The Sovereign Emissions Rights Framework

A special report prepared for the European Commission consultation on a 2015 international climate change agreement

Damien Morris

1 June 2013 | 2 min read

Executive summary

We propose an equitable approach to cost-effectively avoiding 2 degrees

Our approach aims to protect the EU’s entitlement to a fair share of the global emissions space without unduly infringing on the emissions space of poorer nations

The science of climate change lays two fundamental questions at the feet of politicians and the public. What climate impacts are we prepared to risk, and how shall we assign international responsibilities to minimizing those risks? As signatories to the Copenhagen Accord, 141 governments have now agreed that 2˚C poses unacceptable risks to human welfare and the environment, but the second, more difficult political question remains unresolved. It will have to be resolved, openly and publically, within and between nations, if we are to have a reasonable chance of reaching an international agreement in December 2015 that enables us to avoid dangerous climate change.

In the report that follows we present our initial contribution to this debate. We here propose an equitable approach to establishing a post-2020 global climate framework compatible with a likely chance (>66%) of cost-effectively avoiding 2 degrees. Our approach aims to protect the EU’s entitlement to a fair share of the global emissions space without unduly infringing on the emissions space of other, especially poorer, nations. We propose that:

  • The total global greenhouse emissions budget to 2050 should be back-calculated from 1990, when the dangers of climate change were first globally acknowledged following from the IPCC’s first assessment report.
  • This 1990-2050 budget should be divided between nations based on their share of global population in 1990 at that particular moral and epistemological milestone.
  • This new agreement should supersede previous agreements and that all historic territorial emissions produced since 1990 should be counted against these national budgets, as well as any awarded emissions rights or offset credits issued under the Kyoto Protocol.
  • All fossil and industrial CO2 emissions under those national budgets should be tradable between countries, either at state level or through devolved cap and trade schemes, to allow cost-effective emissions reductions to be realised while ensuring ultimate financial responsibility for these reductions is appropriately apportioned.

We note that the current 2050 climate target around which much of Europe’s climate policy is framed (i.e. 80-95% below 1990 levels), and which the G8 has also endorsed is not a scientific target, but simply the range of results returned from a bundle of different and sometimes incompatible effort-sharing models with different starting assumptions. We emphasize that there is not and cannot be a scientific answer to the moral and political question of how to share the responsibilities for avoiding dangerous climate change and that these decisions cannot be deflected to technicians under the IPCC or elsewhere.

On the basis of the model we defend here, we propose that Europe future climate pledges keep it within a budget of 87 billion tonnes between now and 2050, conditional on other countries adopting budgets calculated from the same equitable principles.

We also propose that, independently of other countries commitments, Europe should aim, as a minimum, to uncover all the cost-effective abatement that falls in its own jurisdiction and territory under a cost-effective global pathway to two degrees. This implies a domestic trajectory as ambitious as that outlined in Europe’s 2050 Low Carbon Roadmap, which specifies milestones of – 25% for 2020, -40% for 2030, – 60% and -80% for 2050.

Finally, we discuss how the budgets under this framework can be compared against business-as-usual emissions to help Europe politically assess other countries’ climate pledges when determining at what level to set its international offer.