Monthly Archives: December 2009

Copenhagen and the politics of unsustainability

COP15 in Copenhagen has made a “modest start” to dealing with climate change – according to participants such as UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and NZ climate change ambassador Adrian Macey.

Oh, the irony of such half-hearted spin … COP1 took place in Berlin in 1995. Now, fifteen conferences later we’ve finally got around to making a start.

In fact, of course, Copenhagen has simply been a failure followed by much dissembling. Action has been deferred yet again by the politicians and their sheepish accomplices who have found it too hard to be decisive. They have chosen to leave “making a start” to someone else at some point in the future.

When, as everyone knows, it will all be far too late.

This is – let’s be honest – dangerously self-destructive behaviour: a recognition of the need for change hand in hand with an absolute refusal to change. It is the politics of unsustainability in the most disastrous form imaginable.

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Filed under climate change, David, green politics, sustainability

Investors – it’s time to put your mouth where your money is

The collective wisdom of capital markets is probably still ‘in some doubt’ in many peoples’ minds at the moment. Interestingly though, from a green perspective, capital markets appear to have been estimating the likely costs of climate change to be higher than those predicted by cost-benefit analyses (such as the Stern Report) that have been much maligned by some industry lobby groups. And, of course, this implies that – even from a purely economic point of view – there is a case for stronger climate change mitigation policies than have been suggested by the cost-benefit analyses.

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Filed under Barry, capitalism, climate change, economic analysis

Evidence based politics

The Spirit Level may be the most significant book I have read in 10 years.

Many people, myself included, hold to the ideological belief that social justice is a prerequisite for a truly democratic, peaceful, sustainable society. What Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett provide in The Spirit Level is the evidence to back up the belief.

When we look at the wealthiest nations, despite the inordinate wealth we find many health and social problems. While it is clear that the prevalence of these problems is hugely variable from one country to another, the evidence shows quite clearly that it is not the level of income in the different countries that is correlated with health and social problems.

Wilkinson and Pickett show – with detailed consideration of a mass of data covering 23 wealthy countries, ie those with a national income above US$25,000 per capita – that the prevalence of health and social problems is greater in countries with higher income inequality.

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Getting climate policy back on course with the Kaya Identity

Here’s another take on the need for a new approach to combat climate change. It is based on the Kaya Identity – not, as you might think, a novel by Robert Ludlum, but a simple equation that gives some very useful insights into the factors that determine levels of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Basing their alternative ideas on this equation, Gwyn Prins and 12 colleagues explain How to get climate policy back on course (pdf here). It needs to be put back on track because, as Prins and colleagues put it, the existing policy approach (based on carbon markets) is an “abject failure” (p.4).

The Kaya Identity suggests that there are four – and only four – macro-scale policy levers that are available for making emissions reductions and each of the four levers suggests a particular approach to policy:

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Beyond the silver bullet: the case for diversity in responding to climate change

With all the buzz and anti-buzz about the climate change talks in Copenhagen, it’s easy to get caught up in the dis-empowering idea that a global Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), agreed upon top-down, at Copenhagen (or maybe at the next conference…) is the only hope for meaningful action on climate change. After all, climate change is a global problem, with huge free-rider risks, so it must require a global solution, right?

Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom makes the case, in her working paper “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change” that a better response to the problems of climate change is ‘polycentric’ with a diversity of responses occurring simultaneously in different geographical locations and at different levels of government and society.

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Filed under Barry, climate change