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Climate Change: Set That 110 Limit

By Julio Godoy

30 October, 2009
Inter Press Service

BERLIN, Oct 30 (IPS) - Every single person should set a cap of a total of 110 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the next four decades to avoid irreversible and uncontrollable consequences of climate change, under a new proposal.

The German advisory council on global changes (WBGU, after its original name), which advises the German government on climate change, says in its report 'Solving the climate dilemma' that the best solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to allocate them worldwide on a per capita basis.

WBGU spokesperson Benno Pilardeaux told IPS that a per capita cap for industrialised and developing countries alike could become a cornerstone of international negotiations towards a new treaty on reducing greenhouse gases, after the likely failure of the UN conference on climate change scheduled to take place in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18.

"Copenhagen will most likely not succeed in ratifying a treaty, and shall only set the framework for a further conference, probably next March," Pilardeaux said.

At a press conference in London last week, Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said the conference in Copenhagen will not succeed in ratifying a new international treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

"If you look at the limited amount of time that remains to Copenhagen, we have to focus on what can realistically be done and how that can realistically be framed," De Boer said.

Pilardeaux said that given the present stage of preparations "negotiations will have to be adjourned, but establish the further steps to follow." Those following steps could consider the WBGU proposal, he said.

The WBGU says "there is only a realistic chance of restricting global warming (to two Celsius degrees) if a limit is set on the total amount of (greenhouse gases) emitted globally between now and 2050." It calls this total amount the carbon dioxide (CO2) global budget.

The WBGU sets this global budget as the main parameter to determine an individual cap of CO2 emissions, valid for the whole world.

The CO2 global budget must be at "the forefront (of negotiations) towards a new global climate treaty," the WBGU paper says. "Combined with fundamental concepts of equity, the budget approach provides concrete figures for each of the emission limitations, which all countries will have to accept in order to prevent the destabilisation of the planet’s climate system."

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, leading author of the WBGU report and main environmental counsellor to the German government, put the maximum sum of greenhouse gases to be emitted until 2050 at 600 to 750 billion metric tonnes of CO2. This range depends on the varying probability of occurrence of global warming.

In any case, only a small amount of CO2 may be emitted worldwide after 2050. "Thus, the era of an economy driven by fossil fuels will definitely have to come to an end within the first half of this century," the study says.

"You divide the 750 billion tons of CO2 by the world's total population, and have the per capita budget of emissions allowed until 2050, of some 110 tonnes of CO2," said Schellnhuber, who is Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and winner of the German Environment Prize of 2007.

Using this CO2 global budget, North America, especially the U.S., Western Europe, Australia, and Japan "have long ago or shall very soon trespass the limits," Schellnhuber said. Based upon the emissions of 2008, China would have exhausted its budget in the early 2030s.

"In Germany, the emissions per capita and per year amount to 11 tonnes," Schellnhuber said. Extrapolating the present emissions, Germany would have exhausted its total CO2 budget in ten years.

Schellnhuber said that an individual emissions cap valid for every single person in the world "constitutes an elementary principle of environmental justice. Why should a German citizen be allowed to emit more CO2 than a person in Bangladesh? The rule must be to fairly divide the total amount of CO2 that the world can cope with until 2050 among the world's population."

The WBGU report claims that the global budget methodology can lead to "the growth of common understanding among all signatory states concerning the medium and long-term actions necessary."

Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service


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