Interview with Doug Henwood

On Sunday September 29th, I was interviewed by the excellent Doug Henwood for his Behind the News program. The link is here. Go to 25:04 to miss the first interview but pick up some of the modernist atmospherics of the show’s distinctive soundtrack, which fades into yours truly.

The interview is not bad. I normally hate listening to myself, but this is a half hour of crisp talk that actually explains, in a reasonably coherent way, the theory and politics behind the Only a Global Green New Deal Can Save the Planet piece I had in the September 30, 2019 issue of The Nation.

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.”

Global Inequality in the Time of Climate Emergency

For a cool graphic (but fewer words) see the version of this essay at www.inequality.org

Something has changed.  I’ve been asking people in the climate movement what they think it is, and most everyone agrees.  When did it happen?  After the Paris Agreement, definitely.  But also after Brexit, and after Trump’s election, which put “the emergency” on the map for all to see.  There are lots of data points. In late 2017, David Wallace-Well’s piece in New York Magazine, The Uninhabitable Earth, landed like a bomb.  In mid-2018 came the Deep Adaptation paper, which likewise was downloaded by the hundreds of thousands.  In October of 2018, there came the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, and afterwards the air was crisper, the view clearer.  It was obvious that climate denialism, or at least classic climate denialism, had lost its legitimacy.  Denialism was just a right-wing scam, and everyone knew it.  And, of course, there were the storms, and the firestorms, and then the Green New Deal resolution, which was a watershed by any reckoning.  To top it all off, there came the Extinction Rebellion, and its unforgettable new exhortations, protest signs that simply said “Tell the Truth!”

So something has changed.  But what’s at stake, exactly, and what comes next?  Wen Stephenson beat me to this (in a fine piece in The Nation) but I’ve reached exactly the same conclusion.  If we had to choose one voice, one single slogan, to represent the pivot that we’re now passing though, it would be hard to beat Czech playwright and ex-president Vaclav Havel and his notion of “living in truth.” [1]  It’s an option more people are exercising, people who are sick of the lies.  Even the comforting lies.

So where are we?  Three points are key.

Continue reading “Global Inequality in the Time of Climate Emergency”

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.

Climate Inequality in the Commonwealth

The new Christian Aid fair shares report — Climate Inequality in the Commonwealth: A call for urgent action (which we provided the analytic support for) is a step forward for at least two reasons.   First, it very practically provides a fair-shares analysis at a sub-global level, within the 53 member Commonwealth of Nations.  Second it calls for the wealthy Commonwealth nations to support the poorer members by very specifically aiding them in eliminating energy poverty. In fact, it expresses that support not in cash terms but in terms of in terawatt hours of renewable electricity generating capacity.  The renewables side of the analysis is based on the latest work of the International Renewable Energy Agency

Continue reading “Climate Inequality in the Commonwealth”

Fairly sharing 1.5: National fair shares of a 1.5 °C-compliant global mitigation effort

With the publication of Fairly sharing 1.5: national fair shares of a 1.5 °C-compliant global mitigation effort in the journal International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, we finally have a peer reviewed overview of our effort sharing framework.  It’s part of the special issue on Achieving 1.5 °C and Climate Justice

Sorry, but some of the papers are behind a paywall.  But some of them aren’t, and you can read our paper here.

“The problem of fairly distributing the global mitigation effort is particularly important for the 1.5°C temperature limitation objective, due to its rapidly depleting global carbon budget. Here, we present methodology and results of the first study examining national mitigation pledges presented at the 2015 Paris climate summit, relative to equity benchmarks and 1.5 °C-compliant global mitigation.

Uniquely, pertinent ethical choices were made via deliberative processes of civil society organizations, resulting in an agreed range of effort-sharing parameters. Based on this, we quantified each country’s range of fair shares of 1.5°C-compliant mitigation, using the Climate Equity Reference Project’s allocation framework. Contrasting this with national 2025/2030 mitigation pledges reveals a large global mitigation gap, within which wealthier countries’ mitigation pledges fall far short, while poorer countries’ pledges, collectively, meet their fair share.

We also present results for individual countries (e.g. China exceeding; India meeting; EU, USA, Japan, and Brazil falling short). We outline ethical considerations and choices arising when deliberating fair effort sharing and discuss the importance of separating this choice making from the scholarly work of quantitative “equity modelling” itself. Second, we elaborate our approach for quantifying countries’ fair shares of a global mitigation effort, the Climate Equity Reference Framework. Third, we present and discuss the results of this analysis with emphasis on the role of mitigation support.

In concluding, we identify twofold obligations for all countries in a justice-centred implementation of 1.5 °C-compliant mitigation: (1) unsupported domestic reductions and (2) engagement in deep international mitigation cooperation, through provision of international financial and other support, or through undertaking additional supported mitigation activities. Consequently, an equitable pathway to 1.5 °C can only be imagined with such large-scale international cooperation and support; otherwise, 1.5 °C-compliant mitigation will remain out of reach, impose undue suffering on the world’s poorest, or both.”

Making (Equity) Reviews (of the national pledges) Relevant

As the lay of the post-Paris land starts to become clear, it’s also becoming clear that few people outside the climate negotiations really understand the details of the equity debate, as it is unfolding on the inside.

Thus it may be interesting to read this somewhat technical piece.  Think of it as a Climate Equity Reference Project discussion paper, designed to inform the debate on equity review that is now, partly because of our work, a clear aspect of the What’s Next? debate.  Here’s the opening abstract:

“Paris was a breakthrough, but is not yet a success. It could yield success though, and (together with the climate movement, and the solar revolution) help to catalyze a true climate mobilization. But only if the still unfinished negotiations yield a solid global ambition ratcheting mechanism.

Some people believe that we’ve already won such a mechanism.This paper argues that we’re still missing at least two fundamental building blocks of a robust ambition ratchet: a public-finance breakthrough and a “real review” mechanism.

The second of these is the topic of this paper. It argues that 1) real review by definition includes the science-based, ex-ante equity assessment of individual pledges, 2) such assessments were in Paris beyond the will of the Parties, 3) they can nevertheless be done well, and can positively influence the formal negotiations, and 4) civil society should (on top of everything else it has to do) take the lead in demonstrating that this is so.

This paper is a call to civil society – and to the Parties – to support such an effort, and to do so quickly. The effort should culminate in or before the 2018 political moment, which must be a big one.”

Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance?

I haven’t had time to write about Lima, but if you’re paying any attention at all, you already know that the “differentiation” issue blew wide open as COP20 went into overtime. Which means — to skip a few steps — that the equity debate is most assuredly on the agenda for this, the Paris year, and for COP21 in Paris in December. With this in mind, you could do worse than read Oran R. Young’s Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance?  Creating an Effective and Equitable Climate Regime [1].  Which, by happy coincidence, you can download here.

I do not love this essay. In particular, I think it is badly flawed by its exclusive emphasis on per-capita emissions rights, an idea that has a lot more traction among academics than it has in the “real world” of the climate negotiations. But I do much admire Young’s hard-headed argument for why equity matters, in that very same real real world. To wit:

“I argue that there is an identifiable and significant class of environmental issues in which we should expect those trying to solve problems to take considerations of fairness or equity seriously. This argument does not depend on assumptions about the influence of altruistic motives or the existence of some sort of international community that produces deep feelings of social solidarity among members of the international system. Rather, I take the view that most states have good reasons to think hard about matters of fairness or equity when it comes to addressing a well-defined class of environmental problems. The problem of climate change, I argue, belongs to this class.”

More precisely:

“I see little evidence to conclude that the members of international society or the agents who act on their behalf in international negotiations are so deeply socialized regarding considerations of fairness that they respond to such concerns out of a sense of obligation or consider them as a matter of second nature when dealing with largescale issues like climate change. Rather, my argument is that such considerations come to the fore with regard to situations that exhibit a cluster of identifiable features. The most prominent of these features are (i) the inability of key states to pressure or coerce others into accepting their preferred solutions, (ii) the limited usefulness of utilitarian calculations like various forms of cost/benefit analysis, and (iii) the need to foster buy-in or a sense of legitimacy regarding the solutions adopted in order to achieve effective implementation and compliance over time with the prescriptions embedded in any agreements reached. Especially in combination, these conditions produce situations in which states have good reasons to pay attention to considerations of fairness or equity.”

The essay isn’t long.

[1] The real citation is Young Oran R. (2013) Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance? Creating an Effective and Equitable Climate Regime. In: Toward a New Climate Agreement: Conflict, Resolution and Governance . C. Todd, J. Hovi, D. McEvoy, (eds.), Routledge, London ISBN: 0415643791.