I will, if you will

IMG_0876 A comment in this week’s Nature concludes that the current route to Paris is too self-centered and not cooperative enough. Its authors, researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Maryland, and Cologne, advise UNFCCC Parties to focus on the common commitment to a global price of carbon.

Professor David MacKay of the University of Cambridge told the BBC that “the science of cooperation predicts that if all you are doing is naming individual contributions — offers that aren’t coupled to each other — then you’ll end up with a relatively poor outcome. If you make a treaty that is based on reciprocity, so ‘I will, if you will’ and ‘I won’t, if you won’t’, then you can end up in a very different position. If people make a common commitment that they will match what others do, then it becomes in your self interest to advocate a high level of action because it will apply not only to you but also to others.”

To achieve this international climate change mitigation cooperation, these researchers recommend that each UNFCCC Party commits to imposing charges on carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use sufficient to match an agreed global price. Each country could do so by its individual choice of tax or a cap-and-trade policies. The global price could be set by voting, thereby producing “a coalition of the willing.”

Bob Ward from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (the current home base for Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the well known Stern Review in 2007) finds the study’s conclusion “too pessimistic.” He told the BBC that “the authors are right that a global price on carbon is necessary, although it would be, on its own, insufficient to generate the pace and scale of action required.”

IMG_0874As we’ve chronicled this fall, UNFCCC Parties have been submitting their INDCs or intended nationally determined contributions to the Secretariat since March, 2015. INDCs are part of an overall “pledge and review” strategy put in place post Copenhagen (COP15) to entice all UNFCCC Parties to sign on to a new international climate change agreements that will follow the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. An October 1 deadline — set so that a technical report can be prepared and distributed three weeks before the COP21 negotiations begin — prompted all major GHG emitting countries and more than a hundred others to publicly announce their individual pledges on the UNFCCC portal. Recent calculations by several non-governmental organizations, like Climate Action Tracker, World Resources Institute, and Climate Interactive, show that these self-defined (and interested) declarations will not keep atmospheric warming below the UNFCCC’s current 2C goal.

The Nature comment ends on this note. “After decades of failure, a fresh approach is needed — one that is guided by the science of cooperation. A common price commitment would harness self-interest by aligning it with the common good. Nothing could be more fundamental.”