There’s a limited amount of carbon emissions we can make as a world in the coming decades if we are to avoid runaway climate change.
So, how to fairly share the remaining ‘safe’ emissions that can be made over the next 50 years?
The solution is called contract and converge. Click on the image below to see an animation on this concept from the movie The Age of Stupid (they’ve disabled embedding, sorry)
So, initially the allocation matches current per capita emissions in each country. The total amount that may be emitted falls each year but the per capita right to emit falls faster for people in big emitting countries and actually rises in the lowest emitters. By 2025, everyone on Earth has the same right to emit, and this right continues to shrink year on year so that in 50 years time emissions are less than 20% of what they are now.
The system is fair and equitable. It recognises that some people live more high carbon lifestyles at present but also says that ultimately the only fair way to share this limited resource is equally.
Poor countries who get rising caps over the first years could sell excess emission rights to other countries, which would end up being a source of income for these poorer countries. Richer countries would purchase a larger right to emit in those earlier years, easing their transition without letting them off the hook.
To get such a system in place, it would require the world’s nations to make a long-term commitment and the big emitters to step up and shoulder the biggest burden. Unfortunately, our leaders will probably lack the courage. Instead, we’ll get piecemeal and insufficient reduction targets that have more to do with politics than the scientific reality of the biggest threat we face as a species.