HELLO WORLD! Climate Equity Observer: Issue number 1
This is the first issue of Climate Equity Observer.
Its purpose, since you asked, is to put a single idea onto the agenda. To wit: if we hope to make a soft landing in a tolerable future climate, we’re going to have to shift from the initial Kyoto framework to a new “equity framework” based on equal per capita rights to the atmosphere. This idea is already on the table in most of the rest of the world. We want to put it on the agenda in the United States.
Is this a mad, impossible task We shall see. In the meantime, we plan to approach it in as interesting a way as we can possibly manage. And we have lots of ideas on how to do just that. You might want to hang around for a few issues to see how we do
In CEO #1, we:
2) Offer a climate-equity report back from The Hague. (There’s actually a lot to say about “climate equity” and/or “climate justice” at COP6, though you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage.)
CEO is the online newsletter of EcoEquity, an NGO founded last year to explore the demands of climate equity, and beyond that of justice in a finite world. Every organization needs its issue, and ours is a particular aspect of environmental (or is it distributional) justice — the need for equitable access to limited environmental space. It’s a big issue, and global warming is what’s putting it on the map, or at least on our map.
The idea here is a deceptively simple one: in both Europe and the South, the per capita alternative is well known and widely discussed. But in the US, well let’s say that, for all our expertise, and all our activism, we never quite get around to frank, public discussion about the core of the climate problem, which is, after all, that we the rich have already taken up all of the space.
And yet that discussion is a fascinating one. There are large principles and transfixing details, and after the disappointment of The Hague they form a picture that is pressing indeed. Which is where we come in. We’re going to try, by whatever means we can contrive, to bring the global debate about equity and the future of the climate regime home to America. It’s a difficult job, particularly given the insularity that will likely come with the new regime, but we’re hardly alone with it: as we’ll show in the COP6 report below, the pitch of the equity debate is rising around the world.
Where to begin With the obvious, that the idea of “climate equity” is strange to American ears, and that this isn’t just a consequence of our fairly rigid political culture, but also of the fact that, until recently, the American friends of climate equity kept uneasily to their closets. Public talk about greenhouse warming was, almost by definition, talk about IF it was a threat, and when we talked privately, it was about all the devices — mechanical and economic and cultural — that would make it manageable.
If only they could be tried.
But what would it really take What’s really going to have to happen before the solar dream becomes something like reality That’s the question today, as it has been for a long time. And on this question there has been altogether too much silence, altogether too much “realism.”
Which is why, dear colleagues, this may not be such a bad moment after all. At least the friends of equity are coming out of their closets. Take a look, for example, at EQUITY AND GREENHOUSE GAS RESPONSIBILITY, a piece published last September 29th in SCIENCE, in which a group of American academics, several of them founders of EcoEquity, argue that a climate regime based on per capita rights is the only one that can plausibly be claimed as sustainable, or as realistic. (SCIENCE isn’t free on the web, but the original, longer version is, at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~rael/equity.html.)
The pure form of the proposal here is “a transition to per capita rights.” Given that, though, there is a whole lot to talk about. We can talk, though the radicals among us may not like this, about the widespread sense that these rights have to be tradable. We can talk about Contraction and Convergence, which is the name by which “per capita” generally goes in Europe, where its been tirelessly promoted by Britain’s Global Commons Institute (http://www.gci.org.uk). We can talk about the Sky Trust proposal (hhttp://www.aecs-inc.org/Skytrust/index.html ), or the emerging rush of “hybrid proposals,” all of which tincture per capita with other, presumably more palatable ingredients in recipes varying from “income adjusted per capita rights” to targets defined by calculating “the ratio between a country’s per capita GDP and its emissions.” If we run out of things to talk about, we can always talk about history.
The important thing is that we talk. Because if anything became clear at The Hague, it’s that the Kyoto process as we know has fallen into deadlock. To be sure, Kyoto is only a first step, but who, after COP6, saw the way to a second And then came the American election, a strange historical marker if ever there was one. It’s easy, just now, to be pretty discouraged.
But we’ve chosen, instead, to draw a bit of hope from these two rather inauspicious events. And why not As old doors close, new ones may open. Many of us are searching anew for the bottom line, and what if it turns out to be only a commonsense sort of fairness What if the framework really is crucial, and what if it must be one that people around the world can see the justice of What if, in the end, global emissions can only rapidly contract if Northern and Southern are SIMULTANEOUSLY being drawn into explicit convergence
CEO, then, is going to argue, with
* Airy ethical logic,
* Hard-nosed green realism,
* Praise of solar/hydrogen,
* Effusive praise of activism,
* Interviews with key players,
* Theories of environmental space,
* Jeremiads on ecological debt,
* Guest editorials on Environmental Justice,
* Integrated economic and climate models,
* Critiques of economic and climate models,
* Dreams of Just Transition,
and just about anything else we can come up with, that the way forward is a phased transition, within the Kyoto process, to a second-generation climate regime based on per capita emission entitlements.
Are we nuts Not really. Even Jan Pronk, the Dutch Environmental Minister who served as President of COP6, has argued that (tradable) per capita entitlements are the only logical basis for developing world emission- reduction commitments. (For an NGO take on Pronk’s words, see http://www.climatenetwork.org/eco/3.0900.time.html. For the details, see http://www.earthtimes.org/jul/environmentthekyotoprotocoljul25_00.htm.)
Pronk’s view, one widely shared among both environmental diplomats and environmental NGOs, is that, just now, ratification is the only key, and it must include US ratification, and, thus, almost any terms will do. Equity, perhaps unfortunately, must remain a matter of diplomatic signals and quiet assurances. Later — down the road, after the lock-in, when it comes time for the developing world to enter the deal — then there will be talk of equity.
It’s a fine and clever idea: silence for now, and later we’ll square the circle. But it’s not going to work, is it Because as we saw at The Hague, the Kyoto negotiations have fallen into what Worldwatch Institute’s Christopher Flavin calls a “complexity trap.” To which we will reply (in an future issue) that indeed it has, and very much as a consequence of the choice, for it was a choice, to keep the per capita alternative off the negotiating table. The complexity trap, in our view, is a symptom of avoidance.
Perhaps avoidance was the right choice. We don’t know. What we do know is that, whatever happens now, the negotiating schedule has the debate over developing country commitments beginning soon, no later than 2005. The date could slip, of course, right along with the rich world’s progress towards its Kyoto emission reduction targets. Which is why sooner or later we’re all going to have to deal with the elephant in the room. To wit: the fate of the Earth climate is tied, deeply and most inconveniently, to the fate of the poor.
Our goal, then, is to make per capita principles a prominent and respectable aspect of the US climate debate. We take up this goal because, while we know that the costs of emissions reductions have been vastly overstated, and while we believe that a solar revolution is indeed waiting in the wings, we do not believe that markets and technology will suffice. We take it up because America, dreamland of the 20th century, is now the nation with the largest carbon debt of all. We bring it up because America has a special obligation to sharply curtail its emissions, and thus to help open environmental space for the developing world.
And that’s enough for now. Well, almost enough. We still have to tell you that CEO isn’t always going to be so hortatory, and that it’s not going to come out all that often either, at least not initially. Say a bi-monthly, or a quarterly. Slow moving but worth keeping an eye on, just like the climate negotiations.
Hope you stick around.
Tom Athanasiou, Paul Baer
And by the way, our initial board is…
* Eugene Coyle, PhD, Ecological Economics, “public servant”
* John Gershman, Asia/Pacific Editor, Foreign Policy in Focus
* Donna Green, UC Berkeley, Energy and Resources Group
* Dan Kammen (chair), Associate Professor, Energy and Resources Group
* Juliette Majot, Executive Director, International Rivers Network
* Patrick McCuilly, Campaigns Director, International Rivers Network
* Richard Norgaard, Professor, Energy and Resources Group; President, International Society for Ecological Economics
* Susan Ode, Program Coordinator, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives
This is not a report on the details of the negotiations, why they broke down, or what was or wasn’t agreed upon before all the name-calling and finger pointing started. It’s a discussion about equity at the COP, the ways that people were talking about it, and what it might mean for the future.
Equity in the text
First of all, there were at least two negotiating documents in which equity was actually mentioned. In both the CDM and JI texts, China and its allies attempted to insert language defining equity as “relate[d] to equitable per capita emission entitlements for developing country Parties,” but this language had no operational implications. Folks who were watching more closely told us that this language would repeatedly disappear, then reappear, and then disappear again. Obviously, there was something going on. In any case its status isn’t at all clear at this point, at least not to us.
Ironically, the key issue that stalled the talks — the ability of the US (and other Umbrella Group nations) to get credit for forest regrowth — is actually a huge equity issue. If the US is able to get credit for the regrowth of trees it cut down in the past two centuries, but developing countries are fully liable for land use changes regardless of whether they support domestic agriculture or timber export, then even equal per capita allocations will be unequal in practice (more about this, and sinks as part of the complexity trap, in another issue). For now, note that it was opposition from the EU about the “ecological integrity” implications of the sinks loophole, not from the G77 about the long-term equity implications, that was the focus of the ultimately fatal dispute.
Still, for a topic that was barely on the official agenda, equity was nevertheless very big in The Hague, probably bigger than it’s ever been at a COP. It was talked about at side events every day, sponsored by groups old and new, radical and mainstream. Nevertheless the equity sub-current was easy to underestimate, and if you were concentrating on the ins and outs of the negotiations it was easy to miss seeing how big a deal it was. Even when French President Chirac concluded his plenary speech with “France proposes that we set as our ultimate objective the convergence of per capita emissions” (http://www.info-france-usa.org/news/statmnts/hague.htm), it was easy to just go back to the details of the thread you were following — nukes, tech transfer, public participation, sinks, whatever — and miss its significance.
The Hague Mandate
Because it was clear in advance that developing country commitments — which is where the equity rubber meets the road — were not going to be on the agenda, NGOs who wanted to press the issue advocated for a strong per capita position to be adopted in a resolution, a la the Berlin Mandate. (Perhaps it’s fortunate that it wasn’t passed, so we’re spared referring to “the The Hague Mandate”.) Sponsored by Friends of the Earth International, the call for The Hague Mandate had very strong motivating language with a clear call for per capita allocations, but the only action it called for was for the parties to study the issue prior to the next COP. More than 85 organizations signed on, but in spite of the fact that it was circulated on the Climate Action Network (CAN) mailing list, only five US groups are counted among them. (The text is at: http://www.foeeurope.org/dike/news/1001-01en.htm; the list of signers at: http://www.foeeurope.org/dike/news/1001-01.htm).
In the end, it never stood a chance. When presented with the call for a Hague Mandate at the dyke-building event on the Saturday in the middle of the COP, President Pronk (despite his own previous words of support for per capita emissions) is reported to have angrily told the FOE sponsors that it was inappropriate and unhelpful to be pushing such a thing at this meeting.
Equity on the side
It would be impossible to report on all of the equity side events that took place, or the organizations that sponsored them. However, it’s worth looking both at the ways in which some of the groups that have long been active on equity took advantage of the situation, and at some of the groups with a new focus on equity (or new groups with a focus on equity).
There are two groups that are most associated with the call for equal per capita rights to the atmosphere. The first is India’s Center for Science and the Environment. Their 1991 article, “Global Warming in an Unequal World,” written by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, is a landmark in the debate on equity and climate change — it lays out the case for equal per capita rights in a way that all subsequent discussions have had to address. CSE (http://www.cseindia.org) has continued to push the argument for equal per capita rights, and had a very significant presence at The Hague. Agarwal (who we will interview in our next issue) unfortunately has had cancer and was in ill health; while present in The Hague, he did not actually attend the conference itself for many days, and Sunita Narain took his place on a number of panels. CSE organized its own side event, and also published an excellent newsletter during the conference, called “Equity Watch” (see http://www.equitywatch.org).
The second group with a long track record of advocating per capita equity is UK’s Global Commons Institute. Some of you will have heard of “Contraction and Convergence,” which is the framework that the GCI has given to their argument for equity; others may even have heard of Aubrey Meyer, the organization’s founder. GCI held a large side event on Thursday of the first week, which drew more than 100 people (large for a side event), and later organized a press conference where Andrew Dlugolecki, Director of General Insurance Development at CGNU (one of the world’s largest insurance groups) told the media that: “In the current circumstances, the Kyoto Protocol is becoming almost irrelevant. Contraction and Convergence has the potential to break the deadlock.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the GCI’s famous multi-colored graphs, Contraction and Convergence refers to a contraction from current emissions levels to “safe” levels, allowing also for a period of growth for total developing country emissions; and “convergence” to equal per capita allocations of emissions rights. The framework assumes that convergence to equal per capita allocations takes place over some transition period (e.g., a few decades), and that allocations are tradable, so that actual per capita emissions may or may not actually converge. An increasing number of organizations and politicos, including a bloc of European Environment Ministers, a variety of international environmental NGOs as well as traditional NGOs like the Red Cross and Christian Aid, Britain’s influential Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the co-chair of the IPCC’s all-important Working Group One, and a rich variety of Southern politicians have explicitly endorsed it, and many who don’t use the same term have implicitly adopted the same framework. (It must be said, however, that some organizations with a strong commitment to per capita equity don’t support internationally traded permits; this is an important discussion, which we will take up further in subsequent issues.)
There was another significant thread to the equity discussion at the Hague, and this was a series of side events largely organized by European groups which focused on “burden sharing” of future (post Kyoto) reduction commitments. These discussions, however, tended to be very technical, focusing on complex modeling results and lacking clear principles for actually making allocation decisions. Moreover, as CSE’s Sunita Narain pointed out (she was part of a panel responding to a number of modeling presentations), the issue is not fundamentally one of sharing the burden of reducing emissions, but of sharing the atmospheric resource that the North has been overconsuming. This very different framing has a very different implication for conceiving the relationship between the potential reductions to be made by Northern countries and the future emissions limits to be adopted by developing countries.
An especially interesting new component to the equity debate was a real focus on questions of domestic equity; that is, the fairness of climate policies to different constituencies inside various countries. Redefining Progress (http://www.rprogress.org), an Oakland, CA based NGO with a history of work on sustainable economics, brought over several well-known activists from the US environmental justice movement to address equity issues in the US context. And another California based NGO, Corporate Watch (http://www.corpwatch.org/trac/climate/) together with a group of like- minded European organizations, sponsored an entire two-day offsite “Climate Justice Summit” which brought together activists from the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America to talk about the impacts of the fossil fuel industry and climate change more generally on communities and workers around the world. Finally, but very significantly, there was a side event organized by a US labor coalition, with participation from the SEIU, the Center for Sustainable Economics and the Economic Policy Institute. These groups have been focusing on the prospects for a “just transition” in the US, addressing the needs of individuals and communities (such as coal miners) who would inevitably be impacted by any meaningful climate treaty. This coalition has organized a substantial review of the needs and perceived needs of labor unions in a climate response, and has subsequently been developing models to allow them to estimate the employment and economic-output implications of various transition policies.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of the equity-related activities at the convention. There was, for example, a significant group present from the University of Tampere Finland, who organized a side event and were distributing an excellent book on climate justice. There was a great panel called “Beyond Kyoto: Cutting Global Carbon Emissions in Half” sponsored by Canada’s David Suzuki Foundation (http://www.davidsuzuki.org), which was notable for the density with which it interwove technical and equity issues. Presenting organizations included CSE, the British Royal Commission on Environmental Policy (which has explicitly recommended Contraction and Convergence to the British government as its approach to climate equity), and the Tellus Institute (http://www.tellus.org), a US think tank and, notably, one of the more progressive US organizations regarding equity. Also, Christian Aid and the New Economics Foundation presented some powerful material on the North’s “Ecological Debt” at a couple of side events.
Equity organizing into the future
Near the end of the conference, EcoEquity and the Dutch group INZET organized a meeting of a de facto “Equity Caucus,” including individuals from at least a dozen organizations, where we discussed the possibility for a last-minute action at the Conference (that we wisely decided not to undertake), and set up a network for planning subsequent international collaboration, including hopefully an international meeting in the coming months. All this, however, was before we learned that there was going to be a COP 6.5, or that Bush was in fact going to be President of the US, so we’ll have to evaluate our short-term work in this light.
Supporters of climate justice, and equal per capita rights in particular, have to deal with this limbo just like everyone else. But because our focus has always been in some sense “post-Kyoto,” the issues we face are somewhat particular. The deadlock in The Hague offers new possibilities for North-South dialogue (e.g. a “European Leadership Initiative”), which could even take new impetus as US climate politics suffer regression. Indeed, the next four years may offer an opportunity for NGOs to lift themselves out of the details of the Kyoto negotiations and redirect their attention to winning public support for the necessary serious, long-term changes.
The climate change problem won’t go away; the release of the Third Assessment Report makes this quite clear. The opposition to Kyoto has been winning in part because the problem isn’t yet immediate, but as the temperature and sea levels rise, the need for a meaningful global cap will become increasingly clear and urgent. And dividing up a global budget means coming up with a formula that is fair to the countries that are losing the cheap-fossil-fuel development path. It really is that simple. Equity will be at the table.