Three global policy options to fight climate change

Felix von Geyer, Sustainable development journalist

The Paris climate talks need one thing badly - a seamlessly scalable global accord to incorporate mitigation commitments, exacting review periods and financing mechanisms through the Green Climate Fund and Global Environment Facility for developing country mitigation and adaptation, including diverting oil subsidies. A Loss and Damage Mechanism should be established in principle for where loss and damage exceeds existing foreseen adaptation costs.

Dotting and crossing all 'i's and 't's is not so essential at this stage as these can be added into the agreed mechanisms before implementation in 2020.

But three global policies should be incorporated to combat climate change while delivering green growth. Succinctly, these are:

  1. Negotiating and distributing a global carbon budget;
  2. Incorporating the use of global sector-based approaches; and
  3. The development of creative offsets to provide impetus for the creation of green infrastructure, agriculture and biofuels, especially where surmounting the energy, water and food trilemma is paramount to surviving the 21st century.

Addressing the global carbon budget

The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report indicated a possible 1000 gigatonne carbon budget was available before exceeding the 2°C threshold. Crucially, the International Energy Agency stated last year that the global energy infrastructure would burn the 2°C budget by 2040.

Developing countries' right to develop means their future energy requirements will produce over two-thirds of future emissions. Any discourse must now transcend the usual 'developed countries are responsible for climate change and must make the reductions'. The reality is that developing countries will be making a significant contribution to the next step to 'serious climate change'.

Sector-based approaches

Developing countries failed to incorporate sector-based approaches as part of their long-term action plan in Bali 2007. Even simple baseline sectoral emissions scenarios would have dammed the carbon leakage argument that prevented serious mitigation efforts from many developed countries.

The subsequent Prisoner's Dilemma over who should go first has placed global emissions reduction commitments to 2030 a decade behind where they should have been in 2020. Relative UNFCCC optimism that collective Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) commitments could limit temperature increases to 2.7°C overlooks the fact that major emitters will find it difficult to commit to much more mitigation effort. Canada's main polluting province, Alberta, responsible for 38 per cent of the country's emissions highlighted this in its recent climate change action plan. Benefits from fuel switching from coal to gas by 2030 is ridiculed by Alberta's decision to increase the cap on oil sands emissions from its current 70 million tonnes a year to 100 million tonnes by 2030 when Alberta's emissions will remain broadly the same as today. This is hardly an encouraging signal to developing countries who might wish to develop their fossil fuel resources.

The International Energy Agency's (IEA) 2009 study on sectoral approaches estimated a possible annual supply of 770 million tonnes of carbon credits between 2013-2020 from the power sector; up to 720 metre-tonne-seconds for the cement sector and 1.4 gigatonnes from the forestry sector, enough to have bent at least developing country emissions downwards.

That the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) need to assess market-based mechanisms for their sectors shows the world that they can also implement global sectoral approaches to transcend nationally-determined commitments. Industry would operate on a level playing field regardless of location. Combining sectoral cap-and-trade with economy-wide carbon taxes could also help set a floor price for cap-and-trade emissions.

Creative approaches to offsets

In the case of ICAO and the IMO, many reductions will need to come through biofuels. Aviation, however, could provide a major source of emissions credits by greening its airports and associated transportation to airports, similar to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Infrastructure projects looking to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from cars travelling between cities and airports should issue emissions credits, which could further entice private capital to invest in essential clean, green infrastructure projects through Public-Private Partnerships.

Likewise, biofuels investment should become a source of emissions credits for a tonne of emissions saved over business as usual. Importantly, 'gourmet' ecological standards could be incorporated to ensure these are not planted in deforested areas and to ensure irrigation and water use is as environmentally progressive as possible. If not, then these credits are not recognised.


Felix von Geyer is a sustainable development journalist. Contact him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.