Us Now

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This is the first bit of Us Now, an hour-long film by Ivo Gormley – screened on Channel 4 but with the entire thing available free over the web – on social networking technologies, mass collaboration, and what they mean for government.  Here’s the rest. (You can also find it in segments on YouTube if you prefer.)

A rough guide to Copenfailure (part 3)

In a couple of previous posts (1, 2), Alex has been looking at how and why Copenhagen might fail – but here’s a fresh question: what’s the difference between a bad and a good failure?

Not all failures are equal, clearly. Some outcomes boost the prospects of eventual success. Others will push the climate process towards semi-permanent dysfunction, an equilibrium that will probably only be shifted by future climate catastrophe.

Good and bad outcomes do not split neatly across our scenarios for failure. Neither will they necessarily be immediately obvious to climate insiders, whose judgement is (understandably) swayed by optimism bias (success is always just around the corner) and a partiality for politeness strategies (obfuscating red lines with technical language; not tackling opponents in public, etc).

Bali #2 – a high level political declaration with little real substance – could be a good deal, and will almost certainly be heralded as such by governments keen to garner good headlines. But there’s a strong chance that it’s simply the prelude to future failure – especially if:

(i) Healthcare continues to block the path to a US Senate bill; (ii) there is ambiguity between countries on the eventual legal status of a deal; (iii) the US and China are at loggerheads, or are huddling in a low ambition coalition; (iv) obvious bear traps – especially Monitoring, Reporting and Verification  – have not been cleared away; or (v) the roadmap to an agreement has no clear timetable or a timetable based on more than wishful thinking.

If enough of these conditions are met, then all Bali #2 does is to defer failure to a bis follow-up – or, more likely, all the way through to the COP16 summit in December 2010. Given wriggle room, the Senate will not able to resist elbowing its way into the talks, larding its Bill with conditions designed to provoke the Chinese, while undermining Obama’s primacy in international negotiations.

Pro-deal campaigners may well let up the pressure, their funds and momentum exhausted by a premature push at Copenhagen. The anti-climate lobby, in contrast, will be energised by blood in the water – and will attract additional funding as a result. Even if a deal is sealed in the spring, the process will still not be out of the woods – as we discuss in our Death by Climatocracy scenario).

Bad Deal is the worst possible outcome.  If overall targets for developed countries are either non-existent or well below the 25-40% reduction beneath 1990 levels needed by 2020, and if there’s no clear resolution of the long term position of developing countries, then valuable political bandwidth has been expended on a deal that simply isn’t up to the job.

Advocates of a serious deal will then have no option other than to ‘go into opposition’ and exert continued pressure against the status quo – although European countries in particular will be sorely tempted to play along, pretending that the deal, however weak, gives the world something to build on.

Car Crash is the most difficult scenario to judge. It will grab headlines, and horrify insiders. But if negotiators must stare into the abyss, it is surely better that they do so at Copenhagen, rather than at the bis, in Mexico in a years’ time, or on the road to implementation in 2012. Indeed, breakdown at Copenhagen could actually be cathartic and help to tee up more ambitious action. Crucially, though, this will only happen if:

– The crash is spectacular, and clarifies differences between countries – thus catalysing a long-overdue discussion about the principles that must underpin a global deal.

– The ‘last straw’ is a totemic issue that can subsequently be tackled and seen to be resolved.  By contrast, the crash must not be over some abstruse technical point that the media can’t explain (as for instance when WTO trade talks collapsed over the obscure Special Safeguard Mechanism in July last year).

– Leaders are confronted by their personal responsibility for a failure of imagination that history is certain to judge harshly.

    Next up – how to respond to failure…

    How climate change will affect hunger: new report on the state of the science

    The World Food Programme has just published a new report (pdf; also Reuters coverage here) on how climate change will affect hunger, which both summarises the state of scientific knowledge on the issue and sets out a policy agenda to tackle it.  Key messages:

    – By 2050, the number of people at risk of hunger because of climate change will be 10 to 20 per cent higher than it would have been without climate change.

    – The number of malnourished children is expected to increase by 24 million – 21 per cent higher than without climate change.

    – Sub-Saharan Africa will be worst affected, with the semi-arid regions either side of the equator hit hardest of all.

    But here’s the good news: if we get the policies right – on mitigation and on adaptation – the increase in the number of hungry people by 2050 could be limited to just 5% (which would actually be a substantial reduction in proportionate terms, given that population is projected to rise by 50% over the same period).

    The lead author for the report was Martin Parry, the Chair of IPCC Working Group 2 (the part of the Panel that looks at impacts). I was one of three other authors, and wrote the part of the report covering policy responses.

    Copenhagen “in disarray”? Don’t believe the hype

    The Guardian’s leading with a rather breathless piece this evening on how the Copenhagen talks are

    … in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

    The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals

    The article’s author, John Vidal, also says he’s seen a “confidential analysis of the text by developing countries” , which he says argues that the draft text will “force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts”, “divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called ‘the most vulnerable'”, and “not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes”. Vidal continues that,

    Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.

    But having read the full draft negotiating text (also on the Guardian site, here – and n.b. there’s no proof it’s genuine) Vidal’s article seems weirdly off beam.

    For one thing, the text says nothing whatsoever about having different per capita allocations in 2050 for rich and poor countries. On the contrary, it explicitly says that “Parties’ contributions towards the goal [of limiting warming to 2 degrees C] should take into account … a long term convergence of per capita emissions”. Admittedly, the text doesn’t say anything about the convergence date, and it also falls into the trap of talking about convergence of emissions as opposed to convergence of emission entitlements (explanation here) – but there is no reference to enshrining unequal allocations.

    As to the other stuff about “forcing” developing countries to take on emission cuts or “dividing” them by talking about the idea that some are more vulnerable than others: oh, come on. Continue reading

    Mental sickness and the welfare state

    It’s interesting the way British public policy is beginning to bring together unemployment policy with mental health policy. The British government today brought out a 10-year strategy for dealing with depression, which includes the key strategy of doing more to get the mentally ill back into work. For example, under the new strategy, job centres will now have mental health advisors.

    The same day the government released its report, the Young Foundation – one of the main think-tanks behind the British ‘politics of wellbeing’, released its own report, suggesting that the welfare state needed to transform to be more focused on well-being, including helping the out of work cope with the emotional problems that often go with unemployment.

    The head of the think-tank, Geoff Mulgan, says: “The welfare state that was built up after the great economic crisis of the 1930s was designed to address Britain’s material needs – for jobs, homes, health care and pensions. It was assumed that people’s emotional needs would be met by close-knit families and communities. Sixty years later psychological needs have become as pressing as material ones – the risk of loneliness and isolation, the risk of mental illness, the risk of being left behind.”

    We already saw the beginning of the merger of unemployment policy with mental health policy in 2005, when Lord Layard, the government advisor, justified the government spending £173 million on training 3,000 new cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) professionals by arguing it would pay for itself by getting many of the 1 million people claiming incapacity benefits because of mental illness in the UK off the couch and back into work.

    You can criticise this shift in policy thinking from the Left or the Right. From a Leftist perspective, this is Thatcherism masquerading as therapy. The reason the government supported the Layard report’s 2005 report on depression, a Leftist sceptic could argue, is that the government hoped by spending a bit more on CBT, it could spend a lot less on incapacity benefits. You get people off the sofa, off Prozac, off the dole, and back into work. It’s Sigmund Freud meets Norman Tebbit.

    This fusion of therapy with ‘on your bike’ Thatcherism reduces therapy to a mere band-aid for capitalism, argue Left-leaning therapists like Oliver James: you patch people up, give them a pep talk, and send them off into mindless low-paid jobs. It’s somewhat comparable to the First World War psychologist W.H Rivers complaining that he was treating people for shell-shock only to send them right back to the front line to die, one could argue.

    Alternatively, you can criticize the new well-being state from the Right as the nanny state gone mad: it’s crazy to think the government can take the place of the family or the church, and can whisper sweet nothings into our ear until we feel happier. At best, it’s a huge waste of money. At worst, it’s Brave New World. Continue reading

    Posted in UK

    Why are environmental NGOs pushing for a later peak emissions year than the IPCC?

    As we’ve been arguing here since March, the year that policymakers select as the deadline for global emissions must peak is the key short-term variable to watch at Copenhagen. So what is the deadline, assuming we want to limit global average warming to 2 degrees C?

    Well, David and I would like to see policymakers agree that emissions should peak right now, given that emissions have fallen so much as a result of the credit crunch. The development NGOs who are most active on climate change – Oxfam, Christian Aid and Tearfund, as well as Avaaz – are a little more cautious than that, arguing that emissions should peak by 2015; but they’re still basically on the same page as the IPCC, which said in its last Assessment Report (pdf – see table at the foot of page 15) that to limit global average warming between 2.0 and 2.4 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak between 2000 and 2015.  Chair of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri has also said that 2015 is the deadline.

    Astonishingly, though, the main federation of environmental NGOs – the Climate Action Network – says that any time up to 2017 is fine. WWF International agree. TckTckTck used to say 2017 too (as I noted when they published their policy position); they’ve subsequently revised their target to 2015, but still have documents on their website using the old date. (Nothing like a consistent message, eh?)

    Be very clear: this isn’t just hair-splitting. Once the peak date for emissions slides beyond 2015 and towards 2020, according to the IPCC, we’re heading for a world that’s not 2.0-2.4 degrees C warmer, but 2.4-2.8 degrees C. That is what the environmental NGOs are arguing for. Shortly before they spend a fortnight calling everyone else at the Copenhagen summit “fossil of the day“. It’s breathtaking.

    So, if you can’t make it to the summit but still want a way to take action and make your voice heard ahead of Copenhagen, how about this. First thing on Monday, get in touch with any environmental NGOs you support.  Ask them their position on the global peak emissions date. And if it’s any later than 2015, then cancel your subscription.

    I’m not kidding. Policymakers aren’t the only ones at Copenhagen who need to be held to account. If the green NGOs can’t get their figures right on something this fundamental, this basic (even as the development NGOs manage it just fine) then they need to – what’s that phrase from the Bali summit? – “leave it to the rest of us; please, get out of the way“.

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