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”

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 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”

Europe at the Crossroads

It’s hard for Americans, even progressive Americans, to imagine a future in which the U.S. is no longer the “indispensable country.” This is as true when it comes to climate politics as it is in any other area, and for much the same reason-the U.S. looms so large that it simply cannot be ignored. We emit, in particular, such a high share of world’s carbon that, in the end, any climate regime to which we do not immediately subscribe is doomed to failure.

Or so, at least, it seems. And it’s because it does that the history of the climate talks is a history of attempts to placate the U.S. Which is, again, a big part of the reason why the Kyoto negotiations-and the Kyoto Protocol itself-are in such a sorry state. The fact of the matter is that, barring sudden deliverance by a new energy revolution on a computer-boom scale, the U.S. as we know it today will refuse and resist any climate treaty even remotely appropriate to the threat. The fossil-fuel lobby is just too powerful here to expect anything else. Which is why, perversely and quite inadvertently, the Bush administration may have just done the world a colossal favor. Continue reading “Europe at the Crossroads”

The EcoEquity Interview: Wolfgang Sachs

Wolfgang Sachs is a senior research fellow at the Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment and Energy. He has long been active in the German and Italian green movements and is currently Chair of the Board of Greenpeace in Germany. He is the author of For Love of the Automobile: Looking Back into the History of Our Desires, the editor of the immensely influential Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, and the co-author of Greening the North: A Post-Industrial Blueprint for Ecology and Equity, which goes beyond critique to envisage concrete alternatives and feasible processes for social transition. More recently still, he is the author of Planet Dialectics: Explorations in Environment and Development and, in the role that occasioned this interview, a co-author of the lead chapter of the Third Assessment Reports Working Group 3 report. Working Group 3, of course, focuses on mitigation, and its first chapter contains the TARs most explicit discussion of equity.

>This is a long interview, but it barely scratches the surface of the issues. Continue reading “The EcoEquity Interview: Wolfgang Sachs”

HELLO WORLD! Climate Equity Observer: Issue number 1

This is the first issue of Climate Equity Observer.

Its purpose, since you asked, is to put a single idea onto the agenda. To wit: if we hope to make a soft landing in a tolerable future climate, we’re going to have to shift from the initial Kyoto framework to a new “equity framework” based on equal per capita rights to the atmosphere. This idea is already on the table in most of the rest of the world. We want to put it on the agenda in the United States. Continue reading “HELLO WORLD! Climate Equity Observer: Issue number 1”

Adequacy and Equity: Three Focal Questions

By Stephen Bernow and Sivan Kartha

Note: Steve Bernow, a former EcoEquity Board Member, was the head of the Tellus Institute’s Energy Department. This is one of his last essays, written with Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute shortly before his unexpected death on July 5th, 2003. He is missed.

This paper asks three questions that are focal to devising an effective climate protection regime. The first two questions – What is “adequacy” and What is “equity” – arise from the observation that both adequacy and equity are necessary features of an effective and politically acceptable international climate regime: Continue reading “Adequacy and Equity: Three Focal Questions”