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Entries tagged "climate justice"

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A Devil's Bargain on the Climate

February 24, 2014 ·

This blog originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.

(Friends of the Earth International/Flickr)Two years ago, environmentalist Bill McKibben caused a stir when he revealed the “terrifying new math” of climate change. McKibben calculated that to have a reasonable chance of staying below what climate scientists call the “tipping point” of global warming — a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels — humans can only send 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution into the atmosphere.

Here’s the catch: The oil, coal, and gas reserves that fossil fuel companies and petro-states already have on their books account for about 2,795 gigatons of CO2. If they dig up — and we burn — those reserves, we’ll release five times more carbon than the atmosphere can handle. Hello, climate disaster.

That means that between 60 and 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves are “unburnable” if the world is to have a chance of avoiding the tipping point. That’s why students, religious leaders, philanthropists, and everyday folks with retirement savings are doing the math and demanding that their investment dollars not prop up an industry that threatens life on earth as we know it.

These voices are joining community activists, Indigenous Peoples, and workers in the Global South — many of whom are on the front lines of climate chaos — who are calling on international institutions not to bank on fossil fuels to drive their economic development. It’s alarming, then, that a new UN Green Climate Fund that is being set up to help transition economies away from fossil fuels may itself support fossil fuel projects.

There’s no future — financially or ecologically — in development projects that warm the planet and destabilize the environment. If the UN wants to help developing countries make the leap to renewable energy, it should take a lesson from divestment activists all over the world and keep its checkbook closed to dirty energy projects.

A Bad Bet

For some, divestment will seem like leaving money on the table. Leaving those fuels in the ground, after all, makes for a lot of “stranded assets.”

The UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative calculates that these unexploited reserves are worth about $4 trillion in share value and support $1.27 trillion in corporate debt. If you’re the financial officer of a university endowment or a pension fund manager, you might protest that your job is to raise money — and fossil investments still generally outperform renewable energy.

But in the long term, dirty energy investments won’t be so sure a bet. As more and more countries feel the impacts of climate change, serious efforts to curb carbon pollution could make those investments less appealing. Leaders of some of the most important international development and climate institutions recognize this and recently took the stage at the World Economic Forum to bring together the ecological and economic sides of the divestment case.

UN climate convention chief Christiana Figueres said investors would be “in blatant breach of their fiduciary duty” if they failed to pull their money out of fossil fuel-linked funds in the face of “clear scientific evidence” of global warming. And Dr. Jim Kim, president of the World Bank, called on long-term investors to “rethink what fiduciary responsibility means” in the face of climate change and to address the financial risk associated with their carbon-intensive investments.

Climate Fund for the 21st Century

Ironic, then, that the new UN Green Climate Fund could, perversely, become a major source of funding for fossil fuel infrastructure.

The mandate of the fund is to support a transformational shift in the global south away from fossil fuels and toward clean, climate-resilient development. But tucked away in the fine print of the fund’s governing document is support for technologies like carbon capture and storage (aka “clean coal”) — a technology that is not viable at scale and does nothing to address the cradle-to-grave environmental and social devastation that coal wreaks.

In fact, any mention of phasing out fossil fuels is conspicuously absent in the new climate fund, even as other international financial institutions are finally moving to wind down some of the coal-fired excesses of their energy portfolios.

There is, however, a window of opportunity to remedy this as the Green Climate Fund board members work toward final design elements at their meeting this week in Bali. One of those elements could be an exclusion list of dirty energy projects it simply won’t finance. Another is to agree on a framework of indicators of success (in board-speak, the “results management framework”) and strict performance standards that rule out dirty energy.

Most importantly, the board must adopt strong environmental and social safeguards for the projects it supports. In addition to avoiding fossil fuel projects, that might also mean refusing to promote projects like large hydroelectric dams that can cause large-scale displacement of people and loss of land and livelihoods.

An Uphill Battle

The task of keeping dirty energy out of the Green Climate Fund will not be easy.

Several board members have vested economic interests in maintaining the financial viability of “less dirty” energy approaches like “clean coal” and natural gas. And large transnational corporations, including Bank of America (dubbed “the coal bank” by activists), play a significant role in shaping the fund.

Scientists are telling us that we must get off fossil fuels fast. We’re already witnessing the devastating impacts of climate change on our neighbors and friends across the world. And for many national governments, funds to deal with the climate crisis are scarce.

The opportunity is clear. And common sense, not head-in-the-sand economic interests, must dictate action. The Green Climate Fund should take a lesson from ordinary investors all over the world who see that there’s no future in fossil fuels — not for their portfolios, and not for the planet.

Janet Redman is the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, helped launch climatemarkets.org.

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.

Robin Hood Tax, Not Corporate Greed, Should be Focus of Climate Finance Meetings, Say Activists

April 11, 2013 ·

Robin Hood Tax Action, Washington DCIPS joined other members of the U.S. Robin Hood Tax campaign in Washington DC, where officials from the finance and climate ministries of select developed countries met to discuss how to mobilize private sector investment in developing countries to address climate change. Chanting, "Human need, not corporate greed! Robin Hood Tax now!" protesters dressed as polar bears, farmers, and bankers engaged with officials entering the meeting to urge them to support a Robin Hood Tax.

This demonstration drew attention to the fact that trillions of dollars of public money have been spent to bail out Wall Street while government officials pay short shrift to untapped and extremely promising innovative sources of public money like a Robin Hood Tax. In doing so, officials risk putting corporate profits over the needs of climate-impacted people.

Robin Hood Tax Action, Washington DC

Both the financial crisis and the recession have left a massive hole in public finances, threatening job creation, community services, and the ability to address climate change. While Wall Street has already bounced back, ordinary people are still trying to recover from problems caused by corporate abuse in the financial sector. The Robin Hood Tax calls for the institution of a small tax of less than half of one percent on Wall Street transactions in order to generate many billions of dollars each year toward crucial public goods and services, like healthcare, education, and helping the world’s poor confront the climate crisis. 

VIEW RECENT ARTICLE ON CLIMATE FINANCE BY JANET REDMAN: http://www.fpif.org/articles/wall_streets_climate_finance_bonanza 

Robin Hood Tax Action, Washington DC

Robin Hood Tax Action, Washington DC

Robin Hood Tax Action, Washington DC

The Private Sector's Murky Role in Climate Finance

December 6, 2012 ·

While the costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change rise and thus the need for climate finance in developing countries grows, wealthy governments shift focus from public support to private finance. But can the private sector meet the needs of those most impacted by climate change?

Climate Justice

In the halls of the UN climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar, you will hear a mantra that’s being echoed by developed country governments from their capital cities to international forums. It goes something like this: We’re broke. There’s no public money. And so, we have to use the scarce resources we do have to leverage massive wealth in the private — and particularly the financial — sector.

You’ll also find in the halls of the annual climate summits the faces of private interests — industry reps, investors, and carbon traders. They’re a regular fixture here, but this year the private sector has taken centre stage in debates over climate finance.

At COP18 there are seven times as many side events about getting private finance and carbon markets engaged in climate action as events highlighting the role of public funds.

There has also been a strategic shift in the rhetoric of developed countries away from talking about “providing” climate finance to speaking about “mobilising” money. The former implies public flows. The latter suggests countries are shifting emphasis toward looking outside national budgets for financial resources.

Nowhere is the trend toward privileging the private sector more apparent than in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) — the newest financial institution under the climate Convention. After many contentious debates during the Fund’s design phase, industrialised nations succeeded in creating a sub-fund that guarantees the private sector direct access to the fund.

Countries did win one concession — a ‘no-objection procedure’ that is meant to keep multinational corporations and international investment banks from going directly to the Green Climate Fund to undertake work in countries without the knowledge of national capitals. But investors are already starting to push back, saying that any kind of vetting process by the UN would make private sector engagement untenable.

In light of these challenges, the GCF’s board will have to grapple as they write the Fund’s business model this year with the question of what the ultimate purpose of the Green Climate Fund is — to maximise the involvement of the private sector, or to support low-carbon, climate-resilient sustainable development in poorer nations as its mandate states?

While these two aims don’t have to be mutually exclusive, lessons from existing private sector institutions – like the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation – show that private finance often bypasses low-income countries, fails to reach the poor in middle-income countries, and prioritises large corporations over small and medium enterprises.

In addition, the use of financial intermediaries to repackage and channel capital leads to serious challenges in transparency and public accountability. Particularly important is the fact that private sector money flows where the profit potential is greatest. For a climate fund this means big, mainly mitigation activities — not community-scale projects, adaptation, or disaster relief.

Certainly, the private sector plays a critical role in any economy – and without its participation in making the shift away from dirty energy and polluting industry there will be no transition to a low-carbon future. But the private sector efforts that the Green Climate Fund should support are domestic enterprises that will reinvest wealth to meet the climate priorities of the people and communities most impacted by global warming.

At Climate Summit, It's Economy First, Then Survival

December 1, 2012 ·

The 2012 UN climate negotiations are not expected to be a breakthrough moment in solving the unfolding ecological crisis, but these talks will set the course for a future deal that countries have agreed will enter into force by 2020.

What’s at stake is more than a little overwhelming.

Australia climate protest

Global warming has to be kept to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures if we want to avert climate disaster. Scientists say that means we can send 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Meanwhile fossil fuel companies are planning to burn enough oil, coal and gas to release 2,795 gigatons.

And the impacts of a warming planet are already hitting home. Because of sea level rise the island nation of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean is in negotiations to resettle its entire population in Fiji. And in the United States we’ve just experienced a summer of record-busting heat waves followed by a super-storm the likes of which meteorologists have literally never before seen.

From where I sit in Doha, however, any agreement to avoid predicted extremes in weather, economic disruption and loss of life that will accompany global warming looks a long way off.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the experts group that provides the climate convention with the latest science — global greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak and start coming down by 2015. That’s right — in three years. Then, by 2050, the nations of the world would need to halve their overall climate pollution.

For the United States that translates into something like a 50 percent reduction by 2020 and deeper than 80 percent cuts by 2050 — a quasi-political calculation based on our responsibility as far and away the greatest contributor to climate change and one of the economies most capable of adapting.

Delivering serious emissions cuts won’t be easy for any country. Re-orienting a nation’s infrastructure to be climate smart — from energy to food to manufacturing to transportation — won’t be cheap.

Not surprisingly, no country wants to be the only one — or one of only a few — that is obliged to overhaul its entire economy to be low-carbon and climate resilient. It would put them at a distinct competitive disadvantage, at least at first (of course, every dollar spent on prevention saves three in disaster cleanup later).

And so the two largest economies and biggest polluters on the planet — the United States and China — have somewhat cleverly staked out positions that set them on the dangerous path of Mutually Assured Inaction. Neither of them will act on climate until the other does — but neither of them really wants to anyway.

The U.S. climate team said in no uncertain terms before leaving Washington DC for Doha that a second Obama term doesn’t translate into a shift away from blocking a climate deal that big countries like China are not legally bound by.

Lead negotiator Jonathon Pershing has repeatedly insisted that he can’t bring home a deal he can’t sell to Congress — and unfortunately Congress is still in the pocket of polluters (look no further for evidence than a recent letter to President Obama from 18 Senators who accepted more than $11 million from dirty energy companies urging him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and unlock the Canadian tar sands).

At the end of the first week of negotiations, with a fair and effective climate deal looking out of reach, it’s hard to see how developing countries — or civil society — can compel the industrial world to take bold action and live up to their responsibilities.

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