- After the Catastrophe
Climate justice as the post-trump slingshot
These are early thoughts. Comments are more than welcome. (Version of Jan 14)
Tom Athanasiou ([email protected])
Download as PDF here.
Trump’s election was a catastrophe. Coming on top of everything else, it more than justifies pessimism. But at the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me add that our new position is not without its possibilities.
We would not have chosen this path. But if we’re both smart and lucky we may be able to slingshot out of it, and into a mobilization that would not otherwise have been possible.
But we’re going to have to be brave enough to take justice seriously. Among much else, we’re going to have to work out what the pretty phrase “climate justice” actually means.
Among much else.
Before Trump there was Paris, and its celebrated goal of “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C,” while pursuing efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” So here’s a question: When Dave Roberts, one of America’s premier climate bloggers, published a post-election reaction piece called “Trump’s election marks the end of any serious hope of limiting climate change to 2 degrees,” was he right?
I don’t think so. But I’ll grant that, if he’s wrong, he’s wrong in a complicated way. For one thing, the hope we had before Trump’s election was not itself entirely serious.
Here’s how Roberts described it:
“The truth is, hitting the 2-degree target (much less 1.5 degrees) was always a long shot. It would require all the world’s countries to effectively turn on a dime and send their emissions plunging at never-before-seen rates.
It was implausible, but at least there was a story to tell. That story began with strong U.S. leadership, which brought China to the table, which in turn cleared the way for Paris. The election of Hillary Clinton would have signaled to the world a determination to meet or exceed the targets the U.S. promised in Paris, along with four years of efforts to create bilateral or multilateral partnerships that pushed progress faster.
With steady leadership, the U.S. and China would exceed their short-term goals. Other countries would have their willpower fortified and steadily ratchet up their commitments. All this coordinated action would result in a wave of clean energy innovation, which would push prices down lower, which would accelerate the transition.”
Is this an accurate telling? I think it is, more or less, but it’s also radically incomplete. For one thing, “U.S. leadership” has not been an unambiguous force, and there are many people around the world who would object even to the phrase. More pressing, the “wave of clean energy innovation” that this story depends on was never going to be enough. On this front, see the bit where countries “steadily ratchet up their commitments.” This is a reference to the push for (jargon alert) an “ambition ratchet” or “ambition mechanism.” The two terms are almost interchangeable but the idea is critical, because both the Paris pledges of national action and the post-Paris pledges of international transition support are far too weak to actually achieve Paris’ “well below 2°C” temperature target.
This view – that the Paris pledges are too weak to achieve the Paris targets – is entirely mainstream. All the key studies agree. However, when you push a little farther and ask which countries are most at blame – which countries are doing their “fair share” and which are not – you find that only the reports of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition (full disclosure: I’m one of its authors) even attempts to broach the question. The coalition’s most recent report, Setting the Path towards 1.5°C, offers this simple summary statement:
“even if all the commitments in the current NDCs [national pledge of action] are met — an uncertain prospect, given the lack of financial and technological resources from wealthier countries — they would lead to a warming of about 3°C.”
The baseline truth here is that ambition is a function of equity. Unless we establish cooperative international systems by which the wealthy support the poor with the finance and technology they need to act well and decisively, ambition will remain in short supply. Which is why we’re talking about a possible warming of 3°C, though in truth 3.5°C – an extremely dangerous level of warming – might wind up being closer to the mark.
Still, the Paris pledges were widely accepted as a first installment. Their weakness, as the story went, was OK, because we’d be able to strengthen them – and properly support “stretch” pledges by countries that can’t deliver on them without help – in time to meet the Paris targets. If, after Trump’s election, this doesn’t happen, or, more precisely, if this was going to happen but now it doesn’t, then Roberts has called this all correctly; we won’t make 1.5°C, or even 2°C, and we’ll have this election, and all it’s infamies, to blame.
- January 14th, 2017
- Managed Decline
Why the new Oil Change report is even better than you thought
The new report from Oil Change International (Greg Muttitt was the principle author) is a major event. It’s called The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris climate goals require a managed decline of fossil fuel production and it has garnered quite a bit of praise from the greenie press. (See for example, here, here, here and here.) It deserves the praise, and it also deserves a closer reading.
There are two especially notable comments on the report, Bill McKibben’s Recalculating the Climate Math and George Monbiot’s What Lies Beneath. The first because it very clearly explains why we must immediately stop investing in fossil infrastructure (and it was McKibben who in 2012, with his blockbuster Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, first drew the political implications of “the carbon budget approach” out into the public discussion). The second because it displays all the virtues of Monbiot’s usual bitter realism, and because it’s marred by a small but instructive overstatement, one to which I will return.
The core argument
In the report’s core, OCI draws out a new and critical implication of the carbon budget approach. It does so by going beyond the now classic Carbon Tracker analysis (the foundation of McKibben’s 2012 article), updating it by focusing not on the entire body of fossil-fuel reserves, but on the smaller set (roughly 30% of the “proven” reserves) of reserves that have already been “developed” – the “oil fields, gas fields, and coal mines that are already in operation or under construction.” By so doing, OCI is able to harness the vast power of what some wag, somewhere, once called “the first law of holes” — when you’re in one, stop digging.
Here are the report’s headline conclusions:
* The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.
* The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.
* With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.
- October 3rd, 2016
- In Memoriam: Paul Baer (1962 – 2016)
This morning, while preparing for a meeting, I learned that Paul Baer, my friend and EcoEquity’s co-founder, had just committed suicide. If you’re also a friend of his, you may know part of the story, which was long and often agonizing.
Paul and I met in late 1999, just before the dramatic 6th Conference of Parties in The Hague. I was giving a brown bag talk up at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, one called “After the Kyoto Protocol.” Afterwards, we talked and talked, and it turned out that we agreed on a very great deal indeed. What better way to celebrate such accord than to found an organization? Thus, EcoEquity was born.
The tragedy of Paul’s death is underscored by the fact that it occurred just before the Paris Agreement enters into force. When it does, it’s going to thrust us into a world of new complexities, and new possibilities. And, no doubt, new infamies. It’s a world he should have lived to see, and to work within.
Back in 2002, Paul and I wrote a book together, one called Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming. (We were trying for a broad audience, so we used the J word). It’s still a nice piece of work, though we were at the time too heavily influenced by per-capita approaches to global climate equity. I know Paul would agree with this judgement, because he was a co-developer, along with myself and Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute, of the Greenhouse Development Rights framework (archived here), which went on to have a considerable influence on the global fair-shares debate. GDRs, in case you don’t know, evolved into the Climate Equity Reference Project, and Paul’s fingerprints are all over it.
- September 7th, 2016
- Paris COP 21 – Success or Failure?
Just dying to know my views on global climate justice and the Paris Agreements. Here’s an interview I recently did with Bing Gong (Jun 13, 2016) on KWMR Post Carbon Radio in Point Reyes Station. I hate listening to myself in any recorded form, but this is really not too bad.
- June 21st, 2016
- Making (Equity) Reviews (of the national pledges) Relevant
As the lay of the post-Paris land starts to become clear, it’s also becoming clear that few people outside the climate negotiations really understand the details of the equity debate, as it is unfolding on the inside.
Thus it may be interesting to read this somewhat technical piece. Think of it as a Climate Equity Reference Project discussion paper, designed to inform the debate on equity review that is now, partly because of our work, a clear aspect of the What’s Next? debate. Here’s the opening abstract:
“Paris was a breakthrough, but is not yet a success. It could yield success though, and (together with the climate movement, and the solar revolution) help to catalyze a true climate mobilization. But only if the still unfinished negotiations yield a solid global ambition ratcheting mechanism.
Some people believe that we’ve already won such a mechanism.This paper argues that we’re still missing at least two fundamental building blocks of a robust ambition ratchet: a public-finance breakthrough and a “real review” mechanism.
The second of these is the topic of this paper. It argues that 1) real review by definition includes the science-based, ex-ante equity assessment of individual pledges, 2) such assessments were in Paris beyond the will of the Parties, 3) they can nevertheless be done well, and can positively influence the formal negotiations, and 4) civil society should (on top of everything else it has to do) take the lead in demonstrating that this is so.
This paper is a call to civil society – and to the Parties – to support such an effort, and to do so quickly. The effort should culminate in or before the 2018 political moment, which must be a big one.”
- June 17th, 2016
- Terrible Numbers
Oxfam argued, back in January of 2015, that sometime in 2016 the top 1% of the world’s population would have more than everyone else. Here’s the study, if you want to follow the math. According to the folks over at therules.org (see their awesome video on global inequality) the global 1% only has 43% of everything. (The difference here is in the methodological noise and, in any case, good data is hard to get. As inequality scholar Branko Milanovic politely noted in The Haves and the Have-Nots, his excellent 2011 book on global inequality, the super rich don’t actually like to be studied.)
Oxfam is sticking to its own numbers. In a new (2016) study, An Economy For the 1%: How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped, it argues that the 50% line has now been crossed. I’m going to trust them on this, because their data is from Credit Suisse, and who (what?) better than a Swiss bank to study “ultra high net worth individuals.” An Economy For the 1% is an interesting read. It goes on from the numbers to talk about the nuts and bolts of global stratification, tax havens in particular, and to connect the dots. And to continue its projections:
“If this deeply alarming inequality clock continues to tick as fast, by 2020 a mere 11 people could have the same wealth as half the world. That’s not even a dozen.”
- March 28th, 2016
- Paris: The End of the Beginning
Will Paris be a success or a failure? It will be both. The real question is whether it opens the way to a new future of justice and ambition.
This essay was first published in the Earth Island Journal.
As I write this, the United Nations climate conference is only weeks away. And now, of course, it will take place in an atmosphere of mourning, and crisis, and war. Beyond this change of tone, what difference will the November 13 attacks make on the outcome of the negotiations? It is impossible to say, though it’s not too much to hope for heightened clarity, and seriousness, and resolve. This is a time to attend to the future – on this, at least, we should be able to agree.
The essay below was finished before the attacks. I’ve changed only these opening words, which already said that the stakes were high. This has not changed. Nor has my overall claim, that while the negotiations are not going well, they’re not going badly either, and that in any case they must be judged in realist terms. View Full Text »
- November 16th, 2015
- Piketty (and Chancel) on Climate Equity
Remember Thomas Piketty, recently famous for a book named Capital in the Twenty-First Century? Well the very same Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics), together with Lucas Chancel (IDDRI, Paris School of Economics) has just published a paper called Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions (1998-2013) & prospects for an equitable adaptation fund. And a fascinating paper it is!
Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions is a call for a global progressive carbon consumption tax (with a 0% marginal rate for those below a key threshold) that is designed to provide $150 billion a year for the global adaptation fund (a key climate fund that, while formally established, is woefully underfunded).
The crucial thing here is that Chancel / Piketty explicitly seek a globally progressive tax on individuals rather than countries. They do this for a number of reasons, but first among them is the judgement that inequality between people has (since 2013) become a greater source of emissions inequity than inequality between countries:
“Our estimates also show that within-country inequality in CO2e emissions matters more and more to explain the global dispersion of CO2e emissions. In 1998, one third of global CO2e emissions inequality was accounted for by inequality within countries. Today, within-country inequality makes up 50% of the global dispersion of CO2e emissions. It is then crucial to focus on high individual emitters rather than high emitting countries.”
- November 5th, 2015
- Happy Earth Overshoot Day!
There are many ways to compare humanity’s demands to the Earth’s ability to meet those demands. Scan the literature, and you’ll find plenty of approaches, and plenty of metaphors for what we used to call “The Limits to Growth.” Carbon budgets, temperature targets, and planetary boundaries all come to mind, as does the equity debate in the climate talks and, of course, the ecological footprint.
This (August 13) being 2015’s Earth Overshoot Day — the day on which, according the ecological actuaries at the Global Footprint Network, we’ve blown though 2015’s entire annual biocapacity budget — the footprint approach takes the spotlight. It’s earned the attention, for it’s a clever compromise between rigor and comprehensibility, and this is a rare thing indeed.
The power of the footprint approach is its flexibility, especially the way it scales. You can look at the planetary footprint of humanity as a whole — all our constructions, from wheat fields to weapons labs, taken together. Or you can talk about national footprints, wherein a country’s weight is compared to the biocapacity that lies within its borders, or, alternatively, to the footprints of other nations. Or you can talk about the footprint of a town, or a city, or a zipcode. You can talk of — and investigate — your own personal footprint. (Spoiler: Fly less!)
You can investigate footprints over time, in which case you’re going to be talking about ecological debts. You can even — and, alas, we do this far too seldom — talk about class footprints, by which, say, the weight of a nation’s elite is compared to the weight of its poor. You can aggregate people into groups, or you talk in per-capita terms. And the cool thing is that, in all these ways, the metaphor holds. You can be understood.
There are, of course, uses and abuses. This being Earth Overshoot Day, I can hardly fail to mention that the notion of “overshoot” has too often been used to carry water for reductionist forms of Malthusianism in which “overpopulation” dominates the stage, and hard thought about overconsumption and unjust distribution somehow never get equal time. On the other hand, we may have finally reached the point where we can leave this dismal history behind. As we do here: the “overshoot” of Earth Overshoot Day is not ideology, but rather methodology.
There’s much more to do, of course. In particular, there’s more to do on the distributional side of the footprint challenge. Oxfam tells us that, sometime in 2016, the “global one percent” — to richest hundreth of the human population — will own half of everything on the planet. The exact date when this great event takes place is not knowable — the data isn’t good enough — but it’ll happen soon. And the day it does will be at least as important as Earth Overshoot Day 2016.
Meanwhile, this is still 2015. The year of Pope Francis’ encyclical, and the year when Overshoot Day landed on August 13th. (Back in 2006, when Andrew Simms evidentally dreamt up the idea, it fell in October.) It’s also the year of the Paris climate accord, and next up on that agenda is fighting like hell to make sure Paris comes to something real. If we succeed, we won’t live to see the day when the annual overshoot moves forward into July. And then into June . . .
This is not someplace we want to go.
- August 12th, 2015
- Could California or other states provide international climate finance?
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.)
- June 10th, 2015
- Getting a Fair Deal: The Climate Equity Reference Project in Nature Climate Change
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.
- May 27th, 2015
- Assessing the National Pledges – the state of the debate
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 »
- April 6th, 2015
- Zero Carbon, Zero Poverty – The Climate Justice Way
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.
- February 18th, 2015
- Climate Crossroads: Toward a Just Deal in Paris
The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit was a failure, but it did serve as a wake-up call. The global governance system currently in place has not been capable of making the momentous “top-down” decisions that are necessary to limit aggregate emissions, let alone doing so in an acceptably fair manner. As we approach the critically important 2015 Paris Summit, negotiations are taking a more realist course, with national pledges of action understood as the best foundation for international mobilization. Making this work will take a “pledge and review” agreement with an extremely robust review in which national commitments are evaluated collectively for compatibility with climate science and comparatively for compatibility with concerns of justice. Equity reference frameworks can help achieve the crucial task of justice, which now threatens to fall through the cracks. Such frameworks have already been developed to address distributional justice both within and between nations and to identify both leaders and laggards. They offer a way forward consonant with the core equity principles embodied in the United Nations climate convention. Paris can propel this agenda, but will it?
View Full Text »
- December 21st, 2014
- National Fair Shares: The Mitigation Gap – Domestic Action and International Support
Well, we finally finished it.
The National Fair Shares report is designed to show what it means to take the analysis in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator seriously. It’s worth reading even if you think that we’re doomed, because it very carefully works out what it would mean to hold to the IPCC’s carbon budgets, in the context of an international climate accord that might actually work. Which is to say a climate accord that works for everyone, even the developing countries, one designed to preserve “equitable access to sustainable development” even as it drives a rapid global phase out of all carbon emitting technologies.
We don’t actually think we’re doomed, of course. If we did, we could never have written anything like this. We think humanity is going to rally. Or at least that it could.
What’s in the National Fair Shares report? Here’s a paragraph from the abstract:
“In this report, we systematically apply a generalized and transparent equity reference framework. . . with the goal of quantitatively examining the problem of national fair shares in a global effort to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This framework is based upon an effort-sharing approach, uses flexibly-defined national “responsibility and capacity indicators,” and is explicitly designed to reflect the UNFCCC’s core equity principles. It can be applied using a range of possible assumptions, and whatever values are chosen, they are applied to all countries, in a dynamic fashion that reflects the changing global economy.”
What’s the point? Only that the world’s national are probably — and finally — going to negotiate a global climate treaty in Paris in late 2015. But even assuming that they do, it’s going to be far too weak, and Paris will mark the beginning of the really hard work: raising ambition in the context of a truly global accord. Assuming this happy day arrives, we’re going to need an “equity reference framework” to help us figure out which countries are going their “fair shares” and which ones are free riding on the work of others.
- November 13th, 2014
- The road to Paris, the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, and you
It’s about 15 months now until the Paris climate showdown.
The good news is that there’s quite a lot happening. The clarifying science, for example, is no longer easily denigrated. The IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets, the new age of “extreme weather,” the fate of the Arctic, these can no longer be cast as fervid speculations. Denialism – at least classic denialism – has peaked. This is a time of consequences, and we all know it.
But what about Paris? Why do I even mention the international climate negotiations? Don’t we all know that the North/South divide is unbridgeable? Don’t we all know that the wealthy world will never provide the finance and technology support that’s needed to drive deep and rapid decarbonization in the emerging economies? Don’t we all know that the prospect for a meaningful breakthrough in the climate talks is nil?
In fact, we do not.
- July 25th, 2014
- Yeb Saño publicly endorses GDRs
In a wide ranging and insightful interview, Yen Saño — the Philippines lead negotiator who rose to fame when, saddened by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan and frustrated by the slow pace of international action, he fasted through two weeks of climate change treaty talks in Warsaw — has just publicly endorsed the Greenhouse Development Rights approach.
The exact quote, in context, is:
Saño: We cannot force countries which are not Annex I countries to take on obligations of the same nature as Annex I countries. However, I think countries must set aside narrow national interests and be able to contribute in an ambitious way, not just towards a post-2020 regime but an immediate regime. My country cannot afford to wait six more years for the whole world to take action, and six years of no legally binding emissions cuts for me is a catastrophe.
This is a global endeavor, and if we are to subscribe to narrow national interests, we can go our separate ways and forget about solving climate change.
What the Philippines, I think, would like to advocate for is a Greenhouse Development Rights approach. I know that’s not going to resonate well with many countries, both in the north and in the south, but it’s really about rights. It’s about the life of a single Filipino having the same value as one American or one European. We all deserve equitable access to the planet. That should be the primary parameter, rather than economic competitiveness.
- April 29th, 2014
- Fair Shares — the Basics
Well here I am again at the climate talks, this time in Bonn: the latest stop on the long slog in the latest attempt to break the stalemate. It’s not looking too good right now, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that the wealthy countries are still not doing, or proposing to do, anything like their fair shares of the global effort that would be needed to stabilize the global climate system.
More on this later. For now here’s a primer that I wrote for this morning’s issue of ECO, the daily NGO newsletter.
Everybody always talks about equity, but no-one ever does anything about it. In hopes that someday the Parties might, ECO would like to offer this quick cheat-sheet.
It’s not true that “equity is in the eye of the beholder.” Sure, there’s a lot to disagree about, but the UNFCCC really does give us someplace to stand. Three places, actually, for when all is said and done, the Convention affirms three high-level precepts: 1) Avoid dangerous climate change, 2) Divide the effort of doing so on the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” and 3) Protect “the right to sustainable development.” If it’s consistent with these three principles, it’s probably fair, or at least a fair enough start.
It’s CBDR+RC, not CBDR. Those last words in the second principle – “respective capabilities” – may be challenging, but they’re not any more challenging than “historical responsibility,” and in any case they’re not going away anytime soon. And just because some Parties wish that the responsibility issue would just fade away, that doesn’t mean that other Parties are being helpful by trying to push capabilities off the boat. Two wrongs, as they say, don’t make a right. Not even a development right.
The climate crisis is a global commons problem – emphasis on the word “global.” However you understand your climate obligations, they’re global obligations nonetheless. The responsibility that each nation has to do its fair share is a responsibility to all other nations, or rather, to all the people (and creatures) of the world. If you have a lot of responsibility and capability, and if you thus have more tons to mitigate than it is possible to mitigate within your own borders, then doing your fair share means going beyond your domestic mitigation, and also providing the finance and technology needed to mitigate elsewhere. Which is to say that finance is part and parcel of your mitigation obligation.
Finally, we don’t have to absolutely agree about what’s fair and what’s not. Approximate agreement is a whole lot better than stalemate and standoff. Think of the problem politically. We need to be able to identify climate leaders (who are actually doing their fair share) and climate laggards (who are doing, or proposing to do, much less). In this regard, a rough common understanding is quite enough. ECO believes that if we can win such an understanding, all else will follow.
Well, maybe not “all else.” Because no common understanding will substitute for ambitious finance. We know Paris isn’t just about finance, but if we don’t get some, COP21 is going to be a grim affair indeed.
– Tom Athanasiou
- March 13th, 2014
- Book Review: Countdown: Our last, best hope for a future on Earth?
(An shorter version of this review was published in Earth Island Journal in the Spring of 2014)
COUNTDOWN: Our last, best hope for a future on Earth?
Little Brown, 2013, 513 pages
During his recent book tour, writer Alan Weisman told me that Paul Ehrlich, he of The Population Bomb, said that “Countdown is the best book on population written in decades.” It’s a nice line, and a considered judgment (see Ehrlich’s own review), and I have no reason to dispute it. Countdown is a good book and a fine read. It crosses dangerous ground, and while it stumbles, it does not fall. If it’s read closely and fairly — a big if these days — it will be helpful.
Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I’ve known Weisman for some time, and count him a friend. But Countdown is a population book, and I hate Malthusianism. They’re not the same thing, of course, but I still hesitated before reviewing it.
First up, what’s this “Malthusianism,” and why is it hateful? Well, Malthusianism is a specifically biological kind of reductionism, one that buttresses right-wing pessimism and policy conclusions, and one that not at all incidentally pushes social justice off the political agenda. It does this by telling a tale in which we humans are simply animals, and are fated by our natures to fill our niche to overflowing. But this just isn’t true. We’re animals, sure, but we live in history as well as nature, and as Marx pointed out long ago, we make our own history, or at least we try to. It’s never been easy, and it only gets harder when we pretend that exponential breeding is the fundamental reason that things are getting away from us.
Is Weisman, then, a Malthusian? No, he is not. He gets close, but he doesn’t drink the cool aid.
- March 4th, 2014
- Three salient global mitigation pathways, assessed in light of the IPCC carbon budgets
In the course of preparing the new Greenhouse Development Rights web applications, we had to come up with a set of reference mitigation pathways which represented the choices before humanity, albeit in a simplified and schematic fashion. In this paper — for this post is actually a paper — we present these three pathways — a Strong 2ºC pathway, a Weak 2°C pathway, and a G8 pathway — and their levels of risk, in a fairly precise and technical manner.
This paper examines the levels of risk associated with three widely discussed global mitigation pathways: a Strong 2ºC pathway, a Weak 2°C pathway, and a G8 pathway. A very large number of analyses and debates refer to these or quite similar pathways. This paper assesses the three pathways in the light of Working Group I’s recently released contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC 2013), which provided three specific global carbon dioxide (CO2) budgets, and associated them with specific risks of a global surface temperature increase of more than 2°C by the end of this century, relative to the 1850–1900 average.
Figure 1 presents the three pathways.
Figure 1. Three politically salient mitigation pathways: G8 (red), Weak 2°C (blue), and Strong 2°C (green). Also shown (dotted lines) are three pathways consistent with the carbon budgets given by the IPCC, consistent with limiting warming to 2°C with 66%, 50%, and 33% probability, given non-CO2 emissions as per RCP2.6.
The key features of these pathways and the findings of our analysis can be summarized as follows:
The Strong 2°C pathway is defined to be an extremely ambitious mitigation pathway that can still be defended as being techno-economically achievable (Höhne et. al. 2013). Emissions peak in 2014 and reach an annual peak reduction rate of about 6.1% per year (6.0% for fossil CO2 only). Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions after 2012 are 780 gigatonnes CO2 (Gt CO2), which is well within the IPCC’s budget of 1,010 GtCO2 for maintaining a 66% likelihood of keeping warming below 2°C.
The Weak 2°C pathway is fashioned after well-known and often-cited emissions pathways that are typically presented as having a “likely” (greater than 66%, in the IPCC’s terminology) chance of keeping warming below 2°C. Emissions peak in 2014 and reach a maximum annual reduction rate of 3.3% per year (4.4% for fossil CO2 only). Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions from 2012 onward are 1,270 Gt CO2. This exceeds the IPCC’s budget of 1,120 GtCO2 for maintaining a 50% chance of keeping warming below 2°C, suggesting that this pathway carries substantially higher risks than previously believed.
The G8 pathway, a marker of the high-level political consensus in developed countries, is based on emissions targets given in an official declaration of the Group of Eight industrialized countries at its 2009 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy (G8 2009). This pathway is not precisely specified in this declaration, but is sufficiently well-defined that we can compare it with the IPCC budgets. Emissions peak in 2020, decline by a maximum of 4.9% per year (6.0% for fossil CO2 only). Its cumulative carbon dioxide budget of 1,610Gt CO2 considerably exceeds the IPCC’s budget of 1,410 GtCO2 for maintaining a 33% chance of keeping warming below 2°C. We thus find that its chance of keeping warming below 2°C is far less than 33%.
Table 1. Key data for the three pathways, and the IPCC carbon dioxide budgets against which to compare them.
- January 15th, 2014
- Equity as Strategy: It’s not four years after Copenhagen; it’s two years before Paris!
Among my many hats, I help to coordinate the Climate Action Network’s Equity Working Group. Two things to know here. One is that CAN is a network of over 850 Non-governmental Organization in more than 90 countries. The other is that it’s been toiling in the dry fields of climate diplomacy for a long, long time.
The Equity Working Group is also known as the Effort Sharing Working Group, a complication of language that’s perhaps a bit confusing to people unfamiliar with the dialect spoken inside the conference halls. Or maybe not. This is, after all, 2013, and the rules of the great inside / outside game that is international climate politics are pretty well known. In any case, there’s no background in this brief post (though if you want some, see The Climate Talks: Could an equity tipping point be on the horizon?). What you have here is just a few quick pointers, before the 19th Conference of Parties opens in Warsaw.
At this point, there’s quite a bit of cynicism about the international climate talks. But note two subtleties. First, nothing else has worked either. Second, these are not the negotiations as we knew them before Copenhagen. In the conference halls as on the rest of the climate battlefield, the stakes are clearer, and the tensions higher. Moreover, some key pieces have been moved. Not that there’s been a breakthrough, not yet, but there are real forward-looking elements in the mix. The equity debate, in particular, has come a long way.
- October 18th, 2013
- “Dangerous Climate Change” is already here, and the scientists know it.
The IPCC’s new assessment report hasn’t even been released, but the denialist fog machine is already running hard. If you’re tired of it — and, frankly, if you’re tired of the smoothly-leveled understatement that we usually get from the IPCC — take a look at Is Climate Change Already Dangerous?, a new report by David Spratt of Australia’s Climate Code Red.
I’ll not summarize this report; there’s no point because it’s already a summary, one which sticks extremely close to the original scientific literature. But I will say that its focus is the Arctic, which as you may have noticed is getting a lot of nervous attention these days. And this for the very good reason that it’s melting before our eyes! Spratt’s paper is excellent on this subject – it lays out the basics of the situation and gives you the citations you need to drill deeper. Assuming you’re up to it. The message, after all, is that we’ve already crossed the thin red line into the days of “dangerous climate change.”
What’s happening here? Here’s a nice overview from Professor Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University and the Catlin Arctic Survey. The author of a recent paper called Arctic ice cover, ice thickness and tipping points and a leading authority on the polar regions, Wadhams says:
“I have been predicting [the collapse of sea ice in summer months] for many years. The main cause is simply global warming: as the climate has warmed there has been less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer… in the end the summer melt overtook the winter growth such that the entire ice sheet melts or breaks up during the summer months. This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015–16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be completed by those dates. As the sea ice retreats in summer the ocean warms up (to +7ºC in 2011) and this warms the seabed too. The continental shelves of the Arctic are composed of offshore permafrost, frozen sediment left over from the last ice age. As the water warms, the permafrost melts and releases huge quantities of trapped methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas so this will give a big boost to global warming.” (Vidal, 2012)
- September 19th, 2013
- Fractals of Climate Equity (or why intra-national inequality should be part of the debate on equity at the UNFCCC and elsewhere)
By Tim Gore (Oxfam International)
A year ago I presented the Climate Action Network’s (CAN’s) emerging position on equity in the 2015 deal at the UNFCCC workshop on “Equitable Access to Sustainable Development”. I said we believed that equity had hung like the sword of Damocles over the talks for too long, and that it was high time Parties took hold of that sword and used it to shape a fair and ambitious regime. At least some of them seem slowly to be doing so.
I wasn’t at the annual Bonn talks this year, but I hear the equity debate ripened, and the CAN position with it. At its heart, the CAN approach is one of principled pragmatism, that charts a middle ground between those who say there are no objective standards of equity – that ‘equity is in the eye of the beholder’ – and those who claim a single formula can and should determine each country’s commitments to climate action.
Instead CAN has called for an “equity corridor” to be built – a set of commonly understood principles and indicators that can establish the normative parameters of what can reasonably be expected of different countries, in order to inform (not determine) the political negotiations. In Bonn this year, this became a call for an ex ante “Equity Reference Framework” – and several champions, including Kenya, South Africa and the Gambia, and groups across civil society emerged to support it.
- June 21st, 2013
- The Climate Talks: Could an equity tipping point be on the horizon?
On April 29th, at the UN Campus in Bonn Germany, the post-Copenhagen negotiations began in earnest. There were two surprises. The first was that the mood was good. Most everyone was on their best behavior. Even the US delegation was in charming mode. This will no doubt change as we move closer to the Paris winter of 2015, where the next big showdown will take place, but still, it was a relief, and a good sign.
The second surprise is that, with the whole meeting dedicated to shaking out new ideas, we actually got a few. These included an encouraging proposal from AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, to immediately focus the short-term ambition agenda on international support for scaled-up renewable and energy-efficiency deployment. And (the subject of this post) they included the emergence of a global strategy – still tentative, but increasingly defined – for breaking the deadlock on “equity.”
The background here is that the equity agenda continues to haunt the climate negotiations, as it has done since their inception. Nor is this just a matter of North / South bloc-politics-as-usual, though it’s certainly true that “equity” has been a political football since the earliest days of the climate talks. The real problem is that 1992’s UN Framework Convention of Climate Change very clearly obligates the developed countries to “take the lead” in facing the climate problem, and, when all is said and done, they have simply not done so. Even worse, the whole “development” project – the only project that has recently managed to lift significant numbers of people out of poverty – is being thrown into crisis by the scale and severity of the climate threat. In this context, the slogan is clearly right – equity is indeed “the pathway to ambition.” Absent a working agreement on its principles and implications, it will be extremely difficult to shift the negotiations onto anything like a high-ambition track. In may even be impossible.
- May 8th, 2013
- Everybody Knows
Climate Denialism has peaked. Now what are we going to do?
It was never going to be easy to face the ecological crisis. Even back in the 1970s, before climate took center stage, it was clear that we the prosperous were walking far too heavily. And that “environmentalism,” as it was called, was only going to be a small beginning. But it was only when the climate crisis pushed fossil energy into the spotlight that the real stakes were widely recognized. Fossil fuels are the meat and potatoes of industrial civilization, and the need to rapidly and radically reduce their emissions cut right through to the heart of the great American dream. And the European dream. And, inevitably, the Chinese dream as well.
Decades later, 81% of global energy is still supplied by the fossil fuels: coal, gas, and oil. And though the solar revolution is finally beginning, the day is late. The Arctic is melting, and, soon, as each year the northern ocean lies bare beneath the summer sun, the warming will accelerate. Moreover, our plight is becoming visible. We have discovered, to our considerable astonishment, that most of the fossil fuel on the books of our largest corporations is “unburnable” – in the precise sense that, if we burn it, we are doomed. Not that we know what to do with this rather strange knowledge. Also, even as China rises, it’s obvious that it’s not the last in line for the promised land. Billions of people, all around the world, watch the wealthy on TV, and most all of them want a drink from the well of modern prosperity. Why wouldn’t they? Life belongs to us all, as does the Earth.
The challenge, in short, is rather daunting.
The denial of the challenge, on the other hand, always came ready-made. As Francis Bacon said so long ago, “what a man would rather were true, he more readily believes.” And we really did want to believe that ours was still a boundless world. The alternative – an honest reckoning – was just too challenging. For one thing, there was no obvious way to reconcile the Earth’s finitude with the relentless expansion of the capitalist market. And as long as we believed in a world without limits, there was no need to see that economic stratification would again become a fatal issue. Sure, our world was bitterly riven between haves and have-nots, but this problem, too, would fade in time. With enough growth – the universal balm – redistribution would never be necessary. In time, every man would be a king.
- April 1st, 2013
- A new interpretation of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities”
If you take a real bird’s-eye view of the climate negotiations – one in which only the largest features are visible – then you might say that they began in earnest with 1992’s negotiation of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. The next big event was the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in 1997. Then came Copenhagen in 2009 and the following daze, which finally lifted in late 2011 with the Durban Platform, which provided for “a Protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force, applicable to all countries” to be negotiated by 2015 and to go into effect in 2020.
Those negotiations are now proceeding in earnest, and they’re taking place within civil society networks as well. One of those networks, the most established and extensive of all those working within the climate talks, is the international Climate Action Network, which consists of over 700 NGOs from around the world. And CAN, as it is called, has now agreed on its own positions, which will be the basis of its lobbying and outreach as we approach the big year 2015. These positions are represented by two “submissions” to the UNFCCC secretariat. The submission to “Workstream 1” (which covers the post-2020 regime that is now being negotiated) is here. The submission to “Workstream 2” (which covers the effort to increase ambition prior to 2020) is here.
- March 5th, 2013
- Thinking hard about “Equity Reference Frameworks”
The Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios project recently organized an interesting workshop of Equity Access to Sustainable Development. The public report of the workshop is here, and it’s well worth spending some time with, particular because of the depth and sophistication with which it engaged with the problem of Equity Reference Frameworks.
See in particular the paper the report from the workshop, Relfections on Operationalizing EASD, and the backgroup paper on Equity Reference Frameworks and their operationalization, by Xolisa Ngwadla of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
Ngwadla introdues the idea of “Equity Reference Framework,” or ERF, in this manner:
“The underlying philosophy for an ERF is the universal application of egalitarian principle to guide a distributive view that seeks to address historical, current, and potential inequities in respect of contribution to emissions, and as such is corrective in character, and distributive in approach. In respect of the metric/non-metric chasm, a stepwise consideration is proposed, where there is an ex ante assessment of fair effort in a non-binding framework, with binding commitments proposed by parties and therefore catering to national circumstances.
However, the process of inscribing such commitments includes a Party-driven process to assess the adequacy of proposed commitments against the computed fair efforts, and as such drive ambition whilst reconciling a top-down and bottom-up approach. An important characteristic of the output of the ERF is that it reflects a relative fair effort by a Party, without prescribing only a level of emission reduction, but expecting a total contribution that includes means of implementation, thereby providing flexibility in terms of the mix of commitments a Party can use to achieve its responsibility at any given temperature goal.”
One further note. There is still a lot of unnecessary complexity swirling around the notion of equity. As far as the negotiations, and of finding a way forward in which the pursuit of equity and the pursuit of ambition buttress and strengthen each other, there are really only two relevant options — the Historical Responsibility approach and the Responsibility and Capacity approach. One of the reasons why this workshop was so interesting is that this baseline reality was recognized by the participants, who were thereby able to look forward and build upon it. In particular, they were able to have a coherent discussion about how the ERF debate could be folded into and play a helpful role within the UNFCCC process.
“Participants then discussed how the ERF could be constituted: at the prescriptive end it could be perhaps through a COP decision that could engage the IPCC and SBSTA and at the facilitative end it could be outside the formal UN process but exert influence through informal channels. Further discussion focused on the possible content of the ERF: it could contain objectives for adaptation and mitigation, based on global temperature goals (2 and 1.5 °C); and corresponding relative fair efforts by countries. Participants identified a list of functions the ERF could perform: it could inform the types of commitments countries could take, their timing, the legal form these commitments could take and the compliance consequences that could follow.”
- March 1st, 2013
- Book Review: Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth
- Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, James Davis, with a foreword by Doug Henwood. PM Press 2012(Click here for a shorter version of this review on Earth Island Journal)
There are four essays in this slim volume, one on left catastrophism, one on green catastrophism, one on right catastrophism, and one on zombies. I’m most interested in the left and the greens, though we do need to keep an eye on the right. As for the zombie craze, doesn’t it just come down to the fact that modern life feels like people keep trying to eat your face off?
Doug Henwood’s preface sets the stage nicely. He immediately makes a point that all green pessimists should keep always in mind: “Catastrophe can be paralyzing, not mobilizing.” In fact, it usually is. The challenge is to remember this even as you face the real and present catastrophe that’s now visible on the horizon. It’s a dilemma, no doubt about it, but the way forward, whatever it is, is going to have to take both its horns into proper account. The question is how.
Catastrophism comes at a good time for the green movement, which is in a period of rapid change. The key point here is that, even as we struggle to come to terms with the latest climate science, we need to remember (see particularly James Davis’ essay) that catastrophism is the “native terrain” of the right. The baseline point here is that right-wing politics is all about natural limits (scarcity, austerity, etc) rather than social ones (even in a world of limits, we’d be fine if we shared the commonwealth). This is not to say that environmentalism itself is biased toward the right – just the contrary – but it has flirted with catastrophism for a long, long time, and along the way it has had a number of unfortunate dalliances, particularly with right-wing populationism and xenophobia.
- January 31st, 2013
- Tom Athanasiou speaks . . .
For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I can stand to watch this. Which is in much contrast to just about every other recording I’ve ever seen of myself.
Except for my foot.
This, by the way, is from Sane Society, a new, small, ambitious internet talk show hosted, in Berkeley, by Tom Palmer. See the show’s channel here.
- January 15th, 2013
- Equity: The Pathway to Ambition
Well, the annual climate talks began again today. This time they’re in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which has the highest per-capita emissions in the world.
Equity is, of course on the agenda. The surprise — at least it’s a surprise for some — is that its no longer a peripheral issue. With the negotiations now tasked with setting the stage for a 2015 negotiations breakthrough, equity is getting some real time in the spotlight. In that context, you might spare a moment to read The pathway to Ambition, the “equity opener” which was just published in the opening edition of the Climate Action Network‘s ECO newsletter. I quite agree with it. In fact, I confess, I wrote it.
The unedited version is just a wee bit sharper. Here it is below.
“Is equity really the pathway to ambition? ECO is here to say that it had better be. Without equity, nothing else will work. Which is to say that nothing else will work well enough. Without equity the story of the climate transition will be a story of “too little, too late,” and as the scientists are anxiously telling us – see, recently, the World Bank’s Turn Down the Heat report – this is a story without a happy ending.
Let’s admit the public secret that we all already know – equity will either be shaped into a pathway to ambition or inequity will, assuredly, rise before us as an altogether unscalable wall. We can see how this would happen. The US — while insisting that it’s pushing bravely past the sterile politics of an obsolete North / South firewall – has managed to purge CBDR (and RC) from all official texts. But to what effect? Has it noticed that a supermajority of Parties understand the absence of new equity language as an affirmation of the original, and take the Convention’s language to remain entirely operational? Has it noticed that actions provoke reactions?
Todd Stern, still the head of the US delegation, has rejected the Annexes as “anachronistic,” and has gone on to call for “the differentiation of a continuum, with each country expected to act vigorously in accordance with its evolving circumstances, capabilities and responsibilities.” It’s a good idea, though alas it suffers by its association with the US’s aggressive – and often abrasive – drive to destroy 1997’s Kyoto Protocol. Coming into Doha, ECO can only wonder if this unfortunate picture is about to change. With Mr. Obama’s re-election, there’s a chance to reset Washington’s international strategy. There won’t be many more.
- November 26th, 2012
- The North-South divide, equity and development
The What Next Forum in Sweden has just published a nice, up-to-date overview of the Greenhouse Development Rights effort-sharing framework. Many thanks to Niclas Hällström for pushing the GDRs team to put it together. Weighing in at about ten thousand words, The North-South divide, equity and development – The need for trust-building for emergency mobilization is now the best single introduction and overview of GDRs around, and we’re very glad to have it.
We’re particularly glad because this essay contains an extended discussion of how GDRs – as an “equity reference framework” – could help us navigate a trust- and momentum-building transition to the high-ambition mobilization that we so desperately need.
By the way, this new GDRs overview is part of a book-length collection of rare relevance called What Next Volume III: Climate, Development and Equity. Take a good look at the Table of Contents page. There’s lots of excellent stuff here. In particular, Kevin Anderson’s Climate change: going beyond dangerous — Brutal numbers and tenuous hope is absolutely required reading. And Dale Wen’s piece on China — China and climate change — Spin, facts, and realpolitik — is excellent. If you still have Mark Lynas’ supremely unhelpful post-Copenhagen screed — “How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room” — floating around in your head, Dale’s piece will help you to purge it for good. And Matthew Stilwell’s Climate finance – How much is needed?, which is extremely useful. And don’t miss A global programme to tackle energy access and climate change, by Tariq Bauri and Niclas Hällström. This is a key piece of the puzzle.
- November 11th, 2012
- “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” — Bill McKibben’s call for a carbon divestment movement
— Tom Athanasiou, July 21, 2012
The new issue of Rolling Stone has a major essay by Bill McKibben, called Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math. It’s a must read, for a number of reasons. The big one is that McKibben’s call for a “carbon disinvestment” movement – aimed at breaking the hammerlock that the fossil cartel has on our civilization – is a big step forward. It’s not the only step we need to take (more on this below) but it would make a huge difference.
First up, Terrifying New Math is a fine science-for-civilians essay on the recent “extreme weather,” which has been monumental. In fact, the summer of 2012 may well turn out to be a decisive turning point in the climate war. Not to put too fine a point on this, but the deniers have obviously peaked, at least in the US, at least for now. Not that they’ve given up – or run out of funding – but at least they’re now in the rear view. I for one doubt that they’ll be taking control of the debate again.
Anyway, there’s a lot of extreme-weather color in this essay. Who knew that this spring, when it rained in Mecca at a temperature of 109 degrees, it was the hottest recorded downpour on the books? And McKibben does a great job of quickly moving on to key numbers, and then drawing some substantive conclusions.
The numbers are key to the story. McKibben chose three:
- July 21st, 2012
- Global Climate Justice gets its 15 Minutes: The UN workshop on “Equitable Access to Sustainable Development”
A few weeks back, deep in a diplomatic warren in Bonn, Germany, the UN climate negotiations convened their first major session since December’s “breakthrough” in Durban, South Africa. It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Bonn didn’t go well. See this rollup or, if you’re braced for the details, see the Climate Action Network’s coverage and commentary, and the Third World Network’s coverage and commentary, and the IISD’s summary. The UNFCCC Secretariat will also be doing a report; no doubt it will be soon.
Despite the dead air of the Maritim conference hotel, Bonn was notable, for two reasons. It was another halting step in our gradual collective awakening into the maddening grind of post-Copenhagen reality. And – the topic here – it was the occasion for a formal, day-long, plenary workshop on the topic of “Equitable Access to Sustainable Development” (hereafter “EASD”). The equity workshop (the video stream, in two parts, is here and here; the TWN’s summary is here) was agreed to and scheduled at Durban, and – if we’re clever and very lucky – it may someday be remembered as a step in the great post-Copenhagen reboot.
- June 4th, 2012
- Book Review: Michael Klare’s “The Race for What’s Left”
The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources
by Michael T. Klare
Metropolitan Books, 2012, 306 pages
When I mentioned to a friend that I was reviewing Michael Klare’s new book, his response, which I found surprising, was: “What’s Klare got to say that Richard Heinberg didn’t say a long time ago?”
Actually, I wasn’t really that surprised. The idea of “peak oil,” the field wherein Heinberg made his name, has largely passed – at least within greenie circles – into a larger and more metaphorical notion of “peak everything.” Moreover, “peak everything” has itself become a kind of common sense, and thus (like all common sense) a bit of a danger. An opportunity, if nothing else, for unfocused, slack thinking.
So, does Klare bring anything new to the table? The answer, I’m afraid, is “yes and no.”
Klare, like Heinberg, is a “peak everything” guy. He’s talking about the whole range of fossil fuels — gas, oil, and coal, in both conventional and unconventional forms. And he’s talking lumber; and foods of all sorts; and iron, copper, tin and the other standard metals; and specialty metals like tantalum and platinum; and “rare earths” like neodymium and lanthanum (think “Prius”); and nuclear fuels like uranium; and just about everything else.
- May 7th, 2012
- BASIC experts: Equitable access to sustainable development
It’s unwise to predict the future, particularly the future of the climate negotiations. But if you believe that their outcome is critical, and that it will bear heavily upon our common future, then you’ll hope that Equitable access to sustainable development, a long-in-the-making report by climate and climate-equity experts from India, China, Brazil and South Africa, will be taken seriously.
The EASD report was released on December 3rd in Durban, just about the time that the talks started hotting up, so it’s unlikely that most negotiators had time to read it with any care. But if Durban goes at all well, if that is it manages to save the Kyoto Protocol and to otherwise open the door to serious consideration of a next-generation climate accord, one that’s actually fair enough to support real ambition, then this report will, eventually, be recognized as a turning point.
The South’s Ministers, at least, will take it seriously. They know the problem of “equitable access to sustainable development,” and that it must be solved if there’s to be a successful global climate regime. And, at this point, it may also be reasonable to hope that, after Durban, the environmental NGOs will finally begin to face the challenge of fair-shares global burden sharing.
The governments of the North are another matter. The Europeans, certainly, do not imagine that the demands of sustainable development can be put aside, and even the United States, despite its political crisis, is in some kind of motion. Not that the Obama team will welcome this reassertion of the equity agenda. That would be too much to hope for from the “realists” that brought us the Copenhagen-era push for Pledge and Review. But at the same time, it seems clear that the orthodoxies of traditional realism no longer charm as they once did. They have become cover stories, and this no realism can survive.
- December 5th, 2011
- Linked Fates — “Occupy” and the climate negotiations
Anyone who claims that the fate of the climate talks is bound to the fate of the Occupy movement better expect a bit of skepticism in return. Now, if it were Occupy and the Climate Justice movement, that would be a different story! Both are complex social movements, and both are driving hard for economic justice. Their overlap is inevitable. But the negotiations themselves? What have they to do with economic justice? What have they to do with the great divide between “the 1%” and “the 99%”?
It’s an easy question to ask. Too easy, actually. It’s a question that raises others…
Beyond vague talk about “the most vulnerable countries and people,” few of us are really prepared to approach the climate crisis as a justice problem. So it should be said that it didn’t have to be this way. If justice had long been a major part of environmental politics, we’d be in better shape today. But it hasn’t been, not until recently, and the truth is that Big Green still isn’t really on board with justice environmentalism. In fact, it’s fair to say that today’s progressive enviros are the inheritors of a long tradition, and that it’s not a uniformly admirable one. The climate politics mainline, in particular, has long focused, almost exclusively, on the technical side of the transition problem. Not that there’s any hope without a technology revolution, but must it come packaged with a refusal to understand, let alone confront, the economic divide that’s at the core of the global climate-policy deadlock?
Things are changing now, or at least they could. But the past matters.
Remember Copenhagen? Remember the vitriol of the blame game that followed Copenhagen? Do try, because soon we’re going to see what, if anything, we’ve learned in the two years since that great debacle. As I write this, Durban, South Africa (the next Conference of Parties to the Climate Convention) is coming right up, and it will almost certainly join Copenhagen on the long list of grim, poorly-reported failures to make the international breakthrough that we so badly need. As Durban approaches, and then passes, we’re all going to have to decide what the hell we think is actually going on.
- November 2nd, 2011
- Just substitute your national flag…
- August 7th, 2011
- Who’s doing more to reduce emissions, the North or the South?
The “comparability of effort” debate is hotting up, and there’s no cooling on the horizon.
This debate is fundamental to the “blame game.” Recall, for example, the cold shower that was Copenhagen, and the storms of China-bashing that followed. The blame for the debacle, you see, belonged to the “emerging economies,” who refused to carry their shares of the global stabilization burden. Or so it was said by legions of disappointed, overly-certain pundits across the political spectrum.
Someday, it will be easier to make solid judgments about who’s doing their share, and who’s free riding. Before that fine day dawns, though, two things will have to happen. First, the national pledges of action that countries – northern and southern, large and small – have committed to deliver to the UN Secretariat, the pledges in which they lay out their emission-reduction action plans, have to get a whole lot easier to read and compare and interpret. Second, we have to reach at least a rough international consensus on what different countries, at different levels of development, should do, in the light of historically-informed and principle-based comparisons that take, say, wealth and responsibility into account.
- June 14th, 2011
- Tax Justice as Climate Justice
Originally published by Yes! magazine
You don’t have to leave America to go to the Third World. I, for example, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and here, as in all northern megacities, crushing poverty surrounds the comfortable precincts. I can’t call it “extreme” poverty, for of course it cannot compete with the despair endemic to, say, the north African drought zones. But when an organization like Remote Area Medical feels compelled to bring its traveling free clinic to The Oakland Coliseum (now, officially, the Oracle Arena), and when thousands stand for long hours to receive basic care they could not hope to afford, the problem is nonetheless clear. This last April, when the good folks at RAM pulled up stakes and left Oakland for their next stop, it was Haiti. The America they were leaving was not the “exceptional” America of the official dream.
Obviously, there’s lots to say about this. And much from which to avert our eyes. But what else is new? The apologists say that the poor will be with us always, so how is poverty in Oakland California in any way “news?” Or poverty more generally, given the now routine brutalities of the new economy? Or insecurity and suffering more generally still, given the precarious state of the whole global system? And what, finally, has any of this got to do with climate? The answer, simply put, is “everything.” Which is to say that while most economic-justice activists don’t spend much time thinking about the climate crisis, it’s become ridiculously easy to argue that the deficit / budget / tax battle that’s now raging across the wealthy lands of America and Europe is going to have outsized impacts on climate politics both domestic and international. That in fact it already has.
- April 27th, 2011
- Kissing cousins?
- April 5th, 2011
- Cancun Success? Compared to What?
Cancun was not a surprise. Nor was it a failure. This much is easy to say.
But was it a success? This is a more difficult question. I used to have an irritating friend. Every time you made a strong, implausibly simple claim – something like “Cancun was a success” – he would reply “Compared to what?” It was a pedantic device, but it worked well enough. It made you think, which, I suppose, is why it was irritating.
Compared to what the science demands, Cancun was obviously a failure. The Climate Tracker crew made that clear in an evaluation filed before most people even got home – if the pledges in the Cancun Agreements are delivered upon, but only just barely, the result would be at least 3.2C of warming, and possibly far more – the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere would be about 650 ppm in 2100.
Why then wasn’t Cancun a failure? Because, just maybe, it will put us onto a better road. Because it was so closely managed that, even in the face of immense discord and multi-polarity, it managed to produce a weak – though substantive – agreement. Because, though doubt is everywhere, it could be the breakthrough that its partisans claim it is. Because, in any case, we’ve lived to fight another day, and the UN-based multilateral climate negotiations have been relegitimized, at least for the moment. Which is why most of the assembled NGOs, citing a pre-Cancun study by UK think tank E3G, decided that the Cancun outcome met the qualifications for the “Lifeline scenario”:
“Skillful diplomacy led by the Mexican Presidency provides just enough substance to move the process forward; and does not compromise environmental integrity of reaching a global deal in the future… This scenario provides sufficient movement on key issues and rolls the negotiation process forwards another year, but must contain a high degree of trust and confidence to prevent moving back into Zombie.”
The Zombie scenario, suffice it to say, would have been worse.
- December 14th, 2010
- The Cancun Setup: One year after Copenhagen, and counting
The first thing to say about the climate negotiations – meeting soon in sunny Mexico – is that they’re teetering at the edge of what, back in the day, we used to call a “legitimation crisis.” On every side, folks are eager to suggest that the negotiations have become a waste of time. It’s gotten to the point that people are apologizing for going to Cancun, as if it were bad for their image to be seen at the climate talks.
Which, actually, is an odd turn of events. Because if ever a moment was critical, it’s this one, midway through the cycle of negotiations (Copenhagen 2009, Cancun 2010, South Africa 2011) that will determine the shape and direction of the post-Kyoto climate regime. What happens now matters, particularly because, all else being equal, the eventual end of the economic crisis will be accompanied by another rapid rise in global emissions. The only way to avoid that rise, and many others, is to escape the logic of the business-as-usual world. Despite the coming low-carbon energy revolution, we can’t expect to make that escape without systems of global cooperation, burden sharing and accountability to help us along, systems that can only be rooted in a fair multilateral accord. Which is to say that the climate talks may not be fun, and may not even be the main event, but there’s no real hope without them.
Copenhagen, unfortunately, was a grave disappointment, and was quickly followed by a cascade of others: the “Climategate” fiasco, the failure of the beltway realists to deliver a US climate bill, an explosion of denialist populism on the American right, and, of course, the midterm American elections. Even worse, from the point of view of the climate talks – the success of which depends, in the last instance, on international cost sharing – is the emergence, in Europe as well as the US, of an Austerity Panic Party that pretends, amidst unprecedented inequality and unprecedented wealth, that the North is bankrupt. The point of the pretense? To project a story of the future in which declining “foreign aid” is as inevitable as the decimation of domestic social services.
The discouraging pace of the international talks, in other words, is anything but unique. Right now, nothing is working particularly well. The US, in particular, is a model of dysfunction, and an eager player in the international “blame game,” which is now in full swing. Nor is this a simple “climate problem.” The truth is that the climate challenge is bound tightly to a larger political crisis, and that neither is likely to be resolved without the other. So, to be clear – there is no “deadlock” in the global negotiations. Nor is there a “North / South impasse.” What we’re seeing, rather, is a political and governance disaster of the first order, and despite its many critical international dimensions, it’s a disaster that is centered in the wealthy world.
- November 17th, 2010
- You want Loopholes with that?
The bad news is that the climate/energy push just crashed and burned in the Senate. The good news is that, in the wake of that crash, the US climate community is having a robust Big Think. The last time we had such an exchange was back after what, for lack of a better term, I will call the Great Copenhagen Disappointment. Which raises an interesting question – do we only debate, openly and seriously, after we lose?
If so, and judging by the situation in Bonn, where an inconclusive post-Copenhagen “intersessional” just shambled a bit closer to December’s rematch in Cancun, we’re up for another round of disputation soon. Not, of course, that disappointment in Cancun is certain. It’s still possible that the wealthy countries are going to actually come up with the “fast start finance” that they promised back in Copenhagen. Maybe they’ll even go beyond fast-start finance, and actually start acting like they want to make a meaningful international deal. Because, frankly, it’s their move.
- August 11th, 2010
- The National Academies study, from a global point of view
A few days ago, I got mail from a colleague at Climate Action Network International, a communications guy, asking for a comment on the US National Academy of Sciences recent climate reports, or rather on the US emissions budget that is recommended / affirmed in these reports. It turned out to be quite an interesting request.
First up, though, these reports only strengthen the scientific case. For example, the IPCCs 2007 Forth Assessment Report says that sea levels could rise by between 0.6 and 1.9 feet by 2100, but recent studies have suggested that this is far too optimistic. The NAS reports incorporate this newer research and concludes that sea levels could rise by as much as 6.5 feet in during this century.
Second, I was a bit surprised by the way the NAS approached the problem of calculating the US emissions budget. The standard methodology in the climate world is to estimate a remaining global budget (which is hard) and then to work out the share of this budget that properly belongs to each country (which is harder). And you have to admit this approach makes sense; after all, when the US or any country takes a budget, less is left for everyone else; which is why climate, fundamentally, is a sharing problem. Anyway, I expected to find some version of this approach in the NAS reports. How else could they calculate a recommended US budget?
- May 24th, 2010
- After Copenhagen: On being sadder but wiser, China, and justice as the way forward
(Revised, Feb 19, 2010)
(For a snappier version of this analysis — without the charts! — see the Earth Island Journal)
First up, this is not another enumeration of confident judgments. I do not presume that Copenhagen was an unmitigated failure, or that this failure was Obama’s fault, or, as is the fashion, that China was the ugliest of them all. Nor do I suggest that the South’s negotiators made impossible demands. Or argue, with disingenuous resignation, that the UN process is obsolete. Or believe that, finally, only a US breakthrough really matters.
To be sure, Copenhagen was absolutely a failure, in the precise sense that it failed to catapult us into the fair and ambitious global mobilization that’s needed to prevent climate catastrophe. But this was never going to happen. What did happen, as the veteran Bangladeshi policy activist Saleem Huq put it, was a shaking of the traditional pieces of the global geo-political puzzle and their landing in a new and unfamiliar configuration. In this sense, the question of success and failure is moot. The real question is whether this new configuration offers us new ways forward, and if any of them lead beyond the “North / South impasse (a misleading formulation that implies an equal division of blame) to enable a meaningful global mobilization.
This question cannot be answered by the hard, uncompromising pragmatics of campaign logic. This is a time for reflection, not for pushing forward, one more meeting, one more demo, one more demand at a time. This time we need strategy as well as tactics, and we need it fast. 2010, which will culminate with another showdown in December in Mexico, is going to be another big year. As, for that matter, will 2011, and 2012, and all the other years in the brief period just ahead, the post-Copenhagen period in which we must, finally, begin to move.
- January 31st, 2010
- Getting China Wrong
It’s been a long time since Copenhagen.
A few weeks after it ended, chatting to a friend about some stupid comments I’d overhead during that long last night, he said that “everyone gets a pass for anything they said during the first week.” The first week after Copenhagen is what he meant — a time of exhaustion and near despair in international climate circles.
I bring this up because some of the stupid things that were said during that first week are still with us. There were plenty of them, of course, but this post doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive. It’s just about China.
Copenhagen, of course, was not a success. But it did change the game, in particular by establishing a framework in which both northern and southern countries can step forward to “pledge” to mitigation actions of various kinds. As they do, scientists and institutes around the world are tabulating the pledges, normalizing them, calculating their implied aggregate impact on global temperature, and — inevitably — drawing conclusions about which countries are doing their “fair share” and which are free riding on the efforts of others. View Full Text »
- January 30th, 2010
- A 350 PPM emergency pathway
The Greenhouse Development Rights project, of which we are core members, has just released a brief report (only 12 pages) entitled A 350 ppm Emergency Pathway. In it, for the first time, a very precise and up-to-date representative 350 ppm pathway is developed. Like so:
The first phase of the 350 campaign has been a wild success. 350 is now an international symbol of emergency climate stabilization. More importantly, the 350 target reflects a scientifically-grounded assessment of what global climate protection really means. But what would it actually take to bring the atmospheric carbon-dioxide (CO2) concentration back to 350 parts per million? This memo provides a quick, up-to-date overview of the issues here, which are significant to any plausible emergency emissions-reduction effort. It focuses on the extremely limited size of the global CO2 budget that would remain to us in a 350 ppm future, and on the shape of the emissions pathway that’s needed if were to keep within that budget. In particular, it specifies a representative emissions pathway consistent with a 350 ppm concentration target. By way of context, it then compares this 350 pathway to an emission pathway consistent with a 2C temperature target, and to other, supposedly 2C-compliant pathways that have significantly lower odds of actually satisfying their target. Finally, it offers a brief glimpse of the challenges that all true emergency climate-reduction targets raise in this North / South divided world.
- December 23rd, 2009
- Rough initial thoughts on the Copenhagen Accord
Copenhagen was obviously a failure — at least if you judge it by the numbers, the formal emission targets and financial commitments that are needed to support a fair and effective emergency global climate mobilization. If you judge it, that is, by what is necessary.
The more pressing question, though, is whether Copenhagen was a failure when judged against, not what is necessary, but rather what was possible. This is a much more difficult question, and it has far more to do with judgment than with calculation. And, here, very little is obvious.
- December 22nd, 2009
- Europe’s Share of the Climate Challenge
A major new report, just released today by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Friends of the Earth Europe, shows that — despite an increasingly widespread sense that climate catastrophe can no longer be averted — radical action, on the necessary scale, is still a very real possibility.
The report — Europe’s Share of the Climate Challenge: Domestic Actions and International Obligations to Protect the Planet — takes a close look at Europe, showing exactly how it can show leadership in keeping global climate change within the necessary planetary limits. The analysis is in terms of Europe’s”two fold obligation,” and shows how it can act, on the one hand, by undertaking domestic actions to rapidly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and, on the other, by fulfilling its international obligations to help other countries address the twin crises of climate change and development. View Full Text »
- December 1st, 2009
- Chuck Norris on Copenhagen
A lot of dreck comes across my desktop. I’m even on a list called ennui mail, and some of it is utterly irredeemable. But still I took notice when Chuck Norris: Copenhagen Talks To Forge One World Order blew in.
I especially like this bit:
In this conference, they’re going to try to take our money and send it to third-world countries because of, since we spend so much oil and these other countries have suffered, then were going to give our money to these third-world countries.
But then there’s this:
Neil, we have people here starving in our own country, Norris said. You know, my foundation, I have families, who are making $9,000 a year, the kids I’m teaching. Why aren’t we trying to help the poverty in our own country
… which demands to be taken a bit more seriously. View Full Text »
- December 1st, 2009
- One billion high emitters
An important scientific paper (by Chakravarty et al.), called Sharing global CO2 emission reductions among one billion high emitters was just published in the Proceedings of the [US] National Academy of Sciences. And because, as Greenwire notes, it “loosely builds on the idea of ‘greenhouse development rights,'” we’ve decided to write, and prominently feature, this a friendly rejoinder to it. View Full Text »
- July 10th, 2009
- A Blame Game? Get ready for Prime Time!
First up, the climate talks are not going very well. After a rousing start in Rio in 1992, from which we returned with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the negotiations have been anything but inspiring. 1997s Kyoto Protocol defined the rich-world actions the first steps that would put meat on the Conventions bones, but the details were not ideal, and as the years passed, well, lets just say that things didnt quite work out as hoped. And now, twelve years on, Copenhagen is rising on the horizon. View Full Text »
- June 18th, 2009
- To fix the climate, get serious about solving poverty
- June 2nd, 2009
- Principal-based Annex 1 Differentiation in the Copenhagen Accord
Earlier this year, in preparation for a pre-Copenhagen NGO policy summit, we prepared a framing and background paper called Principal-based Annex 1 Differentiation in the Copenhagen Accord. It’s quite interesting, we think, as a guide to thought and debate, but do note that it was written with an expert audience in mind.
- May 21st, 2009
- Public Secrets
In this brief but pointed essay in Earth Island Journal, EcoEquity’s Tom Athanasiou reviews some of the widely known, but rarely acknowledged, public secrets of the climate crisis. Like, for example, that the climate crisis is essentially a crisis of development and justice.
- March 1st, 2009
- Second edition of the Greenhouse Development Rights book
The second edition of the Greenhouse Development Rights book is now available for download. Download the entire second edition here. Download a nicely composed brief executive summary (6 pages) here. Download the longer version of the executive summary (10 pages) here.
You can also read a detailed list of the changes that have been made since the first edition was released (December 2007) in Bali.
- February 17th, 2009
- A Call for Leadership: A GDRs analysis of the EU?s proposed 2020 targets
When published, this was the most ambitious of our country reports. It contains a detailedanalysis of the EUs climate policy, as well as concrete proposals for moving forward into a principle-based climate regime that might actually work.
Read more and download the report on the Greenhouse Development Rights website.
- October 19th, 2008
- EcoEquity’s View, in Eight Minutes
EcoEquity’s director, Tom Athanasiou, on the occasion of a fundraiser for International Rivers, here gives an eight minute overview of the climate challange, as he sees it. It’s not a great bit of video, but it’s concise, that’s for sure! The slides (there are two) are of course from the Greenhouse Development Rights presentation. Here a recent version.
- September 10th, 2008
- A Peak on the Horizon
There are essentially two paths forward from here, both of them passing through Copenhagen and then heading on to a global peak and, subsequently, a rapid decline in greenhouse-gas emissions. The first, an extremely dangerous business-as-usual path, is one in which we fail to act, decisively and in time, and thus commit ourselves to disruptive, frightening, and extremely expensive near-future adjustments. View Full Text »
- August 4th, 2008
- A Brief, Adequacy and Equity-Based Evaluation of Some Prominent Climate Policy Frameworks and Proposals
In this report, we briefly consider six approaches to a post-Kyoto climate regime, all of which claim to be fair. We evaluate each of them on its own terms, and also in terms of its ability, or potential ability, to deliverthe all-important quality that we call “developmental equity.”
Read and download this paper on the Heinrich Boell site (external link)
- February 18th, 2008
- A Critical Appraisal of the Vattenfall Proposal for a Fair Climate Regime
In this report, we expanded our analysis of the Vattenfall Proposal. It wasan interesting exercise, because, with this proposal, Vattenfallstepped beyond generalities and (a first for the business sector, as far as we know) and made a specific, quantitative proposal for a global burden sharing framework that it quite explicitly claimed to be fair.
It turned out that we did not agree. But the proposalstill merits a bit of attention.
Read and download this report from the Heinrich Boell website (external link)
- February 13th, 2008
- Toward a Defensible Climate Realism
There is change coming to Washington. The question is if it will bechange enough, and when it will arrive. And right now, well let’s just say that reasonable men and women can differ about the demands of climate realism, and its relationship to the logic of Beltway politics. As opposed to, say, the science. Or the demands of justice.
Which is why we wrote [this brief essay]. View Full Text »
- February 6th, 2008
- The Worth of an Ice Sheet
The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change received a lot of attention. But Stern dismissed stringent stabilization targets, or any sort of peak and decline trajectory that would have a high probability of keeping temperature increase below 2C.
In this analysis, EcoEquity’s Paul Baer takes a close look at Sterns treatment of potential catastrophic risks (like the l of the Greenland ice sheet) and demonstrates that Sterns treatment of these risks is clearly inadequate. And he draws the obvious conclusion: Those who claim that Stern has shown that emissions pathways consistent with the 2C target are not economically justified are simply wrong.
- January 18th, 2007
- The Inconvenient Truth: Part II
Weve seen the movie, so we know the first part were in trouble deep. And its time, past time, for at least some of us to go beyond warning to planning, to start talking seriously about a global crash program to stabilize the climate…
Which is exactly what this essay (we hesitate to call it a manifesto) sets out to do…
- January 18th, 2007
- High Stakes: Designing emissions pathways to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change
High Stakes is a contribution to the intensifying debate over precaution and long-term objectives. This is because it shows, by way of fairly robust but quite transparent risk calculations, that even if we could orchestrate an extremely steep and nearly immediate decline in global emissions, we would still face a risk on the order of 10-20% or more of exceeding the 2C threshold, the most broadly endorsed “precautionary” target.
The report was published by the Institute of Public Policy Research
- November 19th, 2006
- Hey Look! Another EcoEquity!
We have, for most of our institutional lifetime, worked to find justice in the unpromising fields of the global climate debate. The Ella Baker Center in Oakland California searches in the even more unpromising lands of urban America. But hey, we couldn’t be more friendly to Ella Baker, or to its Green Job Corp initiative. Or for that matter to its notion of the “Three Es” — which would be Equity. Economy, and Environment.
- May 1st, 2006
- EcoEquity Blogs the Montreal Conference
We, for our part, took the occasion of COPMOP1 to experiment with a blog. It was fun, intermittently illuminating, and occasionally thereapeutic. Our big success was that, in it, we finally succeeded in a long-time effort to engage the anti emissions trading folks in a public debate. To pick up that debate from the beginning, see Cloud Cukcoo Land. To drop in at a more orderly restart, see Cutting Through the Smoke on Trading. And, hey, feel free to contribute. This is definately a work in progress.
- December 7th, 2005
- Honesty About Dangerous Climate Change
Just in case you’re in a good mood, we offer you this exploration of a most difficult subject — What is the science actually telling us, and how should we pass it on It doesn’t directly address “the equity issue,” but it helps, we think, to lay the foundation upon which real climate equity will have to be built… View Full Text »
- November 22nd, 2005
- Where We Stand: Honesty about Dangerous Climate Change, and about Preventing it
Excuse the didactic tone we’re taking here…
We stand, first, with the emerging scientific consensus, which tells us we have very little time to act if we honestly expect to avoid a global (as opposed to a “merely local”) climate catastrophe. Further, we insist, contrary to the pretended realism of those who seek to be “reasonable,” on a rather direct approach. We do not, for example, imagine that carbon concentrations that would quite probably yield 3C or 4C of warming can reasonably be considered “safe.” (See this 2004 essay for technical details). Instead, we prefer to stay in the reality-based world of those (the E.U., the Climate Action Network) who draw the line at 2C maximum (which is itself not by any means safe) and who admit that avoiding a global climate catastrophe is going to be difficult indeed. View Full Text »
- November 22nd, 2005
- Finally, A Good Interview with EcoEquity
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have done what environmental activists couldn’t — they’ve put global warming on the mainstream agenda. Now the question is what can be done about it Dr. Kevin Trenberth (National Center for Atmospheric Research) lays out the problem, while EcoEquity’s Tom Athanasiou links climate change to global justice. And it’s a podcast folks — you can listen instead of read!
- September 27th, 2005
- A Glass Half Full? The Kyoto Protocol, and Beyond
The first thing to say about Kyoto’s entry into force is that it is a significant victory, won particularly by the Europeans, over social and economic complacency, cash-amplified, flat-earth pseudo-science, the carbon cartel, and, of course, the Bush Administration. The second is that, if it’s not soon followed by other victories, deeper and even more challenging ones, the Earth’s climate will soon – think 2050 or even sooner – be transformed into one that is far more inhospitable, and even hostile, than even most environmentalists imagine. View Full Text »
- May 20th, 2005
- The Writing on the Wall
It’s been a while since the last climate conference, COP8, long enough for the remorse to fade and long enough, even, for a bit of revisionist history. It’s certainly been long enough for lessons to be counted, and conclusions drawn. And, alas, they have been, with a vengeance.
If you’ve been following the climate talks, you’ll know what we mean. For while the new science demands new urgency, the negotiators can step only haltingly, if at all. With the U.S. withdrawn into its strange neo-conservative agonies, the global economy gone manic-depressive, and Kyoto’s progress stalled by Russian temporizing and, no doubt, sleazy back-room deals, no nation North or South seems much disposed to visionary leadership. The long term seems long away, and it is given to the scientists to tell us that, in fact, it is breathing down our necks. In the corridors and plenary halls, another logic rules. Realism, the usual realism of short-term, national self-interest, is the watchword. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2004
- First, the Bad News
Optimism, they all tell us, is a precondition of effective political action. And they are no doubt quite correct. Despair, after all, hardly motivates sustained political engagement. Drinking, more like it.
Optimism, unfortunately, is a problem, for enviros in particular but in fact for anyone determined to look, hard and critically, at the truth of our predicament. Few of us are able to consistently follow Antonio Gramsci’s advice, to combine “pessimism of the intellect” with “optimism of the will.” Most of the time, it seems more like a choice between one and the other. Or, even worse, a choice between paralyzing pessimism and idiot, right-wing confidence.
We, for our part, still believe that realism (the real thing, not the ersatz neo-con variety) is the best ground for an honest optimism, and in that spirit we’d like to start off this issue of Climate Equity Observer with an effort to look reality in the eye. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2004
- A Northern Call for Southern Leadership
The events of the last few years – 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq come immediately to mind – should prod us all to admit that our situation is deadly grim. And nothing on the climate front offers evidence to the contrary. Forget the state of the Kyoto protocol. The emerging recognition that the Earth’s climate sensitivity is likely to be quite high will generate a special breath of dread, at least in those few of us who follow such matters.
Much can be said about this. For example: it’s simply not going to be possible for the developing countries to indefinitely avoid greenhouse gas emission limitations. It’s certainly not going to be possible for them to do so while, at the same time, honestly speaking for either the good of their own peoples or the good of humanity. Yes, the US is pursuing a duplicitous and sometimes evil strategy. Yes, the Europeans are conflicted, often hypocritical, and, as they demonstrated at COP8, prone to clumsiness. But narrow conceptions of “national interests,” as they are called in the realist tradition, are also a problem in the developing world. Thus, its statesmen and ministers have thus far satisfied themselves with refusal (even of a long-overdue analysis of “the adequacy of commitments”) and with merely abstract appeals to equity. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2004
- PetroPolitics Global Warming Backgrounder
It would be good to be past todays well-financed skepticism about global warming, good if we all already understood that, in a world rife with potentially catastrophic threatsfrom nuclear war to genetic erosionglobal warming is one of the most serious. Alas we are not. Alarmingly the skeptics (better called denialists) continue to derail the all-important political discussion of global warming by pretending that its still an unproven theory.
This backgrounder, however, will ignore them.
It will also avoid any real introduction of the science of global warming. Such introductions take time, and they are already readily available. See for example the excellent graphic overview of global warming (but not its politics) which the UN Environment Program maintains at www.grida.no/climate/vital/. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2004
- Book Review: Richard Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over, Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies”
by Richard Heinberg. (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2003.)
The beer keg has run dry, only a few dispirited hors d’ouevres languish on the tray…The Party’s Over. In this important new book, Richard Heinberg argues that the end of the biggest party of all, the fossil fuel gala, is in sight. Basing his argument on the work of geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who accurately predicted that U.S. crude-oil production would peak between 1966 and 1972 (the actual peak year was 1970), Heinberg draws on a contemporary “roster of Cassandras” in petroleum research to suggest that global fossil-fuel liquid extraction rates could peak as early as 2006, depending on how quickly the world economy grows. In the process he effectively debunks the rosy visions of well paid cornucopians like Bjrn Lomborg, whose 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist was greeted enthusiastically by the business community and journals like The Economist. He also argues, and quite convincingly, that Iraq War II was, finally, about oil: the Bush administration, according to Heinberg, knew about the predicted peak through its access to oil-insider information like that provided by Petroconsultants, and acted to secure one of the largest oil reserves on the planet so that no one else would get there first. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2003
- A CEO Interview: Michael Grubb
Michael Grubb is one of our best known international climate policy analysts. Currently at the Royal Institute for International Affairs and at University College, London, Grubb has written on all aspects of the climate problem, focusing especially on issues of equity, emissions trading, and European leadership.
This interview was conducted on December 30 2002 (we were still in the shadow of COP8) by Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity. It’s been a while, we know, but we’ve been busy, and there was that war… And, actually, Michael’s comments are only more interesting for the delay. View Full Text »
- December 30th, 2002
- The Science of Drawing the Line
(For a much longer version of this analysis, and all the accompanying political and strategic discussion, see our recent book, Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming. See Dead Heat post, or browse to the Seven Stories Press Dead Heat page, where you can actually buy a copy.)
Our goal here is hardly comprehensive. We suffer no illusion that we can summarize climate science as a whole. But we do think that can distill out the part of the science that bears most immediately on the core problem of drawing the line.
Should the climate negotiations try to cap CO2 pollution in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million (ppm), 450 ppm, or some other (hopefully lower) figure Or should we take an entirely different approach and try to cap temperature change itself, rather than CO2 pollution And what must we know about the kinds of impacts and instabilities that can be expected at any given level View Full Text »
- October 15th, 2002
- Calling All Realists
The abortive “Earth Summit” in Johannesburg is already fading from our overtaxed memories. Indeed, as we write this, the conference of the week is COP8, the Eighth Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. And it may be a whole lot more important than Jo’burg, if only as a marker, a way to date another death of innocence. For COP8 comes only days after Al Qaeda, in its latest blast of apocalyptic warfare, destroyed a pair of Balinese discos, and with them hundreds of lives. We should not forget, those of us who follow the game of global environmental policy, that Johannesburg’s final preparatory conference was also in Bali, and only a few short miles away.
COP8 comes on a calendar no activist would have chosen. It’s not so much that the climate talks are in limbo, but that their progress-just now we’re waiting for Kyoto to enter into force, and looking forward to debating the globalization of the climate regime-seems abstract and even unreal against the background of an ever more gruesome world. The brutal post-boom economy, Al Qaeda’s mad utopianism, an imminent US invasion of Iraq: together they announce a new and bloody chapter in the history of our strange civilization, and set a geopolitical context in which semi-rational negotiations like those at the COPs can only seem odd, brave, acts of faith.
As if the climate talks could someday really matter. View Full Text »
- October 15th, 2002
- A Tale of Two Cities
This analysis of the linked destinies of the climate equity and global justice movements was written in August and then put aside to settle. After September 11, we decided to defer its publication, and since then our assessment has inevitably been overtaken by events. This, however, is true of most everything thats been written about Bonn. And as these movements strike us as more important than ever, weve decided to go ahead and publish this, our analysis of the Bonn Compromise. Some rewriting was done, but not much. In the next issue of Climate Equity Observer, well give our views on how September 11 has changed the terrain of global environmental politics. Meanwhile, we hope you find this analysis to be both interesting and provocative. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2002
- A War of Coalitions
As we write this, four months has passed since September 11, and since the pundits began chanting that “everything has changed.” It’s not a long time, but then again, history is moving quickly these days, and its long enough for us to say that there’s little evidence for this nearly universal claim.
We are not, to be sure, impartial observers. Nor are we blind. A great deal has changed, a great deal is different. But much of the difference, it seems to us, lies on an axis of disillusionment: much that was unacknowledged is now too obvious to ignore. Further, it’s clear that, from the perspective of justice and sustainability, we’re in much the same hole as we were before.
So perhaps everything has changed. The question now, as Gregory Bateson used to say, is if the difference makes a difference. And the answer to that question is simply that it’s too early to know. Still, we think a close look at how recent events have changed global coalitional politics can shed useful light on the challenges of the future. So here goes. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2002
Drag up Kyoto these days and you risk the charge of being anti-American. It’s as if we have entered a new, Orwellian world where our personal reliability as comrades in the struggle is measured by the degree to which we invoke the past to explain the present. Suggesting there is a historical context for the recent atrocities is by implication to make excuses for them. Anyone who is with us doesn’t do that. Anyone who does, is against us.
The line between understanding and excusal is thin, and easy to transgress. This is a problem for us all, but a special problem for those of us who have managed to claim, in any way at all, the honors of activism. We must speak, and from time to time we must speak clearly of the big picture. And even in America, people, many of them anyway, are prepared to listen. This is, as they say, a “teachable moment.” View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2002
- After Marrakech
In the previous edition of CEO (written after Bonn but published after September 11), we argued that despite all the weakening that the Kyoto Protocol had suffered, the Bonn Compromise had made it ratifiable, and had to be counted as a major victory. We argued that with Kyoto’s ratification carbon would actually be priced, that new principles for the protection of the global commons would be established, and that the structures necessary to eventually strengthen the climate regime would be put into place. And we added a few elements of hope: that as the reality of climate change becomes more sensible and the climate protection coalition stronger, it would become possible to step past Kyoto to the global, equity-based treaty that might actually work.
At COP7 in Marrakech, the Kyoto Protocol was weakened even further – it is, now, the Marrakech Dilution of the Bonn Compromise to the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, and despite the often-dispiriting nature of Kyoto’s loopholes, we believe that the essential situation remains unchanged. Particularly in today’s grim international context, the ratification of even this weakened first-generation climate treaty must be counted as a major victory for democratic, multilateral environmental governance. And this remains true despite September 11, despite the arrival of the US-led “anti-terror coalition,” and despite the newly uncertain fate of the Bonn coalition. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2002
- The End of the End of History
The world, they say, has changed. Well, yes and no. We are, to be sure, at war. It’s a strange war, but it looks to be an important one, a major turning point. Best to assume that it will be, for war is always dangerous to underestimate.
Shifts that looked to be forever out of reach are already old news. The US, for one thing, has paid its UN dues, and President Bush, in his speech to the United Nations, actually referred to Kofi Anon as “our president,” just as he spoke the word “Palestine.”
That, to be sure, was something new. View Full Text »
- January 15th, 2002
- Book Review: Peter Barnes’ “Who Owns the Sky?”
Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism, by Peter Barnes (Washington: Island Press, 2001).
Who Owns the Sky is an important book at a bitter moment. Its important because it tries to make a realistic proposal for a fair way of managing the USs transition away from carbon-based fuels, and because, in many ways, it seems to actually succeed. It certainly highlights some of the crucial questions, and it just may do a whole lot more. In normal times, it might automatically command a bit of attention View Full Text »
- July 9th, 2001
- The Pew Climate Equity Conference
First of all, full disclosure: when we arrived at Equity and Global Climate Change , we did not do so with entirely open minds. We were skeptical, frankly, that the fairness issue would get a fair treatment at Pews hands.
Why Well, largely from our reading of Pew’s 1998 report The Complex Elements of Global Fairness , an odd bit of work in which the problem of the rich worlds overwhelming per capita emissions is brought up, held briefly against the light, and then swaddledgently, but rather too tightlyin a strange and suffocating complexity.
As it happens, our skepticism was disappointed, though not entirely misplaced. First, though, place yourself at the Mayflower Hotel, a vaguely Rococo affair on Washingtons Connecticut Avenue. It was a fine spring day, there were plenty of carbos and coffee, and when Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Climate Center (and a former climate negotiator in the Clinton Administration), rose to introduce the proceedings, her words seemed quite unexceptionable. She told us, for example, that an effective international response to climate change must not only be environmentally sound and cost-effective, but equitable as well: fair to all nations, rich and poor. She quoted Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the climate change secretariat, to the effect that the 1992 Rio convention defined the project of controlling climate change as a burden to be shared, and that this sharing would have to be one in which, under the rubric of common but differentiated responsibilities, the rich countries take the lead. Familiar words, these, and we didnt have to come to Washington to hear them. Still, in the time of G.W. Bush, they were a relief. View Full Text »
- July 9th, 2001
- Raise a Glass to Kyoto
The climate showdown, as everyone knows, is coming soon. The Europeans are doing their best to ratify Kyoto, but the Japanese-essential to any ratification coalition that lacks the US-are waffling, and the US (contrary to the promises it made last month in Sweden) is maneuvering to get its way. If it does, the setback will be strategically serious and politically demoralizing, so much so that few climate activists, today, are willing to even admit the possibility of failure. Doing so, after all, could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At some point, however, we have to take stock. That point would have come after last November’s COP6 in The Hague, but then COP6 deadlocked, and we learned that it would be continued in Bonn this summer. The Supreme Court soon thereafter appointed G.W. Bush as the US president, and ever since then the ball has been relentlessly in play. Now, of course, all eyes are turning to Bonn, where the second shoe is about to drop, and already the futurists among us are looking forward to COP7 in Morocco, and to Rio+10 in Johannesburg. After all, the great thing about the Kyoto Protocol, like the UNFCCC before it, is that it’s a moving target. If we lose the next round, there’ll be another, and another. Failure, as they say, is not an option. View Full Text »
- July 9th, 2001
- Europe at the Crossroads
It’s hard for Americans, even progressive Americans, to imagine a future in which the U.S. is no longer the “indispensable country.” This is as true when it comes to climate politics as it is in any other area, and for much the same reason-the U.S. looms so large that it simply cannot be ignored. We emit, in particular, such a high share of world’s carbon that, in the end, any climate regime to which we do not immediately subscribe is doomed to failure.
Or so, at least, it seems. And it’s because it does that the history of the climate talks is a history of attempts to placate the U.S. Which is, again, a big part of the reason why the Kyoto negotiations-and the Kyoto Protocol itself-are in such a sorry state. The fact of the matter is that, barring sudden deliverance by a new energy revolution on a computer-boom scale, the U.S. as we know it today will refuse and resist any climate treaty even remotely appropriate to the threat. The fossil-fuel lobby is just too powerful here to expect anything else. Which is why, perversely and quite inadvertently, the Bush administration may have just done the world a colossal favor. View Full Text »
- June 9th, 2001
- Lies and Economic Models
Amory Lovins and other green techno-optimists have long argued that there are numerous technologies and policies that could reduce energy use and emissions at a net profitthe so-called no regrets policies that would save more money than they cost to implement. Conservative economists, many of them employed or supported by the Department of Energy, have argued that this simply cant be true, since energy marketslike all marketsare optimal. (This is the famous twenty dollar bill argument; i.e., there cant be twenty-dollar bills lying on the ground, because people would have already picked them up).
Many economists, of course, see the bills everywhere. 2500 economists including eight Nobel laureates signed the Economists Statement on Climate Change in 1997, which declares Economic studies have found that there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs. View Full Text »
- June 9th, 2001
- The EcoEquity Interview: Wolfgang Sachs
Wolfgang Sachs is a senior research fellow at the Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment and Energy. He has long been active in the German and Italian green movements and is currently Chair of the Board of Greenpeace in Germany. He is the author of For Love of the Automobile: Looking Back into the History of Our Desires, the editor of the immensely influential Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, and the co-author of Greening the North: A Post-Industrial Blueprint for Ecology and Equity, which goes beyond critique to envisage concrete alternatives and feasible processes for social transition. More recently still, he is the author of Planet Dialectics: Explorations in Environment and Development and, in the role that occasioned this interview, a co-author of the lead chapter of the Third Assessment Reports Working Group 3 report. Working Group 3, of course, focuses on mitigation, and its first chapter contains the TARs most explicit discussion of equity.
>This is a long interview, but it barely scratches the surface of the issues. View Full Text »
- May 18th, 2001
- The CEO Interview: Anil Argawal
February 23, 2001
CEO: We were surprised by depth of the equity discussion at COP6, and it seemed to us that it had come some distance from 1990, when you and Sunita published Global Warming in an Unequal World. Do you agree, and if so, how would you characterize the changes View Full Text »
- February 23rd, 2001
- 4P or not 4P
When the administration of Bush II decided that it wasn’t going to regulate CO2 emissions in the electric utility sector, it also postponed an important debate over the form those regulations will ultimately take, a debate with key implications for climate equity. The “4P” (four pollutant) legislation that Bush preemptively vetoed would have required rules to allocate a fixed carbon emission cap among utilities. A significant controversy had already emerged among environmental organizations over how this might be done, and this debate should not be forgotten. View Full Text »
- January 9th, 2001
- 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. View Full Text »
- January 1st, 2001
- Adequacy and Equity: Three Focal Questions
By Stephen Bernow and Sivan Kartha
Note: Steve Bernow, a former EcoEquity Board Member, was the head of the Tellus Institute’s Energy Department. This is one of his last essays, written with Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute shortly before his unexpected death on July 5th, 2003. He is missed.
This paper asks three questions that are focal to devising an effective climate protection regime. The first two questions – What is “adequacy” and What is “equity” – arise from the observation that both adequacy and equity are necessary features of an effective and politically acceptable international climate regime: View Full Text »
- July 1st, 2000