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Entries tagged "Green Economy"

Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: The Great Moving Nowhere Show

June 22, 2012 ·

Given how backwards the Rio Summit’s priorities were, it's hardly surprising that negotiations ended before they began. A slow swarm of black ministerial limousines has crawled across Rio regardless, with Ministers, Presidents and Prime Ministers queuing up to talk the language of sustainability, while mostly advancing corporate interests. And today a final outcome document called, without hint of irony, the "The Future We Want," was adopted.

The final Rio declaration contains 283 paragraphs of blank prose that "reaffirms," "notes," and "acknowledges" a long shopping list of activities, but "commits" to virtually nothing. There is no program of action, figures, dates, targets, nothing at all that locks countries into taking action. It is a political non-event that turgidly regurgitates some of the sustainability-speak of the original Rio conference 20 years ago, with none of its ambition.

Manish Bapna speaking at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), Sustainable Development Dialogues, June 16, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Michael Oko/WRI, Flickr)Despite the low ambition, there are a few straws for optimists to clutch at. The most significant-sounding, from an environmental perspective, is that the text "reaffirms" a commitment to "phase out harmful and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies." This references previous statements released by the G-20, the group of 20 countries accounting for over 80 percent of the global economy, but it is the first time fossil fuel subsidies get such a mention in a document with multilateral sign-ons. However, no practical, legal or financial provisions are envisaged to support this goal, and the proposal lacks any nuance. Fossil fuel subsidy removal is likely to fail unless it is phased in while subsidies are shifted towards public transport support and renewable energy development, as popular backlash against recent attempts to remove fossil fuel consumer subsidies in Bolivia and Nigeria make clear. Meanwhile, significant subsidies for fossil fuel producers in industrialized countries, which should be the first target for action, remain in place, while the Rio declaration simultaneously supports "cleaner fossil fuels technologies" (a point lobbied for by Canada, Russia and the coal lobby)—which, translated for the non-sustainability-speakers means things such as unproven and expensive carbon capture and storage technology.

Elsewhere in the Rio declaration, there is a welcome restatement of the original Rio principles, notably the "common but differentiated responsibilities" between countries that climate justice advocates have been so keen to defend within global climate negotiations. The "right to water" is reaffirmed too, although without any new measures to enact this principle.

One of the most significant aspects of the final declaration, meanwhile, is what it does not say. It is entirely silent about the "nature, origins and evolution of the global economic and financial
crisis that is wreaking havoc in the world today," while undermining sustainability, as Professor Alejandro Nadal of the Centre for Economic Studies in Mexico points out in an excellent diagnosis the Rio negotiations have completely side-stepped. Yet finance quietly dominated from the sidelines, and to historians looking back on Rio in 20 years time, it may well be that the most significant agreement was not the summit’s final statement itself, but a $30 billion currency swap deal between Brazil and China that was announced at a G20 side-event.

Thankfully, the declaration also does not say as much as it had threatened to in terms of advancing  corporate-driven "green economy" proposals, which would have put a price on nature as a prelude to creating new markets in "ecosystem" commodities. The G77 (a grouping of 133 developing countries, including China) blocked this language, under pressure from civil society, and the resulting agreement speaks merely of "green economy policies." That has been interpreted here as a victory for pluralism, with different countries free to define their own vision of what a sustainable economy might look like.

Some residues from this corporate-driven approach can still be found in the Rio declaration, however. Although the green economy was billed as the conceptual replacement for "sustainable development,"  it is actually the phrase "sustained growth" that has moved to the top of the rhetorical hit-parade, with 16 mentions in the text. This echoes the emphasis on "green growth" in the G20 declaration, which pre-empted the Rio summit.

One of the few substantial decisions , a proposal to upgrade the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in the pecking order of global institutions, is also a cause for concern. In theory, a beefed-up UNEP should be a welcome development, re-balancing the multilateral system to put a greater emphasis on protecting the planet. But UNEP is one of the principle targets of a new global campaign, launched here in Rio, to end the corporate capture of the UN. Through its The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Green Economy reports, in particular, UNEP has positioned itself over the last few years as the main cheerleader for a corporate-driven "green economy" agenda that would leave the key decisions to the financial sector.

Moving beyond the Declaration itself, the inadequacies of the Rio+20 declaration are a symptom of a broader crisis of multilateralism. Although the conference was marshaled to a conclusion without the all-night, beyond-deadline chaos of climate negotiations, it did so by agreeing only on lowest-common-denominator platitudes, and reaffirming other initiatives. The final declaration here is no less of a stalemate than those in the WTO or UN climate negotiations, and we know from those processes that multilateral stasis is a breeding ground for bilateral and regional agreements that stack the cards against poor countries. This time, the EU was outraged, the G77 was cautiously positive, and the results were the same: a victory for the dirty energy agenda of the US and Canadian governments, while people and planet continue to lose ground.


Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: What's at Stake with the Green Economy

June 16, 2012 ·

President Barack Obama may be steering clear of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, but thousands of government delegates, civil society activists, and business lobbyists are already streaming into Brazil.

I arrived last night and will blog throughout this UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I'll bring you the latest about the talks among those somber-suited delegates who'll buzz around a complex of aircraft hangars on the edge of the city. And I'll sum up the action at the tent city that has sprung up in Rio's vast and verdant Flamengo Park — where the People's Summit for Social and Environmental Justice is taking place.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro/Shutterstock.comTo kick things off, here's some recommended reading for anyone who's about to board a plane to Rio to attend the summit from June 20-22, or to help you follow the action if you're not. To learn what's at stake, I recommend reading the Rio Conventions, which world leaders agreed to follow during the meeting they held here in 1992. These landmark treaties laid out the principles under which key issues of environmental protection are to be discussed. The three landmark conventions address climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.

Then there's Agenda 21 — a modest and rather toothless action plan for supposedly "sustainable development." (While over-excited tea partiers may consider that document to be a Soros-funded, left-wing conspiracy for the United Nations to achieve world domination, it never had much impact.)

And although the first Rio Earth Summit successfully established a framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, its impact has remained limited. Nature magazine's damning report card, which makes that clear, is also very disturbing. Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen at even faster rates than before. We continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. Land degradation is causing the continued spread of deserts.

For this reason, many delegates in Rio this time around are simply calling for measures to implement existing commitments. They say that would be better than creating any new corporate-driven initiatives or issuing yet more empty promises. The Third World Network has a comprehensive overview of the key issues, and is publishing regular updates with details of who said what at the Rio+20 talks.

"Green economy" proposals have proven to be some of the most contentious so far. On June 14, the 133 countries that comprise the G77+China (the largest negotiating bloc, representing the majority of the world's population) walked out of talks on this element of the text. They cited a lack of progress on funding to help developing countries achieve more sustainable development and "technology transfer" mechanisms that could ease patent restrictions to promote the spread of cleaner technologies. Today, they kicked out of the agreement text that would have advocated a "transition to a green economy."

That's a win for progressives. Really. Wait — don't we want a greener economy? Of course we do, but as this briefing, this video , this animation, and this report clearly show, there's widespread concern that the term "green economy" is being used as a cover by rich countries lobbying for new markets to be created in biodiversity and ecosystems, and new avenues for financial speculation. A truly green economy, by contrast, would recognize the limits of what can be "financialized." It would protect both the common good and public resources.

The battle between these very different worldviews will continue here over the coming days. The Rio+20 negotiating text remains littered with language that could be used to promote markets for environmental services. And the fight against the anti-democratic variety of green economics must be waged outside this conference too, because the World Bank and other powerhouses are busily building institutions to support these new markets.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies' Sustainable Energy & Economy Network. www.ips-dc.org

New Economy Transformation: Obama Budget Won't Help

February 16, 2012 ·

Two military policeman go through training at Fort Bragg, NC. Photo by Spc. Garett HernandezThe last decade’s surge in military spending has pushed military contracting deeper into the foundations of our economy. Reversing this process, and transferring the savings to support the green economy, are necessary components of the project to build the new economic foundation we need.

Here is a quick take on how little the President’s budget request, released this week, is going to help.

First a few bright spots. This budget is a milestone of sorts. For the first time, it offers less money to the military next year than we are spending this year. This is not the way the term “spending cut” tends to be defined in Washington-speak. Mostly “cuts” are made to last year’s expansive projections of the future. As in: the doubling of my salary that I projected last year didn’t happen, therefore I took a salary cut. All those military spending cuts referred to in previous years have been that kind.

With respect to support for the green economy, the budget does call for increases in spending on specific clean energy programs over what Congress appropriated last year.

Pull back just a little to see a slightly bigger picture, and things don’t look so good.

First, that military spending cut? It’s real (for the first time) but it’s about 1% of the Pentagon’s total. Not exactly transformational. The administration thought about eliminating one of our three nuclear weapon delivery systems (bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles); they thought about killing the most expensive weapon system of all time, the F35; they thought about having 10 rather than 11 aircraft carriers (no other country has even one to challenge them). They did none of these things.

And after next year the military budget will, according to plan, go back up. We will spend more in real terms over the next ten years than we spent during the previous ten. This after 13 straight years of increases. This while we spend more than the next 17 countries put together.

The Obama administration did invest about $80 billion in the green economy through the Recovery Act. But that money is mostly gone now. While their budget does make targeted investments—like $310 million for solar and $95 million for wind—overall spending on clean technology in this budget has almost been cut in half. The climate change budget includes, in addition to funding from the Energy Department, EPA money for pollution control, Treasury Department loan guarantees for clean tech investment, GSA purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles, and Housing and Urban Development funds for building weatherization. Those programs totaled $27.6 billion in the 2012 budget. In 2013 their allotment is $15 billion.

Of course, to the extent Republicans are in charge, this will be much worse. They want to increase military spending far beyond what the Obama administration has in mind. And they’re hoping that the trillion-dollar “sequestration” currently planned for 2013 will be allowed to fall on everything but the Pentagon budget.

Neither plan, needless to say, is transformational. For that, we have America Is Not Broke.

Cuba: Looking Back and Ahead

January 26, 2012 ·

In 2012, the White House will focus on the most important of international and national issues: the re-election of the President. U.S.-Cuba policy will fall into “Next Year’s” box – or the year after that. The National Security staff reverts to its familiar positions on relations with that troublesome island: ignorance and arrogance.

Few Americans even in the Foreign Service know the Cuban revolution began in the 1860s as a war of independence against Spain.

A Cuban flag flies over Havana Harbor. Photo by Ed Yourdon.Spain prevailed in the 1860s war, as did Cuban slavery until 1886. Unlike the 1776 war for independence, the struggle in Cuba confronted a major social issue, which U.S. Founding Fathers had finessed – until the Civil War in 1861.

In January 1959, after almost 100 years of on-and-off combat, the 26th of July guerrillas marched into Havana as winners of the decisive round. The revolutionaries carried another ancestral platform: social justice and equality.

Cubans knew well how Washington had acted as their destiny blocker. By 1898, Cuban “independentistas” had almost defeated Spain. The United States intervened to thwart that goal. Washington imposed the Platt Amendment on Cuba’s constitution, giving itself the right to intervene in Cuban affairs, and a naval base in Guantanamo – now a prison and torture chamber. The United States intruded several times in the 20th Century to alter the island’s fate, including in events following the 1933 overthrow of the Machado dictatorship: to prevent revolutionaries from acquiring sovereignty.

That political-military exercise led to the Fulgencio Batista era (1934-1958) – in which the new U.S.-trained and bonded military held sway.

In 1958, however, Washington lost confidence in Batista’s ability to stop social revolution, and began plotting unsuccessfully with a clique of high military officials to replace Batista with a junta – a la 1934.

The revolutionaries’ victory in 1959 changed Cuba's destiny. In 1960, after consolidating power, they made “Patria o Muerte” (homeland or death) the national slogan, referring to the long-sought goal. 1930s revolutionaries joined the 1950s rebels in a unity program: build a proud, healthy and literate nation, bound by ideals of social justice, equality and sovereignty.

Cubans were offered the chance to become actors on the stage of their own history. Millions left their homes to teach literacy, or joined militias, and voluntary associations to transform the island from dependency and underdevelopment into healthy development.

Cuba’s revolutionary tradition assumed that a sovereign nation would use its resources to benefit its people. Rich soil and industrious workers would provide everyone with a decent living standard. Poverty, most assumed, derived from foreign or domestic exploitation.

Early laws restricting landlords and large foreign and Cuban property owners allowed the government to distribute resources and services to the population, which won more legitimacy for the revolutionaries. But Cuba’s accumulated wealth would prove superficial compared to its needs.

Over the first decades, children of illiterate Cubans earned PhDs, and became doctors and soldiers who volunteered to go abroad to help change destiny in Africa and Latin America. Others volunteered for arduous tasks of construction and agriculture. By the mid-1970s Cuba had become literate and healthy.

To accomplish the overwhelming tasks of development revolutionary leaders had accepted Soviet help. This uneasy, but convenient marriage from 1972-1985 included adopting the Soviet economic and administrative models.

For Cuba the deal meant soft loans, technical assistance, secure supply lines and a high-paying market for its products. While most Third World countries transferred capital to developed countries, the Cuba-Soviet agreement reversed the pattern, permitting the island to have sovereignty, social justice and relative equality. Cubans also became world-renowned artists, writers and athletes.

For the Soviets, Cuba became a legitimizing instrument to maintain credibility among third world peoples, playing a broker-like role for Soviet positions at third world meetings.

On July 26, 1989, however, Fidel Castro warned of the impending demise of the Soviet bloc. Cubans had to prepare. The enemy 90 miles away loomed as a constant threat to the revolution's goals.

In 1991, the Soviet Union died. Without Soviet aid and trade, could Cuba's economy survive? The unthinkable alternative, surrender to Washington, led Cuban leaders to design the "special period" – a daily juggling for survival. Euphoria prevailed in Washington. Scholars announced “the end of history,” capitalism had won – well, if one ignored the cyclical disasters. Computers and the Internet would remake the world. China and Vietnam had already abandoned communism – in all but name.  Cuba remained the "Jurassic state."

Without even major trade partners, Cuba’s leaders at first relied on abstractions: national honor, patriotism and shared sacrifice, hardly adequate weapons to fight a 32 percent decline in GDP in one year.

Circumstances dictated that Cuba earn money from foreign tourists, who required a service oriented labor force – including prostitution. Cuba permitted remittances, which created inequality. Working Cubans earned less than non-workers who got rewarded by family members abroad.

Cuba began earning dollars for doctors’ and educators’ services abroad. In turn, this reduced the breadth and quality of education and health care at home.

Living standards fell. Theft, black markets and corruption tied to bureaucracy grew. Those too young to experience the days of subsidized consumption became pessimistic – even cynical – and desperate about their future. Complaining reached theatrical height. As leaders repeated old slogans teenagers passing below signs of Che Guevara reading "Como el Che," would often say "Sí, asmático." (Like Che … yes, asthmatic.) Some opted for rafts to Florida.

Meanwhile, the revolutionaries maintained political power and withstood two decades of counter revolutionary efforts from abroad. By 2001, Cuba’s economy and administrative structures had begun to fall into dysfunction. Corruption levels became intolerable; the once exciting revolutionary script sounded trite.

When Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela, he provided Cuba with aid and political alliances. Additionally, Latin America accepted Havana as a full partner, ending Cuba’s isolation

Recently, Cuba’s Communist Party reviewed the economy. A new script began to emerge as a series of guidelines (lineamientos). Changes have begun to affect property rights, domestic trade, employment practices, and investments.

In 2012, Cuban leaders could forge a new mission, to remake Cubans as the inspiration – if not saviors – of human life on the planet. Part of Cuba’s population still vibrates with desires to act on the world stage with a script the world’s people need.

Imagine Cuba leading a green revolution for survival! They have the science, experience and organization. Will the leadership pass the torch to those who have the energy and will to carry it out?

Next week: how Fidel Castro laid the groundwork for an environmental mission.

From the Frontlines: May 18th, 2010

May 18, 2010 ·

The bill for Afghanistan could run into the trillions, as another suicide bomber hits another U.S. convoy. IPS fellow Miriam Pemberton, who studies the military budget, wrote that the era of Bush-style spending isn't quite over.

Noam Chomsky has to settle for talking to Birzeit University by teleconference in Amman, after he's denied entry into Israel.  

The racial wealth gap has "more than quadrupled over the course of a generation," according to a new study. Dedrick Muhammad has been studying this for awhile and has said that we need a huge shift in focus if we're going to narrow this gap.

Undocumented students stage a sit-in at John McCain's office, calling on him to support the DREAM Act so they can obtain scholarships and work their way through college while going through the process of legal residency.  

The Dept. of the Interior, despite the BP oil mess, still continues to approve offshore drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico without environmental review. The Center for Biological Diversity is suing Sec. Salazar to stop this.

CBPP says that the growing budget shouldn't be an obstacle to passing the jobs bill: "Most of the provisions in this bill, which is now in the final stages of development, are strictly temporary measures that will stimulate additional demand for goods and services and create jobs while the recovery is still struggling to gain traction; they are not permanent measures that add to the long-term budget deficit."