Nicholas Stern (of the Report) argues that climate agreement should not be legally binding

We used the last session of IS450 as a chance to hold a mock United Nations climate conference simulation. The participants brought forward many intriguing and instructive topics, and I applaud them for putting in the time and energy to make the simulation as successful as I, at least, judged it to be. At some point during the proceedings, there was majority agreement (finally!) on one small element of the overall framework resolution. Interestingly, though, immediately upon the successful passing of that small piece of the framework a couple of delegates put forward a motion to make the obligations legally binding. A heated discussion ensued debating the merits and disadvantages of such an approach.

In the current round of UNFCCC climate negotiations, behind held in Lima, Peru, Nicholas Stern (author of the well-known Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change) has argued against making international climate treaty obligations legally binding. What is Lord Stern’s rationale for this?

“Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility,” he said.

“That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

In Lima, negotiators are trying to hammer out the format that mitigation efforts should take. By the end of March next year countries have to declare their hands, but they have yet to formalize what will be included in these commitments and what will not.

Lord Stern believes that grounding the process in the laws and promises that countries undertake by themselves is a better model for a deal than a top-down process like Kyoto.

“It will be enforceable and deliverable through the arrangements and laws in the countries themselves.

“That way you will get stronger ambition as countries won’t be tempted to be hesitant about some type of international sanction.”

What do you think about Lord Stern argument? Would you support voluntary obligations over mandatory ones?

Here is an interview with Lord Stern from earlier this week in Lima, wherein he speaks on the link between economic growth, development, and better climate responsibility?

 

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Interviewed on Canadian Television

Host Peter Mansbridge, of the Canadian Broadcasting Coroporation’s (CBC) evening news program, The National, interviewed United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon earlier this week on issues related to climate change and the Alberta oil sands. (I’ll have more next week about the anti-pipeline protests on Burnaby Mountain (in the vicinity of SFU) next week.)

Here are some excerpts:

Ban Ki-Moon: I know the domestic politics in Canada and Australia…but this is a global issue.

Peter Mansbridge: But the Canadian argument has always been, if everybody’s not in, we’re not in. [This obviously refers to the Kyoto Protocol’s division of countries into those that are required to make cuts (so-called Annex I countries) and those (mostly ‘developing’ countries) that do not.]

Ban Ki-Moon: China and [the] United States have taken such a bold initiative, Germany has been a leading country now, and [in] the European Union, twenty-eight countries have shown solidarity and unity. Therefore, it is only natural that Canada as one of the G-7 countries should take a leadership role.

The Secretary-General also spoke about the Alberta oil sands, which have been in the news lately in our part of the world as the result of protests aimed at Kinder Morgan over its plans to increase (three-fold) the flow of tar sands oil (bitumen) through an existing pipeline that runs through Burnaby Mountain to waiting oil tankers in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, to almost one million barrels per day.

Peter Mansbridge: Should Canadians, or the Canadian government, look beyond the oil sands to make its decisions about climate change?

Ban Ki-Moon: Energy is a very important, this is a cross-cutting issue. There are ways to make transformative changes from a fossil fuel-based economy to a climate-resilient economy by investing wisely in renewable energy resources.

Peter Manbridge: So back away from…

Ban Ki-Moon: Yes, Canada is an advanced economic country…you have many technological innovations, so with the technological innovation and financial capacity, you have many ways to make some transformative changes.

This is the key; the political and societal will has to be created and sustained to force our leaders to make the requisite changes, which will move our country towards an economy that is climate-resilient. An economically-sustainable future and economic well-being are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that not not only are they not mutually exclusive, but that that each is necessary for the other. If we don’t start moving away from our “extractivist economic structure”, we in Canada face the prospect of a future with tremendous ecological and environmental degradation coupled with economic despair, when our leaders finally realize that rather than using our current wealth to innovate away from the extraction and toward energy innovation, we have squandered our wealth on fining ever cheaper ways to dig up crap that the world no longer wants to buy.

“Polluted and poor”–how’s that for a political campaign slogan?

Vancouver Archipelago–what will happen when Greenland and Antartic Ice Sheets melt

This blog is back from an end-of-semester-induced slumber with some important posts. Here is post, the first:

Here’s an intriguing map, posted on the spatialities.com web site.  It shows what Vancouver would look like with an expected 80-meter sea-level rise, which is what the United States Geological Survey predicts would happen were the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets to melt completely (remember that these are land-based ice sheets).

Most of the current global land ice mass is located in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets (table 1). Complete melting of these ice sheets could lead to a sea-level rise of about 80 meters, whereas melting of all other glaciers could lead to a sea-level rise of only one-half meter.

Don’t go and sell your Fairview condo just yet, however, as this scenario is not projected to complete for between 1,000 and 10,000 years. Of course, this is a process that develops incrementally (though not linearly) over time and the city would be deeply affected adversely with only a fraction of that projected rise in sea levels.

For those who may doubt that the world’s glaciers are melting, here is video of the largest glacier ‘calving’ event ever caught on film. The end of the clip demonstrates the extent of change in the rate of melting and glacial retreat over the last century. Just watch!