Lessons from the Great Floods

Martin Khor

The first half month of 2015 saw Malaysians pre-occupied with the big clean-up following the big floods that swamped many states, especially in the east coast.

It will take some time to get houses, schools, hospitals, offices, roads, drains, railway tracks, back into pre-flood shape.

The cost of doing so is staggering, with each the initial figure exceeded by new estimates.

The total will run into many billions of ringgit. The Government will foot the bill for repairing public facilities; and there is some government and spirited public help for flood victims’ personal losses.

But the affected people will still bear immense suffering and losses, for example, of lost business and livelihood income on top of the lost household belongings.

It is time to learn the lessons and prepare for the future.

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India’s Climate Strategy Needs Revision

Sunita Narain

Climate change negotiations are by now predictable. The already-industrialised come to each conference of the parties (COP) with a clear game plan, that is, to erase their contribution to the emissions already present in the atmosphere, thereby effectively remove the differentiation between their responsibility and that of the rest of the world to act. This would rewrite the 1992 convention on climate change and let them evade the obligation to provide funds and technology for action in the developing world. The problem is that developing countries do not come with an equally clear plan or proactive position. As a result, in each meeting, including the recently concluded COP20 at Lima, developing countries lose. The terms of the agreement change progressively and deliberately against the poor and the Planet.

Indian negotiators believe they can maintain the status quo and delay any new agreement, but as climate negotiations show, this tactic does not work. We block but the rich countries shove and the ground slips from under our feet. We need to revise our strategy.

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Protecting Money or People?

Amid climate change, what’s more important?

James K. Boyce

the latest round of international climate talks this month in Lima, Peru, melting glaciers in the Andes and recent droughts provided a fitting backdrop for the negotiators’ recognition that it is too late to prevent climate change, no matter how fast we ultimately act to limit it. They now confront an issue that many had hoped to avoid: adaptation.

Adapting to climate change will carry a high price tag. Sea walls are needed to protect coastal areas against floods, such as those in the New York area when Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012. We need early-warning and evacuation systems to protect against human tragedies, such as those caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 and by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Cooling centers and emergency services must be created to cope with heat waves, such as the one that killed 70,000 in Europe in 2003. Water projects are needed to protect farmers and herders from extreme droughts, such as the one that gripped the Horn of Africa in 2011. Large-scale replanting of forests with new species will be needed to keep pace as temperature gradients shift toward the poles.

Because adaptation won’t come cheap, we must decide which investments are worth the cost.

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A 2 x 4 x 20 Climate Change Agreement

Edward B. Barbier

On November 12, President Barack Obama announced what he called a “historic agreement” on climate change between the United States and China. The gist of the bilateral pact is that the United States has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 26 to 28 percent below these levels by 2025. China aims to cap its total GHG emissions by 2030, if not sooner. Other commitments and details of this bilateral deal can be found in David Baliol’s excellent summary in Scientific American.

There are sound economic grounds for this agreement. In a paper published by the Kiel Institute for World Economy earlier this year, Johnson Gwatipedza and I show that growing trade and capital flows between the United States and China also provide a powerful incentive for cooperation on jointly reducing GHG emissions. Economists refer to this incentive as issue linkage: increasing economic ties between the U.S. and China fosters their mutual interest to negotiate a bilateral deal on GHGs. Our paper also suggests that any agreed national targets should be differentiated, which means that each country should adopt an emission reduction strategy that is suitable to its economic structure and stage of development. It therefore makes economic sense that the relatively rich United States proposes GHG limits to be achieved in 2020 and 2025, whereas an industrializing economy such as China does not start capping emissions until 2030.

The bilateral agreement between China and the United States has also sparked hope of an eventual global climate change deal. As David Baliol writes: “The agreement between the two countries that together emit more than 40 percent of global CO2 pollution suggests a strong deal will be signed by the world’s nations in Paris in 2015, under the terms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” One further encouraging sign is that the third largest global emitter of GHGs—the European Union of 28 countries—has also pledged to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Clearly, as suggested by Jaime de Melo and Mariana Vijl in their Green Growth Knowledge Platform blog post, “the recent China-US announcement of national targets calling for substantial additional efforts by both is a step in the right direction.”

Unfortunately, expectations that this “step in the right direction” will turn into a signed global deal by 2015 in Paris may be a leap of faith. Instead, a more realistic path to achieving substantial and quick reductions in global GHGs might be a “2 x 4 x 20” climate change agreement.

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Change the System, Not the Climate

Erinç Yeldan

A. Erinç Yeldan, a regular Triple Crisis contributor, is Professor of Economics at the Bilkent University, Ankara. He holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota, and is one of the Executive Committee members of the International Development Economics Associates, IDEAs.

The above title is from the article “We Need System change to stop climate Change” from The Bullet, the online newsletter of the Socialist Project (Toronto, Canada). The call to “change the system” was made following UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon’s initiation of a summit—to draw attention to the threat of global climate change—in late September.

The call was already resonated by similar pleas, in particular by the global labor movement. IndustriALL Global Union declared in May 2014, for instance, that “there will be no jobs on a dead planet.” “The same people that try to avoid action on climate change have repressed workers for decades,” the union continued. “A Just Transition into greener jobs is the key to unlock the door to a sustainable future.”

It is estimated that, since the industrial revolution, the surface temperature of our planet has increased by an average of 1.5 to 2.2°C. This is attributed mostly to the concentration of the CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns that life forms on our planet can tolerate only up to an additional increase of 2°C until the end of the current century.

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Climate Change, Economic Growth, and Work Hours

Juliet Schor, Guest Blogger

Economist Juliet Schor is known worldwide for her research on the interrelated issues of work, leisure, and consumption. Her books on these themes include The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer, and Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (retitled True Wealth for its paperback edition). She is also a professor of sociology at Boston College.

I have a hard time thinking about the future without orienting all of my thinking about climate, because I just don’t see much of a positive future unless we can address climate change very significantly. And that means, for wealthy countries, pretty radical emissions cuts in a pretty short period of time. It actually means that for most countries.

So, as I think about the future, I think about what we could do that both addresses climate change through radical emissions reductions and also increases social justice, reduces inequality, and starts solving the enormous problems that we have in this country. My most recent book, True Wealth, is about how to do that. Obviously we need to get onto a renewable energy system, there’s no question about that. We need a carbon tax or carbon regulation, and that’s stuff that is very well known.

What is not understood, I don’t think, is that we can’t successfully address climate change with a model in which we continue to try to expand the size of the economy.

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Ozone-Smart, Climate-Cool

Sunita Narain

One item on the agenda of the much-discussed Narendra Modi-Barack Obama meeting that has Indian commentators flummoxed is hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The joint statement issued after the meeting of the two heads of states says rather ambiguously that the two sides agreed to cooperate on “next steps to tackle the challenge posed by HFCs to global warming.”

HFC has been a bugbear in the India-US relationship. The US wants to begin negotiations for the phase-out of HFC—a chemical used in a wide range of industrial and household products like refrigerators, air-conditioners and solvents—under the UN’s Montreal Protocol. India argues that the Montreal Protocol is for protecting the world from ozone layer depletion and HFC is harmful because it contributes to climate change, so discussions should take place under the UN’s climate convention (UNFCCC).

In fact, HFC is the chemical that the world introduced to phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), an interim substitute for chlorofluorocarbon (CFC). Both HCFC and CFC were indicted for damaging the stratospheric ozone layer that blocks harmful ultraviolet rays.

Seemingly, the US is driven by green concerns, as HFCs are greenhouse gases 2,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But the outcome depends on the alternative the world chooses. When this chemical was introduced it was understood that it would be bad for the climate. The world decided to solve one problem by creating another.

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An Era of Global Turbulence

Martin Khor

When the Cold War ended two decades ago, people throughout the world looked forward at last to a period of peace.

A political scientist wrote a book predicting “the end of history”. Conflict between ideologies and big powers was over, as those advocating the free market and democracy had won.

The illusion of the end of conflict is over. Last week, at the annual summit of the United Nations, “global turbulence” was much the theme of the leaders gathered there.

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A New Dawn for Climate Finance as Climate Investment Funds Sunset?

Petra Kjell, Guest Blogger

Petra Kjell is the Programme Manager for Environment, Human Rights, and Social Impacts at the Bretton Woods Project.

This week, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) gathers in Barbados for the eighth meeting since its inception. Established in 2010 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the primary vehicle to deliver much needed climate finance, the GCF still has a number of issues to resolve until it becomes fully operational. Slow in motion, the fund received a much needed boost with some pledges during the September climate summit organised by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

As the new financial structure for climate action rises, another funding mechanism is due to sunset. The World Bank-hosted Climate Investments Funds (CIFs) were set up in 2008 in the shadow of the ongoing UNFCCC process as an interim measure to provide new and additional climate finance to pilot “transformational” actions in selected developing countries. Led by developed countries and implemented by multilateral development banks (MDBs), four funds were set up: the Clean Technology Fund (CTF), the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), the Forest Investment Program (FIP) and the Scaling up Renewable Energy Program for Low Income Countries (SREP).

The CIFs were quickly criticised by civil society groups as undemocratic and unaccountable, potentially undermining the official UN process. The leading role of the World Bank, tarnished by its reputation on many fronts, including for its funding of fossil fuels, also created a widespread mistrust of the funds. A few years down the line, civil society has complained about lack of consultation, misguided projects, and a heavy private sector focus. In Indonesia, for example, civil society groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the CIFs, such as lack of consultation on the FIP country investment plan and the risk of deforestation linked to CTF geothermal projects, but with little impact. With CIF-funded projects ranging anything from energy efficient fans in India to airport development in the Caribbean, CIF donors have also repeatedly raised questions on the legitimacy of projects for CIF funding , but few projects have gone back to the drawing board, let alone been stopped.

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Green Growth

Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, James Heintz, and Bracken Hendricks, Guest Bloggers

This is a summary of the report “Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities” by researchers at the Political Economy Research Insitute (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) and at the Center for American Progress. A longer article based on the report is available at The Boston Review, here. The full report is available from the Political Economy Research Institute, here.

The question for policymakers, and all other citizens, is no longer whether humans are changing our climate. The question now is, how we can stabilize an already-changing climate in a way that promotes economic prosperity? While recently established domestic policies have made strides toward a lower carbon future, such measures are stepping stones. They prescribe the initial path but will not lead to the final goal of achieving the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to help stabilize global temperatures. Effectively mitigating climate change requires identifying exactly how the United States will transform its energy economy to attain international goals to help protect our climate.

This report quantifies the level of investment required for the United States to align emissions reductions with international goals in an economically beneficial and technically feasible manner. The specific emissions-reduction goal we explore in this study is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has proposed for the world as a whole: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2035. To do its part to meet this goal, the United States must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions from energy-based sources by 40 percent, to 3,200 million metric tons, or mmt, over roughly the next 20 years. The proposals in this report put the United States on this track to effectively mitigate global climate change.

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