A glimmer of hope? Cumulative emissions scenarios using a consumption-based approach

Every year, new research illustrates how the pace of global emission growth gradually reduces the chance of avoiding ‘dangerous’ climate change. Previous analyses that have taken a territorial emissions framing approach demonstrate how little space there is available for Annex 1 nations’ emissions to continue at current levels because of the pace of growth in industrializing economies. This paper uses a cumulative emissions approach to explore whether a consumption-based framing offers new opportunities and avenues for tackling climate change. Results reveal that there is still scope for emissions to remain within a budget associated with a high probability of remaining below the 2°C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels associated with ‘dangerous’ climate change. However, both territorial and consumption-based approaches require a rethinking of the political orthodoxy for the highest probabilities of not exceeding 2°C. Using the consumption-based framework, mitigation policy in Annex 1 nations can address consumer-related emissions sending mitigation signals along supply chains and across national boundaries, thereby increasing their influence over global CO2. Ultimately, allying the cumulative framing of climate change with the consumption-based approach offers additional potential for achieving a global low-carbon transition compared with policies framed solely using the conventional territorial approach. Nevertheless, cumulative budgets associated with a high probability of not exceeding the 2°C threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘acceptable’ climate change demand immediate and urgent emission reductions, irrespective of the accounting approach employed.

Bows A; Barrett JR (2010), Carbon Management 1, pp.161-175.