Monday, December 28, 2009

In reaction to Gore

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore shows a picture of the land in Tennessee he grew up on.
“You look at that river gently flowing by. You notice the leaves rustling with the wind. You hear the birds; you hear the tree frogs. In the distance you hear a cow. You feel the grass. The mud gives a little bit on the river bank. It’s quiet; it’s peaceful.”
He speaks movingly about his desire not to see its beauty ravaged by climate change. But in doing so, he allows the impression that all we need to do is to make a few changes, and the rest will be business as usual. For us and him on his land.
Change my light bulbs. Drive less. Heat my house less. Fly less. The Sierra Club gives me a list of ten things. I am advised to plant a tree in my garden. Other have longer to do lists for me. Puffing out its chest, Vanity Fair demands another forty things. I should forgo preheating the oven. Not to be outdone, the Palm Beach Post offers ninety nine prescriptions! (Use a hand potato masher instead of an electric one.)
*George Marshall says I ought not to think of any of this as a sacrifice. He says I will feel proud. My new life style “will be a statement of who I am – a smart aware person living in the 21st century.”(p.135) Al Gore and me, standing shoulder to shoulder. Why am I so unmoved? I want to be moved. I want to move. Yet here I sit. Unmoved. My lethargy might be because I really don’t think my actions will make much of a difference. I don’t think my voting makes a difference. But the same thought does not stop me voting. Of course I only have to vote once in a while, so it is an act of minimal inconvenience. Is it that what I am asked to do here is so inconvenient and complicated?
Others tell me something more is afoot. Both Al Gore and I need to change our whole outlook on life to save the planet. *Gus Speth says I have to stop looking at nature as a means to my ends. I am too materialistic and too individualistic. *Bill McKibben says I have to reintegrate human society and nature and foreswear anthropocentrism for a “biocentric” world view. I am told I should embrace a humbler world. If I listen to Speth and McKibben I need to turn my life upside down. Even if I wanted to do that, I don’t even know how to begin. The contours of my life are sown into a web of relations with that makes such a change hard to contemplate except as a fantasy. I give everything away, sever all ties, live in shack, tend my fields and collect firewood. Even if that is fine for some it is not for me. Like Woody Allen says, I get nervous outside my natural environs of a city.
Al Gore whispers in my ear: “Ignore McKibben and Speth! They are naysayers and luddites. Walden pond romantics! Stick with me. Together we can solve this problem. Yes, big changes are needed, but that does not mean our way of life has to change. All we need to do is to commit our nation to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years. When President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely in 10 years, many people doubted we could accomplish that goal. But 8 years and 2 months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon. We must now lift our nation to reach another goal that will change history. Our entire civilization depends upon us now embarking on a new journey of exploration and discovery. Our success depends on our willingness as a people to undertake this journey and to complete it within 10 years. Once again, we have an opportunity to take a giant leap for humankind." [** NOTE: THIS IS PARTLY MADE UP DIALOGUE AND PARTLY QUOTE FROM PHILADELPHIA SPEECH.]
Is it that simple? Merely a matter of will and our (American) ingenuity? Gore makes it seem almost un-American to wonder if there is a technical solution merely waiting for the ambitious to grab. There is always a technical solution to every problem. That is what makes America America! And if my friends still die of cancer or AIDS decades after Kennedy like moon programs were declared, we just have not tried hard enough. But going to the moon was just rocket science and rocket science is not very fancy science. If I am allowed to stamp my foot and command discovery or innovation I too can solve the problem – even respecting the laws of nature. And in the long run, no doubt we can solve the problem. But as Keynes reminded us, in the long run we are all dead.
Al points his finder at me. “Maybe you didn’t listen to my speech carefully enough. I said we can solve this problem in 10 years. All we need to decide to do it do it!”
I don’t get it – don’t facts intrude? Where do we store the power for use at night when there is no wind or light? How do we overcome the finite supply of raw materials for solar panels? What about China and India’s rising energy needs? Gore casts a condescending eye on me. It is as if I am sitting on the bench next to Bush in a debate listening to Gore:
“Of course there are those who will tell us this can't be done. Some of the voices we hear are the defenders of the status quo - the ones with a vested interest in perpetuating the current system, no matter how high a price the rest of us will have to pay. But even those who reap the profits of the carbon age have to recognize the inevitability of its demise. As one OPEC oil minister observed, ‘The Stone Age didn't end because of a shortage of stones.”’
Right. It ended because a more productive cost effective technology came along. Al Gore in his bully pulpit, stamping his foot can’t change the fact that that is just what we lack for now and the foreseeable future. Now he is getting really irritated with Bush and me. We are not tall and he has a way of arching his back that makes him seem even taller than he is.
He looks down on us. “You know, if you had paid attention you would have heard me call for CO2 caps and taxes! It is all so simple.”
“I smell a rat!” says Bush. “You think the American people are going to support more taxes on energy? And b’sides, Bunzl here says there in’t enough of your “alternative” energy to go around. You think those Chinese and Indians are goin to stop growin. You think their goin leave their coal in the ground!”
He elbows me. I become professorial to add some gravitas to my brief. “China will move 450 million people from the country to the cities in the next 20 years. City people use three times the energy of country people. Sixty percent of India’s population lacks electricity. India’s national goal is to be 100% electrified by 2030.”
“See” gloats Bush, nodding at Gore.
“Look, we can make the tax on CO2 revenue neutral by reducing payroll taxes. And I already said we need to be committed to also eradicating poverty and disease worldwide,” says Gore.
Bush takes a short breath and cocks his head in my direction.
“With all due respect, in addition to promising our American lifestyle will not have to change, you now seem to hold that it will cost us nothing and the rest of the world can come to live the way we do as well.”
Bush looks at me suspiciously. “I thought you were on my side. We ain’t changing our lives and we sure ain’t goin to be paying more for them either as long as I am in charge!”
“Except you’ll ruin the planet in the process,” crows Gore. “ Only my way can save the planet, not raise costs, and eradicate poverty and disease.”
I leave them to carry on the debate. It seems too easy. In the end, I am sure I will have to pay more and change at least some of my life. Anything else goes against common sense. 600 million of us got the life we have because of our industrial revolution. Now 6 billion more want to join us.

Monday, December 21, 2009


A few initial remarks about what has just happened, followed by the full text of the "deal". (See also Isabel Hilton's Chinadialogue's remarks republished at

1. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now over 380 ppm and growing at more than 2 ppm per annum. It is broadly recognized that continued output at these rates for the next decade will make it extremely difficult to achieve stabilization at 450 ppm later in the century. Yet the prospects for a binding international agreement with country specific verifiable limits seems increasingly illusive. Absent such an agreement, what are the chances that the parties can blunder into de facto arrangements that accomplish the same thing?
2. Given how intent China was on preventing binding limits, one has to wonder. At the same time, even with binding limits, the absence of any realistic international enforcement mechanisms would have made such limits inherently weak. The only workable agreement is going to arise if and when the major players see it in their own interest to adhere to such limits. And they don’t, at least now.
3. What is immediately at stake is whether what has happened will help or hurt U.S. efforts to legislate its own limits. At this point it is too early to tell. If the gloss on the “deal” is that it is a plausible first step, things may go one way. If the gloss is along the lines above, I suspect not.
4. Perhaps more important is the fate of the EPA regulations, which if they stand, could do the same job as the legislation and only depend on the Obama’s administration’s determination.
5. Looking to the longer term, the chances of a global cap and trade system being established are surely weaker, and with it, the chances of properly pricing the true cost of carbon. That is bad news for efforts to prime market forces to drive alternatives.

Here is the full text of the tentative climate deal:
The Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, and other heads of delegation present at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen,
In pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention as stated in its Article 2,
Being guided by the principles and provisions of the Convention,
Noting the results of work done by the two Ad hoc Working Groups,
Endorsing decision x/CP.l5 that extends the mandate of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term cooperative action and decision x/CMP.5 that requests the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments of Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol to continue its work, Have agreed on this Copenhagen Accord which is operational immediately.
1. We underline that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We emphasise our strong political will to urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. To achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, we shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long-term cooperative action to combat climate change. We recognize the critical impacts of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures on countries particularly vulnerable to its adverse effects and stress the need to establish a comprehensive adaptation programme including international support.
2. We agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science, and as documented by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report with a view to reduce global emissions by 50 per cent in 2050 below 1990 levels,taking into account the right to equitable access to atmospheric space. We should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.
3. Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures is a challenge faced by all countries. Enhanced action and international cooperation on adaptation is urgently required to enstue the implementation of the Convention by enabling and supporting the implementation of adaptation actions aimed at reducing vulnerability and building resilience in developing countries, especially in those that are particularly vulnerable, especially least developed countries, small island developing States and tiuther taking into account the need of countries in Africa affected by drought, desertification and floods. We agree that developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries.
4. Annex I Parties to the Convention commit to reducing their emissions individually or jointly by at least 80 per cent by 2050. They also commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 as listed in appendix l, yielding in aggregate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions of X per cent in 2020 compared to 1990 and Y per cent in 2020 compared to 2005. Annex I Parties that are Party to the Kyoto Protocol will thereby further strengthen the emissions reductions initiated by the Kyoto Protocol. Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the Conference of Parties, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent.
5. Non-Annex I Parties to the Convention will implement mitigation actions, including those listed in appendix II, consistent with Article 4.1 and Article 4.7 and in the context of sustainable development. Mitigation actions subsequently taken and envisaged by Non Annex I Parties shall be communicated through national communications consistent with Article l2.1(b) every two years on the basis of guidelines to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties. Those mitigation actions in national communications or othenavise communicated to the Secretariat will be added to the list in appendix II. Mitigation actions taken by Non Parties will be subject to their domestic measurement, reporting and verification the result of which will be reported through their national communications every two years. Non Amiex I Parties will provide biennial national inventory reports in accordance with revised guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties. [Consideration to be inserted US and Chinal. Nationally appropriate mitigation actions seeking international support will be recorded in a registry along with relevant technology, finance and capacity building support. Those actions supported will be added to the list in appendix II. These supported nationally appropriate mitigation actions will be subject to intemational measurement, reporting and verification in accordance with guidelines adopted by the Conference ofthe Parties.
6. We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission irom deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.
7. We decide to ptusue various approaches, including opportunities to use markets, to enhance the cost-effectiveness of; and to promote mitigation actions. Developing countries, especially those with low emitting economies should be provided incentives to continue to develop on a low emission pathway.
8. Scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate fimding as well as improved access shall be provided to developing countries, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, to enable and support enhanced action on mitigation, including substantial finance to prevent deforestation (REDD-plus), adaptation, teclmology development and transfer and capacity-building, for enhanced implementation of the Convention. The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources amounting to 30 billion dollars for the period 2010 - 2012 as listed in appendix lll with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation, including forestry. Funding for adaptation will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing states and countries in Africa affected by drought, desertification and floods. In the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries support a goal of mobilizing jointly 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including altemative sources of finance. New multilateral funding for adaptation will be delivered through effective and efficient fund arrangements, with a governance structure providing for equal representation of developed and developing countries.
9. To this end, a High Level Panel will be established under the guidance of and accountable to the Conference of the Parties to assess the contribution of the potential sources of revenue, including alternative sources of finance, towards meeting this goal.
10. We decide that the Copenhagen Climate Fund shall be established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing cotmtries related to mitigation including REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity- building, technology development and transfer as set forth in decision -/CP.l 5.
ll. In order to enhance action on development and transfer of technology we decide to establish a Technology Mechanism as set forth in decision -/CP.l5 to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation that will be guided by a country-driven approach and be based on national circumstances and priorities.
12. We call for a review of this Accord and its implementation to be completed by 2016, including in light of the Convention’s ultimate objective. This review would include consideration of strengthening the long-tenn goal to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees.

Monday, December 14, 2009

India's important commitment

Writing in this weeks Chinadialogue, Navroz K Dubash reports provides an informative overview of Indian politics on climate change: “For some, the climate negotiations are seen as no more than an economic containment strategy by the west. These “growth-first stonewallers” argue that even if climate change is real, the objective should be to maximise growth, so that India can better handle the impacts. Until then, the country should not compromise. For others, the effort to prioritise environmental sustainability and equity is stronger. These “progressive realists” are growth critics and, although keen to generate action on climate change, they are deeply cynical about the global negotiations. With the belief that these discussions sideline core concerns of equity, they call on India to take aggressive climate measures, but to do so domestically, de-linking these from the global process. Others believe that India should take on ambitious emission reduction measures and throw its weight fully behind a global climate deal. These “progressive internationalists” argue that doing so will help shift the global debate forward and spur matching action in other countries. Since climate impacts will disproportionately affect India's poor, they suggest that a pro-poor approach is also a pro-climate regime approach.” She goes on to report: “For advocates of a global climate deal, the good news is that the influence of growth-first stonewallers has waned in India. The bad news, however, is that the centre of gravity in India lies firmly with the progressive realists, who shy away from engagement in global climate politics, rather than with progressive internationalists, who seek to embrace it.” But that said, the Indian government has held to a long-standing position that deserves more attention – that India will commit to never exceed the per capita carbon output of the Developed World. You might think there is a trick here: that what is meant is that it commits never to exceed the high water mark that the Developed World has reached – about 20 tons per capita. But that is not what is meant. (I know this from direct conversation.) What is meant is that if the Developed World goes down to (say) 2 tons per capita – which is what it needs to do on a fair per capita basis to stabilize at 450 ppm – that is where India will go as well (even as it also makes a serious commitment to limit population growth). It is not a trivial commitment, even if it is based on a bet that the Developed will in fact never reach it. And it is a commitment that India can also afford to make because it is currently so far below that level at 1.2 tons per capita unlike China which is already at 4.6 tons per capita.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holding my breath (again)

With Copenhagen launching it is hard to think of anything else. So it seems the right time to list some cautionary notes and considerations:
1. Much commentary will revolve around the purloined emails which are a (discomforting) distraction. They don’t undermine the evidence in support of action – that evidence has never been overwhelming. It does not need to be. We are making a decision under uncertainty in which the payoff for being wrong are much lower than those for being right.
2. The absence of a legally binding agreement is a red herring. Legal agreements simply affirm real political agreements. The issue is whether there will be genuine political agreements.
3. Much attention will be focused on who is to pay what for the 3rd world adaption fund. This is a side show. Not that it is unimportant but it is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Most of the beneficiary countries don’t have and won’t have the output to make much a difference.
4. Of those that do, the real issue, as it was at Kyoto, is going to be whether they make commitments to absolute targets instead of carbon intensity targets (which don’t take account of economic growth).