If you’re into exclusive clubs, check this one out: the Club de Madrid, membership limited to former heads of state. (Actually, even heads of state can get blackballed.) Those former heads of state are trying to get their successors to do what they couldn’t and tackle the climate crisis. In collaboration with the United Nations Foundation, the Club today released their recommendations for what the world should do on the next round of climate crisis. The ex-heads acknowledge the severity of the crisis and call for current leaders to facilitate rapid reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, or face massive disaster:

Avoiding such a future requires global greenhouse emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years, followed by substantial reductions of at least 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 — a formidable task that requires international cooperation and collective action without further delay. The cost of taking action now, however, is small — about 1% of global GDP, according to the Stern Review — and the benefits are large compared with the much heavier penalties of postponing action. The costs of both mitigation and adaptation will rise substantially with delay.

They call for all countries, developing and developed, to take on concrete greenhouse-gas-emission targets, but note that that will only happen if the next round is perceived to be equitable (i.e., the United States and other rich countries make cuts themselves and don’t just lecture poor countries about what they should do). Here’s the crux of their recommendation:

All countries should commit to reduce collectively global emissions by at least 60% below the 1990 level by 2050. Developed countries should take the lead in emissions reduction by adopting effective targets and timetables. As a first step, this could include a commitment to reduce their collective emissions by 30% by 2020. Rapidly industrializing countries should commit to reduce their energy intensity [greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic growth] by 30% by 2020 (an average of 4% per year) and agree to emissions reduction targets afterwards.

They also call for an international carbon tax system, but are light on details of how this would work. They argue that carbon taxes are “easier to implement than cap-and-trade schemes and are economically efficient. A system of harmonized, universal carbon taxes should be agreed by the international community.” Uh, if we can’t even get cap-and-trade, how are we going to get a carbon tax? And how do we deal with the problem that carbon taxes don’t provide certainty about exactly how much reductions will be achieved — maybe people will just to decide to bite the bullet, pay more taxes, and keep on polluting.

More info and discussion below the fold.

The ex-heads also come out strongly for carbon ranching (or what they call “avoided deforestation”): creating financial incentives to protect the world’s forests — particularly tropical forests — to keep them operating as planetary lungs rather than being turned into biofuel plantations. They do urge their fellow wonks to develop more robust monitoring mechanisms to ensure that those protections actually save the forests, and that polluters don’t use it as a way to get out from under their obligations to reduce carbon emissions further.

Finally, I was encouraged to see such an illustrious group take note of how tropical biofuels are destroying the forests and driving global warming, with palm oil plantations in Indonesia alone responsible for more than 8 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions; on the teleconference for journalists covering the report, I got to ask former Chilean President Richard Lagos and former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth how to reconcile that observation with the report’s backing for biofuels. Lagos responded by saying that the type of biofuel used had to be looked at closely, and Wirth pointed the way towards cellulosic ethanol. It seems the biofuel-as-planetary-savior argument may finally be beginning to die, even at the highest levels where it was once most fashionable.