Big Oil wants to BURN it all

Very nice piece by William D. Cohan in The Nation, here.

I’m a full-time climate guy, but even so I rarely encounter this kind of honesty. In particular, the whole under-theorized problem of “stranded assets” has become a source of odd optimism. As if the ground truths of the Carbon Bubble will somehow, decisively tip the scales towards rationality and long-term thinking.

It’s not going to happen, not in any simple way. The fossil cartel breeds confident, exterminist ideologues. Its captains have the power to persevere in their beliefs.  Not, perhaps, forever, but for a long time yet.

They will have to be stopped.

Climate Crossroads: Toward a Just Deal in Paris

This essay was first published by the Great Transition Initiative.  See the original here.

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?
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Tom A on the Real News Network

This is dogs years ago — pre-Paris, actually — but it’s interesting, at least to me, as a period piece. How to make a bottom-up global climate regime both fair and strong, in a world that does not enjoy a legitimate and democratic global governance regime? Not a trivial question

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

This review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate was first published in the Earth Island Journal, here.  See this notice on Klein’s own site. 

The first thing to say about Naomi’s Klein’s latest book is that its title makes a grand promise — This Changes Everything – and that’s before you even get to the subtitle, which sets up a face-off between capitalism on one side and the climate on the other. The second thing to say is that no single book could ever meet such a promise. Klein, with careful aplomb, does not attempt to do so. Rather, she offers a tour of the horizon upon which we will meet our fates. Or, rather, the horizon upon which we will attempt to change them.

book cover thumbnail

In the face of such huge topics, Klein’s strategy is a practical one. She defers the problem of capitalism-in-itself (as German philosophers used to call it) and focuses instead on our era’s particular type of capitalism – the neoliberal capitalism of boundless privatization and deregulation, of markets-über-alles ideology and oligarchic billionaires. Her central argument is not (as some have insisted) that capitalism has to go before we can begin to save ourselves, but rather that we’re going to have to get past neoliberalism if we want to face the greater challenges. Klein writes:

Some say there is no time for this transformation; the crisis is too pressing and the clock is ticking. I agree that it would be reckless to claim that the only solution to this crisis is to revolutionize our economy and revamp our worldview from the bottom up – and anything short of that is not worth doing. There are all kinds of measures that would lower emissions substantively that could and should be done right now. But we aren’t taking those measures, are we?

At the outset Klein asks the obvious question: Why haven’t we, in the face of existential danger, mobilized to lower emissions? There are lots of reasons, but one stands above all others. We have not mobilized because “market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change, a threat that came knocking just as this ideology was reaching its zenith.” In other words the climate crisis came with spectacularly “bad timing.” The severity of the danger became clear at the very time when “there-is-no-alternative” capitalism was rising to ideological triumph, foreclosing the exact remedies (long-term planning, stricter government regulation, collective action) that could address the crisis. It’s a crucial insight, and it alone justifies the price of admission.

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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.

Which is where this paper comes in. You can find it here.  For a short summary (6 pages) see here.

Check out


This elegant system, put together by Friends of the Earth EWNI and Jubilee South Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, is based on the “responsibility and capacity index” analysis embodied in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator. Its map interface is very cool, and simple to use, for it presents only a single Equity Settings profile. This is, for the record, a “high equity” profile defined by the Strong 2C pathway, high progressivity settings (including a $50,000 luxury threshold), a 1850 historical responsibility start date, a 50/50 responsibility/capacity weighting and “capacity adjusted” domestic emissions.

PS: John Vidal’s wrote a article on the climatefairshares site (September 21, 2014) in the Guardian.  See it here.

How ugly is this going to get?

Bill McKibben has a nice comment he called Let them build seawalls.

Writing from his perch at the Cato Institute, Charles “Chip” Knappenberger explains why the U.S. should avoid taking a leadership role in any climate negotiation: because others have more at stake:

Such information is carefully concealed in Obama Administration reports, such as the one issued recently by the Council of Economic Advisors that predicts escalating costs the longer we delay serious climate change mitigation efforts. Instead of focusing on domestic costs of climate change, the report is built around an estimation of the global cost for carbon dioxide emissions—which, by the Administration’s numbers—is some 4 to 14 times greater on a per ton of emitted CO2 basis than those projected for the U.S.

Translated: climate change is going to be worse for Bangladesh, so let them deal with it. . .

Read the whole thing, it’s not long.

Carbon Majors Funding Loss and Damage

Ready for a stimulating new cut across some old territory?  Think about “responsibility,” and take a look at Carbon Majors Funding Loss and Damage, a discussion paper by Julie-Anne Richards and Keely Boom of the Climate Justice Project — “an independent not for profit, non-government organisation that uses the law to expose environmental and human rights issues relating to climate change.”

Among other things, the analysis here includes the idea of corporate — rather than national — historical responsibility.  In fact, it shows “that a small number – fewer than 100 – entities have a significant responsibility for the climate change currently being experienced.”  More generally, it’s based on the idea that private entities that have profited from, and continue to profit from, the fossil-fuel economy should be responsible for a good fraction of the “loss and damage costs” associated with carbon pollution.

This is a ground breaking idea, and it deserves a lot more attention, in this our unfortunate age of corporate personhood.  “Persons,” after all, have responsibilities as well as rights.

What would a fair UN climate change deal look like?

Great piece — here – on the Responding to Climate Change site, on our Climate Equity Reference Calculator.

Great but not perfect, alas.  For example, the opening tag says “New equity calculator says UK needs to cut emissions 94% by 2020, US by 73% and China just 9.4%.”  And of course this will be read as implying that the is the one sole result of the calculator.  When in fact is it one among many.

Here’s comment that I made soon after the piece was posted:

“Not that I’m complaining about the publicity, but one clarification.   Where the RTCC author says . . .

China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,688 MtCO2e, just under the target total for the whole world. But the ERF calculator says it just needs to shave off 1,575 MtCO2e, or 9.4%.

What he should have said is something like . . .

China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,688 MtCO2e, not much less than the mitigation target for the whole world. Of this, according to the ERF calculator, it needs to itself finance mitigation of 1,575 MtCO2e, or 9.4%.  (It’s “fair share”).  The total mitigation that needs to take place within its borders is, of course, much greater, and amounts to about 4,673 MtCO2e, or 28% of China’s projected 2020 baseline emissions.

The problem is that this last number is hard to read out from the Calculator UI as it currently stands.   We will fix this.

Also, the case RTCC used is (Include land use emissions, 1950 responsibility start date, weak 2C pathway, Capacity/Responsibility = 50/50, development threshold = $7,500) is not the one I would have chosen.  If you exclude land-use emission from the calculation and use 1990 as the responsibility start year (this reduces the global mitigation requirement) the readout on China would be:

China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,750 MtCO2e, more than the mitigation target for the whole world. Of this, according to the ERF calculator, it needs to itself finance mitigation of 1,845 MtCO2e, or 11%.  (It’s “fair share”).  The total mitigation that needs to take place within its borders is, of course, much greater, and amounts to about 4,690 MtCO2e, or 28% of China’s projected 2020 baseline emissions.”

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.

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