There goes the [global] neighbourhood

Front page splash on The Times this morning:

Less than half the population believes that human activity is to blame for global warming, according to an exclusive poll for The Times.

Only 41 per cent accept as an established scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man-made. Almost a third (32 per cent) believe that the link is not yet proved; 8 per cent say that it is environmentalist propaganda to blame man and 15 per cent say that the world is not warming.

Tory voters are more likely to doubt the scientific evidence that man is to blame. Only 38 per cent accept it, compared with 45 per cent of Labour supporters and 47 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters.

Similarly depressing polling data a month ago in an FT / Harris poll:

Fewer than a third of people in the UK and only one in five in the US were in favour of developed countries offering aid to the developing world to help them adapt to the effects of global warming, the Harris poll showed.

In the US there was strong opposition to such aid – four in 10 people were against, compared with about a quarter in the UK, and 17-19 per cent in continental Europe.

From the same poll:

When it came to apportioning the burden of cutting emissions, people were clear that China, as the world’s biggest emitter, must make most of the effort required.

A majority in all countries was in favour – 63 per cent in the UK and the US, with higher percentages in mainland Europe – and fewer than 10 per cent in each country disagreed.

On the web: Obama’s Asia tour, the EU’s world role, and Pakistan’s nuclear security…

– With President Obama embarking on his visit to Asia, John Plender examines the nature of China’s challenge to US dominance. Cheng Li and Jordan Lee suggest what the President has to do in striking the right tone for US-China relations going forward. Kishore Mahubani, meanwhile, views Asia’s rise through the prism of Francis Fukuyama’s End of History twenty years on.

– In a wide-ranging interview with Der Spiegel, Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev talks about Stalin, democracy and the rule of law, his relationship with Vladimir Putin, and ongoing Western entanglement in Afghanistan.

– Elsewhere, Stefan Theil argues that, aided by the financial crisis, the EU’s global standing is on the rise:

“The EU’s modus operandi — sharing power, hammering out agreements, resolving conflict by endless committee — can be boring and even frustrating to watch”, he argues, “[b]ut in an increasingly networked and interdependent world, it has become the global standard.”

Julian Priestley, meanwhile, suggests four conditions if the EU is to get the most from its “institutional architecture”.

– Finally, writing in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh explores US concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal amid growing instability.

The EPA ‘whistleblower’ YouTube

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This video, by Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two veteran Environmental Protection Agency staffers based in California who specialise in emissions trading, is causing a small commotion in the US – as the EPA has now demanded that they either remove, or substantially re-edit the film.

Writing as someone who’s also done a stint in officialdom working on emissions trading (though only of a few months rather than Williams and Zabel’s few decades between them – I was seconded in to Defra in 2002 to co-ordinate the offsets part of the now defunct UK Emissions Trading Scheme), I think they are totally right about the disastrous train crash that is allowing ‘offset’ permits in to cap-and-trade schemes (see this post I did back in September arguing same).  And they’re also right that phase 1 of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme ended up giving windfalls to utility companies for no real emissions cuts.

But I think these are arguments for doing cap-and-trade properly, rather than doing away with it altogether. The critique about utility windfalls can be dealt with fairly easily, I think: the EU should have auctioned permits rather than giving them away.  But the bigger issue is the one about the use of offsets – either at US or at global level.

As they point out, the problem with offsets like Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism is that they’re based on the idea that even if you don’t have a cap, you can still do the trade part.  If you’re wondering how the verification happens – to make sure that what you trade is a real emissions reduction – well, so am I. It’s all to do with comparing what did happen with what you think might have happened otherwise, and is hence an exercise in guesswork.

So these offsets shouldn’t be included in US climate legislation.  Even more fundamentally, countries that don’t have binding targets should not be involved in international emissions trading – period.  It’s a recipe for disaster to allow permits from inherently unverifiable projects in developing countries in to the system, and then allow developed countries to claim them as their own “emissions savings”.

The still larger issue is that you can’t solve a global problem with a less-than-global solution – so any “solution” to climate change that lacks targets for developing countries simply isn’t a solution, however compelling the equity arguments.

Of course, developing countries don’t want binding targets – but equally, they don’t want to lose the chance to profit from emissions trading.  This, ultimately, is why we’re in the mess we’re in with the CDM: developing countries were concerned that assets were being shared out and that they weren’t getting any (an analysis that was 100% correct), so the CDM was dreamt up as a way of keeping them happy.  Alas, it came at a high price in environmental integrity terms.

What should we be doing instead? Well, it’s logically very simple: binding caps for all countries, everyone gets to take part in cap and trade, and the global emissions budget is shared out according to some equitable formula (for my money, equal per capita entitlements by some future date – but ultimately, whatever policymakers can agree on is fine by me; the key thing is just to share the damn thing out and get on with it). 

Alas, no-one at Copenhagen is talking about these kinds of brass tacks, and it looks a racing certainty that the awful CDM will be with us for a while yet.  If policymakers are really hellbent on another round of the offsets gravy train, then it may be that the presenters of this video are right, and that a revenue-neutral carbon tax might be the best option.

The window of opportunity on scarcity issues starts to close (updated x3)

I’ve said before that the easing of oil and food prices that followed the credit crunch and the global downturn gave policymakers a window of opportunity to take preventive action on scarcity issues. Now, alas, I think that window is starting to close – without their having done much about it.

To see why, first take a look at what the oil price has been doing over the last year (Brent crude futures, $/barrel; h/t BBC):


Then, put that against the longer term background of what’s been happening since 2000 (slightly older data here, via Mongabay, but usefully puts the BBC graph above in context):


As the second graph shows, today’s level of just under $80 per barrel already brings us back to where we were in around July 2007 – and that’s during a still shaky recovery from what’s generally agreed to have been the worst global recession since the early 1930s.

This is a striking rebound in such weak economic conditions – and calls to mind the consistent warnings from the IEA over the past 18 months that the collapse in investment in new supply during the financial crisis and subsequent downturn has set the stage for a new oil price crunch as soon as recovery gets underway (not to mention the fact that IEA’s chief economist thinks we’re looking at peak oil as soon as 2020).

With the oil price headed upwards, food prices can be expected to follow – because higher oil prices make biofuels more attractive, and raise the prices of on-farm energy use, fertilisers, transportation, distribution and various other elements of our energy-intensive food supply chains.

Sure enough, if we take a look at the latest FAO food price index, we find that it too has been quietly heading upwards over the last few months – and is now likewise back at where it was in July 2007. At that point, of course, the food spike was already well underway, with the tortilla riots in Mexico City that served as a wake-up call for many policymakers having come almost six months earlier.


On top of this, remember the really key point that the fall in food prices that took place during the global downturn gave minimal respite to the world’s poorest people – precisely because even as prices fell, they were also getting hammered themselves by the downturn.

The starkest indication of that is in the global total of undernourished people (shown here in a graph from the FT); when you realise that we haven’t just lost the progress of the last few years, but are in far worse shape that at any time since the last 60s, you start to see just what a catastrophe the combination of  food / fuel price spike followed by global downturn has been for development:


As I’ve argued in numerous previous posts, we were never out of the woods on the food / fuel pincer movement; it was the collapse in prices following the credit crunch that was the blip, not the price spike that preceded it. And what’s most frustrating now is the extent to which policymakers have frittered away the chance we had to get onto a more secure footing.

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UN to develop Nigerian Lego car

Wrong on so many levels:

The National Automotive Council (NAC) is collaborating with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) to fine-tune the concept for a made-in-Nigeria car…

“Once the bill is passed and the budget proposal before the National Assembly is passed, we will come up with the concept of the made-in-Nigeria car with a road show,” [Aminu Jalal, the Director General of the Council] said.

The automobile needs of Nigeria can only be met when all the stakeholders in the industry work towards meeting international standard, Mr. Jalal said, adding that the agency’s main focus is to encourage local manufacture of auto components. The council is equally wooing Nigerians in the Diaspora, who have indicated interest in investing in the manufacturing of auto components and ancillaries.

Unlike other emerging economies, Nigeria is yet to witness a revolution in its automobile industrial sector. As at today, the dream to have a made-in-Nigeria car has remained exactly that – a dream.

Apparently, “the absence of local source of raw materials” has delayed progress to date. From the look of early designs, this obstacle has been solved through judicious use of Lego. Presumably, the full power of the UN system will now be thrown behind the project.

United Nations Nigeria Lego Car

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