Copenhagen – Assessing “fair” in 2050

The first Tuesday in Copenhagen saw the leak to the Guardian newspaper  of a document called “The Copenhagen Agreement”, a proposed political agreement prepared by the Danish hosts, supposedly in consultation with the USA, the UK and some others. This may be one of several such texts in circulation. Neverthless, it raises a challenging issue. As has already been widely discussed by many parties and observers, the text proposes a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050 when compared to 1990, with developed countries reducing emissions by at least 80% by 1990. That presumably leaves the balance to developing countries, which is where the arguements started.

According to the Guardian, developing countries took this to mean a limit on their emissions of 1.44 tonnes per person, but only 2.67 tonnes per person for developed countries, a situation that was seen as unfair. Based on International Energy Agency data I can’t reproduce this precisely because it depends on assumptions made about the location of non-energy emissions, but an approximate calculation shows the issue very clearly.

Global Reduction 1

Assuming that emissions from deforestation are in developing countries and that international marine and aviation fuel use starts off largely allocated to developed countries but shifts increasingly to developing countries over 60 years, then my quick analysis shows a similar outcome – by 2050 developed country energy emissions are still nearly double per capita compared to developing countries, even though the developed countries have reduced emissions by 80%. The end result is that developing countries get a 16% increase in energy emissions by 2050 compared to 1990, but must reduce by about 45% compared to 2007 levels – and this can only happen if big reductions are made in areas such as deforestation. Hence the problem of “fairness”!

The real issue is that the overall target may just be too difficult, although we know that this is the direction we must go in. Let’s assume equality in emissions per capita by 2050, in which case the outcome looks something like this.

Global Reduction Equal

The developed countries reduce by 88% overall, which equates to a reduction in energy emissions of some 93%. Even then, developing countries can only increase total energy emissions by about 40% relative to 1990 and it still means a reduction of some 30% compared to current levels. This remains a very challenging target given the development needs of some 5+ billion people today. Much of the energy they will need is quite likley to come from resources such as coal. The only “wiggle room” lies with emissions from deforestation, international aviation and marine bunkers and other sources, which mainly includes agriculture and non-CO2 GHGs. If much bigger reductions can be achieved here then energy related emissions can increase – but not by that much.

A further potential solution lies with net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere using capture and sequestration to make greater room for other emissions, but there is currently little clarity on how best to do atmospheric capture on a large scale. Alternatively, developing countries will also have to deploy carbon capture and storage on a large scale to allow the continued use of resources such as coal.

Of course this isn’t the end of it. Emissions will need to be lower still in 2060 and even lower in 2070 and so on. Assessing what is fair is going to present the delegates in Copenhagen with a mounumental challenge.