Climate Talks Should Fix CO2 Price, Not Cap, Neuroscientist Says

United Nations climate envoys should set a carbon price rather than fix a global cap on greenhouse-gas emissions, cutting the complexity of international negotiations, said a neuroscientist.

Developing nations may accept a global harmonized carbon price as long as they receive the money from setting that amount as well as a portion of funds raised by developed nations that have mostly caused climate change, said David Silverstein, a neuroscientist with an interest in climate negotiations. He’s a researcher and teacher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

“You could set a harmonized global floor price or tax rate in a year,” Silverstein said in a telephone interview. “You have some sort of scaffolding to allow global climate finance to develop in a more structured way.”

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set an emissions cap for more than 30 developed nations in the five years through this year, was never ratified by the U.S. and didn’t include China and India, the world’s two most populous nations. UN envoys have failed to decide how to extend or replace that agreement the past 14 years.

A key problem with new caps is that scientists can’t agree what limit is needed to protect the climate, Silverstein said. “If you are going to have to keep adjusting the limit, then you might as well just change the price floor or tax.”

The complex wrangling about how money from the price should be used is better solved by national governments rather than international negotiations, he said. “If you try to scale complexity to a global level, you could potentially get a mess.”

‘Difficult Sell’

It’s probably better to allow nations to determine how to implement the price, he said. “I agree, though, that it’s a little bit of a difficult sell.”

His plan would potentially set a price of $8 a ton and jump $8 a year, reaching $64 in 2020. Richer nations would contribute to a Green Climate Fund for use by poor nations based on their historical responsibility for heat-trapping gases, as well as their wealth. The rising price will quickly make non-fossil-fuel technology viable, cutting emissions, according to the plan.

The U.S. would contribute 50 percent of the Green Climate Fund. At a price of $8, the world’s biggest economy would contribute $1.65 a ton, or 21 percent, helping contribute $100 billion a year by 2020 from rich nations to poor for adaptation and mitigation. The rest of the revenue would be used by the U.S. to address climate change internally.

Avoiding Sanctions

The U.S. will want to avoid potential penalties and compensation claims, Silverstein said. “Ultimately there could be trade sanctions that could be employed” by developing nations that experience climate-change related disasters, he said. Emerging nations including China and India would forgo use of the fund and may start contributing to it as they become wealthier, he said.

The plan contrasts with one proposed by Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, a former negotiator for the Japanese government, which would set a global limit of 660 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in the four decades through 2050 from 2010. Global man-made emissions need to drop to about 32.6 billion tons in 2035 from 47.1 billion tons in 2009, the International Energy Agency in Paris said in November.

The world could adopt the global harmonized price at least for the next several years while it negotiates a new cap, because the current growth in emissions represents a serious risk to the climate, Silverstein said.

Officials from almost 200 nations agreed on Dec. 11 at UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, to seek a global deal by 2015, with the participation for the first time of the U.S., China and India. “Perhaps this makes it more likely that all nations will accept the responsibility to adopt a common carbon price,” Silverstein said.

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