Contraction & Convergence: An urgent global imperative to tackle Climate Change
Why have the past climate negotiations including the one at Copenhagen in December 2009 been inadequate to deal with the serious climate crisis facing the planet? What is the model that allows for an equitable transition to a zero carbon future – probably the only model that will ensure climate justice and keep the planet from disastrous temperature rises? How can we urge the new UK government to embrace this model as ordinary citizens of the world – so that it benefits all developed AND developing nations?
With the worst of the financial crisis behind us, the engines of economic growth have begun to hum again. From a carbon emissions point of view, we have much cause for concern as there is a direct correlation between GDP and GHG emissions. (See diagram on the right).
We have not yet made that shift to where economic growth comes with low carbon emissions. On the contrary, we are causing climate change at a faster rate than we are mitigating it. How can we manage future emissions in a way that economies, human societies and ecosystems are not blown apart due to the growth paradigm  to which we as an economy driven world are addicted – of infinite growth in a planet of finite resources?
The world is facing a serious climate crisis [2a], with ever increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. Measured in parts per million (ppm), the current concentrations of CO2 as of April 2010 are 392 ppm. (See diagram on left based on figures released every month by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii).
We’re already past the safe limit of 350ppm[2b] – a level beyond which gives us an increasing probability of exceeding the overall 2 degree temperature rise  as compared to global temperatures at the start of the industrial revolution when CO2 concentrations were about 280 ppm. The 2 degree temperature rise is the upper limit world leaders have committed to observing.
Just as we have a budget at home that we cannot exceed without negative consequences, we also now have a limited carbon budget , if overshot, will have catastrophic consequences – rising global temperatures, biodiversity and species loss impacting sustainability of ecosystems, melting polar glaciers and rising sea levels that may engender mass displacement of millions of people.
We, as members of the public, have a moral responsibility to understand and engage in the climate change debate. It is our responsibility to have a say, to demand a say, in our children’s future – not only for the future of their education, finances and health, but critically for their ecological future on which everything else rests.
Important as they may be, we cannot leave the issue to politicians, businesses, NGOs and climate scientists alone, especially considering that various governments haven’t gone very far with the reduction of CO2 emissions since the Kyoto Protocol  that was signed in 1997.
Various climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC) including the recent one at Copenhagen in December 2009, the COP15 , have failed to arrive at a “fair, ambitious and binding” climate deal that defines a clear future path for reduction of emissions.
Although it was recognised during the negotiations that tackling climate change is important, there was less clarity on how to share the “burden.” Certainly, many developing countries felt there was injustice in why they were being asked to share the burden of the problem of solving climate change, when they had little to do with its creation.
What is the most equitable model to combat climate change?
Every human being should have equal rights on this planet and that extends to the amount of carbon emissions he or she is allowed. Our current global average use per person is about 1.3 Metric Tonnes Carbon [MTC] (Carbon emissions refer to carbon atoms which weigh less than the CO2 molecule, so divide the per capita CO2 emissions shown in the diagram on the right by a factor of 3.667 if you want to get to per capita MTC)
The use of the global atmosphere is very unequal, with richer countries taking the lion’s share. About 33% of the global population have carbon emissions greater than the world average of 1.3MTC, with 67% below it.
According to Global Carbon Project.org “From a historical perspective, developing countries with 80% of the world’s population still account for about 20% of the cumulative emissions since 1751; the poorest countries in the world, with 800 million people, have contributed less than 1% of these cumulative emissions.”
For any climate deal to be successful, unequal future use of the air as a dump for carbon will never get majority support. We have a better chance of avoiding disastrous climate change, if we reduce this world average to 0.9MTC by the next 20 years or so. All nations basically “converge” to this global average by around 2030.
Developed countries make steeper and swifter cuts or “contractions” to come down to the lower per capita average, while poorer nations which are below the average can increase their per capita emissions till all countries have converged to the same level. After that, everyone transitions to null emissions.
This is the simple essence of the “Contraction & Convergence” (C&C) model put forth by the Global Commons Institute (GCI), a UK non-profit organisation set up in 1990 by Aubrey Meyer. C & C was proposed to the UNFCC in 1996, and though explicit mention of this model is not made often in the negotiations, it has been the underlying philosophy behind them since that time, the devil being in the details.
C & C is a simple, elegant and equitable carbon rationing framework for an international agreement on CO2 emissions. To borrow from the GCI website:
‘Contraction’, refers to the ‘full-term event’ in which the future global total of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions from human sources is shrunk over time in a measured way to near zero-emissions within a specified time-frame. Each country starts with a certain entitlement level of CO2 emissions in line with present emission level. Then the contraction is scheduled for each year until we get to compliance with the ‘objective’ of the UNFCCC – a safe and stable GHG concentration in the global atmopshere.
Having defined a global budget, the second step, ‘Convergence‘ refers to the full international sharing of the emissions contraction-event, where the ‘emissions-entitlements’ for all countries result from them converging on the declining global per capita average of emissions arising under the contraction rate chosen. Each country is assigned annual allowances which starts for example from actuals in 2000 and converges to a common level of per-capita emissions in an agreed target year. While developed countries are receiving drastically reduced emissions entitlements, the emission entitlements of developing nations increase every year till we reach the date when they are all equal per capita. If they don’t use all their the entitlements, they can sell these to the rest of the world, and use it to fund their energy efficiency, green technology or adaptation investments.
This video clip from the climate change movie directed by Franny Armstrong, ”The Age of Stupid“ portrays the C & C concept in a simple manner:
C& C as a model provides clarity in terms of goals to achieve – the targets, the timeframe and the mechanism. It provides us the “shared language” to work together towards a workable solution to climate change.
It is an equitable model as in Aubrey Meyer’s words from the UNEP’s Climate Change Action Magazine 2008 (Pg 27) :
- Equity as collateral is the 100% entirety of the emissions contraction even necessary for concentration stability
- The social equity as the equal per person on the same 100% throughout that event but softened by convergence
- The commercial equity is the shares pre-distributed this way sum to the same 100% and are tradable so as to accelerate the positive sum game for the emissions-free economy that must emerge if we are to prosper in the future.
Integrated and implemented this way, we have a chance of accelerating the positive sum game for the emissions-free economy that must emerge if we are to prosper globally in the future.
Climate Justice without Vengeance
C & C is a non-prescriptive model. It can calculate any rate of global emissions contraction required to meet UNFCCC goal for safe and stable concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere and any rate of convergence to equal per capita emissions entitlements within any rate of contraction, to satisfy the UNFCCC equity rationale.
C & C doesn’t impose on any nation or groups of nations what the rate of convergence should be; it is a model that can be used as an underlying basis for nations to sit together and negotiate this rate. By modelling various scenarios it shows what timeframe is acceptable, and what is dangerous if we delay convergence.
Unfortunately, this did not happen at the COP15 meeting at Copenhagen last year.
The “leaked” Danish texts at the summit were the cause of much furore, because developed nations were “prescribing” the convergence rate rather than using the C & C model as a basis of negotiation. The reductions in the text proposed : to achieve equal per capita emissions globally by 2050 within which developed countries must contract by 80% with a global convergence of per capita emissions by that date, which might give a 50:50 odds of remaining within a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius. [ GCI had expressed concerns about the odds and the rates applied and the prescriptive nature of the proposal as you can see in this animation here]
It then became a political blame game that Aubrey Meyer and Terry O’Connell explain in this Business Green article.
The Danish texts were met with angry protests from the G-77 nations and China on two fronts:
1. It froze per capita emissions 2:1 in favour of developed nations (i.e., developed nations needed to cut down to 2.67 tonnes of carbon, whereas developing nations could not emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon)
2. The lion’s share of what was left going to developed countries.
While the first point was not true (the convergence would have been towards equal per capita shares), there was validity in the second point. As shown in this CGI animation in the section on “Compare Rates of Convergence for Pre-Distribution of Tradeable Equity,” earlier the rate of convergence, the more advantageous it is for developing nations.
For example, if the date of convergence is 2020 instead of 2050, developing nations would get an extra 40GTC of carbon entitlements, that would come out of developed countries accounts. At £100/tonne, equity of £4 Trillion can accrue to developing nations, which is in effect the “rent” paid for unused entitlements to use the atmosphere.
It would then be fair to the developing countries to be compensated for what they are underutilising. They would be able to use these funds for many purposes: green technology, adaptations, external debt and so on. This is Climate Justice.
Instead of acrimonious debate brought about by pulling out numbers from a hat, the idea is to have an organised and harmonious international negotiation with a framework like the C & C that brings all nations together under the required contraction event, for the rightful sharing of entitlements based on a mutally agreed convergence date. This is Climate Justice without Vengeance.
Why are Copenhagen targets simply not enough?
A recent report by the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Research (PIK) and published in Nature has warned that Copenhagen targets will not slow down global warming .
* As part of the Copenhagen Accord, 76 countries (which between them are responsible for about 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions) submitted pledges to limit their emissions by 2020.
* The US submitted a target for a reduction of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. This equates to only 3% below 1990 levels, even though it is estimated that 25%-40% reductions are necessary in developed countries. China’s goals are basically a business-as-usual scenario, while the European Union’s targets are more towards a 20%-30% emissions cut. The only two countries that made pledges in line with the 2°C target are Japan and Norway.
* Global emissions in 2020 could actually end up being 20% higher than today. Many countries will raise annual emissions of greenhouse gases 10%-20% above the current levels, reaching a high of 47.9 to 53.6 Gt CO2 (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide) by 2020.
* Current pledges mean a greater than 50% chance that warming will exceed 3°C by 2100. This would put the odds of global warming levels exceeding the 2°C limit by the end of this century at 50%. However, if nations agree to halve emissions by 2050, there is still a 50% chance that warming will exceed 2°C and will almost certainly exceed 1.5°C
The sum and substance is that climate negotiations are nowhere near the kind of carbon emission reductions that will contain global temperature rise to within the safe 2°C target.
Another worrying factor as pointed out by GCI and incorporated in the C & C framework is the sink efficiency of oceans and forests – or the ability of these ecosystems to go on absorbing extra human generated generated CO2.
So far the evidence as reported by the IPCC for the last 15 years, is that the Constant Airborne Fraction (CAF)  (or the fraction of anthropogenic carbon emissions that accumulates in the atmosphere) has been constant at around 50%, but now this is gradually increasing as sink efficiency decreases with rising temperature.
Think of the atmosphere loosely as a bath tub – a tub with a tap running and a drain open. If we put in carbon at a faster rate than natural ecosystems can drain it out (roughly 50% of human induced CO2 emissions), then we get rising concentrations and a warmer world. Cumulatively, oceans are increasingly saturated with old GHG absorptions causing increased acidification which causes carbon-consuming life-forms in the oceans to die-off. With this and with temperatures rising, oceans are not able to absorb as efficiently as before. So we need to rework our model to factor in the new and declining sink efficiency, to make sure the tub doesn’t overflow.
[The carbon tub analogy is illustrated in the diagram on the left as it appeared in the National Geographic magazine. It assumes a lower Constant Airborne Fraction of 44% which means 56% can be absorbed by our natural sinks. The IPCC studies (Pg 14-17) over 15 years show a CAF of 50% which means sinks can absorb only 50% and even that ability is declining]
As mentioned before, the level of CO2 in the tub is 392 parts per million (ppm) and rising by 2 or 3 ppm each year. To stop it at 450 ppm, a level many scientists consider dangerously high, John Sterman  MIT Sloan School of Management’s Director of Systems Dynamics Group, said the world would have to cut emissions by around 80 percent by 2050. A partner in ClimateInteractive.org, he helped create the C-ROADS climate policy simulation model and Climate Scoreboard  that measure the long-term effects of various proposals for emissions reductions.
The C & C model proposes  similar targets, mentioning the maximum convergence date that is acceptable to stay within safe limits:
“to keep within 2 degrees (with a greater than 50:50 chance), a global contraction budget no more than 350- 400 GTC, with a minimum 80% cut all emissions globally by 2050 and negotiating a convergence to equal per capita shares (of 0.9 MTC) of this globally within one third of the timeline for contraction, i.e., no later than 2030.”
Here is one example of the C & C model showing the scenario of per capita emissions converging to 0.9 MTC per person by 2030 and contraction of total emissions by 50% by 2050 and 90% by 2100:
For a better understanding of the model, please view the various scenarios in the GCI animation” Climate Justice without Vengeance” here. 
Separate Development is not Sustainable Development
Aubrey Meyer  is a British born musician turned climate campaigner. He co-founded the Global Commons Institute , a non-profit organisation for the protection of global commons in 1990. The elegant C & C framework that he created was first proposed to the UNFCC in 1996. Having schooled in South Africa during the Apartheid era, he understood the injustices of the system. As a climate change activist, he was quick to recognise the “global apartheid” of carbon emissions which favours the rich over poorer nations. In his model, are embedded notions of justice and equity, in a well defined, scientific and stuctured framework for charting the path of carbon emissions reduction – a structure that he likens to that of music. He was nominated in 2008 by the UK All Parliamentary Group on Climate Change for the Nobel Peace Prize. Guardian UK in 2008 named Aubrey Meyer among “the top 50 people who could save the planet“ and earlier in 2005, New Statesman called him one of “10 people most likely to change the world.” 
Here’s a 11 minute video where Aubrey Meyer talks about C & C with contributions from Tim Smit (CEO, Eden Project, UK), Bill McGuire (Director, UCL Hazard Research Centre) and Dr. Rajendra Pachuari (IPCC chairman) and Lord Adair Turner (Lord Adair Turner (Chair, UK Climate Change Committee)
What is the call to action?
Here is a message from Aubrey Meyer:
May 30th 2010
Please will you support and co-sign this letter from Colin Challen to Chris Huhne?
Below is the text of a letter that is being sent soon to the Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, the UK’s new Liberal Democrat Minister of Energy and Climate Change.
The letter will be sent by Colin Challen, the former Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change.
“It appreciates the pro-Contraction-and-Convergence [C&C] record of Chris and his party and requests him to convene a public meeting to address the way ahead in terms of this “UNFCCC-compliant Global Climate Change Framework”.
Before sending it, Colin is circulating the letter widely with an open invitation to anyone in agreement with its message to become a co-signatory to it.
If you would like to be, please will you email your agreement along with your name, title and position to me asap at: -
Here is the chance to lend your weight behind the C & C framework, by supporting this signature campaign to call the UK Government for a public meeting. Please send your email as above to Aubrey Meyer. If you have any comments or questions about the model or any related climate change issues, please do leave your note here at the end of this blog for him to answer or send him an email at aubrey[dot]meyer[at]btinternet[dot]com
Why should we in Asia or anywhere outside the UK support an initiative in the UK?
This is not an initiative for the UK. C & C is a just and workable solution meant for solving the climate change issue for the entire planet. Climate change is not a national, or regional issue, but a collective issue for all of humanity. By supporting this letter right now, we are as world citizens telling the new UK government, that this is a solution that matters to all of us. If the UK and other developed nations adopt this as a standard for negotiations, those in the developing world are likely to benefit most, as this is an equitable model to reduce carbon emissions. We are all looking for a win-win solution, and C & C is it. However to avoid dangerous climate change, we have to act now, act quickly and act together.
As Dr. Rajendra Pachauri( IPCC Chairman) says in the video :
“ When one looks at the kinds of reductions that would be required globally, the only means for doing so is to ensure that there’s contraction and convergence, and I think there’s growing acceptance of this reality.
I don’t see how else we might be able to fit within the overall budget for emissions for the world as a whole by 2050. We need to start putting this principle into practice as early as possible, so that by the time we reach 2050, we’re not caught by surprise, we’re well on a track for every country in the world that would get us there.
On the matter of ‘historic responsibility’, there is no doubt that accelerating the rate of convergence relative to the rate of contraction is a way of answering that we really need to get agreement from Developed and Developing Countries to subscribe to this principle.”
Who supports C & C?
The GCI document called An International Conceptual Framework for Preventing Dangerous Climate Change  quotes several international personalities in support of the C & C model. These include Heads of State from Europe, Asia (Dr. Manmohan Singh and 7 other leaders of the Indian subcontinent), environmentalists like Sir David Attenborough and Sir Johnathon Porrit, climate scientist James Lovelock, economists Partha Dasgupta and Paul Erlich among other people.
A Report of a Joint Inquiry by Bangladesh Parliament’s All Party Group on Climate Change and Environment and the UK All Party Parliament Climate Change Group shows how C & C can bring the developed and developing world closer. To quote from the report:
” We believe that this lack of clarity and shared purpose is the greatest barrier to success in the UNFCCC negotiations. We wish to demonstrate in our joint approach that parliamentarians from our two countries can help resolve the burden sharing riddle.
Bangladesh is a country which is most often quoted as being one of the first that will suffer badly from the impacts of climate change; the UK is a country which since the industrial revolution has contributed most to the problem – and which now professes political leadership on the subject.
We believe that if we as Parliamentarians from these two countries can bridge the differences, and develop a shared understanding of our respective burdens and challenges, we could propose a model for both the developed and developing worlds.”
What can I do to help with the Climate Change issue?
We can’t create change without taking action. Share the seriousness of the climate change issue and the importance of the C& C model with your family, friends and colleagues, offline and online through social media. Write and talk to your ministers, and members of parliament. Write to various magazines and forums. We can make ourselves heard by voicing our opinions and concerns about our shared future and those of the coming generations.
As Sterman says, “In the end, it comes down to public support. We have to change the way we use energy and support policies that will enable those changes to occur. Science is no longer the bottleneck to action. We need to focus on social and political change.”
Many thanks to Aubrey Meyer for his answers to my queries regarding the C & C model.
The links that have been used in this article:
 EWTT: The Impossible Hamster: Limits to Economic Growth
[2a] Huffington Post: The Perfect Storm: Six Trends Converging on Collapse
[2b] James Hansen in the Huffington Post : Twenty Years Later : Tipping Points Near on Global Warming
 Real Climate: Hit the Brake hard (Why 2 degrees as a threshold is important)
Related : National Geographic Video: 2 Degrees Warmer Also watch 3 Degrees Warmer, 4 Degrees Warmer, 5 Degrees Warmer and 6 Degrees Warmer
Related: EWTT: Impact of a Global Temperature rise of 4 Deg Celsius
 New Scientist: Humanity’s Carbon Budget set at One Trillion Tonnes
 EWTT: Climate Refugees
 Wikipedia : Kyoto Protocol
 Wikipedia: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
 Wikipedia: Copenhagen Accord
 Global Commons Institute GCI: An International Conceptual Framework for Preventing Dangerous Climate Change
 Nature: Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry
 Cordis Europa : Copenhagen targets will not slow down global warming
 Skeptical Science: Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic Co2 emissions increasing
 Global Commons Institute : IPCC Studies showing Constant Airborne Fraction at 50%
 John Sterman MIT Sloan Professor finds Copenhagen Climate Summit agreement inadequate to reach global goal for greenhouse gas emissions
 EWTT: Climate Scoreboard
 Global Commons Institute C & C proposal : Second Memo from GCI to the UK House of Commons “Environmental Audit Committee”
 Global Commons Institute C & C animation : C & C is Climate Justice without Vengeance
 Global Commons Institute : CV_Aubrey Meyer
Global Commons Institute Home Page
 Wikipedia: Global Commons
 Guardian UK : The top 50 people who could change the planet
 New Statesman: Ten people who could change the world
 Report of a Joint Inquiry by Bangladesh Parliament’s All Party Group on Climate Change and Environment and the UK All Party Parliament Climate Change Group
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