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Contraction & convergence – the solution to climate change?
Imagine a solution to climate change which would simultaneously tackle global poverty and inequality. Aubrey Meyer’s ‘Contraction and Convergence’ proposal could be an answer to both. Agreement has yet to be reached on effective responses to climate change. Current CO 2 emissions are largely produced by industrial and energy-rich countries. One choice could be for them to decide what should be done, if anything, and use military force to have their way. A more promising approach is to find a logical, rational principle that seems fair and to seek universal agreement for it, perhaps led by some countries. Aubrey Meyer, director of the Global Commons Institutute, has come up with a principle, increasingly gaining support, which keeps firmly in mind what the planet can support and what it cannot. People own land but nobody owns the air we breathe. It is part of the ‘global commons’. Each person has an equal right to use that air, but the right needs balancing by a responsibility not to pollute beyond the atmosphere’s ability to recover. Meyer’s formula for emission limit for each country is: safe level of global carbon emissions, divided by the
world population, multiplied by the population of that country. Industrialised countries are far exceeding their ‘share’ of carbon emission, while agrarian, energy poor countries produce much less than their share. The rich countries are destroying the global commons at the expense of the poor. The rich need to contract. And the poor? Meyer comes up with a startling extra concept. The poor have equal rights to the global air with the rich, so though poor financially they have something they can ‘trade’ for money with the rich – they can sell their emission rights to them, but no more than their share of the world’s emission rights. This extra money to the poor can not be spent by them on causing carbon emissions but it could be used for making poverty history in other ways. Paying for their excess pollution would encourage the rich to seek greener forms of energy. If contraction and convergence gained wide enough acceptance to become international law everyone would benefit. In brief: • Contraction requires all governments to be collectively bound by an upper limit to greenhouse gas emissions which would be reviewed periodically and diminish over time. •
What would Contraction and Convergence mean for us? • UK total emissions (including international aviation) amount to 13,000kg per person of CO 2 -equivalent greenhouse gases. • USA emissions average about 21,000kg per person • India’s national emissions average about 1,300kg per person. • The global average is about 5,800kg per person • If the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, global emissions will need to be reduced by thirty per cent or more, to below 4,000kg per person, over the next forty years. For the UK, that’s a seventy per cent reduction.
Convergence means that each year’s global emissions budget is shared out so that countries converge towards the same allocation per inhabitant by an agreed date. It recognises global equality in our duty of care for the atmosphere. Developing nations have warmed to the principle because they would have emission credits to trade. Contraction and Convergence has won the support of the European Parliament, various church groups and environmental groups like Friends of the Earth. Contraction and Convergence could play a major role in reducing climate change, and in reducing the growing gap between rich and poor. The idea that everyone has rights to air, a global commons given us by God, fits with the Quaker Testimony to Equality. Could Quakers lead the way as we have in the past? What might that mean? Dare to imagine your PM building Contraction and Convergence into its Finance and Property Group, perhaps sending donations to poor countries to pay for any excess carbon emissions! How might Contraction and Convergence affect Friends House? Meeting for Sufferings? We cannot continue with business as usual. Our Quaker testimonies to Simplicity, Equality, Sustainability and Peace provide us with a basis for action. Can Quakers lead the way in championing this as we did the abolition of the slave trade? David Maxwell Bedford MM
Contraction and convergence: the global solution to climate change by Aubrey Meyer is published by Green Books on behalf of the Schumacher Society. ISBN 1 870098 94 3. £5.
the Friend , 5 January 2007 Travel & transport: how far can we go on renewables?
Sometimes there is a slight smell of chips frying around my car, when it is running on recycled vegetable oil. Using plant-based waste products must be among the best ways to cut carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions from driving a car. However, even if we persuade people to eat more chips, the supply of recycled cooking oil will be quite limited. So how much can renewables and technology contribute to greenhouse gas emission reductions? In the UK, burning transport fuels (for passenger and freight transport by land, sea and air) produces about sixty million tonnes of CO 2 (about one quarter of all UK emissions). Roughly half of this comes from cars, one quarter from road freight and one quarter from aviation. Nitrogen oxides and water vapour emitted by aircraft at high level add considerably to the global warming impact of their CO 2 emissions, roughly tripling the effect. Biofuels – fuels from plants – are the main near-term option for renewable transport energy. In principle, CO 2 produced when the fuels are burned is offset by the CO 2 absorbed by growing plants. However, at present biofuels produced mainly from input-intensive food crops, and greenhouse gas emissions in production can halve the benefits. Meanwhile, growing biofuels
reduces the land available for food production and preserving biodiversity and importing biofuels can damage the environment in the countries where they are grown. In the near term, the European Union and the UK government aim for biofuels to provide about five per cent of transport energy by blending them with conventional fuel. Diesel fuel containing five per cent bio-diesel is already on sale in some outlets. In the longer term, biofuels from wood or agricultural waste are likely to be developed. They have a much better CO 2 balance than fuels from food crops, provide more energy for a given land area, and can be produced from lowergrade land. If transport demand stopped growing, the government target of sixty per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 might be achievable through improved efficiency and using renewable energy. However, much deeper reductions are needed to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. Renewable energy is unlikely to offer more than a partial solution, so we need to minimise car use, air travel and freight transport. Some advices and queries for Friends might include: • Could you organise your life so more journeys could be made on foot, by bicycle, or by public transport? When choosing
where to live, do you place a high priority on accessibility by sustainable means of transport? If your work involves travel, could you or your employer try tele-conferencing instead? Could you work from home one or two days a week? • When choosing a car, look at the CO2 emission figures and choose one that meets your needs with minimum emissions. Does your driving style minimise fuel consumption? Keep engine revs down and minimise the use of brakes. Adopt a lower cruising speed when possible. Keep your vehicle well maintained and ensure tyres are up to pressure. • Avoid flying when it is not essential. Can your objective be met closer to home, or can your journey be made by other means? • Reduce the demands your purchases of food and other goods place on the environment, seeking local and seasonal foods, and try to avoid produce brought in by air freight. So – renewables and energy efficiency can probably go some way to reconciling our desire for travel with the needs of the planet, but we had better start taking George Fox’s advice more literally and get on with walking cheerfully over the world!
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