A Plan B to save the Paris Agreement … and the climate

A Plan B to save the Paris Agreement … and the climate

The COP 24 ending soon will confirm the impossibility to reach in any way the objectives of the Paris Agreement regarding the reduction of carbon emissions. As demonstrated by most recent analysis of the IPCC and many other reliable sources, the planet is on the way to a global temperature increase of about 3°C, inevitably leading to upheavals and a global climatic collapse[1].

As the United Nations Secretary-General’s stated on Climate Change in September 2018,  “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”

The proposed policies, such as the carbon tax, unfortunately result in more of the plaster on the leg than a global and operational strategy at the height of the stakes and their urgency. A global system based on carbon emissions control is indeed intrinsically difficult and even impossible to set up and monitor: the sources of carbon emissions are innumerable in the true sense of the term, and therefore impossible to account for and manage. The establishment of a hypothetical « carbon market » remains unpredictable and can be (too) easily biased or corrupted.

One of the major obstacle to make energy transition(s) operational and more incentive in the short time remaining before such a climatic collapse is the financial means and the efforts required by the States, most of the them being already  (over) indebted. Instead of negotiating a distribution of effort through emission reduction targets, some economists, such as Weitzmann (2015) argued that it would be easier and more efficient to agree on a universal carbon tax. While the large disparity in emissions (from less than 1 ton to several tens of tons per capita) is often cited as an obstacle to such an approach, it would appear that a levy proportional to the consumption of carbon would favor by essence the least carbon-consuming countries.

Given this situation and the growing to escape from this trend, only a kind of « Plan B » through a paradigm shift can still make the Paris Agreement a reality. The basis of such “plan B” is then to adopt an excise duty system based on global carbon EXTRACTIONS rather than on their EMISSIONS[2] and consisting of two interlocking components:

  • The first component consists of an Excise Duty on Extraction of Fossil Fuels and other Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) originating from  other sources, both synthetic and non-synthetic, including for example fluorocarbons, methane, and incinerated waste;
  • The second component involves a scalable refund that would make it possible to grant parts of the excise duty levied upstream in exchange of controllable initiatives of reduction or complete elimination of processes and energy uses leading to GHGs emissions.


At the global level, the excise duty would be intrinsic and therefore more readily implemented. One of the main advantages of this combination is that it avoids requiring states, already heavily indebted for the most part, to make financial commitments that will sometimes remain very uncertain and provides inherent incentives to promote compliance to the commitments

Only through such an approach would it be possible for the Paris Agreement signatory countries to negotiate and generate a dynamic action plan intrinsically more incentive than coercive to reach in the short time left the ambitious although unavoidable goals for reducing GHG emissions.

Of course, in a « business as usual context » this option has of course few chances to convince the stakeholders, but should the climate upheaval begin to happen abruptly, as it appears to become the case, this option could not only become more inviting but also the last possible … And to those who consider that oil extraters countries would never accept this principle, just let’s answer that when countries decide to apply a taxation on a product (such as the VAT in Europe), they do not necessarily ask to importing countries if they agree with such a taxation system.

In short, could there be an alternative and more effective strategy to escape from the present and future dead ends the world is facing today?

Jacques de Gerlache and Romain Ferrari


[1] See for example in April 2017 the scientific assessment of climate change in the Arctic, by the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) which concludes that the Arctic is shifting—rapidly and in unexpected ways—into a new state.

[2] See more details and supportive arguments on the basis of this proposal on:  https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/opinion/mondaycop21-goals-an-alternative-path-to-success/ More details in French : http://www.up-magazine.info/index.php/planete/climat/7127-le-plan-b-pour-sauver-l-accord-de-paris-sur-le-climat


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