Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ex-heads of state tell current heads of state how to solve climate crisis

[In] the Club de Madrid, membership [is] limited to former heads of state. (Actually, even heads of state can get blackballed.) Those former heads of state are trying to get their successors to do what they couldn't and tackle the climate crisis. In collaboration with the United Nations Foundation, the Club today released their recommendations for what the world should do on the next round of climate crisis. The ex-heads acknowledge the severity of the crisis and call for current leaders to facilitate rapid reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, or face massive disaster

The recommendations are along the lines of the Stern report: at least 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 (30% by 2020); it will only cost 1% of GDP; and will be cheaper now than later.

This emphasizes two points for me: the almost complete failure of government and democracy, ie that it cannot do what needs to be done. On the contrary, heads of government are committed to short term vested interests (ie, the fossil fuel industry) and can neither speak nor act in the crisis. Only after they have left office can the obvious be stated....

Secondly and following from this, leadership does not and perhaps cannot come from government. It must come from elsewhere and force government to (belatedly) act.

They also call for an international carbon tax system, but are light on details of how this would work. They argue that carbon taxes are "easier to implement than cap-and-trade schemes and are economically efficient. A system of harmonized, universal carbon taxes should be agreed by the international community." Uh, if we can't even get cap-and-trade, how are we going to get a carbon tax? And how do we deal with the problem that carbon taxes don't provide certainty about exactly how much reductions will be achieved -- maybe people will just to decide to bite the bullet, pay more taxes, and keep on polluting.

Firstly, it is once again admitted (what most economists, including conservative economists agree) that the carbon tax is the superior mechanism to 'cap and trade.' It will not happen however, and 'cap and trade' will be implemented for the reasons as stated above. Secondly, if the tax is too low to act as a real disincentive to reduce emissions, then the answer is obvious: increase the rate of the tax. This is an advantage of the carbon tax, not a defect: that it can be implemented incrementally, and ratcheted up as required. The carbon tax will also raise revenue that is desperately needed for a number of projects, such as research and development of renewable energy or building of light and heavy rail networks.

take note of how tropical biofuels are destroying the forests and driving global warming, with palm oil plantations in Indonesia alone responsible for more than 8 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions; on the teleconference for journalists covering the report, I got to ask former Chilean President Richard Lagos and former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth how to reconcile that observation with the report's backing for biofuels. Lagos responded by saying that the type of biofuel used had to be looked at closely, and Wirth pointed the way towards cellulosic ethanol. It seems the biofuel-as-planetary-savior argument may finally be beginning to die, even at the highest levels where it was once most fashionable.

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