文章 Articles

Towards a global climate regime

How much carbon developed and developing nations will be allowed to emit in the coming years is a hotly contended issue. Pan Jiahua and Chen Ying discuss one possible solution.

Article image

The key to negotiations on a post-2012 international climate regime is the equitable allocation of emissions-reduction obligations with respect to the circumstances of individual nations. To date, a number of proposals have been made to achieve this model, but very few of these have taken into account the situation and requirements of developing nations.

To better embody equitable principles and protect the interests of developing nations, a research group at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences led by Pan Jiahua set forth in 2002 a set of aims based on human development principles. These principles included the allocation of emissions rights giving priority to basic human needs; promoting low-carbon development; and restricting excessive and wasteful consumption. The group’s report was distributed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) eighth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP8) in New Delhi. Since then, improvements have been made to the concepts, methodology and quantitative analysis of the proposal’s structural framework. The latest advances were presented in the side events at the COP9 in 2003 and the COP12 in 2006, and received a positive response internationally.

Recently, attempts have been made to develop a new proposal for the equitable and quantitative allocation of carbon entitlements and to discuss key features of the international climate regime, such as financial institutions. Taken together, these efforts will allow the building of a complete international climate regime – the Carbon Budget Proposal (CBP) – for the post-2012 era.

There are several aspects included in the equitable principles of the Carbon Budget Project:

*Greenhouse-gas emission rights are a human right that ensures survival and development. Equality means ensuring equality between individuals, not between nations.

*The crux of promoting equality between individuals is to ensure the rights of the current generation. Controlling population growth is a policy option to promote sustainable development and slow climate change.

*Given the wealth accumulated during development, which was accompanied by greenhouse-gas emissions, equality today includes equity acquired in historical, current and future development.

*Giving priority to basic needs means that the allocation of emission entitlements should reflect differences in natural environments. 

CBP research shows that if only carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel are considered and emissions peak in 2015 and fall to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050, the annual per-capita carbon budget for 1900 to 2050 will be 2.33 tonnes of CO2. Initial carbon budget allocations for each country are made in direct proportion to its base-year population, with adjustments made for natural factors such as climate, geography and natural resources. For example, Russia and Canada have cold climates, Australia and Canada are sparsely populated and South Africa and China have relatively high carbon emissions from energy consumption.

However, if all these countries are taken together, the changes to the initial carbon budget are limited – between -20% and 78%. But the historical emissions of developed nations have not only left their own budgets massively overdrawn, but have infringed on the rights of other nations to produce emissions. Developing nations, despite often being historically under budget and therefore having the right to grow and to create emissions, have no choice but to transfer their carbon budgets to developed nations in order to cover the historical excesses of developed nations and ensure basic future needs.

Budget transfers are expected to be in the region of 455.7 gigatonnes of CO2. At the current cost of US$13 per tonne, this trade will be worth US$59 trillion– far beyond the amount already provided to developing countries in financial assistance to combat climate change. 

Even if there are carbon budget transfers to ensure the basic needs of developed nations, high per-capita emissions mean that regardless of strict measures and targets, future accumulative emissions will still be over budget. Approximately 60% of the excess can be offset via the carbon market or overseas emission reductions. However, the budget will still be overshot and punishment via progressive carbon taxes will be necessary, with the excess being carried over to the next round of commitments.

The CBP has no special advantages for China. In fact, it will be a constraint on the country’s development. China’s initial carbon budget will be 458.8 gigatonnes of CO2. The combination of natural elements such as climate and natural resources will result in a slight increase in the carbon budget, while geographical elements will result in a decrease in the budget.

Overall, the impact of these adjustments will be small and China will be left with a final carbon budget of 452.2 gigatonnes of CO2. With historical emissions amounting to 88.7 gigatonnes, the country will be left with 365.5 gigatonnes for the future. If China strives for low-carbon development and its emissions peak at 55% over 2005 levels in 2030, and are then reduced to 45% of 2005 levels by 2050, the entire carbon budget will be consumed. Only if further cuts are made will China have surplus emissions entitlements to sell and will not need to purchase any.

Given China’s status as the world’s factory, the energy used in the production of exports gives rise to 30% of total emissions, and this is unlikely to change before 2030. China therefore faces a long struggle to reduce emissions. 

The Carbon Budget Project has a sound scientific basis and combines basic needs with the achievement of global sustainable development. The project also provides a comprehensive proposal for a post-2012 international climate regime that will be of great value in the breaking of the current deadlock in climate negotiations.

Professor Pan Jiahua is director of the Centre for Urban Development and Environment at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. His global
research interests include environmental economics and development, urban sustainable development and sustainable economics.

Chen Ying is affiliated with the Centre for Urban Development and Environment at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Her research interests include sustainable development, environmental economics and global environmental issues.

Other scientists also assisted in the preparation of this article.

Homepage photo by zaXzine

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



本评论由Ming Li翻译

Interesting proposal

This proposal is certainly more interesting than most. Here in Poznan, debate seems to be stunted and the process drawn out. The question is - how do you take good suggestions and turn them into a concrete agreement?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




How can fair carbon emission targets be achieved if all resource allocation is nowhere near fair? I take a dim view that developed countries will genuinely shoulder their own obligations.

Translated by Ming li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


在波兹南进展一定是很慢的。但是,举例来说,墨西哥就设置了一个令人印象深刻的自发性目标。虽然墨西哥是一个发展中国家, 他们还是订定了自己的目标。 中国会不会做同样的事情?
(翻译由Michelle Deeter)


Progress is certainly slow in Poznan but Mexico, for instance, has set itself an impressive voluntary target, as a developing country. Will China do the same?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


本评论由Liu Jingya翻译

Life is not fair

Carbon Budget Proposal alone is not a solution since it is people based. The reduction of 20% for instance compared with 200x doesn't help if the population is also growing ie the budget of the nation is allowed to grow. We already are using up more of the worlds resources (and transform them in CO2) at the moment. If developing nations are first starting to get developed and then starting to reduce the CO2-output it is to late. This is not sustainable especially not for developing nation which are the first to have trouble not to have enough drinking water, floods etc. Life is not fair. We all need to help developing nation develop in a sustainable way. Share eco knowledge and educate people. Mirjam (Shanghai)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

fairness is not the key issue

I consider capacity building a term to show somehow "fairness" that developed countries are trying to help developing ones. I don't really like the term "fair" and I quite agree with Mirjam that it's not that easy to define what is fair. The term "fairness" has been used a lot, sometimes as political weapon. For me sustainability can only be pushed from bottom of the heart when it excels differentiated political interests, especially between developed and developing countries. Definitely we are in great need of global leadership, not from one dominating nation, but from the will of making the world balanced. (Liang in Shanghai & Germany)

fairness is not the key issue

I personally feel that when it refers to ‘fairness’, a lot of people will put in mind of assistance programs (such as capacity-building) provided by developed countries. It is hard to say to what extent it can be called fairness. Fairness is often used as weapons of attack and political pretext by different conflict groups. I think that sustainable development can be promoted really only but when it is given more emphasis than political interests. We need a strong global leadership, which must come from the interest of the people and can keep the balance development of the world. (Leung) (Translated by Lanmei)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


我认为这是个很有趣的主意,至少其努力地想站在一个更为公平的台面上,给地球上所有的人谈谈气候变化问题。毫无疑问,已超出了其排放分摊额度的国家应减少其排放,而还未到限的国家则可因此明白其排放是有严格限额的,最好马上就规划和采取行动。这个想法很是务实。 Ziyuan

本评论由Ming Li翻译

Life should be fair

I think this is an very interesting idea, at least it tries to stand on a fairer basis to talk about climate change for all people on this planet. No doubt that those who have exceeded their proportion of emission right should reduce their emission therefore those who didn't reach the roof will understand there is a hard ceiling for their emissions so better to plan and take action from now. This is a very practical way of thinking. Ziyuan

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Superficial debates about equality cannot cover the real conflicts of interests

Negotiations on climate change benefit the future of all human beings. The fact that we have found out that the problems of this planet cannot be solved with nations and sovereignties alone, is the reason behind existing international laws and their development. International laws for climate change however, have seemed to struggle since 1997 and the causes might just be what Pan Jiahua has paid less attention to--"equality between nations." Definitions of equality are many and complex; no matter whether they are the equalities between nations or between individuals, the equalities within a generation or between generations, or whether the equalities are inventorial or vectorial. Actually, Mr. Pan Jiahua didn't take note of the convergence of different equalities in international negotiations. In fact, the installment of a system for human civilization, or the setup of an internatioanl rule of law for climate change, should map out a compatible and acceptable path for politicians in different countries, not only focus on equality between individuals, equality within a generation and inventorial equality. We have to take on other perspectives, and not just deny them. An international climate rule cannot be framed, I guess, mainly because equality cannot be consistently defined. However, no matter whether it is judicial equality in a judicial sense, or profit-related equality in an economics sense, developed and developing countries need to thoroughly understand these two equalities and strive to put them into practice! So, based on this judgement, the superficial problem of equality is really how to focus on every nation's present interests and protect them. It is necessary to be aware of this before any solution or plan is proposed. For this reason, many solutions asking developed countries to resume their historical responsibilities are bound to be unacceptable. We would all rather look to the future and forget the past. After all, the future is what counts in the worry about climate change! Li Wei

translated by Ming Li