Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, former chief climate change negotiator for Japan, writes that a new paradigm is needed to achieve real climate endpoints like the 2 degrees Celsius target.
The woes of the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties approach to climate change are due to its age-old ‘reduction paradigm’ of national emissions, where governments are legally held accountable for reducing the emissions of their private enterprises.
Yet, they are given latitude to pledge their reduction commitments according to their ambitions, which are intrinsically arbitrary. At best, the whole system is a ‘do your best’ game, and at worst it is tragically disconnected from science. No wonder this ever-quarreling approach is incapable of achieving any real climate targets like the 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) target.
In order to achieve the 2°C target, we should not let governments simply do their best and pray for success. Rather, we should put a firm scientific lid on global emissions by creating a carbon budget, and make sure all CO2-emitting enterprises don’t collectively go beyond this budget. Game change is indispensable, and the carbon budget approach must take center stage.
Once the new carbon budget approach is adopted, the theatre will look different. The new game will necessarily be science-driven, as a carbon budget will be scientifically calibrated depending on what climate target governments aim to achieve. It will be market-driven, as a carbon budget will be acceded to by all those who need it. Polluters, being beneficiaries of using the budget, will have to pay the cost of externalities. The market-driven approach will provoke all needed investments for achieving the climate target without manipulating the carbon price, maximize value-added production globally and realize the transition to a low-carbon globe at the lowest cost. Finally, the new game will be equity-driven, as sales from the carbon budget will create new, large and self-sustaining revenue streams that could pull poorer countries out of energy poverty.
This proposed system is nimble, effective and market-driven, and there is no supra-national authority to govern it. The new system does not need to ‘sustain’ a carbon price to provoke investment. With its single common carbon price, it eliminates concerns about competitiveness. As it abolishes national borders, it also eliminates disputes on consumption-based emissions. And it provides large, built-in, self-sustaining climate finance without burdening the tax coffers of any country.