Today's date:
Summer 2002

Contraction and Convergence

Capping greenhouse gas emissions globally is indispensable for maintaining the integrity of life on the planet. Sixty percent in six decades is roughly the order of magnitude contraction requires. However, the Kyoto Protocol so far fails to live up to this challenge. It does not demand serious reductions from the North and does not include newly industrializing countries from the South. Nevertheless, for the second commitment period of the Kyoto process, an ecological breakthrough cannot be reasonably expected unless the South assumes commitments as well. Otherwise, the North will stall, and, more importantly, the steep rise in emission levels in the South will continue unchecked.

At this point, the issue of equity will reveal itself as the major bottleneck for any serious progress in climate protection. On the one side, the South will refuse obligations before the North follows through on its responsibility, while on the other side the North will not be forthcoming before commitments for the South are defined. Unless the reduction commitments of the North and those of the South are balanced out in fairness, no real climate protection will happen.

Only a framework that respects the principle of equal per capita right to the resources of this Earth will eventually hold up to equity and fairness. Any other allocation scheme ("grandfathering," "cost-base") would repeat a colonial constellation of granting disproportionate shares to the North. If the use of the commons has to be restrained through common rules, it would violate the principle of equity to design these rules to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of many. The equal right of all world citizens to the atmospheric commons is therefore the cornerstone of any viable climate regime.

It is from this right to atmospheric commons that all countries (and all classes) in the long run converge in their trajectories upon a similar level of fossil energy use per capita. The North contracts downwards, and the South converges upwards. Over-users will have to climb down from the present level, while under-users are permitted to raise their present level, albeit at a gradient that is much less than the one industrial countries went through historically, leveling off at the point of convergence.

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