Environmental NGOs: Be More Specific for Paris

For environmental groups, the biggest event of the decade will be the international climate change negotiations in Paris in December called COP-21. Enviro groups have been sending out emails, asking their members to sign petitions, and tweeting up a storm (pardon the pun): #ActinParis , #RoadthroughParis, #PathwaytoParis , and so many more. The world will be watching to see if countries reach an agreement or fail again as they did in Copenhagen six years ago.

Many observers have low expectations , given that the UN requires unanimity from nation-states, fossil fuel interests have political control in so many nations, and the convention itself seems to have given up on an international treaty and is focusing instead on adding up nationally adopted actions. Each nation’s “intended” action plan or “INDC” reflects its leaders’ views on what is politically feasible, but not what is scientifically required. In many cases the actions are voluntary and would be implemented by future administrations, so there is no assurance the pledges will be fulfilled.

Much of the outreach by major NGOs working on climate in the run up to Paris has been vague calling for “strong climate action” or general sets of principles. Perhaps they are saving their political capital for a later date, but there may not be a later date. Or it could be the “big tent” strategy: stay vague until you have millions of people inside “the tent,” then announce your solution. But as Laurence Mathews wrote : The current groundswell of people, from pop stars to the Pope, calling for ‘strong climate action’ is a hopeful sign. But they need to adopt a specific tool – such as Cap & Share – to champion, before their voices become really effective.” For Paris to be successful, the NGOs must start lining up behind an actual proposal that can implement those general principles.

Leaving it in the ground is great, and 350 parts per million CO2 is fine, but how do we get there? Even calling for 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees still begs the question: how do we get there? Shorter showers and Priuses? No. It is time for NGOs to be explicit about the solution: a carbon cap returning funds to people.

The big NGOs already know about a carbon cap. They have been promoting it for years, but usually in combination with a trading concept that confuses people and implies big business making a lot of money at their expense. An upstream limit on production by the biggest coal, oil and gas producers could generate a carbon price without any trading at all. The worry is (and attacks from opponents will emphasize) that a carbon price could endanger economic security of families. A carbon cap by itself could mean reducing the amount of economic activity, probably causing a recession and throwing millions out of work. This is where returning revenues back to people (the dividend) comes in. The revenues raised by the carbon price are returned back to people, preserving purchasing power as the cap restricts fossil fuel use. The dividend alone may not be enough to support the whole economy, but it could serve to jumpstart additional policies such as a basic income , supplemented by quantitative easing for the people , local/energy-backed currencies and other social supports. This allows fossil fuel use to go down without crashing the economy. Such an approach can also build alliances with social and economic justice groups as it captures the value created by the scarcity and returns it to the people on an equitable basis, thus alleviating global poverty .

NGOs in the run up to Paris can help educate the public about the terminology involved in the proposal. CapGlobalCarbon is the campaign for an international citizen’s movement to demand the creation of a Global Climate Trust. A Global Climate Trust is the entity that sets the cap and handles the transfer of funds from the fossil fuel companies to people using the Cap & Share (or Cap & Dividend) approach described above.

Dear NGOs going to Paris: It is time to be more specific in your demands. The People’s Test on Climate is a start, but let’s get even more specific (and by the way, CapGlobalCarbon satisfies the People’s Test on Climate). CapGlobalCarbon meets the goals of climate justice. It is simple enough to fit a slogan such as, “Cap global carbon, price it, then return the revenues to people” (over time, branding experts can improve on this). Regardless of what happens with the UNFCCC in Paris, a real solution in the form of a citizens’ movement calling for a new organization to set ecological limits required by the climate science is needed. If the NGO community can unify its cacophony of demands, a major outcome from Paris may be a citizen’s movement calling for a Global Climate Trust that will keep the fossil fuels in the ground and give humanity a chance to stabilize the climate.

Cross-posted in the Huffington Post.

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