Time for Climate Justice

By Eloi Laurent

On September 18th 2019, 16 years old climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared before the United States House of Representatives. When asked to submit a formal version of her inaugural statement, she replied that she would be giving lawmakers a copy of the IPPC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C, the so-called “SR 1.5“. “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists”, she said eloquently.

By the same token, when asked what words she wanted to be printed on the sails of the boat carrying her across the Atlantic Ocean from Sweden to the US, she asked for a blunt message urging citizens and policymakers to act upon climate knowledge: “Unite behind Science”. Greta Thunberg deserves considerable praise for her intelligence, courage and determination in the face of ignorance, skepticism and animosity. But she is wrong on one important point: nations and people around the world won’t unite behind science. They will only unite behind justice.

Any meaningful conversation among humans about reform, change and progress starts with debating justice principles at play and imagining institutions able to embody these principles. This is especially true of the titanic shift in attitudes and behaviors required by the climate transition, which goal is nothing short of saving the hospitality of the planet for humans.

Climate injustice is obvious in our world. On the one hand, a handful of countries, about ten percent (and a handful of people and industries within these countries) are responsible for 80% of human greenhouse gas emissions, causing climate change that is increasingly destroying the well-being of a considerable part of humanity around the world, but mostly in poor and developing nations. On the other hand, the vast majority of the people most affected by climate change (in Africa and Asia), numbering in the billions, live in countries that represent almost nothing in terms of responsibility but are highly vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of climate change (heat waves, hurricanes, flooding) triggered by the lifestyle of others, thousands of miles away.

Why is climate change still not mitigated and actually worsening before our eyes, while we have all the science, technology, economics, and policy tools we need to fix it? Largely because the most responsible are not the most vulnerable, and vice-versa.

And yet, the time may be ripe for climate justice to take center stage in international negotiations. Data compiled by the Global Carbon Project released last week show that top emitters are converging in terms of climate responsibility (table 1).

Of course, China remains by far the first polluter: the country has emitted in 2018 roughly twice the volume of CO2 than the US, thrice the amount of the EU, four times the amount of India, five times the amount of Russia. Consider the amount per capita, and the picture changes dramatically: a citizen of the United States emits more than twice CO2 than a Chinese. And yet, for the first time, a European is (slightly) less responsible than a Chinese in terms of per capita emissions. Conversely, it is well established that historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions falls largely on the shoulders of Western countries, with the US and the EU jointly responsible for half of emissions since the industrial revolution, while China only accounts for less than 15%. And yet, for the first time, China is as responsible as the US when emissions are counted since 1990 onwards (both countries accounting for 20% each of emissions over the 1990-2018 period).

It is thus the right time to devise actionable equity criteria, commonly agreed upon top emitters, as to how distributing the remaining “carbon budget” (the overall amount of emissions remaining before the Earth’s climate reaches a catastrophic tipping point, approximately 1200 billion tons of carbon that remain to be emitted over the next three decades so as to limit the rise of ground temperatures to around 2 degrees by the end of the 21st century).

But as incredible as it may seem, the formal global conversation has not yet started on climate justice: as the COP 25 ends in Madrid and all eyes turn to COP 26 for a renewed climate ambition, countries are still negotiating at the UN on volumes of emissions that do not take into account current and projected population, human development level, geographic basis (production vs. consumption emissions), historical responsibility, etc. By the same token, The Paris Agreement (2015) mentions the term “justice” only a single time, to affirm that signatories recognize “the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice’”. This is clearly a misinterpretation. The whole point of climate justice is precisely that it is not confined to a few nations or important for a few people: it should be the concern of all involved in climate negotiations.

It can be shown that the application of a hybrid but relatively simple model of climate justice based on five criteria would lead to substantially cutting global emissions in addition to the carbon budget (by 36%) over the next three decades which would ensure meeting the goal of 2 degrees, and even targeting 1.5 degrees, thereby enhancing the fairness of this common rule with respect to the most vulnerable countries and social groups (see table 2).

As available data make clear, we are collectively missing the wrong targets on climate. Even if all countries fulfilled their pledges and reach their targets, the increase in temperatures would still be of 3 degrees by the end of the 21st century (or twice the target agreed upon at the Paris Agreement in 2015). In other words, what is lacking is not just the political will but also the imagination. Climate justice is the way out of this impasse. Climate justice is the key to understanding and eventually solving the urgent climate crisis. Climate justice is the solution to climate change.

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The imperative of sustainability economic, social, environmental

OFCE[1], ECLM[2], IMK[3], AKW[4]

It was during the climax of the so-called Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that we engaged into the independent Annual Growth Survey – the project was first discussed at the end of the year 2011 and the first report was published in November 2011. Our aim, in collaboration with the S&D group at the European Parliament, has been to challenge and question the European Commission contribution to the European Semester, and to push it toward a more realistic macroeconomic policy, that is to say less focused on the short term reduction of public debt and more aware of the social consequences of the crisis and the austerity bias. For 7 years, we argued against a brutal austerity failing to deliver public debt control, we warned against the catastrophic risk of deflation. We also alerted on the social consequences of the deadly combination of economic crisis, increased labor market flexibility and austerity on inequalities, especially at the lower part of the income distribution. We cannot claim to have changed alone the policies of the Union, but we acknowledge some influence, although insufficient and too late to prevent the scars let by the crisis. Continue reading “The imperative of sustainability economic, social, environmental”

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Climate: Trump blows hot and cold

By Aurélien Saussay

Donald Trump has thus once again respected one of his campaign promises. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement is still not certain.

Some key figures in the US oil lobby, such as the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was former boss of Exxon-Mobil, along with its current CEO Darren Woods and the Governor of Texas, the leading oil producing state in the United States, are advising the President to keep the United States in the agreement – if only to influence the way it’s applied. Continue reading “Climate: Trump blows hot and cold”

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Measuring well-being and sustainability: A special issue of the Revue de l’OFCE

By Eloi Laurent

This issue of the Revue de l’OFCE (no. 145, February 2016) presents some of the best works that are being produced at a rapid clip on indicators of well-being and sustainability.

Why want to measure well-being? Because the idea that economic growth represents human development, in the sense that growth represents a good summary of its various dimensions, is simply false. GDP growth is not a prerequisite for human development; on the contrary, it is now often an impediment (as is illustrated by the exorbitant health costs of air pollution in India and China, two countries that concentrate one-third of the human population). Continue reading “Measuring well-being and sustainability: A special issue of the Revue de l’OFCE”

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From the suburbs of London to global conflagration: a brief history of emissions

By Aurélien Saussay

A new interactive map of global CO2 emissions from 1750 to 2010 is helpful in understanding the historical responsibilities of the world’s different regions for the climate crisis.

The 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) ended on 12 December 2015 with a historic agreement. As 195 countries come to an accord on the need to limit global warming to 2 degrees by the end of the century, it is a good time to review the history of CO2 emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Right to the end of the negotiations, the question of the historical responsibility of the different countries has remained one of the main obstacles blocking the path to a global climate agreement. The recently industrialized emerging countries and the developing countries that are just beginning their economic take-off rightly refuse to provide efforts comparable to those of the developed countries. Continue reading “From the suburbs of London to global conflagration: a brief history of emissions”

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After the Paris Agreement – Putting an end to climate inconsistency

By Eloi Laurent

If the contents of the 32-page Paris Agreement (and the related decisions) adopted on 12 December 2015 by COP 21 had to be summarized in a single phrase, we could say that never have the ambitions been so high but the constraints so low. This is the basic trade-off in the text, and this was undoubtedly the condition for its adoption by all the world’s countries. The expectation had been that the aim in Paris was to extend to the emerging markets, starting with China and India, the binding commitments agreed in Kyoto eighteen years ago by the developed countries. What took place was exactly the opposite: under the leadership of the US government, which dominated this round of negotiations from start to finish right to the last minute (and where the EU was sorely absent), every country is now effectively out of Annex 1 of the Kyoto Protocol. They are released from any legal constraints on the nature of their commitments in the fight against climate change, which now amount to voluntary contributions that countries determine on their own and without reference to a common goal. Continue reading “After the Paris Agreement – Putting an end to climate inconsistency”

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Our house is on fire and we are only watching Paris

By Paul Malliet

As the 21st Conference of the Parties, COP21, began last week, all eyes were on Paris in the expectation of an ambitious global agreement that would limit the increase in global average temperature to 2°C and lead countries to begin swiftly to decarbonize their economies. But there is another battle taking place right now that is being ignored, even though it could have catastrophic consequences.

The primary forests and peatlands of Indonesia, located mainly on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (and considered one of the Earth’s three green lungs), have been ravaged by fire for months as a result of an unexpectedly long dry season, which was in turn fueled by an extremely large-scale El Niño phenomenon[1], but also and above all by the continuation of slash and burn practices, which, though illegal, are intended to deforest the land needed to expand the cultivation of palm oil. Continue reading “Our house is on fire and we are only watching Paris”

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The end of oil and coal

By Xavier Timbeau

The idea that we must put an end to the use of oil and coal is not new. It has been pushed for a long time by NGOs like 350.org and its gofossilfree campaign. What is more striking is that the Democratic primary candidate Senator Bernie Sanders has put the proposal at the heart of the US presidential election debate. Institutional investors and large fund holders have also announced their intention to limit or terminate their investments in coal (for example, Allianz and ING) and oil (the Dutch pension fund ABP). The urban development policies of some large cities are also leaning in that direction. Asked about this option, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, noted (cautiously) that this option was not irrational. Continue reading “The end of oil and coal”

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The COP 21 conference: the necessity of compromise

By Aurélien Saussay

On Tuesday, 6 October 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released a preliminary version of the draft agreement that will form the basis for negotiations at the Paris Conference in December. Six years after the Copenhagen agreement, widely described as a failure, the French Secretariat is making every effort to ensure the success of COP 21 – at the cost of a certain number of compromises. Although the text’s ambitiousness has been cut down, the strategy of taking “small steps” is what can make an agreement possible.

The project has renounced a binding approach, where each country’s contributions were negotiated simultaneously, and replaced that with a call for voluntary contributions, where each country makes its commitments separately. This step was essential: the Kyoto Protocol, though ambitious, was never ratified by the United States, the world’s principal emitter of carbon at the time – and it was the attempt to build a successor on that same model which resulted in the lack of agreement at Copenhagen. Continue reading “The COP 21 conference: the necessity of compromise”

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