Consider Some 2030 Scenarios That May Hit the Jackpot for Science, Money, Climate Justice

–This straw man * chart shows what climate envoys are grappling with; we are not saying something like this would work, but it shows compromise is possible

By Mathew Carr and Tim Williamson

April 21, 2021 — London, Washington DC: With climate negotiators struggling to seek consensus on climate solutions, it’s actually fun to try get your head around the maths and the geopolitics.

On the one hand it’s super tricky because the sums over the next 10 years are huge, as are the needed trade offs, which will need to cover decades of disagreement.

On the other hand, using round numbers helps, and the figures may demonstrate that an almost universal climate solution — and a deal — just might be easier to obtain than some people think.

Negotiators are seeking to clinch a deal to agree the Paris agreement rulebook.

See this thought experiment chart below (we are not trying to suggest solutions, but seeking to improve the quality of public debate, thereby curbing the potentially unnecessary political heat in that debate); it assumes the world’s biggest 20 or so nations agree to form an ambitious “carbon club” as they agree rules under UN climate talks:

By Williamson, Carr; Notes; ignores adaptation spending; ignores non-mitigation element of clean projects — for instance a green hydrogen project is mainly to produce fuel or power — its emissions-cutting ability is only part of its “return”

CHART EXPLAINER: To prevent 1.5 degrees of climate change, the IPCC has called for a 45% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels (that is, 33.1 billion tons of global CO2 equivalent emissions).

This requires about 22 billion tons of total CO2e emissions in 2030. Current CO2e emissions are approximately 52 billion tons of CO2e per year (see first column of numbers).

That means countries must remove 30 billion tons of total annual CO2e emissions, equating to 3 billion tons of CO2e reductions per year, over the 10 years to 2030 (see note below).

This “grand compromise,” if you like, includes two phases of sub compromises from the countries who are currently the biggest emitters globally or sell fossil fuels and are in the club.

First, they make the biggest spending commitments during the next 10 years as part of $2 trillion needed. The chart only focuses on spending for mitigation of CO2e as part of projects, which will include electric vehicles, green fuels, solar panels, batteries and offshore windfarms.

In reality, these emission cuts would require investment of about $20 trillion over the 10 years to make the yearly emission cuts sustainable into the decade and the future. The projects could provide certain returns and well-paying jobs, boosting economies.

But, leaving the non-mitigation element aside, the chart gets the U.S. and China to pay a similar amount — recognizing that, while the U.S. has the most cumulative emissions over time, China has much higher emissions right now.

Spending on green investments is increasingly being seen as an opportunity rather than a cost.

By matching the China and U.S. contribution, we are preventing any loss of face.

The fourth column of numbers shows the second sub compromise.

Here, countries with the most cumulative emissions get a smaller portion of the cap in 2031, the first year of the second decade under the Paris climate deal. OK, that should have been the cap in 2030, but we will be happy if the world can get anywhere near hitting it in 2031.

The U.S. gets about half the allocation of China, again, because of the U.S.’s relatively small population and big historical responsibility for the climate crisis.

India, for instance, get a bigger portion of the 2031 cap because it’s used less space in the atmosphere as of now.

These portions of the 22 billion ton cap can in theory be bought and sold under rules of Paris that are currently being negotiated.

Assuming carbon prices rise to about $200 by 2031, the cap would be worth $4.4 trillion.

That’s a lot.

The rest of the world block of the cap could also be sold, giving finance for green expansion in those nations and could be bought by rich countries so they can make more efficient use of existing fossil-fuel assets. Those could be run closer to the end of their useful life.

That rest-of-the-world block alone could be worth $1.1 trillion in 2031.

Importantly, countries could choose to be part of the club or not, because the Paris deal allows countries freedom of choice.

How would you change our plan to make it better/to improve the chance countries can agree some sort of grand compromise and more detailed rules of the Paris Agreement, including the emissions trading elements?

(Williamson is a former President Obama renewable energy official interested in creating hydro energy storage projects.)

NOTE: IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • *A straw man proposal is easy to pick apart and rebuild

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