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.”

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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.

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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.  Continue reading “Assessing the National Pledges – the state of the debate”

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

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.

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.

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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.

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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.[1]  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.[2]  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.

The denial had many cheerleaders.  The chemical-company flacks who derided Rachel Carson as a “hysterical woman” couldn’t have known that they were pioneering a massive trend.  Also, and of course, big money always has plenty of mouthpieces.  But it’s no secret that, during the 20th Century, the “engineering of consent” reached new levels of sophistication.  The composed image of benign scientific competence became one of its favorite tools, and somewhere along the way tobacco-industry science became a founding prototype of anti-environmental denialism.  On this front, I’m happy to say that the long and instructive history of today’s denialist pseudo-science has already been expertly deconstructed.[3]  Given this, I can safely focus on the new world, the post-Sandy world of manifest climatic disruption in which the denialists have lost any residual aura of scientific legitimacy, and have ceased to be a decisive political force.  A world in which climate denialism is increasingly seen, and increasingly ridiculed, as the jibbering of trolls.

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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.

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