Sunita Narain

Australia is a coal country. It is big business—miners are important in politics and black gold exports dominate the country’s finances. But dirty and polluting coal evokes emotions in environmentally concerned people. Coal-based power provides 40 per cent of the world’s electricity and emits one-third of global carbon dioxide, which is pushing the world to climate change.

Given this, on my recent visit to Australia, it was obvious I would be asked about my opinion on Australian coal exports to India. My answer, at the end of a discussion on the environmental challenges the world faces, was that as long as Australia was addicted to coal for energy it would be hypocritical for it to ask countries like India to give up coal. It is also important to note that Australia’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are the highest—18 tonnes per person per year, compared to India’s 1.5 tonnes per person per year.

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James K. Boyce

What’s rent got to do with climate change? More than you might think.

Rent isn’t just the monthly check that tenants write to landlords. Economists use the term “rent seeking” to mean “using political and economic power to get a larger share of the national pie, rather than to grow the national pie,” in the words of Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who maintains that such dysfunctional activity has metastasized in the United States alongside deepening inequality.

When rent inspires investment in useful things like housing, it’s productive. The economic pie grows, and the people who pay rent get something in return. When rent leads to investment in unproductive activities, like lobbying to capture wealth without creating it, it’s parasitic. Those who pay get nothing in return.

Two other types of rent originate in nature rather than in human investment. Extractive rent comes from nature as a source of raw materials. The difference between the selling price of crude oil and the cost of pumping it from the ground is an example.

Protective rent comes from nature as a sink for our wastes. In the northeastern states of the U.S., for example, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative requires power plants to buy carbon permits at quarterly auctions. In this way, power companies pay rent to park CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. Similarly, green taxes on pollution now account for more than 5% of government revenue in a number of European countries. When polluters pay to use nature’s sinks, they use them less than when they’re free. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunita Narain

Cross-posted from Centre for Science and Environment.

Chulhas—cookstoves of poor women who collect sticks, twigs and leaves to cook meals—are today at the centre of failing international action. Women are breathing toxic emissions from stoves and these emissions are also adding to the climate change burden. The 2010 Global Burden of Disease established that indoor air pollution from stoves is a primary cause of disease and death in South Asia. As many as 1.04 million pre-mature deaths and 31.4 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs)—measure of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death—are related to exposure to biomass burning in poorly ventilated homes.

But what has spurred action is the science that there is a connection between local air and global air pollution. The particles formed during incomplete combustion—in diesel cars and cookstoves—are seen as powerful “climate forcers” because they absorb light and convert it into heat. It is also found that these particles or aerosols interact with clouds and affect rain pattern. They also fall on snow or ice surfaces and make them melt faster.

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Martin Khor

While political events will no doubt dominate the news in 2014, social issues such as health and environment and coping with the rising cost of living will be just as important in the new year.

Good health is the basis of everything else that is positive in life. Thus, a preview of key social issues in 2014 should begin with health.

In Malaysia, a major concern is the dramatic rise in dengue, with 39,222 cases in 2013, a 90% jump from a year before.

There is a re-emergence of the deadly human variety of avian flu, with 47 deaths from 147 cases in China coming from the new H7N9 strain in April-December last year.

A few years ago there was the expectation that a flu epidemic could sweep through the world, affecting millions of people. The flu pandemic in 2009 killed thousands of people, including in Mexico and Indonesia, but it was fortunately contained.
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James Boyce

Cross-posted from The Real News Network.

Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, causing widespread devastation, while the latest rounds of international climate negotiations were opening in Warsaw. The juxtaposition brought the issue of climate justice from the periphery of world attention onto center stage. The Philippines’ chief climate negotiator, Yeb Saño, announced that he would voluntarily fast for the duration of the conference to underscore the plight of his people in the face of ever more frequent climactic disasters. Here is Saño addressing the UN COP 19 climate conference.

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YEB SAÑO, CLIMATE CHANGE COMMISSIONER, PHILIPPINES: I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those–the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected.

We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Can we ever obtain the ultimate objective of the convention, which is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system? By failing to meet the objectives of the convention, we may have ratified our own doom.

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Edward Barbier

Typhoon Haiyun has killed more than 4,400 people in the Philippines and displaced at least 900,000. Around 12 million Filipinos have been affected by the consequences of the storm, which is one of the deadliest coastal disasters on record.

Given the scale and frequency of recent coastal disasters—Typhoon Haiyun, Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Rita, the Fukushima and Indian Ocean Tsunamis—it is time to develop a global strategy for protecting coastal populations. There should be two elements to this strategy: a short-run emergency response and investments in long-term global adaptation.

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Editor’s Note: Timothy A. Wise and Marie Brill of ActionAid USA have co-authored a new ActionAid report “Rising to the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050,” based on a GDAE Working paper. The following op-ed published by Triple Crisis and the Huffington Post summarizes the findings of the their report.

Timothy A. Wise and Marie Brill, Guest Blogger

Was Thomas Malthus right after all? In 1798, Malthus postulated that exponential population growth would outstrip our ability to feed ourselves, dooming civilization. This early attempt at global economic modeling has since been widely discredited. But if you’ve been listening to policy-makers and pundits since food prices spiked in 2008, you’ve likely heard the eerie echoes of Malthusian thinking.

“With almost 80 million more people to feed each year, agriculture can’t keep up with the escalating food demand,” warned Frank Rijsberman, head of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). “FAO estimates that we have to double food production by 2050 to feed the expected 9 billion people, knowing that one billion people are already going to bed hungry every day.”

Well, not so fast. Yes, resource constraints, exacerbated by uncertainties over climate change and the unsustainable consumption of non-renewable resources have introduced new threats to our ability to feed a growing population. The issues are indeed serious, but the specter of looming food shortages is a bit overblown.
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Gar W. Lipow, Guest Blogger

For U.S. climate activists to succeed, they must demand serious government spending on energy efficiency and renewables—spending comparable to the current war budget. Calling for hundreds of billions in annual green public investment has potential for the popular appeal needed to build a powerful grassroots climate movement. That investment would be the best policy as well. Massive clean energy spending would not only provide jobs and economic growth on a grand scale. It is the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

It is widely, though not universally, acknowledged that solving the climate crisis will require public investment and subsidies, efficiency regulations and clean energy requirements, plus a price on greenhouse gas emissions. (The idea behind a carbon price: polluters pay per unit of greenhouse gas pollution released.) But, in practice, policy advocates tend to fetishize the carbon price and drop other requirements. For example, James Hansen, perhaps the world’s leading climate scientists says “If we would put this price on carbon it would favor renewables, and it would favor energy efficiency, and it would favor nuclear power—it would favor anything that is carbon-free… ”[i] Charles Komanoff and James Handley of the Carbon Tax center describe a carbon tax as the “sine qua non of effective climate policy”.[ii] Mainstream environmentalism tends to favor cap-and-trade over carbon fees, which indirectly results in a price on carbon. Between carbon tax and cap-and-trade advocates, most climate change opponents prioritize carbon pricing. Few join Komanoff in referring to such pricing as the “sine qua non” of carbon policy. In policy discussions, however, most environmental economists start with cap-and-trade or a carbon fee, and many never discuss anything else.

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James K. Boyce is professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and director of the environment program at the Political Economy Research Institute. His latest book is Economics, the Environment, and Our Common Wealth (Edward Elgar, 2013).

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Frank Ackerman

Three years later, it was time for a new episode.  Back in 2010, Congress listened to some climate-denial rants, counted votes, and decided to do absolutely nothing about climate change; this year on Capitol Hill, the magic continues.

Also in 2010, the Obama administration released an estimate of “the social cost of carbon”` (SCC) – that is, the value of the damages done by emission of one more ton of carbon dioxide. Calculated by an anonymous task force that held no public hearings and had no office, website, or named participants, the SCC was released without fanfare as, literally, Appendix 15A to a Department of Energy regulation on energy efficiency standards for small motors.

This year, the Obama administration updated the SCC calculation. The update was done by an anonymous task force that held no public hearings, and had no office, website, or named participants. It first appeared as – yes! – Appendix 16A to a Department of Energy regulation on energy efficiency standards for microwave ovens.

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