Category Archives: discussion


What If Janet Yellen Joined Todd Stern in Paris?

On December 11, the UN Climate Change conference in Paris (called COP-21) will be wrapping up, and the headlines will announce if the negotiators were able to agree to save the Earth or not. Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, will be leading the U.S. delegation at COP-21. At the photo op at the end of the conference, Secretary of State John Kerry will surely be in the front row. If there is a problem and the conference looks like it might fail, President Obama may fly in at the last minute as he did in 2009 in Copenhagen to try to save the talks. But who else will be part of the delegation, and are they the right people?

COP-21 is not just another regular meeting of diplomats, and climate change is not just another environmental issue. For a real outcome to occur, the delegates need to be talking about a major change to the global economy: a limit on fossil fuel input. It is highly doubtful that a few dozen mid-level staff from the EPA and State Department will be able to talk in terms of “leaving fossil fuels in the ground,” or implementing a global cap on carbon emissions, and returning carbon pricing revenues back to people. Even if they were empowered by Secretary Kerry to do so, would anyone take them seriously, given the current state of Congress? No. The only way to get that type of conversation taken seriously is to add a few key people to Todd Stern’s entourage, starting with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and President Obama’s Economic Advisers.

Chair Yellen would be a revolutionary addition to the U.S. climate delegation, and would send an immediate message that the U.S. understands the economic implications of serious climate action. Central bankers don’t typically attend environmental conferences. But that’s the point: behind all the green hype, COP-21 is really an economic conference. Yellen’s attendance would highlight the need for the creation of powerful fiscal and monetary instruments to protect the economy and create economic incentives for a low-carbon transition in the new fossil fuel-limited world. Stock markets would immediately begin incorporating fossil fuel limitations into their valuations, and perhaps deflate the “carbon bubble” before it bursts.

Accompanying Yellen could be two of President Obama’s economic team, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Jason Furman, the Chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, to provide additional gravitas from the Executive Branch in economic discussions about a global carbon price that would otherwise be lacking. At the conference Chair Yellen, Secretary Lew, and Chairman Furman could announce new programs run by the Fed and the Treasury for “quantitative easing to the people” along with a plan for “climate dividends” that return revenues from a carbon price back to households. Fed critics would go nuts since Yellen has a nearly unlimited checkbook outside the purview of the climate deniers in Congress. Chair Yellen does not need to wait for an invitation from Todd Stern or the President. She could always buy herself a plane ticket to Paris and would likely garner some press attention for any such announcements she wanted to make there.

President Obama’s best chance to build a lasting legacy will be in Paris. COP-21 provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lame-duck President facing a hostile Congress to show courage and leadership on an issue that has implications for decades and even centuries. The consensus document from the UNFCCC will likely contain some nice flowery language, but it will not come close to what the science requires. But there is still time to salvage the process, by bringing a few key people into the U.S. delegation, and supporting a global cap on emissions with revenues returned back to people.

Cross-posted in the Huffington Post.

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Precedent for CapGlobalCarbon: the International Campaign to Ban Landmines

CapGlobalCarbon may seem dauntingly ambitious, but it isn’t by any means the first global-level initiative to be led by civil society, and important lessons can be learnt from past experience. In a series of blog posts I’ll be examining several of these precedents. Let’s start with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The ICBL was founded in 1998. Here are a list of points in common that the CGC could have with the ICBL:

1. The ICBL is an independent global organisation that was formed by a coalition of NGOs. It defines itself as a ‘campaign’ and works with the UN and with individual governments but isn’t a government body itself.

2. Its goal is to eliminate from the entire planet something noxious and widespread which is causing harm to humanity. This quote from the ICBL website reminded me of our argument for a binding cap on fossil fuel extraction: “…It soon became apparent that the only real solution to address the landmine crisis was a complete ban on antipersonnel mines. No technical changes or changes to the rules on their use could change the fact that an antipersonnel mine is inherently indiscriminate.”

3. The ICBL puts pressure on governments to sign and ratify a treaty that implements their overall goal, and it has made meaningful progress towards achieving it. Since it was founded in 1992, 39 out of the 50 landmine-producing countries at the time have stopped producing landmines and landmine use has dramatically dropped (according to their website). Tens of millions of landmines have been destroyed.

4. This one isn’t included in our core description of CGC, but I think it also has potential as a precedent. The ICBL has a sister organisation which works as a monitor, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which is described as the “innovative civil society research and monitoring arm of the ICBL-CMC”. (CMC focusses on cluster bombs). This organisation does the work of tracking down who is using landmines and where they are.

This seems relevant to CGC in two ways:

(a) The effectiveness of this body’s work is proof that it’s possible to organise competent independent monitoring on a global level. Indeed, GCCT monitors wouldn’t have nearly such a difficult job as the ICBL’s Monitor does, since the former would merely have to keep track of upstream fossil fuel extraction which is carried out by a relatively small number of companies around the planet and already well-documented. The ICBL’s monitor has to try and track down down all the landmines which is a bit like trying to plug downstream emissions; it’s an enormous task.

(b) The monitors’ work is also a counter to the argument that any international monitoring organisation would have a tendency to become overly controlling, perhaps even totalitarian. By necessity, the ICBL monitors’ work is actually rather more invasive than the GCCT’s monitoring would be; but it’s hard to imagine anything more benign. (And another factor to bear in mind is that CGC doesn’t force people to spend their money in any particular way or even fix any prices; the only thing being controlled is upstream fossil fuel extraction).

Then there’s a less positive point – but as suggested above, I think we could draw a valuable lesson from it:

5. The ICBL has some difficulty in enforcing the treaty. Not all the countries are signatories, and of those who have, there are sometimes violations although the only really serious one so far appears to have been Yemen in 2011. By its own admission, the ICBL lacks a formal mechanism to address violations. They’re exploring ways to deal with this at present.

How could CGC ensure that its rules are enforced? Should it in fact have the responsibility for doing so, or should that fall to some other organisation? I’ve some suggestions about that in my next post on precedents for CGC, and in the meantime, would very much welcome comments.


Featured image from the Acceptance International website.

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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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Why negotiations and the IPCC are unlikely to make sure we’ll be safe

This December the COP21 will take place in Paris. This will be the 21st international attempt under this banner to address environmental problems. Why has this international approach been unsuccessful in sufficiently addressing climate change so far?

The IPCC and the UNFCCC framework

There are several aspects that make the current system of international collaboration to address climate change an unnecessarily troublesome process. The first being that to fully address the problem 170 wildly different countries with completely different cultures have to agree with each other. There are many geo-political tensions and international conflicts between nation-states that have nothing to do with climate change but negatively impact the negotiation process. The climate-related conflicts, which can be expected to increase if we keep failing to address climate change, make the process of finding common ground increasingly unlikely. This is a structural problem with regard to how the climate negotiations are set up: they require countries to agree with each other. Nation-states are more likely to agree with an independent organisation than another government whom they regard as their enemy or competitor. In fact they only have to decide whether they agree on the mechanism to sufficiently address climate change, not whether they agree with what all the other countries are or aren’t doing. This is a fundamental difference between the CapGlobalCarbon approach and the IPCC approach.

Currently the climate change negotiations have a strong geopolitical component, making one of the most critical threats to humanity part of the unstable and unreliable power games of nation-states. Leaders do not, and are not expected, to behave in the interest of humanity as a whole. They are, at best, assumed to represent the inhabitants of a limited subset of humanity determined by the borders of their country. We need a system that allows leaders of nation states to do what they need to do; what is best for their own inhabitants.

Not only is the current process ill equipped to deal with the urgent problem of halting climate change, the focus of the negotiations is wrong. The aim is to regulate the emissions of CO2, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do as the burning of fossil fuels is a diffuse process. The extraction of fossil fuels is the elephant in the room, currently only addressed by the activists of the #keepitintheground campaign and by the divestment movement. The carbon bubble is regarded as a free-market phenomenon which investors have to be wary about, not something the IPCC or UNFCCC should actively be involved in regulating. Not only is the current way of addressing climate change ineffective, it is ineffective at addressing the wrong thing.

Many have put their hopes on the COP21 being successful. It is astounding to realise that the international community has failed 20 times to sufficiently address climate change. For how long do we have to keep telling ourselves that it all will be different this time around? We believe that the stakes are simply too high to put all our eggs in the same basket. A safeguard or a backup is needed, just in case the COP fails again.

The aim of CapGlobalCarbon is not to replace or discredit the IPCC or UNFCCC. CapGlobalCarbon would, when implemented, not interfere with the negotiation process and is intended to be complementary to the existing efforts to protect the Earth’s climate. Having a transparent, equitable and fair mechanism to address the carbon budget will free up time and resources for institutions such as the IPCC to address adaptation, damage & loss and sustainable development.

The UNFCCC treaty was initiated at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The aim of this treaty is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-induced] interference with the climate system”.[2] This stabilisation has not happened in the 23 years in which this treaty is active. In a sense this is a tragedy of the unmanaged commons situation. It is, for example, in the short-term interest of the world leaders to fuel their nation’s economies to provide stability and good chances for re-election. No-one is ultimately responsible and accountable for the damage humanity does to the planet. To make this more specific: There is no institution for “stable common pool resource management” which Elinor Ostrom regarded as essential for managing the commons. CapGlobalCarbon intends to fill that void in relation to fossil fuels by creating a transparent system designed with the commons in mind.

Bulkeley and Newell summarise the stalemate position of the climate negotiation process brilliantly in one single question: “Can a fragmented and often highly conflictual political system made up of over 170 sovereign states and numerous other actors achieve the high (and historically unprecedented) levels of cooperation and policy coordination needed to manage environmental problems on a global scale?” [2]

The problems with unfettered and lightly regulated carbon trading

The idea that effective climate regulation can be created with the involvement of industry, for example in the form of a “Public Private Partnership”, is proven to be untrue as the lack of a non-negotiable cap on carbon and the high amounts of corruption in carbon trading schemes have shown. In the promotion of CapGlobalCarbon we encountered initial distrust by environmentalists simply because it sounds like “Cap&Trade”. The latter scheme has nothing to do with actually capping the extraction of carbon and is compromised by the 600 million tonnes of CO2 that have been emitted outside of its already vast carbon budget [3]. The idea that it is possible and desirable to offset carbon emissions is fundamentally flawed and has no place in any genuine response to climate change. Ethically it is a problematic approach: It is like saying one is allowed to poison a river as long as one pays someone else to clean up another river. Technically there are problems as well: it is not possible to remove carbon as permanently as it would be when kept in the ground. This is why it is impossible to offset any carbon with CapGlobalCarbon. The extraction of the unburnable carbon will simply not be allowed. This is one of the reasons why a “price on carbon” is not enough to ensure the carbon that would cause the climate to warm more than 2 degrees stays unextracted. Some carbon should be, and can be off-limits to the market, if we choose to make it so.

From feasibility to necessity: representing Earth

We need to face up to the fact that the radical change needed to address climate change is unlikely to come from the inside. A separate system, outside of the negotiation process, has to be set up with the purpose of keeping the unburnable fossil fuel in the ground while dividing the remaining extractable fuel in a fair and equitable fashion. The CapGlobalCarbon team is no longer buying into the notion that it is “complex” to decrease global atmospheric CO2 levels and that we all need to agree with each other to do the right thing. Effective, global action is possible, it is just not happening within the current process of negotiations. We know perfectly well what we can burn and what has to stay in the ground [4]. It should not be that difficult to draw the conclusion that we already decided that this carbon is off limits. In 1992 most nations agreed that “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” should be prevented. Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fuels outside of the carbon budget is a direct violation of that agreement. The question is how to divide the remaining fossil resources that are within the planetary carbon budget, not if we should also burn (a portion of) the other fossil resources.

A parallel program as a safeguard for the IPCC process

We are in desperate need of a plan B, a plan that starts from what is necessary instead of what is politically feasible, a plan without offsets, backdoors or buy-out options, in short: a plan that has the continuation and well being of life on earth as its primary focus.

Who else is asking the “what if” question? Who else is disenchanted by the current climate negotiation process? Who else believes carbon offsetting to be seriously compromised, since it can facilitate corruption and marginal greenwashing? If you are, we want to meet you at the COP21 to build a coherent alternative where governments and corporations can opt-in on our terms, instead of dictating the rules from the onset. There are many fantastic ideas on the local, regional and national level that create systems of governance in favour of the commons. Let’s collaboratively re-imagine what grassroots action and collaboration on a global level can be.



Featured image: “Politicians discussing climate change”. Sculpture by Isaac Cordel which formed part of a street installation in Berlin in 2011 called “Follow the Leaders”.

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Update on the Climate Change Litigation Mock Trial

For the past two years members of the Feasta climate group, in collaboration with a number of other organisations, have been planning to hold a mock trial in the UK. The recent ruling in favour of the claimants in Urgenda’s case against the Dutch Government has been of great encouragement to them.

Our mock trial is seen as a step towards a real court action to seek a judgement against the UK government, requiring it to put in place a mechanism or mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a rate and extent commensurate with the best scientific evidence. Our legal team has advised us that a case based on the legal principles of Rationality and Proportionality would be most likely to succeed in the UK. The claimants would allege that the government’s actions are irrational and disproportionate in relation to the need for urgent and far-reaching cuts in emission documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s AR5 report and in further more recent scientific publications.

The mock trial aims:

1. To facilitate an actual court case (or cases) in the near future by:
∗ Serving as a catalyst to help acquire funding for this;
∗ Attracting a claimant or claimants;
∗ Building a legal team;
∗ Organising and testing evidence;
∗ Acquiring expert witnesses;
∗ Developing an instruction manual to guide future claimants, legal professionals and law students.

2. To raise awareness among the general public, NGO’s, climate scientists, politicians etc. of the need for court action to address the gulf between the urgent and far-reaching actions on Climate Change dictated by the best and most up-to-date scientific evidence, and the British Government’s disproportionate response to this need.

3. Assist in the training of law students by increasing their knowledge of Climate Change Litigation and by developing their skills in pleading.

Our Team:  Professor Jane Holder has agreed that University College London will host the event and provide an event organiser. Barristers, Richard Lord QC, Marc Willers QC and Richard Harvey assisted by lawyers from ClientEarth, Emily Shirley, a non-practising barrister, and Rajeev Sangroula a lawyer with an MLB in Environmental Law have agreed to help to prepare the case for the claimant in the mock trial. Roger Cox, who organised the Urgenda court case, will offer advice. We have identified a possible mock Judge. Prof Kevin Anderson, a leading climate scientist, and Dr Geoff Meaden who was an expert witness in the trial that led to the acquittal of the Kingsnorth Six have agreed to act as expert witnesses.
We have an embryonic publicity team including the journalist Adrienne Margolis and Hugh Chapman, who has experience in web design and publicity along with Andy Terry to help with our social media presence. We have already benefitted from advice from the science journalist Wendy Barnaby.

The mock trial and CapGlobalCarbon

Climate Change litigation could provide a tool to facilitate the introduction of CapGlobalCarbon.  Without CGC in place  a judge could only make a court order to require a government to cut emissions at a faster rate as in the case of Urgenda versus the Dutch Goverment.  However without an effective mechanism to do this the government would eventually breach the order and would be back in court.  The problem would be solved eventually if instead judges could require governments to cooperate in the establishment of a global scheme such as CGC. When such a scheme was in place the judge could simply require a recalcitrant government to comply fully with the scheme.

If you are interested in getting involved with the litigation project, please read on. Below is a list of ways to help.

Fund raising: Can you join our fund raising group to raise money for additional publicity for the mock trial and to pay for the real trial? Can you contact potential donors by phone or email? Can you help write a skeleton grant application that can be tailored to specific donors with different asks/budgets? Can you donate something yourself?
Publicity: Can you help by contacting Guardian Films, The BBC etc to see if they are prepared to make a film for national and local t.v. coverage? Can you make a video for Youtube or know of someone who might? Can you blog for us? Can you write and distribute press releases?

Conclusion: The mock and real trial are likely to cause a stir in Westminster and generate a lot of useful publicity. We live in hope that climate litigation will eventually make a major contribution to a safer world.
For further information and offers of help please contact Dr David P. Knight at

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Framing the Paris climate change summit

It’s encouraging to see so much coverage of climate change in the news at the moment – as George Marshall says, it’s something that can only be dealt with if we all start actually talking about it publicly instead of treating it as a taboo subject, much as with racism and sexism. The Pope’s encyclical is rightly getting a lot of attention, as is the mass lobby of Parliament in the UK. 

However, reading the book Framespotting by Laurence and Alison Matthews has reminded me how important it is to keep an eye on the way climate change is being framed in all this discussion. One example that leapt out at me recently was a rather gloomy Guardian article from last Sunday, entitled “Climate change conference in Paris later this year is of global importance”.

I certainly can’t disagree with the article’s title. However, the article goes on to pose questions and provide answers which seem to reflect a very specific, and to my mind quite limiting, point of view on climate change action. 

Below I’ve quoted two question-and-answers from the article. Beneath each one there’s a reframing of the the answer from the point of view of CapGlobalCarbon.

Question 1: “What are the problems that lie ahead for delegates in making ..[their] commitment [to emissions reduction] work?

Here’s the Guardian’s answer:

“To keep any temperature rise to a 2C limit, delegates will have to call for pledges from countries and power blocks (such as the European Union) and then settle individual targets. That will be extremely tricky. In addition, once particular cuts have been agreed in carbon outputs, a commission will have to be set up to monitor nations’ emissions in order to check that they are keeping to their pledges.”

And here’s my answer with CGC framing:

“To keep any temperature rise to a 2C limit, delegates will need to lay out a framework for capping and gradually reducing total aggregate global fossil fuel production, as stated by the IPCC’s founding chair, Sir John Houghton. Production would be much easier to tackle than emissions as the former takes place at a small number of sites while emissions arise from a myriad. Such a system – known as Cap & Share – would be relatively straightforward to implement and police; far more so than the previous strategy of trying to set targets for individual nations’ emissions and then implement them on a case-by-case basis, which has led to endless wrangling.

“When a country signs onto Cap & Share it will undertake to ensure that fossil fuel extractors acting within its borders are in compliance with the fossil fuel cap and will also distribute the revenue from emissions permit sales in equal share to its population. Over time, as the positive results of this system – in the shape of substantially reduced poverty and inequality, and an increased freeing up of finance to help with the shift to renewable energy – become clearer, popular pressure would likely have an affect on laggard countries, encouraging them to climb on board”.

The second of the Guardian’s questions I’ve chosen is

“What will be the cost?”

Here I had issues with the question itself. Effective action on climate change will certainly cost something – to some people. But it won’t necessarily hurt everyone financially, as we’ll see below.

In any case, here’s the Guardian’s answer:

“The high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today are the handiwork of the industrialised developed nations. Developing countries will therefore demand a clear commitment from them to provide financial support to help them to adapt to a hotter planet and to mitigate against the worst effects of global warming. By 2020, the amount of money needed for this purpose is expected to be around $100bn a year. Pledges to reach such a funding level will be another key milestone that will have to be reached in Paris.”

Here’s how I would put that question and answer, again with a CGC frame:

“How will action on climate change affect people financially?”

“If the Paris summit provides an opportunity to introduce a commons-based system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, individuals and communities throughout the world who use fossil fuels sparingly would come out considerably ahead financially. This is because everyone would receive some compensation for the dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmoephere. The funding for this compensation would come from the revenue generated by the auctioning of permits to fossil fuel companies to allow them to produce quantities of fossil fuels strictly limited by the number of permits they buy. Fossil fuel prices would rise as the companies pass on to consumers the costs of buying the permits. However in many households the compensation would be more than the increase in their fuel bills, much more in the case of those that consume the least. The revenue from permit sales would be available for whatever individuals and communities deemed appropriate, which would likely include widespread investment in healthcare and education, legal support to safeguard community-owned land from land-grabbing, and in increasingly affordable renewable energy as well as other measures to help prevent and adapt to climate change.

“Those who use fossil fuel profligately in any participating country would have to pay an appropriate price for this use and in such cases, this would be greater than the revenue they receive. They would therefore lose out in purely financial terms. However they may find this cost to be a price well worth paying as the decrease in inequality would very likely lead to a stabler economy, reduced crime rates, and a reduction in stress-related illness, quite apart from the reduced risk of calamitous climate change which is in everyone’s interests.”

Thus the CapGlobalCarbon answers to the two questions are simpler, fairer and more upbeat than the Guardian’s ones.


The costs obsession

There’s more to be said on costs. The obsession that so many commentators, including journalists, express with them seems particularly badly misplaced given the situation we’re facing. Focussing on costs makes climate change seem a less acute problem than it really is.

During the Second World War, the Allied forces didn’t spend time worrying about how much the war was costing them. The priority for them was to defeat the Nazis. Shouldn’t climate change be considered to be at least as important a priority? 

To show just how ludicrous this costs obsession can get, here’s a quote from Roz Bulleid, senior climate and environment policy adviser at the trade association UK Steel, who was talking about why he thinks the companies he represents should be given free permits to continue emitting greenhouse gases under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme:

“For companies competing internationally with other sites around the world with no carbon costs it is vitally important they get 100 percent free allocation.”

And here’s my reframing of his statement:

“For companies competing internationally with other sites around the world where potentially catastrophic pollution takes place with no attempt made to regulate it, it is vitally important that they themselves also be allowed to pollute freely, regardless of the consequences”.

I’m glad to see that the pope in his encyclical has drawn some much-needed attention to the problems with these types of cap-and-trade emission permit schemes.

The other problem with the costs obsession, as I mentioned above, is that it implies that costs are (a) universal (b) always a bad thing. Both of these assumptions are wrong. George Marshall makes a lot of good points about why we aren’t tackling climate change effectively, but I think even he mis-frames the issue of costs when he says things like “Here you have a situation which involves certain costs in the short-term in order to avoid potentially larger but uncertain costs at some point in the future”.

Again, I have to ask – would these “certain costs” apply to everyone or just to some people, and is it possible that there could even be a financial gain to others? And what if those who lose in financial terms still end up gaining significantly in other ways?

All of these issues need to be brought up, and then brought up again, as part of our global conversation on climate change. So I hope that in Paris they’ll get plenty of attention.

Caroline Whyte will among the CapGlobalCarbon delegates at the Paris summit to promote CapGlobalCarbon.

Featured image: mirror on wall. Author: Asif Akbar. Source:

[Edit September 25 2015 to clarify the first “answer”.]

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