Making Climate Promises Count

OTTAWA – This year will be one of the warmest on record. Over the last decade, greenhouse-gas emissions have accelerated, and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased in the past year at the fastest rate in nearly three decades, reaching a level that is 15% higher than in 1990. As the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes, the disconnect between an intensifying climate crisis and stalled international negotiations has never been greater.

Needless to say, a lot is riding on next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, which could shape strategies to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions until 2050. But the summit is unlikely to deliver the global agreement that is so badly needed, unless world leaders broaden their focus to include not only emissions reduction, but also carbon pricing.

A growing number of experts – including those at the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, and the World Bank – agree that no climate plan can be successful without an effective and efficient carbon-pricing system. The IPCC has concluded that if a single global carbon price is not established soon, it will be virtually impossible to prevent global warming from surpassing 2ºC above preindustrial levels – the threshold beyond which the most devastating effects of climate change would become unavoidable.

The one-dimensional approach based exclusively on emissions-reduction targets is preventing even the regions that have been most active on climate change, such as the European Union, from making sufficient progress. Yet, in late October, EU member states agreed on a new policy framework for climate and energy for 2030 – one that, like the EU’s 2020 climate and energy package, lacks a solid foundation.