Newt Gingrich – climate change hero

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I can see why the world is warming to Newt. He talks a lot of sense on climate change.

My message is that the evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon loading in the atmosphere… and do it urgently.

Let me explain why this is a very challenging thing to do if you’re a Conservative. For most of the past thirty years, the environment has been a powerful emotional tool for bigger government and higher taxes. Therefore if you’re a Conservative, the minute you start hearing these arguments, you know what’s coming next. Just bigger government and higher taxes. So even though it might be the right thing to do, you end up fighting it because you don’t want the bigger government and the higher taxes. And so you end up in these cycles…

I think there has to be a green Conservatism. There has to be a willingness to stand up and say, “here’s the right way to solve these [problems] as seen through our value system. And now have a dialogue about what’s the most effective way to solve it, rather than get into a fight about whether to solve it. When I was speaker, on a whole range of biodiversity issues, I intervened again and again on the side of the environment. I really do believe [in the environment].

I would be delighted to see open ended hearings – not in time, but in terms of the topic – that started and said: “If we’re serious about a dramatic global reduction in carbon loading over the next twenty years – starting immediately – what are the different models that might work? Are there incentive based, market-oriented models that might work as well or faster? And is there a chance that they would produce the technology that would make it easier  for India and China to decide you can have green prosperity?”

Because if you can develop green prosperity, you change the entire trajectory for the planet, not just for the US… I would love to see hearings that didn’t start with a fight over cap and trade… which I don’t think is the way to start. The way to start is to ask what the optimum choices we can make strategically to minimize carbon loading in the next twenty years.

I believe we can bring a science, technology, and entrepreneurship/incentive-based model that would at least be worth being considered seriously by the House and Senate.

Two minor caveats. First, I don’t think  Gingrich ever developed his idea for an incentive-based model that wasn’t cap and trade. And, of course, this is from back in 2007. I hear the ex-Speaker’s position has evolved been more intelligently designed since then. Here’s the 2011 version:

Remember, in the mid-1970’s there was a cover of Newsweek and Time that says we’re in the age of a brand new glacial period and they had a cover of the Earth covered in ice. This is the 1970’s. Now many of those scientists are still alive and they were absolutely convinced. I mean, if Al Gore were able to in the 1970’s we would build huge furnaces to warm the planet against this inevitable coming Ice Age.

I’m not disputing or discrediting the National Academy of Sciences, I’m saying a topic large enough to change the behavior of the entire human race is a topic that is more than science and deserves public hearings with very tough minded public questions and we’ve had almost none of that on either side.

The ‘more than science’ hearings should be fun! Perhaps Newt will explain what happened to evidence that was sufficient to demand urgent action just four years ago…

Telling India the hard facts on climate – a lone voice

On climate, campaigners are unbelievably craven when it comes to the big emerging economies. China, in particular, gets treated with kid gloves. Within NGO circles, it is now more or less obligatory to kowtow to Beijing’s domestic track record on clean energy. Which is all very well – but I see absolutely no signs of Chinese leadership internationally (although its track record in the G20 shows how quickly it can pull out its finger when hard economic issues are at stake).

Weakness on China is especially egregious now that the country is above average global per capita emissions. Campaigners should be demanding that China ties itself to a date when its emissions will peak and then to commits to deep cuts by mid-century. (Armed with such a commitment, of course, China itself could then begin to turn the heat up on America – rather than allowing the US congress to bleat about US competitiveness.)

A failure to ask hard questions of China is bad for lower income countries. Not only will they suffer worst as the climate changes, they are going to wake up in ten years’ time to find that most of the global carbon budget for 2 degrees has been spent. Their interests are being sacrificed on the altar of G77 solidarity, with the global NGO community helping sharpen the knife.

The problem is similar, if less extreme, for the world’s other rising powers. Their per capita emissions may be lower than China’s and NGOs less terrified of offending them. But still, a country like India has 17% of the world’s population – which gives it quite a stake in our collective future. It is also massively vulnerable to a changing climate (especially as a lack of water disrupts food production).

Malini Mehra

But yet India is notoriously rubbish at international climate talks. So all the more credit to Malini Mehra, from the Center for Social Markets, for her persistent (and unusual) attempts to shine a light on India’s failings.

“In recent months, India has sought to challenge its image overseas, and in growing quarters at home, as recalcitrant and obstructionist on climate change,” she writes in her latest critique.

“[But] in a showdown this week with the old guard, the reformist environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, had to tone down his climate advice to India’s Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Political correctness won, but the loser was India’s climate security.”

Here’s the rest of her analysis: Continue reading

Copenhagen passes – a modest proposal

Yesterday, I pointed out that, for non-climate specialists, there’s only one yardstick that makes sense when judging national contributions to climate change: per capita emissions.

An American emits twice as much as a European, who emits twice as much as a Chinese, who emits twice as much as an India, who emits twice as much as a Kenyan etc. (Very very roughly – but you get the idea.)

So here’s a suggestion for the UNFCCC and Danish government as they make final preparations for the Copenhagen climate summit. When printing security passes for government delegates, why not make sure their country’s per capita emissions are prominently displayed alongside the photo?

That should concentrate minds when countries start bleating about what is and isn’t fair.

Correction- it’s the EU that’s the climate deadweight

Interesting to compare my post from earlier (“anger at America’s free pass“) with Kevin Grandia’s take. Writing from the Bangkok talks, he points an accusing finger at the EU for its failure to make any meaningful commitment to binding targets:

The only developed country to make a real commitment to a hard cap is Norway, who announced yesterday that will commit to a forty-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. It’s worth pointing out that Norway is not part of the European Union.

I have to admit to being slightly bemused by Kevin’s argument. At Bali, all members of the Kyoto club agreed that, ‘as a group’, they must cut emissions by 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The US, of course, was not in the room for the negotiation.

The EU is already committed to reducing its own emissions by 20% in 2020 against 1990 levels, the Kyoto benchmark year. Since well before Bali, it has explicitly stated that it would take on a 30% target if other countries make comparable efforts.

In contrast, the US is attempting to legislate at home on an agreement that would see its emissions return to 1990 levels by 2020, but does not yet seem to be in a position to take on any binding international target.

So that’s a possible 0% from the US vs a hard(ish) 20% from the EU, and a possible 30%. Seems quite a big difference to me. Or perhaps, Kevin, I am missing something?

Climate – anger at America’s free pass

I was talking to a friend about the Copenhagen climate summit the other day.

She was aghast – and angry – that, even in a best case deal, the United States will take on an emissions target that is no more onerous than that given to the European Union (and may be considerably less so).

US emissions have shot up during the Kyoto years, with the average American now accounting for twice the emissions of his/her European counterpart. But EU negotiators are so desperate to have the US rejoin the party that they’ll swallow more or less any commitment that their US counterparts are prepared to put on the table.

My friend’s visceral reaction is evidence, I think, that outside the ‘climate bubble’, citizens in European countries have not even begun to ask themselves what a fair deal on climate looks like.

This creates a real chance of a backlash when they finally work out that the United States expects to be allowed to continue to emit more than Europe for the next thirty or forty years – and possibly for much longer.

That’s why John Kerry got all hot under the collar when I asked him at Bali whether all countries should be heading for similar levels of emissions per head, dismissing those who insisted on playing what he called ‘the per capita game’.

It’s also why American politicians obsess over the fact the China now emits more than the US, but fail to remind their audiences that there are more than four Chinese for every American.

Past form would suggest that European governments will be meek, mild and biddable in Copenhagen, doing everything they can to make Barack Obama’s life as easy as possible. But it would be a mistake for them to be too supine.

After all, no-one respects weakness, especially Americans. And European citizens will have no hesitation in knifing their governments, when they work out that they didn’t even try to get its transatlantic cousins to finally begin to pull their weight.