The May 21st issue of Nature Climate Change contains a good overview of the equity debate in the climate negotiations, one distinguished — in our perhaps opinionated view — by a number of substantive quotes from EcoEquity’s own Tom Athanasiou. The piece, by Sonja van Renssen, is called Getting a fair deal (you can download the pdf here), and in addition to Athanasiou it quotes a number of other key figures in the current debate. Athanasiou’s voice is key, however, as you can see by comparing Getting a fair deal to another more cautious bit of reportage from Nature magazine itself, Jeff Tollefson’s Big compromises needed to meet carbon-emissions goal.
Tollefson begins well enough, quoting Harvard’s Joe Aldy to the effect that “Once you say we are not doing enough, it begs the question, ‘Who should do more?’,” but he immediately muddles this simple clarity by quoting Niklas Höhne, of the NewClimate Institute in Germany, to the effect that “But equity and fairness is something which is very much up to interpretation — what’s fair for one is not fair for another.”
Nothing against Nik, but the view that “equity is just a matter of opinion” has bedeviled the climate debate for years. Indeed, the clarity that we’re finally winning — the big news here is that the equity debate is making progress — has not come easily, and this kind of rather blithe subjectivism is a big part of the reason why.
A few days ago, after a horrible train derailment, the New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik published these finely-chiseled words:
“What is less apparent, perhaps, is that the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. As I wrote a few years ago, in a piece on the literature of American declinism, “The reason we don’t have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it’s that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal.” The ideological rigor of this idea, as absolute in its way as the ancient Soviet conviction that any entering wedge of free enterprise would lead to the destruction of the Soviet state, is as instructive as it is astonishing. And it is part of the folly of American “centrism” not to recognize that the failure to run trains where we need them is made from conviction, not from ignorance.”
Clive Hamilton, the free-thinking Australian green critic who gave us Requiem for a Species, has just published a finely tuned takedown of the Breakthrough Institute’s so-called “Ecomodernist Manifesto.” He, or perhaps his editor at the Earth Island Journal, called it The Technofix is In. It’s a perfectly appropriate, though mild, title.
It’s a must read, and a model of restraint. I will say that, had I written it, it would contain some examples of the bad news environmentalism that makes it so easy for the Breakthrough Boys to get away with this kind of posturing. And I would have postulated the existence of, well, a “left ecomodernism” in which technology was given its proper due, rather than the snow job it gets in this manifesto. Along with, say, economic justice. But Hamilton’s discussion is excellent, and not to be missed.
An important post on the Brookings Institute site a few days ago (U.N. clarification: North-South climate finance may be closer to lower bound of their estimate) indicates that there may be a lot less North / South climate finance on the table than we have been led to believe. Click through for the details and the impeccable sources (Martin Stadelmann and Timmons Roberts) but in any case be clear about the bottom line:
“Today [Feb 26, 2015] the U.N. has published a “clarification note” where it explains that the actual number for North-South climate finance may be closer to the lower bound of the $40-175 billion mentioned in its “Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate Finance Flows” report. . . This is an important clarification. . . Our own 2013 estimate for North-South private climate finance flows was $10-37 billion, comprising foreign direct investment for renewable energy, recycling, and environmental technology manufacturing.
If we take the $2-37 billion range for North-South private finance according to existing estimates . . . and add the U.N. estimate of $35-50 billion for North-South public finance . . . total North-South climate finance is somewhere between $37 billion and $87 billion, clearly closer to the lower bound of the U.N. estimate of $40-175 billion, and certainly less than half of the upper bound.”
Wealth: Having it all and wanting more, a recent report from Oxfam International, is a milestone on the road to blunt realism. To wit:
Global wealth is becoming increasing concentrated among a small wealthy elite. Data from Credit Suisse shows that since 2010, the richest 1% of adults in the world have been increasing their share of total global wealth.
In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years, as shown in the figure below, with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.
Share of global wealth of the top 1% and bottom 99% respectively; the dashed lines project the 2010–2014 trend. By 2016, the top 1% will have more than 50% of total global wealth.
What to do? Oxfam makes the following suggestions:
Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
Agree a global goal to tackle inequality
Would it be enough? Nope. Would it be a start? Yep. Have we got a chance of stabilizing the climate system (let alone the ecosystem) if we don’t think at least this big? Nope.
This will probably sound wrong, but Peter Barnes’ new book, With Liberty and Dividends for All, is surprisingly good. It presents as a kind of wonky little instructional book – and I suppose it is – but it’s thoughtful, and it draws big and relevant conclusions, and it’s very good on the power of ideas. And its ideas are good and useful ones, especially now that neoliberalism has been dragged into the lights so that we can all finally see its twisted, death-wish logic. If you’ve ever wondered if there might be something really big at the core of the Cap and Dividend proposal – like, say, if there’s a link between emergency climate mobilization and proposals for guaranteed national incomes, or if “pre-distribution” is actually a real thing – then this little volume is for you
The basic idea here is that the natural and social matrix within which we live is thick with all sorts of common resources, which the neoliberals would love to privatize but which should instead be treated as “co-owned wealth.” And though Barnes is as much a climate hawk as any of us, he’s not just interested in the global carbon sink. He’s thinking, too, about the electromagnetic spectrum, and oil and mineral extraction rights, and a whole lot more besides. And his goal is to create a “dividend society” in which everyone – even your right-wing Uncle Bob – has a vested interest in the protection on the greater world.
So read this book. And when you do, keep something in mind – Cap and Dividend will not work at the global level, this for a lot of reasons that I’m not going to get into right now. But at the national level, in a world where we desperately need good ideas about the “adjacent possible,” it may well have a pretty solid role to play. And this is now the book on the subject.
Just in case you were wondering, a key “Structured Expert Dialogue” between IPCC scientists and UNFCCC negotiators has just released its technical summary. And, happily, it has been digested by the Climate Analytics team into this short, clear overview.
This SED is news because it essentially confirms the arguments that the Small Island Developing States and the Least Developed Countries have been making for years, that 2°C warming limit is too high. And that it must not be crossed. To wit:
“We are therefore of the view that Parties would profit from restating the long-term global goal as a ‘defence line’ or ‘buffer zone’, instead of a ‘guardrail’ up to which all would be safe. This new understanding would then probably favor emission pathways that will limit warming to a range of temperatures below 2 °C. In the very near term, such aspirations would keep open as long as possible the option of a warming limit of 1.5°C, and would avoid embarking on a pathway that unnecessarily excludes a warming limit below 2°C.”
This clear statement is hugely relevant to the ongoing negotiations, which are stretching towards a possible breakthrough in Paris later this year. The problem is that, while Paris is likely to be an official success, it’s not at all clear that it’s going to set us up for the extremely challenging transition that will be necessary if we’re going to successfully “defend” the 2°C line. The good news is that the assembled experts also concluded that the stricter 1.5°C temperature goal is still within reach, just. It’s going to take everything to reach it.
Version 3.2 of April 10, 2015
This is only a quick overview to the current range of INDC tracking and assessment initiatives, which is to say, initiatives that are designed to help us make sense of the national pledges of climate action. Its focus is on the emerging art of equity assessment. In other words, what countries are doing, or proposing to do, their fair shares? Which countries are doing more than others? How do you even think about such comparisons when countries are at different levels of development?
Also, this is not intended to be comprehensive. But if I’ve left out something that you think should be here — something useful — please let me know. Remember, the focus here is and will remain on pledge assessment projects, frameworks and systems. Also, please tell me if I got anything wrong, or if you otherwise have a bone to pick with anything here. View Full Text »
This major new report, written for the Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice by Sivan Kartha and EcoEquity’s own Paul Baer, breaks new ground in global climate justice theory and analysis. Here, from the executive summary, are its main conclusions:
• There is strong evidence that a rapid and total or nearly-total carbon phase-out will be technically feasible, both for developed and developing countries.
• Economic analyses suggest that a rapid carbon phase-out can be achieved at an aggregate global cost that is affordable, and much less than the potential costs of climate impacts.
• Nonetheless, a rapid carbon phase-out will be very demanding for all countries, especially developing countries, and presents potential risks to human rights.
• Even greater risks to human rights than the risks posed by aggressive mitigation action arise from the profound impacts of climate change, especially if temperature increase exceeds 2°C, which becomes increasingly likely if mitigation is delayed.
• There is good reason to believe that risks posed by mitigation can be dealt with, provided there is an ambitious and fairly shared global effort to achieve a rapid carbon phase-out while preserving human rights, and a commitment to integrating human rights and equity in all national climate policies.
Is all of this already clear? Perhaps it is, or perhaps not. In any case, these points are rarely made as clearly, or defended as well, as they are here.