Foot in Carbon Trading Door for Small Nations?



In June 2009, a group of 43 small island nations helped to pass a U.N. General Assembly Resolution to place the issue of global warming for the first time under the aegis of the powerful U.N. Security Council.[1]

This landmark advisory resolution underscores the seriousness of the global warming crisis, and the increasing difficult problems that may result from it.

The Security Council is all about war. It is the part of the United Nations that has most power and resources.

This unexpected resolution was passed by the smallest nations on earth - nations who are most at risk from raising sea levels caused by global warming. They succeeded against the votes of the United States and Russia, in an example of global democracy at work.

Yet this impressive diplomatic success does not bring real and tangible solutions.  As global warming causes temperature increases and rising sea levels, hundreds of millions of people are at risk. The permafrost in Alaska and Greenland are already melting as the air and seas warm, and entire towns in Alaska may need to be relocated.[2] This has the potential to be the largest humanitarian emergency of our times.

The world's scientists increasingly believe that reducing carbon emissions will not work, and that there is little that adaptation to a warming climate or efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions can do for the small island nations.  What is needed is a concerted effort to reduce immediately the carbon already in the atmosphere and arrest the worst catastrophic effects of global warming. At a September meeting in New York, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives and his energy minister said they believe hundreds of millions of people in small island states risk perishing under the seas. He confirmed that his government is buying land in India as a possible long term solution in case his entire island nation disappears.

He also said he supports using negative carbon technology – machinery to capture and store carbon already in the atmosphere -- and believes in what it could do for regions that will be the hardest hit by climate change, including small island nations and poorer countries in Africa and Latin America. These regions could potentially host some of the technologies and earn money or carbon credit from the Kyoto Protocol carbon market and its Clean Development Mechanism. In this way, a strong Kyoto Carbon Market could help replace or supplement the faltering global war on emissions.

Following their diplomatic success in pushing climate change before the U.N. Security Council, the smallest and most vulnerable nations on earth should now go a step further and use their moral power at climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009.   AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, should push through a small extension of the carbon market to include negative carbon technology. That could lead to a win-win solution at Copenhagen.

By "sucking carbon" from the atmosphere, air capture technology could begin shifting funds available through Kyoto's Clean Development. Mechanism from bigger economies to some of the smallest nations. Africa, as a continent, produces 3 percent of global carbon emissions so has gained little from the mechanism, which channels funding to developing countries trying to cut their carbon emissions. But if Africa and Latin American began using negative carbon technology to pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, they could potentially attract substantial funding through the mechanism. Because negative carbon technology now being developed runs on waste heat from power plants, energy-poor countries would also gain by building new zero-emission power plants. This solution could benefit the United States and the European Union as well. Negative carbon is a U.S. technology that the U.K. Royal Academy has recently sanctioned, and is becoming a real possibility for overcoming global warming. It requires about $3 trillion in resources deployed over 15 years - or about $200 billion per year. This is a large sum but is the right size to stimulate the global economy. More importantly, the funding could come from the Kyoto Protocol's carbon market and its Clean Development Mechanism. All that is needed is a rather small modification to existing law in Copenhagen.

This solution can create energy sources in poor nations, technology jobs in industrial nations, and can increase U.S. and European exports - at the same time that it sucks carbon from the atmosphere and decreases the risk of catastrophic climate change.

[1] Deeply concerned about the possible security implications of climate change, the General Assembly today invited the major organs of the United Nations, including the Security Council, to intensify their efforts to address the challenge, as appropriate and within their respective mandates. Unanimously adopting a draft resolution on follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit and titled “Climate change and its possible security implications” (document A/63/L.8/Rev.1), the Assembly also requested the Secretary-General to submit to its next session a comprehensive report on those implications, based on the views of Member States and regional and international organizations.

[2] NY Times, Sunday May 27th, 2007, “Engulfed by Climate Change, Town seeks Lifeline” by W. Yardley, front page. The permanently frozen subsoil, known as permafrost, upon which the town of Newtok and many other Native Alaskan villages rest is melting, yielding to warming air temperatures and a warming ocean. Erosion has already made Newtok an island, the village is now below sea level and sinking, and studies say that the entire town will be washed away in a decade. The US Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that to move Newtok could cost at least $130 million, which comes to almost $413,000 for each of its 315 residents,