Thursday, December 10, 2015

Down to Business

"If the Illuminati actually exists, they have suddenly, after a quarter century of heel dragging and backsliding, had a come-to-Jesus moment. "

 We have to confess we tend to cast a jaundiced eye whenever we see proposals to save the planet through the power of business, free enterprise or so-called “fair trade.” Our first instinct is to make sure our wallet is intact.

A dogged protest has stalked nearly every COP since Kyoto, unfurling its banners with slogans like “System Change not Climate Change.” The protest has found an unlikely ally in Pope Francis, whose Laudato Si encyclical pointed the finger at capitalist greed and made it inseparable with the climate crisis. These are grand gestures and undeniable truths, but we have to wonder whether making a Paris agreement dependent on the dawning of the Age of Aquarius is a viable strategy.

That said, we sense a sea change in business as usual. When Henry David Thoreau said it was no good having a comfortable house if you did not have a habitable planet to put it on, he was not referring to posh villas overlooking Cannes or infinity pools on private islands in The Seychelles but for the upper one-tenth of the one-percent living in such places, he may as well have been. It took a while, but now they get it.

If you manage billions of dollars, pounds, rubles or euros of your own or other peoples' money, it has by now not escaped your attention that it is all at risk in a most profound way.

The IPCC’s (vastly overestimated) atmospheric budget of 1,000 GtCO2, even with highly optimistic assumptions on curtailing deforestation, air travel, shipping and cement emissions, requires global reductions in energy-CO2 of at least 10% each year, transitioning rapidly to zero emissions by 2050 and then going beyond zero. The severity of such cuts would likely exclude even clean coal and natural gas from most countries' energy mix after 2025, President Trump's Energy Policy Task Force notwithstanding.

Reality cannot be reconciled with repeated claims by world leaders and renewables advocates that in transitioning to a low-carbon energy future “global economic growth would not be strongly affected.” You know that is not true! You cannot grow an industrial economy on daily sunbeams the way you can from 500 million years of stored sunlight. Heck, you can even send people to the Moon on that kind of energy.

The economy is a heat engine. It needs to be completely reversed if anyone is going to survive. Degrowth may be unmentionable in Paris, but it is the only policy that gives us any chance to survive to the end of this century. Tyndall Centre's Kevin Anderson observes,
“... [T]here remains an almost global-scale cognitive dissonance with regards to acknowledging the quantitative implications of the analysis, including by many of those contributing to its development. We simply are not prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly.”

At a side event on Tuesday called “Growth, the Driver of Climate Change Action” presented by Brazil, Climate Policy Initiative and Brookings, Sir Nicholas Stern mentioned four ways to move towards the zero or negative emission rates that will be necessary: soil rehabilitation; reforestation; CO2 capturing from the air; and biomass with carbon capture. He said that economic decline from resource overshoot and population pressure, notably migrants from South to North, would likely mean that governments would not be up to the task.

Sterns prognostication was affirmed at the Press Briefing on Wednesday by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who, after posturing for some 20 minutes, pulling out every platitude imaginable about the heroic work we are all undertaking and how this will be humanity's finest hour — “… our commitment to the global clean energy economy that every one of us knows we need if our future is to be secure…” —finally slipped in some statements worth picking our head out of our chest for.
“Ladies and gentlemen the situation demands, and this moment demands, that we do not leave Paris without an ambitious, inclusive and durable global climate agreement.

“Today we are formally announcing, the United States, that we are part of what we are calling the 'High Ambition Coalition.' … Addressing climate change will require a fundamental change in the way that we decide to power our planet and our aim can be nothing less than the steady transformation of the global economy. And that's not a pipe dream, some sort of pie-in-the-sky idea that's way out there and we're waiting for Godot to come along and give us the answer. That's not it. This is not a situation where we have to hope and pray that some smart person is going to come along and find a solution. No! We already have the solution!

“Remember, one of the things that we expect to happen here and makes Paris so important is not that we're going to leave here knowing everything we do is going to hit the 2-degree mark, but what we are doing is sending the marketplace an extraordinary signal, that those 186 countries [that submitted INDCs] are really committed. And that helps the private sector move capital into that, knowing that there is a future that is committed to this sustainable path. That is why we need a strong, legally binding, transparent system.”
The High Ambition Coalition that Kerry blew the cover on has been gathering in secret for 6 months. It consists of 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the US and all of EU member states. Notably absent are Australia, South Africa, Brazil, China and India. Canada only just joined.
The group is focusing on at least four key issues. They want an agreement at Paris to be legally binding; to set a clear long-term goal on global warming that is in line with scientific advice; to introduce a mechanism for reviewing countries’ emissions commitments every five years; and to create a unified system for tracking countries’ progress on meeting their carbon goals. —  Karl Mathiesen and Fiona Harvey

On Tuesday the group demanded a binding agreement with five-yearly reviews to consider more ambitious targets for the world and individual countries. They wanted clear rules for all countries to report on their emission reductions promises and have them reviewed and revised. That piqued oil rich Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Malaysia – who complained of procedural irregularity and argued the talks should revert to line-by-line negotiations. India said flatly it did not intend to revisit its promised emissions reduction target until 2030.

Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer said that new technologies cannot drive change by themselves because of inadequate regulatory frameworks. Neither can climate finance philanthropy provide the needed scale of resources for the necessary investments. Kerry said the overdeveloped countries could not go it alone and even if they reduced all emissions to zero tomorrow, the Earth would continue to warm without comparable cuts coming from the Two-Thirds World. So where does that leave us?

As we looked out the windows at French robocops manhandling journalists who strayed too close to the Grand Palais, we had to say it would not come from street protesters. It had to come from the direction Kerry was pointing — the Illuminati!

Despite the grand claims by Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein that public protest had brought down the Keystone pipeline and transformed energy utilities, we seriously doubt that. What stopped the pipeline is the same thing that stopped King Coal: the economic downturn in China driving the price of crude oil down; the halving in the price of renewables despite a half century of every possible barrier and disincentive being erected by the Department of Energy, the White House and most governments around the world; and, not inconsequentially, some gnome bean-counters in Switzerland actually running the numbers and closing the spigot on fracking and tar sands, as they must eventually on genetic modification, not because of health concerns, but because they are scientific and economic frauds.

The smart money wants to go green, fast. Jean-Dominique Senard, CEO of Michelin, said pointedly, “You should never oppose the future.”

Michael Bloomberg was equally succinct: “No CEO could survive if they said climate change is not a problem.” Leading companies are seeing an average 27% internal ROI on low-carbon investment.

If the Illuminati actually exists, they have suddenly, after a quarter century of heel dragging and backsliding, had a come-to-Jesus moment. They have realized the existential implications of climate change and are changing the marching orders they are sending to their minions.

An example of that is “We Mean Business,” a consortium of 353 companies, with $7.2 trillion in revenue and $19.6 trillion under management, 50 of whom have already committed to 100% renewable energy (RE100). WMB has an 8-fold demand for the Paris treaty that sounds like it could have been written by Climate Action Network:

The Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition (PDC) is a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by having institutional investors (ie: the owners of trillions of dollars of assets) redirect their capital to low-carbon investment opportunities. For 2015, PDC set a target of decarbonizing $100 billion in Assets Under Management. In November it announced it had smashed its target, hitting $230 billion.

The take-home point for Parties in Paris is that while they haggle over a few missing billions in government and private contributions to the Green Climate Fund they are loosing sight of the trillions that can be unlocked with the keys already in their hands.

The French Environment Minister Ségolène Royale announced a global call for tender to create cheaper and more efficient electric vehicles. The goal, he said, is to produce EVs which can be sold for less than €7,000, with a charging time of 30 minutes and a 500 km capacity. That carries a number of implications. To bring down the cost, designers will have to use fewer, cheaper and renewable resources. Think molded bamboo frames and bamboo biochar fuel cells.

Anthony Hobley, CEO of Carbon Tracker said that a critical element in remaining within the limits of a habitable Earth is the need to pull back from projects in the “danger zone.” He pointed to billions of dollars tied up in projects that are simply not needed due to massive cost reductions in renewable energy technology and changing demands. The US has the greatest financial exposure with $412 billion of unneeded projects, followed by Canada ($220bn), China ($179bn), Russia ($147bn) and Australia ($103bn).

Solar and wind are already getting to grid parity across the globe, and earlier this year, Warren Buffett set a price of three cents per kilowatt hour for his 100 MW solar farm.

ING, a Dutch investment company, announced this week in Paris they will stop financing new coal-fired power plants and mines worldwide and will turn away new clients whose business is more than 50 percent dependent on coal.

As the final days of COP21 draw to a close, the divides are familiar. Dropping the goal from 2° to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels now seems within reach. Not the temperature — that is no longer within reach — but the Maginot Line and the effort to defend it.

Those resisting this goal, such as India, China and the Arab States, suggest that such a target would represent too heavy a burden on competitiveness, economic development and poverty alleviation. The US and Canada have switched sides and are backing 1.5 to stay alive.

On the issue of finance, underdeveloping economies – those that are transitioning from agriculturally secure, renewably based societies to overpopulated consumerist fossil-addicted client state Ponzi systems — require enormous capital to invest in new coal plants, super-highways and megacities they’ll need to pursue unobtainable economic growth and customer population expansion that exists only in their dreams. Dozens of countries have aspirations like this and have sent delegates to Paris to push for their Bollywood fantasy of curry in every pot.

On the other hand, overdeveloped countries grappling with financial collapse from years of officially sanctioned systemic ripoffs and lagging resource extraction from the edges of their empires are struggling to meet Hillary Clinton's commitment to mobilize $100 billion per year in support of the bribes extorted by India, South Africa, Brazil and China at Copenhagen.

While other important differences exist, these issues are the biggest impediments to  success at Paris. They are slowing the pace of negotiations and undermining trust. Some countries seem intent on rejecting reasonable compromise because they fear being economically disadvantaged or thrown off their projected growth trajectory, as if that were even possible for anyone but unrepentant economists.

What could shift the argument might be private sector investment, within a enforceably defined regulatory regime, with accountability and transparency, to deploy low-carbon and net-sequestering technologies, including biomass-to biochar carbon capture and storage with agriculture and ecosystem service benefits. These represent an investment opportunity pegged by Stern and others at $4.7 trillion. For Ponzi economists it is a wet dream, and for red-eyed French diplomats trying to bring this puppy home, it is God-sent.

A few countries seem intent on making requests that cannot be met and are well beyond the bargaining range – what negotiators call pozo, the “zone of possible agreement.” Include India, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia here. Continuing to push for impossible positions risks everything for nothing.

We Mean Business writes:
“The climate action plans tabled by national governments in the run up to COP21 are already on course to change the temperature trajectory from an estimated 4.8°C by the end of the century to an estimated 2.7°C. Is that enough? Not at all. But a thriving clean economy and a platform for further ambition is contained within those INDCs. Moreover, for those looking for climate finance, remember, the deal itself is the financial package. The combination of a long-term goal, an ambitious review mechanism, appropriate mechanisms for transparency and accountability, and seed capital for low-carbon development provided by the public purse creates the environment for trillions of dollars in investments and funds the innovation that will drive our common success.”
In his famous 1971 Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky said, “A good tactic is one your people enjoy. They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.” In this case, anyone who wants utilities to get off coal or nuclear power should look up and see if there are solar cells or a windmill on their house and maybe a bicycle in the shed and complimentary currency in their pocket.

Alinsky warned, “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem…. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” This is what is happening to the street protesters outside the corporate venue, who are having their lunch eaten by Big Business as it mashes the accelerator on the green technology revolution.

When engaging in a large-scale political conflict involving civil disobedience, Gandhi believed that satyagrahis (“truth warriors”) must undergo training to ensure discipline. He wrote that it is “only when people have proved their active loyalty by obeying the many laws of the State that they acquire the right of Civil Disobedience.”

Gandhi contrasted satyagraha (holding on to truth) with “duragraha” (holding on to force), by saying the latter was meant more to harass than enlighten opponents and change the status quo. He wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.”

One of the biggest roadblocks to achieving the Paris treaty, after Senate Republicans in the US, is India. India demands $2.5 trillion in development pledges before it will implement its national commitments to carbon reductions put forward by its government ahead of the talks. Moreover, it is intolerant of any agreement that will force it to cut its high carbon development path before mid-century, bending the science to fit its politics.

Secretary Kerry said,
“We did not come to Paris to create a ceiling that contains all we ever hope to do. We came to Paris to build a floor, on which all of us together can continue to build. The progress that we've made, particularly with respect to INDCs, is unprecedented and encouraging, but it alone will not be enough. The targets that we've announced, taken together, will make a major dent in global emissions. They will bend the curve. But they will not hold the temperature to 2°C, which is what scientists tell us is what needs to happen to prevent the worst impacts, or lower than that, even, if possible, the 1.5, whatever. And that is why it is important that we keep an eye on our targets and insure that they are as ambitious as possible, that we understand whether we are making progress, that we set up a system to review our targets and ratchet them up at regular intervals if we need to, and given the rapid pace that I just mentioned, in which technology is evolving, in five years the individual capacity of one nation or another could increase dramatically.”
Both Wednesday and Thursday will have midnight sessions, it was announced this afternoon by COP President Laurent Fabius. Delegates hope Friday will be a day of rest while the legal and linguistic group reviews the text. The next iteration of the text, expected for Thursday afternoon, will be what Fabius calls the “penultimate text.” We shall see. Some brackets are more stubborn than others.

Governments may not be able to curb India's counterambitions. But maybe the Illuminati will, especially if, like ING, it refuses to do business with anyone who leaves Paris and is still burning coal. That would be most in keeping with the spirit of the Mahatma. 

1 comment:

Ian Graham said...

I tune in every nite to AB's essay and assessment of the developments in Paris. This one is no exception. No where else can I find this close up view of the unfolding or less hopefully undoing of the future of life on Earth.




The Great Change is published whenever the spirit moves me. Writings on this site are purely the opinion of Albert Bates and are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 "unported" copyright. People are free to share (i.e, to copy, distribute and transmit this work) and to build upon and adapt this work – under the following conditions of attribution, n on-commercial use, and share alike: Attribution (BY): You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Non-Commercial (NC): You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Share Alike (SA): If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws. Therefore, the content of
this publication may be quoted or cited as per fair use rights. Any of the conditions of this license can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder (i.e., the Author). Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license. For the complete Creative Commons legal code affecting this publication, see here. Writings on this site do not constitute legal or financial advice, and do not reflect the views of any other firm, employer, or organization. Information on this site is not classified and is not otherwise subject to confidentiality or non-disclosure.