Thinking Small(er) To Accomplish Something Big(ger)

Leading organizations acting in their own self-interest via 21 ‘major initiatives’ — and minus the ‘external pressure’ — could ‘bridge’ the GHG emissions gap over the next decade, authors of a recent commentary suggest.


Nothing will work … but a million things might.

That could well have been the philosophy motivating authors of a recent Nature Climate Change analysis outlining 21 “coherent major initiatives” they believe could help narrow a nagging greenhouse gas emissions gap over the next decade.

Coming around the time of the conclusion of a largely uneventful RIO-international conclave, the study plays to continuing, and growing, anxieties and frustrations surrounding more of the same kinds of large global-scale meetings that many critics worry have more glitz than go in terms of actually leading to emission reductions.

The authors write that their recommended “wedging the gap” approach could lead to reductions of about 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2E) by 2020. Perhaps more importantly, they argue that their approach would “build on actions that promise numerous benefits to the organizations and individuals undertaking them,” and many of the initiatives would “generate significant ‘green growth’ benefits.”

If it sounds too good to be true, one might be thinking at this point …. So keep in mind that words are easier than actions.

Nonetheless, “We expect that working together on a grand coalition would serve as a catalyst for action,” the authors write, “greatly enhancing the willingness of a range of sub-sovereign and non-state actors to contribute to greenhouse-gas emission reductions.” National governments might then fall in line, they suggest.

Part of their prescription is that key actors in the effort “are driven by self-interest or internal motivation, not by external pressure.” With enough leading organizations — businesses, governments, and nongovernmental organizations — involved, the combined ground-up efforts can be substantial they say. Establishing and maintaining that coalition will be key, and its successes will have to help motivate national governments to move forward with pledges many have already made … but have scarcely acted on.

The authors of the “Bridging the Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Gap” commentary are Kornelis Blok of Utrecht University and Ecofys in The Netherlands, Niklas Höhne and Kees van der Leun of Ecofys in The Netherlands, and Nicholas Harrison of Ecofys in Koln, Germany. Blok and Höhne are IPCC assessment report authors.

Their prescription addresses three strategies involving reductions in emissions from the world’s 1,000 largest companies, from supply-chain emission reductions from companies supplying those firms; and from green financial institutions. Additional greenhouse gas reductions would come from consumers’ voluntary offsets, from initiatives by large cities, and from energy efficiency. Boosts in solar photovoltaic energy, and economically competitive wind energy, along with more emphasis on low-emission options, also would play an important role.

In addition, the strategy calls for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, reforms in international aviation and maritime transport, reduced forestation, reduced emissions from refrigerants and air conditioning processes, reduced deforestation, and increased agricultural efficiencies also are part of making up the successful “wedges” approach. Other strategies call for reducing common air pollutants, including black carbon, and reducing impacts from inefficient cook-stoves.

So, where to start? the authors ask. They say the key lies in launching that global coalition of “leading organizations,” and then involving their stakeholders in the effort. They envision a possible “umbrella covenant” led by 10 major organizations … with others then signing-on. They hold out hope such an effort could be started at the United Nations fall 2012 Qatar conference.

A more detailed description of the authors’ recommended 21 initiatives is included in their article at the link above.

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