COP15 weirdness

I must be feeling punchy from waiting in line for hours in hope of picking up my COP15 credentials. When they started serving coffee, I knew all was lost, and bailed out – realizing that the coffee was just a ploy to get people with small bladders out of the line. That turned out to be a good decision, as the price of entry today was apparently a 7hr wait. The Danish police serve a darn good cup of joe, though.

The long wait in the chilly morning turned up all kinds of oddities, from the Copenhagen Code of Ethics anti-prostitution-at-COP15 postcards to Larouchite ramblings about the coming genocide, to mitigate by eliminating 3 billion people. The latter screed cites Dennis Meadows,

And what wisdom does Meadows offer us today? In an interview with the German magazine Spiegel, he said, “We have to learn to live a life that allows for fulfillment and development with the CO2 emissions of Afghanistan.” This begs the question: how much CO2 do opium pipes emit, Mr. Meadows?

I thought everyone knew that opium pipes are carbon neutral, because the poppies take up as much carbon as their combustion emits. At least they have a sense of irony, when they write,

Indeed, it is only by understanding that it is against the background of the hopelessly bankrupt financial system, that one can explain how all sorts of strange creatures have the audacity to come crawling out of the woodwork to express their absurd ideas.

Copenhagen Sex Postcard

Will the real Copenhagen agreement please stand up?

All the Copenhagen drafts circulating reminded me of this October video, in which Lord Monckton says he’s already read the treaty that most countries are going to sign. I’m actually relieved that all the frantic drafts and pointed words are just a show for the media, and that Obama and Hu Jintao really see eye to eye. Todd Stern and Su Wei are such good actors! Just think, in a week, my patrimony checks from the global climate conspiracy will start rolling in! Signing off for a bit to polish my jackboots…

Stiefel_1914 jackboots

The AWG-LCA draft agreement

Like the AOSIS draft, the LTCA draft is a bit coy about developing country actions, and there are a number of unsettled language variations, indicated by brackets. It sets a global goal of 1.5C to 2C, and emissions cuts of 50 to 95 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Developed countries commit to between 75 and more than 95 percent by 2050, with interim targets of 25 to 45 percent below 1990 by 2020. The developing countries are not explicitly subject to targets, but the combination of supported and autonomous NAMAs is “aimed at achieving a substantial deviation in emissions [in the order of 15-30 percent by 2020] relative to those emissions that would occur in the absence of enhanced mitigation.” The BAU trajectory against which that might be judged is unspecified.

The bracketed options in the text create many possible permutations of the agreement. One is particularly illuminating: the least stringent global target (peak in 2020, 50% below 1990 in 2050) combined with the most stringent developed target (peak in 2011, 45% below 1990 in 2020, 95% below 1990 in 2050). That yields maximum possible emissions in the developing world, given the global and developed budgets.

In that scenario, developing emissions could look like the following:

AWG-LCA developing emissions

Emissions in the developing countries still must peak before 2030. Note that, as in my AOSIS experiment, the potential emissions budget for developing countries exceeds business-as-usual; if BAU emissions don’t actually rise faster than anticipated, those emissions might be reallocated to delay the peak in emissions a bit, but not more than a few years.

Interestingly, this scenario results in hyper-convergence, with developed emissions per capita falling well below developing emissions per capita.AWGLCApercap

It’s unlikely that this is a physically or politically realizable situation, given that developed countries would have to reduce emissions far faster than the natural rate of capital turnover. The rapid decline would not benefit developing countries either, because buildings and infrastructure cannot be moved elsewhere. If developed countries make less aggressive cuts, to about -30% in 2020 and -85% in 2050, per capita emissions converge between 2030 and 2040. However, in that case, developing country emissions have to peak earlier and fall faster.

The only way to delay the peak in developing country emissions significantly is to delay the global peak. However, meeting the same global 2050 target with a later start requires faster declines in emissions, which quickly become impractical unless you assume some kind of technical miracle (not a robust strategy). Therefore, the only way for developing countries to avoid a peak in emissions in the next decade or two is to abandon any pretense of preserving a reasonable probability of meeting 2C or similar targets. That seems to be what some of the big emerging emitters are implicitly arguing for, but is it what they really want, or in their best interest?

Afterthought: The big challenge is that the global and developed country targets are explicit, while the developing country trajectory those necessitate is not. The draft recognizes means for reducing developing country emissions (supported and autonomous NAMAs), but there’s no coordinating mechanism that ensures the outcome adds up to the global goal.

The AOSIS draft agreement

Two more draft agreements have been released, from AOSIS and the AWG-LCA headed by Michael Zammit Cutajar. I’ve summarized the mitigation targets in the four drafts floating around as a Google spreadsheet, here.

The AOSIS draft is, understandably, very aggressive in its global vision. It seeks 350ppm or better, to limit temperature rise to 1.5C vs. preindustrial. To get there, it seeks a global emissions peak by 2015 and an 85% cut from 1990 levels by 2050. Developed countries are to cut 45% below 1990 by 2020. Deforestation is to be halved by 2020 and halted by 2030. The document gets wishy washy when it comes to other developing country actions though: it talks about NAMAs and “significant deviations from baselines by 2020,” but no specific commitments. In my mind, if you’ve specified targets for the world and for developed countries, you’ve implicitly specified the developing countries’ trajectory, so you might as well say what it is and create commitments to ensure that it is achieved. The burden of those commitments (to the extent that it is a burden, and not a hidden opportunity) may not rest on the developing countries, but someone has to be responsible, or it may not happen.

I ran some rough simulations of the AOSIS targets to see what they really imply for developing countries. Here’s the global 2015 peak and 85% cut from 1990 in 2050:

AOSIS global emissions

Here’s the developing cut of 45% from 1990 by 2020. The draft doesn’t specify further cuts, but I’ve assumed that the developed countries keep reducing at the same rate (over 7%/yr) afterwards, hitting about -95% from 1990 by 2050:

AOSIS developed emissions

What does that leave for the developing countries?

AOSIS developing emissions

In short, “significant deviations from baselines” has to be the understatement of the century if the AOSIS global target is to be achieved, in spite of the deep cuts in developed country emissions. Developing emissions peak by around 2020 and have fallen by roughly 75% vs 1990 in 2050. This is not a matter of fairness (fairness is about the distribution of costs and benefits). It’s a matter of physics. Global emissions can’t go down rapidly unless both its major components shrink. (Notice also in the graph above that “potential” emissions exceed BAU until 2020; this is because developed country cuts are initially so rapid. Presumably developing country emissions would not actually rise above BAU, which means that the surplus could be used to delay the peak, but only by a year or two.)

Afterthought: as before, this is based on C-ROADS data and projections, with BAU similar to SRES A1FI, though the results are hardly sensitive to the specifics. Thanks to Stephanie & Allison at SI for tracking down the drafts.

The "Copenhagen Accord"

Hard on the heels of the leaked “Danish text” comes the emerging economy response, the “Copenhagen Accord.” Press coverage indicates that it’s a call for -40% of 1990 by 2020 in the developed world, but the actual text (linked at the end of the article at has no such details.

Mermaid & power plants

The Copenhagen Accord is notable mainly for what it lacks: there are no global goals, and no explicit developing country targets. However, it does affirm the Framework Convention, “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” I’m actually not a strong proponent of hard country commitments for 2050, because they are politically so dubious, and will most likely have to be changed anyway. However, I think it’s quite important to at least agree on an objective in general terms. By failing to state a global goal, does this document redefine “dangerous interference” to include whatever emissions trajectory we happen to get, or does it assume that uncoordinated developed country actions (including support of mitigation in the developing world) will be enough to avoid it?

Similarly, page 1 recognizes “that the right to development and equitable opportunity of development are inalienable basic human rights of all nations, and social economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.” I think that human rights are for humans, not nations, but apart from that quibble, this is a good principle. However, I fear that the underlying mental model behind this statement is less admirable. Does it mean, for example, that the authors think a 650ppm future is OK, as long as their GDP goes up? To assume that on-market growth can more than compensate for climate impacts is a risky proposition, especially for the poorest countries. Alternately, does it mean that the authors think the supported mitigation actions, financial and technology transfers, and other mechanisms outlined in the text will be enough to permit development without contradiction of the “dangerous interference” objective? If so, the agreement needs to be a lot more specific about how this will work.

This document, and to a lesser extent the Danish text, really reinforces my perception that modelers and other quantitative folks are living on a different planet from those who craft these drafts. The Copenhagen Accord buries a short page worth of principles in 11 pages of obscure jargon. I had to read it several times to even determine whether it suggested concrete targets. Why not just get to the point? The legalese can come later. Sure, some details are important, like who has jurisdiction over financial flows, but list those as principles rather than enumerating every minor point. Needless detail is more than a time-waster; it actually gets in the way of identifying creative solutions by imposing spurious constraints.

Mercifully, the official draft just released by Michael Zammit Cutajar is reportedly only 6 pages.

Danish text analysis

In response to a couple of requests for details, I’ve attached a spreadsheet containing my numbers from the last post on the Danish text: Danish text analysis v3 (updated).

Here it is in words, with a little rounding to simplify:

In 1990, global emissions were about 40 GtCO2eq/year, split equally between developed and developing countries. Due to population disparities, developed emissions per capita were 3.5 times bigger than developing at that point.

The Danish text sets a global target of 50% of 1990 emissions in 2050, which means that the global target is 20 GtCO2eq/year. It also sets a target of 80% (or more) below 1990 for the developed countries, which means their target is 4 GtCO2eq/year. That leaves 16 GtCO2eq/year for the developing world.

According to the “confidential analysis of the text by developing countries” cited in the Guardian, developed countries are emitting 2.7 tonsCO2eq/person/year in 2050, while developing countries emit about half as much: 1.4 tonsCO2eq/person/year. For the developed countries, that’s in line with what I calculate using C-ROADS data and projections. For the developing countries, to get 16 gigatons per year emissions at 1.4 tons per cap, you need 11 billion people emitting. That’s an addition of 6 billion people between 2005 and 2050, implying a growth rate above recent history and way above UN projections.

If you redo the analysis with a more plausible population forecast, per capita emissions convergence is nearly achieved, with developing country emissions per capita within about 25% of developed.

Danish text chart

Note log scale to emphasize proportional differences.

The "Danish text" – bad numbers, missed opportunity?

The blogosphere is filled with reports, originating in the Guardian, of developing countries’ fury over the leaked “Danish text” – a strawdog draft agreement.

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The angry reaction strikes me as a missed opportunity. But more importantly, I think it’s a product of bad analysis, with an inflated population projection for the developing world creating a false impression of failure to achieve emissions convergence.

Here’s what I think is the essence of the text with respect to emissions trajectories:

3. Recalling the ultimate objective of the Convention, the Parties stress the urgency of action on both mitigation and adaptation and recognize the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C.  In this regard, the Parties:

  • Support the goal of a peak of global emissions as soon as possible, but no later than [2020], acknowledging that developed countries collectively have peaked and that the timeframe for peaking will be longer in developing countries,
  • Support the goal of a reduction of global annual emissions in 2050 by at least 50 percent versus 1990 annual emissions, equivalent to at least 58 percent versus 2005 annual emissions. The Parties contributions towards the goal should take into account common but different responsibility and respective capabilities and a long term convergence of per capita emissions.

7. The developed country Parties commit to individual national economy wide targets for 2020. The targets in Attachment A would expect to yield aggregate emissions reductions by X1 percent by 2020 versus 1990 (X2 percent vs. 2005). The purchase of international offset credits will play a supplementary role to domestic action. The developed country Parties support a goal to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80% or more by 2050 versus 1990 (X3 percent versus 2005).
9. The developing country Parties, except the least developed countries which may contribute at their own discretion, commit to nationally appropriate mitigation actions, including actions supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building. The developing countries’ individual mitigation action could in aggregate yield a [Y percent] deviation in [2020] from business as usual and yielding their collective emissions peak before [20XX] and decline thereafter.

These provisions are evidently the source of much of the outrage. Again from the Guardian:

A confidential analysis of the text by developing countries also seen by the Guardian shows deep unease over details of the text. In particular, it is understood to:

• Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;

• Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.

I have limited sympathy with the first point. If the world is to avoid the probability of serious climate change, emissions have to fall below natural uptake. That can’t happen if the developed world is shrinking while developing country emissions grow exponentially, so everyone has to play. You can’t cheat mother nature. If we’re serious about mitigation, the conversation has to be about how to help the developing countries peak and reduce, not whether they will.

The last point, concerning per capita emissions disparities, is actually not stated anywhere in the draft. Notice that the article 9 commitment for developing countries are expressed as variables to be filled in. To figure out what’s going on, I ran the numbers myself. I get about the same answer for the developed countries: 2.75 TonCO2eq/person/year. When multiplied by 1.5 billion people, that’s about 4.1 gigatons per year, leaving a budget of about 15.9 for the developing world (half of 1990 emissions of about 20 GtCO2eq, less 4.1). Dividing that by 1.44 yields an expected population in the developing world of 11 billion. That’s a bonkers population forecast, 2 billion above the UN high variant projection. If it came true, it would likely be a disaster in itself. More importantly, the per capita emissions ratios would be expressing a strange notion of (in)equity: the nearly 6 billion people added from 2005-2050 in the developing world would be emitting more than twice as much as all the people in the developing world.

If you rerun the numbers with a more sensible population forecast, with about 7.4 billion people in the developing world, the numbers are 2.75 and 2.15 tonsCO2eq/person/year in the developed and developing countries, respectively.  (UN mid variant population projection is 7.9 billion, but I’m sticking with C-ROADS data for convenience, which has slightly different regional definitions). In other words, convergence is at hand: the world has gone from 3.5:1 emissions per cap in 1990 to 1.28:1 – a rather stunning achievement, not something to get mad about. In addition, it’s not physically possible to do much better than that for the developing world, because the developed world represents a small slice of the global population in 2050. For example, even if the developed world could reach zero emissions in 2050, the remaining emissions budget would only permit emissions of 2.7 tonsCO2eq/person/year in the developing countries.

Even if the high population projection came true, I still think it would be a mistake for developing countries to get mad, because there’s article 20:

20. The Parties share the view that the strengthened financial architecture should be able to handle gradually scaled up international public support. International public finance support to developing countries [should/shall] reach the order of [X] billion USD in 2020 on the basis of appropriate increases in mitigation and adaptation efforts by developing countries.

Rather than asking for higher emissions, developing countries could ask for a bigger [X] to compensate for smaller per capita emissions. Then they’d have help moving towards a low-carbon economy, with all the cobenefits that entails. They wouldn’t have to follow the developed world down a fossil-fired, energy intensive path that’s ultimately a dead end. Maybe the real anger arises from the difficulty of getting meaningful financial terms, but that’s the conversation we should be having if we want a shot at 2C or below.

Check my math. If you think I’m right, spread the word. It would be a shame if the possibility of a climate agreement were derailed by a flawed analysis of a draft document. If you think I’m wrong, please comment, and I’ll take another look.

Update: I’ve published the numbers behind this in my next post.