A Climate Treaty Analogue?

Christina Larsen at Foreign Policy has a nifty silver lining take on the U.N. climate talks now underway in Cancun, Mexico. It boils down to the “absence of delusions” this time around, or more charitably, no expectations of any breakthrough agreement, much less any significant progress.

More interestingly, Larsen considers

when, if ever, any similar treaty process to rein in emissions has worked. Granted, the rules aren’t about to be rewritten in Mexico, but for those scratching their heads and looking outside the COP process, it’s worth considering Montreal — shorthand for the treaty that has successfully curbed emissions of substances that deplete the ozone layer was negotiated in Montreal in 1987. It’s not only because he hails from Canada that David Keith, director of the University of Calgary’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy and a strong advocate for climate action, told me: “The Montreal Protocol on the ozone remains the best and also most optimistic model we have for what a future climate regime might look like.”

In large part, she writes, this is because the

Montreal treaty talks only included about two-dozen top CFC emitters, and meetings took place with comparatively little external political hype.

As Larsen points out:

it’s worth noting that the United States and China are responsible for roughly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, and together the top 20 emitters are responsible for roughly 80 percent of total emissions.

Thus, she quotes David Keith who extends the Montreal Protocol analogy to the current climate change stalemate:

The only plausible way of reducing emissions through a negotiated international framework is a deal that involves a relatively small number of big states, like China, the U.S. and the E.U.

This is not a new idea, but I’m curious what people think of it.

UPDATE: In contrast, Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests

the U.S. focus on everyone but China””and in particular China’s partners in the Basic climate-negotiating bloc: India, South Africa and Brazil. Indeed, that may be the best way to move Beijing.

5 Responses to “A Climate Treaty Analogue?”

  1. harrywr2 says:

    Montreal was easy as an inexpensive alternative was readily available.
    Just some basics.
    China needs 1,600 GW of electric generating capacity if it plans on lifting it’s population out of ‘energy poverty’.
    China currently has 900 GW of generating capacity, 680GW of it coal based. Somehow they have to find another 700GW of capacity.
    Without storage the most wind one can put on a grid is about 15% of the total. China plans on 230 GW of wind by 2020. Amazing, that works out to be roughly 14.3% of 1,600. So they will have wind maxed out.
    Hydro – China already has the worlds largest capacity at 200GW and they plan to double that to 400 GW by 2020. Of course the closer one gets to max hydro capacity the worse the impact of droughts.
    All that still leaves the Chinese 300GW short. The equivalent of 100% of US coal fired generating capacity.
    What about nuclear.
    China currently has 10GW of capacity. They are adding an additional 20GW by 2015. They then plan on adding an additional 40GW by 2020. Doubling ‘experienced staff’ every fives years is pretty aggressive. Obviously building nuclear plants and staffing them with ‘inexperienced staff’ is a Chernobyl waiting to happen.
    So the Chinese nuclear build program is expanding at a rate that is as fast as humanly practical.
    At the current nuclear build expansion rate of doubling every 5 years China will have a build rate capacity of 160GW/5 years  or 1,600 GW/50 years. At that point they will be in a position to begin phasing out coal.
    Maybe there will be some technological break through in energy storage and generation technologies between now and then.
    I don’t think countries agree to binding treaties based on hope that some future breakthrough will make it possible to meet the treaty conditions.

  2. Dean says:

    Making agreements between the few worst emitters would avoid the politics of getting agreement from nearly 200 countries, but it brings the issues that harrywr2 lists into the forefront.
    I think that the general argument is that an industrialization program that exacerbates AGW makes any poverty reduction they get now from more energy harder to sustain for future generations as they will be dealing with worse costs. But convincing those who trying to escape poverty to use anything but the fastest route is a tough sell. It’s even tougher when coming from those who have largely already escaped that poverty.
    I think that this is the central challenge for AGW, far more so than arguments over the IPCC or stolen emails  or hockey sticks or the things we often haggle about on blogs. Until these countries decide for themselves that the costs for BAU will be too high, they will not change their development path – as much energy as they can get no matter where it comes from from all available sources.

  3. TimG says:


    Where do you get all of your figures in your posts.
    Is there a website that summarizes this info?

  4. harrywr2 says:

    The data is all over the place.
    The 1600 GW by 2020 is fairly firm however.
    “as much energy as they can get no matter where it comes from from all available sources.”
    Yep, it’s not a question of them liking coal or even a question of whether coal has short term economic advantages(it doesn’t unless you live in the US Midwest/Rocky Mountain states). It’s a question of what they can have now.
    Pielke Jr put together a chart of current Chinese generating capacity based on Chinese data supplied from their ‘celebration’ of bringing their 900th GW of generating capacity online.

  5. Sashka says:

    Methinks Ms. Larsen makes a good point while Mr. Levi does not.

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