Friday, 27 November 2015

Climate change: Who's responsible?

A month ago, the New Economics Foundation asked whether 'historic contributions' to climate change should count:
Futures Forum: Climate Change: Who's doing their part and who isn't?

In which case, the UK, as the earliest polluter of the industrial age, should be contributing a little more to reducing carbon emissions:
From Industrial Revolution to Green Revolution | Foreign Office Blogs

The NEF asks the same questions as the UN conference opens:

Energy round-up: who’s responsible?

Photo credit:   Daniel Lerps

We’re often told that climate change is so hard to tackle because the enemy is ourselves – and we’re all equally responsible.
But is that really correct? The truth is some of us are far more responsible than others.
Inequalities in emissions
In the UK there are significant differences in emissions across different incomes (see this week’s graph). The richest 10% are responsible for 16% of our emissions – two and a half times as many emissions as the poorest 10%.
Globally, the situation is more extreme. The richest 10% of individuals are responsible for 45% of total emissions – at least fifteen times as many emissions as the world’s poorest 10%.
But does it matter?
Inequalities in emissions are problematic, just as inequalities in income or wealth are. In fact they’re closely linked. But they differ for one main reason: there’s no fixed amount of global income, but for greenhouse gas emissions there’s a very well-defined limit.
We know there’s a fixed budget of emissions that we can use up before we bust the 2 degrees warming limit. Any extra amount of emissions that I use today is an amount that others must not use within that fixed budget.
Should each unit of emission be treated the same, or are they different depending on how many of them you consume? This is an ethical question with big implications for energy policy.
Tackling the inequalities
On its own, a carbon tax ignores these inequalities – it charges the same price for each tonne, whether it’s your first or your hundredth.
Economists often dismiss this issue by pointing to the possibility of compensating the poor. The problem is that’s really hard to do – attempts to identify and support the vulnerable, such as winter fuel payments or means-tested retrofitting programmes, have a poor record of preventing the vulnerable from slipping into poverty.
An alternative option is to make the pricing system itself fairer.
This could be done through increasing block tariffs for energy use, where after a certain point you pay a higher price for extra energy use, or with atiered levy on frequent flying, where each year you pay extra tax for each flight after your tax-free first.
Paris climate summit
International negotiations have tried to get around the problem by pretending it doesn’t exist.
Instead of asking the difficult question ‘What is a fair distribution of our carbon budget?’ our global leaders simply ask that each country does what it can and ignores the budget altogether.
By doing so, those with economic and political power impose the cost of catastrophic climate change on those without such power. Those people will be the global poor, who live in the worst affected regions and have least capacity to protect themselves.
This Sunday, on the eve of the talks, join us at the People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs in London to show them that they have our support.   

Don't miss these:

  • Who’s responsible for CO2 emissions?

In other news…

A lifeline for steel
The recent high profile liquidation of the Redcar steel plant in the North East of England resulted in thousands of lost jobs. Now, the Chancellorannounced in his Autumn Statement that the steel industry will be exempt from environmental charges. He also announced that the Department for Energy and Climate Change budget will fall by 22% -hitting primarily jobs and the remaining incentives for renewables and energy efficiency – and restated his long-term commitments to nuclear and shale gas.
Amber Rudd kills coal
The Energy Secretary made a much-anticipated speech in which she ‘reset’ energy policy. In particular, she announced that coal power would be phased out by 2025 in favour of gas, to much applause from environmental groups. But given that coal was expected to largely disappear by then anyway, the speech wasn’t really about replacing coal with gas, but rather replacing renewables with gas. This emphasis on gas is lamented by many.
The carbon bubble continues
A new Carbon Tracker report estimates that $2 trillion of fossil fuel company assets will be at risk if we take concerted action to limit global warming to 2 degrees, as we must. Since many of us have pensions and other assets invested in these companies this is a financial risk to us all. The calls for divestment of pensions and other funds from these companies were heightened when Thomas Piketty and Tim Jackson publicly backed the move.
Did climate change cause the Syrian conflict?
Prince Charles suggested in an interview that the on-going Syrian conflict may have been partly caused by droughts brought about by climate change. While it’s hard to say which proximate causes were most influential in instigating the conflict, research has made clear that climate change is already making severe droughts in Syria more frequent.
Marching for climate justice
The Conference of the Parties (also known as COP21) starts this weekend in Paris. Unfortunately, the planned marches and demonstrations in the French capital have been cancelled. With global temperatures rising dramatically, we need to make the show of people power even stronger everywhere else. If you’re in London this Sunday 29th November then join me and other NEF colleagues at the People's March for Climate, Justice and Jobs, and make it the loudest demand for justice ever.

Energy round-up: who’s responsible? | New Economics Foundation

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