Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute
Here's the current climate stalemate: While US and EU negotiators keep pushing for an international treaty based on cutting emissions, developing nations like China and India keep refusing to adopt hard emissions caps. But according to a new report by the Center for Clean Air Policy, those emission caps are too hard to measure and monitor in developing nations, anyway. Instead, the report concludes, developing countries should adopt a new approach to increase efficiency in their most energy-intensive industries by setting measurable clean energy technology targets.
Dan Klein of CCAP, a co-author of the report, explained:
"To be able to say we're going to improve our emissions intensity by 5 percent, that's a nice concept. But to be able to actually do that means ... you have the ability to measure industrywide what you're doing now and what you're doing after."
On the other hand, "It's not such a difficult thing to count the number of plants that have a certain technology," Klein said.
In a close examination of China's cement, iron and steel industries, Klein and his colleagues--including collaborators from China's Tshinghua University--found that adopting targets for the deployment of more efficient technologies in the cement industry alone could reduce emissions in that sector by 10-20%.
Not only would a technology-based approach reduce emissions more quickly and effectively than setting a hard cap, it would also make developing nations more likely to get on-board for an international climate treaty.
Haibing Ma, another co-author of the report, said:
"This kind of approach will have more buying power. [China has] shown a greater level of interest in this type of approach" than in energy-intensity or hard emissions cap approaches.
A technology-based approach also follows logically from the rapid deployment actions China is already taking. The nation has set ambitious targets for clean energy technologies including wind, solar, and nuclear. The Chinese government has implemented a wide range of subsidies and incentives to facilitate the deployment of these clean energy technologies. And it will continue to foster clean technology deployment with a massive $440-660 billion clean energy investment plan, set to be released this year.
As Breakthrough and others have reported, it's not emissions caps but targeted technology deployment policies-- underwritten by substantial and stable government support--that have put China on track to surpass the US in the race to dominate the burgeoning clean energy industry.
Last week's CCAP report isn't the first to call for direct decarbonization of global industries. It falls in line with a recent paper coordinated by British professor and researcher Gwin Pryns, who recommends a strategy called the "Direct Kaya Approach" to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy by increasing energy efficiency and deploying low-carbon technologies. Such a framework could replace the failed, emissions-centric Kyoto model and provide the backbone for a new international climate agreement like the one Breakthrough has advocated.
The sooner climate negotiators heed the call of experts like Klein and Prins, the better. Pledges to slash emissions may make for rosy-sounding headlines, but without a plan to reach these goals, an international climate deal will amount to nothing but empty promises. The world has a far ways to go in order to avert catastrophic climate change--and a framework based on clear, measurable technology targets provides a roadmap for how both developed and developing countries will get there.