The Climate Justice Imperative

This post by James Boyce  first appeared on Triple Crisis.

It is time for a new strategy for climate policy in America – a strategy founded on climate justice.

Climate justice has four pillars:

Action: Climate change will affect us all, but its heaviest costs will fall upon low-income people who live closest to the margin of survival and are least able to afford air conditioners, sea walls, and other types of insurance. Climate inaction is climate injustice.

Adaptation for all: We cannot prevent climate change altogether. Investments in adaptation are necessary, but how should these be allocated? The conventional economists’ prescription is that investments should be guided by “willingness to pay,” which of course depends on ability to pay. The implications of this logic were spelled out two decades ago in the Summers memorandum that purported to make the case for dumping toxic waste in low-wage countries. Climate justice requires that investment in adaptation should be guided by human needs, not by the distribution of purchasing power.  

Co-benefits: Burning fossil fuel releases not only carbon dioxide but also co-pollutants that endanger human health. Co-pollutant damages per ton of CO2 vary greatly, so it makes sense to reduce emissions where the “co-benefits” of co-pollutant reductions are biggest. Because co-pollutants disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities, integrating them into climate policy is a matter of climate justice as well as efficiency.

Dividends: A cap on carbon emissions is essential, but instead of giving free permits to polluters – a central plank in “cap-and-trade” schemes – polluters should pay. Permits are valuable: their holders will receive the fossil fuel price increases triggered by the cap. They should be auctioned, not given away, eliminating any need for permit trading. The revenues should be returned to the people as the rightful owners of the atmosphere’s limited carbon-absorptive capacity (or any country’s share of it). The “cap-and-dividend” climate bill proposed by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wa) and Susan Collins (R-Me) in 2009 would do exactly this, returning 75% of the revenue directly to the public as individual dividends, and devoting the remainder to clean energy investments. Continue reading…


Long Live the Green Dividend

E3 Network economist, and Real Climate Economics blogger, Frank Ackerman is quoted in this article by Judith Schwartz  in Miller McCune. 

Cap and trade is dead — long live the Green Dividend.

That was the consensus of a conference on pricing carbon held late last year at Wesleyan University that produced the “Wesleyan Statement,” a kind of working manifesto on carbon-pricing principles.

According to the resulting statement, an effective pricing strategy would be “upstream” (i.e. paid by the supplier), calibrated to reach emissions levels recommended by climate scientists, and steadily rising so that businesses and individuals can plan.

Speakers advocated a direct, transparent price on carbon as an economic incentive for reducing fossil fuel use, with revenues returned to U.S. taxpayers. Up for debate was whether this would be in the form of a direct payment (a “green check”) or tax reduction (“tax shift”).

Read the rest of the article here.


Fair Sharing of Our Common Heritage

E3 Network co-founder and Real Climate Economics blogger James Boyce was recently honored with the Fair Sharing of the Common Heritage Award, presented by Project Censored and the Media Freedom Foundation in Berkeley, California, February 5, 2011. This is an excerpt from his acceptance speech.

What does it mean to say that the environment is our “common heritage”? On one level this is a simple statement of fact: when we are born, we come into a world that is not of our own making. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the natural resources on which our livelihoods depend, and the accumulated knowledge and information that underpin our ability to use these resources wisely – all these come to us as gifts of creation passed on to us by preceding generations and enriched by their innovations and creativity.

Yet once we take seriously – as I do – the proposition that this common heritage belongs in common and equal measure to us all, we move beyond a positive statement of facts to a normative declaration of ethics. We move beyond an understanding of what is to an assertion of what ought to be.

To say that the environment belongs in common and equal measure to us all does not mean that we have inherited a free gift with no strings attached. For our common heritage carries with it a common responsibility: the responsibility to share the environment fairly amongst all who are alive today, and the responsibility to care for it wisely to ensure that our children, our grandchildren, and the generations who follow will share fairly in our common heritage, too. Continue reading…