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Pitch

I suggest how to leave the dispute about historical responsibility for climate change behind and unleash the power of example.


Description

Summary



There were two main reasons for the failure of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen 2009, and subsequent climate conferences:

  1. the question of historical responsibility, the carbon debt of developed countries.
  2. a “wait and see what the others do attitude.”

 

This proposal suggest how to overcome both of these obstacles.

Developing countries are righteously pointing to the main reason for a warming climate: historical greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries. Settling this carbon debt would take away this excuse not to participate in a climate treaty. Considering the mutual indebtedness, developed countries carbon debts vs. developing countries conventional monetary debts, developing countries joining a global climate treaty should get their debt canceled. This would pave the way for all other proposals in the contest by solving old grudges.  

The viewpoint, that individual countries can’t make anything happen alone, is fatal, faulty and futile modesty. If anything general can be learnt from history that is the power of example. Unilateral measures to curb climate change could provide an example for later comers to follow.Their eagerness will increase when they realize the competitive advantage the necessary clean energy revolution will bring first movers.

The international agreement on the reduction of emissions of SO2 signed in 1985 originated from the example and initiative of Sweden. A similar example can be found from the declining emissions of ozone depleting substances where the United States took the lead without waiting for actions by the European Community. Thus, it managed by its own example to overcome the skepticism and opposition of regulatory measures by the EC, which eventually followed the example. In a similar vein also actions by individual citizens can unleash the power of example, first engaging for example their neighbors, then their own community, their town, and finally their own country, taking the power of example to an international level.


Category of the Action

Integrated action plan for the world as a whole


What actions do you propose?

I suggest how to solve the two main reasons behind the the failure of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen 2009, and subsequent climate conferences. The first one was the question of historical responsibility, the carbon debt of developed countries. The second a “wait and see what the others do attitude.” This proposal suggests how to overcome both of these obstacles.

Settle the Carbon debt

Developing countries are righteously pointing to the main reason for a warming climate: historical greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries. A recent calculation supports this notion, showing that 41–47% of the cumulative costs of climate changes are due to the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide from the USA and the EU together. With a middle of the range damage cost for carbon dioxide emissions, the  cumulative costs for the emissions of the USA or the EU alone would equal the total external debt of the developing countries. (Kunnas et al., “Counting carbon,” Scandinavian Economic History Review, 7th May 2014) Settling this carbon debt would take away excuses for developing countries not to participate in a climate treaty. 

Considering this mutual debt, I suggest that developing countries joining a global climate treaty should get their debt canceled. As a bonus, cancelling the debts would help to restore the crumbling banking system by cleaning the assets from unserviceable loans. 

This debt swap does, however, not take away the responsibility for future emissions. Thus we need a system to collect funds for adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change and managing inevitable climate-related risks. Following the ‘polluter pays’ principle the funds should be collected in proportion to the responsibility for climate change and redistributed in proportion to the needs for adaption and disaster management. The total amount of funds needed depends on the additional warming and adaption costs the chosen emissions path leads to. See Kunnas, “An Outline for Funding Adaptation and Disaster Management Schemes” for further details.

Unleash the power of example

One of the main reasons for the current stalemate in the climate negotiations is a “wait and see what the others do attitude.” The viewpoint, that individual persons or countries can't make anything alone, is fatal, faulty and futile modesty. If anything can be learnt from history that is the power of example.

Unilateral measures to curb climate change could provide an example for later comers to follow. The eagerness of other countries will increase when they realize the competitive advantage the necessary clean energy revolution will bring first movers. The eagerness of fellow citizens will increase when they realize energy savings, improved air quality and other co-benefits their neighbors receive.  

As a start we need to mobilize environmental historians and other researchers of past success stories to provide testimonies how the power of example paved the way. And next we need actual examples to combat climate change at all levels, from single citizens to countries paving the way by showing example.

Below are some examples how individual countries and even individual persons created a momentum of change by showing example.

The ban on ozone depleting chemicals

The ban on ozone depleting chemicals originated from unilateral actions by the United States. By showing example it managed to override the scepticism and unwillingness for legislative actions held by the European Community, the predecessor of the European Union. In the very end, the solution of the problem was much cheaper than predicted, which made it easier for less enthusiastic countries to join the ban on chemicals destructive to the ozonosphere.

Acid rain

Also smaller countries can make the difference with their own example. Of this, we have a good example from the1980s, when there was a passionate conversation about the acidic rain. At that time Sweden got by his own example and on his initiative first other Nordic countries behind their demands. Active lobbying by Nordic countries led to an international agreement on the reduction of emissions of sulphur dioxide signed 1985 in Helsinki, after which international sulphuric oxide emissions decreased fast. For example in Finland the emissions of sulphur dioxide declined by 87 percent from 1980 to 2001.  

Sisters and brothers

I have two daughters, and there is every day evidences how the younger one follows the example of her older sister. I do not know if this has been scientifically examined, but I am sure that younger sisters or brothers in general learn earlier to walk, speak, read or whatever, as they have a role model to follow, to imitate. Something similar is also needed in the battle against climate change; we need role models to imitate and to follow. 

 


Where will these actions be taken?

Everywhere! Actions by individual citizens can unleash the power of example, first engaging for example their neighbors, then their own community, their town, and finally their own country, taking the power of example to an regional and finally a global level.

Who takes the iniative and where does not matter, as long as others are inspired by the action and follow suit. For example, carbon taxes were initially established in a few Nordic countries and emission trading system (ETS) in the EU and now about 40 national and over 20 sub-national jurisdictions are putting a price on carbon. Since the tipping point was achieved the development has been fast; A total of eight new carbon markets opened their doors in 2013 alone and at least as many are in consideration. Most importantly, the national China ETS is expected to start during the 13th Five Year Plan (2016–2020). (World Bank 2014). 

Reaching the tipping point will be easier with a feeling that we are all in the same boat regarding climate change, and that every action counts. Individuals, countries and regions does not have to take simultaneous and same steps, as long as they are doing something towards the same goal.

Germany showed the path towards an energy transition with its Energiewende and fee-in tariff and Denmark had an important role as a first-mover in both onshore and offshore wind power creating both export opportunities and jobs. By 2020 Germany's entire renewable energy workforce could top 500,000. In scale they are, however, surpassed by China who  invested more in renewable energy than all of Europe did in 2013, and it invested more in renewable power capacity than in fossil fuels. Regarding the power of example most delightful is that Africa will add more renewable energy In 2014 than in the last 14 years combined - another tipping point is reached! And India has realized the job creating potential of renewable energy.


Who will take these actions?

The power of this proposal is that everyone, from a single citizen to whole nations can take action. Everyone, regardless of age, young, old and in-between can make a difference. One strong example is the amount of Universities divesting from coal for both ethical and economic reasons; With Stanford joining 12 universities in US alone, showing an example for Australian an UK universities to follow.

The power of example could be intensified with a platform where fellow citizens could publish their own actions for others to follow. People could make individualized pledges for actions to take in their own lives, but do so as part of a collection of people also making similar pledges. Thus, the individual's actions have a better chance of becoming/encouraging something bigger. A possible reference point for this could be the Billion Acts of Green campaign run by Earth Day Network.  

Considering the scale of the problem, solving climate change might feel like an insurmountable uphill. To counterweight this feeling that easily leads to apathy, we need to spread the message that no action is too small, leaving no excuse for inaction! Consolidation is provided by findings by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The belief we need to spread is that everyone can make a difference trough their own actions by showing example. The scale of the problem gets suddenly much more manageable when we try to reach this tipping point one neighborhood at the time. First engaging for your neighbors, together your own neighborhood, showing example to the whole town, and finally their own country, taking the power of example to an international level.

Considering the debt swap individual banks and countries should consider the true value of unserviceable loans, and gain good PR and goodwill by cancelling them showing the path for others to follow.


What are key benefits?

Settling the carbon debt of the developed world would take away excuses for developing countries not to participate in a climate treaty. Settling the mutual indebtedness, developed countries carbon debts vs. developing countries conventional monetary debts, would pave the way for all other proposals in the contest by solving old grudges.  

The major benefits apart from solving the problem of climate change is to create a new sense of global community and hope. A common feeling that we are all in the same lifeboat when it comes to the long-term effects of climate change, and united to mitigate and adapt. Hope that we can solve climate change together instead of apathy.

To unleash the power of example most important are the health benefits of policies reducing emissions, for example the health of women cooking with traditional wood stoves. A recent MIT study again shows that US health savings from a carbon-reducing policy can be more than 10 times the cost it takes to implement the policy.

 

 


What are the proposal’s costs?

By nominal value the most expensive part of this proposal is the debt swap. On the other hand, we might ask what is the true value of unserviceable loans? Main problem might be vulture funds. 

Showing example is not necessary costly. Often climate friendly actions can create direct savings, like dropping unnecessary high room temperatures or excess driving. In other cases the payback time of energy saving investments or investments in renewable energy can be comparable to other good investments. 

The Ampere project found that unilateral action along the lines of the EU Low Carbon Economy Roadmap is affordable, bringing only limited cost mark-ups relative to the EU reference policy. Furthermore, Europe would gain a first mover advantage exporting its technological advancements in clean energy.

In the long run it would be most costly to stay behind as countries on the forefront of the energy technology revolution needed, reap large benefits trough increased competitiveness and job creation. 

 


Time line

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Lao-tzu)

In other words everyone can start right now, take their first step, encouraging others to take their first step...


Sub-proposals

Settling the mutual indebtedness, developed countries carbon debts vs. developing countries conventional monetary debts, would besides paving way for a new climate treaty also smooth the way for all other proposals in the contest by solving old grudges. Thus all other proposals in the global plan, as well as all proposals in the other categories could be considered as sub-proposals, or the other way, this proposal could be considered as a pre-proposal to all other proposal, paving the ground for them.

Everyone, can take action, and no action is too small.Thus all other CoLab proposals are compatible with this proposal. Indeed a good start for this proposal going into action could be to gather a collection of old and new CoLab proposals into a booklet and webpage with simple suggestions how anyone can make a difference with their own action, showing example, instead of apathy. It does not matter if they plant a tree or take climate leave, most important is that they do something.

At best we could create competition between communities!, and within with applications like the Communal Consumption Bill or Whose Home is wasting more energy, yours or your neighbours? comparing your personal consumption to your neighbors.

A similar "downscaling" approach is in the proposal Path To Zero transforming individual buildings and households one neighborhood at a time to green buildings, making communities and eventually cities energy independent. 

Some (individuals, industries to countries) must show leadership, for other to follow!

Settling the carbon debt paves the way for global proposals like the international currency reward system: Global 4C: Empowering Humanity for Carbon Transition with Smart Money

For the benefits of the debt swap to be long lasting, a new, more just financial system is needed to avoid the creation of new debt traps. Thus this proposal has clear links to numerous microfinance proposals: 

 

To find good examples of what everyone can do to show their own example, I propose a separate Climate CoLab competition: Small examples can make a big difference together.

Meanwhile, If you think your proposal would be a good example, please send me a comment!


How do these sub-proposals fit together?

Settling the carbon debt, paves the way to other proposals, by settling old grudges. Then we can all focus together on finding solutions instead of the current blame game.

All proposals can be considered as examples as defined in this proposal.


Explanation of model inputs

This proposal is based on a belief in the power of example, including past success stories  combating global and regional environmental problems. In accordance with this, I suggest that emissions of greenhouse gases could follow the emissions of older air pollution emissions largely solved.

For example, following the initial example of Sweden and alarming news about dying forests in Germany, Finland introduced active measures to decrease sulphur dioxide emissions in the 1980s resulting in a fast emission drop. The total emissions of sulphur dioxide in Finland had already decreased by bone fifth from 1973 to 1978. This was, however, a side-effect of changes in industrial processes rather than an outcome of deliberate policy. The main reason was a rapid decline in emissions from the forest industry as it shifted from sulphite pulping to sulphate pulping which as a side-effect, besides creating longer fibers and thus stronger paper, reduced the emissions per produced pulp by ninety-five percent at best.     

Relation between sulphur dioxide emissions and GDP in Finland, 1860 – 2003

Jan Kunnas & Timo Myllyntaus, “Anxiety and Technological Change - Explaining the Inverted U-curve of Sulphur Dioxide Emissions in late 20th century Finland.Ecological Economics, Vol 69, No. 7, 2010, pp. 1587–1593. 

This discussion and figure above have two messages regarding modeling of greenhouse gases. A fast emission reduction in the magnitude needed to avoid dangerous warming is possible, and it can at best even be economically advantageous by speeding up technological development. 

As other countries follow the example of first movers, the development of global GHG gases will be a combination of falling curves stacked upon each other, leading to the necessary and fast emission decline, as soon as someone shows the example to follow.

Based on past experience how fast the changes can be, when the need for emission reductions are realized, an extremely fast emission reduction is possible.


References

Jill Baumgartner et al., "Highway proximity and black carbon from cookstoves as a risk factor for higher blood pressure in rural China," PNAS, August 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1317176111

Elmar Kriegler et al., Assessing Pathways toward Ambitious Climate Targets at the Global and European Levels, A synthesis of results from the AMPERE project, AMPERE, 2014

Jan Kunnas, Eoin McLaughlin, Nick Hanley, David Greasley, Les Oxley & Paul Warde, "Counting Carbon: Historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt,” Scandinavian Economic History Review, 2014 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03585522.2014.896284#.U77v_pSSwrW

Jan Kunnas, “How to Proceed After Copenhagen." Electronic Green Journal, 1(31), 2011.http://escholarship.org/uc/item/6bf2k0dz 

Jan Kunnas, “An Outline for Funding Adaptation and Disaster Management Schemes”, Part 3, Pages 427-436 in Walter Leal Filho (ed.) Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2013. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZpwwSJ1g_K0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Jan Kunnas & Timo Myllyntaus, “Anxiety and Technological Change - Explaining the Inverted U-curve of Sulphur Dioxide Emissions in late 20th century Finland.” Ecological Economics, Vol 69, No. 7, 2010, pp. 1587–1593. 

REN21, Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, Paris: REN21 Secretariat, 2014.http://www.ren21.net/Portals/0/documents/Resources/GSR/2014/GSR2014_full%20report_low%20res.pdf

Tammy M. Thompson et al., ”A systems approach to evaluating the air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies,” Nature Climate Change, Published online 24 August 2014, doi:10.1038/nclimate2342

Charles Weiss and ​William B. Bonvillian, Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. 318 pp.  

World Bank, State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2014. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014. Doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0268-3