Contraction and Convergence


Contraction and convergence (C&C) is a practical suggestion to reduce global carbon emissions over the time scale required to prevent catastrophic climate change.


C&C is based on the principle that all human beings are equal and therefore have the same rights to emit carbon emissions. A per capita, per annum, allowance of one tonne of carbon emissions (carbon footprint allowance) is calculated by dividing the maximum global carbon emissions equally between the population of the world.  


The maximum global carbon emissions is the upmost amount of carbon that humans can emit before feedback loops increase global warming further and catastrophic climate change results.


Those who emit less than one tonne of carbon per annum may sell the rights to emit to people who emit over one tonne. Many people, particularly those living in developed countries, can make drastic reductions in their emissions in order to live within their carbon allowance.


Many health professionals are already calculating their carbon emissions and making steps towards living a “one tonne lifestyle”. Various carbon calculators are available online – see the ACT page of this website for more details. To network with others who are working to reduce their carbon footprint, an online forum is also available.




A)  How does it differ from other carbon trading schemes?

Unlike other 'carbon trading schemes' the essence of "Contraction and Convergence" (C&C) is that it is based on the science of limits and the logic of global rights: -

[a] The science is used to calculate the global total of permitted  emissions  which will achieve the objective of limiting and stabilising atmospheric carbon concentrations. This calculated amount of carbon ( the global carbon budget) provides the framework from which can be derived: -
[b] An inclusive, global, equal rights per capita entitlement of Carbon. Thus each adult across the globe will get an equal entitlement of the global carbon budget.

Trading may only occur within the pre-defined maximum limit on carbon emissions.


There is potential for the Contraction and Convergence framework to be modified in relation to evolving risks.

Under C&C the permitted global carbon emissions are calculated in relation to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, with a recommended upper level of atmospheric CO2 of 450 parts per million (ppm.) This level is considered as the maximum level beyond which runaway climate-change becomes unavoidable, but may need to be lowered in the light of emerging evidence. The amount of permitted global carbon emissions is based on the present capacity of the oceans, forests and other flora to absorb CO2 .These constitute the globe’s carbon sinks. If these sinks diminish, C&C enables recalculation of the global rate of reduction in emissions and carbon allowances necessary to adhere to that limit. All markets will operate subject to the amount of allowable carbon determined by the framework, an amount which may vary in relation to changing circumstances, particularly sink failures.

B) But there is still a market involved. Given the history of the past 50 years, can we be confident that the poor will be beneficiaries rather than once again losing out?


 The starting position of C&C is that - subject to the agreed global CO2 greenhouse gas limit that saves us all - each adult, wherever they live on the globe, has equal rights to a share of that limit. This insistence on equal entitlement to each living adult exposes the inadequacy of alternatives which entrench the existing unequal rights. It is the logic of "equity for survival" and ‘fair shares’ rather than for its own sake.

Under C&C there will be a rapid move to equal per capita entitlement of carbon emissions. These can be pre-distributed as carbon coupons to consumers who could then negotiate the sale of these coupons for money with a local agency. Under-consumers [generally the poor] will have coupons to sell to over-consumers [generally the rich] who will need to buy these, so market forces work for the poor.


No other trading scheme makes market forces work effectively for the poor and against climate change.


Putting the poor in control is a crucial development goal, as evidenced by the  recent moves by donor agencies to give money to the poor (a move supported by the international Red Cross) explicitly to "put the poor in control". A recent book  by Hanlon and other ‘Just give money to the poor’  ( Kumarian Press 2010) testifies to the efficacy of this approach .

C) Won't those who get money from the scheme use it in carbon profligate ways?

What's new? However, there is increasing research evidence detailed in ‘Just Give Money to the Poor’ ( see above) that disadvantaged communities and people who get money use this wisely.
Within a C&C framework carbon profligate behaviour will mean that subsequent income is reduced, so prudent people and communities will use the money to generate low carbon developments.


That said, to suggest that the existing beneficiaries of industrialisation have an absolute right to determine the way in which the yet-to-industrialise people use their money is not a sound premise upon which to get global agreements. C&C links the costs and benefits derived from low carbon investments to the global benefit of stabilising atmospheric CO2 concentration, whilst also reducing the considerable damage and costs of concentrations rising out of control. All peoples of the world will get significant benefit from these arrangements.

Whilst C&C encourages low carbon solutions, it does not seek to define any particular solution for any particular group. The agency of individuals and communities to use resources as they think best makes C&C non intrusive and is one of the socially attractive properties of the scheme.

D) Do we have the technological capacity to run such a scheme?

In industrialised countries we do, and the rapidity and sophistication of technological penetration in the rapidly industrialising countries such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa suggests that they also have the capacity. The yet to industrialise countries are also undergoing a communications revolution, and technological support to make the system function will be needed during the period of time it takes to get  the C&C scheme  set up and delivering entitlement coupons to individuals or local community groups.

 The recent innovations by the UK department for international development ( DFID) in giving money coupons to the poor in Malawi, using a mobile bank cards and electronic identification, (Guardian Friday February 16th 2007, page 19) indicate that the technical problems of handling individual entitlements, with cash or carbon coupons, in remote locations are possible to overcome.

E) To whom and to what level of society will carbon credits be given?

Credits will be issued  by the global institution which oversees global sustainable development and that agrees and implements C&C. Within each recipient group, credits could be issued to regional, country, county or individual level. This is obviously negotiable.

This institution will also agree  the proportion of the carbon sustainable development entitlements  which would be held by the  country level group to cover communal facilities such as schools and hospitals needing carbon. The proportion of carbon emitted by collective rather than individual actions in the UK is around 40%, and this gives a guide to the amount of entitlements which would be held centrally.

The rest of the entitlements could be distributed to individuals, or where this seems more appropriate to community organisations (A mechanism for handling micro credit such as the Grameen bank in Bangladesh, or the mobile bank developed by DFID, could handle the transactions necessary).

 C&C envisages that the entitlements are delivered to the roots of societies, whether individuals or small collectives, and that this can be written into the global sustainable development institution’s  implementation documents.

F) Given that certain individuals may require more energy as a basic necessity, is equal entitlement really fair?

The question requires understanding 'fair to whom'.

The essence of C&C is that we have to solve the climate problem faster than we create it and be seen to be committed to this now, so that both present and future generations may enjoy the bounties of nature. In this context fairness must be across space [geographical] and time [inter-generational]. Equal entitlements of carbon to the adult population fulfil this criteria of fairness.
As noted in E above, a proportion of entitlements may go to central overseeing bodies. This proportion can be tailored to address any local issues without compromising the fairness principle set out above.

G) Given that the industrialised nations have been burning fossil fuels and putting CO2 into the atmosphere for their own benefit since the start of the industrial revolution, shouldn't there be an additional cash transfer to the yet to industrialise and rapidly industrialising countries in recognition of this? 

The short answer to this is yes. But there is no possible way of agreeing or allocating the amounts, and so no possible way of formulating a framework which incorporates them. In practical terms, the cash transfers which will take place in the prospective equity inherent in Contraction and Convergence will dwarf any previous transfers from aid. The evolution of societies in the beneficiary countries will enable them to make a later and powerful case for further compensation, but this should not delay the implementation of the most feasible presently available framework of Contraction and Convergence.

H) It is a good scheme. But can it really work?

This question applies to all and any 'schemes'. There is universal understanding that any global initiative must achieve control of atmospheric CO2 levels at the same time as enabling development in the yet to industrialise countries, and offering industrialised countries time to move smoothly to low carbon living. A framework which merely controls CO2 levels will be useless. Whilst it might be acceptable to the industrialised world, it will not be acceptable to the yet to industrialise world. Similarly, a framework which does not enable development in the yet to industrialise world will not be acceptable to these peoples. The framework which does both will serve to unite the self interest of all countries in the  world.

Any framework such as C&C will need forceful global advocacy to get taken up, and there is already a strong momentum for C&C. Once the framework is adopted, considerable skill and commitment by those charged with implementing it will be required, as will be the case for any global scheme.

No other framework that we know of quantifies allowable carbon emissions against an atmospheric CO2 concentration and allocates entitlements of this amount in a way which advantages both the yet to industrialise countries and the rapidly industrialising countries. If these essential ingredients are integral to other frameworks, let us hear of them, and have a rational debate as to which is the most feasible.

I) Can Contraction and Convergence take account of changing carbon sinks?

Yes, the calculation of the permissible annual carbon budget has been formulated to reflect changes in sinks. This explicit demonstration of the relationship between the annual carbon budget and the quality of the sinks tells the story in an unequivocal and demonstrable way. Within this tailored framework, people will understand the necessity to protect and indeed re-establish sinks as a means of enhancing the annual global permissible carbon budget.