To sort out what to do after 2012 we need to go back to basics and adopt a simple, axiomatic, and indisputable principle: the polluter pays.
Under the polluter pays principle a polluter is responsible for the outcome of his or her pollution. It is a principle of such great guiding power, that it is even enshrined in an EU Directive, the Environmental Liability Directive of 2004. It is consistent with a philosophy of individuals in society being responsible for their actions. Pulling the chain after going to the toilet is a mild example of the polluter pays principle.
In a society where we believe in human rights, responsibilities, freedom of expression, free markets, and so forth, the polluter pays principle is axiomatic. Unless you are a rabid communist who denies individual property rights and obligations, the principle is fundamental and undisputable. Like the idea that we send a murderer to jail for murder and not his nextdoor neighbour.
How would application of the polluter pays principle help in figuring out
Imagine you are a teacher, and a little girl comes to you crying because a fat, greedy, boy has stolen some sweets from her. To rectify the situation you actually have to do two things. First you restore the balance of wealth to its previous status by getting the boy to replace the stolen sweets. But you don’t stop there, because if that is all you do, then he will just go off and steal someone else’s sweets again.
Second, you do something to prevent the boy from stealing again. This could include giving him a wallop on the bottom, gently educating him to be a good boy, or extracting a promise that he will not do it again. If you only took measures to prevent future stealing, but did nothing to correct the original theft, then the little girl would still be unhappy and you would have let an injustice happen without remedy. Extracting a promise about future behaviour, or walloping the fat boy, may give a sense of satisfaction but does not correct the injustice.
The fat greedy boy of our example is the “developed world”, led by the
In this model the successor to the Kyoto Protocol needs to do two things. It needs to effect reparation for past pollution, and it needs to take measures to avoid recurrence of the harm in the future.
Under reparation, we need to agree each country’s approximate “carbon debt”, meaning the amount of excess CO2 they have polluted the atmosphere with since industrialisation began. This needs to be held in account, and countries should retire this by putting it back where it came from – through capturing and sequestering absolute quantities of CO2 through forestation and carbon capture and storage.
So far, the debate is about commitments to reduce annual emissions in the future. This subsumes the two questions of reparation of past emissions and avoidance of future ones into one – in effect we seem to be horse-trading from day one, rather than establishing important principles to guide the agreement. By breaking down the problem into these two different constituents, and applying the polluter pays principle, it might be easier make political progress in the negotiations.