The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of India will hold the 12th annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) from February 2 to 4. This year’s Summit is themed “Protecting the Global Commons: 20 years post Rio,” and will aim to develop a path forward towards consensus between industrialized and developing countries on governance of climate change, biodiversity, and forestry, among other issues. The Summit will assess the state of sustainable development 20 years after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in advance of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development this June. Featured speakersat this year’s DSDS will include several heads of state, among them Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as numerous ministers, government officials, and leaders from business, academia, and civil society.

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit will take place February 2 - 4, source: TERI

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit will take place February 2 - 4, source: TERI

Climate change and clean energy access will be among the focus areas discussed at the Summit, with a particular emphasis on the gap between global North and South in terms of development needs, access to technology, and responsibility for global greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a study by the World Resources Institute found that between 1850 and 2002, the United States contributed the greatest share of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions with 29.3 of the global total, followed by the European Union at 26.5 percent. Over the same period, India was responsible for just 2.2 percent of global emissions. While industrialized countries reached current levels of affluence by burning coal and oil, increasingly constrained fossil fuel resources and the threat of global climate change make this an unsustainable path for developing countries. While grappling with the impacts of climate change they largely did not cause, developing countries like India must also explore new paths for sustainable development.

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Climate Change, Energy Access, equity, India, low-carbon, sustainable development

BC-byg.-496Nearly every day at COP15 I have found myself surrounded by various government officials, clean tech CEOs, and energetic environmental youth.  Last night was a pleasant change of pace and conversation when I attended a discussion among leaders from US labor unions and environmental groups. Rather than dwell on emissions targets or parts per million CO2, this discussion dug into the values of American workers and their implications for climate action support in the US.

These values turn out to be very simple: People want jobs they can be proud of, that support their communities, and that provide security into the future. Members of the Blue-Green Alliance gathered in Copenhagen to remind people that the impact of climate legislation on these factors is just as important as the environmental impact – and both must be considered in concert if we are to build broad-based support for an environmentally sustainable economy.   The group also spoke to the positive global implications for an alliance between labor and environment groups.  As Jerry Hudson, Vice President of SEIU (Service Employees International Union), put it, “jobs will be affected by the way we think about the planet [so] we all have skin in this game. Labor and environmental standards are important the world over.” 

The Blue-Green Alliance stands as an important achievement in the US where regional, state, and non-governmental climate action fills the void left by an uncooperative federal government. The group hosts dialogues between its’ labor and environment member groups that include the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), SEIU, and Utility Workers Union of America (AFL-CIO) and sets joint positions on environmental issues.  The group has proposed Copenhagen outcomes that it claims would benefit workers and the environment.  The obvious points include support for clean energy and energy-efficiency technologies and support for job-transition training. Other demands are for financial support to adaptation and deforestation measures, as well as calls for  “transparency, verification and accountability” for every country’s climate mitigating actions.  The final request is extremely important for American businesses, the alliance said, so that U.S. and Canadian industries can adequately compare environmental responsibility against competitor businesses in foreign countries. These other countries have also caught on to the value of a blue-green alliance.  A European leader at last night’s discussion declared, “this is one of the American experiences we would like to import to Europe.”

The greatest value I see in joining labor and environment groups is the way in which both movements inform the other so that they are more effective in communicating their messages.  “Green jobs” are often communicated in vague terms by environmental groups.  We imagine hard-hatted workers at solar plants and wind turbine factories.  In fact, a massive variety of jobs can be turned Green.  Worldwatch writer Michael Renner has proposed a more robust definition of Green jobs:

We define green jobs as positions in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, installation, and maintenance, as well as scientific and technical, administrative, and service-related activities, that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency and avoidance strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution. But green jobs also need to be good jobs that meet longstanding demands and goals of the labor movement, i.e., adequate wages, safe working conditions, and worker rights, including the right to organize labor unions. (You can read the Worldwatch report here)

Labor groups have also helped define concrete and practical ways in which currently non-green jobs can be easily transitioned to green.  According to BGA Director Dave Foster, every job sector has reciprocal green opportunities. “Steel plants will make more wind turbine parts than car parts, the automotive industry will turn to smaller, more efficient, and fully electric vehicles, the nuclear industry will continue to play its role in generating carbon-free energy, and coal plants could potentially be converted for use with other fuel sources, although we all agree that carbon capture and sequestration technology needs additional research and funding.”

A representative from the American Federation of Teachers focused on green jobs outside of the service sector. “Training and retraining the workforce from early education to adulthood is a critical part of what our members do.”

Near-term action on climate change will surely require awareness of these opportunities and long-term action will require stronger and stronger links between labor and the environment.

Climate Change, COP15, equity, green jobs
Demonstrators form a Circle of Hope in front of the White House

Demonstrators form a Circle of Hope in front of the White House

I was in Lafayette Square—the park in front of the White House—and the rain seemed to be hitting me from every angle. A couple of event organizers from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and I were setting up a stage and a sound system, preparing for the arrival of demonstrators who were marching from the Climate Action concert and rally up the road.

Although the weather had been clear and warm for most of the day’s events, the rains swept in just as the march to the White House was beginning. The CCAN folks worried that much of the crowd would disperse back to their warm, dry homes rather than join the march. But lo and behold, as the police escort arrived at Lafayette Square, followed by a big green Solar Bus, we could see an impressive mass of umbrellas following behind a banner that read: “Stop pollution and poverty – 350 now!!”

The demonstrators rolled into the park, chanting and waving rain-soaked banners. The inclement weather had clearly united them beyond their common cause: to bring public attention to the climate goal of a 350 parts-per-million concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Rally chants ranged from “Three, Five, O!” to “We’re here, we’re wet, it’s no sweat!” The demonstration culminated in the forming of a big “0” in front of the White House.

Across the world on October 24, demonstrators formed the numbers ”3,” “5,” and “0” in settings that included the pyramids in Egypt, the steps of the Sydney Opera House, and the face of a cliff in New York. These actions have been in the works for more than a year, coordinated by the international group 350.org and implemented by millions of local activists.

In Washington, D.C., the events of the International Day of Climate Action were spearheaded by a special partnership between CCAN and the Hip Hop Caucus. The rally banner reflected the partnership’s dynamic: “Pollution and Poverty.” Thus, the D.C. action focused especially on the linkages between climate change and environmental justice. The mission of the Hip Hop Caucus is: “to organize young people in urban communities to be active in elections, policymaking, and service projects, as a means to address and end urban poverty for future generations. Many of their rallies include performances by popular hip hop artists, bringing their messages to large, urban, and sometimes unengaged crowds.

Climate activists, too, can be disengaged in their own ways, focusing on broad global goals such as 350 ppm and forgetting that climate resiliency also means building the capacities of local communities—especially the urban poor—to adapt to changes that are already unavoidable. Michele Roberts, with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, was met with cheers when she spoke in front of the White House saying “Mr. Obama, we must remember that we have our own communities right here at home that are vulnerable to climate change.”

The Hip Hop Caucus brought a stellar lineup of D.C. musicians to the stage on Saturday. A CCAN organizer commented that it was some of the best music that has ever accompanied a climate rally in the nation’s capital. One rapper performed songs with explicitly environmental lyrics and had the crowd chanting “There’s no such thing as waste” and “reduce, reuse, recycle!”

This elaborate fusion of media and messages reminded me that getting to 350 will require a movement much more robust than one of high-level professionals working to reduce carbon emissions. It will require the engagement of all sectors of society. And for many of those sectors, especially the wealthiest, it will require a transformation of culture. The rally in D.C. showed me that we’re on our way—and that even in bad weather, we can’t be stopped.

350.org, Climate Change, climate effects, climate justice, demonstrations, environmental justice, equity, Obama, washington dc

Predictably, the growing debate about the connections of population growth to climate change is growing ugly. The ever-provocative U.S. radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has publicly suggested that New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin take his own life to help out the environment.

Revkin had floated the idea of carbon credits for one-child families as “purely a thought experiment, not a proposal.” (Elena Marszalek of Worldwatch helped spread the idea by immediately blogging about it, an assist Revkin duly credited.) It could hardly be anything but a thought experiment, given that no country on earth has come close to instituting carbon credits of any kind for families or individuals. And for reasons that Limbaugh’s tasteless suggestion helps clarify, no government negotiator headed for the Copenhagen climate conference will touch population with a pole the length of a wind turbine rotor blade. The whole idea that human numbers have anything to do with the world’s climate change dilemma remains too prone to Limbaugh’s level of discourse for most of the over-stressed climate-change negotiating community even to contemplate.

Which is exactly why Revkin performed a public service in putting out the idea of carbon credits for small families—non-starter though it is. The public interest in the population connection to climate change is growing fast, and for understandable reasons. Obviously human beings, and no natural or non-human phenomenon, are responsible for the dramatic rise in the concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began. And just as obviously, the fact human population has grown well into the billions since then has a lot to do with the magnitude of the subsequent buildup of these gases. This is worth discussing, and was touched upon in State of the World 2009, but the conversation still has a long way to go before most climate negotiators and policymakers take it seriously. If Revkin can stand a call for his suicide, the rest of us can welcome more people thinking about the obviousness of the human and population connections to environmental degradation.

Revkin’s non-proposal is likely to be irrelevant anyway, once the world grapples seriously with climate change. The cost of living will probably rise as we phase out carbon-based energy, and even more so if we don’t—and we’ll suffer the climatic consequences as well. Modern parents respond to tough times by seeking to postpone childbearing. They’ll get plenty of economic incentives from life to want just one or maybe two children. What they’ll need—as Revkin recognizes—is good family planning services to make sure pregnancy happens only when a child is wanted. If Limbaugh weren’t so hungry for attention of any kind, he’d concede that none of this has anything to do with suicide.

Climate Change, Copenhagen, equity, inequality, population, SOW09

We’ve heard a lot in recent months about India’s international positioning on climate change, but what is opinion like at home? Is everyone in agreement with the formal government position? And what is the key to stronger Indian engagement with the international climate regime? A working paper [PDF] on this subject was recently released by Navroz Dubash, a Senior Fellow at India’s Centre for Policy Research. It looks not only at the state of opinion within India’s government, corporations and civil society on how India should respond to the climate challenge, but also proffers that what is most needed in advance of the negotiations in Copenhagen is to build trust.

Dubash suggests that there is broad domestic agreement in India on three key points. Firstly, that India is being unfairly labelled a major emitter by the international community, secondly, that India has an ongoing and considerable development challenge, and thirdly, that India is moving in the right direction climate change mitigation is concerned. ”Climate diplomats from other countries would do well to recognize this reality,” says Dubash.

However, he also argues that opinion is far more divided at home around how India should respond to the climate challenge, with three major streams of opinion characterizing the debate. He describes as Growth First Stonewallers those who, frequently sceptical of the science, believe that pressures to respond to climate change are primarily a strategy employed by industrialized nations to keep emerging economies such as India and China at bay. As such, these pressures are a threat to Indian interests. Stonewallers, according to Dubash, see addressing climate change as less important than India’s economic development.

The second are Progressive Realists. These Realists recognise that climate change poses a significant threat to India, but are deeply skeptical of the international process as a fair or effective way to address the climate problem. Seeing pressure on developing countries primarily as an attempt by industrialized countries to shift the burden of action away from their shores, they are resigned to focus on domestic climate change action through clean development efforts resulting in climate ”co-benefits,” while at the same time avoiding the ”obligations and constraints of an international regime.” Dubash describes this as India’s increasingly predominant position, with a shift from its former Stonewaller center of gravity.

Finally, Dubash highlights a ”small but increasingly vocal group” of Progressive Internationalists. Although in agreement with India’s Realists that the rich world is using India as an excuse for inaction and that equity must be paramount within any global climate change agreement, these Internationalists are of the opinion that India should work with, not separately from the global policy regime, aligning its efforts at home to facilitate and condition a stronger global deal. They argue, that a weak global climate deal resulting in weak action on climate change will result in greater inequities for the poor in the future, who will be the first to suffer the impacts of climate change and who are primarily located in developing countries. These Internationalists, describes Dubash, are in the distinct minority and perceived by most in India as naïve. Fears abound that a more concerted engagement from India with the international regime will result in greater constraints on India but little change in global dynamics and commitments.

Recent political developments in Bangkok have done little to allay these fears, with reports of a new proposal from some industrialised nations to scrap the Kyoto Protocol. Dubash argues that a split between India’s progressive thinkers driven by different opinions on the international climate regime is weakening India’s ability to respond to climate change. To bring these groups together, a far more progressive approach to the international negotiations will be required from all countries with trust building and signals of good faith an essential factor. ”A renewed Indian climate politics…will require far stronger signals of good faith from the international community, and industrialized countries in particular,” says Dubash in his paper, going on to elaborate what this would imply.

For a full recount of this insightful overview, please see the full paper.

China & India, Climate Change, climate justice, Copenhagen, developing countries, development, emissions reductions, equity, India, inequality, Kyoto Protocol, negotiations, per capita emissions

If each of the 40 million SUVs in the United States was switched to a car with EU fuel efficiency standards (45 mpg), annual CO2 emissions would be reduced by 142 million tons. In comparison, the resulting emissions from providing electricity to the 1.6 billion people who today live without it would be 160 million tons of CO2. In other words, if 40 million Americans switched their SUVs to more efficient vehicles, and 1.6 billion more people gained access to electricity, the net impact on the climate would be just about zero.

This simple tradeoff is illustrated in the World Development Report released by the World Bank on Monday. The massive document is both a compendium of scientific, economic, and social research related to climate change and an urgent call for a climate deal in Copenhagen. It is clear that the World Bank has taken notice of the many linkages between climate change, human well-being, and economic development (see Climate Connections from State of the World 2009), and details why and how these could be included in a successful Copenhagen treaty.

The moral implications of sealing a deal are heavily emphasized in the report. Consider this statistic: “Developing countries face 75-80 percent of the potential damage from climate change” and yet high-income countries contribute two thirds of anthropogenic greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The report calls for such injustice to be met with steep financing from developed countries for technology development and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The World Bank's annual report emphasizes equity and behavior change

The World Bank's annual report emphasizes equity and behavior change

In order to keep the climate on a 2ºC warming trajectory, estimates for developing country needs range from $28 to $100 billion annually for adaptation and $139 to $175 billion annually for mitigation.  Current annual funding for mitigation and adaptation together total only $9 billion. Furthermore,

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Climate Change, climate justice, Copenhagen, developing countries, development, equity, finance, SOW09, State of the World, Transforming Cultures
How is this woman being affected by climate change?

How is this woman being affected by climate change?

Ethiopia is emerging as an African leader in addressing climate change. Last week, the government announced a two-month nationwide effort to gather observations and opinions regarding climate change from the Ethiopian public. Climate change forums will be held throughout the country from September 29 to November 28, allowing people to outline local challenges and propose solutions. The government plans to use the information as input to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s approach to climate change seems to be popular among African leaders. Zenawi has observed that Ethiopia “[does] not have to do what the industrialized countries did to the environment as they industrialized. We do have coal and we are beginning to use it in our cement factories but there would have to be balances. We can be carbon neutral.”  Zenawi was recently appointed to represent the African Union at the Copenhagen conference and has threatened a walk-out by African leaders unless industrialized countries take fiscal responsibility for the effects of climate change in Africa.

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developing countries, equity, Ethiopia, negotiations, vulnerability

“Theoretically, it seats 6.75 billion,” the ad for the new Honda Insight hybrid car states.

My first thought when encountering this ad in TIME magazine was that it plays to a pretty narrow demographic: people who know that this big number is the current population of the world. Then I read the ad copy.

Honda’s ad evokes one thought that ought to dominate the discussion at the international climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December: Global development is inequitable. Some of us worry about the mileage our car gets. But most people don’t own, drive, or ride in any car, let alone a hybrid.

The car that claims to be "for everyone"

On the one hand, Honda is playing to a sense of fairness that its American audience may have. “Sure,” the typical magazine reader might think. “Everyone should drive a hybrid. Good for Honda.” Yet even a fuel-efficient hybrid car could be disastrous for the planet.

“The more hybrid drivers, the better,” the ad declares unambiguously. “For all of us.”

Really?

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development, equity, hybrid cars, per capita emissions, population