Category Archives: updates

Environmental NGOs: Be More Specific for Paris

For environmental groups, the biggest event of the decade will be the international climate change negotiations in Paris in December called COP-21. Enviro groups have been sending out emails, asking their members to sign petitions, and tweeting up a storm (pardon the pun): #ActinParis , #RoadthroughParis, #PathwaytoParis , and so many more. The world will be watching to see if countries reach an agreement or fail again as they did in Copenhagen six years ago.

Many observers have low expectations , given that the UN requires unanimity from nation-states, fossil fuel interests have political control in so many nations, and the convention itself seems to have given up on an international treaty and is focusing instead on adding up nationally adopted actions. Each nation’s “intended” action plan or “INDC” reflects its leaders’ views on what is politically feasible, but not what is scientifically required. In many cases the actions are voluntary and would be implemented by future administrations, so there is no assurance the pledges will be fulfilled.

Much of the outreach by major NGOs working on climate in the run up to Paris has been vague calling for “strong climate action” or general sets of principles. Perhaps they are saving their political capital for a later date, but there may not be a later date. Or it could be the “big tent” strategy: stay vague until you have millions of people inside “the tent,” then announce your solution. But as Laurence Mathews wrote : The current groundswell of people, from pop stars to the Pope, calling for ‘strong climate action’ is a hopeful sign. But they need to adopt a specific tool – such as Cap & Share – to champion, before their voices become really effective.” For Paris to be successful, the NGOs must start lining up behind an actual proposal that can implement those general principles.

Leaving it in the ground is great, and 350 parts per million CO2 is fine, but how do we get there? Even calling for 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees still begs the question: how do we get there? Shorter showers and Priuses? No. It is time for NGOs to be explicit about the solution: a carbon cap returning funds to people.

The big NGOs already know about a carbon cap. They have been promoting it for years, but usually in combination with a trading concept that confuses people and implies big business making a lot of money at their expense. An upstream limit on production by the biggest coal, oil and gas producers could generate a carbon price without any trading at all. The worry is (and attacks from opponents will emphasize) that a carbon price could endanger economic security of families. A carbon cap by itself could mean reducing the amount of economic activity, probably causing a recession and throwing millions out of work. This is where returning revenues back to people (the dividend) comes in. The revenues raised by the carbon price are returned back to people, preserving purchasing power as the cap restricts fossil fuel use. The dividend alone may not be enough to support the whole economy, but it could serve to jumpstart additional policies such as a basic income , supplemented by quantitative easing for the people , local/energy-backed currencies and other social supports. This allows fossil fuel use to go down without crashing the economy. Such an approach can also build alliances with social and economic justice groups as it captures the value created by the scarcity and returns it to the people on an equitable basis, thus alleviating global poverty .

NGOs in the run up to Paris can help educate the public about the terminology involved in the proposal. CapGlobalCarbon is the campaign for an international citizen’s movement to demand the creation of a Global Climate Trust. A Global Climate Trust is the entity that sets the cap and handles the transfer of funds from the fossil fuel companies to people using the Cap & Share (or Cap & Dividend) approach described above.

Dear NGOs going to Paris: It is time to be more specific in your demands. The People’s Test on Climate is a start, but let’s get even more specific (and by the way, CapGlobalCarbon satisfies the People’s Test on Climate). CapGlobalCarbon meets the goals of climate justice. It is simple enough to fit a slogan such as, “Cap global carbon, price it, then return the revenues to people” (over time, branding experts can improve on this). Regardless of what happens with the UNFCCC in Paris, a real solution in the form of a citizens’ movement calling for a new organization to set ecological limits required by the climate science is needed. If the NGO community can unify its cacophony of demands, a major outcome from Paris may be a citizen’s movement calling for a Global Climate Trust that will keep the fossil fuels in the ground and give humanity a chance to stabilize the climate.

Cross-posted in the Huffington Post.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

Why negotiations and the IPCC are unlikely to make sure we’ll be safe

This December the COP21 will take place in Paris. This will be the 21st international attempt under this banner to address environmental problems. Why has this international approach been unsuccessful in sufficiently addressing climate change so far?

The IPCC and the UNFCCC framework

There are several aspects that make the current system of international collaboration to address climate change an unnecessarily troublesome process. The first being that to fully address the problem 170 wildly different countries with completely different cultures have to agree with each other. There are many geo-political tensions and international conflicts between nation-states that have nothing to do with climate change but negatively impact the negotiation process. The climate-related conflicts, which can be expected to increase if we keep failing to address climate change, make the process of finding common ground increasingly unlikely. This is a structural problem with regard to how the climate negotiations are set up: they require countries to agree with each other. Nation-states are more likely to agree with an independent organisation than another government whom they regard as their enemy or competitor. In fact they only have to decide whether they agree on the mechanism to sufficiently address climate change, not whether they agree with what all the other countries are or aren’t doing. This is a fundamental difference between the CapGlobalCarbon approach and the IPCC approach.

Currently the climate change negotiations have a strong geopolitical component, making one of the most critical threats to humanity part of the unstable and unreliable power games of nation-states. Leaders do not, and are not expected, to behave in the interest of humanity as a whole. They are, at best, assumed to represent the inhabitants of a limited subset of humanity determined by the borders of their country. We need a system that allows leaders of nation states to do what they need to do; what is best for their own inhabitants.

Not only is the current process ill equipped to deal with the urgent problem of halting climate change, the focus of the negotiations is wrong. The aim is to regulate the emissions of CO2, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do as the burning of fossil fuels is a diffuse process. The extraction of fossil fuels is the elephant in the room, currently only addressed by the activists of the #keepitintheground campaign and by the divestment movement. The carbon bubble is regarded as a free-market phenomenon which investors have to be wary about, not something the IPCC or UNFCCC should actively be involved in regulating. Not only is the current way of addressing climate change ineffective, it is ineffective at addressing the wrong thing.

Many have put their hopes on the COP21 being successful. It is astounding to realise that the international community has failed 20 times to sufficiently address climate change. For how long do we have to keep telling ourselves that it all will be different this time around? We believe that the stakes are simply too high to put all our eggs in the same basket. A safeguard or a backup is needed, just in case the COP fails again.

The aim of CapGlobalCarbon is not to replace or discredit the IPCC or UNFCCC. CapGlobalCarbon would, when implemented, not interfere with the negotiation process and is intended to be complementary to the existing efforts to protect the Earth’s climate. Having a transparent, equitable and fair mechanism to address the carbon budget will free up time and resources for institutions such as the IPCC to address adaptation, damage & loss and sustainable development.

The UNFCCC treaty was initiated at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The aim of this treaty is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-induced] interference with the climate system”.[2] This stabilisation has not happened in the 23 years in which this treaty is active. In a sense this is a tragedy of the unmanaged commons situation. It is, for example, in the short-term interest of the world leaders to fuel their nation’s economies to provide stability and good chances for re-election. No-one is ultimately responsible and accountable for the damage humanity does to the planet. To make this more specific: There is no institution for “stable common pool resource management” which Elinor Ostrom regarded as essential for managing the commons. CapGlobalCarbon intends to fill that void in relation to fossil fuels by creating a transparent system designed with the commons in mind.

Bulkeley and Newell summarise the stalemate position of the climate negotiation process brilliantly in one single question: “Can a fragmented and often highly conflictual political system made up of over 170 sovereign states and numerous other actors achieve the high (and historically unprecedented) levels of cooperation and policy coordination needed to manage environmental problems on a global scale?” [2]

The problems with unfettered and lightly regulated carbon trading

The idea that effective climate regulation can be created with the involvement of industry, for example in the form of a “Public Private Partnership”, is proven to be untrue as the lack of a non-negotiable cap on carbon and the high amounts of corruption in carbon trading schemes have shown. In the promotion of CapGlobalCarbon we encountered initial distrust by environmentalists simply because it sounds like “Cap&Trade”. The latter scheme has nothing to do with actually capping the extraction of carbon and is compromised by the 600 million tonnes of CO2 that have been emitted outside of its already vast carbon budget [3]. The idea that it is possible and desirable to offset carbon emissions is fundamentally flawed and has no place in any genuine response to climate change. Ethically it is a problematic approach: It is like saying one is allowed to poison a river as long as one pays someone else to clean up another river. Technically there are problems as well: it is not possible to remove carbon as permanently as it would be when kept in the ground. This is why it is impossible to offset any carbon with CapGlobalCarbon. The extraction of the unburnable carbon will simply not be allowed. This is one of the reasons why a “price on carbon” is not enough to ensure the carbon that would cause the climate to warm more than 2 degrees stays unextracted. Some carbon should be, and can be off-limits to the market, if we choose to make it so.

From feasibility to necessity: representing Earth

We need to face up to the fact that the radical change needed to address climate change is unlikely to come from the inside. A separate system, outside of the negotiation process, has to be set up with the purpose of keeping the unburnable fossil fuel in the ground while dividing the remaining extractable fuel in a fair and equitable fashion. The CapGlobalCarbon team is no longer buying into the notion that it is “complex” to decrease global atmospheric CO2 levels and that we all need to agree with each other to do the right thing. Effective, global action is possible, it is just not happening within the current process of negotiations. We know perfectly well what we can burn and what has to stay in the ground [4]. It should not be that difficult to draw the conclusion that we already decided that this carbon is off limits. In 1992 most nations agreed that “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” should be prevented. Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fuels outside of the carbon budget is a direct violation of that agreement. The question is how to divide the remaining fossil resources that are within the planetary carbon budget, not if we should also burn (a portion of) the other fossil resources.

A parallel program as a safeguard for the IPCC process

We are in desperate need of a plan B, a plan that starts from what is necessary instead of what is politically feasible, a plan without offsets, backdoors or buy-out options, in short: a plan that has the continuation and well being of life on earth as its primary focus.

Who else is asking the “what if” question? Who else is disenchanted by the current climate negotiation process? Who else believes carbon offsetting to be seriously compromised, since it can facilitate corruption and marginal greenwashing? If you are, we want to meet you at the COP21 to build a coherent alternative where governments and corporations can opt-in on our terms, instead of dictating the rules from the onset. There are many fantastic ideas on the local, regional and national level that create systems of governance in favour of the commons. Let’s collaboratively re-imagine what grassroots action and collaboration on a global level can be.



Featured image: “Politicians discussing climate change”. Sculpture by Isaac Cordel which formed part of a street installation in Berlin in 2011 called “Follow the Leaders”.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

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

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

The CapGlobalCarbon side-event at the COP21 has been approved

The CapGlobalCarbon team will host an official side-event at the COP21 in Paris. Our core-team member Mike Sandler just received this exciting message:

Dear side event applicant,

Congratulations! Your side event application has successfully passed the selection process for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) and the 11th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11) taking place from 30 November to 11 December 2015 in Paris – Le Bourget, France. Your side event has thus been included into the official side event programme.

We are collaborating with the Sequoia FoundationCorporación Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (DEJUSTICIA) and Feasta. Our event is announced as:

Climate Justice: Coal and Human Rights in the South, Community Choice Energy, Global Carbon Pricing
Affected communities are often forgotten in high-level talks on climate action. We highlight human rights impacts by the coal sector in the South, Community Choice Energy to speed a transition to renewables, and establish a Global Climate Trust to “CapGlobalCarbon” and return funds to people.

Please subscribe to our mail list to stay updated on the exact time and location of this event.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

Putting the right price on carbon.

The following article by Erik-Jan van Oosten has originally been published on the Climate-KIC Community hub.

There has been a strong push towards putting a price on carbon since the oil prices came down halfway 2014 and I wouldn’t be surprised if at COP21 a carbon price in some sort or form will be part of the agreement. More reason for us to make sure we end up with a fair and sufficiently effective mechanism to promote as a solution.

CGC schematic

A strong and consistent carbon price would be a huge incentive for innovation in low-carbon technology and services. Yet the positive effects of a substantial carbon price through for example a government imposed carbon-tax is on itself not sufficient to make sure we don’t end up burning more than our planetary carbon budget. If the price is set too low there will not be enough incentive to transition to a low carbon economy and if the price is too high governments will not participate as it will hurt their economies too much and thus the tax will fail.

The problem from an economic perspective is that the current prices of fossil fuels reflect the abundance of the fossil fuel reserves, not the actual scarcity of our carbon budget. Writing off these “unburnable” assets as divestment campaigners want to do is, from the viewpoint of the fossil fuel companies, not feasible as these companies could risk bankruptcy if they decide to face the climate reality and write off their unburnable assets.

What we need to make sure of is that no more fossil fuels than what our carbon budget allows will be extracted while giving fossil fuel companies the time to write off their unburnable assets by creating an artificial scarcity. The solution that ensures the gradual phase-out of fossil fuels is called CapGlobalCarbon. Let climate science determine how much fossil carbon can enter the economy on a yearly basis and auction the rights to extract fossil fuels to the few companies that actually introduce new carbon into the economy. As our carbon budget tightens the number of permits will need to decrease by about 6 percent a year, meaning that every year 6 percent more fossil fuels will stay in the ground and become “unburnable”. The setting of a hard limit on carbon is called capping, and is necessary to set the exact amount of carbon we can safely burn based on the best knowledge available at a given time. The auction of permits is necessary to set the price of the burnable carbon so as to reflect the scarcity of the burnable carbon and allocate the carbon budget without having to face (geo)-political struggles. With CapGlobalCarbon, no countries are involved in dividing the slices of the carbon-cake. The revenues from the auction are divided on a per-capita basis to inhabitants of participating countries. This means that we intend to give everyone, regardless of their nationality and income, the same share of the revenues which will hopefully increase popular pressure on governments to enforce the ban on unburnable carbon, since it could drastically reduce poverty within their borders.

If you use an average amount of fossil fuels the gains from the dividends of the auction will be offset by the increased price of fossil fuels you pay, making the scheme cost-neutral for the average user. As 80 percent of the world population uses less than the average amount of fossil fuels most of us would directly benefit from a global cap on carbon. The competitive advantage of energy efficient companies will increase making sustainable business more economically attractive. This could be huge in terms of global economic prosperity, as the world’s poorest will be able to afford their sustenance, and a long term enabler of the growth of the green economy.

The greatest advantage I see for Climate-KIC is that this scheme can be set up outside of government, meaning that regardless of what will be decided on COP21 there can be meaningful progress to secure a stable climate. The CapGlobalCarbon project can very well become part of CSR as all companies have to do to comply is to ban fossil fuels not carrying a permit, just as frontrunner companies now ban non-FSC wood or only work with ISO-14000 complying companies. We see CapGlobalCarbon as a system innovation with great potential for Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability management.

To conclude: yes, we should put a price on carbon. This is done most effectively if science determines the amount of burnable carbon and if the market determines the allocation of this carbon. Through an ingenious clamping mechanism CapGlobalCarbon provides a long-term, self-reinforcing solution. This needs to happen quickly. We are able, and have the moral obligation, to prevent disastrous climate change from occurring. The CapGlobalCarbon team is looking for partners and support to make this bold plan happen, as well as specialists in strategy, economics, law and governance to join the core group. Let’s together make CSR about putting a global price and cap on carbon!

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

John Jopling – The Gaian Response

Gaia is the whole Earth system comprising the planet and all life on Earth including the human species. Gaia in Turmoil is a collection of essays by leading scientists and other experts describing various aspects of Gaian science and knowledge, focussing especially on climate change and biodiversity destruction. As well as spelling out the facts about climate change and loss of biodiversity more clearly than anywhere else I have seen, the book has enabled me to see the potential for Humanity’s response in a new light.

What Gaian theory and Gaian thinking and discussion brings to issues such a climate change and biodiversity is the idea that the Earth system is self-regulating, in some ways rather like a living being, and in particular that life on Earth has helped to regulate conditions on the planet in ways that are favourable to life on Earth.

This has enabled me to see climate change as a symptom of Gaia’s ill health. Gaia is not well. The cause is not in doubt: the excessive use of fossil fuels. The remedy is equally clear: the system needs to be regulated by reducing the global total of carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels.

We can also see Humanity’s role in responding to climate change in a new light. Because the human species is part of life on Earth we are part of, or at least we are capable of being part of, the Earth’s self-regulating system. In taking action to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels we are acting as part of Gaia’s self-regulating system. We are playing a Gaian role. This is Gaia’s response to a Gaian need.

As well as being the cause of Gaia’s ill health, humans are also the only species capable of restoring Gaia to health. Not by attempting to manage the Planet, as James Lovelock warned against, but by restraining our own damaging activities. We can do that by taking all sorts of action in our own individual lives, in our communities, in our own countries and in the international negotiations. In addition we can act on behalf of Humanity as a whole and the rest of life on Earth, by establishing a new global system to make sure that the global total of carbon emissions from the human use of fossil fuels is reduced as required by climate science – by something like 6% a year from now onwards.

The CapGlobalCarbon initiative is a Gaian initiative, a Gaian response to a Gaian need.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

Climate Protection as a World Citizens Movement

“Climate protection is a task for the whole of human- kind and must be perceived and tackled as such. Inter- national climate policy and civil-society initiatives are not opposed to each other; rather, they can powerfully complement each other. A world citizen movement can show that climate protection in and with society can work and even generate economic benefits. This is the form of interaction in which glob
al climate protection can and must succeed.”

The last paragraph of the Summary in the report of WBGU: CLIMATE PROTECTION AS A WORLD CITIZEN MOVEMENT, SPECIAL REPORT, SEPTEMBER 2014.  

We share this stance and wholeheartedly  believe that CapGlobalCarbon has a potential to combine the interests of both the civil-society initiatives and inter-national climate policy to properly address the challenge of climate change and poverty alleviation.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

Pope opposes California’s cap-and-trade system

“Pope Francis, in his highly anticipated call to action against climate change, took an unexpected swipe at the cap-and-trade systems used in both California and Europe to control greenhouse gases. They may sound good, the pontiff argued. But they won’t work.” – David R. Baker

CapGlobalCarbon supporters have been encouraging California’s Cap & Trade program to implement market design more in line with a Cap & Dividend system, which would address some of the Pope’s criticism.  Although the California system includes an escalating price floor on permit prices, and State legislation requires funds be used to assist disadvantaged communities, the type of system CGC advocates would be more effective at linking the needs of the poor and climate protection. Our analysis of the European Emission Trading Scheme is similar to that of Pope Francis and would like to see it replaced or heavily modified into an upstream cap on fossil fuels where the amount of licences is based on climate science.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

Even the pope gets it – carbon markets won’t fix the climate

Would you want to live here?Good article on the problems with carbon offsets:

“Carbon markets are in fact designed to seek out cheap emissions reductions such as HFC-23 destruction over fundamental structural changes to energy systems away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.”

But see also Aubrey Meyer’s comment at the end: the root of the problem is that there is currently no “budget” – ie limit or cap – for carbon.

The CapGlobalCarbon team sees this is as an indicator that the world seems to become increasingly ready to embrace our ideas.

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather

Framing the Paris climate change summit

It’s encouraging to see so much coverage of climate change in the news at the moment – as George Marshall says, it’s something that can only be dealt with if we all start actually talking about it publicly instead of treating it as a taboo subject, much as with racism and sexism. The Pope’s encyclical is rightly getting a lot of attention, as is the mass lobby of Parliament in the UK. 

However, reading the book Framespotting by Laurence and Alison Matthews has reminded me how important it is to keep an eye on the way climate change is being framed in all this discussion. One example that leapt out at me recently was a rather gloomy Guardian article from last Sunday, entitled “Climate change conference in Paris later this year is of global importance”.

I certainly can’t disagree with the article’s title. However, the article goes on to pose questions and provide answers which seem to reflect a very specific, and to my mind quite limiting, point of view on climate change action. 

Below I’ve quoted two question-and-answers from the article. Beneath each one there’s a reframing of the the answer from the point of view of CapGlobalCarbon.

Question 1: “What are the problems that lie ahead for delegates in making ..[their] commitment [to emissions reduction] work?

Here’s the Guardian’s answer:

“To keep any temperature rise to a 2C limit, delegates will have to call for pledges from countries and power blocks (such as the European Union) and then settle individual targets. That will be extremely tricky. In addition, once particular cuts have been agreed in carbon outputs, a commission will have to be set up to monitor nations’ emissions in order to check that they are keeping to their pledges.”

And here’s my answer with CGC framing:

“To keep any temperature rise to a 2C limit, delegates will need to lay out a framework for capping and gradually reducing total aggregate global fossil fuel production, as stated by the IPCC’s founding chair, Sir John Houghton. Production would be much easier to tackle than emissions as the former takes place at a small number of sites while emissions arise from a myriad. Such a system – known as Cap & Share – would be relatively straightforward to implement and police; far more so than the previous strategy of trying to set targets for individual nations’ emissions and then implement them on a case-by-case basis, which has led to endless wrangling.

“When a country signs onto Cap & Share it will undertake to ensure that fossil fuel extractors acting within its borders are in compliance with the fossil fuel cap and will also distribute the revenue from emissions permit sales in equal share to its population. Over time, as the positive results of this system – in the shape of substantially reduced poverty and inequality, and an increased freeing up of finance to help with the shift to renewable energy – become clearer, popular pressure would likely have an affect on laggard countries, encouraging them to climb on board”.

The second of the Guardian’s questions I’ve chosen is

“What will be the cost?”

Here I had issues with the question itself. Effective action on climate change will certainly cost something – to some people. But it won’t necessarily hurt everyone financially, as we’ll see below.

In any case, here’s the Guardian’s answer:

“The high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today are the handiwork of the industrialised developed nations. Developing countries will therefore demand a clear commitment from them to provide financial support to help them to adapt to a hotter planet and to mitigate against the worst effects of global warming. By 2020, the amount of money needed for this purpose is expected to be around $100bn a year. Pledges to reach such a funding level will be another key milestone that will have to be reached in Paris.”

Here’s how I would put that question and answer, again with a CGC frame:

“How will action on climate change affect people financially?”

“If the Paris summit provides an opportunity to introduce a commons-based system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, individuals and communities throughout the world who use fossil fuels sparingly would come out considerably ahead financially. This is because everyone would receive some compensation for the dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmoephere. The funding for this compensation would come from the revenue generated by the auctioning of permits to fossil fuel companies to allow them to produce quantities of fossil fuels strictly limited by the number of permits they buy. Fossil fuel prices would rise as the companies pass on to consumers the costs of buying the permits. However in many households the compensation would be more than the increase in their fuel bills, much more in the case of those that consume the least. The revenue from permit sales would be available for whatever individuals and communities deemed appropriate, which would likely include widespread investment in healthcare and education, legal support to safeguard community-owned land from land-grabbing, and in increasingly affordable renewable energy as well as other measures to help prevent and adapt to climate change.

“Those who use fossil fuel profligately in any participating country would have to pay an appropriate price for this use and in such cases, this would be greater than the revenue they receive. They would therefore lose out in purely financial terms. However they may find this cost to be a price well worth paying as the decrease in inequality would very likely lead to a stabler economy, reduced crime rates, and a reduction in stress-related illness, quite apart from the reduced risk of calamitous climate change which is in everyone’s interests.”

Thus the CapGlobalCarbon answers to the two questions are simpler, fairer and more upbeat than the Guardian’s ones.


The costs obsession

There’s more to be said on costs. The obsession that so many commentators, including journalists, express with them seems particularly badly misplaced given the situation we’re facing. Focussing on costs makes climate change seem a less acute problem than it really is.

During the Second World War, the Allied forces didn’t spend time worrying about how much the war was costing them. The priority for them was to defeat the Nazis. Shouldn’t climate change be considered to be at least as important a priority? 

To show just how ludicrous this costs obsession can get, here’s a quote from Roz Bulleid, senior climate and environment policy adviser at the trade association UK Steel, who was talking about why he thinks the companies he represents should be given free permits to continue emitting greenhouse gases under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme:

“For companies competing internationally with other sites around the world with no carbon costs it is vitally important they get 100 percent free allocation.”

And here’s my reframing of his statement:

“For companies competing internationally with other sites around the world where potentially catastrophic pollution takes place with no attempt made to regulate it, it is vitally important that they themselves also be allowed to pollute freely, regardless of the consequences”.

I’m glad to see that the pope in his encyclical has drawn some much-needed attention to the problems with these types of cap-and-trade emission permit schemes.

The other problem with the costs obsession, as I mentioned above, is that it implies that costs are (a) universal (b) always a bad thing. Both of these assumptions are wrong. George Marshall makes a lot of good points about why we aren’t tackling climate change effectively, but I think even he mis-frames the issue of costs when he says things like “Here you have a situation which involves certain costs in the short-term in order to avoid potentially larger but uncertain costs at some point in the future”.

Again, I have to ask – would these “certain costs” apply to everyone or just to some people, and is it possible that there could even be a financial gain to others? And what if those who lose in financial terms still end up gaining significantly in other ways?

All of these issues need to be brought up, and then brought up again, as part of our global conversation on climate change. So I hope that in Paris they’ll get plenty of attention.

Caroline Whyte will among the CapGlobalCarbon delegates at the Paris summit to promote CapGlobalCarbon.

Featured image: mirror on wall. Author: Asif Akbar. Source:

[Edit September 25 2015 to clarify the first “answer”.]

Facebooktwitteryoutubeby feather