CapGlobalCarbon: a proposal to create a new global system for addressing climate change as a back-up to the inter-governmental negotiations

CapGlobalCarbon addresses an absolutely vital issue: the urgent need to start progressively reducing total global emissions from the use of fossil fuels. The idea is to impose an ‘upstream cap’: an annually reducing limitation on the total amount of coal, oil and gas that can be introduced onto the market anywhere in the world. The cap is implemented by a global licence system. A limited number of licences are issued each year, these are auctioned and governments ban the introduction of fuels not covered by a licence.

CapGlobalCarbon envisages the scheme being administered by a new global institution established for the purpose, a Global Climate Commons Trust. The Trust acts on behalf of the whole of humanity, guided by climate science. The Trust auctions the global permits. Fossil fuel companies pass on the cost of the licences to their customers. The Trust distributes the proceeds of the auction to individuals and communities throughout the world by means of cash transfer programmes. Low fossil fuel users will thus benefit more than they lose in higher fuel prices and the funds will have a significant impact on global poverty and inequality.

CapGlobalCarbon is an idea whose time has come, for two reasons:
  1. The urgent need for the world to reduce the use of fossil fuels is clearly established and widely recognised;
  2. The vital global reductions are not expected to come from the intergovernmental negotiations.

CapGlobalCarbon is a response to this situation. It is an initiative from outside government to make sure that, whatever deal is negotiated between nation-states, the total of global emissions from fossil fuels are reduced year by year as required by climate science. It provides a safeguard.

We have a crisis on our hands. A crisis is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to realise the human potential to work together as a global force for the good of all life on Earth


Problem: we are heading for irreversible climate change

The increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from about 280 parts per million to about 400 parts per million, mainly due to the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), has destabilized the planet’s energy, temperature and climate systems. Scientists warn that the Earth system is currently heading for tipping points beyond which recovery by human actions will not be possible.

The current system of global governance

The human response to date has taken the form of inter-governmental negotiations under the UNFCCC (the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The need to reduce emissions has been recognised but emissions have continued to rise.

The recent intergovernmental meeting in Lima was intended to lay down a clear path leading to the Paris conference in December 2015. Instead it left observers worried that the actions necessary to achieve the necessary decarbonisation will not be achieved in Paris.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge is that governments are unlikely to outline cuts in annual emissions that will be collectively consistent with a path that gives a good chance of remaining below the 2C danger limit”.       Lord Stern, The Guardian, Monday 15th December 2014

No Certainty

It is clear that – to put it mildly – we cannot be certain that inter-governmental negotiations will bring about decarbonisation on a sufficient level to prevent uncontrollable climate change. What is required therefore, if we are to avoid dangerous tipping points, is a system to make sure that global carbon emissions truly are reduced.


Solution: Establishing an independent Global Climate Commons Trust

The Trust would be established by a group of institutions and individuals. It could be based in any country. Under its constitution, the Trust would be charged with acting on behalf of humanity as a whole, including future generations. This obligation would be enforceable by the courts of the country in which it is established.

Initiating and managing a Cap&Dividend scheme

The Trust would establish a global Cap&Dividend scheme whereby emissions from burning fossil fuels are capped by limiting the amount of fossil fuels that can be brought onto the market anywhere in the world – an ‘upstream cap’, the cap being set and then lowered each year based on climate science, and being implemented by fossil fuel corporations being required to have a permit issued by the Trust for each unit of coal, oil or gas introduced anywhere in the world, the permits being denominated in carbon units.

The permits

The permits are auctioned. Fossil fuel companies thus pay open market prices for the permits; and these can then be traded. Fossil fuel companies pass on the cost of the permits to their customers.

Sharing the benefits

The net proceeds of the auction sales are distributed to or for the benefit of everyone in the world in equal shares per capita. Low fossil fuel users will thus benefit more than they lose in higher fuel prices. The distribution of funds could play a significant role in tackling global endemic poverty whilst simultaneously aiding individuals and communities in their transition to a zero-carbon, renewable-energy-based economy.

The global Cap&Dividend scheme is policed by nation-state governments

Backed by a massive global movement – this is going to be essential – the Trust will seek to persuade nation-state governments to enforce the global scheme within their own borders by requiring all imports into, or production of fossil fuels within, their countries to be covered by a permit issued by the Trust, refusing entry into their economies of coal, oil or gas not covered by a Trust permit. Governments should be willing to agree to do this because CapGlobalCarbon is the only certain way of achieving the radical reductions in global emissions required to avert calamitous climate change and this would relieve governments from having to pay the costs of the massive damage that extreme climate change would cause.


Making it happen

To get CapGlobalCarbon off the ground will require a critical mass of individuals and non-governmental organisations from all over the world to implement this idea on behalf of humanity as a whole including future generations. The current crisis offers us the opportunity to realise our potential as the Earth’s first conscious/aware species, to ensure that our actions match our knowledge and understanding. We cannot change the existing political system, at least not quickly enough. CapGlobalCarbon is something we can together make happen. The trick is that it is initiated from outside the mainstream.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller


Shared purpose, principles and values

These are essential:
  • Shared purpose. A project of this scale needs a shared purpose. Here the purpose is clear: that of enabling humanity to achieve the necessary reductions of total global carbon emissions in time to avoid run-away climate change; and doing so in a way that benefits the poor.
  • Shared principles and values. A new global institution of this nature must be based on core values such as equality, sharing, cooperation, active non-violence, transparency, accountability and the rule of law – everything clear and enforceable through the courts.
  • The project will reflect the principles stated in the Bolivian Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
We have the tools:
  • realtime communications technology
  • open-source – CapGlobalCarbon will engage the new possibilities of thousands of people contributing to create something new.


“Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”  Margaret Mead.



CapGlobalCarbon is a proposal by members of the Irish think-tank Feasta, the foundation for the economics of sustainability.  Implementation will require a new organisation with large resources and influential champions as well as widespread support. Will anyone interested in contributing in any way please contact us.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather