Maverick musician could put a stop to global warming

Geoffrey Lean on how Aubrey Meyer is winning a lonely battle
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The Independent Online
SENIOR politicians and negotiators from around the world are meeting in the House of Commons this week to promote a "world-saving" idea - dreamed up by a middle-aged musician in the prosaic north London suburb of Willesden.

They believe he may have found how to cut the Gordian knot of international efforts to combat global warming; and they aim to catch the attention of the leaders of the world's eight most powerful nations at this week's Birmingham summit.

The meeting - to be chaired by former environment secretary John Gummer, and addressed by the present Environment minister, Michael Meacher, is being put on by GLOBE International, an association of parliamentarians from 100 countries. It marks an extraordinary coming in from the cold for 51-year-old Aubrey Meyer, who has spent years battling industry, governments and environmental pressure groups.Now his plan - for fairly sharing rights to emit carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming - has become the policy of India, China and the whole African continent. The Clinton adminstration invited him to Washington to brief its senior officials.

The story is a remarkable triumph of stubborness, obstreperousness and sheer bloody-mindedness - all orchestrated from a tiny backroom in a cramped ground-floor flat. No 42 Windsor Road, Willesden, is a undistinguished house in a Victorian terrace. There is little to mark it out from its neighbours except a bright widowbox of geraniums, an "Adopt a Whale" sticker on a pane, and - when I turned up last week - the strains of Mr Meyer playing the challenging Sibelius violin concerto.

Inside are three small rooms, each with a bed built overhead - with no space to sit up in it - just beneath the ceiling, for Mr Meyer, his wife and eight-year-old daughter. He himself sleeps above a poky study filled with files, laptops, two fax machines, a high-quality colour printer - and not enough space to swing a catalytic converter.

Born and brought up in South Africa, he came to London in 1968 on a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, specialising in the viola. He played for the London Philharmonic, was principal violinist for the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, and wrote the score for the Royal Ballet's Choros, which won an Evening Standard award.

He was looking for a subject for a musical when he first became interested in the environment. He read a newspaper interview with Chico Mendez, the Brazilian rubber-tappers leader later assassinated for his work to protect the rainforest, and began researching the issue.

The musical never got written, as Meyer went green. He joined the Green Party, but was quickly disillusioned. So he decided to set up his own organisation, focusing on global warming. He sold his viola ("like amputating a limb") to buy a computer, and - with typical cheek - grandly called his shoestring project the Global Commons Institute.

He quickly developed a simple proposal: that everyone on earth should have the right to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide. Taking the best estimate of scientists - that emissions will have to be reduced by 60 per cent by the end of the next century - he worked out (with the help of a mathematician friend, Tony Cooper) what each nation would be allowed on this basis, and produced graphics to illustrate it.

Industrialised countries - which have emitted four-fifths of the pollution so far - would be allocated much less in future. Developing countries would be allowed more than at present but would have to moderate their growth. But they could sell their emission rights to the rich, earning money to develop less polluting technologies, and making it easier for the bigger polluters to adapt.

The idea ran into as much opposition from environmental groups as from governments and industry, and he endured "lonely dog years", financing his operation with the occasional small grant from well-off sympathisers. He has little time for the established groups, but admits that his personality didn't help create good relations: "Everything they say about me is true. I am bloody rude, disruptive and confrontational." Obsessive? "Maturely so, I hope."

But eventually the persistence paid off, and events have now put him centre-stage. Last December's Kyoto agreement sanctioned trading the rights to emit carbon dioxide. He says, with some justice, that his is the only existing proposal on how this could be done. The United States is insisting it will not ratify the agreement unless developing countries also agree to limit emissions; Mr Meyer says he has worked out how this could be done, in probably the only way the Third World would accept.

Meanwhile the US, Canada and Japan are exploiting a loophole in the Kyoto agreement by negotiating to buy up vast amounts of spare Russian capacity to pollute, infuriating both Europe and the Third World and endangering the whole treaty. This week's meeting will present Mr Meyer's plans to the summit as a convincing alternative.

Persuading the biggest polluters such as the US will be difficult. Michael Grubb, director of energy and environment at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, says: "No one has come up with a more logical way of solving the problem fairly, but in the real world it is likely to be a nightmare to get agreement on it."

But Mr Gummer says that Mr Meyer's concept is "crucial". He adds: "I don't see how we can get a global answer to climate change unless there is a degree of global justice."

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