Princeton Proposes Alternative Carbon Capping Scheme

by | Jul 7, 2009

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princetoncappingschemePrinceton University researchers have proposed a new way of addressing carbon emission reductions, by targeting individuals, which they hope will win support of both developed and developing countries ahead of the Copenhagen meeting in December to negotiate a new treaty on climate change.

The method is outlined in a paper, titled “Sharing Global CO2 Emissions Among 1 Billion High Emitters,” published online in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors say the proposal would use individual emissions as the fairest way of calculating a nation’s responsibility to curb its output of carbon dioxide, but the methodology does not mean that individuals would be singled out, only that these calculations would form the basis of a more equitable formula. The researchers estimate that half of the world’s emissions come from just 700 million people.

How it works: The Princeton proposal establishes a uniform “cap” on emissions that individuals should not exceed.  If, for example, world governments agreed to curb emissions so that carbon levels in 2030 are approximately at present levels, then, according to the researchers’ calculations, the necessary reductions in global emissions could be achieved if no individual’s emissions exceed about 11 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

By counting the emissions of all the individuals who are projected to exceed that level, the world leaders could provide target emissions reductions for every country. For this specific example, there will be about 1 billion “high emitters” in 2030 out of 8.1 billion people.

Currently, the world average for tons of carbon dioxide emitted a year per individual is about five. Each European produces about 10 tons a year, with each American producing twice that amount, according to the researchers.

In addition, the research indicates that it is possible to reduce poverty and cut carbon emission at the same time. The authors calculate that addressing extreme poverty by allowing almost 3 billion people to satisfy their basic energy needs with fossil fuels does not interfere with the goal of fossil fuel emissions reduction.

However, they say the cap would need to be somewhat lower, and high emitters would need to reduce their energy consumption by a slightly larger percentage to make up the difference.

The work is part of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, which is based at Princeton.

On July 9, as part of G8 meetings in Italy, climate leaders of 17 nations that account for 80 percent of global emissions hope to hammer out a clear focus for the Copenhagen talks later this year.

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