Preparation for Paris


The post Lima preparation for Paris is already underway. While each country and their delegations have their own expectations and responsibilities, it is imperative that the entire global community prepares as well. What better way to spread global awareness and participation than with live music!? Al Gore and pop icon Pharrell Williams have teamed up to announce a global Live Earth concert in June. This concert, with its purpose to demand climate action, will be staged in six cities on all seven continents. Yes, Antarctica will also be participating in this global event. On this day, the entire globe will stand up together for a cause that is affecting all aspects of our shared planet. The ultimate goal of this music festival is to collect 1 billion signatures to encourage world leaders to adopt a new climate agreement in Paris at COP21. There is a lot of pressure for the outcomes in Paris, especially after 2014 was recorded as the Earth’s warmest year on record. A global event like this could be groundbreaking for increasing public action and awareness.

Transformative Change Needed, Tax Carbon!

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In the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2010), during COP15, 114 countries agreed that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C, on the basis of equity”. This has been interpreted as the “dangerous” level agreed to by the parties in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). To have a more likely than not chance at staying below 2°C, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot exceed 500ppm (IPCC, 2014). Every 2.13 GtCO2 emitted will raise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 1ppm (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2012). As of September 2014, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 395 ppm (NOAA, 2014). Thus, there is approximately 224 more GtCO2 that can be emitted until there is a less likely than not chance of having warming greater than 2°C. To reach this level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global emissions must be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and be at zero or negative emissions by the end of the century (IPCC, 2014). A carbon tax is the most effective way to make the transformative change needed to keep emissions below the agreed upon dangerous level of atmospheric GHGs. An aggressive carbon tax will allow dangerous climate change to be avoided because it is proven to work, it can be implemented quickly, and it has the potentially to drastically reduce emissions.

A carbon tax is an effective tool to mitigate emissions in a least cost manner. Every use of fossil fuels that is worth less than the price of the emissions will not occur and thus reduce emissions. As the fee rises, more carbon intensive activities will become economically infeasible, driving down GHG emissions. Depending on the original fee and rate of increase this would be an effective tool to rapidly decrease emissions at the least cost because market forces will drive carbon reductions. By setting a tax floor, emission reductions are ensured (as opposed to a price cap in cap-and-trade systems) and increase over time with price increases (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). A cap-and-trade system will be associated with less certain emissions reductions because an emissions cap is also an emissions floor (Burtraw and Woerman, 2012). This means that maximum emissions reductions cannot always be achieved because the number of permits issued sets the reduction amount as opposed to market forces pushing emissions with economic forces. This tax scheme allows for efficient carbon reductions.

Several European countries have already put a tax on carbon. Denmark was able to do this successfully by taxing industry emissions to fund renewable energy projects (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). Denmark proved that the carbon tax works when you tax the polluters and subsidize renewable energy (Prasad, 2008). A recent study even found that a majority of republicans, democrats and independents in the United States would support a carbon tax similar to Denmark’s in which all revenues would be returned to research and development of renewable energies (Amdur, 2014). This could make a carbon tax feasible in the US and allow for economically efficient emissions reductions.

During the last week of October 2014, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced his intentions to introduce a carbon fee bill to the US Senate (Pantsios, 2014). This bill would put a price on the carbon to fund social programs including helping workers transition out of carbon intensive jobs (Pantsios, 2014). Two MIT economists hypothesize that it is better for the economy to have carbon taxes than high federal taxes (specifically looking at the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts) even if those funds go towards social programs or tax cuts (Rausch and Reilly, 2012). For all these reasons, it seems like a carbon fee bill would do well in US congress; it makes logical sense, but the politics can get messy.

Australia passed a carbon tax in 2012 (Meng and others, 2013) under a pro-labor government attempting to reach across party lines to gain votes (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). The politics around this legislation have been messy for a number of years and in 2014 the law was repealed under the notion that it hurts business and is preventing Australia from exporting its rich energy resources to countries across the world (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). AGL Energy was cited as saying that this would cause a loss in revenue in the near term due to loss in assistance from the government/carbon tax; however, long-term profits are now looking up (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). This could lead to backlash from citizens as the government takes away a A$500+ check, which was promised to households in the form of yearly savings (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). Australia is the first example of a nation to pass a carbon fee and then later repeal it. A program, which gives money to the citizens, would seem to have broad voter appeal, like British Columbia’s program (2014). It appears that the politics were not set up properly for Australia to have a carbon fee that sticks. This does not mean that a carbon fee is impossible, but rather that care must be taken to set up a program that is politically feasible.

Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are a good first step and should not be discourage amongst UNFCCC parties. To be effective, an agreement with a great deal of stringency, participation and compliance must be reached in Paris. It does not appear to be politically feasible, but if a global price on carbon could be agreed upon, this would allow for the best system to tie everyone together ensuring participation and compliance. The tax could provide increasing stringency over time to ensure effectiveness. This would allow certainty around carbon leakage out of countries with strict carbon rules and into low regulation nations. The carbon tax is a clear transformation change that would work to drive emissions down. Incremental changes and small policy reforms are unlikely to put the world in a position to mitigate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Effective and decisive action is needed immediately to instill transformative change.

Works Cited

Amdur, D., Rabe, B., Borick, C. Public Views on a Carbon Tax Depend on the Proposed Use of Revenue. Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy. Number 13. July, 2014.

British Columbia. Carbon Tax. Ministry of Finance. 2014.

Burtraw, Dallas, and Matt Woerman. “US status on climate change mitigation.” Resources for the Future (RFF) Discussion Paper (2012): 12-48.

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center – Conversion Tables. September, 2012.

IPCC, 2014: 5th Assessment Synthesis Report, Summer for Policy Makers. [Myles R. Allen (United Kingdom), Vicente Ricardo Barros (Argentina), John Broome (United Kingdom), Wolfgang Cramer (Germany/France), Renate Christ (Austria/WMO), John A. Church (Australia), Leon Clarke (USA), Qin Dahe (China), Purnamita Dasgupta (India), Navroz K. Dubash (India), Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany), Ismail Elgizouli (Sudan), Christopher B. Field (USA), Piers Forster (United Kingdom), Pierre Friedlingstein (United Kingdom), Jan Fuglestvedt (Norway), Luis Gomez-Echeverri (Colombia), Stephane Hallegatte (France/World Bank), Gabriele Hegerl (United Kingdom), Mark Howden (Australia), Kejun Jiang (China), Blanca Jimenez Cisneros (Mexico/UNESCO), Vladimir Kattsov (Russian Federation), Hoesung Lee (Republic of Korea), Katharine J. Mach (USA), Jochem Marotzke (Germany), Michael D. Mastrandrea (USA), Leo Meyer (The Netherlands), Jan Minx (Germany), Yacob Mulugetta (Ethiopia), Karen O’Brien (Norway), Michael Oppenheimer (USA), R.K. Pachauri (India), Joy J. Pereira (Malaysia), Ramón Pichs- Madruga (Cuba), Gian-Kasper Plattner (Switzerland), Hans-Otto Pörtner (Germany), Scott B. Power (Australia), Benjamin Preston (USA), N.H. Ravindranath (India), Andy Reisinger (New Zealand), Keywan Riahi (Austria), Matilde Rusticucci (Argentina), Robert Scholes (South Africa), Kristin Seyboth (USA), Youba Sokona (Mali), Robert Stavins (USA), Thomas F. Stocker (Switzerland), Petra Tschakert (USA), Detlef van Vuuren (The Netherlands), Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium)]. November 1, 2014.

Meng, S, Siriwardana, M., and McNeill, J. “The environmental and economic impact of the carbon tax in Australia.” Environmental and Resource Economics 54.3 (2013): 313-332.

Monica Prasad, “On Carbon, Tax and Don’t Spend,” New York Times, 25 March 2008.

NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. October, 2014.

Patsios, Anastasia. Sen. Whitehouse Proposes Carbon Tax to Repay Citizens for Pollution Costs. Eco-watch. October, 2014.

Rausch, S., and Reilly, J. Carbon tax revenue and the budget deficit: A win-win-win solution?. MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, 2012.

Sawin, J., and Moomaw, W.. Renewable revolution: low carbon energy by 2030. Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

Taylor R. and Hoyle R. Australia Becomes First Developed Nation to Repeal Carbon Tax. The Wall Street Journal. July, 2014.

UNFCCC. Copenhagen Accord. “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.” UNFCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1. March 30, 2010.

UNFCCC. United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC/INFORMAL/84. 1992.

Movement Towards A Sustainable World

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Climate change is by far one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. Humans are creating this change in the climate; therefore humanity must take responsibility for previous actions. Developed and developing nations must switch to an energy efficient and renewable world, but it is a global effort. Climate change is expected to put pressure on natural environments as well as those constructed by humans. Therefore, in order to minimize these challenges, it is imperative to put adaptation plans into action. While the world continues to grow and develop, it is important further development is done in a sustainable manner. Sustainable development is a considerable solution towards developing in a way that lessens environmental degradation. Sustainable development is defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development  as, “a mechanism for growth without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Warner, 2014). Sustainable development can be achieved through climate resilient pathways, which combine methods of adaptation and mitigation. However, it is argued if climate change will pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development.

According to the UNFCCC, “Climate change poses a moderate threat to current sustainable development and a severe threat to future sustainable development.” Climate change involves a complex interaction between social and ecological systems; therefore new approaches to sustainable development must take this into consideration. Adaptation and mitigation are both essential for minimizing the risks attributed with climate change. Currently and previously, actions on sustainable development have been delayed, which poses a threat for future sustainable development because it can reduce the options for climate resilient pathways.

On the other hand, researchers at MIT, “looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big” (Resutek, 2014). Policies that aim at reducing carbon emissions are beneficial to health problems because these policies lead to reductions in harmful pollutants. These emission reductions also in turn have huge cost reductions for healthcare. One of the researchers Tammy Thompson states, “If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don’t include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies” (Resutek, 2014). These results show that climate policies not only benefit the environment, but also benefit health and the economy. The recent advances in technology for renewable energy can achieve more than just meeting the goals of emissions reductions.

While the future in respect to climate change looks entirely too bleak, humanity must use existing technology and implement policy towards continuous sustainable development. We cannot move forward without doing so in a sustainable manner. All nations must work together and assist the most vulnerable nations in taking drastic measures in order to remain under the two-degree limit. Sustainable development produces global benefits in combating climate change.

Works Cited

Resutek, Audrey. “Study: Cutting Emissions Pays for Itself.” MIT News. MIT, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Warner, Koko, Dr. “Climate Resilient Pathways to Sustainable Development.” Multiple Resilience Pathways: (n.d.): n. pag. UNFCCC. UNFCCC, 19 May 2014. Web.




Two Years Later, What have we learned from Sandy?


Two years ago the Jersey Shore, a place where I call home, was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. My friends and family were left without heat, electricity, and some were left without homes. While my family was fortunate enough to have mild damages to our properties, others had lost everything. The first time I returned home, about a month after Sandy, there were still incredible signs of the destruction. Boats were still washed up on major roads, the streets were still full of debris, and beach towns resembled ghost towns. I observed places that were once very familiar seem almost unrecognizable.



This famous photograph (above) was taken in a nearby town, which I recalled having to pull a u-turn in the driveway during the previous summer months. Hurricane Sandy forever altered the landscapes of the Jersey Shore.

During our trip to Washington DC, we spoke with Joel Scheraga, the Senior Advisor for Climate Adaptation in the Office of Policy in the Office of the Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Joel Scheraga spoke to us about the importance of mainstreaming climate adaptation planning. As we have already seen impacts of climate change through intensifying natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that the process of redevelopment incorporates climate-resilient methods. It is the EPA’s mission to anticipate and plan for future changes in climate. Climate adaptation will prepare the world for the impacts of climate change.

After meeting with Joel Scheraga, I began to wonder in what ways the Jersey Shore was rebuilt to withstand future climatic events.

Will New Jersey be ready for the next superstorm?

These images show the changes in the landscape after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. 


The Dollars and Cents of Inaction


Earlier in September, a report was released outlining the United States’ economic risks and vulnerabilities stemming from climate change.  The report was funded and motivated by the Risky Business Project, a group of influential and monetary heavy-hitters in the US, including former New York City major Michael R. Bloomberg, former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, and Tom Steyer, the former Senior Managing Member of Farallon Capital Management, LLC.  The stated focuses of the report include damage to coastal property and infrastructure from rising sea levels and increased storm surge, climate-driven changes in agricultural production and energy demand, and the impact of higher temperatures on labor productivity and public health.  It provides a thorough, in-depth analysis of US climate risk and the unique possible impacts for each region (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Great Plains, Northwest, Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaii) and argues for policy solutions aimed at adaptations in the business, investing, and public sectors specifically.

Although not certain, the economic impacts the United States is vulnerable to from climate change are grave; billions of dollars and the underlying structures and assurances of our economic system are in peril.  The costs of inaction (and thereby the costs of action at a future time) are exponentially higher than the costs of action today, and the possible benefits and stability of our economic way of life can still be preserved.  President Obama understands this, as he outlined the work his administration has done thus far to colloquially “shore up the defenses” and adapt to these risk in a speech to the United Nations Climate Summit this past week.  The President also understands that it is in the nation’s best interests to work towards decisive action on an international scale because of the global scope of the climate dilemma, and urged other nations’ leaders convened at the Summit to do what they can within their own borders to ensure that damage across all borders and all economies is minimized.

The Weather in 2050

On the UNFCCC newsroom homepage today I found the video at the bottom of this blog post. The first four minutes of the video show a news anchor man going through the current weather across the US with a hurricane off the coast of Florida, a heat wave in Chicago and a server drought in the south-west US. The video ends with Ban Ki-Moon addressing the viewers and asking for us to take action on climate change with him. On one hand the video seems overly dramatic. But, is this what it takes to get people to take up Ban Ki-Moon’s call for action?

After investigating the WMO’s website, I was able to find a link to a series of videos that the organization is running in preparation for the Climate Summit at the end of the month in New York City. A list of those videos can be found here.

It is very interesting to me that they are running this campaign on weather related events. We know that there is not a clear connection between any given daily weather event and climate, yet, this video series suggests that weather when examined in different locations globally is an indication of a warming climate. These videos are consistent with the predictions of climate modelers, according to the WMO website. So, maybe this is an effective way of convincing people of the real dangers of climate change. What do you think?


Anarchy in Climate Negotiations

Global Emissions
Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.
Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.

Over the past 20 years of climate negotiations, nothing substantial has been accomplished in terms of mitigating global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Only those countries that have the most to lose from climate change, i.e. sovereignty, have pushed for meaningful action. This has led to a lack of significant commitments by major polluters, and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) have failed to enforce mitigation strategies. Realism provides the strongest lens through which to see and understand the path of the global climate change negotiations and provides the best predictor for how states will act in this arena moving forward.

States function in an anarchic system, and thus climate negotiation between all countries also face the challenges of anarchy. There is no one group that can control the states and force everyone to agree on any one path to action. It can be argued that the UN brings all of the states together for the discussions and that they dictate the schedule, but the UN has not exemplified the ability to inspire or force any decisions to be made. The United States, the world’s second largest emitter of GHGs, acts as hegemon in the climate negotiations (Bulkley and Newll, 2010) and is able to maintain no binding international regulatory measures on GHGs. When the US senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution the Kyoto Protocol lost global emissions reductions significance. When the hegemon backed out, it unraveled the Protocol, proving that the most powerful must be integrally involved in order to have effective results. According to a realist point of view, if the US, instead of backing out, had used its political and military power to enforce a strong agreement, the Kyoto Protocol could have come into force for all states; however, that would not have been in the best economic interest of the country, which means that they would not enforce the Protocol.

Constructivism does not work as a model to fully explain global climate negotiations because communication and involvement from non-state bodies is not leading to cooperation by the involved parties. The negotiating parties are not accepting norms and ideas, thus there is no currently plausible mechanism for mitigating global GHG emissions. It is simply not in the economic self-interest of powerful states to slow growth and prevent the use of fossil fuels. In this light, the realist point of view describes inaction from the most carbon intensive states because they have an intrinsic self-interest in continuing to burn fossil fuels. This is not to say that these nations would not receive some benefit from pollution reductions such as cleaner air, but currently their personal cost is much greater than any benefit they may receive.

Using the realist theory we can explain why some parties, such as the Alliance of Small Island States, who are most vulnerable to climate change (Bulkeley and Newell, 2010) are already taking action. From a realist point of view, small island states would only voluntarily cut back on emissions if they would directly benefit from those actions. These nations risk loosing their sovereignty due to sea level rise, so it is consistent with a realists understanding for these most vulnerable countries to cut their emissions to attempt to spark international change. When faced with losing an entire nation, it is expected that the population would be as vocal as possible to attempt to save their sovereignty. As Fletcher (2013) describes, Costa Rica is taking action after increasing political pressure in the 1980s to stop deforestation. After accepting funding to help these efforts, Costa Rica has become a global model for carbon emissions reductions and forest preservation. The European Union has taken more significant action than any other powerful and significant state in terms of GHG emissions. The EU and states that have taken action on climate change have not done so because they are good global citizens. They have done so because they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and will be better off as a state (or grouping of states) if they take actions to preserve environmental services and reduce GHG emissions. Even though these actors and other states have been cooperating on small actions, a realist view still most accurately describes the climate negotiations because there has not yet been collective action by all global parties.

The only way states will be able to agree to a binding agreement on GHG emissions, under this realist theory for international relations, would be for a hegemon to take charge of the negotiations. The hegemon or another powerful state that could compete with the hegemon for that position would have to successfully threaten the use of force to make other states comply with mandatory GHG reductions. With a lack of such a leader and a global government, it is highly unlikely that this outcome will occur. Countries will continue to negotiate around climate change until the cost of inaction becomes too great and it is no longer in a hegemon’s best interest to continue to allow excessive GHG pollution.


Work Cited

Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing climate change. Routledge, 2010.

Fletcher, Robert in “Climate governance in the developing world.” Reference & Research Book News 2013: Academic OneFile.

Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.

US: political agreement, not a legally binding treaty

The New York Times reported yesterday that President Obama is seeking an international agreement that would be based on voluntary pledges that would not be legally binding (Obama seeking climate accord in lieu of treaty, Aug 26, 2014). This is a critical question for the UN climate negotiations that we will attend in Lima in December, and one that we will discuss during the semester. Many Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) take the view that, for international efforts to be effective at preventing ‘dangerous’ climate change, nations must make commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are legally binding — similar to the approach embodied in the Kyoto Protocol, but with more stringent commitments that would apply to all major emitters of GHGs, if not all nations. Other Parties have promoted a different approach in which nations make pledges to take action on climate change. The US is an important proponent of this approach, and has been for some time. Under this alternative approach, each Party would, within some agreed parameters, decide the form and stringency of its pledge. This approach is embodied in the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements of the UNFCCC. Enforcement would not be through international legal channels, but through political pressure brought to bear by other nations, and a desire on a national government to create or maintain a reputation of being true to its word. The Obama administration has referred to this as “name and shame.”

Later this semester we will read a paper by Daniel Bodansky of the University of Arizona that compares these two approaches, and recommends that Parties to the UNFCCC draw on both in seeking a way forward. See his paper The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement, from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

When you read the NY Times article, also read some of the comments. You’ll see that the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ have been effective at seeding confusion and misinformation about climate science.