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?


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?

Naomi Klein Interviewed about her new climate politics book

Naomi Klein, who has written extensively about global political issues was recently interviewed on Democracy Now about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. This is one of those books whose content is easily identifiable from the title. In essence, Klein posits that capitalism, at least in its current form as championed by right-wing think tanks world-wide (but especially in the United States of America), is inherently at odds with protecting the climate. This is a sentiment articulated by some of you during our session earlier this week. There can’t simply be tinkering at the margins. The protection of the global environment requires a radical re-thinking of the relationships amongst, civil society, the market, and the state. [Incidentally, Klein’s book promotion tour will hit Vancouver on October 26th (at UBC).]

Here’s part of the transcript from the interview, which you can view below:

NAOMI KLEIN…So the argument I’m making is really quite a hopeful one. I think if we do respond to climate change with the decisiveness that the scientist[s] are telling us we do, if we respond in line with science, we have a chance to remake our economy, the global economy, for the better…

AMY GOODMANNaomi Klein, in your book, This Changes Everything, you… talk about a number of these [right-wing think tanks] groups. You open with them in a chapter called “The Right is Right.”

NAOMI KLEIN: OK, well, let’s be clear: They are not right about the science. They’re wrong about the science. But I think what the right understands, and it’s important to understand, that the climate change denier movement in the United States is entirely a product of the right-wing think tank infrastructure…The Heartland Institute, which people mostly only know in terms of the fact that it hosts these annual conferences of climate change skeptics or deniers, it’s important to know that the Heartland Institute is first and foremost a free market think tank. It’s not a scientific organization. It is—just like the other ones I listed, it exists to push the ideology, the familiar ideology, of deregulation, privatization, cuts to government spending, and sort of triumphant free market, you know, backed with enormous corporate funding, because that’s a very, very profitable ideology.

And when I interviewed the head of the Heartland Institute, Joe Bast, for this project, he was quite open that it wasn’t that he found a problem with the science first. He said, when he looked at the science and listened to what scientists were saying about how much we need to cut our emissions, he realized that climate change could be—if it were true, it would justify huge amounts of government regulation, which he politically opposes. And so, he said, “So then we looked at the science, and we found these problems,” right? So the issue is, they understand that if the science is true, their whole ideological project falls apart, because, as I said, you can’t respond to a crisis this big, that involves transforming the foundation of our economy—our economy was built on fossil fuels, it is still fueled by fossil fuels. The idea in this—we hear this from a lot of liberal environmental groups, that we can change completely painlessly—just change your light bulbs, or just a gentle market mechanism, tax and relax, no problem. This is what they understand well, that in fact it requires transformative change. That change is abhorrent to them…

…So when I say “the right is right,” I think that they have a better grasp on the political implications of the science, of what it means to how we need to change our economy and what the role of the public sphere is and the role of collective action is, better than some of those sort of big, slick, centrist green groups that are constantly trying to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable with a booming capitalist economy. And we’re always hearing about green growth and how it’s great for business. You know, yeah, you can—there will be markets in green energy and so on, but other businesses are going to have to contract in ways that requires that strong intervention.