Climate change has long turned from a narrow environmental problem into a significant factor affecting economic processes around the globe. Temperatures on the planet have risen by nearly 1°C compared to the pre-industrial era, and scientists have no doubts that this process will continue. This has already started to adversely affect people’s health in different countries, their access to water and food, and their exposure to natural disasters. Efforts to combat climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions serve as a main driver of the world economy’s green transformation. The power generation sector is gradually transitioning towards cleaner energy sources, industry and construction are increasingly embracing green standards, and green bonds are booming in the financial market.
The Iceberg of Green Transformation
The measures being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be compared to an iceberg. The smaller but most prominent part above the sea surface is the 2015 Paris Agreement, which has been ratified by 185 countries to date (Russia is expected to ratify it in 2019). The document calls for capping the rise in temperatures at no more than 2°C compared to the pre-industrial period, preferably at 1.5°C if at all possible. However, unlike the Kyoto Protocol that came before, the Paris Agreement does not impose obligations on all the signatory countries; rather, it merely determines the procedure for declaring so-called nationally determined contributions, which are each nation’s emission reduction plans. The countries develop their plans individually and voluntarily, based on their own development strategies for the economy and the energy sector. The contributions declared to date are fairly modest: they will only cap the rising temperatures at around 3°C above the pre-industrial era.
Just like the bulk of the iceberg is under water, the climate agenda is largely being implemented outside the UN negotiating processes. Global climate change governance is sometimes described as polycentric: not only are the thousands of national, subnational, regional, municipal and non-state actors implementing the global rules, but they are also offering and testing their own climate policy measures, learning from their own mistakes, sharing experiences and introducing bottom-up rules. They remain independent in their decisions while at the same time closely interacting with one another. National governments and regional administrations launch carbon emission trading schemes, businesses introduce internal carbon prices, and investment institutions increasingly join the fossil fuel divestment movement. Rather than being direct consequences of the Paris Agreement, these measures are necessitated by a range of technological, geopolitical, economic, and environmental factors. It is thanks to them that green the transformation of the world economy has become an irreversible process.
Pros and Cons
Not all the actors are equally prepared to embrace the climate agenda. Some are more eager to do so than others. Almost all the developed countries plus China are interested. They contribute the lion’s share of the world’s green investments, ensure the maximum growth of renewable sources in the energy balance, and develop carbon trading schemes. Businesses in these build their corporate strategies with the climate factor in mind. The enthusiasm of these national actors is explained not only by their climate change-related concerns, but also by the added benefits of switching to low-carbon economies (including the European Union reducing its dependence on fossil fuel imports or China fighting urban air pollution).
There are also climate sceptics. At the national level, these include leading developing countries (such as India, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico), which are not fundamentally opposed to participating in the green transformation drive, but only for as long as they do not have to give up their key priorities of overcoming poverty (including energy poverty), economic growth and industrialization. Another group of sceptics comprises countries where green transformation is fraught with significant risks to their economic model, which is centred around extracting and exporting fossil fuels. These include Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In fact, the polycentric model implies that low-carbon development is not just the concern of national governments. In fact, national governments could be seen as taking the back seat here. At the national level, the green agenda enjoys the support of a broad range of political parties (which often represent a significant proportion of the middle class in developed countries), companies representing the green economy (for example, renewable energy) and innovative sectors, non-governmental environmentalist organizations, many banks and financial corporations, individual regional and municipal administrations, and universities and research centres. Many of these actors are driven by climate change concerns, while others are guided by commercial or political interests.
At the same time, each country has actors who stand to lose from green transformation and who thus oppose it. These include coal producers, oil- and gas- companies, corporations operating in traditionally carbon-intensive sectors, administrations of regions in which such businesses deploy their production facilities and create jobs, significant portions of people residing in these regions or countries, and the political forces representing them. The reason for these actors’ scepticism is quite simple: green transformation either destroys their businesses or runs counter to other priorities of their social or economic development.
Current Balance of Forces
The pace of green transformation will largely depend on how the balance of forces between these two groups of actors will change. The group of “enthusiasts” has expanded substantially in the past several decades and will continue to consolidate its positions as the effects of climate change worsen and the costs of introducing low-carbon technologies and disseminating green values decrease as incomes increase around the world.
It should be noted that the efforts of the “enthusiasts” are far from enough to keep temperatures at 2°C above the pre-industrial level. In fact, green transformation is facing increased risks as inequality in developed countries deepens. One example of this is the situation in the United States, where the election of Donald Trump as president slowed down the country’s low-carbon development, although did not throttle it altogether. Also illustrative of the trends are the yellow vest protests in France, which were prompted by a hike in fossil fuel taxes.
Yet green transformation continues. The polycentric model, in which the rules are set at the lower levels and promoted upwards, gives actors who are interested in cutting emissions numerous opportunities to transform their regulatory practices into international standards. For example, Western companies require their partners, including raw-material suppliers, to use green management practices (such as estimating the carbon footprint of products or disclosing information about emissions). Enthusiastic businesses initiate the introduction of industry standards by forming coalitions and promoting their “grassroots” initiatives all the way to the top. One example of this can be seen in the aviation sector, where an International Civil Aviation Organization-wide agreement has been reached on the introduction of an industry-wide emissions control system from 2021. Another example is the 2018 roadmap adopted by the International Maritime Organization. Its main goal is to cut emissions by 50 per cent compared to the 2008 level by the year 2050.
Companies operating in countries that enforce carbon trading schemes, particularly those businesses that introduce internal carbon prices, are worried that they may be losing to foreign competitors which, they believe, are engaged in climate dumping. Many of these businesses are requesting their national governments to introduce carbon duties against products originating in countries that do not practice carbon trading. The idea has recently been supported by certain politicians, including President of France Emmanuel Macron. If implemented, this innovation in the low-carbon agenda is set to change the landscape of global trade, just like it has changed the global energy sector over the past decade.
The green transformation of the world economy is irreversible. It is not defined by the Paris Agreement, nor by whether Russia ratifies it, nor even by whether the United States chooses to withdraw from it altogether. The rules of green transformation are set from the bottom up, and the key part here is played by those actors who are most interested in cutting their emissions. Russian business, just like the Russian government, has virtually no involvement in drafting these rules. This can hardly be described as a wise approach, given that the Russian economy primarily specializes in fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industrial production, to which the consequences of green transformation are of critical significance. Many representatives of the Russian political elite and business circles remain sceptical about the very problem of climate change and continue to question its man-made nature. That this view contradicts scientific evidence is beside the point here – it is not a question of faith. Gone are the times when nations and businesses could largely neglect the issues of climate change, low-carbon development and green technologies. There is simply no going back.
First published in our partner RIAC
UN Environment, Google, EC partnership effective to depoliticize water crisis in South Asia
This year the theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind’ and goes hand in hand with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-six which is ‘water for all by 2030’. However, the ground reality in South Asia appears gloomy and too far to achieve the SDG-6 as the countries are still politicizing water crisis.
The women and children walk miles each day in search for water in Pakistan’s financial capital, Karachi. While, in India, according to a 2018 WaterAid report, about 163 million people in India lack access to clean water close to their home and 70 percent of the country’s water is contaminated. The situation in Bangladesh is no better, the demand for water in the Dhaka is 2.2 billion liters a day, while the production is 1.9 billion liters a day.
Besides, in Bhutan and Nepal, South Asia’s per capita water availability is already below the world average. The region could face widespread water scarcity— less than 1,000 cubic meters available per person.
Warning bells too have been sounded by Down To Earth, the magazine that Centre for Science and Environment, Bengaluru will see Cape Town-like water crisis in the not too distant future. As the number of waterbodies in Bengaluru has reduced by 79% due to unplanned urbanization and encroachment – while built-up are has increased from 8% in 1973 to 77% now.
Despite common concerns over the inevitable threat of water scarcity South Asian countries have found it difficult to collectively curate effective agreements over efficient water resource management within international river basins. The absence of guiding frameworks plagues hydro-diplomatic relationships of these countries. It is also being said that water will be one of the critical drivers of peace and stability in South Asia in the second decade of the 21st century.
Though there are some joint mechanisms like India-Pakistan Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.Both have repeatedly accused each other of violating the 1960s Indus Waters Treaty that ensures shared management of the six rivers crossing between the two neighbors, which have fought three major wars in the past 71 years.
Yet fast-growing populations and increasing demand for hydropower and irrigation in each country means the Indus is coming under intense pressure. Also, the NASA in one of its reports mentions that the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed basin. Another one is between India-Bangladesh Ganges Water Sharing Treaty of 1996, long-standing and seemingly intractable regional disputes have put a strain on these agreements.
The EastWest Institute, researchers have suggested steps should be taken towards enabling effective hydro-political regimes to take root in South Asia and involved countries should endorse the United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC). This will ensure, sharing of transboundary hydrological data and water bodies would be managed through the Integrated River Basin Management process.
Besides, Hydro-diplomats have a role to play along with the multilateral institutions like the World Bank. Local and international NGOs also have a key role to play by bring all stakeholders of these countries together for cooperation on the Indus basin.
The recent partnership between the UN Environment, Google, and the European Commission, which aims to ‘leave no one behind’ on World Water Day, have launched a groundbreaking data platform that would track the world’s water bodies—and countries’ progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And this partnership could be of vital importance for South Asian countries to depoliticize the water crisis.
I love the the Green New Deal but …
Ever since out first ancestor lit a fire, humans have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Add to that the first herder because ruminants are another large emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG).
Some people want to declare a national emergency and ban fossil fuels within ten years. How? I am for it and all ready to go. But please tell me how. Think of the quarter billion vehicles in the U.S. and the infrastructure supporting them; the myriad gas stations and repair shops and the people employed in them; the thousands of miles of domestic gas pipelines to homes using gas stoves and gas heating. Think of the restructuring, the replacement, the energy required, the megatons of metal and other materials used and their production which all require one thing — energy. And what about air travel and the shipping industry?
What of the millions of jobs lost? Think of the jobholders and their families. Most of these workers cannot switch skills overnight. These are not just the million and a half employed in the industry directly, but include gas company employees, your gas furnace repair and maintenance man, the people building furnaces, gas stoves, the auto repair infrastructure — electric motors of course are darned reliable and need attention only to brakes, tire rotation and battery coolant checks for the most part — and so on.
When you offer this laundry list, the response is likely to be, “Well I didn’t mean that.” In effect, it defines the problem with the Green New Deal: It is remarkably short on the ‘whats’ and especially the ‘hows’. Funny though I first searched for the Green New Deal at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (whose courage I admire greatly) official web page and surprisingly found … well nothing. Why not something practical like mandating solar collectors on new homes constructed?
So you want to suck the CO2 out of the air; you can. It takes 300MW to 500MW of electrical energy per million tons annually. To put it in perspective, we need to remove at least 20 billion tons (20,000 times more) each year to remove the minimum of a trillion tons expected to be emitted by the end of the century. The 10 million megawatt electrical base required for this is ten times the current total US electrical power grid of 1.2 million megawatts.
You want to bring carbon emissions down to zero. I am all for it even though our ancestor — the one who lit the coal fire — could not. Just tell me how. If you want to talk about carbon neutrality … now there’s an idea. But “switching immediately away from fossil fuels” as I read from one advocate recently … I wish it was possible.
The rest of the goals are equally laudable — in fact I have advocated many including the necessity for well-paying jobs, infrastructure spending, eating less meat, and even net-zero emissions. The big question is ‘how’ against entrenched interests.
In the meantime, would someone please electrify my local suburban train. The 1950s diesel-electric locomotives spew black smoke and the carriages were designed in the same era. Worse still, the service is chronically late. Electrification of rail lines and improving public transport in the U.S. should be job one. But every activity — and change particularly — uses energy.
Author’s note: This piece first appeared on counterpunch.org
Seven ways to fix a warming planet
Many people across the world, including schoolchildren, are demanding bolder action on climate change by governments, businesses and investors. There are tremendous opportunities here to “think beyond, solve different,” transform our economies, and change the way we live.
Climate change actions are key to sustainability, and part and parcel of globally agreed efforts in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Agriculture and food
According to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2018, food systems from production to consumption have the potential to mitigate up to 6.7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, which is second only to the energy sector. We need a global food transformation in the next 12 years in which food waste is halved and diets and health are improved through decreased animal protein intake. We also need to incentivize climate-smart and sustainable agriculture and end the current unjust food situation in which over 820 million people are undernourished.
Buildings and cities
Responsible for some 70 per cent of energy use, buildings and construction account for 39 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Vast amounts of urban infrastructure are to be built in the coming 15 years as rural-urban migration accelerates. There are huge opportunities here to retrofit existing buildings, improve building standards, and rethink urban planning such as by providing incentives for mini-grid solutions. We also need to tackle human-induced methane, nitrous oxide and CF11 emissions, and find smarter solutions for cooling, heating and waste management.
Educate girls: educated women have fewer and healthier children. Improve global access to, and education on, family planning. We need to focus on economic, social and political inclusion to leave no one behind. Education, skills, and awareness-building are essential ingredients for meaningful inclusion.
Invest in renewables and stop commissioning new coal-fired power plants. We need to redirect fossil fuel subsidies to incentivize large-scale investment and job creation in renewable energy. At the same time, we need energy efficiency standards for electric equipment (lighting, appliances, electric engines, transformers) and a transition towards efficiency-labelled electric equipment.
Help poor countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. According to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2018, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries could significantly cut emissions by 2020 if industrialized nations made good on their pledge to mobilize US$100 billion a year of climate funding. While energy investment is flowing increasingly towards clean energy, it is not flowing at the rate necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.
Forests and land use
Protect and restore tropical forests. Plant a trillion trees to boost carbon capture, with associated benefits for biodiversity, food security, livelihoods and rural economies. To do this we need to scale up investment to halve tropical deforestation by 2020, stop net deforestation by 2030 globally, and raise around US$50 billion per year to reach a target of 350 million hectares of forest and landscape restoration by 2030 in line with the Bonn Challenge. So far, 168 million hectares of restoration have been pledged by 47 countries. We should avoid any further conversion of peatlands into agricultural land and restore little-used, drained peatlands by rewetting them. We also need to plant more trees on agricultural land and pastures.
Transport is responsible for about one quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions, and set to increase to one-third by 2050, growing faster than any other sector. With the right policies and incentives, significant emission reductions can be achieved. For this to happen, we need to put in place vehicle efficiency standards, incentives for zero-emission transportation and invest in non-motorized mobility. For example, the Indian government is prioritizing policies that are helping to shift freight transport from road to rail.
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