Spotlight Durban: What Can be Done to Break the Stalemate in Durban?

Another in a Triple Crisis and Real Climate Economics Blog series on the Durban Climate Change Conference.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the world is again conferring about what to do about climate change, and again deciding to do very little. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny. The satirical publication The Onion greeted the COP17 conference in Durban, South Africa by announcing the release of a new report showing that global warming may be irreversible if no action is taken to prevent it before 2006; in an example of fair and balanced reporting, they also interviewed a critic who put the point of no return as late as 2010.

The real debate in Durban seems less realistic than The Onion’s satire. Should the Kyoto Protocol, currently scheduled to expire next year, be extended or replaced by a better agreement to limit emissions? Will the promised $100 billion funding for climate adaptation – let alone the larger sums that will actually be needed – somehow materialize? Or should we just agree to keep talking?

While others are not blameless, the United States is the leader of the do-nothings, the country whose inaction ensures a global climate stalemate. As long as the world’s largest economy, with the largest cumulative emissions and the greatest resources to tackle the climate crisis, refuses to act, others are not likely to move forward on their own. Yet there is not a snowball’s chance in Texas that any significant climate policy will survive the current U.S. Congress. Continue reading…

Spotlight Durban: Climate Action on Multiple Scales

The U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP17) is taking place in Durban, South Africa. The Spotlight Durban series, a joint series by Real Climate Economics  and Triple Crisis, invites experts to comment on the negotiations and the prospects for real progress  addressing climate change in the months and years ahead.

From November 28th through December 9th, the world’s nations are meeting again to discuss solutions to the urgent threat of rising  greenhouse gas emissions, this time in Durban, South Africa. This meeting, the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has been much less widely anticipated than the meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, two years ago. At that time, expectations were high, President Obama had just taken office, and for the first time ever literally dozens of heads of state were scheduled to attend a climate convention. Yet the result – a non-binding agreement called the “Copenhagen Accord” – was widely disappointing, and since then, the prospects for strengthening that agreement have only grown more remote. Indeed, even the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol (which the US did not ratify) is in serious doubt at this point.

One of the optimistic aspects of the Copenhagen Accord was the enshrinement of a commitment – of sorts – to trying to keep global temperature increase to less than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average (compared to a roughly 0.8ºC increase to date). Yet while within the mainstream scientific community this level is seen as anything but “safe”, the “realist” view of the negotiations is that even this level of ambition is nearly out of reach – a conclusion that is consistent with the recently released World Energy Outlook 2011, published by the International Energy Agency. Worse, it is plain to expert observers that the North-South conflict that has long been a primary obstacle to global cooperation is if anything growing worse, even as the traditional lines between developed and developing countries continue to blur. Given this reality, and the evident distraction of political elites in the US and Europe with domestic (or at least regional) economic problems, it is easy to argue that we might as well give up on the UNFCCC as a useful forum, and focus on “cultivating our gardens”, as it were, at local scales. Continue reading…

Spotlight Durban: Looking Back at Cancun

The U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP17) is currently taking place in Durban, South Africa. This time last year, we hosted a series of commentaries called Spotlight Cancun. Here are some of the highlights from that series.

Spotlight Cancun: Climate Realism

Eban Goodstein asks:  are we too late for meaningful climate action?

Spotlight Cancun: Cancun and the New Economics of Climate Change

Frank Ackerman on existing debates about the economics of climate action

Spotlight Cancun: Kyoto Protocol Post Mortem

Kristen Sheeran on the significance of the Copenhagen Accord for the Kyoto Protocol

Spotlight Cancun: Negative Carbon and the Green Power Fund

Graciela Chichilnisky on negative carbon and economic development

Spotlight Cancun: Why Do U.S. States Emissions Vary So Widely?

Elizabeth Stanton on the factors driving variations in emissions per capita in the US


Spotlight Durban: National Interests, Ethics, and Climate Change – Don’t Listen to (Most) Economists

The U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP17) is taking place in Durban, South Africa. The Spotlight Durban series, a joint series by Real Climate Economics  and Triple Crisis , invites experts to comment on the negotiations and the prospects for real progress addressing climate change in the months and years ahead.

What are the ethical responsibilities of sovereign nations? How can we expect nations to behave, in regards to climate change? We often hear that  nations will inevitably try to shape policy in ways that serve their own interests, where “interests” are largely defined in terms of short-run economic growth. Yet, if every nation sets this as a goal, we are—to use a particularly apt colloquialism—cooked.

I’m afraid that economists are particularly to blame for this perverse framing of the issue. In the economics mainstream, people are thought of as autonomous individuals who are driven by a desire to maximize their own levels of personal satisfaction.  Sociality,  care, ethical responsibilities, and environmental impacts are not part of the story. The insistent teaching of this approach over the last century or so has led many people to believe that selfish and even opportunistic behavior is simply “natural” or “standard” in commercial life—and therefore both excusable and unavoidable. A number of scholars of economics, law, and politics have extended this approach to thinking about governments, considering states as simply  “economic man” writ large. Continue reading…

Spotlight Durban: Climate Change Gets Personal

The U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP17) is taking place in Durban, South Africa. The Spotlight Durban series, a joint series by Real Climate Economics  and Triple Crisis , invites experts to comment on the negotiations and the prospects for real progress addressing climate change in the months and years ahead.

It’s that time of year again.

This week marks the start of the 17th annual United Nations climate change conference, or Conference of Parties (COP). Held this year in Durban, South Africa, COP17 will bring together hundreds of official delegates along with thousands of demonstrators and other unofficial observers. It’s always possible that COP17 will reach an international agreement on a viable climate policy (17th time’s the charm!), but the complete lack of  consensus seems likely to derail negotiations.

Climate change impacts each nation differently, and each nation would have very different costs from lowering emissions to safe levels. This diversity of impacts complicates climate policy negotiations and makes it very challenging for rich and poor nations to find common ground. But the broad range of climate impacts expected around the world has another critical effect on negotiations, one that receives very little media coverage or scholarly analysis: there is an enormous range of likely climate impacts not just between countries, but within them.

Each country has just one official voice at COP17, so in effect a country’s entire population speaks in unison. But within each country, some people are net losers from climate change (damages to them are greater than their savings from not reducing emissions) while some are net winners (their savings are greater than the damages they suffer). More people will become net losers from climate change with each passing year, but today many people are saving more than they lose. Whose interests will be represented in Durban?

Most analysis of the costs and benefits of climate change look at net impacts for the entire world or, at best, for each of several world regions. The Climate Impacts Equity Lens (CIEL) is a new tool for looking instead at impacts on an individual level, showcasing diversity in vulnerability to climate change and in the expected cost of lowering emissions. (To learn more about CIEL go to Continue reading…