The battle to beat climate change has come down to one weapon -- the price of carbon. And analysts say it is not working.
Much lip service has been paid to cutting climate warming carbon emissions through measures such as improved energy efficiency, technological innovation, reduced demand, higher standards and carbon output restrictions.
But in most cases the vital incentive is supposed to be provided by achieving a high price for carbon, from which all else would follow. Neither has happened and time is running out.
"The policy instrument of choice pretty well everywhere is a price for carbon, and it is not going to work," said Tom Burke of environment lobby group E3G.
"To stop climate change moving from a bad problem getting worse to a worse problem becoming catastrophic, you have to make the global energy system carbon neutral by 2050 -- and that will not happen just using carbon pricing."
Burke said what was urgently needed were strict technical standards and investment incentives to achieve the transition."You have got to drive the carbon out of the energy system and then keep it out forever," he said. "In the first part of that you are making serious step changes. They are not going to be accomplished by marginal changes in price."
The European Union's carbon emissions trading scheme got off to a shaky start due to over-allocation of permits, but has now established a price of about 20 euros a tonne of carbon dioxide.
There is also the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol on cutting global carbon emissions, under which developing nations effectively get paid for emissions foregone.
VERY POOR WEAPON
Together, these two have generated a global carbon trade worth billions of dollars and handed vast profits to some key players, but had little measurable effect on carbon emissions.
"Governments are relying way too much on the price of carbon to deliver everything," said Jim Watson of Sussex University's Energy Group.
"It is a prerequisite but not a panacea. It has to go hand in hand with regulations and technological developments, and they are sadly lacking," he said.
"If you rely too much on the carbon price you give people the option of buying their way out of it. It is a very poor weapon in what is supposed to be a war to save humanity....MORE