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The Forks in the Road after the Paris Agreement

Without a doubt, the Paris Agreement is historic. It provides some much-needed relief to the UN process and the leaders of the world who suffered a major setback after the Copenhagen breakdown in 2009. It lets a term-limited President of the United States claim to have set laudably ambitious goals, and it lets him enjoy his retirement, sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere while others try to implement actual actions to meet the goals. It gives the protesters something to support (the 1.5 degree goal), and it gives the business community quite a bit of wiggle room (for example, nobody is in charge of enforcement, and there are no consequences for missing targets). The fossil fuel lobby seemed to have the least to show for itself. It looks like it will be out of business sometime in the second half of the 21st century. And in the meantime, oil prices are very low, and (at least in the U.S.) coal companies are feeling the pinch.

Many of the big environmental NGO’s have issued statements of general support for the Agreement. In some cases this is meant to influence low-information readers and isolate opponents of climate action, something along the lines of, “Look, the whole world has come together, is taking the issue seriously, and is on record to phase out fossil fuels in a few decades.” Other environmentalists have been somewhat ambivalent because the only thing missing from the Agreement is who, what, and how. Like a zen koan, the Agreement is a riddle that just leads to more questions. The signatories recognize that 1.5 degrees Celsius is a better target than 2 degrees, but they are currently at 3.7 degrees, so the rest of us reading the Agreement are meant to take the good feelings at face value and cheer them on: “Sure! Let’s all be ambitious! Why not?”

Even so, cynicism is not a viable path forward. Tackling this problem will take centuries of effort, so for the countries of the world to unite behind a vision of 100% renewable energy and complete phase out of fossil fuels within just a few decades is actually pretty inspiring. On the other hand, inspiration alone will not reduce emissions. It will take real action. In this regard, there are a few paths we can choose:

Business as usual: This is the preferred mode for many fossil fuel companies and the Republican party and its funders, with the exception of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Congressman Bob Ingliss, and perhaps a few others who are in conversation behind the scenes with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. The INDCs presented in Paris are predicted to lead to warming of 3.7°C by 2100. CSE India’s review of the US’s INDC blasts through the win-win rhetoric and lays bare some inconvenient truths. The possibility that this pathway will prevail counteracts all the feel good emotions around the Paris Agreement.

Business as usual cloaked in green: This mode was promoted at various expos and side events in Paris including Solutions 21 (which was derided by activists as “False Solutions 21”). The French utility EDF promoted nuclear power as low-carbon, and numerous banks signed on to future commitments to fund renewables, while their current balance sheets overflowed with fossil fuel companies. Proponents of this view might respond to a protester, “Divestment, sure…some day. We’ll let you know when it works for us.” If you squint one eye tight enough, you might be able to see a slight transition occurring, but it seems unlikely to result in an economic transformation that addresses global poverty, clean development, inequality, decoupling of emissions and economy, and degrowth in the developed world.

Technological wishful thinking: One might think this is just an add-on to the above category, except that in this case the messengers at COP21 were several big NGO groups, even including Greenpeace (!). Here’s how the presentation played out: “We’d prefer a carbon price, but unfortunately it is politically infeasible. But not to worry, renewables are falling in price so rapidly that we don’t even need a carbon price! A little divestment here, a little investment there, maybe a little bit stronger INDC in 2020, and viola: 100% clean energy!” Once again, if you squint one eye tight enough, it is appealing, politically feasible, and being promoted by well-known groups. “Let’s let the titans of industry and the tech geniuses of Silicon Valley take us where we want to go! Tomorrowland, here we come!” So much optimism made me feel like a Debbie Downer.

A rising carbon price under a declining global carbon budget:
As Christina Figueres of the UNFCCC stated ahead of the talks, a carbon price was not really on the table for the Paris Agreement. Neither were the words “global carbon budget.” Ms. Figueres and others would say that could come later, starting at the national or subnational level, and later incorporated into future INDC’s. But rather than waiting around another 10 years, a delegation from the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (FEASTA) attended COP-21 and presented CapGlobalCarbon, a proposed citizen’s movement to demand the creation of a Global Climate Commons Trust to set a global carbon cap, auction production permits to upstream fossil fuel companies and returns the revenues to people. This was presented at a side event in the Blue Zone at COP-21. Similar concepts were noted at other climate justice-oriented side events, including: The Carbon Levy Project, the Civil Society Equity Review,, remarks by former NASA scientist James Hansen (though he would say he supports a price but not a cap), the Zero Carbon Zero Poverty project, and by numerous Global South advocates. To the extent that the Paris Agreement empowers NGO’s, activists, and others to investigate this pathway, then COP-21 can be considered a success. To the extent that the Agreement promotes the other approaches or provides cover for business as usual, well, let’s take to the streets!

Two final notes. The first goes back to an early mantra of the Center for Climate Protection that was borrowed from ICLEI: “Local Action Moves the World.” Cities and regions were well-represented at the COP, and in many cases had the best stories to tell of actual implementation of the transition off fossil fuel-dependent economics. California was well-represented, and Sonoma Clean Power’s story was told at several events featuring Community Choice Aggregation. But attending COP-21 was a high emissions, high effort endeavor. For example, it may have cost attendees 200 dollars or more per day to participate, which excludes the world’s populations that exist on a dollar or two a day. This trip reinforced the idea that in general, it is more cost-effective, and in many cases more rewarding, to “Think globally, Act locally.”

Second, it is important to mention the shadow cast over Paris from the terrorist attacks that occurred a few weeks prior to COP-21. Following the attacks, France more or less banned civil society, cancelled the climate protests, and invoked emergency powers that subjected citizens to something like a police state. During the COP, France’s National Front, an anti-immigrant political party, won several regional elections. Concurrently, here in the U.S., Republican Presidential Candidate (and front runner) Donald Trump took the opportunity to propose banning Muslims from entering the country. And this is in a world with less than a degree of greenhouse warming.

Climate change is a huge injustice waiting in the wings. It has the potential to cause suffering on the poorest people, with scientific proof pointing back to the tailpipes of the wealthiest 1%. The implications for a future cycle of terror and right-wing reactionary backlash are obvious. It is yet another scary fork in the road. Let’s hope the Paris Agreement points us toward a peaceful, just, and climate-protected world, and let’s work together to make that happen.

Cross-posted on the Center for Climate Protection website.

Featured image: Decision. Source:

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Not a fair COP…a report from Paris by Robert Hutchison

While six years ago the big Copenhagen conference ended in tears of anger and disappointment, the 21st Conferences of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris ended in tears of relief and Mexican waves of approval last Saturday – even though the outcome is a rotten deal for the world’s poorest people.

Let’s take the positives first. For the first time 195 nations have been brought into a common cause in taking collective action to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change. And in reinforcing the agreement to limit average global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the Paris conference has given a clear signal that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. Whether it will end soon enough to maintain a reasonably safe climate remains an open question. What happens in the next few years remains critically important.

But it was not a fair COP. Because those most vulnerable to extreme weather events tend to be those who have done least to cause the problem, human-caused climate change is a major issue of social justice. And at Paris the Least Developed and most vulnerable countries were sold short. The hollow centre of the outcomes are the dependence on voluntary action and the continuing failure of the wealthiest countries to commit to the finance needed for mitigation, adaptation and ‘Loss and Damage’. Given the scale of the problems – and compared with the hundreds of billions that went to shore up the banking industry on both sides of the Atlantic – very little funding has been guaranteed. And the track record of rich countries on making such transfers is not reassuring.

For many of the Least Developed Countries and Small Island States the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ – those impacts from climate change to which vulnerable countries can no longer adapt – was an important strand of the negotiations. For the first time the Paris Agreement includes ‘Loss and Damage’ as a stand-alone item, but, at the insistence of the USA and the EU the Agreement explicitly states that this ‘does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation’. But make no mistake, many of those most badly hit by extreme weather events will be seeking compensation. And not least because of the grossly deceitful nature of the fossil fuel companies, we should expect a growing stream of litigation on climate change impacts in the years ahead.

The dependence on voluntary action – on it being left to each government to decide what to do – does not put the world on the path to avoid dangerous climate change. At present the world is gambling on the potential of unproven technologies – like Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) – to reduce emissions in the second half of the century.

At the conclusion of the Paris negotiations, David Cameron announced that ‘We’ve secured our planet for many, many generations to come’, an utterance as bland and inappropriate as it was irresponsible. If we are to stabilise the climate for future generations wealthy countries need to make much steeper – and more immediate – cuts in our emissions than those currently planned. We need to invest more heavily in renewables – and discontinue subsidies to fossil fuels. The British government is leading us in completely the wrong direction – with bogus assurances and misplaced investments.

After a fortnight in Paris I came home with the belief that the main tasks of those seriously concerned with the injustices of climate change must be not just to press for faster emissions reductions in wealthy countries, but also to campaign for a legally binding global limit on fossil fuel extraction. The race against time continues.

Above all, climate change presents an opportunity to give the highest priority to human wellbeing, with stronger smarter communities, healthier lifestyles, and millions of new jobs. Facing up to climate change and ending abject poverty are two sides of the same coin. Unprecedented innovation – not just in energy and transport systems but also in food production, and in the way we organise and live in cities – a cultural and moral revolution, transparency and greater integrity of governments at every level are also needed. The climate change threat will only be fully met – and the opportunity for greater human wellbeing only fully realised – when the collective courage of humanity forces governments to face up to their responsibilities. Climate change remains everyone’s issue; we need to tread more lightly, more softly, while listening and responding to the most vulnerable.

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The Paris agreement: a Christmas truce, or a new beginning?

I had the uneasy privilege of being able to attend a few days of the COP-21 Paris summit and I was moved by the sheer volume and variety of people gathered there from all over the world to try and address the climate crisis in a spirit of cooperation and (officially at least) on an equal footing.

It gives you a vision of how the world could be, even if you know very well that it’s a mirage, that the real power lies elsewhere, that many of the people negotiating in Paris are effectively just ground troops who are following orders.

Personally I’m much happier to see the negotiators all clapping, cheering and shaking hands than yelling at each other and storming out of rooms.

But I’m worried that all the clapping, cheering and hand-shaking will turn out to be just like the Christmas Truce of 1914. German, English and French ground troops back then temporarily stopped fighting and instead exchanged greetings and gifts, and sang Christmas carols together. There was a certain amount of musing about the absurdity of the war.

But the officers quickly threatened disciplinary measures and within a few days, things were back to normal – the soldiers were obediently firing at each other again and the grotesquely meaningless war continued as though nothing had happened to interrupt it.

I can’t shake off a deep fear about the climate, nor a nagging concern that the agreement as it stands is not nearly strong enough on justice and equity.

It’s good that the agreement requires countries to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels’. It’s better than nothing that it implies that emissions will need to be net zero ‘in the second half of this century’ – although the science indicates that in order to (possibly) avoid even a 2 degree rise, what is actually needed is net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.

It’s slightly better than nothing that the agreement says that equity and justice need to be taken into account. We all knew in advance that there wouldn’t be anything legally binding on climate finance, because of the politics involved, particularly in the US. However, abundant and reliable climate finance is what is needed and a way needs to be found to achieve that.

I hope that those who argue that the agreement will send a signal to markets that the age of fossil fuels is over are right. But I’m not convinced.

Negotiators at climate summits are representing the interests of their countries – interests that are frequently defined in terms that favour powerful elites. For example, apparently governments wordwide pay out about $540 billion annually in fossil fuel subsidies. This dwarfs the $100 billion in climate finance that the Paris agreement suggests that the Global North pay over to the Global South each year. (And as mentioned above, that’s only a suggestion anyway, not a requirement.)

At one of the summits’ many ‘side events’ – enormously informative and constructive sessions that were mainly organised by NGOs – Julie-Ann Richards of the Climate Justice Programme pointed out that the phrase ‘fossil fuels’ doesn’t appear even once in the agreement text.

How can we seriously expect to lower emissions when we not only do nothing to control a major source of those emissions – worse, we even subsidize it heavily?

Then there’s military funding – a huge elephant in the room that was pointed out by a member of the audience at our own side event. About $1629 billion dollars are spent every year worldwide on defense. Again, it’s easy to tell what is truly being taken seriously by governments and what is not. If climate was taken seriously, much of this funding would be diverted from the military in recognition of the fact that we’re facing an emergency and need to act as though we are on a war footing. It’s a question of survival, so it should be obvious that it’s also a question of defense.

Instead, the summit seemed at times like a huge promotional event for travel agents. The richer countries had the most amazingly elaborate stands and displays. India’s was particularly striking as it featured a waterfall within which there was a kind of water-based powerpoint presentation. Indonesia’s had nice parasols, Peru had a lovely display sign, the US had all kinds of fancy screens.

Meanwhile the delegates from the more desperate countries, like the Marshall Islands, tended to stick to plywood for their stands and in any case, weren’t usually around to mind them.

During the time that I was there there seemed to be no real sense of emergency on the part of many of the delegates. I looked in on a plenary presentation and it seemed to be sheer show business, smooth and slick, complete with booming music from loudspeakers every time someone new took the floor.

The free travel passes for Paris that we were all given made it very tempting to take a bit of time off and go visit the Louvre. I’d love to believe that the pleasure of spending time in such a rich cultural setting helped the negotiations along. Maybe it did. Maybe.

I realise that many of the summit attendees do care about the climate and that, despite the distractions, a lot of hard work was done. But in any case, I don’t think the negotiators could be expected to really deliver what we need. To reiterate – the negotiators are ground troops.

The framework within which these talks take place, pitting countries against each other, is wildly inappropriate, just as the dynamic of the First World War made it impossible for the soldiers to continue their truce. What’s needed is a back up to the international negotiations to ensure that emissions really get reduced and justice is truly respected. This is what we’re proposing with CapGlobalCarbon.

Will the Paris agreement prove to be as ephemeral as the Christmas truce or will it mark the beginning of real movement on climate change? A lot depends on popular pressure and on cool-headed, realistic thinking. Visions are great – indeed, necessary – for inspiration. Now it’s time to work on the reality.


Featured image: Christmas truce 1914. Source:

[Edit on December 19 2015: added the word ‘uneasy’ before ‘privilege’ in the first paragraph.]

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There is no Plan B? Response to French climate chief Laurence Tubiana

“There is no plan B,” said Laurence Tubiana, the chief of the climate envoy of the country hosting the COP21, on October 28 at a press conference.

First of all: we are glad to see Laurence Tubiana clearly takes the problem of climate change seriously and shows the urge to come to a solution during the COP21. That being said: her choice of words is rather unfortunate as adopting Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” frame makes it more likely that there indeed will be no alternative to the current business as usual trajectory of 3 degrees of warming.

“I can’t be more explicit than I have been all along the week… I don’t think parties should shy away from responsibilities. We don’t need another text… we don’t need to invest in a new one,”  – Laurence Tubiana

“There is no plan B”  is a worrying statement as it narrows down the set of solutions to cope with climate change to one particular solution: a climate treaty. As a hosting country it would be better be open to suggestions and ideas your guests bring in rather than discarding these ideas beforehand.

Furthermore, it is important to realise that a plan B does not jeopardize the process of plan A; it functions to safeguard that process. Our advice to the French hosts: Adopt a plan B that makes sure that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the fossil fuels that need to stay in the ground, remain there. CapGlobalCarbon is a legitimate plan B for this purpose.

If she had said “There is no planet B” we’d have agreed, and if she said “lets hope we don’t have to fall back on a plan B” we’d have agreed as well. But if there is one thing the COP21 desperately needs it is a Plan B.

If you agree, we kindly invite you to tweet this statement to @LaurenceTubiana to encourage her to take a solution-oriented stance.

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The four questions we should ask about emissions cuts, and CGC’s answers

Griffin Carpenter recently posted a blog article on the New Economics Foundation website which brings up some good questions with regard to emissions cuts. I’ve copied his questions below, and provided some possible answers from the CGC perspective:

1. How should we measure emissions? The tendency is to focus on large emitters like the US and China, but to some extent this is a measure of their population size. Instead it seems reasonable to start from a point of country obligations on a per person basis. And while emissions are usually measured as within a country’s borders, there is a measurement problem around whether global trade should be taken into account. For example, since 1990 annual emissions in the UK have fallen by 25% but UK consumption-based emissions have only fallen by 7%.”

CGC would measure emissions ‘upstream’, from the point of production of fossil fuels, which would entirely circumvent the problems outlined above – emissions from trade, aviation, and shipping would automatically be included, and the system would ensure that those producing fossil fuels, regardless of the country in which they are located, pay for their use of the atmosphere as a dump. This cost would then be passed on to fossil fuel consumers. We are not alone in making this argument: commentators as various as Sir John Houghton and George Monbiot share our view.

2. Should historic emissions matter? Many countries have polluted, and continue to pollute, more greenhouse gas emissions than others. We’ve previously pointed to a tally showing that the UK leads in the world in historic per capita emissions. India often argues that it should face lesser obligations than those nations whose development has created the problem.where necessary. “

Again, CGC would automatically benefit those who produce fewer emissions, as they would directly gain financially under the system, in contrast to those who consume larger amounts of fossil fuel energy. This not only solves the problem of discrepancies between countries’ current emissions described above, it also solves an additional problem: the élites within many Global South countries consume more than their share of fossil fuel.

While CGC does not include a direct mechanism for addressing historic emissions, it could provide a valuable springboard for achieving broader climate justice by empowering impoverished Global South communities, enabling them to take further legal action where necessary.

3. Who has the ability to reduce emissions? Some countries say the onus should be on those most capable of doing so. This is not just a point about relative levels of emissions – it being easier to reduce from 10 to 9 tonnes/capita than from 1 to 0 tonnes/capita – but also due to economic development and the tremendous economic inequality between countries.”

As stated above, CGC would ensure that those who consume less-then-average amounts of fossil fuel would benefit in financial terms. Indeed, it would trigger a significant transfer of wealth, resources and technology from the Global North to the Global South. The funding could be used by individuals and communities worldwide to invest in renewable energy, healthcare, education and whatever else they deem useful or valuable.

4. Who will climate change hurt the most? Climate change costs are not only in lessening emissions (mitigation) but also in dealing with the impacts (adaptation). Research continues to show that the impacts of climate change will not fall evenly across the globe….. The sad reality is that those who have contributed the most to climate change will be impacted the least, and as we’ve pointed out, are also the most likely to be climate sceptics.”

CGC would ensure that even climate sceptics would have to make the needed cutbacks in emissions, and also pay compensation. Moreover, since it would likely have a stabilising effect on the world economy by reducing poverty and inequality, it might even gain some advocates among climate sceptics. You don’t actually have to believe in anthropogenic climate change to be able to appreciate many of the benefits of CGC.

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The Paris Agenda: Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground, Auction Permits, Protect People

Climate campaigners have adopted a slogan for the lead up to the international climate change conference (COP-21) in Paris this December: “Leave it in the ground.” The UN’s climate chief Christiana Figueres told the fossil fuel industry, “Three-quarters of the fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground.” The slogan illustrates how the discourse is moving “upstream,” from controlling emissions at the smoke stack or tailpipe to limiting the production of fossil fuels at the coal mine or oil well.

Three years ago Bill McKibben laid out the “terrifying math” behind the “excess fossil fuels,” which if unearthed, would push the planet past the safe carbon budget as calculated by scientists. It starts with two degrees Celsius, the maximum level of acceptable temperature change that the world’s nations agreed to above pre-industrial levels. From there, estimates of the world’s remaining carbon budget vary depending on the level of acceptable risk. On the low end is McKibben’s relatively risk-averse estimate of 565 gigatonnes (GT) CO2. A 2013 report from Carbon Tracker put the number at 975 GT for an 80% probability of remaining below 2 degrees C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s proposed a budget of 1000 billion tonnes (Gt) of CO2 starting from 2011 that would give the planet a 66% chance of avoiding 2 °C warming. But Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research notes that between 2011 and 2014 CO2 emissions from energy production amounted to about 140 GT of CO2, and when he subtracts emissions from deforestation and cement production through the year 2100 (60 Gt and 150 GT), then at the current global rate of 35 GT per year, the remaining 650 GT would be used up in just 19 years! This puts the climate talks in Paris in perspective. There is no time for low initial national “contributions” with “ratcheting up ambition” after 5 or 10 year review periods. The entire carbon budget will be gone by 2034!

The countries of the world have agreed to 2 degrees C, but they have yet to agree on an approach to leaving the excess fossil fuels in the ground. The most obvious approach is to simply announce a ban on fossil fuel production starting in 2034, and let that market signal filter through the economy over the next few years. The fossil fuels divestment campaign is aligned with this approach, since the investors are basically saying they are moving their money into other industries that will be around for more than 19 years into the future.

Less heavy-handed than an outright ban would be a steadily rising carbon price. The case can be made to countries, industries, and companies that this would help them do a “managed retreat” instead of waiting around for the market to crash. A carbon price could be implemented through either a tax or a permit system. Economists see it as a matter of regulating price or quantity and letting the other fluctuate. Advocates of the fee and dividend model rightly state that the funds raised by a carbon tax can be returned to people as a climate dividend, and recipients of dividend payments could become a constituency for higher and higher carbon prices. Unfortunately, without a production (quantity) limit, the wealthiest companies would be able to afford to continue to pollute, and may simply pass the cost on to their customers. So it is possible that the main result of a tax with no cap may be just raising funds.

If an outright ban is politically unfeasible and the goal is really to leave the fuels in the ground, then the global community must set an internationally agreed-upon limit that countries could sign on to, and to create an institution to regulate the budget under a declining permit system. This is the approach advocated by the group CapGlobalCarbon. The permits would be sold to the upstream fossil fuel companies, and the scarcity rent would be returned to the public as climate dividends. Representatives from CapGlobalCarbon will be attending the climate conference in Paris, and will call for the creation of a Global Climate Commons Trust to set up a science-based permit system that follows the Cap & Share model. Whereas the UNFCCC is comprised of countries, the Trust would represent all of humanity on the basis of “one person, one share.”

The math is clear: there is a fossil fuel bubble. There is more coal and oil in the ground than we can safely burn. In this framing, the Paris climate conference is really an economic conference, perched on the brink of a market crash in the fossil fuel sector. The solution is to leave the fuel in the ground, and set up a price signal to allow a managed retreat from an obsolete industry, and protect the public by sending climate dividends back to households.


Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Image source: Author:Cordula Braun

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2 °C warming threshold is closer than we think

The latest scientific findings underline the need for much quicker and more profound action on climate change than is currently being proposed by governments.

Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester, has shown that the carbon emissions budget for avoiding 2 °C warming is due to be used up by 2034 if annual global emissions continue at the 2013 level. Climate scientists recognise that the global temperature depends directly on the cumulative amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that humanity would have a 66% chance of avoiding 2 °C warming if it kept within a budget of 1000 billion tonnes (Gt) of CO2 starting from 2011. Anderson applied simple arithmetic to this budget First, he subtracted 140 Gt that have already been emitted from burning fossil fuels between 2011 and 2014. Next he subtracted conservative estimates of the emissions from deforestation (60 Gt) and cement production (150 Gt) up to 2100. This left a budget of 650 Gt for energy production. In 2013 global emissions from energy production were 34.2 Gt. This leads to the conclusion that if emissions continue at the 2013 level the 2°C warming threshold would be exceeded within 650/34.2 = 19 years’ time or around 2034 . Anderson’s paper concludes “… the carbon budgets associated with a 2 °C threshold demand profound and immediate changes to the consumption and production of energy” (our italics).

Thanks to Prof Bob Whitmarsh for providing this summary.

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An overview of the INDCs for COP21

MindTheCover_alt4-page-001As of 17/10/2015 total of 123 submissions are now posted on United Nations (n.d.) covering 152 countries and 90% of current global emissions (RTCC, 2015). This is up from 23 submissions on 18/8/2015. Note that the EU is covered by a single submission. The major additional submissions are from India and Brazil so all the major economies/emitters have now submitted. Boyd et al (2015) suggest this will lead to emissions of 56.9 to 59.1 Gt CO2e in 2030 compared to a target of 36 Gt CO2e.

India (5.7% of 2012 emissions) has, as expected, submitted on a reduction of emissions by 33-35% per unit of GDP based on the 2005 level by 2030 and is proposing a re-forestation programme to act as a carbon sink. Brazil (5.7% of 2012 emissions) is targeting a 37% reduction on 2005 levels by 2025.

Many of the more recent submissions are from poorer countries submitting reductions compared with ‘business as usual’ scenarios (RTCC, 2015). These are very hard to judge and almost certainly anticipate overall increase of emissions over the timeframe suggested. Armenia is the first country to submit a per capita target. Several countries (for example South Africa) have signalled that they want international support (presumably money). Actual submissions can be viewed at United Nations (n.d.) while Carbon Brief Staff (2015) are blogging on country submissions as they come in. Climate Action Tracker (n.d.) has more detailed analyses of many of the submissions. Carbon Brief Staff (2015) have created a useful summary spreadsheet.

At the end of June Ban Ki Moon (secretary general of the United Nations) expressed his frustration at lack of progress (Goldenburg, 2015). Also many submissions fall far short of hopes. The USA and China in particular made an apparently bold joint proposal (Hope, 2014) which, while an improvement over no agreed targets, appears to fall far short of what’s needed.

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What If Janet Yellen Joined Todd Stern in Paris?

On December 11, the UN Climate Change conference in Paris (called COP-21) will be wrapping up, and the headlines will announce if the negotiators were able to agree to save the Earth or not. Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, will be leading the U.S. delegation at COP-21. At the photo op at the end of the conference, Secretary of State John Kerry will surely be in the front row. If there is a problem and the conference looks like it might fail, President Obama may fly in at the last minute as he did in 2009 in Copenhagen to try to save the talks. But who else will be part of the delegation, and are they the right people?

COP-21 is not just another regular meeting of diplomats, and climate change is not just another environmental issue. For a real outcome to occur, the delegates need to be talking about a major change to the global economy: a limit on fossil fuel input. It is highly doubtful that a few dozen mid-level staff from the EPA and State Department will be able to talk in terms of “leaving fossil fuels in the ground,” or implementing a global cap on carbon emissions, and returning carbon pricing revenues back to people. Even if they were empowered by Secretary Kerry to do so, would anyone take them seriously, given the current state of Congress? No. The only way to get that type of conversation taken seriously is to add a few key people to Todd Stern’s entourage, starting with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and President Obama’s Economic Advisers.

Chair Yellen would be a revolutionary addition to the U.S. climate delegation, and would send an immediate message that the U.S. understands the economic implications of serious climate action. Central bankers don’t typically attend environmental conferences. But that’s the point: behind all the green hype, COP-21 is really an economic conference. Yellen’s attendance would highlight the need for the creation of powerful fiscal and monetary instruments to protect the economy and create economic incentives for a low-carbon transition in the new fossil fuel-limited world. Stock markets would immediately begin incorporating fossil fuel limitations into their valuations, and perhaps deflate the “carbon bubble” before it bursts.

Accompanying Yellen could be two of President Obama’s economic team, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Jason Furman, the Chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, to provide additional gravitas from the Executive Branch in economic discussions about a global carbon price that would otherwise be lacking. At the conference Chair Yellen, Secretary Lew, and Chairman Furman could announce new programs run by the Fed and the Treasury for “quantitative easing to the people” along with a plan for “climate dividends” that return revenues from a carbon price back to households. Fed critics would go nuts since Yellen has a nearly unlimited checkbook outside the purview of the climate deniers in Congress. Chair Yellen does not need to wait for an invitation from Todd Stern or the President. She could always buy herself a plane ticket to Paris and would likely garner some press attention for any such announcements she wanted to make there.

President Obama’s best chance to build a lasting legacy will be in Paris. COP-21 provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lame-duck President facing a hostile Congress to show courage and leadership on an issue that has implications for decades and even centuries. The consensus document from the UNFCCC will likely contain some nice flowery language, but it will not come close to what the science requires. But there is still time to salvage the process, by bringing a few key people into the U.S. delegation, and supporting a global cap on emissions with revenues returned back to people.

Cross-posted in the Huffington Post.

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Precedent for CapGlobalCarbon: the International Campaign to Ban Landmines

CapGlobalCarbon may seem dauntingly ambitious, but it isn’t by any means the first global-level initiative to be led by civil society, and important lessons can be learnt from past experience. In a series of blog posts I’ll be examining several of these precedents. Let’s start with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The ICBL was founded in 1998. Here are a list of points in common that the CGC could have with the ICBL:

1. The ICBL is an independent global organisation that was formed by a coalition of NGOs. It defines itself as a ‘campaign’ and works with the UN and with individual governments but isn’t a government body itself.

2. Its goal is to eliminate from the entire planet something noxious and widespread which is causing harm to humanity. This quote from the ICBL website reminded me of our argument for a binding cap on fossil fuel extraction: “…It soon became apparent that the only real solution to address the landmine crisis was a complete ban on antipersonnel mines. No technical changes or changes to the rules on their use could change the fact that an antipersonnel mine is inherently indiscriminate.”

3. The ICBL puts pressure on governments to sign and ratify a treaty that implements their overall goal, and it has made meaningful progress towards achieving it. Since it was founded in 1992, 39 out of the 50 landmine-producing countries at the time have stopped producing landmines and landmine use has dramatically dropped (according to their website). Tens of millions of landmines have been destroyed.

4. This one isn’t included in our core description of CGC, but I think it also has potential as a precedent. The ICBL has a sister organisation which works as a monitor, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which is described as the “innovative civil society research and monitoring arm of the ICBL-CMC”. (CMC focusses on cluster bombs). This organisation does the work of tracking down who is using landmines and where they are.

This seems relevant to CGC in two ways:

(a) The effectiveness of this body’s work is proof that it’s possible to organise competent independent monitoring on a global level. Indeed, GCCT monitors wouldn’t have nearly such a difficult job as the ICBL’s Monitor does, since the former would merely have to keep track of upstream fossil fuel extraction which is carried out by a relatively small number of companies around the planet and already well-documented. The ICBL’s monitor has to try and track down down all the landmines which is a bit like trying to plug downstream emissions; it’s an enormous task.

(b) The monitors’ work is also a counter to the argument that any international monitoring organisation would have a tendency to become overly controlling, perhaps even totalitarian. By necessity, the ICBL monitors’ work is actually rather more invasive than the GCCT’s monitoring would be; but it’s hard to imagine anything more benign. (And another factor to bear in mind is that CGC doesn’t force people to spend their money in any particular way or even fix any prices; the only thing being controlled is upstream fossil fuel extraction).

Then there’s a less positive point – but as suggested above, I think we could draw a valuable lesson from it:

5. The ICBL has some difficulty in enforcing the treaty. Not all the countries are signatories, and of those who have, there are sometimes violations although the only really serious one so far appears to have been Yemen in 2011. By its own admission, the ICBL lacks a formal mechanism to address violations. They’re exploring ways to deal with this at present.

How could CGC ensure that its rules are enforced? Should it in fact have the responsibility for doing so, or should that fall to some other organisation? I’ve some suggestions about that in my next post on precedents for CGC, and in the meantime, would very much welcome comments.


Featured image from the Acceptance International website.

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