Well its two years since Paris, and the Bonn climate conference is over, and the future looms.
It’s a good time to stop and read the new report of the Civil Society Equity Coalition, which EcoEquity, a core member of the Climate Equity Reference Project, is extremely pleased to support. It’s a really short report, so you have time to do so. Read at least the summary, and don’t be put off by the report’s subtitle, which is “Towards a meaningful 2018 Facilitative Dialog.” The Facilitative Dialog is one of the “ambition mechanisms” that was created by the Paris Agreement, and we should all wish it the best. Dialog, after all, is fundamental to governance, and indeed to civilization. In the absence of a global state, we’re going to make to make the most of it, and of all the ambition mechanisms, if we’re going to have a real chance of stabilizing the climate system.
Here’s the blurb we used in the press release:
CLIMATE SCIENCE TELLS THAT US URGENT AND DRAMATIC ACTION IS NEEDED TO HAVE ANY CHANCE AT STOPPING IRREVERSIBLE GLOBAL WARMING
Accepting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios provide us with a global carbon budget that will be consumed in 10–20 years at current emissions levels, and entail very significant levels of risk. A commitment to keep at least within this limited budget, and to share the effort of doing so equitably and fairly, is at the heart of the international debate around climate change.
As a result of agreeing the Paris Agreement in 2015, governments have put forward voluntary pledges starting in 2015 in the form of ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs).
An updated analysis from a diverse and broad global mix of civil society organizations seeks to ascertain whether these pledges are ambitious enough and tolerably fair.
Great post by Dave Roberts on VOX, here. It’s nominally a response to the “not having a kid is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint” argument, which Roberts debunks by reminding us that carbon emissions are class stratified, all the way down. He does so quoting Oxfam’s top-notch inequality research, including this graph:
How to interpret this? Like so:
“This shows that the top 10 percent of the wealthiest people in China emit less carbon per person than people on the bottom half of the US wealth distribution — again, inequality between countries — but it also shows that the top 10 percent wealthiest in the US emit more than five times as much CO2 per person as those on the lower half of the income scale.
So wealthy people in the US produce 10 times more per capita emissions than the wealthy in China. That is pretty mind-boggling.
The point here is that not all individual choices are created equal, because not all individuals are equally capable of having an impact. The choices of developed-world citizens matter more than the choices of (say) Chinese citizens, and the choices of wealthy developed-world citizens matter most of all.
The rich, in other words, are the ones that should be getting hassled about their choices. For most working schmoes, this kind of moralizing of lifestyle is as pointless as it is off-putting.”
The Great Transition Initiative, of which I am a member, just held a roundtable debate of an interesting new paper by William I. Robinson called Global Capitalism: Reflections on a Brave New World.
It’s an interesting paper, by a smart guy, about the current state of the capitalist world system. The roundtable is here, and at it you will find my comments, the whole of which are here. The key general interest bit, which is to say my view on the Big Question of climate and capitalism, is as follows:
“The real question is if a properly constituted transformational movement, working within the rolling crisis that is now our certain future, can help to shape a new form of capitalism that is capable, minimally, of making an extremely rapid transition to an essentially zero-carbon economy. Does this require “ecosocialism”? Yes, I think so. But at the same time, I fear that many people will read the word to denote something that is already beyond capitalism. The problem is that, once you have reached such a conclusion, you really are done. Your only paths forward from there are optimism (which is increasingly a form of denial) and despair. If, on the other hand, you want honest hope and strategic thinking, you have to start by asking what, exactly, we are going to do to leverage the immense disruption that is now on the horizon, and drive towards a crash program of global decarbonization that is fair enough to actually succeed.
I’ve recently heard a few references to this crucial report, which was published back in the happy days (late 2015) when the big climate news wasn’t Don Trump but rather the Paris Agreement. It’s so important (and I’m so embarrassed at not having cited it at the time) that I’m going to do so now, a year and a half later.
The full name of the report is Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first. Here are the key paras from the summary:
“Strikingly, our estimates of the scale of this inequality suggest that the poorest half of the global population – around 3.5 billion people – are responsible for only around 10% of total global emissions attributed to individual consumption, 1 yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Around 50% of these emissions meanwhile can be attributed to the richest 10% of people around the world, who have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population, and 60 times as high as the poorest 10%. The average footprint of the richest 1% of people globally could be 175 times that of the poorest 10%.”
The Guardian published a nice summary here. And here’s the picture:
In March of 2017, Johan Rockström, the author of Big World, Small Planet: Abundance within Planetary Boundaries, along with a extremely high-tone list of co-authors, published A roadmap for rapid decarbonization in Science. In it they propose a “roadmap” of escalating actions from now until 2050, designed to keep the average global temperature change under 2° Celsius, with some chance of limiting it to 1.5°C.
It’s an important piece, and its bottom line, as scientist and critic Kevin Anderson put it, is that the Rockström et. al. have “upped the ante.” In particular, they have translated carbon-budget science into a specific, decade-by-decade plan for a greatly accelerated global technological transition, driving net global CO2 emissions down to a near-zero level in 2050 – a mere 33 years. This type of planning is crucial as policy makers everywhere wrestle with the immense challenges of meeting the collective goals they agreed to in the Paris Agreement. However, a key element is missing from Rockström’s roadmap: equity. More specifically, they have nothing to say about the fair sharing of climate action among countries. The bottom line here is that we can’t hope to succeed unless this challenge, too, is taken up, so its omission from Rockström’s paper is unfortunate.
Kelly Stone, a senior policy analyst at Action Aid USA, and I replied in the Huffington Post, in a piece called Equity is the Missing Key for Climate Roadmaps. Among other things, we said that:
“Morally, there’s no question that developed countries must take the lead, and also assist the poor in the extremely challenging decades that lie ahead. Developed countries including the United States have been emitting far more carbon for far longer than developing countries, and they are, moreover, the homes of most of the world’s wealthy. The top-line message here could not be more clear, for the richest 10% of the world’s people produce half of Earth’s fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%. This is the essential background without which it’s impossible to understand the position today, in which we’ve used up essentially the entire global carbon budget, and, to note the sharpest part of the challenge, developing countries face an urgent need to leapfrog to renewable energy even as many of their citizens still lack basic energy access, let alone proper health and education systems. Even worse, people in the global south – especially the poorest – are already feeling the impacts of climate crises they did nothing to create. Asking them to take to a roadmap that makes no provision for such facts is simply wrong.
Nor is climate equity just a moral challenge. There are strong instrumental reasons to believe that, unless we put the equity challenge front and center, there’s little hope of following any road as difficult as the one that Rockstrom and his co-authors have laid out. The bottom line here is that, given the emergency situation we’re now facing, developing countries must mobilize on a scale that far overwhelms their capacity to act alone, and they must do so even as rising climate impacts force them to prioritize adaptation. They cannot possibly meet these challenges without support from developed countries, and even in the short term it’s difficult for them to lay the necessary plans without some modicum of confidence that such support will be forthcoming.”
If you liked After the Catastrophe, or even if you didn’t, you might want to check out my (long) interview with Sasha Lilly on Against the Grain on KPFA-FM. It’s called Trumping Global Warming, it was recorded on January 30th, and it’s not too bad.
Finally, with the publication of Fairly sharing 1.5: national fair shares of a 1.5 °C-compliant global mitigation effort in the journal International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, we have a peer reviewed overview of our effort sharing framework.
I can’t offer a free PDF, but you can read the paper here. And here’s the abstract:
“The problem of fairly distributing the global mitigation effort is particularly important for the 1.5°C temperature limitation objective, due to its rapidly depleting global carbon budget. Here, we present methodology and results of the first study examining national mitigation pledges presented at the 2015 Paris climate summit, relative to equity benchmarks and 1.5 °C-compliant global mitigation.
Uniquely, pertinent ethical choices were made via deliberative processes of civil society organizations, resulting in an agreed range of effort-sharing parameters. Based on this, we quantified each country’s range of fair shares of 1.5°C-compliant mitigation, using the Climate Equity Reference Project’s allocation framework. Contrasting this with national 2025/2030 mitigation pledges reveals a large global mitigation gap, within which wealthier countries’ mitigation pledges fall far short, while poorer countries’ pledges, collectively, meet their fair share.
We also present results for individual countries (e.g. China exceeding; India meeting; EU, USA, Japan, and Brazil falling short). We outline ethical considerations and choices arising when deliberating fair effort sharing and discuss the importance of separating this choice making from the scholarly work of quantitative “equity modelling” itself. Second, we elaborate our approach for quantifying countries’ fair shares of a global mitigation effort, the Climate Equity Reference Framework. Third, we present and discuss the results of this analysis with emphasis on the role of mitigation support.
In concluding, we identify twofold obligations for all countries in a justice-centred implementation of 1.5 °C-compliant mitigation: (1) unsupported domestic reductions and (2) engagement in deep international mitigation cooperation, through provision of international financial and other support, or through undertaking additional supported mitigation activities. Consequently, an equitable pathway to 1.5 °C can only be imagined with such large-scale international cooperation and support; otherwise, 1.5 °C-compliant mitigation will remain out of reach, impose undue suffering on the world’s poorest, or both.”
If you’re in the mood for a half hour of of me, along in my room talking into a microphone, and you’d like to see a sketch of the book I have under development (it’s called Fair Enough?), you might want to take a look at this video, which was (is?) my contribution to an online climate conference organized by John Foran at UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Humanities Initiative.
The conference is called ACTIVISTS, ARTISTS, AND ACADEMICS: BUILDING JUST CLIMATE FUTURES TOGETHER and my contribution, which I called “Climate Justice as Climate Realism,” is part of a panel called “The Global Climate Justice Movement in the Age of Crisis.
This “nearly carbon-neutral” conference is entirely online. It’s a format that has its charms, not the least of which is that it could be international without involving air-travel. But I must confess that I missed the usual drinks party. You know, actually meeting people and talking. In the flesh.
My review of Drawdown was published in The Nation on May 28, 2017, under the title A New Book on the Climate Crisis Makes the Persuasive Case That We’re Not Doomed, Not for technological reasons, anyway.” It richly praises the book, and the effort behind it, then it adds this:
“I must add that Drawdown is not yet a tonic strong enough to cure the dystopian plague that has come to penetrate most all our visions of the future. It illuminates the techno-economic path forward, and it insists that social justice is also a prime concern, but on this second front it offers almost nothing that is concrete, specific and believable. To be truly “comprehensive,” a deep-decarbonization plan must recognize the dire threat which economic stratification poses to our ability to mobilize, and reveal the mechanisms by which we will learn, again, to cooperate. Which is to say that, when it comes to both domestic and global environmental justice, an ethos is not enough. The deeply political, justice-based side of the climate-transition equation needs a lot more attention than it gets here, and it needs it now.
But Drawdown’s catalog of solutions omits long-term democratic planning, which is essential to any true deep-decarbonization roadmap. It makes no mention of the overarching challenge of ensuring a just transition, one in which all those whose lives will be disrupted by the climate transition are, somehow, made whole, or at least whole enough. (Think coal miners, but think too of all the communities and even countries that are dependent on the fossil-fuel economy.) It talks of “net costs,” but it does not talk about winners and losers, as if any acceptable pricing system could gloss over the challenge of today’s obscene level of inequality. There’s no discussion of progressive approaches to climate taxation, without which we haven’t got a snowball’s chance. There’s no mention of cap-and-dividend systems, or energy-subsidy reform, or the international finance and technology support systems that will be necessary if the Paris Agreement is to deliver. Or of fair trade. Or of class.”
Read the whole review here.