Martin Khor

This source of clean and renewable energy is seen as one of the major saviours that could help power the world without emitting greenhouse gases.

The drawback is that solar energy has traditionally been more expensive to use carbon-intensive coal or oil.

But in recent years solar power has become much cheaper. Energy experts predict that its cost could match that of conventional fuels in the next few years in some areas.

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Martin Khor

A key threshold measuring the march of global warming was crossed recently, when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topped 400 parts per million.

On 10 May scientists announced that 400.03ppm had been measured at a climate-observing station in Hawaii that is often used as a benchmark. The global average is expected to cross the 400ppm mark in the next year.

This means that there in for every one million molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, there are 400 molecules of carbon dioxide.

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Patrick Bond, Guest Blogger

A secondary objective of the Copenhagen deal – aside from avoiding emissions cuts the world so desperately requires – was to maintain a modicum of confidence in carbon markets. Especially after the 2008 financial meltdown and rapid decline of European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, BASIC leaders felt renewed desperation to prop up the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM), the Third World’s version of carbon trading. Questioning the West’s banker-centric climate strategy – which critics term ‘the privatisation of the air’ – was not an option for BRICS elites, given their likeminded neoliberal orientation.

By the end of 2012, the BRICS no longer qualified to receive direct CDM funds, so efforts shifted towards subsidies for new internal carbon markets, especially in Brazil and China. In February 2013, South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan also announced that as part of a carbon tax, Pretoria would also allow corporations to offset 40 percent of their emissions cuts via carbon markets.

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Patrick Bond, Guest Blogger

As they meet in Durban on March 26-27, leaders of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – must own up: they have been emitting prolific levels of greenhouse gases, far higher than the US or the EU in absolute terms and as a ratio of GDP (though less per person). How they address this crisis could make the difference between life and death for hundreds of millions of people this century.

South Africa’s example is not encouraging. First, the Pretoria national government and its Eskom parastatal electricity generator have recently increased South Africa’s already extremely high emissions levels, on behalf of the country’s ‘Minerals-Energy Complex’. This problem is well known in part because of the failed civil society campaigns against the world’s third and fourth largest coal-fired power plants (Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile), whose financing in 2010 included the largest-ever World Bank project loan and whose subcontractor includes the ruling party’s investment arm in a blatant multi-billion rand conflict of interest.

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Edward B. Barbier

In my book, Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation, I chronicle how, since the Agricultural Transition 10,000 years ago, a critical driving force behind global economic development has been the discovery and exploitation of “new frontiers” of natural resources.  Natural resource scarcity both drives this process – as costs rise with scarcity we develop the technologies to exploit new resource frontiers – and it is a consequence – once frontiers are settled, developed and exploited, scarcity ensues again.

Today, we are embarking on rapid exploitation of a vast new frontier, the Deep Sea of the world’s oceans.

The Deep Sea begins at around 200 meters (m) depth, which is the limit at which sufficient sunlight penetrates the sea for photosynthesis to occur, and extends to nearly 11,000 m.   The area comprising the Deep Sea is vast, covering around 90% of the ocean floor.  This region consists of many diverse and interconnecting ecosystems, including abyssal plains, continental slopes, deep-sea canyons, manganese nodule fields, seamounts, cold water coral reefs and gardens, cold seeps and hydrothermal vents.  The structure, functioning and dynamics of Deep Sea ecosystems are complex and shaped by many factors, including the depth of the water column above them.  In addition, it is still poorly understood how these Deep Sea ecosystems interact with the rest of the ocean on which humankind depends for food, climate and ocean regulation, recreation and other ecosystem goods and services.

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James K. Boyce

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” These words in President Obama’s State of the Union address came as music to the ears of environmentalists. Do they herald a real effort to break the climate policy impasse in Washington?

Obama urged Congress to pursue a “bipartisan, market-based solution,” citing as a model the cap-and-trade bill sponsored by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman.

The McCain-Lieberman bill failed to clear the Senate in 2003. It failed again in 2005. So did two subsequent cap-and-trade bills, Lieberman-Warner in 2008 and Waxman-Markey in 2010. Any new effort to enact a national climate policy will be the fifth try.

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In his new collection of essays, James K. Boyce explores the idea that the environment belongs in equal measure to us all; a clean and safe environment is not a commodity to be allocated on the basis of wealth, nor a privilege to be allocated through political power, but rather a basic human right. Building upon this premise, Boyce explores the many ways in which economics can be refashioned into an instrument for advancing human well-being and environmental health. Topics covered include environmental justice, disaster response, globalization and the environment, industrial toxins and other pollutants, cap-and-dividend climate policies, and agricultural biodiversity.

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Frank Ackerman

Climate science paints an ever-more-detailed picture: irreversible, catastrophic events are becoming increasingly likely as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Climate economics, particularly in its policy applications, lags behind: leading models and analyses frequently ignore the extreme risks and the intergenerational aspect of the problem – and rely on simplistic and dated interpretations of the underlying science. Yet the state of the art has progressed rapidly, in the research literature on climate economics as well as science.

To address this problem, Liz Stanton and I wrote Climate Economics: The State of the Art, which has just been published by Routledge. Our book grew out of a request from the World Wildlife Fund for an update on climate economics since the Stern Review. In that 2006 review, commissioned by the British government, Nicholas Stern argued persuasively for a new approach to the economics of climate change, emphasizing arguments for a very low discount rate and a focus on catastrophic risks.

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Martin Khor

The annual UN climate conference concluded in Doha last Saturday with “low ambition” both in emission cuts by developed countries and funding for developing countries

The UN Climate Conference in Doha ended last Saturday with the adoption of many decisions, including on the Kyoto Protocol’s second period in which developed countries committed to cut their emissions of Greenhouse gases.

Many delegates left the conference quite relieved that they had reached agreement after days of wrangling over many issues and an anxious last 24 hours that were so contentious that most people felt a collapse was imminent.

The relief was that the multilateral climate change regime has survived yet again, although there are such deep differences and distrust among developed and developing countries.

The conflict in paradigms between these two groups of countries was very evident throughout the two weeks of the Doha negotiations, and it was only papered over superficially in the final hours to avoid an open failure.  But the differences will surface again when negotiations resume next year.

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Martin Khor warns that it is evident from the Bangkok negotiations in September that the future of global climate change talks hangs in the balance. The prospect of bridging the division within the international community on tackling the problem seems as remote as ever even as evidence of the devastating impact of climate change mounts.

THE global climate change negotiations are at a new crossroads, as evident after the latest round of meetings that ended in Bangkok on 5 September.

‘Crossroads’ because the talks and the emerging climate change regime may go into one of various directions, or else become stuck in an impasse.  ‘New’ because the climate talks have faced crossroads several times before in the past five years.

The Bangkok negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held over a week, revealed a major split between developed and developing countries on what to do over many issues that the developing countries want to continue to discuss, because they have not been resolved.

Most developed countries, led by the United States, believe there is no need for further discussion because they have been closed off by a decision taken at the last Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa last December.

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