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We must cooperate in planning for and combating climate change
The climate change threat has created a wide spectrum of actions that aim to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. However, the emissions are not reducing but increasing. Thus, the current actions are insufficient, and we need something better. The whole society must be activated in order to achieve real progress. The citizens must be activated to influence both the planning and implementation of climate policies.
In order to have any success, the mankind must cut its greenhouse gas emissions into a half in such a short time that it is difficult to even imagine. If a man ran full speed and suddenly saw a brick wall in front of him two metres away, he would certainly react: he would slow down, try to turn to avoid the obstacle, and raise arms for protection. The man is built in such a way that he has the necessary senses, reflexes, and responses built in.
The mankind does not have such innate skills. An individual person does not have an innate ability to see his or her own role in the historical moments of the mankind either. But both the mankind and an individual can develop these skills by learning to see and understand the world, and by developing and applying the policies necessary.
Currently, the United Nations is developing a new emission trade system (ETS) that will come into force after the Kyoto treaty in 2013. The critical meeting will be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. The current plan is similar to the Kyoto treaty: within the treaty area, factories and energy plants that produce emissions are given a certain amount of emission quota, and it is possible to sell and buy extra quota.
The new mechanism will probably be slightly better than the current one, and hopefully new countries such as the United States will join. But the current system has proven to be insufficient in respect to its ambition and capability. We must get major improvements to the system to avoid a disaster.
I am suggesting several improvements to the emission trade system. I don't say that exactly these are the solution, but I believe that there is some sense in them. So I challenge to a duel anyone who thinks that he or she is able to show that my suggestions are poor. The duel is to be held at Opasnet (en.opasnet.org/w/Climate_duel), which is a website specifically developed for policy assessments. I will keep a right to change my suggestions any time when I find something better.
- The price of emission quota should be directed to the upstream of the value chain, e.g. to producers of coal or oil. Energy plants, industry, and consumers will pay in the form of increased prices.
- The emission trade must apply to all activities producing emissions, including consumption. The location of the activity is critical, not the location of emissions. Thus, imported goods must have quota in the same way as products from within the trade system area, and exported goods get reimbursement of quota. This prevents carbon leakage.
- The emission quota is not given for free to the industry - but to citizens. The citizens may sell their quota using brokers that sell them according to the citizen's instructions. Cooperation strengthens the power of a single citizen in the market.
- There should be an institute like a federal bank. Its purpose is to guarantee that the price of emission quota remains stable and high, and that the emission reduction objectives are met. This reduces the temptation to speculate with the quota price, and the emission reduction investments become profitable with low risk. The current system has been much too little ambitious, as the quota price has collapsed already twice.
The process of developing an emission trade system is complex, multi-partisan, and bureaucratic. I am afraid that it is unable to produce a truly functional, powerful, and fair mechanism for guiding the task of emission reduction. I am afraid that it will result in a minimal solution that is weakened by several compromises. We must not lose our great common objective in the crossfire of individual interests. We must aim to develop the best possible mechanism, not just something that happens to be acceptable to most. When we find the best solution, the citizens must compel their own authorities and politicians to promote that and not some weak solution.
This may sound like an Utopia, but the problem is serious, and therefore we must try. We have developed methods to assess complex societal problems like this. The most important methods are the open participation to policy assessments that are subject to full scientific criticism. Information, value judgements, opinions, and policy suggestions are being collected on the Opasnet website, and the information collected will be built into direct parts of assessments that serve actual policy needs.
The information production for these assessments is extremely important. Therefore we are grateful for help given by anyone. But even more important is to read and understand what is known about the issues, what are the targets and how they are aimed at. Citizens must take position. Because an enlightened and powerful people is something that every politician must bow after all.
Jouni Tuomisto, academy researcher