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 Continue reading “The Science of Drawing the Line”

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. Continue reading “Calling All Realists”

A Tale of Two Cities

Authors Note:

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. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities”

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. Continue reading “A War of Coalitions”

Blowback

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.

John le Carr, A War We Cannot Win

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.” Continue reading “Blowback”

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. Continue reading “After Marrakech”

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. Continue reading “The End of the End of History”

Peter Barnes’ “Who Owns the Sky?”

Capitalism 2.0

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 Continue reading “Peter Barnes’ “Who Owns the Sky?””

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. Continue reading “The Pew Climate Equity Conference”

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. Continue reading “Raise a Glass to Kyoto”