51. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining. There is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which currently affects all the countries of the world. The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: “We note that often the businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”.
52. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned. In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future. The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development. The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary processes and to cover their costs. We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.
Man, I wish I had written this. . .
“Everyone, it seems, recognises that Pope Francis’ encyclical is a striking document. But to really appreciate its significance, it’s worth contrasting it with another document that purports to tackle the same challenge: the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The SDGs have emerged from a long, complex process, stretching over the past four years. They are hanging on a promise to be able to eradicate “all poverty, in all its forms, everywhere” by 2030, and to do so in a way that moves us to a more environmentally sustainable economy.
But while the pope’s encyclical has caused a stir around the world, almost no one is excited about the SDGs. On the contrary, they live almost exclusively in the dry, technocratic world of international development. This isn’t for want of trying by the UN and others. They have invested a lot of money trying to whip up popular enthusiasm and would love nothing more than to see the sort of excitement that has greeted the encyclical.
The problem is that, unlike the encyclical, the SDGs are not fresh, or paradigm shifting. They don’t offer anything that gets the blood flowing. They can’t be sold as exciting because they simply aren’t.
This is a question of substance. The encyclical is visionary. It is bold, uncompromising and radical, where the SDGs are staid, timid and mired in a business-as-usual mentality.”
Read the whole essay at The Rules . . .
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 thing. But Hamilton’s reframe is excellent, and not to be missed. It helps clear the way for the, well, “left ecomodernism” we need, the one in which technology is given its proper due, but only its proper due.
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.
Noted climate scholar Benito Mueller of Oxford University and Oxford Climate Policy has a new “Think Piece” called “The Paris Predictability Problem: What to do about climate finance for the 2020 Climate Agreement?” His essay dissects a subset of the problems in the international climate negotiations associated with the provision of financial support by rich countries for mitigation and adaptation in poor countries, captured by the term “climate finance.” Mueller’s focus on predictability is an alternative to a focus on the scale of such finance or its “additionality” (whether it is not simply repurposed from other development aid).
There is much of interest in this essay, but what particularly caught my attention was his suggestion that subnational sources—like California’s cap and trade program—might be a possible source of appropriately predictable financing. (Note that this is different from considering whether “offsets” under a cap and trade policy could be sourced internationally.)
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.
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 »