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?



New Pentagon Report sees Climate Change as US National Security Threat

So, if you’re not convinced by the ethical perspectives on climate change, then maybe you’ll be convinced to take it seriously if you are told that it could make state less secure going forward. In a new report from the US Department of Defence (i.e., “The Pentagon”), climate change is seen as a “threat multiplier.” In the language of Homer-Dixon, this means that climate change is viewed not as an exogenous cause of conflict, but as a factor that could negatively influence hypothesized exogenous causes of both civil and inter-state conflict. This is how Bloomberg News responded to the release of the report:

Global warming will worsen many of the challenges the U.S. military already is grappling with, the department said in areport yesterday.

“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today -– from infectious disease to terrorism,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a blog post. “While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”

Here is the report in its entirely. I am also providing a video excerpt of an MSNBC story on the release of the report, which has the added virtue of including an interview with the author of one of the readings that I think at least 2 of you read for Wednesday’s seminar! The author is Chris Parenti, who has written an interesting book called Climate of Chaos.

Who owns the arctic? Environment and Security

Our next set of readings assesses the environment/conflict/security nexus. The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, is a fantastic place to find resources related to this topic. Based on the content on its website, it looks to be a very busy place. The ECSP takes a look at the changing environment in the Arctic (due to climate change), and the implications of this from various perspectives–energy, geopolitics, environment, etc.–by asking scholars working on this topic a series of important questions.

Hayley Stevenson talks about who decides to fix climate change

I’m not certain that it’s cause for sustained consternation, but a few of my students (it was more than three) referred to the University of Sheffield’s Hayley Stevenson as a he in their most recent assignments. You may listen to her in the clip below addressing the topic of climate change and democracy. Not surprisingly, Professor Stevenson implicitly rejects my proposal of a global benevolent dictator (take that USA, China, and Stephen Harper) tasked with creating the global climate regime necessary to combat the potential effects of climate change. Stevenson prefers more democracy to less.

NDP MP Asks Canadian Parliament Why no PM Harper at UN Climate Summit

The UN Climate Summit of 2014 was held in New York earlier this week. More than 125 world leaders were present, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Amongst the most noteworthy no-shows were the leaders of some of the world’s largest GHG-emitting countries, such as China, India, Russia, and Germany. Joining his colleagues on the no-show was our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. The Canadian government did send a delegate from the ministerial level, however. This did not satisfy the official opposition–The New Democratic Party, as MP Megan Leslie used question period to ask the Conservative government to justify Harper’s non-appearance in New York on Tuesday. Here’s the clip (Leslie’s first offering is in French, so if you don’t follow, the English transcript is provided on youtube:



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.

International Climate Treaties–What are they good for?

Here’s a topical story from the BBC website about a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which alerts readers to a record level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in oceans (see the charts below). What interested me more than the story itself, however, was an interesting exchange in the comments section. Here’s the exchange:


767.AndyC555 -” Whatever happened to that hole in the ozone layer that environmentalists told us was going to kill us all with radiation from space back in the 1980s and 90s?”

It was closed, thanks to the Montreal Protocol 1987 and international co-operation. CFCs were banned

Posted without further comment.