A recent proposal for a new “carbon law” to halve greenhouse gas emissions every decade and deliver 75% odds of climate stabilization is taking serious criticism for failing to factor international climate equity concerns into its analysis, or to point toward a realistic technology pathway.
The carbon law, proposed by a research team led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s Johan Rockström, would mean phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, coal mining and combustion by 2030, and crude oil as an energy source by 2040, Climate News Networkreported earlier this month. The veteran climate researchers on the study team “don’t see their prescription of a carbon law as an expense, more as an economic opportunity that will deliver rewards in lower costs, more employment, and a better environment,” CN Network noted.
But ActionAid USA Senior Policy Analyst Kelly Stone and Tom Athanasiou of the Climate Equity Reference Project warn that no global carbon strategy will work unless it allows for “fair sharing” of the responsibility for climate action among countries.
“Climate equity recognizes that while all countries have climate obligations, these are differentiated based on historical responsibilities for climate change and national capacity to respond to it,” they explain. With the richest 10% of the world’s population producing half of the emissions, and the poorest half generating only 10%, developed countries with significant capacity to act “must do more and do it sooner than poorer developing countries. And they must do so while at the same time improving the lots of their own poor and vulnerable citizens.”
The carbon law plan, an “essentially techno-economic roadmap”, also leaves out any detailed reference to climate finance, Stone and Athanasiou note, apart from the call to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. “To catalyze global climate action at the necessary scale,” they write, “a massive transfer of financial and technological resources from rich to poor countries is needed. In the absence of such a transfer, there is simply no political calculation that developing country governments can make that will enable the transformation to take place.”
They also critique the paper’s heavy reliance on biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) deployment that “would require a huge amount of land, which would inevitably lead to deforestation and the forced displacement of rural communities, and worsen the already-increased danger of widespread hunger that climate change has placed squarely in our future.”
On The Energy Collective, meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell Chief Climate Advisor David Hone says the scenario illustrates the “Herculean” decarbonization effort required between 2020 and 2030, but “stretches past the point of feasibility.” The call for a 50% GHG reduction per decade “means the biggest effort is required in the first decade,” when “this is the opposite of an outcome that a technology pathway might deliver.” He cites electric vehicle deployment as an emission reduction option he would expect to produce initial results through 2030, but deliver the best emission reductions between 2040 and 2050.
Rockström’s call to double renewable energy capacity every five years, meanwhile, “would require an extraordinary scale-up of manufacturing capacity for wind turbine blades and solar PV cells,” Hone adds. “But after five years, that capacity would then be redundant, as no further major deployment of renewable energy would be required. The investors in the manufacturing facilities would be left with stranded assets had the investments been made.”