China won much praise (and prestige) for its prompt and bold response to the unfolding global financial crisis, announcing a fiscal stimulus package worth 14% of its GDP in November 2008, well ahead of other major economies (this compares with a fiscal expansion of 2.5% of GDP for the US, 4% for Japan and Germany, and roughly 2% of GDP for G20 countries as a whole). On the face of it, the Chinese stimulus seems to have paid off: the economy has clearly bottomed out and is once again set on a high growth course. But, as I argue in a forthcoming article in the China Environment Series – versions of which are published on Policy Innovations and Chinadialogue – there are serious concerns about the sustainability (economic and environmental) of the stimulus.
– With the new EU President and High Representative finally decided, the FT wonders whether current Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, is the true victor from all the horse-trading. The Times has news that, consistent with the Lisbon reforms, the EU is attempting to strengthen its presence at the UN. Sunder Katwala, meanwhile, suggests that European member states still lack a fundamental sense of what they want to achieve as one in the global arena.
– As President Obama continues to review Afghan strategy, the WSJ assesses the impact on US-UK relations. Con Coughlin, meanwhile, paints a more pessimistic picture of the “exclusivity of [Obama’s] style of decision-making”.
– Elsewhere, Fyodor Lukyanov heralds Mikhail Gorbachev’s idealism, suggesting he was “the last Wilsonian of the 20th century”. Richard Haass, meanwhile, explains how lessons drawn from the Cold War could help address contemporary global challenges.
– Finally, World Politics Review has a series of articles on modernising the US State Department and creating a more integrated national security architecture. The Guardian, meanwhile, surveys the UK Foreign Office’s growing “brave new world of blogger ambassadors”.
From the UN, news of another respectable initiative with a rubbish name…
Network of Men Leaders
The engagement of men and boys is integral to achieving an end to violence against women and girls.
In this vein, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced the formation of a Network of Men Leaders who will work to inspire men everywhere through their commitment to eliminating violence against women and girls.
The Network will be launched by the Secretary-General on 24 November 2009 at the official UN observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Men Leaders? I mean, how hard would it have been for UN officials to sit down and come up with a group title that didn’t sound like a camp biker gang? Why not just “Testosterone for Peace”? This is a serious, sensible initiative, and includes Desmond Tutu, the Spanish PM, etc. So one might just spend 5 minutes on branding?
At a dinner on UK climate policy last night, there were – as always – several people around the table lamenting the fact that in generally messing up on how they communicate climate change to a sceptical public, policymakers have in particular failed to make more of the ‘green collar jobs’ argument. Climate change shouldn’t just be presented as a problem, the argument goes; doing that just makes people feel depressed. No, we should present it as a huge opportunity: this, after all, is Britain’s chance to make money from the jobs of the future.
I must admit, I always think there’s something a bit disingenuous about these arguments. True, some countries will do very well out of particular export sectors that emerge from the need to reduce emissions: think of the Danes and offshore wind, for instance. But all countries are talking about green new deals etc., and logically, not all of them are going to win prizes (a point particularly germane in the UK, you might think, given we’re 25th out of 27 EU member states on renewable energy; only Malta and Luxembourg perform worse).
For most countries, the realistic best case scenario is that some new jobs will be created, while some old ones will be lost. True, Britain has a small fuel cells sector that might yet go places. But if you work in aviation or steel or cement or road haulage or coal mining or any of the other sectors with a less-than-rosy future in a low carbon world, you might worry about whether your kids should follow you into the same line of work. Just to focus on the jobs being created might make you feel good, but it’s hardly the whole picture. And this is before we even consider what happens to employment if – as you might reasonably suspect – the medium to long term effect of climate change is that we all have to (gasp!) consume a bit less.
So if you’re convinced that the only way to get people to take action on climate change is to persuade them that there will be vast benefits, then it’s unclear to me that green jobs is the best place to pitch your tent. I think instead you need to show people the money: not just the few thousand of them who get green collar jobs, but all of them, through some mechanism such as a revenue-neutral carbon tax, or a system of domestic tradable quotas (i.e. personal level emissions trading).
But I have to say, I’m not convinced that the ‘climate change is a huge opportunity’ argument has any clothes anyway. The blockage we’re up against here is laziness, inertia and inconvenience on a large scale. Reducing emissions is a big hassle. We know this, because even though study after study shows that it’s essentially cheaper than free for people to insulate their lofts, they still don’t.
But we’re not just talking insulating lofts. We’re talking about changing the entire energy system – how you heat your home, how you get to work, how your power is generated, how it’s distributed from there to you. It’s like the hassle involved with changing your bank, times a hundred and forty seven. If someone told you that the quid pro quo for incurring that much hassle was the creation of 12,000 new engineering jobs in the north-east of England, you would look at them and say, “So?”
The “opportunity” argument just doesn’t stack up against the tedious, time-consuming, expensive, unglamorous reality that will be the transition to a low carbon economy – and I think we’re doing ourselves no favours in sticking with it.
I think we need to look seriously at the last time Brits were persuaded to take on this much hassle – namely rationing, during and after World War Two – and ask how they were won over. It wasn’t about opportunity. The arguments that got them to put up with it were not about how much healthier they’d be on their new diets (true though this was). Instead, they were persuaded by a story about personal sacrifice that would make them part of a heroic shared undertaking in the face of an existential threat.
And even then, they moaned like hell. Continue reading
…and things are turning nasty, according to the Economist’s Charlemagne:
To my surprise, a dominant mood in this final stretch is one of hostility towards the Swedish presidency and specifically, the Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
If the briefing, which comes from several EU governments, were just sniping about incompetence, I would not be so surprised: every rotating presidency is criticised before every big summit, because everything always looks like a mess before every crunch meeting of the EU. It is only when summits are over and the results are known, that you can really judge the role played by its hosts.
No, what takes me aback is the level of “distrust” out there about Mr Reinfeldt, to use the word chosen by a senior figure from one EU country. There are veiled hints that he is using his role as chairman of the selection process in a way that is not wholly straightforward.
Specifically, there is grumbling about Mr Reinfeldt’s decision to seek a very short list of candidates to put to EU leaders at their emergency summit, consisting of one or two names who enjoy near consensus before discussions even start. The thing about this system, it is alleged, is that it gives Mr Reinfeldt extraordinary power over the process, because once a candidate attracts any opposition, that candidate can be chucked off the shortlist as “failing to create consensus”. The accusation from some camps is that candidates are being chucked off too quickly, when the opposition to them might not be as hard and fast as all that. Nobody is quite accusing Mr Reinfeldt of using this system to kick people off the shortlist who he himself does not favour, but they are coming pretty close.