“In this paper, we’re looking at the scope of assessments in stocktaking as an issue of equity; some “quality” criteria for equity benchmarks and equity information in stocktaking; how the whole issue of climate finance and support could be dealt with from an equity point of view, what could be said about intranational equity; and what minimal (and other) standards of procedural equity should be guaranteed. “
This paper is fairly technical, but very much of interest, for the simple reason that equity is essential to any future climate regime in which anything like an “Ambition Mechanism” is actually functioning. Which is to say that the Paris Agreement’s much discussed ambition mechanism is still a dream.
Over 500 US groups have signed onto a comprehensive common ask: The #CLIMATEPRESIDENT Action Plan: Ten actions that the new administration (assuming of course that there is one) should take in its first ten days.
It’s a great list, and of particular interest to us because fair shares has finally made the cut. It’s last, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with being the bottom line. The short version is: “Rejoin the Paris Agreement and lead with science-based commitments that ensure that the United States, as the world’s largest cumulative historical emitter, contributes its fair share and advances climate justice.”
The text of all ten demands is worth reading in full. Here’s the text for number ten:
“Vastly increase the United States’ emissions reduction commitment (Nationally Determined Contribution) to slash U.S. greenhouse emissions below 2005 levels by at least 70% by 2030 and reduce them to near zero by 2040 — in line with what science, equity, and climate justice demand. Include deadlines to halt all oil, gas, and coal production in the U.S. commitment and ensure that future agreements set limits on fossil fuel production consistent with meeting the 1.5°C target.
The actions in this report will form the backbone of the plan to achieve this commitment. However, because these domestic reductions alone are insufficient to fulfill the U.S. fair share of global climate action, the President must leverage their full executive authority and work with Congress to appropriate funds for large-scale financial and technological support to enable poorer countries to reduce their own emissions, as well as to support crucial adaptation measures so that vulnerable communities can survive the climate disruption already underway.”
I met Laurie Laybourn-Langton late last year, and was immediately struck by his honesty. He had just released an earlier report, This is a crisis: Facing up to the age of environmental breakdown, and while its conclusions were grim, he was perfectly up front about the fact that he and his co-authors had soft-pedaled them, if only just a bit.
Soft-pedaling is an understandable sin these days, and this despite the fact that the Extinction Rebellion folks have popularized signs that say “Tell the Truth.” It’s a great slogan, one for the ages, but do note that the real prime directive, stated precisely, would be something like “tell the whole truth, and do so in a helpful manner.” The problem is that, given the unforgiving nature of our predicament, the “whole truth” can only be helpful if it comes together with believable strategies and transition stories, and that’s quite a hurdle. We’re not there yet.
“Environmental breakdown is accelerating and poses an unprecedented threat to international cooperation. This challenge comes at a time when the multilateral order is fracturing. A new positive-sum model of international cooperation is needed, which should seek to realise a more sustainable, just and prepared world. This necessarily requires communities and countries to better recognise their cumulative contribution to environmental breakdown, and their current capability to act. Wealthy nations and communities not only contribute most to the stock of environmental breakdown, they preside over and benefit from an economic development model founded on unsustainable environmental impacts and global power imbalance.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”  It’s an option more people are exercising, people who are sick of the lies. Even the comforting lies.
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.
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.