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.

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Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate

Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate is both excellent and remarkable.  Though, when I saw it sourced (by the new climate blog Planet3.0) as being from “the American hard-left magazine The Nation” I almost choked.  I am, I confess, a man of a certain age, and I remember what “hard left” used to mean.

I don’t think of The Nation as being “hard left.”  Nor Klein for that matter.

Anyway, her title is catchy, but also a bit misleading.  Most of her case isn’t against capitalism in itself, but  against “capitalism-as-usual,” or “contemporary capitalism,” or “the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits.”  Which is I suppose what you’d expect, this being a reasonable piece.  Because it’s not at all clear that we’re up against capitalism in itself.  What we know for sure is that we’re up against this capitalism.  That we either fix it or it’s “game over,” as Jim Hansen recently put it.

Klein touches only lightly on the really tough issues in the climate and capitalism debate (yes, there is one!), which she does – cleverly? strangely? — in the “Ending the cult of shopping” section.  This is where we get the problem of “growth” (the most confusing abstraction of them all) and the reference to Tim Jackson’s definitional book Prosperity without growth (download the original report here for free).  The problems of redistribution, and of desire (the democratic disciplining of desire) are only suggested.  In other words, there’s not really much here about the problems of capitalism in itself.

Which is fine with me, at least for now.

There are people out there writing books about how capitalism (the thing itself) is absolutely and intrinsically incompatible with the continuation of human civilization as we know it – and Klein, at least to my mind, has done us a major service by taking a different tack.  It seems to me that she’s not taking an abstract position, but speaking, concretely, for renovations so grand and sweeping that we’d have a hard time recognizing them as “reforms,” in the old sense.

I should speak for myself.  And my view is that, while the climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism, it’s also a manageable one.  Which is to say that we’re not already doomed.  But to save ourselves, we have to create a different kind of capitalism.  Nothing more is possible in the limited time left before us – the climate clock really is ticking – but it’s actually quite a lot.  Recognizing this is radical enough for me.

Africa — Leapfrogging to the future?

Christian Aid, with the help of some friends (full disclosure: EcoEquity is among them) has just released an excellent report entitled Low-carbon Africa: Leapfrogging to a green future.  The report is interesting on two levels.

First, it makes the case that..

“Africa is able to deliver clean and sustainable energy to millions of energy-poor people across the continent without increasing greenhouse gas emissions” …  It has the “renewable power potential to drive a green economic expansion across the region.”  To wit “an abundance of resources and its sustainable development ambitions give Africa a real advantage when it comes to renewable energy.”  And that, “with access to a ‘leapfrog fund’ from global mitigation finance, this could lay the ground for a low-carbon future.”

Second, it raises the question of a “leapfrog fund.”  Which comes to this — given the pressing need for energy services in Africa, and given the importance of providing these energy services on the basis of renewables, does Africa not have a claim against the global climate finance system, whatever it turns out to be, for the technical and financial support that will be needed to ensure rapid, low-carbon development?  And, if so, who should foot the bill?

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The truth about the rich

Two things, both of them insanely great.

First, the amazing Global Wealth Report that has just been released by the gnomes at Credit Suisse.  This report can be misinterpreted as evidence for all sorts of geo-economic hypotheses, but what it really is, at least in my view, is excellent support for the “twice divided world” thesis, which insists that the divide between the North and the South be taken together with that between the rich and the poor.   For an extended commentary on the report — and the climate negotiations — see my High Speed History essay.

Second, George Monbiot’s latest screed, which he called The Self-Attribution Fallacy.   I don’t agree with George about everything, but this one has the EcoEquity seal of approval, big time.  And by the way, the book he references — Branko Milanovic’s The Haves and the Have Nots, is absolutely a must read.

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.

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Monbiot against populationism

What with the 7 billionth baby and the UN’s (badly reported) revision of its population projections, the old romance between the apologists and the Malthusians has much heated up lately.  George Monbiot replied with this short, sweet takedown, which would be hard to beat.   (“Population is much less of a problem than consumption. No wonder the rich are obsessed by it.”)

In the “parameters matter” department, here’s the point to remember.   The increase in projected peak-population (from 9 billion to 10 billion) was the result of “what appeared to be an arbitrary decision to change one of the inputs it fed into its model. Its previous analysis was based on the assumption that the average number of children per woman would fall to 1.85 worldwide by 2100. But this year it changed the assumption to 2.1.”

Do the Math: Burning the Tar Sands = Climate Catastrophe

See the original of this article on the Earth Island blog.

The first wave of Keystone XL Pipeline protests – the arrests at the White House – was one  for the books.  At a time of crisis in the climate movement, and in the Obama presidency, the protesters managed to open a major new front in the carbon war and even to invigorate the domestic climate movement.  Moreover, there’s every reason to hope that the resistance to the pipeline will keep rising.  Still, a friend of mine recently asked me: “Why oppose this project and why now?  Why is this an important line in the sand?”

It’s a fair question.  And it’s critical to realize that the answer does not turn around the dangers of a pipeline spill, though these are real, but on the climate implications of tar-sands development.  Right now, as it becomes obvious that the supply of conventional oil is not infinite (see, for example, here, and here), the future of energy is coming into play in a new way.  And so it’s absolutely imperative to prevent the better possibilities from being closed down by a junkie energy policy that doubles down on fossils by targeting high-carbon, “unconventional” dregs like Canadian bitumen.  In fact, allowing major investments in fossil-dregs infrastructure would be catastrophic, even in this a world of catastrophes.

Others have done rollups of the arguments against XL.  See, for example, this quick briefing.  But I’m going to skip right over the politics, the economics and all the other local color and head straight for the tar-sands / climate-catastrophe math.  I’ll try to get it clear because, while lots of us have heard that Jim Hansen says it’s “game over” if the carbon in the unconventional Canadian fossil fuels is liberated, few of us know exactly what he means.

Here goes:

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Two Months to get a Robin Hood Tax?

Oxfam International’s From Poverty to Power blog has a great piece, today, on why the stars may be lining up for the a Financial Transaction Tax.  I won’t say anything else about it, save that you should absolutely read it.  Particularly if you worry about where the money is going to come from to fund what they used to call “social progress.”  Such as, you know, climate adaptation.  Especially now that the elites have decided to hide under their austerity blanket.   But don’t get too optimistic.   When little Timmy Geithner was in Europe last week, he went out of this way to oppose the FTT.  See, for example, here.