Human Rights in the Anthropocene, by William Becker

Idealism got a bad name somewhere along the way. Google on it and one of the definitions that pops up is “the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically.” The psychologist Carl Jung called it as bad an addiction as narcotics and alcohol — “the tendency of high-minded people to avoid facing the reality of evil,” as one Jungian put it.

True, it is difficult to remain idealistic in a world that produced Hitler, Pol Pot and ISIS. Idealism is less fashionable, less street-smart. There are advantages to cynicism. When we expect the worst, we are not disappointed when we get it. Cynicism is perverse evidence that a person must have standards, since he expects the world to fall short of them.

The debate about cynicism and idealism runs through our literature. Victorian novelist George Meredith noted that cynics “are only happy in making the world as barren for others as they have made it for themselves.” Oscar Wilde observed that a cynic “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” George Carlin believed you could “scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” Swiss essayist Alian de Botton agreed: “Cynics are — beneath it all — only idealists with awkwardly high standards.”

On the other hand, science fiction writer Glen Cook defends his lack of faith in humanity by arguing that “every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.” Russian poet Joseph Brodsky felt that “Life — the way it really is — is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.” The late Mike Royko, the Pulitzer price columnist in Chicago, wrote “Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”

But without idealism, we would not have the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights or the U.S. Constitution. We would not have wedding vows, John Lennon songs, or a papal encyclical on stewardship of the environment. We would not have the United Nations Charter, the Earth Charter, the UN’s Millennium Development goals, or the UN’s sustainable development goals. We would dream too small, expect too little and chronically underachieve.

A cynic probably would argue that all of the pronouncements of the world’s idealists – the declarations, treaties and charters — are not worth the paper they’re printed on, that their idealism is rarely justified, their hopes are seldom fulfilled and their plans usually are not accomplished. But can anyone argue credibly that a world without ideals and idealism would be a better place? Idealism invokes our better angels. It reminds us of what we would be if we were all that we could be. It is our collective conscience and the hope with which we survive divine discomfort.

This all comes to mind because of a message from a good friend in Europe who has been involved in developing a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Humanity, a document commissioned by French President Francois Hollande. Hollande asked a former minister of environment in France, Corinne Lepage, to develop a statement for “a new stage in the field of human rights” for presentation at next month’s international climate conference in Paris.

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Corinne Lepage and her project team giving the Rights of Humankind Declaration Report to French President Francois Hollande.

The result from Lepage and her team is not the first such declaration. It updates two others, both with their roots in crisis and in France. The first — the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — was inspired in part by the American Revolution, written for the French Revolution and approved in 1789 by France’s National Constituent Assembly. The second is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in Paris in 1948 by the UN General Assembly in the wake of World War II.

The crisis that inspires the new Declaration is not a war against classes or between nations, but the war that mankind is waging against the Earth’s life support systems and the war that the generations alive today are waging against the generations yet to come.

The human rights expressed in the new Declaration include the ability to live in healthy and ecologically sustainable environments and to preserve the natural resources that humanity holds in common. With these rights come obligations, the Declaration says, including the duty to respect the rights of others and of all living species; to serve as guarantors of ecological balance and our natural and cultural heritage; to ensure that scientific and technical progress work for rather than against the well-being of humans and other species; and to think about the long-term consequences of our short-term actions.

The authors of the new Declaration definitely know “what the heck is really going on”. It was their knowledge and their determination not to turn away from it that demanded a new invocation of higher principles and ideals.

Consistent with France’s tradition as the birthplace of these declarations, President Hollande intends to introduce the new document next month when more than 190 nations meet for the international climate conference in Paris. Hollande will ask the UN General Assembly to formally approve the Declaration next year. In the meantime, the Declaration’s ambassadors including some 40 million Scouts, will spread the word.

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Corinne Lepage, Nicolas Imbert and Adam Koniuszewski accompanied by Scout representatives from around the world

Of what use is such a document? Only a cynic would ask.

Readers can co-sign the Declaration at LINK. For more information, contact Adam Koniuszewski, who was a member of the Corinne Lepage project team, at adamkoniuszewski@me.com.

The full project team includes: Ahmed ALAMI, Marie-Odile BERTELLA-GEOFFROY, Valérie CABANES, Francois DAMERVAL, Hubert DELZANGLES, Emilie GAILLARD, Christian HUGLO, Nicolas IMBERT, Adam KONIUSZEWSKI, Jean-Marc LAVIEILLE, Catherine LE BRIS, Bettina LAVILLE, Jérémy RIFKIN and Mathieu WEMAERE.     

This article was written by William S. Becker, Executive Director of the US Presidential Climate Action Project and originally published in the Huffington Post: LINK

The website of the Declaration in French and English can be found here

Building Retrofits for Economic Stability and Energy Security

The 25th edition of the Krynica Economic Forum (Poland), the “little Davos of CEE”, took place a few weeks ago. After the opening with the Polish, Croatian and Macedonian Presidents on building a Resilient Europe, I took part in a panel organized by “The European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings” (EuroACE) on the economics and energy security aspects of renovating European buildings. A most timely topic as most buildings are energy colanders, and hence account for 40% of energy used in the EU – where more then half the energy is imported at a cost of €400+ billion.

Adrian Joyce. Archives of the Economic Forum, Krynica, Poland.

EuroACE’s Adrian Joyce reminded us that over 75% of European buildings have a very low performance level, and are a major source of energy waste and economic instability given Europe’s reliance on foreign energy. Yamina Saheb, from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, pointed to the economic opportunity for growth, job creation and side benefits like better air quality, health and productivity, key elements for prosperity and wellbeing in a sector that contributes 7% of EU GDP and 12 million direct jobs, adding that an ambitious renovation programme could create another 5 million jobs by 2030.

Oyvind Aarvig, from the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, stressed the need to renovate existing buildings given that 80% of the buildings in 2050 have already been built. He raised the challenge of urban sprawl and renovating is not enough; we must also increased building density intelligently to create sustainable communities where people want to live. Andre Delpont, from the Bordeaux-Euratlantique Public Planning Authority, concurred that energy efficiency coupled with densification in large-scale urban regeneration projects is key to attracting investors.

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Archives of the Economic Forum, Krynica, Poland.

The city of Krakow, one of Europe’s most polluted cities because of coal burning, is opting for large-scale energy retrofits aiming to improve efficiency by 50% and co-financing its €500 million program through European Structural Funds. For Witold Smialek, Advisor to the Mayor of Krakow, the biggest obstacle is inability of owners and tenants to contribute their small contribution to the project and that is slowing down progress but in the end, he feels this can be resolved. Over 80% of Polish buildings have more than 25 years and are in need of renovation according to Oliver Rapf, Executive Director of the BPIE, meaning that the economic and social potential in renovating the building stock in the country is enormous. He commended the ambitious works in Krakow as an exemplary project that other Polish cities should replicate.

I commented that appropriate building technologies, including insulation, windows and lighting, can significantly reduce energy requirements and thereby costs, while boosting energy security in Poland and Europe. Replacing the 6,500 windows in New York’s Empire State building with energy efficient windows was one of the key elements that helped reduce energy consumption by 43% and saved $4.4 million annually with a payback of 3 years. The potential for the renovation of buildings, both in Poland and in the world is enormous.

Energy Utility Resistance

Attila Nyikos, from the Hungarian Energy and Public Utility Regulatory Authority, warned that reduced energy consumption meant lower revenues for energy utilities, as they must amortize massive fixed costs on a lower sales volume leading to higher energy rates for consumers, adding that occupants suffer while buildings undergo renovation works. He gave examples where owners refused free renovations because they wanted to avoid the inconvenience.

Takeaways:

  • When renovating a district, densification is key to attracting investors
  • Selecting the right timing for an energy retrofit and implementing integrated solutions is crucial to improve ROI
  • Multiple benefits can be important drivers (air quality, etc.) an inspire ambitious projects
  • Mixing local and EU funds is an effective answer to lack of upfront financing
  • To release the significant potential tied up in the existing building stock in Poland (and in the EU!) t is time to act. We need to start the work now (with proper planning), without delay!

Another important consideration is the need to align the interests of all parties involved. It is obvious that energy utilities will not promote effective energy efficiency programs if their profits depend on their volume of sales. Similar dilemmas exist between owners of building and tenants – owners will invest in measures to reduce energy bills if they see a real benefit for themselves. Regulatory measures (decoupling) can overcome such problems and are increasingly being deployed in America where utilities share part of the savings they generate for their customers. This sounds like a good starting for policy makers.

Bridging Luxury and the Environment

by Margo Koniuszewski, author of the “Bridging luxury & the environment” project
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Angelina Jolie in the Louis Vuitton Campaign (Source credit)

English version of Article published in Forbes Poland

Ten years ago, while buying lipstick at the stand of a leading luxury cosmetics brand, I asked if I could bring back the empty packaging for reuse by the company. The surprised saleslady answered, “I am sorry Madam, we do not practice such things here”. Today, premium brands like Guerlain, encourage their customers to return product packaging (empty perfume bottle, etc.), which is then transferred to special centers for sorting, recycling and recovery.

Luxury and Sustainability

Before luxury brands began to be identified with large corporations – fashion houses that spend billions on marketing – they were associated with family values, cultural heritage, precise-craftsmanship and timelessness (jewelry and watches that are passed on from generation to generation). Today, we must add the ecological and social innovation necessary to ensure a sustainable future. Customers actively support this process by demanding more responsible behaviors from their favorite brands. The global emergence of social and environmental awareness represents the most important cultural transformation of the twenty-first century – to which the luxury sector must provide leadership if their brands are to retain their prestige – an essential element in the DNA of luxury brands.

A Luxury Sector with a French Flavor

Luxury Industry revenues reached €210 billion in 2013 with French brands accounting for 25% of sales. The LVMH Group continues to lead the sector with revenues of €29 billion in 2013. Given this scale, the behavior of the industry has a major impact and through its leadership it can become a catalyst for driving aspirations of more eco-conscious lifestyles.

In 2013, the LVMH Group (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) invested €17.3 million in environmental protection – including waste management, water recycling, soil and noise pollution reduction, and projects to support biodiversity. Investments in efficient buildings, internal training and the sponsorship of environmental initiatives are budgeted separately.

Supply chain monitoring, eco-design, energy efficient lighting, certification of business processes, ecosystems protection, materials recovery and sustainability audits are all integrated in the various brand strategies that are specific to each business sector: Wine & Spirits, Perfume & Cosmetics, Fashion & Leather Goods, Watches & Jewelry and Selective Retailing.

Without Nature there is No Business

Luxury brands are now building their core image around caring for society and the environment. Wanting to preserve their beauty and appeal, they must (as many already do) provide a persuasive narrative for their contribution to alleviate social and environmental concerns. Global warming, deforestation, resource scarcity, pollution of air, water and soil, endangered species and environmental degradation disturb the favorable conditions that have allowed the industry to develop and thrive. As LVMH Group CEO Bernard Arnault says, “LVMH owes a lot to nature”. And the business case for sustainability is made even more compelling because “green solutions” benefits extend beyond image building, they can also improve the bottom line through efficiency and cost reductions.

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In the production of Belvedere vodka, a brand of Polish descent, distillery Polmos Zyrardów has converted its power generation from oil to natural gas and improved its energy efficiency through a heat recovery system. The energy generated is now used in the production re-heating process. With these solutions, carbon emissions were reduced by 36 percent or 2 thousand tons, the equivalent to the consumption of 850 thousand liters of gasoline, like removing 900 cars from Polish roads. In 2012, LVMH launched a program to optimize energy consumption using LEDs in its boutiques, using technology from Philips Lighting amongst others – reducing the Louis Vuitton Maison power consumption by 50% since 1995. In addition to lower power bills, the shops have better possibilities in terms of “play of light” to showcase products.

Companies also benefit from recycling. LVMH created its CEDRE platform (Centre Environnemental de Déconditionnement et Recyclage Ecologique) to optimize the recovery and processing of waste generated in the production, distribution and recycling of its product packaging but also the waste from various events (exhibits, fashion shows, etc.). In 2013, it recovered around 1,600 tons of glass, paper, wood, metal and plastic.

The Hennessy Maison has been modernizing its vehicle fleet – more then 20 percent of its cars are now green (electric and hybrids). Charging stations have been installed at the factories and employees received eco-driving lessons, which helped reduce fuel consumption, accidents and maintenance costs. At Sephora, a fleet of electric trucks serves distribution centers located in French city centers, reducing costs and urban pollution.

Eco-marketing

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Veuve Clicquot Champagne casing made of potato starch and paper

The best strategy in terms of image and brand building in the luxury sector remains environmentally and socially responsible marketing. It is difficult to conceive a more compelling example for the imagination of wealthy eco-consumers then the fully biodegradable isothermal Veuve Clicquot champagne casing that is entirely made of potato starch and paper. Meanwhile, emotions-based cosmetics Maison Guerlain, engaged its brand in the protection of bees – the essential pollinators that are critical to healthy ecosystems. Through its Orchidarium research platform, Guerlain also supports the restoration of tropical forests – the natural habitat where orchids grow – passing along essential know-how to organizations that are involved in the collection of these flowers. Hennessy is also engaged in the protection of woodlands. The timber used for the production of cognac barrels comes from sustainably managed forests that are certified by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).

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Guerlain – Celebrating 160 years of Commitment to Bees

Promoting advances in science is also important for Belvedere. Since 2005, it has worked with Lodz University of Technology to develop research programs in biotechnology and to help attract the best graduates.

Luxury ethics

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Bvlgari: Certified Responsible Jewelry Council label

Human rights stewardship is also important. Especially given the growing awareness of the social costs associated with precious metal and stone mining in the Third World. Responsible jewelry manufacturers became particularly vigilant in this area for fear of being associated with “blood diamonds”. Since 2005, Bvlgari has obtained the Certified Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) label, certifying the implementation of responsible ethical, social and environmental practices in its supply chain. Since 2012, Louis Vuitton is also RJC certified.

Louis Vuitton also developed stringent  environmental audits of its supply chain.  There is also the implementation of ISO14001 with environmental assessment for transporters and warehouses.

LVMH works to reduce environmental impacts by designing quality products that are long-lasting and easy to repair. The durability and longevity of luxury goods contrasts with the planned obsolescence that is incorporated in fast moving consumer products.

Given the development of modern science, technology, and an awakening global consciousness, we realize that we can (and must) avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Luxury brands enjoy global recognition and prestige, and we aspire to be associated with them. Aspirations are a critical element. If we want a better life and for meaningful leadership to come from the luxury sector, we better pay attention to what we buy and invest ourselves in asking the right questions. This is best path towards setting a new standard of sustainability for the industry and beyond.

A Bright Future for Europe is Possible

As a Polish-Canadian who grew up in Montreal, I clearly see benefits for Quebec to be part of the Canadian Confederation and for Poland within a reconciled and vibrant Europe. Today, when America and China compete for influence, it is only through Europe that individual member states can still play a constructive global role.

IMG_1085Speaking in Geneva to an eclectic audience ranging from international diplomats to political affairs students at the Graduate Institute, outgoing European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, took advantage of his newly found freedom to fire back at his critics (and those of Europe). Europe faced its share of crises over the past decade: constitutional (2005), financial, social and political, and geopolitical with the situation in Ukraine. But in opposition to his naysayers and to the “prophets of pessimism” who continue to announce the downfall of the European project, Barroso predicts that Europe will not only survive, it will grow stronger and play a growing role in global affairs.

Financial Crisis

In July 2012, at the height of the financial crunch, chief economists of European and American banks expected the exit of Greece and were split 50/50 on the survival of the Eurozone. But at the 11th hour, a political solution was found between the richest and most vulnerable members, balancing responsibility and solidarity. The Eurozone stayed united and stable. As French political economist Jean Monnet predicted, Europe will be built by meddling through crises.

lehman-colapse2-630x200To critics that claim Europe is too complacent, self-satisfied and only wants to protect its situation as the world’s premiere “retirement home” Barroso reminds that the Eurozone crisis did not originate in Europe, it was a spillover from the Lehman Brothers collapse: a “made in the USA” crisis. Something many tend to forget… But still no excuse the fragility of European Banks!

Surely, Europe confronts the same challenges as the rest of the world in terms of protectionism, unemployment, anemic growth and inequality. As elsewhere, this is fueling populist extremism and inflaming xenophobic fears. But despite the emergence of inward looking “tea-party” rhetoric in member states, Europe is in good shape. The last 10 years have tested its resilience and it has come out larger (moving from 14 to 28 member states), with better governance, while the Commission has never had so much say in European affairs. Europe also continues to be a major global player. Already much larger economically and population-wise then the United States, it remains an attractive objective for Ukraine and Turkey.

Resilient and Ambitious

By overcoming the various “stress tests” and defying conventional wisdom, Europe has shown a formidable capacity for renewal and strengthening. The Euro is stable and remains one of the two leading global currencies. This extraordinary resilience comes from Europe’s capacity for integration that is stronger then attempts for isolation and fragmentation precisely because, in a globalized world dominated by the American and Chinese heavyweights, not a single European state has the scale to matter. But a united Europe has the power to protect its interests and project its values in the world. Some member states (i.e., Germany) have realized that through Europe they can get obtain global relevance.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Unfortunately, not all members understand that on their own they are too small. Americans used to call London, their partner for historical, cultural and language reasons, to find out what is happening in Europe. Now they call Berlin. The real challenge is therefore for states to commit themselves to the European project and protect their own future. Thereby lies the challenge that will decide on the future of Europe.

Continued global relevance

As questions of human survival start to take precedence over business as usual politics, a new approach capable of providing a globally cooperative response is needed. The European adventure, enlightened by two self-destructive attempts at world domination (WWI & II) provides an innovative approach for cooperation across nations and an appealing alternative to the greed of unregulated imperial liberalism.

Connie Hedegaard.And for those inclined to discount Europe as decadent and inward looking, it is worth reminding that it was Europe that convinced George Bush to organize the first G20 meeting, that launched the most ambitious trade liberalization program in history, including the investment agreement with China that is being discussed and that remains the source of 60% of the support for development in the world. In 2007 already, Europe adopted the first international climate package with 20% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2020. Now the target is a 40% reduction by 2030, which puts Europe in the pole position on climate action.

Looking Forward

In contrast to Barroso, his successor, experienced and colorful former Prime-Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Junker did not wait to speak his mind. Prior to the secret-ballot that elected him, he asked French tea-party leader Marie Le Pen not to vote for him as he does not want the support of those who reject, hate and exclude. Among his first tasks he must deal with a new eurozone crisis in Greece, mounting anti-EU sentiment in member states, create jobs across Europe and resolve the lingering confrontation with Russia (with its influence in Syria, Iran and Libya). An exciting job description indeed…

Only A Carbon Tax Can Tackle Climate Change, by Stéphane Dion

StephaneDionBy the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Privy Council of Canada and Member of Parliament, based on his address to the Harvard University “Weatherhead Center for International Affairs”. 

Things are not going well on the human activity-induced climate change battlefront. And we cannot pretend we are not aware: the warnings are coming in from every quarter. In the summer of 2014, the US National Climatic Data Center announced that the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–July 2014 period “was tying with 2002 as the third warmest such period on record”. [1]

On September 9, 2014, the World Meteorological Organization published its 2014 Annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.[2] WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud declared: “The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years. We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board. We are running out of time”.[3]

A few days later, the Global Carbon Project released its annual report card on the global and national trends in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.[4] It showed that global emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement production reached a new record in 2013, and are predicted to grow by a further 2.5 percent in 2014, raising the total CO2 emissions to 65 percent over its 1990 level – the year international negotiations to reduce anthropogenic climate change began.

On September 23, 2014, the United Nations hosted a climate change summit in New York. “The race is on, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and now is the time for leaders to step up and steer the world toward a safer future”.[5]

Well, it didn’t happen: the leaders did not step up in New York. To be fair, a wide range of pledges were made by governments and businesses; but few countries announced real, new commitments regarding greenhouse gas (GHGs) reduction targets. Several key Heads of State did not even show up, including those from China, India, Russia, Australia, and… Canada.

Global warming is threatening to reach dangerous levels and humankind is losing the battle against it. At the same time, we have been unable to conclude an international agreement to help correct the situation. Why is that? And what can be done?

  1. Things are not going well: the planet is heating up.

The consensus among climate scientists is that it would be imprudent to allow global warming to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (2ºC = 3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this tipping point, climate science warns that our planet will become much less hospitable for virtually all forms of life, including humans. That is what the UN-mandated scientists grouped under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are telling us. In fact, the IPCC 2007 report stated that even 2ºC above pre-industrial levels is likely to have serious impacts.

Unless we act quickly, the 2ºC threshold will be crossed. The IPCC foresees that under current policies, global warming could well exceed 4ºC by the end of the current century: “Baseline scenarios, those without additional mitigation, result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7°C to 4.8°C compared to pre-industrial levels”.[6] Such a temperature rise would increase climate disruption, the severity of extreme weather events, sea level rise and ocean acidification, animal and plant extinctions, food production and water supply disruptions, damage to infrastructure and settlements, etc.[7]

To get back on track and maintain a 50/50 chance to limit global warming to 2ºC, the IPCC’s recommendation is to reduce global GHG emissions by 40 to 70 percent by 2050, relative to 2010 emissions.[8] And according to the International Energy Agency,[9] we must do it right now if we are to succeed: we would have to reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 31.4 percent between 2012 and 2035, whereas if nothing is done, post-haste, to correct the current trend, these emissions will increase by 36.1 percent. In other words, in the absence of new measures, emissions will increase by one-third by 2035, whereas they would really need to decrease by one-third!

It should be noted that this anticipated growth of global GHG emissions – plus one-third by 2035 – marks a decoupling from the evolution of the world economy, which the IEA expects to more than double by 2035. This decoupling is in itself an accomplishment in which the countries can take pride; however, it is not good enough. To avoid a climate debacle, it is not enough that the growth of GHG emissions is slower than economic growth. What is needed is a significant reduction in emissions.

What must we do to counter this climate change hazard? Much more than what we are doing now.

  1. Negotiations on a global climate treaty are stalled

For 22 years now, beginning with the Convention on Climate Change resulting from the 1992 Rio Conference, the international community has worked hard to build a global strategy against the threat of human activity-induced climate change. To achieve this, the United Nations brings the representatives of virtually all Nations together each year. The meeting is called the Annual United Nations Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP. The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, at the Third Conference (COP 3) held in Kyoto, Japan. The Kyoto Protocol did go into effect worldwide eight years later, at COP 11, the UN Montreal Conference on Climate Change, which I had the honour to chair in 2005 as Canada’s Environment Minister.

Today, the Kyoto Protocol is in disarray and the world faces huge difficulties as it tries to conclude a new global agreement on climate change. Kyoto was concluded through a “politics-precedes-science” approach: following long and hard discussions and negotiations, governments announced national GHG reduction targets and only then did the scientists compute what the sum of these targets would mean for overall GHG reductions and climate change mitigation. But over time, COP after COP, the parties implicitly accepted to work through a “science-informs-politics” approach whereby GHG reduction targets are first established by climate scientists (the 2º C limit), after which national governments try, together, to determine how they are to be reached.

Countries accepted this 2ºC limit at the 2009 Copenhagen international climate Conference (COP 15), and more officially at the 2010 Cancún Conference (COP 16). But there is a problem: with all the commitments already made, countries will not reach this target. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change foresees that even if all countries were to meet, by the agreed date of 2020, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets to which they committed at the Copenhagen and Cancún Conferences, we would still fall short of what is needed: “The Cancún Pledges are broadly consistent with cost-effective scenarios that are likely to keep temperature change below 3°C relative to preindustrial levels” rather than the targeted 2°C.[10]

At the 2011 Durban Conference (COP 17), the countries admitted to this gap between their commitments and achieving the 2º C objective. And they went even further in the preamble of their joint statement, expressing their “grave concern” and promising to “raise the level of ambition” to bridge this gap. Yet countries did not announce stricter GHG reduction targets at Durban. They only managed to agree on a plan to reach an agreement, no later than 2015, for action to assemble all countries under the same legal system – beginning only in 2020. The very terms of this agreement are disquietingly vague: “a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.” Even Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, regretfully agreed that “What [the agreement] means has yet to be decided.”

This 2015 Conference (COP 21) will be held in Paris. As the MIT pointed out, this international venue is of tremendous importance, since it will heavily influence global GHG emissions reductions strategies “as far out as 2045 or 2050”.[11] Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Paris Conference will secure the global treaty that the world needs, unless we significantly change our approach.

When on September 23, 2014, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon hosted his climate change summit at the New York headquarters, during the UN General Assembly session, it was in the hope of creating some political momentum in preparation of this Paris 2015 Conference. He hoped that every Member State would come up with strong and bold new commitments on climate change.

But from this point of view, the Ban Ki-moon summit was yet another disappointment. Despite positive signals and a wide range of pledges and non-binding initiatives made by governments and businesses, including a new commitment to end tropical deforestation by 2030, no country really strengthened its GHG reduction commitments for 2020, and only a handful of them announced the post-2020 carbon reduction targets that will be required for the Paris summit. Even Christina Figueres recognized that these partial and piecemeal responses will not be enough to keep global warming below 2°C.[12]

Developing countries showed no sign that they would be willing to adopt legally binding GHGs emission control commitments by 2020. The four BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) stuck to the long-held stand of developing nations, linking their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to “the extent of financial, technological and capacity-building support provided by the developed countries”.[13]

In other words, the blame game goes on. That doesn’t bode well for the 2015 Paris conference, and it is hard to believe that representatives of all the world’s countries will be able to reach a new deal to cut GHG emissions and prevent the planet from overheating dangerously.

This deadlock on reduction targets impacts all aspects of negotiations, including the funding promised to developing countries to help them deal with climate change. While we do have an agreement on a collective objective (100 Billion dollars per year beginning in 2020), nobody knows how much each developed country needs to contribute.

What we do know is that several countries – including Canada– will not meet their GHG emissions reduction targets for 2020.[14] So while we all express our “serious concern” that we might be heading toward a 3ºC+ warming scenario, nobody strengthens their commitments in order to keep us closer to the 2ºC track.

We can see that the United Nations climate negotiations are stalled. That is the inescapable conclusion of a cool, lucid mind. Collectively, we are facing what can be called a “great climate inconsistency”: an increasingly untenable gap between the urgency of taking action and the inertia of international negotiations. Why this gap? Why is it so difficult to do what must be done?

  1. Why this great climate inconsistency?

The Theory of Collective Action teaches us that it is easier to develop public policy when the goods are divisible – when those who work to achieve the results are the ones to benefit from them. Unfortunately, climate change doesn’t work this way. The climate is a global public good: one tonne of carbon dioxide emitted in New York has exactly the same effect on global warming as one tonne of carbon dioxide emitted in Montreal, Paris or Beijing. In effect, those who do something to decrease their GHG emissions are working for those who reap the benefits of that action while doing nothing. And the negative impacts of climate change on those who are particularly affected by them have no direct link with the latter’s level of GHG emissions.

Consequently, each country, each economic agent, each GHG emitter, big or small, may well expect others to do the job in their stead, expect to benefit from the efforts of others while doing as little as they can get away with, and lamely say: “I will not act until my neighbour does”. This perverse freeriding effect is the fundamental reason why negotiations are stalled: COP after COP, we wait for every country to increase its target significantly, only to see that they all decline to do it, waiting for the others to move. As long as countries keep acting as climate freeriders, they are unlikely to increase their GHG emissions reduction targets and our efforts will fall well short of the mark.

In other words, governments and businesses are very unlikely to step up their greening efforts if they have no assurance that their competitors will play by the same climate rules. What we need is an international agreement that gives them that assurance, one that changes the rules of the game for every player. What we need to do is to create a world where every decision maker, public or private, must and can take the true cost of global warming into account, secure in the knowledge that his/her partners and competitors have to pay for this cost as well.

As more and more experts agree, putting a price on carbon is essential to the success of any serious, comprehensive climate plan. Even the International Monetary Fund now recommends it.[15] So does the OECD.[16] And just ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, the World Bank was able to convince 73 countries, 22 subnational jurisdictions and over 1,000 companies and investors to express their support for a price on carbon.[17]

In a report released just before the Ban Ki-moon summit, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate made the point that a carbon price may be beneficial for the economy: “The Commission recommends that governments introduce a strong, predictable and rising carbon price as part of fiscal reform strategies, prioritizing the use of the revenues to offset impacts on low-income households or to finance reductions in other distortionary taxes”.[18]

In fact, the Ban Ki-moon summit made more progress on the carbon pricing front than on the adoption of more stringent, binding GHG reduction targets. That progress on carbon pricing is a positive development. It shows there are opportunities to explore linkages between carbon pricing and the new international climate change agreement to be reached in Paris.[19] But the main challenge facing us now is how to evolve from a hodge-podge of local or national carbon prices to a global, harmonized carbon pricing system. That is exactly what the IPCC recommends: adopting a “single global carbon price”.[20]

A global, harmonized carbon price would provide the world with an excellent sustainable development instrument. The price should be high enough to create the necessary incentives to limit global warming to about 2ºC. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recommends that the price of a tonne of CO2 be gradually raised, by 2035, to $125 for developed countries and $100 for China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. According to the IEA, this can be done without jeopardizing economic growth: “Carbon pricing is not necessarily detrimental to industrial competitiveness: it all depends on how it is implemented and whether similar action is taken in competing economies. (…) In addition, part of all the revenue from carbon pricing may be recycled back to energy users in the form of investments towards improved energy efficiency, or through other, broader supportive policies for industry; hence, this may actually increase industrial and energy competitiveness”.[21]

This cost of about $125 per tonne of CO2 may seem high. Yet it is small compared to the social, environmental and financial cost of doing nothing to mitigate climate change: the Stockholm Environment Institute estimates the latter cost could reach $1,500 per tonne of CO2 in 2050.[22] But the main problem is that it is impossible for the world price of carbon to reach $100 or $120 per tonne of CO2 without first having negotiated an international agreement that can assure all economic agents that their partners and competitors will play according to the same climate rules. Carbon pricing will not reach the desired level as long as individual countries fear that carbon price-setting within their respective jurisdictions will scare businesses and investments away and send them off to countries where carbon dioxide emissions are still free of charge.

For some years now, I and others have been arguing that international climate negotiations must be readjusted.[23] The idea is to refocus these international efforts on negotiating a global harmonized carbon price signal, instead of doggedly spending the next years attempting to convince countries to accept stricter national quantitative targets to reduce their GHG emissions.

The mixed results achieved by the Ban-Ki Moon summit proved, once again, that the “to-each-their-own-target” approach does not work. Instead, we must adopt a “one-price-signal-for-all” strategy, a world carbon price – not as a stand-alone policy but as a cost-effective, universal anchor. This is essential to the success of any serious, comprehensive climate plan.

Let us see how such a strategy could work.

  1. A framework for a global, harmonized carbon price

The Dion-Laurent plan[24] would call for all countries to make a commitment to introduce, in their respective jurisdictions, a gradually evolving carbon price signal based on a scientifically-validated international standard, in order for the world to keep global warming to as close as possible to 2ºC over pre-industrial levels. Countries may levy this price through carbon taxes or emission quotas. Governments would be free to invest, as they see fit, any revenues accruing from carbon emission levies and the corresponding – and necessary – gradual elimination of fossil energy subsidies.

Under the principle of “Common But Differentiated Responsibility”, developed countries would be required to set aside part of their carbon pricing revenues to help developing countries introduce policies to lower their emissions, adapt to climate change impacts and create carbon sinks (through reforestation, for example). This requirement would help fund the yet unsourced $100 billion annual injection into the Green Climate Fund, which developed countries agreed to provide beginning in 2020. That amount could even be increased. The contributions of individual developed countries would be set according to the proportion of total developed country emissions that their respective GHG emissions represent. The lower a country’s emission level, the lower its share of the financial effort: that is sure to be another incentive for further emission reductions.

This international carbon pricing agreement would allow countries to levy border taxes on products from countries that do not establish a carbon price signal in accordance with the international standard. Of course, this solution would be a last resort, to be applied after the usual warnings have been issued. Hence, the message would be clear to all large GHG emitters: if you do not levy a carbon price on your products before exporting them, other countries will do it for you – and will keep the resulting revenue. In this way, it will be in each country’s interest to comply with the international agreement, to levy a carbon price on its own emissions, and to use the resulting revenue as it sees fit.

This international agreement would provide the world with an excellent instrument for sustainable development. At long last, carbon emitters would have to pay the social and environmental cost of pollution. Consumers and manufacturers would have an incentive to choose lower-carbon-content goods and services and to invest in new energy-saving and emission-reducing technologies. And governments and legislators would have the tool to achieve the scientific climate targets they have rightly endorsed.

Conclusion: Is this plan realistic?

Negotiating a global harmonized carbon price will be a very difficult task. I am not one to underestimate the political obstacles any government will face when trying to implement an economy-wide price on GHG emissions.[25] As Leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons of Canada between 2006 and 2008, I developed such a carbon-pricing plan; but during the 2008 federal electoral campaign, I was unable to convince Canadians to accept that approach. Today, I am well aware that here in the US, part of Congress, backed by a majority of the population, is opposed to President Obama’s initiatives to regulate GHG emissions through the Environmental Protection Agency.[26] And yet, we all know that a global carbon price will never be negotiated successfully if North American countries, notably the United States, fail to assume leadership in the matter.

So I understand why some will call this plan unrealistic. Yet I maintain that it would be easier to reach a negotiated global harmonized carbon price than to convince national governments to raise their respective GHG emissions reduction targets significantly. In particular, emerging economies – those with an annual growth of 6 to 10 percent – are likely to consider absolute reduction targets as an impediment to economic dynamism. But a harmonised carbon price, applying equally to their partners and competitors and yielding revenues that everybody could use as they see fit, would open much more interesting perspectives.

In any case, if anybody has a better idea to avoid the astronomical economic, human, political and environmental costs of a 3ºC (or more) global warming scenario, let them speak up! True realism – and plain common sense – dictate that as long as we are allowed to pollute for free, we will be unable to curb our GHG emissions sufficiently, and that we must therefore act now.

We need worldwide carbon pricing in order to do what must be done to make the world’s economy truly sustainable. We need harmonized carbon pricing as an incentive to replace coal with cleaner and renewable energy sources (or at least equip coal power plants with effective carbon capture and storage technology); to enhance energy efficiency; to develop affordable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels; to implement a major retooling of transportation industries and a massive conversion of on-road vehicle refueling infrastructures; to reduce high risk oil imports and increase energy security.

So to protect humankind against the threat of a 3ºC – or more – global warming sequence, what choice do we have? Pursue our current initiatives? Not without merit but definitively not good enough. My opinion is that our best and soundest choice is to champion the simple and useful instrument, much needed for a comprehensive and effective climate/energy policy, that a worldwide, harmonized carbon price would be.


[1] US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center Global Analysis – July 2014. Also: Michael Slezak, «The world is warming faster than we thought », NewScientist, October 2014.

[2] World Meteorological Organization, 2014 Annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

[3] Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General.

[4] http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/.

[5] Ban Ki-moon, “Climate change affects us all. So what’s stopping us joining forces to act on it?”, theguardian.com, May 6, 2014.

[6] IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Final Draft Summary for Policymakers, IPCC WGIII AR5, December 17, 2013, p.8.

[7] IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, WGII AR5, March 31, 2014.

[8] IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Final Draft Summary for Policymakers, IPCC WGIII AR5, December 17, 2013, p.15.

[9] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2013.

[10] IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Final Draft Summary for Policymakers, IPCC WGIII AR5, December 17, 2013, p. 15. PricewaterhouseCoopers comes to the same conclusion: “On our current trajectory we are headed for four degrees, with policy pledges that currently steer us only towards three.” The 2014 Low Carbon Economy Index, “Two degrees of separation: ambition and reality”

[11] Henry D. Jacoby and Y.-H Henry Chen, Expectations for a New Climate Agreement, The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Report No. 264, August 2014: http://globalchange.mit.edu/files/document/MITJPSPGC_Rpt264.pdf.

[12] http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/analysis/2372308/un-climate-chief-new-york-summit-is-clearly-not-enough.

[13] Text of the Joint Statement issued at the18th BASIC Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, August 8, 2014: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=108305.

[14] 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Chapter 1- Mitigating Climate Change.

[15] IMF Survey Magazine: Fiscal Policy to Address Energy’s Environmental Impacts, July 31, 2014; also: Ian Parry, Dirk Heine, Eliza Lis, Shanjun Li, Getting Energy Prices Right: From Principle to Practice, IMF, 2014.

[16] OECD, Acting now to put a price on carbon, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: the Consequences of Inaction, 2012, p. 111.

[17] World Bank Statement, Putting a Price on Carbon, June 3, 2014: ; also: We Support Putting a Price on Carbon.

[18] Better Growth, Better Climate, the New Climate Economy Report. The Synthesis Report, Washington, September 2014, p. 42.

[19] Daniel Bodansky, Seth Hoedl, Gilbert Metcalf and Robert Stavins, Facilitating Linkage of Heterogeneous Regional, National, and Sub-National Climate Policies Through a Future International Agreement, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, with the support of The International Emissions Trading Association, September 2014.

[20] IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, p. 17.

[21] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2013, p. 282. More recently, the IEA developed a plan to make solar energy the main source of electrical power, which plan would depend on a significant global carbon price: “The vision in this roadmap is consistent with global CO2 prices of USD 46/tCO2 in 2020, USD 115/tCO2 in 2030, and USD 152/tCO2 in 2040”. IEA, How solar energy could be the largest source of electricity by mid-century, 29 September 2014.

[22] Franck Ackerman and Elizabeth A. Stanton, Climate Risks and Carbon Prices: Revising the Social Cost of Carbon, Economics, 6, 2012-10, April 4, 2012.

[23] Stéphane Dion and Éloi Laurent, From Rio to Rio: A Global Carbon Price Signal to Escape the Great Climate Inconsistency, OFCE, Paris, May 2012; www.carbon-price.com.

[24] Stéphane Dion and Éloi Laurent, From Rio to Rio: A Global Carbon Price Signal to Escape the Great Climate Inconsistency, op. cit.

[25] Stéphane Dion, Carbon Taxes; Can a Good Policy Become Good politics?, in: Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb, Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word: A Different Take on Taxes in Canada. Wilfrid Laurier university Press, 2013: .

[26] United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, July 2013.

Town Moves Out of Harm’s Way

“We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”, Albert Einstein

Soldiers GroveThis is the extraordinary tale of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, a village of 500 that was located along the meanders of the Kickapoo River to allow timber rafting and to get hydropower for its lumber mills. Proximity to the water was a mixed blessing. Situated at the bottom of a bowl surrounded by mountains, the town was prone to flooding. The small  floods they called “ankle ticklers” but once a decade a major one would be devastating. The courageous and stubborn residents would clean up and rebuild.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, Albert Einstein

1978 Flood 4With time, the floods got worse for reasons that were largely self-inflicted. Deforestation of surrounding hills reduced the amount of water retained by the soil and the runoff  caused erosion that filled the bottom of the river aggravating the floods. After studying the problem for three decades a $3.5 million dam and levee was proposed… to protect $1 million worth of property… In a rare moment of genius someone asked “what if we moved the town?” and the rest is history. In 1979, the town relocated to higher grounds 800 meters away.

Solar Town_PharmacyThe river still floods but the town has been spared and the people of Soldiers Grove have more time (and money) to come up with more brilliant ideas like becoming the first Solar Town in America.

Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), is one of the humble architects behind the move of Soldiers Grove. Here is his TED version of the story:

Relevant Links:

Soldiers Grove Solar Town

About Bill Becker

Free Online Course on Natural Disasters

Sport can’t stop Tanks but it can build Bridges for Peace

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela recognized that through sport, he could reconcile a nation divided by racial segregation since colonial times. At rugby games, black spectators were only allowed in the standing sections of the stadium to watch an all white national team. Many viewed the “Springboks” as a symbol of segregation and called for Mandela to form a new mixed-race team. Madiba (Mandela) felt such retribution would aggravate white South-Africans and the historic 1995 victory of the “Springboks” over the New Zealand “All Blacks” became the symbol of a nation that was healing its wounds and redefining itself as the “Rainbow nation” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu).

Siemacha-UN-web-all-37-923C5637

Wilfried Lemke

Last week, the United Nations “Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace”, Mr. Wilfried Lemke, visited Krakow on the special invitation of the Mayor to give a lecture on the wider role of sport in society and to meet the kids from the Siemacha Association that provides daily after-school education to 2,000 children and uses sport as a pillar in its approach to youth development.

The role of Sport in Education

Used properly, physical activity and sport can play an important role in the healthy development of kids, it can help build confidence, self-esteem and pave the way for healthy lifestyles in adulthood. Through sport, kids can learn important values like fair play, tolerance, trust, discipline, leadership and teamwork. But a proper approach is essential. In the typical gym classes, the selection of sports teams where the best players are chosen first while the weakest are selected last has left many kids stigmatized.

Similarly, over-emphasis on “winning” undermines other competitors. For all kids to learn and benefit from winning and losing there must be respect for the loser and fair congratulations for the winner. The first thing that should take place after a match is for the teams to congratulate each other with sincerity, respect and appreciation. This is particularly important for young people. From the youngest age they can learn about the values of life and develop positive relationships through sport. This way, sport can become a powerful tool to empower people, promote acceptance for all and transform community attitudes to foster understanding and respect between people.

Sport for Peace

In the spirit of Mandela’s Springbok experience, grass-roots sports initiatives are taking place around the world to build bridges between communities that otherwise find it difficult to cooperate. Through football, Arabs and Jews have the opportunity to regularly play sports together. Similar projects are underway to revive diplomatic relations between North and South Korea through “football diplomacy”. In a world where international relations are increasingly tense and conflictual, we need such constructive grass-roots initiatives where competition can take place in a spirit of respect and fair play, for friendships to develop and bridges of peace appear.

Promoting Inclusiveness

Siemachabasen

Swimming pool managed by the Siemacha Association

Oftentimes, especially in developing countries, the availability of sports options for kids is lacking, particularly for girls. Similarly, the inclusion of people with disabilities is a problem even in developed countries. This has serious consequences because physical education is critical to provide children with survival skills in many parts of the world. Few realize that many children do not know how to swim and that, as a result 300,000 children, mainly girls, drown each year in Asia. Mandatory swimming lessons would be an important step in reducing child mortality. Siemacha does its share in this area by 70,000 swimming lessons/activities to 5,600 kids annually. The efforts of other organizations like UNICEF, UK Sport and the International Swimming Federation (FINA) in this area should also be encouraged.

piotr_pawlowski

Piotr Pawlowski

Also, “adapting existing sports facilities to the needs of people with disabilities will not only improve access but also help the integration of persons with disabilities in their communities” according to Piotr Pawlowski, President of Integracja, the association that represents 4 million disabled persons in Poland.

Role Models

Athletes, professional athletes in particular, can become important role models for young people. Millions of African kids want to become the next Eto’o but only one or two will. It is important for athletes to be responsible and to embody the values that make them worthy of such admiration. Unfortunately many professional athletes lack the maturity and education to properly manage their own lives. Despite earning more in one season than most people will earn in their lives, 78% of NFL players and 60% of NBA players will be bankrupt within five years of retirement and oftentimes their behavior results in them making the front page of media for all the wrong reasons.

Siemacha-UN-web-all-7-923C5513

Robert Korzeniowski, Adam and Margo Koniuszewski

Fortunately there are exceptions. Four-time Olympic race-walking champion Robert Korzeniowski embodies the values that young people can look up to. In addition to being an ambassador for the UN World Food Program to raise awareness about the problem of hunger in the world, he is also an inspirational speaker and runs his foundation to promote sport in Poland.

2014.09 - LEMKE - CCZ (55)

Dariusz Dudek, Dominik Rogoz, Maciek Malski, Margo Koniuszewski, Rev Andrzej Augustynski, Wilfried Lemke, Adam Koniuszewski, Jerzy Dudek

Similarly former professional football players Jerzy Dudek and his brother Dariusz have committed himself to helping young people develop themselves through football. Together they run the Siemacha AS Progress Academy where over 500 kids learn football.

A time for Solutions

At a time when the tensions and conflicts are on the rise and global issues seem overwhelming, there is more then ever a need for partnerships and solutions that promote multiple objectives. From developing positive values, goodwill and cooperation at all levels to improving inclusion and helping ease tensions and conflicts between communities and nations, a constructive approach to sport can provide such a platform. The visionary approach of the United Nations when it comes using sports as a tool for social progress and peace should be recognized and celebrated.

Chapeau-bas! Mr Lemke for your extraordinary commitment to this noble cause.

Margo and Adam Koniuszewski, initiators of the visit of Mr. Lemke to Krakow would like to thank our honorary guest Mr. Wilfried Lemke and his team at the UNOSDP as well as the sponsors and partners that have made these events possible: The City of Krakow, Arena Krakow, the German Embassy, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, BMW PolandHotel Stary, Hotel Rubinstein, and, Pawel Widel from GM Poland and Ela Raczkowska from Vital Voices. Special thanks also go to Robert Korzeniowski and Tim Runzheimer, General Manager of Nike Poland, for their presence. 

 

 

 

Climate Change: A new Era of Global Vulnerability

2013 was the worst year ever in terms of insurance losses from extreme weather in Canada: torrential rains and flooding caused over $1.7 billion in insured damage in Alberta while flash floods in Toronto cost $940 million in payouts. But with over $5 billion of damages each, the 2001/02 coast-to-coast drought and the 1998 ice storms are the most expensive disasters in Canadian history. So extreme weather events associated with climate change are already impacting Canada and are expected to intensify in coming years. Clearly, Canada is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and yet it ranks low in terms of vulnerability. How can this be?

Developing Countries Disproportionately Impacted

Screenshot 2014-08-11 18.40.43

When looking at climate change vulnerability we must consider not only exposure but also sensitivity and the ability to adapt to those consequences. While Canada is increasingly experiencing these impacts, like most rich and developed countries it has a high adaptive capacity that helps mitigate the outcomes. So even the most devastating events, despite their substantial impacts, have left Canada’s infrastructure largely intact. Hence, despite their climate change exposure, the overall vulnerability of Canada, the United States and Europe is low compared to the regions of extreme risk in Africa, Asia and in Central America. To illustrate, the President of Honduras said Hurricane Mitch in 1998 had set the country back 50 years in terms of economic development (1.5 million homeless – 20% of the population, 70% of the transportation and water infrastructure was damaged, etc). This is why developing countries will disproportionately feel the effects of climate change.

A New Era of Global Vulnerability

CCVI_JP

In 1800, only 3% of the world population lived in cities. The proportion is now 50% and growing – especially in developing countries. Many of the fastest growing megacities with the highest concentration of infrastructure and people are in “extreme risk” locations. A quarter of the world population lives in low elevation coastal areas that are at risk from the consequences of sea level rise. We are entering a new era of global vulnerability in terms of human lives and infrastructure.

Preparedness is Key

bigstock-emergency-preparedness-checkli-24168524Emergency preparedness is a key factor in reducing risk and mitigating against the consequences of natural hazards. Developed and developing countries must work together to reduce the exposure of the most vulnerable and help prepare for future climate impacts.

Other resources

For anyone interested in learning more about this topic natural disasters the McGill University online course is highly rated and strongly recommended.

ISO, Standards & Climate Change

the-1999-NASA-Mars-Climate-OrbiterIt is hard to overstate the importance of standards. In many ways, they represent the essential ingredient that allows us to function. But famous disasters remind us that we cannot take this for granted. In 1999, NASA lost its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft after a 10-month, 400-million kilometer journey to Mars because some of its engineers used the metric system while the others used the imperial measurement system. As a result, when the spacecraft entered the Mars atmosphere at an altitude of 60km, instead of the 150km required, it disintegrated. The disaster cost $330 million, caused major embarrassment to NASA and a serious blow to the American space program.

IMG_0830This is why the work of the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop and promote standards is so important and why I was pleased to learn about ISO’s growing commitment to climate change and why I am happy to join ISO’s NEXTGen Global Climate Change initiative for young professionals from around the world. This 6-week program is focused on what needs to be done, how international standards can help and how young professionals can get involved. The global kickoff took place last week (August 6, 2014) with an online Google+ Hangout that is available on YouTube for those who missed it.

While the project is forward-looking, a historical perspective on how standards can help reduce carbon emissions is useful and the success story of energy efficiency standards for household appliances is a case in point. Let’s look at refrigerators for illustration. Why? Because they are constantly on and typically represent the most energy hungry item in a home.

Between the 1950-70’s refrigerators have more then doubled in size but their energy use increased almost fivefold. How is this possible? Marketing departments wanting to increase the available inside space decided to cut down on insulation. A product “innovation” that caused skyrocketing energy consumption. Countrywide, this trend would have required 175 GW (gigawatt) of electricity today. But thanks to almost four decades of energy efficiency standards, America now needs less then 15 GW. The difference represents the equivalent of eliminating 400 large coal power plants.

Need for StandardsContext is important. The 1973-74 oil-crisis saw barrels of oil go from $3 to $12 and energy efficiency became recognized as critical for energy independence and national security. California introduced the first wave of mandatory efficiency standards in 1978 and over the years, efficiency standards became the driving force for innovation and continue to do so. Initial objections by industry of rising prices and adverse economic impacts did not materialize. To the contrary, prices fell by two-thirds and industry welcomed new standard as an opportunity to market improvements and boost sales. This process of continuous improvement has helped innovation, competition and profitability while creating jobs. The new products are not only cheaper for consumers they also offer a better environmental performance which is a win-win for everyone.

As chair of the ISO Climate Change Technical Committee (ISO/TC 207/SC 7), Tom Baumann is well aware of the importance of standards to help corporations manage their greenhouse gas emissions for environmental stewardship but also to manage risk and improve business performance. This is why over 3,000 corporations and 800 institutional investors with assets under management of $92 trillion are already partnering with the Carbon Disclosure Project for their carbon footprint management. Blackberry’s Kelly Killby agrees that ISO standards have helped improve environmental and business performance. Thanks to the implementation of ISO standards, Blackberry has reduced waste to landfills by 90% in 2013 and reinvested the cost savings into other sustainability initiatives.

Climate change represents the defining challenge of our generation and will require the cooperation of all sectors of modern society: private enterprise, government and civil society. Given that it is crosscutting, it will mean that all professions will have to work together with a common sense of purpose and a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved. We know that reducing emissions is possible at the individual, organization and community levels. According to Johnathan Fung, moderator of the ISO Climate Change Group, the challenge now is how to scale-up solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation for regional and global impact. A process in which standards will play a critical role. This will be one of the objectives of NextGen during the next six weeks.  Young professionals from around the world are most welcome to participate and contribute.

Find out more at: ISO NEXTGen, on Facebook and check out the Webinar.

More on this soon.

How about an International Court for the Environment?

     Two weeks ago a new call was made for the creation of an international environmental court during a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. This Corrine Lepage (MEP France) and Jo Leinen (MEP Germany) initiative, supported by a broad group of civil society organizations (see below) was well received by the public and the media. Within hours hundreds of signatures were collected through an online petition for the creation of the court.  A Brussels Charter has been drafted and will be sent to UNSG Ban Ki-moon and to EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Brussels

Jo Leinen, Ahmed Alami, Antonino Abrami, Alfonso Pecoraro Scano, Corrine Lepage, Jean-Philippe Rivard, Carlos Jativa, Adam Koniuszewski

     This is not the first time this idea is being explored. As far back as the late 1940s, a Commission on Crimes Against Peace and Human Security has been debating the inclusion of “Ecocide”, the massive damage and destruction of ecosystems and the natural environment, as part of the 1948 convention on “Genocide”. In 1995, due to objections from four countries (France, the Netherlands, UK and USA) ecocide was removed from the discussions of what would become the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 in The Hague to address genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – but not crimes against the environment. This is why Ecocide is sometimes  called “The Missing 5th Crime Against Peace”.

     Interestingly, 10 countries, most of them former-Soviet states, already have local ecocide laws: Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Major Soviet-era disasters (Chernobyl, the Aral-Sea) and large-scale contamination during the Vietnam War provided compelling justification to protect their citizens from serious crimes against the natural environment.

         But for an ecocide law to be effective it would need to be implemented and enforced at the international level. Many now believe that the Rome Statute should be amended to bring back “ecocide” as originally proposed. To raise global awareness about this idea, UK Lawyer Polly Higgins staged the now famous “Mock Ecocide Trial” by the UK Supreme Court in 2011. Polly is leading a growing movement that has collected some 115,000 signatures in EU member states to make this happen. Check out her Ecocide TED Talk:

     At the Brussels conference, expert testimonies from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes, the Bhopal chemical disaster and the oil pollution cases of the Niger Gulf and in Ecuador provided compelling examples where international law has failed to address trans-national crimes against the environment. The difficulties in defining environmental crimes where are also discussed by International Criminal Court Judge Tarfusser and an international survey in seven languages was launched to better understand public expectations of what constitutes a crime agains the environment.

     The creation of such a court is not a silver-bullet that will resolve all our problems but could be an important element in the global governance framework needed to overcome the critical ecological challenges of the 21st century. Such a framework will also provide businesses with the stability and predictability necessary to plan ahead and a world-scale level playing-field to ensure fair competition.

In front of the Palace for Peace in The Hague

Peace Palace, The Hague

     If we agree on international law as the sound basis to maintain justice and order, then we also say that it must be upheld, enforced and re-invigorated. Impunity despite reckless activities that cause widespread environmental damage should ring as an alarm bell for the urgent “upgrade” needed in the field of international environmental law. The Hague, city of international order and justice and home of the International Criminal Court, would be an ideal location for a center of knowledge and expertise in this area. Institutions of academic excellence, such as the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, The Hague Academy of International Law, the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies and the Institute for Environmental Security are some of the institutions that can provide the intellectual capital necessary to make this happen.

     It is worth noting that INTERPOL has already set up a program to address crimes against the environment and observes that a significant proportion of wildlife and pollution crime is carried out by organized criminal networks because of the attraction of the low risk and high profit nature of these types of crime. More on this soon.

Charter of Brussels Supporting Organizations: SEJF Foundation,  International Academy of Environmental Sciences, The International Criminal Court of Consciousness Against Nature and the Environment, European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment, Basso Foundation, SERPAJ, SELVAS, End Ecocide in Europe, The Association of Former Ministers for the Environment and International Leaders for the Environment (FME-ILE) and Globe EU

and the support of Green Cross France & Territories