On the Rocky Road to Paris

Martin Khor

One of the biggest global events this year is the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris in December.

A new agreement to tackle climate change is expected, but there are many hurdles to overcome first.

Negotiations for the Paris agreement are now taking place in Bonn. Old unresolved issues have re-surfaced, with sharp divisions between developed countries (the North) and developing countries (the South).

It’s hard to see how they can be settled in the remaining three meetings, including the Paris conference.” But a deal in Paris is a political necessity, so somehow the differences have to be bridged, or else papered over.

There are two requisites for a good climate deal. It has to be environmentally ambitious, meaning that it leads the world to reduce emissions so that the average global temperature does not increase by more than 2°C (or 1.5°C, according to some) above the pre-industrial period.

That present temperature has now exceeded by 0.8°C. With global emissions increasing by about 50 billion tonnes a year, the remaining “space” in the atmosphere to absorb more emissions (before the 2°C limit is reached) will be exhausted in three decades or so.

The deal also has to be fair and equitable. The North, having been mainly responsible for the historical emissions and being more economically advanced, has to take the lead in cutting emissions as well as transferring funds and technology to the South to help it switch to low-carbon sustainable development pathways.

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Maine Farmers and Climate Change, Part II

System Change

Stephanie Welcomer, Mark Haggerty, and John Jemison, Guest Bloggers

This is part II of a two-part series, excerpted from an article originally published in the March/April issue of Dollars & Sense. The full article is available here.

Systems theorists, who study how organizations and systems change, offer some insight into farmers’ minimal recognition of climate change, and their lack of advocacy for climate-mitigation policy. Management scholar Connie Gersick describes systems—such as the farming sector—as being in equilibrium until fundamental factors change.

One key factor can be “environmental changes that threaten the system’s ability to obtain resources.” As the system’s actors are faced with persistent, systemic problems, they experience mounting discomfort. Once key actors recognize that the system has become dysfunctional, they begin to search for new information about the sources of the problems and possible new steps. Newcomers enter the system and are enlisted or inspired to search for solutions. The entrenched understandings, relationships, and power dynamics of the system, finally, can be dismantled. Revolutionary change can happen and a new system can be created.

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Maine Farmers and Climate Change, Part I

How Do Farmers See It?

Stephanie Welcomer, Mark Haggerty, and John Jemison, Guest Bloggers

This is part I of a two-part series, excerpted from an article originally published in the March/April issue of Dollars & Sense. The full article is available here.

Maine’s farmers are facing unprecedented challenges stemming from climate change, centered on the two key ingredients in agriculture—water and soil. Too much water can wash soil away, while too little limits crop production and dries the soil out. According to the University of Maine report Maine’s Climate Future, the “high-intensity rainfall events” that are expected to accompany climate change are “less effective at replenishing soil water supplies and more likely to erode soil.” Meanwhile, higher average temperatures mean that, for a given level of precipitation, less water will actually be available to crops, due to higher rates of moisture loss from the ground and from the plants themselves.

As part of the 2011 “Assessing Maine’s Agriculture Future” study, we interviewed around 200 Maine farmers about changes in the climate and their expectations for the future of farming. We asked representatives and opinion leaders from a wide sampling of the state’s farming sectors about their reasons for farming, their concerns, and their hopes for the future, as well as changes in weather patterns and their related adaptations.

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Will BRICS Carbon Traders Bail Out the Bankers’ Climate Strategy? Part I

This is part I of a two-part series.

Patrick Bond

The hope for our collective survival in the face of a likely climate catastrophe has been vested in a combination of multilateral emissions rearrangements and national regulation. But the premise behind the core strategy—the 1997 Kyoto Protocol—must be debated. Assuming a degree of state subsidization and increasingly stringent caps on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Kyoto posited that market-centric strategies such as emissions trading schemes and offsets can allocate costs and benefits appropriately so as to shift the burden of mitigation and carbon sequestration most efficiently. Current advocates of emissions trading still insist that this strategy will be effective once the largest new emitters in the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc are integrated in world carbon markets.

As climate crisis looms ever larger on the horizon, the demise of the Kyoto Protocol’s binding emissions-cuts commitments on wealthier countries will in the near future compel from them a renewed effort to promote market-incentivized reductions. In spite of widely-acknowledged market failure in the emissions trade, especially in Europe, several “emerging markets,” especially the BRICS, have begun the process of setting up or expanding their carbon trading and offset strategies now that (since 2012) they no longer qualify for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credits. The Kyoto Protocol had made provision for low-income countries to receive CDM funds for emissions reductions in specific projects, but the system was subject to repeated abuse.

Yet attempts to resurrect market strategies will become more visible as the next global-scale climate treaty takes shape in December 2015 at the Paris summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Most notably, that 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is anticipated to remove the critical “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” clause that traditionally separated national units of analysis by per capita wealth.

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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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