must be not just to press for faster emissions reductions in wealthy countries, but also to campaign for a legally binding global limit on fossil fuel extraction. The race against time continues.

Above all, climate change presents an opportunity to give the highest priority to human wellbeing, with stronger smarter communities, healthier lifestyles, and millions of new jobs. Facing up to climate change and ending abject poverty are two sides of the same coin. Unprecedented innovation – not just in energy and transport systems but also in food production, and in the way we organise and live in cities – a cultural and moral revolution, transparency and greater integrity of governments at every level are also needed. The climate change threat will only be fully met – and the opportunity for greater human wellbeing only fully realised – when the collective courage of humanity forces governments to face up to their responsibilities. Climate change remains everyone’s issue; we need to tread more lightly, more softly, while listening and responding to the most vulnerable.

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Update on the Climate Change Litigation Mock Trial

For the past two years members of the Feasta climate group, in collaboration with a number of other organisations, have been planning to hold a mock trial in the UK. The recent ruling in favour of the claimants in Urgenda’s case against the Dutch Government has been of great encouragement to them.

Our mock trial is seen as a step towards a real court action to seek a judgement against the UK government, requiring it to put in place a mechanism or mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a rate and extent commensurate with the best scientific evidence. Our legal team has advised us that a case based on the legal principles of Rationality and Proportionality would be most likely to succeed in the UK. The claimants would allege that the government’s actions are irrational and disproportionate in relation to the need for urgent and far-reaching cuts in emission documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s AR5 report and in further more recent scientific publications.

The mock trial aims:

1. To facilitate an actual court case (or cases) in the near future by:
∗ Serving as a catalyst to help acquire funding for this;
∗ Attracting a claimant or claimants;
∗ Building a legal team;
∗ Organising and testing evidence;
∗ Acquiring expert witnesses;
∗ Developing an instruction manual to guide future claimants, legal professionals and law students.

2. To raise awareness among the general public, NGO’s, climate scientists, politicians etc. of the need for court action to address the gulf between the urgent and far-reaching actions on Climate Change dictated by the best and most up-to-date scientific evidence, and the British Government’s disproportionate response to this need.

3. Assist in the training of law students by increasing their knowledge of Climate Change Litigation and by developing their skills in pleading.

Our Team:  Professor Jane Holder has agreed that University College London will host the event and provide an event organiser. Barristers, Richard Lord QC, Marc Willers QC and Richard Harvey assisted by lawyers from ClientEarth, Emily Shirley, a non-practising barrister, and Rajeev Sangroula a lawyer with an MLB in Environmental Law have agreed to help to prepare the case for the claimant in the mock trial. Roger Cox, who organised the Urgenda court case, will offer advice. We have identified a possible mock Judge. Prof Kevin Anderson, a leading climate scientist, and Dr Geoff Meaden who was an expert witness in the trial that led to the acquittal of the Kingsnorth Six have agreed to act as expert witnesses.
We have an embryonic publicity team including the journalist Adrienne Margolis and Hugh Chapman, who has experience in web design and publicity along with Andy Terry to help with our social media presence. We have already benefitted from advice from the science journalist Wendy Barnaby.

The mock trial and CapGlobalCarbon

Climate Change litigation could provide a tool to facilitate the introduction of CapGlobalCarbon.  Without CGC in place  a judge could only make a court order to require a government to cut emissions at a faster rate as in the case of Urgenda versus the Dutch Goverment.  However without an effective mechanism to do this the government would eventually breach the order and would be back in court.  The problem would be solved eventually if instead judges could require governments to cooperate in the establishment of a global scheme such as CGC. When such a scheme was in place the judge could simply require a recalcitrant government to comply fully with the scheme.

If you are interested in getting involved with the litigation project, please read on. Below is a list of ways to help.

Fund raising: Can you join our fund raising group to raise money for additional publicity for the mock trial and to pay for the real trial? Can you contact potential donors by phone or email? Can you help write a skeleton grant application that can be tailored to specific donors with different asks/budgets? Can you donate something yourself?
Publicity: Can you help by contacting Guardian Films, The BBC etc to see if they are prepared to make a film for national and local t.v. coverage? Can you make a video for Youtube or know of someone who might? Can you blog for us? Can you write and distribute press releases?

Conclusion: The mock and real trial are likely to cause a stir in Westminster and generate a lot of useful publicity. We live in hope that climate litigation will eventually make a major contribution to a safer world.
For further information and offers of help please contact Dr David P. Knight at

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