John Prescott still doesn’t get it

He didn’t get it at Kyoto – and he doesn’t get it now.

John Prescott – former British Deputy PM, and its lead negotiator at the 1997 Kyoto climate summit – is making headlines this morning with his call for “equalising greenhouse gas emissions per head in each country”.  But what he’s getting wrong (again – sigh) is the point that what we need to equalise for a fair global deal isn’t emissions per capita – it’s emission entitlements per capita.

This is not hair-splitting. Equalising emissions per capita is just what obviously and inevitably happens if we’re solving climate change: given that total global emissions will have to fall by at least 80% by 2050, and almost certainly by close to 100% at some stage, then obviously it follows that we’ll all be equalising our emissions – at roundabout zero.

The real question is what happens between now and that point – and in particular, how global emissions permits get shared out.  We always think of emissions targets as burdens, but they’re also tradable assets, of course.  They’re worth quite a lot: global emissions trading markets were worth $64bn in 2008.  That’s already more than half the size of total global aid flows ($120bn in 2008).

So the $64bn question – literally – is what share of these assets low income countries get.  If they get an equal per capita entitlement within a global emissions budget, then the fact that their per capita emissions are so low means they get to sell their surplus permits via emissions trading markets - and a major new finance for development flow is created, at the same time as the climate is being stabilised.

If, on the other hand, all they get is John Prescott’s implied assurance that we’ll all end up at zero emissions in a hundred years or so, then that’s not really the same thing at all, is it?

Down with special advisers!

From Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, a sad tale:

“They needed a room with proper ventilation so that the security guards could make bacon sandwiches without the whole place smelling of bacon. I was in the only one they had, so I had to move.”

My friend, not long appointed a special adviser to one of John Major’s Cabinet ministers, looked sheepish. He was explaining to me why his office next door to the Secretary of State had become one that was up two flights of stairs and along a corridor. As he told me the tale, he slowly realised that he’d been had. The Civil Service had found his “special advice” inconvenient. In future, they decided, there would be no more bumping into the minister. My friend would have to call up and arrange a meeting.

I felt sympathetic. But really all I could do was laugh. The inventiveness of the Civil Service, as they dreamt up ways to hobble special advisers, was always so impressive. The lightness of touch was what I enjoyed most. These people knew how to beat someone up without leaving a mark on their body that they could show to Amnesty International.

Ah yes, they certainly do. When I became a special adviser at DFID in 2003 and was first shown my office, I realised that it was a looong corridor length away from the Secretary of State’s private office.

A year later, I returned from leave to discover that my office had halved in size: the wall had been moved six feet.  To create a new meeting room for the Permanent Secretary on the other side.

As Finkelstein rightly observes, all you could do was laugh…

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Blue Helmets, Brown Leaves

I recently blogged about UN peacekeepers’ efforts to save the world by planting trees in places like Darfur and the Congo (I even featured on the New York Times website discussing this “new vogue of environmental priorities”).  Now an eagle-eyed reader sends these, well, gritty photos of two of the 30,000 trees planted so far – in this case, by top members of the UN mission in Timor-Leste.



The other 29,998 trees are doing just fine, I’m sure…

On the web: Bernanke’s reappointment, al-Megrahi’s release, foreign policy realism, the “perfect storm”, and more…

- With the news that President Obama has nominated Ben Bernanke for a second term, over at the New Republic Noam Scheiber assesses the merits of continuity at the Fed. Stephen Roach, meanwhile, examines the case against the incumbent chairman, arguing that Obama’s decision should open a “broader debate over the conduct and role of US monetary policy”.

- Taking us back to the depths of last September’s financial meltdown, Faisal Islam has some interesting insights into the collapse of Lehman Brothers as viewed from British shores.

- Elsewhere, debate continues apace about the rights and wrongs of releasing the Lockerbie bomber. Suggesting that “cock-up offers as convincing an explanation as conspiracy for the handling of Mr Megrahi’s release”, Philip Stephens argues that the decision highlights the “price of realism” in foreign policy.

- Speaking of which, in the latest edition of FP Magazine none other than Paul Wolfowitz assesses the realist credentials of President Obama; providing at once a telling insight into the mindset of a man at the heart of foreign policy making during the Bush years.

- Mark Easton’s BBC blog, meanwhile, takes a look at how the British government is looking to influence public behaviour in light of the Chief Scientist’s warning of a “perfect storm” of energy, food and water scarcity by 2030.

- Finally, as President Obama holidays on Martha’s Vineyard, the White House announces what he’ll be reading on the beach. Slate offers its take here.

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