Op-Ed: The realism of Bernie Sanders’ climate policy

It’s been a while now since the Sanders’ campaign released its Green New Deal plan, which included a significant step towards fair-share internationalism, of just the kind that this site stands for.

Now, Naomi Klein (who needs no introduction) and Sivan Kartha (who co-directs the Climate Equity Reference Project) have a follow-up op-ed in the Boston Globe, with the very precise title of The realism of Bernie Sanders’ climate policy. If you’re following the fair shares debate, you should take a look at it, for it’s admirably covers both the global and the domestic sides of the challenge in one tidy text.

On the domestic side:

“More than a decade of so-called market-based climate policies have expected workers and consumers to foot most of the bill for climate action. The result is often fierce backlash: In Chile, an increase in public transit fees sparked the recent uprising, and in France, an increase in fuel costs did the same. As in Iowa, it’s not that people are opposed to climate action. They are simply so overburdened by stagnant wages, job losses, and cutbacks to social services that they can’t accept getting stuck with the bill for the climate crisis. “

On the international:

“Accordingly, the plan puts a game-changing sum on the table: a $200 billion contribution to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund, which supports projects across the global South to reduce emissions and cope with climate impacts. (The Obama administration pledged a mere $3 billion, delivering only one-third before payments were scrapped by Trump.)

The Sanders campaign also recognizes that, in some cases, no amount of money can keep people on parched or flooded land. And so, on the campaign trail, the senator’s newly released immigration platform includes, among other measures, a call to accept at least 50,000 global climate refugees during his first year as president.”

Stefan Ramsdorf has a point

Stefan Rahmstorf is a top-tier climatologist and a great explainer, so I found it notable when, in a recent post in RealClimate (How much CO2 your country can still emit, in three simple steps), he took a few baby steps into the fraught territory of global effort sharing.

His three simple steps are:

  • Pick a global temperature goal (like, say, 1.5°C)
  • Pick a global CO2 budget (which involves some thinking about uncertainty)
  • Pick a method for divided up the (very small) remaining budget between nations

I’m not writing to make a comment on Ramsdorf’s first two steps, which are explained clearly and astutely. Though I do commend his discussion of uncertainties, and I worry that he may be a bit too diligently optimistic when it cones to Earth system feedbacks .

And I do like his caution to think in terms of budgets rather than end dates, as per:

“This is why one should not attach much value to politicians setting targets like “zero emissions in 2050”. It is immediate actions for fast reductions which count, such as actually halving emissions by 2030. Many politicians either do not understand this – or they do not want to understand this, because it is so much simpler to promise things for the distant future rather than to act now. “

I’m writing rather to note Ramsdorf’s comment on effort sharing, which manages to be both naive and helpful at the same time. Naive because, once he has made the key point, that “dividing up the remaining budget” is a matter of climate justice, not one of climate science, he chooses to do this division in terms of equal rights to emit C02, which isn’t actually, in this highly stratified world of ours, very just at all.

Why this move? Because he wants to argue that “a principle of fair distribution needs to be universal and simple.” Which per-capita emissions rights certainly are, in contrast to actual justice, which would have to consider not just equality, but also capability (which means wealth) and responsibility (which means facing history).

Why then judge this oversimple analysis helpful? Because Ramsdorf’s bottom line is that “we have to reduce emissions very very fast in the developed world, no matter how you twist and turn it.” (See the comments). And because he adds that there will have to be “a longer tail of emissions from developing nations reaching zero later.”

Both of these conditions, at this late date, are going to be almost incomprehensibly difficult to satisfy. Still, there they are. And if we have to speak very very simply in order to make them understandable, there’s an argument to be made for doing so, even if it violates the prime directive: “as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency

And here is something new!  A report that evaluates the current national pledges of action in the light of the IPCC’s bracing new report — Global Warming of 1.5°C — and in the context of an analysis that takes inequality within countries just as seriously as it takes inequality between countries.

The report is titled After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency, and it has an extremely impressive list of organizational endorsers, from all over the world.  Which is not surprising, as it was produced under the aegis of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition, which has built quite a bit of momentum at this point.  EcoEquity, as one of the partners in the Climate Equity Reference Project, is one of the principle authors.

One of our partners even call this report “elegant,” which is something for this sort of a report.  Take a look!

“Cascading biases against poorer countries” (A response to du Pont et. al. in Nature Climate Change)

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This is a quick notice of a brief “correspondence” piece, just published in Nature Climate Change.

Cascading biases against poorer countries (see the sharable link at https://rdcu.be/MMbA) was written by an ad-hoc group of analysts and philosophers who got together in 2017 to respond to Equitable mitigation to achieve the Paris Agreement goals (the sharable link is https://t.co/vXFWgLDBOV), which du Pont et. al. published in December of 2016 in Nature Climate Change.

Our published response to du Pont et. al., Cascading biases against poorer countries, is quite short, but we think it manages to make its core points.  In a nutshell, our claim in that du Pont and his colleagues reach counter-intuitive conclusions (for example that the EU has made a more “equitable” pledge than either China or India) by way of a cascading series of decisions that, taken together, skew their approach towards various kinds of grandfathering, while, at the same time, appearing to be derived from a balanced and comprehensive set of high-level equity principles.

With the euphoria of the Paris breakthrough now in the rear-view mirror, and attention shifting to post-Paris action plans, it’s worth noting that all sorts of pledges – national NDCs, regional emissions caps, even the energy roadmaps of individual corporations – are being advertised as being “Paris compliant.”

In this context, with first-cut stocktake processes spinning up, remember that Paris lays out a “pledge and review” regime, and that the second term in this phrase must be taken as seriously as the first.  There will, in particular, be no real ambition ratchet without real equity assessment.  It won’t be easy to agree on a proper assessment process, but open dialog will certainly help.  What else possibly could?

Paris’s Article 14, which lays out the terms of reference for the all-important Global Stocktake process, is quite explicit.  This stocktake will be conducted “in a comprehensive and facilitative manner, considering mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation and support, and in the light of equity and the best available science.”

What does this imply?  What does it even mean?  What, in particular, does it mean for the assessment of individual national pledges?

Hopefully, the debate will quickly evolve, and hopefully, too, it will henceforth be productive and illuminating.  To that end, disagreements should be respectful, but they should also be clear.  Transparency is critical, particularly if the “equity and ambition” debate is to be comprehensible to new people.   And we should all remember that none of us knows how to best engage the equity challenge.

Moving forward with the equity debate, some heat is inevitable.  But our goal should be to cast light.

Equity and the Ambition Ratchet

Well its two years since Paris, and the Bonn climate conference is over, and the future looms.

It’s a good time to stop and read the new report of the Civil Society Equity Coalition, which EcoEquity, a core member of the Climate Equity Reference Project, is extremely pleased to support.   It’s a really short report, so you have time to do so.  Read at least the summary, and don’t be put off by the report’s subtitle, which is “Towards a meaningful 2018 Facilitative Dialog.”  The Facilitative Dialog is one of the “ambition mechanisms” that was created by the Paris Agreement, and we should all wish it the best.  Dialog, after all, is fundamental to governance, and indeed to civilization.  In the absence of a global state, we’re going to have to make the most of it, and of all the ambition mechanisms, if we’re going to have a real chance of stabilizing the climate system.

Continue reading “Equity and the Ambition Ratchet”

Building Just Climate Futures Together – an online conference

If you’re in the mood for a half hour of of me, along in my room talking into a microphone, and you’d like to see a sketch of the book I have under development (it’s called Fair Enough?), you might want to take a look at this video, which was (is?) my contribution to an online climate conference organized by John Foran at UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Humanities Initiative.

The conference is called  ACTIVISTS, ARTISTS, AND ACADEMICS: BUILDING JUST CLIMATE FUTURES TOGETHER and my contribution, which I called “Climate Justice as Climate Realism,” is part of a panel called “The Global Climate Justice Movement in the Age of Crisis.

This “nearly carbon-neutral” conference is entirely online.  It’s a format that has its charms, not the least of which is that it could be international without involving air-travel.  But I must confess that I missed the usual drinks party.  You know, actually meeting people and talking.  In the flesh.

Equity is the Missing Key for Climate Roadmaps

In March of 2017, Johan Rockström, the author of Big World, Small Planet: Abundance within Planetary Boundaries, along with a extremely high-tone list of co-authors, published A roadmap for rapid decarbonization in Science.  In it they propose a “roadmap” of escalating actions from now until 2050, designed to keep the average global temperature change under 2° Celsius, with some chance of limiting it to 1.5°C.

It’s an important piece, and its bottom line, as scientist and critic Kevin Anderson put it, is that the Rockström et. al. have “upped the ante.” In particular, they have translated carbon-budget science into a specific, decade-by-decade plan for a greatly accelerated global technological transition, driving net global CO2 emissions down to a near-zero level in 2050 – a mere 33 years. This type of planning is crucial as policy makers everywhere wrestle with the immense challenges of meeting the collective goals they agreed to in the Paris Agreement. However, a key element is missing from Rockström’s roadmap: equity.  More specifically, they have nothing to say about the fair sharing of climate action among countries. The bottom line here is that we can’t hope to succeed unless this challenge, too, is taken up, so its omission from Rockström’s paper is unfortunate.

Kelly Stone, a senior policy analyst at Action Aid USA, and I replied in the Huffington Post, in a piece called Equity is the Missing Key for Climate Roadmaps.  Among other things, we said that:

“Morally, there’s no question that developed countries must take the lead, and also assist the poor in the extremely challenging decades that lie ahead. Developed countries including the United States have been emitting far more carbon for far longer than developing countries, and they are, moreover, the homes of most of the world’s wealthy. The top-line message here could not be more clear, for the richest 10% of the world’s people produce half of Earth’s fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%. This is the essential background without which it’s impossible to understand the position today, in which we’ve used up essentially the entire global carbon budget, and, to note the sharpest part of the challenge, developing countries face an urgent need to leapfrog to renewable energy even as many of their citizens still lack basic energy access, let alone proper health and education systems. Even worse, people in the global south – especially the poorest – are already feeling the impacts of climate crises they did nothing to create. Asking them to take to a roadmap that makes no provision for such facts is simply wrong.

Nor is climate equity just a moral challenge. There are strong instrumental reasons to believe that, unless we put the equity challenge front and center, there’s little hope of following any road as difficult as the one that Rockstrom and his co-authors have laid out. The bottom line here is that, given the emergency situation we’re now facing, developing countries must mobilize on a scale that far overwhelms their capacity to act alone, and they must do so even as rising climate impacts force them to prioritize adaptation. They cannot possibly meet these challenges without support from developed countries, and even in the short term it’s difficult for them to lay the necessary plans without some modicum of confidence that such support will be forthcoming.”