Forget Kyoto, go local, says Oxford report

16th August 2011


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International efforts to address climate change should now focus on voluntary national commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions rather than on agreeing a successor to Kyoto.

Adopting a local voluntary approach to tackling climate change is the recommendation of a new report from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment (SSEE) at the University of Oxford.

The report – International climate change negotiations: Key lessons and next steps – argues the voluntary agreements that emerged from the Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010) climate change summits are significant progress because rapidly emerging economies, such as China and India, and the US put forward mitigation actions for the first time.

“We have made more progress through the voluntary agreements than through the formal UNFCCC process. Seventy-six countries, which account for 85% of global emissions, have now pledged to reduce their emissions,” Sir David King, the SSEE’s founding director and co-author of the report, told the environmentalist.

The former scientific adviser to the UK government says the aim should be to reach a new legally binding international agreement by 2020, but, in the interim, the “pledge-and-review” system set up in Copenhagen and Cancun is a useful way of moving forward.

The SSEE report also highlights the importance of groups such as the G20 and the Cartagena Group – a 27-strong grouping of countries, including Australia, France, Germany and the UK – in driving forward the voluntary approach.

“We’re not proposing that the UNFCCC negotiations are defunct, but that other bodies, like the G20, can provide leadership and stimulate the process,” says King. “The Copenhagen Accord was not a UNFCCC agreement. But the UNFCCC ratified it at Cancun, turning the original 2.5-page document, with only 12 operational paragraphs, into a 30-page one with far more detail.”

Putting a realistic price on GHG emissions and establishing a global cap-and-trade system, similar to the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), are among the other recommendations in the SSEE report.

King supports plans by the UK government to introduce a carbon floor price, although he believes it needs to be higher than the initial price of £16 a tonne.

“The UK is absolutely correct to put a price under carbon and £16 pounds a tonne is a good start as long as it gradually rises. I think €100 is a more realistic figure.”

He believes a global ETS will develop, but is unlikely to involve all countries, and is more likely to require countries to first reach a sufficient standard before being able to join.

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