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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Frank Ackerman

One day in May, climate change got a lot more expensive. The price tag on emissions – the value of the damages done by one more ton of CO2 in the air – used to be a mere $25 or so, in today’s dollars, according to ananonymous government task force that met in secret in 2009-2010. Now it’s $40, according to an anonymous government task force that met in secret in early 2013.

Anyone who cares about combating climate change would have to applaud the result: a higher carbon price means that cost-benefit analyses will place a greater value on policies that reduce emissions.

And anyone who cares about democracy should be appalled at the process: are we entering an era in which major regulatory decisions are made anonymously, in secret, with no opportunity for review?

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We are economists who think that the economy should serve people, the planet, and the future.

Some politicians and economists still cling to the old claims that bigger is better, greed is good, a fossil-fueled economy is inevitable, and inequality is efficient. A growing body of evidence has shown this model to be bankrupt.

Instead of prosperity, it is feeding ever-wider inequalities of wealth and power that erode our health and economic well-being.

Instead of full employment, it is generating monthly job growth that fails to match labor force growth.

Instead of a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren, it has brought us to the brink of an unprecedented environmental crisis, consistently overstating the costs of actions to protect our climate while understating their benefits.

Instead of a competitive and resilient economy, it has fostered the growth of too-big-to-fail banks and corporations whose political power threatens the integrity of our democracy itself.

We call for a new economy founded on the building blocks of a level playing field, true-cost pricing, resilience, and real democracy.

In addition to new and effective policies in the critical arenas of job creation, housing, health care and regulation, we call for support for 21st century alternatives to the centralized, unfair, and unsustainable economy of the 20th century.

If you’re an economist and would like to add your name to this statement, please send an email to Econ4 by clicking here (info@econ4.org).

Triple Crisis Welcomes Your Comments. Please Share Your Thoughts Below.


Sunita Narain

If you know that a sector has arrived when it makes for trade wars between countries, then solar energy clearly has. Last year, the US imposed anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports of solar panels; now the EU has proposed the same. The Chinese have in turn threatened that they will take action against European exports of poly-silicon, the material used for manufacturing solar panels. In February this year, the US filed a case against India at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for “favouring sourcing of panels from domestic manufacturers”. Earlier this month, Canada lost a similar case filed against it at WTO for its support to domestic manufacturers in procurement of solar panels. So, what you thought was all good and nice has suddenly become the biggest bugbear in international trade relations. It tells you that this sector is growing, it is lucrative and it makes for fierce trade politics and competitiveness.

But this is only part of the story. The big issue underlying these “wars” is the role of solar energy—a new source of power to lead the world to a low-carbon future and thus, away from the looming climate crisis. It has big objectives.

First, it has to become cheap so that it can achieve grid parity and compete with the dinosaur in the market: coal and oil. This can only happen when its deployment is greatly scaled up. Secondly, it has to reinvent green growth. This is why solar energy has been “sold” as an alternative industry, which will add to employment. It is the economy of the future. Thirdly, it has to secure needs of the most energy-poor. In other words, this relatively expensive and certainly most modern energy system should reach the poorest millions living in darkness. This would mean cutting the cost of supply, building networks to distribute and doing all that has not been done before.

Solar energy, therefore, has a tall order to deliver. The problem is countries have never considered the competing and often conflicting objectives. As a result, solar energy instead of becoming the messenger of the new cooperative world is getting embroiled in battles.
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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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Mehdi Shaffaedin

Mr. Morales, the president of Bolivia, has recently taken measures to nationalise the oil and gas industries of the country, following his nationalization of utilities. According to international law, nationalisation is regarded as the sovereign right of nations. But is it sufficient to contribute to diversification and development?

Dependence of developing countries on production and exports of primary commodities and the control/ownership of natural resources has been one influence of colonialism. The result: low return value and falling terms of trade against the host countries. Yet, developing countries have aspired to industrialization and rapid development since their independence. And some of them have nationalized their natural resource sector. One way to industrialize and accelerate development is to increase revenues and foreign exchange earned from the primary sector itself, to use them for diversification. Nevertheless, despite their nationalization, not only has the international market been dominated by TNCs, but also the contribution of the accrued revenues to diversification and development has not been significant.

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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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Matias Vernengo

I have taken to calling my beliefs on the future of energy sources “weird energy.” Why? Because the sources I am most interested in seem to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Notice: this is so inviolable, we capitalize it. But they don’t.

Why am I so interested in other energy sources? The obvious reason is a quest for zero carbon intensity, so getting rid of the big greenhouse gas. The other one is that the correlation between energy consumption and economic output, no matter how you measure it, and probably no matter when in history you look, is so tight that you could hang wallpaper by it. Some folks think I am weird because of this but, ya’ know, data are data when used wisely. And this is really important.

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Joan Martinez Alier, Guest Blogger

In May 2013, the international press has become alive to the fact that
there is a lot of unburnable fossil fuels. “Unburnable” carbon has
become a buzz word in The Economist and in The New York Times. If the
oil, gas and coal reserves are burnt at present speed, there is no
chance whatever of limiting carbon dioxide concentration below 500 ppm.
A large part of such reserves must remain in the ground. The Grantham
Institute of the London School of Economics has produced a report that
proves that the policies advanced since 1997 by Oilwatch to leave oil in
the soil were right, and announces that the money value of fossil fuels
reserves will necessarily come down if something is effectively done
against climate change. The Economist (4 May 2013, “Unburnable Fuels”)
dismisses “technological fixes” such as carbon sequestration and
geo-engineering.

When Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist and Nobel laureate, published
the first articles on climate change in 1896, the carbon dioxide
concentration in the atmosphere was 300 parts per million (ppm). It is
now reaching 400 ppm and rising 2 ppm per year. Arrhenius announced that
by burning coal found underground, industrialised countries were
releasing more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that this
would increase temperatures. He could not know that in the twentieth
century coal burning worldwide would increase seven-fold or that in
addition to coal burning would be added much more oil and natural gas;
in addition to the effects of deforestation.

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Sunita Narain

Building green is definitely important. But equally important is to know how green is a green building. Take the glitzy, glass-enveloped buildings popping up across the country. It does not matter if you are in the mild but wet and windy climate of Bengaluru or in the extreme hot and dry climate of Gurgaon, glass is the in-thing. I have always wondered how buildings extensively using glass could work in such varied climatic zones, where one needs ventilation. Then, I started reading that glass was green. Buildings liberally using glass were being certified green. How come?

Here the story becomes interesting. The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) has specified prescriptive parameters for constructing an energy-efficient building envelope—the exterior façade of a building. The façade, based on the insulation abilities of the material used for roof and wall construction, will reduce heat loss. It will also reduce energy use if it allows daylight in. It is, therefore, important for any green building to have the right material for its exterior.

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