Two weeks of international climate negotiations begin [this week] in Durban, South Africa. These are the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The key challenge at this point is to maintain the process of building a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action, not necessarily some notion of immediate, highly-visible triumph. In other words, the answer to the question of whether the Durban climate negotiations can succeed depends — not surprisingly — on how one defines “success.”
Let’s Place the Climate Negotiations in Perspective
Why do I say (repeatedly, year after year) that the best goal for the climate talks is to make progress on a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action, not some notion of immediate triumph? The reason is that the often-stated cliche about the American baseball season — that it’s a marathon, not a sprint — applies even more so to international climate change policy. Why?
First, the focus of scientists (and policy makers) should be on stabilizing concentrations at acceptable levels by 2050 and beyond, because it is the accumulated stock of greenhouse gas emissions — not the flow of emissions in any year — that are linked with climate consequences.
Second, the cost-effective path for stabilizing concentrations involves a gradual ramp-up in target severity, to avoid rendering large parts of the capital stock prematurely obsolete.
Third, massive technological change is the key to the needed transition from reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels to more climate-friendly energy sources. Long-term price signals (most likely from government policies) will be needed to inspire such technological change.
Fourth and finally, the creation of long-lasting international institutions is central to addressing this global challenge.
For all of these reasons, international climate negotiations will be an ongoing process, not a single task with a clear end-point. Indeed, we should not be surprised that they proceed much as international trade talks do, that is, with progress only over the long term, building institutions (the GATT, the WTO), yet moving forward in fits and starts, at times seeming to move backward, but with progress in the long term.
So, the bottom-line is that a sensible goal for the international negotiations in Durban is progress on a sound foundation for meaningful long-term action, not some notion of immediate “success.” This does not mean that there should be anything other than a sense of urgency associated with the work at hand, because it is important. But it does mean that we should keep our eyes on the prize.
How Can the Durban Negotiators Keep their Eyes on the Prize?
The keys to success — real, as opposed to symbolic success — in Durban depend upon four imperatives.
1. Embrace Parallel Processes
The UNFCCC process must embrace the parallel processes that are carrying out multilateral discussions (and in some cases, negotiations) on climate change policy: the Major Economies Forum or MEF (a multilateral venue for discussions – but not negotiations – outside of the UNFCCC, initiated under a different name by the George W. Bush administration in the United States, and continued under a new name by the Obama administration, for the purpose of bringing together the most important emitting countries for candid and constructive discussion and debate); the G20 (periodic meetings of the finance ministers – and sometimes heads of government – of the twenty largest economies in the world); and various other multilateral and bilateral organizations and discussions.
The previous leadership of the UNFCCC seemed to view the MEF, the G20, and most other non-UNFCCC forums as competition – indeed, as a threat. Fortunately, the UNFCCC’s new leadership under Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres (appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May of 2010) has displayed a considerably more positive and pragmatic attitude toward these parallel processes. That’s a positive sign.
2. Consolidate Negotiation Tracks
There are now three major, parallel processes operative: first, the UNFCCC’s KP track (negotiating national targets for a possible second commitment period – post-2012 – for the Kyoto Protocol); second, the LCA track (the UNFCCC’s negotiation track for Long-term Cooperative Action, that is, a future international agreement of undefined nature); and third, the Cancun Agreements from COP-16 a year ago (based upon the Copenhagen Accord, negotiated and noted at COP-15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, 2009). Consolidating these three tracks into two tracks (or better yet, one track) would be another significant step forward.
The primary way for this to happen would be for the LCA negotiations to focus on the ongoing work of putting more meat on the bones of the Cancun Agreements, which — along with the Copenhagen Accord — marked an important step forward by blurring for the first time (although not eliminating) the unproductive and utterly obsolete distinction in the Kyoto Protocol between Annex I and non-Annex I countries. (Note that more than 50 non-Annex I countries have greater per capita income than the poorest of the Annex I countries.)
In particular, the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” could be made meaningful through the dual principles that: all countries recognize their historic emissions (read, the industrialized world); and all countries are responsible for their future emissions (think of the rapidly-growing, large, emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Korea, Mexico, and South Africa).
As I’ve said before, this would represent a great leap beyond what has become the “QWERTY keyboard” (that is, unproductive path dependence) of international climate policy: the distinction in the Kyoto Protocol between the small set of Annex I countries with quantitative targets, and the majority of countries in the world with no responsibilities. A variety of policy architectures — including but not limited to the Cancun Agreements — could build on these dual principles and make them operational, beginning to bridge the massive political divide that exists between the industrialized and the developing world.
At the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements — a multi-national initiative with some 35 research projects in Australia, China, Europe, India, Japan, and the United States — we have developed a variety of architectural proposals that could make these dual principles operational. (See, for example: “Global Climate Policy Architecture and Political Feasibility: Specific Formulas and Emission Targets to Attain 460 PPM CO2 Concentrations” by Valentina Bosetti and Jeffrey Frankel; and “Three Key Elements of Post-2012 International Climate Policy Architecture” by Sheila M. Olmstead and Robert N. Stavins.)
3. Make Progress on Narrow, Focused Agreements
A third area of success at the Durban negotiations could be realized by some productive steps with specific, narrow agreements, such as on REDD+ (Reduced Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plus enhancement of forest carbon stocks). Other areas where talks are moving forward, although somewhat more slowly, are finance and technology, particularly in the context of adding meat to the bones of the Cancun Agreements.
4. Maintain Sensible Expectations
Finally, it is important to go into these annual negotiations with sensible expectations and thereby effective plans. As I said at the outset, negotiations in this domain are an ongoing process, not a single task with a clear end-point. The most sensible goal for Durban is progress on a sound foundation for meaningful long-term action, not some notion of immediate triumph. The key question is not what Durban accomplishes in the short-term, but whether it helps put the world in a better position five, ten, and twenty years from now in regard to an effective long-term path of action to address the threat of global climate change.
Wait, What About the Kyoto Protocol?
Those who follow these international negotiations closely — including my colleagues on the ground in Durban — are no doubt wondering why I haven’t said something about the 900-pound gorilla in the closet: the fact that the Kyoto Protocol’s first (and so far only) commitment period runs from 2008 through 2012, and so a decision needs to be reached on a possible second (post-2012) commitment period for the Protocol.
Yes, in addition to the LCA (Cancun) track, the Kyoto Protocol (KP) track of negotiations remains. A decision regarding a possible extension (and presumably an enhancement) of the Kyoto Protocol’s emission-reduction targets for the industrialized (Annex I) countries has been punted annually to the next set of negotiations — from Bali in 2007, to Poznan in 2008, to Copenhagen in 2009, to Cancun in 2010, and now to Durban in 2011. It can’t be delayed any longer, because the necessary process of ratification by individual nations would itself take at least a year to complete.
Keeping the Kyoto Protocol going (and with more stringent targets for the Annex I countries) is very important to the non-Annex I countries, sometimes referred to — inaccurately — as the developing countries. I don’t blame them. An approach that provides benefits (reduced climate damages, as well as financial transfers) for the non-Annex I countries without their incurring any costs is surely an attractive route for those nations.
Is a Second Commitment Period for the Kyoto Protocol Feasible?
Putting aside the possible merits of a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, we can ask simply whether it’s in the cards: is it feasible?
Japan, Russia, and Canada have formally announced that they will not take up targets in a second commitment period. Australia, despite its recent domestic climate policy action, seems unlikely to make a significant commitment. Is Europe (plus New Zealand) on its own credible or feasible? Maybe yes, maybe no.
The “yes” part of the answer comes from the fact that Europe has already committed itself to serious emissions reductions through the year 2020 under the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS). This will go forward — barring a change of heart by the EU — with or without a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. That said, Europe’s compliance costs under the EU ETS will be much less than otherwise if offsets continue to be made available from non-Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This might suggest that the EU has a significant motivation to keep the Kyoto Protocol going.
But international law scholars — such as Professor Daniel Bodansky of Arizona State University‘s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law — maintain that the Kyoto Protocol (and its CDM) continues as an institution of law whether or not a second commitment period is put in place. Hence, it’s conceivable that the EU could have its cake and eat it too: an ongoing Kyoto Protocol without a second commitment period. And the political pressure on Brussels from the EU’s member states — and from European businesses — might make it difficult for the EU to sign up for a new series of commitments given the obvious absence in such an arrangement of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and — of course — China and the other emerging economies.
This highly contentious issue of a possible second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol may come to dominate the talks in Durban. This would be unfortunate, because it would simultaneously reduce the likelihood of the negotiators making progress on a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action. It would probably also have the effect of producing some drama in the form of highly-charged debates, and possible threats by some delegations to walk out of the negotiations. For this reason, despite the weather, Durban may come to resemble Copenhagen more than Cancun.
— Robert N. Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, and Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group. This post was originally published at the Harvard “Economic View of the Environment” Blog.
GingRomney care: “If Republicans are flocking to Newt Gingrich to get away from Mitt Romney’s health care problems, they could end up with a nominee with … awfully similar health care problems. Or maybe worse: While Romney signed a state mandate into law, Gingrich once went a step further and advocated a federal one.” [Jennifer Haberkorn]
Eric Cantor endorses new CMS nominee: “President Barack Obama’s Medicare nominee Tuesday got unexpected support from one of Congress’ Republican stars. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told The Associated Press that Marilyn Tavenner is “eminently qualified” to run Medicare.” [Washington Post]
Arizona hopes to loosen health cuts: ” Arizona is moving to restore some government-subsidized health care coverage for children of low-income families as part of a plan to provide several major hospitals with more Medicaid dollars to pay for serving people without insurance.” [AP]
Cost cuts undermine quality of care in nursing homes: “The push to keep labor costs low among the nation’s largest for-profit nursing home chains has resulted in poor quality care, according to new research.” ““Poor quality of care is endemic in many nursing homes, but we found that the most serious problems occur in the largest for-profit chains,” researchers found. [Modern Healthcare]
Study claims employers will “target dump” sick workers into exchanges: A new study claims that self-insured employers “could design coverage that would discourage sicker workers from remaining on the company plan and make it more attractive for them to seek coverage through the public insurance exchange.” [Kaiser Health News]
Gingrich wants to lose weight: “To the best of my knowledge my health is fine. I have an annual physical,” Gingrich said. “I should lose weight, everybody who tells me I should lose weight, they are all correct,” he said in South Carolina. “I just find it really hard to lose weight.” [ABC News]
Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World
Climate Change Endangers Food Security Worldwide
“Extreme weather like the droughts in Russia, China and Brazil and the flooding in Pakistan and Australia [in 2010] have contributed to a level of food price volatility we haven’t seen since the oil crisisof 40 years ago. Unfortunately, this could be just a taste of things to come because in the next few decades the build-up of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere could greatly increase the risk of droughts, flooding, pest infestation and water scarcity for agriculture systems already under tremendous stress.” — John Beddington, UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser (March, 2011)
Already, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 1 billion people are starving and another 2.5 billion are malnourished.
“Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced,” as I argued in the journal Nature. Oxfam has been one of the leaders in making this case (see Oxfam Predicts Climate Change will Help Double Food Prices by 2030: “We Are Turning Abundance into Scarcity”).
On the eve of the international climate talks in Durban, Oxfam has released a new report that opens with Beddington’s quote and warns:
Climate change is likely to have a pernicious effect on food production in two main ways. Firstly, slow onset changes in mean temperatures and precipitation patterns are expected to put downward pressure on average yields. Added to this will be crop losses resulting from more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
Research to date has focused almost exclusively on the first impact, modeling the extent of long-run average price rises in the absence of volatility….
But this paints only a partial picture. More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilizing markets and precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the structural price rises predicted by the models. One need not rely on imagination to understand how this could play out for the world’s poorest people. Looking at the toll extreme weather events are taking on global food security since 2010 alone paints an alarming picture.
The whole report is worth reading, but here is their summary along with recommendations for Durban:
Durban climate talks must deliver action to prevent spiraling hunger
In the last year extreme weather events shocked global markets contributing to soaring wheat prices and imperiling food security in many parts of the world, according to research compiled by Oxfam at the start of the Durban climate talks.
This year could be a grim foretaste of what is to come as new warnings from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency and severity without action to tackle climate change.
“From the Horn of Africa and South East Asia to Russia and Afghanistan, a year of floods, droughts, and extreme heat has helped push tens of millions of people into hunger and poverty,” said Kelly Dent, Oxfam. “This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace and agriculture feels the heat. Governments must act now in Durban to protect our food supply and save millions from slipping into hunger and poverty.”
Oxfam’s briefing Extreme weather endangers food security 2010-11: A grim foretaste of future suffering and hunger? shows how several extreme weather events have contributed to food insecurity at global, regional and local levels since 2010. Oxfam warns that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events will compound the projected impacts of climate change on crop yields and food prices, creating food shortages, destabilizing markets and precipitating price spikes.
- In an area of chronic vulnerability and political conflict, severe drought in the Horn and East Africa has pushed over 13 million people into crisis. In July, sorghum prices in Somalia were up to 393% higher and maize prices in Ethiopia and Kenya up to 191% and 161% higher respectively versus the five-year average prices.
- Drought and fires following a massive heat wave in Russia and Ukraine destroyed much of the 2010 harvest and triggered a 60% to 80% increase in global wheat prices in just three months. By April 2011, wheat prices were 85% higher on international markets than the year before.
- Heavy monsoon rainfall and multiple typhoons in Southeast Asia have killed more than 1,100 people and helped send the price of rice up about 25% and 30% in Thailand and Vietnam respectively versus the previous year.
- In Afghanistan serious drought helped send prices of wheat and wheat flour in July 2011 up to 79% higher in affected areas over their levels a year before.
While it is difficult to attribute a specific weather-related disaster to climate change, the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as those seen this year is set to increase due to climate change. For the poorest and most vulnerable who spend up to 75 percent of their income on food, this could have catastrophic consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs in a desperate bid to feed themselves.
“When a weather event drives local or regional price spikes poor people often face a double shock,” said Dent. “They have to cope with higher food prices at a time when extreme weather may have also killed their livestock, destroyed their home or farm, or stripped them of their livelihood. This toxic mix of higher prices and lower purchasing power has driven many people into crisis this year. If we don’t act in Durban, this pattern could become even worse.”
Recommendations for Durban
Oxfam is calling for negotiators to make progress on three key challenges.
1. They must decide that the only choice is a legally-binding climate change regime. The Kyoto Protocol is the bed-rock of international efforts to tackle climate change. It is vital that Durban builds-on, and does not roll-back, the existing regime by securing the continuation of Kyoto and an agreement that negotiations must conclude as soon as possible in a comprehensive legally-binding agreement for all countries.
2. Governments must move decisively to close the emissions gap. An unprecedented range of countries have made pledges of emissions cuts – and for the first time, it is developing countries that are pledging to cut by more than developed countries, compared to their projected levels. Still the total efforts are insufficient to avoid catastrophic global warming. In Durban governments must agree to increase their emissions cuts before 2020, after which it will be too late to keep climate change below the 2°C target agreed in Cancun (let alone the 1.5°C needed). All countries must be prepared to do their fair share of the global effort needed.
3. Governments must deliver the long-term finance to help poor people tackle climate change. By 2013 the Green Climate Fund must be up and running. The recommendations made by the Transitional Committee to design the fund should be adopted in full, and attempts by the US or anyone else to re-open these negotiations must be resisted. Vital provisions that ensure developing countries will control how money is spent at the national level, and that the needs and voices of women will be at the heart of the fund, must be protected.
But the fund cannot become an empty shell. The Durban climate talks must ensure that developed country promises to deliver $100 billion per year by 2020 become a reality. Governments must ensure there is no gap in funding after the $30 billion commitment made in Copenhagen to “Fast Start Finance” ends in 2012, and that revenues will be progressively scaled-up thereafter. A deal is possible in Durban to generate substantial new revenues from a fair carbon charge on the high and rising emissions from international shipping and aviation, which governments should seize.
“Durban will not deliver everything that is required of an effective global response to climate change,” said Dent. “But governments must build on the past, by continuing Kyoto, planning for a future legal deal to further slash emissions before 2020, and by mobilising the finance poor people need now to cope with climate change.”
Related Food Insecurity Posts:
- Washington Post, Lester Brown explain how extreme weather, climate change drive record food prices.
- The Coming Food Crisis: Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia’s fires and Pakistan’s floods are making a bad situation worse.
- The Economist: “The high cost of food is one reason that protesters took to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt.”
- Reports: Egyptian and Tunisian riots were driven in part by the spike in global food prices
- Expert consensus grows on contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest
- UN food agency stunner: World loses one-third of total global food production
- Grantham’s “Things that Really Matter in 2011 and Beyond”: “Global warming causing destabilized weather patterns, adding to agricultural price pressures”
At the last GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich asserted his support for an immigration plan that would accord an undocumented immigrant “red card” status — that is, give them a legal right to be here without providing a path to citizenship. Mitt Romney then seized a political opportunity to engage in a false attack against Gingrich, slamming the former Speaker for embracing “amnesty.”
Earlier this week, Bloomberg news reported that, in 2006, Romney “took a nearly identical position” as Gingrich, arguing undocumented immigrants living in the United States should not be “rounded up and box-carred out,” and that they should “get in line” to apply for citizenship.
During his interview with Fox News tonight, Bret Baier asked Romney about this hypocritical stand. Romney affirmed that he does believe undocumented immigrants should indeed be given a pathway to citizenship by being placed “in the back of the line.” Baier astutely noted, “Isn’t that what Gingrich is saying?” Romney incorrectly responded that Gingrich’s plan allows them to “become citizens” and provides “amnesty.”
When Baier asked whether Romney was going to send undocumented immigrants home as they apply for legal status, Romney uncomfortably stammered for a few seconds. He then circled around the issue: “Whether they apply here, whether they apply by going home — I think I’ve said in the past I think it makes more sense for them to go home, if we set up a system for them to apply here…” Baier cut him off and asked again what Romney planned to do immediately with undocumented immigrants who are already here. Again, Romney had no response. Watch it:
In 2008, Romney took the view that every undocumented immigrant had to leave. “Under the ideal setting, at least in my view, you say to those who have just come in recently, we’re going to send you back home immediately, we’re not going to let you stay here,” Romney explained. “You just go back home. For those that have been here, let’s say, five years, and have kids in school, you allow kids to complete the school year, you allow people to make their arrangements, and allow them to return back home. Those that have been here a long time, with kids that have responsibilities here and so forth, you let stay enough time to organize their affairs and go home.”
In a recent interview, one Romney adviser explained that his boss’s current position is essentially to make an undocumented immigrant’s life so unbearable here in the United States that the individual decides to pick up and leave voluntarily.
For an understanding of all the GOP presidential candidates’ views on immigration, check out our compilation here.
During an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier this evening, Mitt Romney defended himself from his record of flip-flopping on abortion by arguing that George W. Bush did it, too. “I am pro-life. I did not take that position years ago. And that’s the same change that occurred with Ronald Reagan, with George W. Bush, with some of the leaders in the pro-life movement.” Watch it:
Romney’s claim is surprising. Having researched George W. Bush’s record, we’re not aware of any point at which Bush was pro-choice. In fact, in his memoir Decision Points, Bush says his mother showed him a dead fetus in a jar at a young age, which solidified his pro-life views forever. Romney told Baier tonight that he has read Decision Points.
Perhaps Romney was trying to allude to Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, who was pro-choice for the early part of his career.
Politico reports that “a Romney source” says Romney was referring to the elder Bush. But Politico also notes that Romney has made this same mistake before.
Lost in the ongoing kerfuffle over whether Chelsea Clinton is qualified to report human interest segments for NBC News, and whether her hiring represents a conflict of interest for the network, seems to be a quality question: is the very private daughter of the man who was president more than a decade ago actually a draw for anyone? I kind of get the Meghan McCain thing as entertainment, if not as news — she’s got a well-cultivated personality, she’s built a following on social media; at the USA Network-The Moth storytelling event I went to earlier this fall, she comported herself with a winning degree of sophistication and self-deprecation. But I don’t know that anyone tunes in to MSNBC for her.
And it’s even more bewildering to think that people would tune in for Chelsea Clinton. One of the more admirable things the Clintons ever did as parents was to fight hard to protect Chelsea’s privacy, especially at a time when Bill’s behavior was inviting withering media scrutiny. As an adult, she kept to that pattern, working a series of bland private sector jobs and venturing out only to campaign for her mother in 2008. I looked at some of her wedding pictures (Hillary rocked a really awesome caftan in the days beforehand) in a cursory way. But the same preservation of her privacy and stringent avoidance of public life or public service that don’t make her a particularly qualified journalist don’t make her a particularly interesting person either. I have no idea what Chelsea Clinton’s unique lens on the world is, and nothing about the deal with NBC has made it seem like I should really care. I say this not to be callous, but to suggest it’s puzzling that the network would pursue a hire that invites disapproval without a clear upside.
This fall, Pennsylvania Republicans tried their hands at rigging the 2012 election for the GOP by proposing that the state divide up its Electoral College votes according to which candidates carried each Congressional district, essentially guaranteeing as many as 12 of the state’s 20 electoral votes to the Republican presidential candidate “for free.” Now, the man behind that the devious effort — state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) — is considering a U.S. Senate bid against Sen. Bob Casey (D). Pileggi told PoliticsPA yesterday that he has “been approached by a number of people” and that he has “deep concerns about the direction our nation is taking.” According to PoliticsPA, Pileggi “has already met with national Republicans to discuss a bid, along with party leaders in Harrisburg and southeast Pennsylvania.” While “flattered by the question,” he has “made no decision but will continue to listen on how I can best serve the Commonwealth and the Country.”
A deal to sell tar sands oil in Europe would outweigh any good the UK might do with all its other climate change measures
– by Bill McKibben, first published in the UK Guardian
The EU has provisionally imposed penalties severe enough to make it difficult for Canada to sell tar sands oil in Europe, but Britain is working to undermine that stance. Photograph: Jeff Mcintosh/AP
Here’s the essential fact to bear in mind. The tar sands of northern Alberta are the second-largest pool of carbon on earth, second only to Saudi Arabia. It’s burning Saudi Arabia, more than any other single thing, that has raised the temperature of the planet by a degree so far. But when oil was discovered in the Middle East, we knew nothing about climate change – it’s not surprising that we started pumping. In the case of Canada, however, we’ve taken 3% of the oil from the sands. We’re still at the start.
If, knowing what we now know about climate change, we just keep going, then we’re idiots.
That realisation explains why Americans rose up in remarkable numbers to fight the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. In August 1,253 people were arrested outside the White House during the largest civil disobedience action in a generation. Citizens ringed the president’s mansion in a line a mile long and five people deep. A couple of weeks ago, the president announced that he would delay the pipeline for a new environmental review, which would cover not only the route across the country but also climate change, public health, and other issues.
That announcement caught industry off guard. Transcanada Pipeline had already mowed the strip they planned to put the pipe on, and had carried vast quantities of steel across the border. They’re fighting back with every tool they can find, but for the moment they’re delayed and in trouble. It’s a win, though like all environmental wins a temporary one. And it’s a tribute not only to an organising effort that brought everyone from Nebraska ranchers to Occupy Wall Street protesters together, but also to the slowly dawning realisation that this was a big deal. As the leading climatologist James Hansen puts it, tap heavily into tar sands oil and it’s “essentially game over for the climate”.
Which is where Europe comes in. Canada wants to sell some of this oil on the continent, and as today’s revelations in the Guardian reveal they’ve dispatched endless teams of diplomats and oil barons to make the case. They have a difficult row to hoe – because the oil is embedded in sand, it takes lots of energy to get it out of the ground and hence it’s even more carbon-intensive than regular oil. The EU has provisionally imposed penalties on that extra carbon severe enough to make it difficult for Canada to sell Europeans its filthy oil.
But now, for reasons not entirely clear, the UK seems to have emerged as Canada’s partner in crime, leaning on Brussels to let this crud across the borders. No one seems to know exactly why. Lingering colonial attachment? Kinship among Tory governments? The effect, however, is clear. Any good that Britain’s government does with new efficiency standards, runway halts, windmills, you name it; all that will be outweighed if it manages to broker a deal to bring this oil into Europe.
Just as it was for Obama, it will be among the biggest single environmental decisions the Cameron government makes. So far it’s been hidden behind some obscure jargon in Brussels, but history will expose this as one of those fateful choices humans sometimes get to make. Faced with a huge new pool of carbon, will we simply make the easy choices for short-term profit? Or will we actually figure out that it’s time to think anew? Odd that in this day and age choices so important to the future of an oilfield a hemisphere away, and to the entire atmosphere, would be made in Whitehall, but that’s the case here. Around the world environmentalists are watching, and hoping Britain strikes a serious blow for the future.
• Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, and an organizer at 350.org
- Canadian PM Harper Says Okaying the Tar Sands Pipeline Is a “Complete No-Brainer.” I Could Not Agree More: “It is not in the national interest, nor is it in humanity’s interest.”
Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan warns that a military strike against alleged Iranian nuclear weapons facilities will lead to a regional war with Iran, Hezbollah and possible Syria. Dagan, who previously described an Israeli air strike on Iran as the “stupidest thing I have ever heard,” pushed back against critics like Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak had slammed Dagan for openly criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish rhetoric toward Tehran. “We are not living in an undemocratic country; in democratic countries, even people like me have the right to express their opinions,” said Dagan in an interview on the Israeli television program “Uvda.”
Yesterday, Federal Judge Jed Rakoff formally rejected a deal between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission that would have allowed the bank to pay $285 million to settle charges that it misled investors in mortgage securities. Rakoff said that there is “an overriding public interest in knowing the truth about the financial markets,” after previously deriding the settlement as “just for show.” Today, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threw his support to Rakoff, saying in a statement, “Judge Rakoff is right to ask for information. The SEC needs to provide a clear rationale for the enforcement penalties in this case and in others. Otherwise, the public is in the dark about whether the settlements are adequate and the court’s role is reduced to a rubber stamp. A settle and slap-on-the-wrist approach has not and will not deter the defrauding of investors.”
Highlighting Secretary Ken Salazar’s commitment to clean energy development, the Department of Interior has announced new rules intended to accelerate the construction of wind and solar energy projects on Native American lands. Old regulations for the 56 millions acres held by Interior in trust for Native American tribes required a review for every lease, no matter the size, by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Under the proposed rules, the bureau will have a 30-day time limit on residential leases, and a 60-day limit on solar and business leases, with some activities only requiring tribal review.
Gov. Rick Perry (R) — whose home state of Texas has the highest uninsurance rate in the nation — told a crowd in Saint Anselm College this afternoon that “everyone in the state of Texas has access to health care, everyone in America has access to health care,” adding, “from the stand point of all people in this country, our government requires that everyone is covered.” Watch it:
Perry is referring to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act or (EMTALA), a law Ronald Reagan signed, which requires hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to treat patients for emergency medical conditions regardless of legal status or ability to pay. But EMTALA only applies to medical emergencies. “So, yes, if you’re actively giving birth, you can expect to receive care at an emergency room,” Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll explain. “If you’re actively having a heart attack, you can also get emergency room care. If you’ve been seriously harmed in a car accident, you can go to the emergency room.”
Patients with chronic conditions that don’t require emergency interference, however — the millions of Americans with diabetes who need “regular access to medication to stay alive,” asthma patients, or women diagnosed with breast cancer — would not be able to find needed treatments under the Act and Perry himself would not have received the care or back surgery he needed under the “requirement.” Fortunately, he has benefited from years of tax payer funded health insurance coverage as governor and seems to believe that other Texans have as well.
President George W. Bush made the same claims in 2007, saying, “People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room”: