Question at COP25: What Role Should Carbon Markets Play in Meeting Paris Goals?

Environmental justice advocates and indigenous groups argue that emissions trading leaves the poor bearing the brunt of pollution.

Homes in El Segundo, California, sit blocks from the Chevron refinery. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“You’re privatizing forests in our Mother Lands so you’ll be able to pollute more in our communities,” said Tere Almaguer, an environmental justice organizer whose group works with communities near California refineries that feel that they bear the brunt of poor air quality from fossil fuel emissions. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Climate justice advocates at the UN climate summit this week are focusing their frustration over global climate inaction into one highly technical debate: What role should carbon markets play in meeting the promise of the Paris climate accord?

Carbon markets started as a way to offer polluters more flexibility as they try to meet their countries’ emissions reduction targets and, in theory, lower the cost. But past international emissions trading systems have failed to reduce emissions significantly, and representatives of vulnerable and indigenous groups argue that their communities end up bearing the brunt of pollution under such systems, as industries seek to make emissions reductions where it is easiest and cheapest.

Writing the rules for future carbon market mechanisms to fulfill the Paris commitments is at the top of the agenda for the delegates of nearly 200 nations gathered in Spain through Dec. 13 at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25). But the task has proven so difficult that it remains the last unresolved portion of the Paris treaty rulebook.

The controversy around this part of the Paris climate agreement, known as Article 6, is even more striking given the long history of international discussions over carbon markets, which nations have looked to as part of the climate solution ever since adopting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. But to opponents in the environmental justice and indigenous people’s communities, that long experience has engendered mistrust.

“Over and over again, carbon markets have proven that they are not effective in reducing emissions,” said Tere Almaguer, environmental justice organizer for PODER in San Francisco. Her group focuses on organizing Latino communities—including those who live near California refineries and feel that they bear the brunt of poor air quality from fossil fuel emissions.

She says the state’s carbon cap-and-trade system allows the oil companies to invest in far-flung carbon mitigation projects rather than cutting emissions at home, leaving the communities to continue suffering the consequences. Referring to industry investments in forest preservation projects in the developing world to earn credit for cutting emissions, Almaguer said: “You’re privatizing forests in our Mother Lands so you’ll be able to pollute more in our communities.” MORE

James Hansen: Carbon Reality!

Our children must live in the real world. We cannot pretend we have fossil fuel replacements and “all that is needed is political will.” Eventually we will have energy cheaper than coal, but not today. Fossil fuels are a convenient energy source and can raise standards of living. If we are to phase down fossil fuel emissions rapidly, we must make fossil fuels pay their costs to society.

A viable strategy to rapidly phase down fossil emissions is an across-the-board (oil, gas, coal) rising carbon fee. These funds, collected from the fossil fuel companies, must be distributed, 100 per cent, to the public. Otherwise, the public will rebel, as ‘yellow vests’ demonstrated in France.

Merits of the carbon fee & dividend: it is progressive, as most low-income people get more in the dividend than they pay in increased prices. And, economists agree, it is, by far, the fastest way to phase down emissions. It stimulates the economy, creates jobs, and modernizes infrastructure.

The United States, China and the European Union are the big players on the global stage today. If, preferably, at least two of these three adopt a rising carbon fee, it can be made near-global via border duties on products from countries without such fee, and rebates to manufacturers on products shipped to countries without a fee. This would encourage most countries to have their own carbon fee, so they could collect the money themselves.

Will one of these three major players lead the way by initiating fee & dividend?

European Union: Citizens Climate Lobby, the Danish chapter, is spurring an initiative to collect one million signatures, which would force the European Parliament to vote on fee & dividend. They have a good start, 21,790 signatures, but they must get 1,000,000 by 6 May 2020.

Please visit https://citizensclimateinitiative.eu/ (add /dk for Danish version, /es for Spanish, /bg for Bulgarian, etc.) where it is possible to sign electronically – you must be European to sign.

It is hard to inform people about this one-by-one, but if enough organizations understand the carbon reality, they can get their memberships behind the ballot initiative.

Fig. 2. Cumulative per capita emissions in tons of carbon and cost of extraction in thousands of dollars per person from the air, assuming extraction cost of $123 per ton of CO2.

United States: Dan Miller and I submitted a response to a ‘Request for Information’ from the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Citizens Climate Lobby in the United States now has more than 500 Chapters with more than 170,000 members. I believe that they can eventually get Congress to adopt a rising Carbon Fee & Dividend. Please consider joining CCL and adding your support to their efforts.

China: The merits of a carbon fee in China will include a huge reduction of air pollution, as well as reduction of carbon emissions. If the dividend is distributed uniformly, as in other countries, it will increase social justice. Wealthy people will lose some money, but they can afford it. The population as a whole will be glad to see the government taking action to deal with pollution and rewarding financially those citizens who make an effort to limit their carbon footprint.

The West must understand that China does not owe us any special effort. China now has the largest annual emissions, but climate change is proportional to cumulative emissions. China’s cumulative per capita emissions are far less than those of the U.S., U.K. and Germany (Fig. 2).

China’s greatest emissions are from coal burning, as they have massive energy needs for power plants and industrial heat. Their best hope to phase down those emissions is modern, safe nuclear power plants that shut down in an accident, such as an earthquake or tsunami, and require no external power to cool the nuclear fuel. Data show that nuclear power has been our safest power source, with smallest carbon footprint, but major improvements are possible. For mutual benefit, the United States and China should cooperate to develop modular reactors that would drive the price of nuclear power below that of coal (see Cao et al., Science 353, 547, 2016).


RELATED:

Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer
 ‘Blowing through our carbon budget’: Avoiding catastrophic impacts from warming gets harder as carbon emissions hit another record

Review – This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

Suki Ferguson reviews the XR guide to climate activism


Extinction Rebellion at Oxford Circus. By Mark Ramsay, under a CC BY 2.0 license

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is many things at once: a hopeful mass movement; a commuter’s nightmare; a source of inspiration; an apocalyptic kick up the arse. Within the UK climate movement, it has become a Rorschach test. For some, its shock doctrine ethos flirts with eco-fascism. For others, the actions have become their life’s calling. This Is Not A Drill has been written to clarify, inform, inspire and equip the people who are undecided yet interested in moving deeper into the climate action zeitgeist XR has ingeniously catalysed.

The book is loud and proud. Its hot pink cover is impossible to ignore, and pages of the text are dedicated to vivid woodcut imagery and all-caps messages. The book contains a wealth of essays, anecdotes, and advice. All are short and generally unfussy: no footnotes here. They are written by people from a variety of backgrounds, united through their concern over climate breakdown. An Indian farmer and a Californian firefighter offer their perspectives; individuals working in academia, climate science, politics and other fields weigh in too. These include Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives; psychotherapist Susie Orbach; Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous rights campaigner from the Mbororo community in Chad; and visionary economist Kate Raworth, among many others.

Notably, XR is working to develop a deeper understanding of climate justice and the causes of climate breakdown. The Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva writes a powerful foreword stating explicitly that ‘ecocide and genocide are one indivisible process’, pointing to colonialism’s ravaging motive by quoting US President Andrew Jackson’s 1833 call for ‘a superior race’ to triumph over native people in America. She and other contributors make it clear that colonialism and capitalism comprise a pincer movement that is destroying life as we know it. This lays important foundations for conversations about what an ecologically healthy and socially just future needs to consign to history.

Salutary reads

These big global overviews of climate breakdown and its impact on different communities are salutary reads for any reader. The more practical pieces that explore the logistics of effective direct action are excellent too. One, ‘Cultural Roadblocks’, shares the story behind how XR sourced a boat for activism purposes, and it conveys the mix of determination, absurdity, effort and camaraderie that collective action can involve. From branding textiles, to befriending journalists, to cooking on-site meals that won’t give everyone food poisoning, the best of these chapters share the qualities of being informal, smart, and motivating.

There is unexplored tension in the text. Horizontal self-organising is recommended throughout, yet the encouraged action, reiterated through a number of chapters, remains bafflingly prescriptive: disrupt transport in capital cities. Blocking bridges is a tactic, but is it the only option? According to This Is Not A Drill, it would seem so. The roots to this strategy can be found in the chapter written by XR co-founder Roger Hallam, where he states that disrupting cities is the only option: ‘That’s just the way it is.’ Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi, effective civil rights leaders whose work Hallam cites elsewhere, might have disagreed with this dogma; the Salt Marches in India and the Selma to Montgomery marches in the US, for example, were pivotal to their respective causes.

It’s worth noting that Hallam has form in presenting opinion as fact. When interviewed on the Politics Theory Other podcast, he was challenged on the claim that ‘most prison officers are black’, which appeared in the (now-deleted) XR prison handbook. Hallam doubled down on the claim, saying, ‘That’s just an empirical fact. I mean, I’ve been to prison several times and that’s the fact of the matter.’ Given that, in reality, over 94 per cent of all UK prison officers are white, it seems wise to take Hallam’s other ‘empirical facts’ with a pinch of salt, city roadblocks as a means to liberation for all being one of the them. MORE

A burning case for a radical future: Naomi Klein says UBC needs to get with the program


Naomi Klein wrapped up the final leg of her book tour on October 26 Chan Centre

Naomi Klein wrapped up the final leg of her book tour on October 26, presenting at UBC’s Chan Centre for a sold out venue as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival.

Klein opened the event with a discussion on her new book and was joined by Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous land defender from the Secwepemc territories as well as event moderator, UBC School of Journalism Professor Kathryn Gretsinger.

Klein’s seventh book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, focuses on the interconnectedness of what she refers to as simultaneous planetary and political “fires.” These fires are both literal in reference to rising temperatures and climate crisis, as well as in a metaphorical sense; With references to global political crises and the rise of fascism under figures like Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India and Kashmir, and Duterte in the Philippines, to name a few she touched on.

“A clear formula is emerging between many of these fascist figures who are trading tactics,” she said.

In her opening address Klein emphasized themes from her book, particularly that climate destruction systematically intensifies pre-existing societal inequalities and vulnerabilities. She cited the historic 2017 wildfires in BC as an example, sharing that while smoke hung over the entire Lower Mainland for weeks on end, it was Indigenous communities whose wellbeing was disproportionately affected, along with undocumented migrant workers working in BC’s interior.

Klein brought hope to the on-stage conversation by addressing that while political and planetary fires are raging, metaphorical ‘personal’ fires are also on the rise, and continue to spark global social movements, from Haiti to Chile to Lebanon and beyond.

From racism to colonialism, imperialism, neoliberalism, extractivism, eco-fascism, climate destruction, poverty and despair, in Klein’s words, these struggles can be tackled all at the same time rather than as single-voter issues.

“The fight for Indigenous rights and title is absolutely inseparable from the fight for a habitable planet. They are one and the same,” Klein stated emphatically in the two hour event.

Klein’s book is dedicated to the late Secwepemc leader and activist Arthur Manuel. His daughter, Kanahus Manuel — founder of the Tiny House Warriors movement in BC — joined her on stage for the event. Manuel reiterated the interconnectedness of Indigenous land rights as central to movements for climate justice, particularly as the Canadian government has repeatedly stated it’s intent to go on with Trans Mountain Pipeline construction despite a lack of Indigenous peoples’ consent.

Image result for kanahus manuelBearing a broken wrist and a defiantly raised fist, in a voice that was calm and contained, Manuel recounted a chilling incident of police violence from the week before.

“As I stand here today, I have this cast as proof of what Canada does to Indigenous people when they stand up for Indigenous land rights. There are mothers and children on the front lines.

“I don’t want anyone here to ever have to feel how this feels — for the RCMP to come and break your wrist at your home and take you away for three days without medical attention.”

Manuel was referring to her arrest the week before, when she and other Secwepemc land defenders had been resisting as federal pipeline developers encroached onto unceded Secwepemc territories.

“We expected them to deal with the matter in a diplomatic way; this is supposed to be a first world country,” said Manuel.

As Manuel handed the microphone back to Klein, she received a standing ovation from the packed Chan Centre audience, members of the audience joining her in standing with fists raised in unison with her own stance. MORE

Taking a Different Approach to Fighting Climate Change

The research of Narasimha Rao, a Yale professor, shows that reducing inequality could improve our ability to mitigate some of the worst effects on the environment.

Narasimha Rao, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, specializes in energy systems analysis.
Narasimha Rao, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, specializes in energy systems analysis.Credit…Monica Jorge for The New York Times

When policymakers, financiers and scientists describe the world decades from now, in the throes of climatic changes that we now only model, they emphasize what might be lost. They discuss the threats to gross domestic product, the havoc wrought by natural disasters or the runaway greenhouse gas emissions released by emerging national economies.

To Narasimha Rao, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies specializing in energy systems analysis, that is a false choice, one that sacrifices justice on the altar of economic growth.

So far, the global economy has not been able to fully decouple growth in G.D.P. from growth in greenhouse gas emissions. That relationship portends doom for a planet trying to keep emissions in check in order to avoid global catastrophe and also for emerging economies — mainly in the global south — working to lift millions out of poverty, and to achieve the levels of growth and success that the United States and much of the West have experienced.

But through his research, Mr. Rao, who also has appointments at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in India, has found that we don’t need to choose. Instead, he has developed the Decent Living Energy Project, an assessment of both the energy needs in select emerging economies and the climate impacts of providing everyone in those same economies with a basic living standard. This standard would largely be defined by access to adequate nutrition, safe homes with sanitation and basic amenities such as refrigeration, mobility, education and basic health care.
“The dominant discourse in climate change and energy transitions equates well-being to G.D.P., and we need tomove beyond that.”

Mr. Rao, in rear, conducted a survey of energy use in a school in Uttar Pradesh in India in 2014.

His research shows that reducing inequality — within countries and between them — would improve our ability to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change, and provide for a more stable climate future. Fundamentally, for Mr. Rao, climate change, at its most essential, is a justice issue.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed. MORE

RELATED:

How will ending poverty impact climate change?
Visionaries

‘We Must Grow This Movement’: Youth Climate Activists Ramp Up the Pressure

From school strikes to the harder edge of Extinction Rebellion, young climate activists are making their voices heard, and they’re increasingly politically engaged.

Hundreds of youth climate activists and their supporters staged a climate strike protest outside of Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California, in September 2019. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Hundreds of young climate activists and their supporters staged a climate strike outside of Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California, in September calling for the oil company to abandon fossil fuels by 2025. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new wave of climate protests hit cities around the world this week—this time aimed at shocking people with civil disobedience, fake blood on the pavement and bodies lying in the streets under signs that read: “Stop funding climate death.”

The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations have a harder edge than the student-led climate strikes that have brought millions to their feet around the world demanding leaders do more to slow climate change. While the school climate strikes end with students returning to class, these protests have often led to arrests.

But both show how young people are reinvigorating the social movement for climate action on a scale never seen before, and their organizers plan to keep up the pressure until more is done to slow climate change.

That widespread youth activism is also empowering more young people to turn their protests into political action, from pressuring lawmakers and businesses to take action to energizing voters.

The Extinction Rebellion activists and the school strikers are both decentralized coalitions that are giving young people a way to stand up for their future. Between them, the groups have a long list of school strikes, rallies and acts of civil disobedience planned through the rest of the year, including a major youth climate strike planned for Nov. 29, Black Friday, known for holiday shopping in the United States.

Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist from New York who founded Earth Uprising and is an organizer with the school climate strike group Fridays for Future, is emblematic of their determination. She announced last month that she would be taking her school education on the road as she tours the country to continue organizing climate strikes.

“I’ll be traveling and striking in a different city, or maybe even a different country, every Friday,” she wrote on Twitter. “We must grow this movement. We must get real action.”

Building on Social Justice Movements

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who launched the Fridays for Future school walkouts, may have galvanized the global youth climate movement when she started her humble strikes in front of the Swedish Parliament last year, but it has been building for years.

In the U.S., the movement really learned from and built upon past civil rights and social justice movements, where tactics such as marching in the streets and occupying places of commerce or political power were used.

That’s one of the reasons the Green New Deal—the climate policy goals that the young Sunrise Movement activists brought to the halls of Congress—explicitly addresses building economic and political space for the most vulnerable communities affected by climate change as society transitions to a new energy economy, said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, the North America director for the climate activist group 350.org. It’s also why the movement must explicitly connect social justice and climate work moving forward.

For some youth in the climate movement, the idea of addressing socioeconomic and racial disparities in the U.S. is a big part of their involvement.

“Young people of color, like myself, are affected by climate change most,” said Nyiesha Mallett, an 18-year-old climate activist from New York who is part Afro-Caribbean. “I should be one of the people who gets to come up with solutions.”

Ramping Up Local Fights

Climate groups in the U.S. are working to channel that youthful energy toward local policy battles, where they see higher chances of success.

In Washington state, young activists have joined a broad coalition pushing for a clean energy transition in the state, fighting for and, in many cases, winning ambitious policy battles, including the state’s target to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2045, the strongest clean electricity law in the nation.

“It’s not just taking back the White House and the Senate, not just passing federal legislation to address the crisis, but really making sure that we go deep on local … actions,” Toles O’Laughlin said.

That’s one reason 17-year-old Mariana Rodriguez from San Francisco joined the youth climate strikes last month, after seeing how climate change was impacting her state’s forests. “November is known as fire season,” she said. “And with all the fires that’s been happening around here, I can’t ignore something that’s happening right in front of me.”

The global youth climate marches on Sept. 20, 2019, brought millions of people into the streets in cities around the world. Young people in New York City marched through Wall Street. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The global youth climate marches on Sept. 20, 2019, brought millions of people into the streets in cities around the world. Young people in New York City marched through Wall Street. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In other parts of the country where support for climate action is less popular, activists in the climate movement are working to simply get elected officials to formally adopt statewide action plans. MORE

RELATED:

Fourth global climate strike planned days before UN climate summit

 

 

Popular uprisings against neoliberalism are spreading around the world

 

Puerto Rico. Hong Kong. Ecuador. Haiti. Lebanon. Iraq. And now, Chile. People are rising up around the world against austerity and corruption, defying police forces unleashed to suppress them. Many of these mass movements share a fierce critique of capitalism. In Santiago, Chile, more than 1 million people flooded the streets last weekend, and mass protests continue. There, the brutal Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, during which thousands of progressive activists and leaders were tortured, disappeared and murdered, was followed by decades of neoliberal policies, with rampant privatization, union busting, stagnant wages and increased costs for education, health care, transportation and other services. Chile, among the richest countries in South America, is also one of the most unequal. At least 20 people have been killed during recent protests there, further angering and emboldening the crowds.

These global protests also occur at a critical inflection point in history, with as few as 10 years remaining for humanity to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one powered by renewable energy. On Wednesday, Chile’s embattled, billionaire president, Sebastian Pinera, abruptly announced that his country was cancelling plans to host two major international summits, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in mid-November, and the United Nations climate summit, the 25th “Conference of the Parties,” or COP25, in the first two weeks of December.

Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s COP25 president-designate, said, “The citizens have expressed in a strong way their legitimate social demands that require the full attention and all efforts from the government.”

Chile’s cancellation of the COP could be a setback for global action on climate. But climate activists should take heart: this renewed spirit of rebellion around the world signifies a rejection of the status quo, and could portend accelerated, grassroots mobilization to avert irreversible, catastrophic climate change.

“Social injustice and the climate crisis have a common root cause,” the Climate Action Network said in a release not long after Chile’s COP cancellation. “Climate justice and solidarity is fundamentally about the protection of human rights and a better quality of life for all.”

The climate crisis touches everyone, first and most forcefully the world’s poor. The mass uprising in Puerto Rico that forced the resignation of governor Ricardo Rossello was the culmination of decades of frustration with Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the more current exploitation by Wall Street vulture funds. But the discontent was fueled by the utter devastation of the back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria two years ago. “The austerity policies that have been implemented have put the people of Puerto Rico in a position of vulnerability. Social inequality has increased to levels that we have never seen here,” Manuel Natal, a member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, said on the Democracy Now! news hour days before Rossello’s resignation. “We need more democracy, not less democracy. We are on the brink of a political revolution here.” Rossello’s ouster was the first time in U.S. history that a governor was forced from office by popular protest.

Indigenous people are also leading the way, often at the front lines, confronting resource extraction with disciplined, nonviolent resistance. Hundreds of Indigenous and campesino social leaders in Colombia have been murdered in recent years, simply for standing up for justice and environmental protections.

The Paris climate agreement specifically notes the importance of climate justice, and pledges to work “in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” One of the enduring conflicts that has hampered international climate negotiations has been the refusal by wealthy nations, principally the United States, to accept the simple premise that “polluters pay.” The U.S. is the wealthiest nation in human history because, in part, it has polluted its way to the top, using cheap, dirty power: coal-fired power plants, diesel locomotives and now, so-called clean-burning fracked gas.

The Green Climate Fund was supposed to raise billions of dollars to finance renewable projects in poorer countries. The fund’s pledging conference last week fell short of its goal, primarily because the Trump administration reneged on the U.S.’s $2-billion commitment. Australia and Russia followed suit, refusing to make contributions.

A new study by Climate Central, a news and science organization, shows that climate-induced coastal flooding will likely be far worse than previously predicted, forcing between 200 to 600 million people, rich and poor, to flee their homes later in the century. Climate change-fuelled wildfires are now raging across California, with hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes and at least 1 million people without power.

Popular uprisings are also spreading like wildfire, though, against corrupt autocratic leaders, austerity and inequality. People are also flooding the streets, globally, linking the movements against inequality with the fight for a just, sustainable world powered by renewable energy. SOURCE

RELATED:

Local issues are fuelling a growing worldwide revolt. Will the elites notice?
Spain likely to host COP25 climate change summit after Chile’s withdrawal