Keeping America’s Promises: The Green-State Climate Agreement

Frank Ackerman

In January Donald Trump will endorse climate denial, renouncing the Clean Power Plan and climate targets in general. This will damage the fragile global momentum toward emission reduction, established in last year’s Paris agreement. If the United States refuses to cooperate, why should much poorer, reluctant participants such as India do anything to cut back on carbon?

But among many things that this dreadful election did not represent, it was not a statement of (dis)belief about climate change. Large parts of the country recognize the validity of modern science, understand the urgency of the problem, and remain committed to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Suppose that many of our state governments got together and told the rest of the world about our continuing commitment to action: we are still abiding by the U.S. pledges under the Paris agreement, or even planning to do more. Not just NGO reports, blog posts, or individual signatures, but an official, coordinated announcement from government bodies with decision-making power over emissions – primarily states, perhaps joined by Indian tribes and major city governments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheaper, Quicker, Safer: Green Transportation for All

Liz Stanton

Getting ourselves, our kids, and all of the material goods of our economy from point A to point B resulted in 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in 2015. That’s 35 percent of all U.S. carbon pollution and 6 percent of global carbon emissions—just from U.S. transportation. Worldwide, transportation is responsible for one-seventh of all greenhouse gas emissions. To keep global temperature rise below 2°C (or even below 3 or 4°C) we’ll need a vast, all-encompassing transformation. Incremental changes—a little bit better gas mileage, a few more people taking public transit—aren’t going to cut it. Staying below 2°C, and thereby avoided a climate catastrophe, will require us to completely reimagine our way of getting around.

A new report from the Frontier Group does a good job laying out a detailed agenda for decarbonizing the U.S. transportation sector. The report discusses not just the policy reforms needed to achieve the basics—electrification of all vehicles paired with decarbonization of the electric grid—but also the more transformative, and therefore more difficult and more amorphous, changes that will be needed.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Clean Power Plan’s Day in Court

Elizabeth A. Stanton

In one week, the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals will begin hearing oral arguments regarding the Clean Power Plan—that’s the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants that the Supreme Court put on hold in February. In staying the rule, the Supreme Court flagged concerns that EPA had failed to take the rule’s economic impacts into account. The 27 states challenging the rule have focused their arguments instead on its legal niceties claiming that the federal government is overstepping its authority.

Of the 27 states suing the EPA, 21 have already achieved their 2024 emission reduction targets and 18 have enacted policies that put them on track to reach their 2030 targets. Reuters quotes EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as saying, “We are seeing reductions earlier than we ever expected. It’s a great sign that the market has already shifted and people are invested in the newer technologies, even while we are in litigation.” Economics are driving large-scale adoption of wind and solar generation around the country at the same time that low natural gas prices mean less reliance on coal-fired generators.

Carbon emission are falling and will continue to fall in the electric sector—without help from federal climate regulation. But in the absence of a strong national climate policy these reductions will not cut emissions quickly enough for the United States to play its essential role in keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions made by the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court will set a precedent for federal regulation of carbon pollution that will have long lasting impacts felt around the world.

The quality of public debate sparked by the Clean Power Plan’s day in court will benefit from a grounding in facts not just about climate change and the U.S. role in changing the composition of our global atmosphere, but also in the legal issues at the core of the challenge to and stay of the rule. Here’s some recommended reading to that end:

·        A helpful blog piece from the Institute for Policy Integrity explaining the challenge in the context of U.S. law and history

·        A brief history lesson from the Law360 website describing the U.S. legal decisions that paved the way for the Clean Power Plan

Cross-posted at the author’s blog, lizstantonconsulting.com.

Triple Crisis welcomes your comments. Please share your thoughts below.

Triple Crisis is published by

September 22, 2016 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed

The New Extreme Reality of Floods

Sunita Narain

Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, whose state is submerged under water reportedly told the prime minister that he wants to cry. We should add our tears to his. This year’s floods not only have the imprint of our gross and near criminal mismanagement, but also mark the beginning of the world risked because of climate change. This should worry us. In fact, scare us. We need to realise that we do not have the luxury of delayed action and petty party politics. In this climate-risked world, where we are hit by a double whammy, we need to ensure that not only do we get development right, but we also need to do this at a scale and speed we have never done before.

The 2016 floods are huge in its scale—virtually all parts of the country have been hit by devastation. And remember, it is not just about some water that enters homes. Floods claim lives, destroy property and crops. In this way, all the years of developmental efforts are lost in one stroke. It is also clear that we worry about floods only when it affects the urban population. Even during the deadly 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the tragedy reached our television screens only because of the large numbers of people who died or were trapped in the swirling waters. Floods do not, otherwise, get serious media coverage. We do not know how bad the situation is or how it is getting worse. Floods then have become part of the cycle of boredom; they will come every year. So, what is new?

Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Pollin on “Green Growth”

Robert Pollin is professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI).

Triple Crisis welcomes your comments. Please share your thoughts below.

Triple Crisis is published by

From Heat Wave to Global Hothouse

Martin Khor

The heat wave in Malaysia has continued relentlessly for the past few weeks. There are reports of the heat affecting fish farms and livestock, resulting in a lot of losses.

As the water level drops in most dams, the water supply situation is also causing concern.

Schools in some northern states closed again for a few days when the temperatures crossed the danger level.

Last week, haze caused by open burning and forest and peat fires on Sabah’s west coast added to the people’s misery.

The combination of heatwaves caused by El Niño, made worse by climate change, forest fires and haze, must be causing residents to feel like they are in hell-like conditions, having to suffer the heat, air pollution and breathing difficulties all at the same time.

There are now predictions that rain will soon fall and put an end to the scorching heat. The bad news is that the rains may be so heavy as to cause floods in parts of the country.

These extreme weather events are no longer temporary irritations that will soon go away and are thus tolerable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Heatwave — A Taste of More to Come

Martin Khor

The present heatwave in Malaysia may well be the worst in living memory.

An elderly friend, who has experienced the turbulent events in the past century, told me he has never experienced temperatures as high as those of the past few weeks.

The blame has been put on El Nino. And it is hoped that its effects will be felt only once in many years.

However, we should be prepared for the worst. For the heatwave of 2016 may be a foretaste of more or worse to come.

The almost unbearable condition in recent weeks has been due to a temperature rise of several degrees Celsius. Even if that is wholly due to El Nino, the same or even greater temperature rise is predicted to take place due to climate change.

Already the world is now experiencing a 1°C increase in mean temperature, compared to pre-industrial levels.

A two-degree increase will be devastating and any rise beyond that may be catastrophic. At present rates of Greenhouse Gas emissions, we are on track for a four-degree worldwide increase.

Even if governments implement the climate plans they have pledged in the Paris Agreement (adopted last December), the global mean temperature is projected to rise by more than three degrees, which would be catastrophic.

Thus, what we are experiencing with El Nino today may well become the “new normal” due to global warming. Maybe not immediately, but in the lifetime of many Malaysians, especially the young.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Paris Climate Change Agreement: Beginning of “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth”?

Edward B. Barbier

Edward B. Barbier is the John S. Bugas Professor of Economics at the University of Wyoming

Fifty years ago, in March 1966, Kenneth Boulding presented his landmark essay, “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” at a workshop in Washington, D.C.  With its vision of the “spaceship earth,” this short treatise has had a profound influence on thinking about the global economy and sustainability over the past half century.

In the most famous passage, Boulding describes the open economy of the past with its seemingly unlimited resources and contrasted it with the closed economy of the future.  He wrote:

“I am tempted to call the open economy the ‘cowboy economy,’ the cowboy being symbolic of the illimitable plains and also associated with reckless, exploitative, romantic, and violent behavior, which is characteristic of open societies. The closed economy of the future might similarly be called the ‘spaceman’ economy, in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.”

The essay was influential for two reasons.

First, as Boulding emphasized in his opening sentence, creating a more sustainable economy requires humankind rethinking its relationship with nature: “We are now in the middle of a long process of transition in the nature of the image which man has of himself and his environment.”  Boulding recognized that this change in worldview would be difficult, as “the image of the frontier is probably one of the oldest images of mankind, and it is not surprising that we find it hard to get rid of.”

Second, as an economist, Boulding recognized that the main impetus for change must occur in the basic production and consumption relationships of modern economies: “The closed earth of the future requires economic principles which are somewhat different from those of the open earth of the past.”

These central messages of Boulding’s essay are still relevant to contemporary debates over how best to reconcile global economic development with environmental sustainability.

Read the rest of this entry »

TTIP and Climate Change: Low Economic Benefits, Real Climate Risks

Matthew C. Portersfield and Kevin Gallagher

Matthew C. Porterfield is Deputy Director and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Harrison Institute for Public Law. Kevin P. Gallagher is Professor of Global Development Policy at Boston University’s Pardee School for Global Studies, where he co-directs the Global Economic Governance Initiative.

Climate change governance should inform global governance more broadly, including international trade and investment policy. One of the most important trade and investment agreements is the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—currently under negotiation between the European Union and United States—given the role the agreement will likely play in establishing rules for the global economy in the 21st century.
The current model that the TTIP is based on will increase carbon dioxide emissions and jeopardize the ability of Europe and the United States to put in place effective policies for mitigating climate change. Trade and investment treaties should be used to help achieve the broader climate change objectives of Europe and the United States, not hinder them.

This short brief outlines how the TTIP can increase emissions and restrict the ability of nations to adequately mitigate and adapt to climate change and offers a set of recommendations that would make EU–U.S. trade policy more consistent with global climate change goals.

TTIP will Increase Carbon Emissions

Given that the United States and Europe already enjoy a strong trade and investment relationship, the economic benefits of the treaty are projected to be relatively small. The most cited studies in the European debates are by Ecorys, the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and Tufts University. The first two studies find that the treaty will boost GDP among the parties by less than 1 per cent for the United States and Europe, though the Tufts study finds that the impacts on GDP will be slightly negative in the EU.1

Despite the small projected economic gains of the treaty, the Ecorys study projects that it will increase emissions by 11 million metric tons. The increase in emissions is just 0.07 percent from the baseline, smaller than the 0.47 increase in GDP projected by Ecorys. When multiplied by estimates of the social cost of carbon, carbon emissions would cost the European Union USD1.4 billion annually.2

This finding is consistent with the broader literature. According to a comprehensive assessment of the literature conducted by the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, most trade and investment agreements tend to increase carbon emissions.3 It should be noted that the Ecorys study is only a partial one because it does not look at the environmental impacts of many “nontariff barriers,” such as certain domestic subsidies. There has also been inadequate consideration of the potential impact of TTIP provisions that could limit the ability of governments to design and implement effective climate change policy. As we will see, it is the deregulatory aspect of the TTIP that poses the highest risk to climate change policy.

Regulatory Risks of the TTIP

The TTIP could jeopardize the ability of the European Union and the United States to put in place the proper regulations to meet climate targets. The legal effects of the TTIP could take a variety of forms, including broad restrictions on regulatory authority under investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, limits on carbon intensity standards, modifications of the U.S. fossil fuel export regime and restrictions on renewable energy programs.

Broad Restraints on Climate Regulations under Investment Rules

The TTIP’s investment chapter will likely provide investors with certain broad rights, including “fair and equitable treatment” and compensation for regulations deemed to constitute acts of “indirect expropriation.” These rights would be enforceable by private corporations, including fossil fuel companies, through the controversial ISDS process, which could be used to challenge a wide range of government measures affecting climate change.4 Similar rules under other treaties have been used to challenge environment-related measures, including a claim under the Energy Charter Treaty based on Germany’s regulation of a coal-fired power plant5 and a pending challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to Quebec’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”6

Limits on Carbon-Intensity Standards

Regulations that limit the carbon intensity of transportation fuels could also be targeted under the TTIP. United States Trade Representative Michael Froman has reportedly used the TTIP negotiations to pressure the European Union to weaken the carbon intensity standards of the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) in order to facilitate the export of high-carbon-intensity oil.7 Although the European Commission subsequently modified the FQD proposal to accommodate the dirtier oil,8 the TTIP negotiations could be used to impose restrictions on future efforts to implement carbon intensity standards for fuel.9

Modification of the Fossil Fuel Export Regime

One of the European Union’s principal objectives in the TTIP negotiations is to secure “a legally binding commitment . . . guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources [from the United States] by transforming any mandatory and non-automatic export licensing procedure into a process by which licenses for exports to the EU are granted automatically and expeditiously.”10 Creating an “automatic” and “expeditious” process for U.S. crude oil and gas exports could result in more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than projected in quantitative analyses by promoting the production and consumption of these fuels.

Although natural gas is widely viewed as a lowercarbon alternative to other fossil fuels such as oil and coal, expanded exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) could actually increase GHG emissions for several reasons. Liquefying, transporting and regasifying natural gas is energy-intensive, causing exported LNG to be approximately 15 per cent more carbon-intensive than natural gas that is used domestically. In addition, increased LNG exports will raise the price of natural gas in the United States, potentially resulting in the use of more coal to produce electricity. Expanded LNG exports will also encourage increased fracking for the production of natural gas, which could cause increased accidental releases of natural gas, known as “fugitive methane emissions.”11 Given that methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, “any climate benefits from increased natural gas use internationally could be dwarfed by accelerated warming caused by fugitive methane emissions.”12

Restrictions on Renewable Energy Programs

The TTIP could also conflict with efforts to address climate change by imposing new restrictions on policies designed to promote renewable energy. Trade rules are already being used to challenge alternative energy programs. Since 2010 about a dozen disputes have been brought over renewable energy programs.13 The European Union has indicated that it intends to use the TTIP negotiations to seek new restrictions targeting renewable energy programs that contain local content requirements.14 Proponents of local content provisions argue that they are essential for developing the political support that will be necessary to maintain and expand renewable energy programs.

Putting Climate Change First

At the Paris Summit and in the newly crafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations, the world’s nations have pledged to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”15 The TTIP must not undermine this goal.

Both the European Union and the United States have made strides in prioritizing climate change in other areas of global economic governance, but not in international trade and investment policy. The European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development—the EU’s multilateral development banks (MDBs)— significantly restrict the financing of fossil-fuelintensive economic activity. The United States also has executive orders that restrict the ability of the United States to support the financing of coal projects through MDBs of which it is a member, and mandates that all projects be climate resilient. Such an approach is urgently needed in the TTIP.

The negative economic and regulatory impacts of the TTIP on climate policy noted above are not inevitable. A bold approach could be put forth where the TTIP excludes climate mitigation measures from ISDS, protects renewable energy programs and carbon-intensity standards, and discourages the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
As first steps in striking a new economic relationship that enhances our climate change goals, the United States and the European Union should commit to three principles: (1) The potential economic and regulatory impacts of the TTIP on climate policy should be carefully studied. (2) The provisions of the TTIP should be fully compatible with and supportive of climate policy objectives. (3) The TTIP should, at a minimum, not result in a net increase in GHG emissions—which is to say, the TTIP must be carbon neutral or better.

As the SDGs articulate, “climate change is a global challenge that does not respect national borders. Emissions anywhere affect people everywhere. It is an issue that requires solutions that need to be coordinated at the international level.”16 Trade and investment policy should not be an exception.

Originally published as an International Institute for Sustainable Development Commentary. The authors would like to acknowledge the Wallace Global Fund for providing the support that made this policy brief possible.

Notes

1. Despite the small projected economic gains of the treaty, the Ecorys study projects that it will increase emissions by 11 million metric tons. The increase in emissions is just 0.07 percent from the baseline, 1 See Ecorys, 2009, Non Tariff Measures in EU-US Trade and Investment –An Economic Analysis, ECORYS Nederland BV; and CEPR, 2013, Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment, Centre for Economic Policy Research, London; for a discussion of the limits of CGE modeling see Ackerman, F., and K. Gallagher. 2004. “Computable Abstraction: General Equilibrium Models of Trade and Environment.” In The flawed foundations of General Equilibrium: critical Essays on Economic theory, ed. F. Ackerman and A. Nadal, 168–80. New York: Routledge and Ackerman, Frank, and Kevin P. Gallagher, 2008, “The Shrinking Gains from Global Trade Liberalization in Computable General Equilibrium Models”, International Journal of Political Economy, vol. 37, no. 1, Spring, pp. 50–77.

2. EC Staff Working Document, Impact Assessment on the Future of EU-US Trade Relations (2013)(“EC Impact Assessment”) at 49, available at http://trade. ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2013/march/tradoc_150759.pdf. On the social cost of carbon (SCC), 11 million tons is multiplied by the average estimate in this comprehensive review of estimates J.C.J.M. van den Bergh and W.J.W. Botzen (2014), “A lower bound to the social cost of CO2 emissions,” Nature Climate Change 4, 253-258.

3. World Trade Organization & United Nations Environment Programme. (2009). Trade and climate change, (p. vii). Retrieved from https://www.wto.org/english/ res_e/booksp_e/trade_climate_change_e.pdf.

4. See Gus Van Harten. (2015). An ISDS carve-out to support action on climate change. Osgoode Hall Legal Studies Research Paper No. 38/2015. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2663504; Meredith Wilinsky. (2014, August 7). Potential liability for climate-related measures under the TransPacific Partnership. Retrieved from http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/ microsites/climate-change/wilenskytranspacificpartnership8-7-14_-_revised.pdf.

5. Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder & Rhea Tamara Hoffmann (2012). The German nuclear phase-out put to the test in international investment arbitration? Background to the New Dispute Vattenfall v. Germany (II) (p. 4). Retrieved from http://www.iisd. org/pdf/2012/german_nuclear_phase_out.pdf.

6. Lone Pine Resources Inc. v. Canada (UNCITRAL), Notice of Arbitration, paras. 48–52 (Sept. 6, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.italaw.com/sites/default/files/ casedocuments/italaw1596.pdf.

7. From Inside U.S. Trade (2013, September 19). Froman pledges to preserve Jones Act, criticizes EU Clean Fuel Directive: Froman raised concerns about trade impacts of the FQD “with senior European Commission officials repeatedly, including in the context of the . . . TTIP negotiations.”

8. From Inside U.S. Trade (2014, October 14). EU backpedals on vehicle fuels policy in face of U.S., Canadian pressure.

9. From Inside U.S. Trade (2014, October 14). EU backpedals on vehicle fuels policy in face of U.S., Canadian pressure: “[O]utgoing EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard . . . signaled that the EU was leaving the door open to directly targeting tar sands . . . for penalties in the future.”

10. Council of the European Union. (2014, May 27). Note for the attention of the Trade Policy Committee: Non-paper on a Chapter on Energy and Raw Materials in TTIP. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/233022558/EU-Energy-Nonpaper.

11. World Resources Institute, (2013, May 20). What exporting U.S. natural gas means for the climate. Retrieved from http://www.wri.org/blog/2013/05/whatexporting-us-natural-gas-means-climate.

12. Ibid.

13. Cathleen Cimino & Gary Hufbauer. (2014, April). Trade remedies: Targeting the renewable energy sector (p. 19). Retrieved from http://unctad.org/meetings/en/ SessionalDocuments/ditc_ted_03042014Petersen_Institute.pdf.

14. European Commission. (2013). EU–US Trade and Investment Partnership, raw materials and energy: Initial EU position paper (p. 3). Retrieved from http://trade. ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2013/july/tradoc_151624.pdf.

15. United Nations. (n.d.). Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climate-change-2/.

16. Ibid.

Triple Crisis welcomes your comments. Please share your thoughts below.

Triple Crisis is published by

What to Expect in 2016?

Martin Khor

It is the time again to bid farewell to the old year and to welcome the new one.

Last year was very eventful on the environmental and economic fronts, and 2016 promises to be the same, if not more so.

For those passionate about the fate of the planet, 2015 closed with a bang, following the adoption of a global deal on climate change in December, but not before a nail-biting last day when the fate of the Paris conference hung uncertainly.

Finally, a deal was put together, generally satisfying both developing and developed countries.

The developing countries, led by the G77 and China, and also the like-minded developing countries (LMDCs), managed to stand firm on their demands and secured acceptance of most of their points, though diluted through compromise.

Malaysia played a crucial role on behalf of the developing countries, being both spokesperson for the LMDCs as well as a coordinator for the G77 and China.

The US and its allies also got their way.

The result is a weak agreement that depends on each country to determine what it can do on mitigation (reducing or slowing down emissions) and with no official compliance mechanism to discipline those countries that do not perform even according to their own expectations.

From a purely environmental perspective, the Paris deal was thus nothing to shout about.

Some may even consider it a failure.

Read the rest of this entry »