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Entries tagged "climate change"

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What's Hot and What's Not at COP19 in Warsaw

November 22, 2013 ·

Warsaw, Poland during COP19 (photo: Lauren Gifford)

This is the second week of the annual UN climate summit, hosted this year in Warsaw, Poland. Governments and activists gathered here on pushing for to make sure key provisions on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to a warming world, dealing with loss and damages from climate disruption, and finding ways to pay for it all are queued up for a new climate deal in 2015. As negotiations enter their final days, three participants weigh in on what’s hot, and what’s not, at COP19.


The HOT list…

Demanding climate justice

It seems everyone’s calling for ‘climate justice’ these days — and we’re all for it! It can mean many things, but most importantly it acknowledges the economic roots and geo-politics of the climate crisis. It’s based on recognition that global warming — and the proposed solutions to it — disproportionately impact low-income people and people of colour, and that those most impacted have the right to a seat at the table to speak for themselves. Sure, you can hang a climate justice banner on just about anything — that’s why international collaborations that separate the wheat from the chaff like the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice are so important.  

Philippine head of delegate Naderev Yeb Sano (photo: Adopt A Negotiator)Solidarity fasting

In his opening plenary remarks, Philippine head of delegate Naderev “Yeb” Sano announced that he would fast for the duration of the COP until “a meaningful outcome is in sight,” in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos without food, water and shelter in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Over 700,000 people around the world have stood with Yeb, and many are planning to fast once a month until COP20. As the Warsaw summit enters the realm of the ridiculous (like Poland sacking the COP host mid-meeting), we’d bet that people are getting pretty hungry. 

Asking “WTF?”

As in, “Where’s the Finance?” Dealing with climate change could cost more than $1 trillion each year. Wealthy countries promised four years ago in Copenhagen to set up a Green Climate Fund and deliver $100 billion per year once we reach 2020. But countries have so far refused to commit to a concrete plan for scaling up the paltry support provided since Copenhagen. U.S. climate chief Todd Stern has said not to expect more public funding from developed countries anytime soon. A High Level Ministerial Meeting on Finance is supposed to yield some answers — but we aren’t holding our breath.

Men in tights

There is one ray of hope for climate finance: Robin Hood and his merry men are about to visit Europe. 11 European countries — including the four largest economies on the continent — are implementing a Robin Hood Tax (also known as a financial transaction tax) in the coming year. This tiny tax on trades on stocks, bonds, currencies, and derivatives can yield up to $50 billion per year. France already has the tax and is earmarking ten percent of the revenue to climate and development overseas. The rest of EU11 might follow suit, and the U.S. should fall in line!

 Anti-corporate campaigning

The corporate capture of the COP by big business and dirty industry has been staggering. But the unexpected side-effect has been to unite civil society observers in taking up an anti-corporate mantle. Signs in the corridors have not been shy about asking “Who rules Poland?” and “Poland or Coaland?” 

Walkout at COP19: Polluters talk, we walk

In an inspiring show of solidarity with each other and the planet, environment, development, youth, labor, and faith groups said, “Enough is enough!” and walked out of the Warsaw climate talks on the eve of its final day, saying that it’s blatantly obvious that forces of the fossil fuel industry are making it impossible to have a real conversation about reaching a global climate treaty. Mainstream green groups joined with veteran climate justice activists to abandon COP19, promising they’ll be back even stronger next year when the climate summit moves to Lima, Peru.

 


The NOT list…

Paying twice the price of local food

Eating shouldn’t have to be a luxury, but it is in the Polish National Stadium (Stadion Narodowy) where the COP is taking place. Food is twice as expensive here as it is elsewhere in Warsaw. Delegates from many developing nations — and youth representatives — are counting their grozses to be able to afford the cardboard-flavoured Sodexo sandwiches. Another good reason to support Yeb’s fast!

Heart of darkness 

And we don’t mean the gloom that’s descended on the climate talks since Australia and Japan reneged on their promises (and policies) to reduce greenhouse gases. In November, the sun sets in Warsaw around three in the afternoon. Or maybe it’s coal ash settling from Poland’s 47 coal-fired power plants. Either way, consumption of Vitamin D has gone through the roof.

Sucking up to coal

In a show of solidarity with the dirty energy industry, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres heralded coal as an integral part of solving climate change at the International Coal and Climate Summit. Meanwhile, civil society staged a major action outside the summit denouncing the expanded use of coal. Cozying up to coal cost Figueres her invitation to the annual Conference of Youth, a meeting attended by people who actually care about the future. On the positive side, the UK said it would stop financing coal with public money.

Putting lipstick on the carbon market

The bleachers of Stadion Narodowy are abuzz with the promise of new market mechanisms. But existing carbon markets have shown a weakness for fraud, scams, and general ineffectiveness. The World Bank tells us not to worry — they’ve learned from the EU’s failures and the 20 new carbon markets they’re helping setup in developing countries will get the job done. For now, a decision’s been kicked down the road. But can we please stop trying to put lipstick on this pig (did someone say pirogues in szmalec)? Let’s stop wasting time and simply cut emissions.

Shameless self-promotion

You’ve got to hand it to Emirates Airlines. They’ve placed oversized beanbag chairs all over the conference for weary negotiators to take a nap. But let’s be honest, grownups in suits look silly sleeping on the floor! Maybe the aim was to get delegates so relaxed they’d forget that the airline industry as a whole is responsible for about 2% of global climate pollution — or that two of the UAE’s major economic drivers are oil and gas export. 

Australia’s "DILLIGAF?" attitude

Urban dictionary can help you out with that acronym. Australian delegates made it perfectly clear how little they care about finding a way to help compensate poorer countries deal with “loss and damage” from climate disruptions. The Aussie officials acted like “a bunch of high school boys misbehaving in class” in their t-shirts and flip flops before finally bracketing [i.e. putting on hold] all of the already agreed-upon text. Their disruptive behavior drove 130 developing nations to eventually walk out in frustration at four in the morning, abandoning what some have called the most important talks in Warsaw. Walk outs are so hot right now, it seems.

Jonas Bruun and Robbie Watt are PhD candidates at the University of Manchester. Lauren Gifford is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Corporate Capture in Warsaw: The 'New Normal' in the Disaster Zone

November 18, 2013 ·

Robbie Watt in front of COP19's plenary session boxes, sponsored by the corporation ArcelorMittal

We are half way through the 19th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in cold, grey Poland. Far away in the Philippines thousands of people have lost their lives to Typhoon Haiyan and hundreds of thousands struggle to find food, water, and shelter.

This typhoon makes climate chaos dramatically visible as current reality—not just future possibility. The pictures and stories of the devastation are a reminder that as the planet warms, mega-storms like Haiyan are expected to become more frequent and more fierce. A typhoon hit the Philippines at the time of the COP last year too, as if devastating storms are becoming a ‘new normal’ at the climate negotiations.

The immediate and future impacts of climate change make the case for an urgent response – yet in Warsaw delegates seem to be responding with words instead of action.

As has been the case since the signing of the climate convention in 1992, a priority of international negotiations is for rich countries to agree and then act to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Commitments are not really on the table here, but are supposed to be agreed by 2015, when the summit meets in Paris. Unfortunately governments are not showing much ambition, and are even outlining plans to do less than they had previously agreed to. Australia, Japan and Canada have been set a bad example to this effect, while the United States’ position as a laggard has hardly changed.

There are plenty of technical questions under discussion here in various work programmes and subsidiary bodies, keeping the delegates busy. But without any ambition on pollution cuts we are left with the clear impression of running around going nowhere, like a hamster racing round on the exercise wheel in its cage. With the meeting rooms arranged in a ring inside the circular national stadium, delegates are literally running around in circles at this negotiation.

Officials in Warsaw are already resigned to the idea that we must wait until 2015 before reaching a new global climate deal, and many countries—particularly developed ones—have accepted the notion that we’ll wait another five years after that before any of these plans are implemented. If that happens, the next 8 years will be filled with another ‘normal’ at these negotiations – all talk and no walk.

Only an emotional speech by Philippine head of delegation Naderev Sano about the lives and livelihoods lost in his home country and his pledge to fast until “a meaningful outcome was in sight” seemed capable of rousing the attention of both delegates and international media. 

‘Green’ Corporate Sponsorship

Meanwhile, another ‘new normal’ is emerging at the climate summit. The negotiations in Poland have attracted an unprecedented number of corporate sponsors and lobbyists from big business and dirty industry, such as General Motors and the French energy conglomerate Alstom.

ArcelorMittal—one of Europe's most polluting firms, with a track record of lobbying to make millions out of Europe's failing experiments with carbon markets—constructed the temporary steel boxes in the national stadium (where the talks are taking place) to house plenary sessions, giving the impression that climate negotiations are literally being imprisoned under corporate control.

An entire floor in the stadium has been dedicated to private companies peddling ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis in the form of false-hope technologies such as pumping pollution underground and burning trash. Negotiators can relax in Emirates Air beanbag chairs, strategically placed all around the stadium. And many delegates carry complimentary goody-bags, a gift from the 11 official for-profit partners representing the aviation, auto, fossil fuel, and heavy industrial sectors.

The Polish government defends corporate sponsorship, claiming that the businesses involved provide ‘green’ products and services. In making this claim, the Poles are ignoring the compelling evidence of these firms’ environmental destruction and are legitimizing their dangerous presence at the negotiations, as outlined in the COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.  

Of course the private sector has to be part of solving the climate crisis—but first, they have to get out of the business of polluting for profit. We find the corporate capture of the climate conference problematic in three major ways.

First, the 11 corporate partners are enjoying privileged access in return for their support while civil society observer organizations—the groups that represent the public interest—have experienced unexpected restrictions in their ability to participate in the UNFCCC.

Second, many of the ‘solutions’ corporate partners offer are not ‘green’ and will not stop the release of greenhouse gases. Instead, these proposals serve to protect corporate interests while creating new opportunities for profit.

Third, climate change is a problem that can only be properly addressed through collective action. However, it’s becoming ‘normal’ to frame climate change as a business opportunity, where companies can make money from flawed carbon markets and the ‘Green Corporate Fund’.

COP19 is being branded as the first full-out corporate COP. This sets a dangerous precedent and should not become a 'new normal.' The apparent normality of disasters and lack of action associated with climate politics is already bad enough. 

Opening COP19 Warsaw: A Climate Justice Take on UN Talks

November 12, 2013 ·

Opening statement by the President of COP19 Mr. Marcin Korolec (UNclimatechange/flickr)To mark the start of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland, a new series of Climate Justice briefings has been released offering critical perspectives on a number of the crucial issues under discussion.

First up, A Vision for Equity argues that negotiations should focus on setting a “global emissions budget” to keep temperature rises within the 1.5 degree target that would avoid dangerous climate change. Using historic emissions data as well as records of current per capita emissions, it calculates what developed and developing countries would need to do within that framework to contribute their fair share to addressing the climate problem.

A system of international climate controls based on science and the principles of equity is needed to achieve that target, which means climate negotiators should resist any attempts to deregulate international climate controls. That’s the subject the next briefing, which sets out a case against the “pledge and revenge” approach that many developed countries are pursuing within negotiations for a new international climate treaty. 

The new system risks being even weaker than the outgoing Kyoto Protocol, while threatening to retain or even expand upon the carbon markets—one of the most problematic aspects of the existing agreement. This briefing on markets explains why carbon trading is not the answer. Instead of setting up “new market mechanisms,” the failure of existing markets should be grounds for a moratorium on the development of new ones.

Non-market approaches should be pursued instead, and that’s the subject of the fourth briefing in this series, which looks at the positive role that could be played by Globally Funded Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs.

Background on COP19

The web is awash with reports on the UN climate talks, but to cut through to the core issues you could do far worse than starting with this useful guide to “the Big Fights, Red Lines and Initial Predictions” from [Earth in Brackets], who will also be blogging and tweeting. Our colleagues at climate-justice.info have also issued this useful media background briefing covering the basic issues from Poland, alongside some snappy quotes.

The Warsaw conference is being hailed in some quarters as a “finance COP,” the implication being that debates on the money needed to address climate change will take center stage. At the same time, we’re witnessing an attack upon and dilution of the very notion of “climate finance”, which refers to public transfers of resources from developed to developing countries. Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA picks up the story here.

In other quarters, COP19 is being talked about as a haven for corporate lobbyists – an impression that the Polish Presidency of the meeting has done little to counter, by seeking sponsorship from “climate crooks” such as ArcelorMittal, Alstom and BMW. Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute look at corporate influences on the UN Climate Change Conference with itsCOP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying. They’ll also be blogging from Warsaw.

During the COP itself, it’s easy to miss the latest developments with several meetings taking place simultaneously. Third World Network’s briefing papers are an invaluable resource to find out who said what in the meeting halls of Poland’s national stadium.

And finally, as the COP in Warsaw gets underway in the shadow of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, it’s worth pausing to take in the words of that country’s lead negotiator, Yeb Sano, who reminded delegates of the true costs of continued inaction on climate change.

Electrifying Africa - But at What Cost to Africans?

September 16, 2013 ·

This originally appeared in IPS' Foreign Policy in Focus project.

A liquefied natural gas carrier near Sea Point, South Africa. (Derek Keats/ Flickr)As children throughout the United States head back to school, it’s a good time to remember that schoolchildren throughout Africa often attend schools with no electricity. In areas that do have the utility, frequent power outages are a constant reminder of the need for dependable access to electricity.

In June, U.S. policymakers announced two initiatives aimed at increasing electricity production in Africa. President Obama launched Power Africa, an initiative that makes a $7-billion U.S. commitment to the energy sector in six African countries. And Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the Electrify Africa Act in the House, which sets a goal of providing access to electricity for at least 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. Both initiatives place increasing investment by U.S. companies in Africa at their center.

Africa is home to almost 600 million people without electricity, all of whom struggle to meet their basic needs as a result. Access to power translates into refrigerating vaccines, keeping food from spoiling, studying after dark—the kinds of activities that can dramatically improve basic health, education, and economic opportunity.

While rhetoric around the two U.S. initiatives is about reducing poverty and improving Africans’ quality of life, the approaches being outlined seem likely to lead to large, climate-polluting, centralized power projects—not the decentralized, renewable energy systems that are the most efficient and cleanest means of reaching Africa’s poorest families.

Decentralized, renewable energy sources are best for the rural poor.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that universal energy access can be achieved by 2030 with significantly stepped-up investment. In sub-Saharan Africa, it would require an extra $19 billion a year, and money pledged by the U.S. government could be a strong down payment.

The IEA also notes that the majority of the additional investment needs to go to small-scale mini-grid and off-grid solutions—which are more efficient at delivering electricity to people in rural areas, where 84 percent of the energy-poor live—not to centralized power plants. Small-scale systems produce energy at the household and community level from renewable sources, including micro-hydro, solar, wind, and biogas.

So an energy access win for the poor is also a win for the environment. By developing clean energy instead of burning fossil fuels, decentralized renewable systems help curb greenhouse gas emissions and curtail climate change. That’s important because if left unfettered, climate change is predicted to wreak havoc across Africa.

Africa will be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

According to the World Bank, climate change is likely to undermine the development gains made in recent decades, pushing millions of people back into poverty. And as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the leading global scientific body on climate change—notes, warming on the African continent could be some of the developing world’s most severe, reaching one-and-a-half times the global average.

Droughts and heat waves brought on by climate change are expected to significantly compromise agricultural production and access to food in Africa. Yields from rain-fed agriculture could drop by 50 percent in some countries by 2020, and crop revenues could fall by as much as 90 percent by 2100. Food insecurity and exacerbated malnutrition in turn will compromise human health.

Sea level rise is anticipated to threaten the 320 coastal cities and 56 million people living in low-lying coastal zones around the continent. And the cost to African nations of adapting to a warmer world could amount to between 5 and 10 percent of their gross domestic product.

“All of the above” means dirty and clean power.

While Power Africa and the Electrify Africa Act do include language about developing “an appropriate mix of power solutions, including renewable energy,” proponents of these policies have been most publicly enthusiastic about new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas on the continent.

In fact, with only $20 million allocated toward project preparation, feasibility, and technical assistance for renewables, clean energy makes up less than 0.3 percent of the White House initiative’s budget.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is front and center. While gas is sometimes talked about as a “cleaner” fossil fuel, it can be even more polluting than dirty coal when methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide) is released during its production.

In other words, gas is no “bridge fuel” between energy poverty and the clean power that every person deserves. Once Africans are locked into natural gas infrastructure, they’re locked into 40 years of increasing emissions—and four more decades of global warming’s impacts.

Continued fossil fuel expansion threatens U.S. climate policy.

The push for natural gas is so forceful that one of the U.S. government’s strongest climate policies to date—the cap on greenhouse gas emissions at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)—has come under fire.

OPIC’s cap—an outcome of a 2009 legal settlement with environmental groups over the agency’s practice of lending to large, destructive oil and gas projects—forces a 30-percent greenhouse gas reduction across its portfolio over 10 years and a 50-percent reduction over 15 years.

The results have been notable. By 2011, the agency’s renewable energy finance had risen to nearly $1 billion—about a third of its total commitments that year. By contrast, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im)—OPIC’s sister organization—steadily increased investment in dirty energy, with fossil fuel funding doubling between 2011 and 2012.

Unfortunately, some development groups say that to achieve energy access for Africa, OPIC’s hard-won greenhouse gas cap has to be weakened. For instance, a lobbying document from the ONE campaign highlights how the Electrify Africa Act “unlocks OPIC’s investment potential by requiring OPIC to revise its existing policy on the carbon emissions of its investments to permit significant investment in the electricity sector of the poorest and lowest pollution-emitting countries.”

Ironically, the impacts of doing away with this policy—more greenhouse gas emissions and fewer renewable projects focused on access—would only come back to hit communities in Africa even harder as climate change intensifies.

While this provision is not yet part of the bill introduced in Congress, there are concerns that it will appear as an amendment now that Congress has reconvened. And that’s particularly worrying. Of the $1.5 billion that the Power Africa initiative promises from OPIC for energy, less than 2 percent has been earmarked for renewables.

Who stands to gain by busting the cap?

If large, centralized fossil fuel production won’t particularly help poor Africans access energy—and would exacerbate climate change, which in turn threatens development on the continent—why would anyone want to bust the greenhouse gas cap at OPIC?

For one possible explanation, look no further than the oil and gas fields recently found off the coast of Africa. Big reserves mean big money, and the business of extracting and processing new oil and gas from sub-Saharan Africa will be lucrative.

It’s OPIC’s job to help U.S. companies gain a foothold in emerging markets like these by providing finance. And by doing away with lending restrictions on climate polluting projects, OPIC is free to grease the wheels for mega-deals between U.S. fossil fuel companies and African interests.

One of those companies appears to be General Electric, which recently signed a tentative deal with Ghana to build a power plant likely to be fueled with natural gas from the Jubilee offshore field. (Perhaps not uncoincidentally, G.E.’s CEO traveled with Obama on his Africa trade mission.) According to Forbes, G.E. has recently pivoted its attention to Africa and is marketing power generation products like natural gas engines to African companies. Not surprising, then, that Ex-Im chairman Fred Hochberg called Power Africa a “$7B plan to power up General Electric” on Twitter.

Helping to bring electricity into the homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces of tens of millions of people living on the African continent is the right thing to do. The United States can support energy access through public finance—raised from innovative sources like afinancial transaction tax and by ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies—and by directing the $7 billion Obama promised to decentralized, renewable energy systems. That would ensure that we’re spending our money to benefit African families, not U.S. energy companies.

Africans deserve to live full, dignified, productive lives free from dirty energy and safe from the climate disaster it promises. African schoolchildren demand no less. U.S. policymakers and taxpayers can power Africa best by protecting the planet and securing future generations.

Winning the Fight Against Coal Financing

July 18, 2013 ·

Child in India Tries to Get Water from Flyash-Polluted RiverWhen President Obama made his climate speech at Georgetown University in which he urged an end to almost all public financing of coal, Jim Vallette, former research director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at IPS, dropped me an e-mail and we reflected on how many years it had taken us to get to this point.

The first visit I made to a World Bank-financed coal mine in India in 1996 is still etched in my mind. Traveling for miles by train, bus and then taxi to get to the site, I saw first-hand what our "poverty alleviation" funds were doing. It was a moonscape, black, grey, with nauseating smoke billowing out of perpetual fires, deep underground. A child covered in flyash, was standing next to a black river, desperately trying to get a drink of clean water.

I later learned the wells had all run dry; the coal plant had used it all for its cooling towers. And the river was black with flyash, dumped by the World Bank-financed Talcher coal burner directly into the Nandira River. The only way this child could get a drink of water was to try to dig a hole in the sandy riverbed and hope that would filter out the pollutants.

I came back to Washington in 1996, and Jim and I got fired up to fight the public financing of coal, much of it being done in the name of poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

When we released a series of reports examining public financing of fossil fuels, starting with the World Bank, then on to the EBRD, then, in 1999 on OPIC and Ex-Im, we didn't know when these banks we had set our sites on would finally be forced out of coal. But we knew it had to come.

That day came on June 25, when we finally heard the following words uttered by President Obama:

"Today, I'm calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there's no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort."

Were these words to be believed? On July 16, the World Bank approved a new energy strategy which would effectively phase out the Bank's institutional support for coal. The paper "affirms that the World Bank Group will 'only in rare circumstances' provide financial support for new greenfield coal power generation projects, such as 'meeting basic energy needs in countries with no feasible alternatives.'"

Then, on July 18, we got the following news: The US Export-Import Bank had rejected a coal plant in Vietnam. It was the first rejection of a coal burner since Obama's climate speech of several weeks ago. 

This day came too late for that child and others in that community in India, who were forced to drink poisoned water. And I'm not pleased with the caveats Obama placed on his pledge. Nor am I pleased with the possibility that the World Bank, Ex-Im Bank and others may simply switch from coal to gas, especially if that gas is derived from “fracking,” which can be worse for our already unstable climate than coal.

But hopefully, this is the dawn of a new day, when public financing of coal mines and power plants around the world is no longer acceptable. It's not enough, of course, but after 16 years of persistent pressure from IPS and other groups, our government seems to finally be listening.

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