Her comment came a few days before a major UN climate summit, COP24, held in Katowice, Poland.
Other panellists on Q&A contradicted Ms Vanstone, saying emissions were rising.
This prompted many viewers of the program to call on RMIT ABC Fact Check to investigate Ms Vanstone’s claim.
Ms Vanstone’s claim is misleading.
Latest federal government figures suggest that although greenhouse gas emissions have fallen over the past 10 years, emissions started trending upwards again about four years ago.
The upturn, since 2014, has coincided with the Abbott government’s removal of the carbon tax.
Also, while emissions from electricity production have been falling, the decrease has been outweighed over the past four years by rising emissions in other sectors of the economy, such as transport, where emissions are associated with increased LNG production for export.
Emissions can be measured in different ways: for example, as total emissions or emissions per capita or per GDP.
In the past year, Australia’s total emissions have been rising. But emissions per capita or per dollar of real GDP have been falling, mainly due to Australia’s rapid population growth.
However, it is worth noting that Australia’s progress in cutting emissions under its international obligations (the Paris Agreement) is measured by changes in total emissions rather than by other measures.
As one expert put it: “The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters.”
Ms Vanstone made her claim during a discussion on Q&A about a protest by Australian schoolchildren titled ‘Strike 4 Climate Action‘.
She was speaking about the climate policies of Australia’s two major political parties, and in the broader context of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment, as perceived by young people.
Ms Vanstone did not specify which kind of emissions she was talking about. Nor whether she was referring to simple totals or ratios.
Fact Check invited her to clarify this. She said she had not been expecting to talk about emissions: “I can’t tell you that I had a particular tight construct in my head at the time,” she said.
“I think I was just making a general remark about emissions generally over a long period of time.”
Fact Check considers it reasonable to assume that her claim refers to Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years — the length of time examined by the Government’s most recent report on emissions.
What others are saying
Ms Vanstone is not alone in claiming emissions in Australia are decreasing, though other speakers have been more specific.
Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, also on Q&A, said carbon emissions per capita and by GDP were at their lowest levels in 28 years.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price also highlighted this low ina press releaseannouncing the Government’s latest quarterly emissions data.
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that total emissions had risen over the year to June 2018.
Others have also pointed to the rise in total emissions.
Labor senator Lisa Singh, another of the recent Q&A panelists, argued that “emissions have continued to go up since 2011”.
Andon ABC radiothe same week, Richie Merzian, the climate and energy director for think tank the Australia Institute said: “For the last four years, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing.”
The Australian Department of the Environment and Energy collects and publishes a series of reports and databases, known as theNational Greenhouse Accounts.
The accounts track greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 onwards, and fulfil Australia’s international reporting obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol.
Quarterly reports, released as part of the accounts, track total emissions as well as emissions by sector, per capita and per GDP.
Thelatest report, released three days before Ms Vanstone’s Q&A appearance, provides estimates of Australia’s national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions up to the June quarter of 2018.
The report examines emissions produced by eight sectors: electricity, stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions (for example, leakages), industrial processes and product use, agriculture, waste, and land use, land use change and forestry.
Are emissions per capita and per GDP useful measures?
Put simply, no.
Dr Saddler said focusing on emissions per capita was meaningless, since the measure used in international agreements was the more crucial total emissions.
“The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters,” he said.
Professor David Karoly, an internationally recognised expert on climate change, said the emissions per capita was a useful measure when it allowed for country by country comparisons.
“The Australian per capita share at the moment is higher than any other developed country in the world — higher than the US. Yes, it’s coming down, but it is still the highest.”
Both Dr Saddler and Professor Karoly confirmed the fall in emissions per capita and GDP were due to rapid population growth in Australia.
Experts assess the claim
Professor Karoly said if Amanda Vanstone’s claim was made in reference to total Australian emissions, “they are going up”.
He noted that the start of the recent rebound in emissions from mid-2014 coincided with thedumping of the carbon taxby the Abbott government in July of that year.
Professor Mark Howden, the director of ANU’s Climate Change Institute, told Fact Check: “I think it is correct to say that Australian emissions were coming down, but are now rising steadily.”
He said an argument could be made that emissions have come down, given they are lower now than at their peak between 2005 and 2008.
“However, this is a problematic argument,” he said.
“Under the current mix of policies and economic activities, emissions are clearly not coming down but instead are rising steadily.”
Pep Canadell, a senior principal research scientist in the CSIRO Climate Science Centre, and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, suggested that 1990 was a good reference year for gleaning a long-term view of changes to emissions.
“Good annual data only starts from 1990, which is the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol and why the Government started the good quality data then,” Dr Canadell said.
Emissions per capita have fallen 37 per cent since 1990.
However, Dr Canadell added:
“Given Ms Vanstone’s statement is present tense, I disagree [that emissions are falling]. According to the data, emissions have been going up since 2013, with ups and downs, and, if anything, accelerating recently.”
Polish students part of an international climate strike hold up signs at COP24, the United Nations conference for climate change negotiations in Katowice, Poland.Monika Skolimowska/Getty Images
By Umair Ifran
Umair covers climate change, energy, and the environment.
Before joining Vox, Umair was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News in Washington, DC, where he covered health and climate change, climate policy, business, and energy trends.
In 2016, he received a Sasakawa Peace Foundation fellowship to report on Japan’s energy sector, economy, and culture. In 2014, he was awarded the Arthur F. Burns fellowship to cover Germany’s energy transition.
Negotiators at COP24 in Katowice have finally reached an agreement, but key points on carbon markets are still being debated.
UPDATE, December 15:International climate change negotiators announced late Saturday that they have reached anagreementat COP24 in Poland.
The text charts a path forward for countries to set tougher targets for cutting greenhouse gases under the Paris climate agreement, as well as stronger transparency rules for countries in disclosing their emissions.
However, nations still couldn’t reach an accord on how to use markets to limit carbon dioxide.
Those discussions will continue next year.
Read on for the context around these negotiations and why environmental groups, governments, and private companies were so concerned about the outcome of this conference.
An agreement between 200 nations at a major international climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, is taking longer than expected.
Stop Adani protest at Australian Labor Party Conference Today
The goal of the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to hammer out critical the details of theParis climate agreement.
Under the 2015 accord, countries set out to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100 at most, with a preferred target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, the original pledged cuts ingreenhouse gas emissionswould not put the world anywhere near meeting these targets.
So the agreement included provisions for countries to meet regularly and ramp up their ambitions, all of which are voluntary. COP24 is the first time since Paris that countries are actually talking with each other about going beyond their initial commitments. That’s why this meeting is so important. That’s also why scientists and activists are pushing for even more ambitious commitments to reduce emissions in the final days of the negotiations.
“If the Paris agreement is actually going to live up to that model of voluntary bottom-up commitments, … ongoing ratcheting down of those commitments, then it has to happen at this first moment,” said Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate and energy at the World Wildlife Fund, by phone from Katowice. “And if it doesn’t happen at this first moment, then it will call into question whether this ratcheting will actually work.”
Time to stop opening new coal mines
The outcome of the negotiations became increasingly uncertain afterPresident Trumpin 2017 announced he would withdraw the United States from the accord.
For an agreement that hinges so much on cooperation and good faith, the worry was that without the US, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, the deal would fall apart, that other countries would weaken their ambitions or sign an agreement so full of loopholes as to be useless.
For delegates, the goal is to nail down critical details, like how to verify that countries are actually progressing in cutting greenhouse gases, creating market mechanisms to control emissions, and coming up with ways to help developing countries finance a transition to cleaner energy sources.
It turns out countries are making some progress in tracking their emissions, but are still struggling with many of the financial issues associated with mitigating climate change. It’s yet another example of the tension between the threat of rising average temperatures and the fears of economic strain that hinder ambition in cutting greenhouse gases.
Fighting climate change is only getting harder
The literal and metaphorical backdrops of the COP24 negotiations highlight the enormousness of the challenge. Katowice is in the heart of Poland’scoal countryand the conference is sponsored in part by Polish coal companies. The conference venue is literally festooned with coal.
In 2007, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a story calling for a “Green New Deal.”
Friedman explained that he no longer believed that there was one silver-bullet program that would solve climate change.
Rather, just as a variety of programs were part of former US president Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for economic revitalization in the 1930s, so it would take a variety of investments in environmentally-friendly technologies to help stabilize the climate.
Friedman almost certainly could not have imagined that some day politicians would propose a Green New Deal that might include a universal basic income.
Newly elected US congress member and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for office on an ambitiousclimate-change platform which she also calls a Green New Deal.
The plan has gained attention and supportersover the last month, and is becoming a main talking point among Democrats who are looking for a meaningful agenda for the party over the next decade.
Ocasio-Cortez envisions the federal government leading efforts to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in renewable energy infrastructure, improving the efficiency of residential and industrial buildings, and constructing an energy-efficient electricity grid.
To achieve the Green New Deal’s goals, the government would need to hire millions of people. Ocasio-Cortez sees this as an opportunity to transform the economy.
The Green New Deal would include training and education for workers, as well as a federal job-guarantee program.
Further, all investments would be focused on low-income communities.
Presenting climate-change mitigation as a jobs program, rather than an economy killer, may be politically savvy.
As if all that wasn’t ambitious enough, the Green New Deal would also include “basic income programs, universal healthcare programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor-market flexibility, and entrepreneurism.”
It is basically everything liberals desire and more.
Supporters defend the need for these welfare programs as ways to alleviate the disruption that would be caused by the elimination of fossil fuel-supported jobs.
With a universal basic income and government-guaranteed health care, losing your oil-industry gig wouldn’t be as bad.
The program would of course be very expensive.
It’s hard to estimate how much it would cost, as the details are still murky. Green Party leader Jill Stein estimated that her version of the Green New Deal, which isless ambitiousthan the one presented by Ocasio-Cortez, would cost $700 billion to $1 trillion annually.
Ocasio-Cortez says hers would be funded by debt spending and tax increases.
In Friedman’s original conception, the government played a much smaller role in the Green New Deal.
He believed the government’s place was not in funding projects, but in seeding research and creating tax incentives andefficiency standards (paywall), and that harnessing the power of the private sector was the key to taking on climate change.
While Ocasio-Cortez believes the private sector has a role to play, she argues that the scale of the project is too big to leave to government-guided market forces.
The Green New Deal has come a long and very expensive way.
It still far cheaper than catastrophic climate change.
Global Commission on Adaptation, “Accelerating Action and Support for Adaptation”
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Katowice, 12 December 2018
Climate change is already damaging many people’s rights to life; to food, health, water, sanitation and housing; to decent work, to self-determination, and to development.
We already know that much more comprehensive and damaging impact is looming – and that it is too late to avoid some of this damage.
But the worst effects of climate changecanbe averted – and they must.
The people most profoundly affected by climate change are those who already endure multiple forms of discrimination – owing to their economic status; their gender; their membership of minority or indigenous communities; because they are migrants, or because they are people with disabilities.
But that doesn’t mean other groups will be safe. Neither wealth, nor walls – however high – will be capable of protecting anyone from the systematic and global reach of this preventable disaster.
I am convinced the work of this Commission is critical to protecting human rights, and I am honoured to participate in it.
We need immediate and coordinated action to limit the damage that has already been done, through effective and ambitious mitigation; and where the damage cannot be undone, we need effective measures to boost people’s ability to adapt to the changes that have been wrought on our environment.
These and other measures to prevent and protect against foreseeable human rights harms cause by climate change are obligations under international human rights law.
According to World Bank estimates, 100 million people may fall back into extreme poverty by 2030, due to climate change. These people are likely to be among those who have benefited the least from the processes, which have created this damage. It is a matter of basic justice that they be the primary beneficiaries of climate adaptation.
They can also be key agents to protect the environment from climate change. By safeguarding lands and traditional seed varieties, and applying environmentally sound farming practices, indigenous peoples and local communities protect biodiversity and ecosystems, thus contributing to climate mitigation and resilience.
Many of these key actors are women. Indigenous women, for example, have for centuries protected biodiversity and ecosystems – so that many today are living libraries of traditional practises, which promote sound environmental management. It is clear that when women and all others do gain adequate access to land and other fundamental resources and services, and are able to participate fully in decisions, all of us benefit.
This is why it is so critical to implement the Gender Action Plan, and to operationalize the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Platform.
We need transformative climate action that fuels the eradication of poverty, supports a just transition and promotes sustainable development. We need measures to free women and other groups from entrenched discrimination.
Article 7.5 of the Paris Agreement calls for our environmental adaptation to be more inclusive, participatory and gender-responsive. This is what that means:
We need to raise our voices, and empower civil society and human rights defenders across the world to participate in environmental decision-making.
We need environmental action at all levels that is centred on the needs of the people – all the people.
We need more clarity, and better data to demonstrate the disproportionate harm being inflicted on women and other groups.
Our countries will not achieve sustainable development, if we ignore the ways in which climate change deepens inequalities between States, and between communities. If we fail to protect environmental human rights defenders, to ensure their participation in climate action and to guarantee their access to justice. Or if we fail to cooperate in mobilising finance, sharing technologies and protecting the countries and people most vulnerable to climate change.
A human rights-based approach requires affirmative action to address all of these issues, and to ensure transparent, accountable and participatory climate action to protect people’s welfare and rights.
My Office is committed to supporting the work of the UNFCCC and the Global Commission on Adaptation to achieve these objectives.
For six decades, Orrin Pilkey has written, taught, and preached about the beauty of barrier islands and the extraordinary risk of building in coastal floodplains. In more than 40 books, 250 scientific papers and journal articles, and countless opinion pieces, Pilkey has fashioned a vision of coasts as dynamic, living landscapes, with their own personalities, quirks and flaws, “not unlike people,” he says.
To the extent that America has a public conscience of its coasts, it just may be the voluble marine geologist, a short, hobbit-like figure who for decades wore an unruly gray beard like the wizard Gandalf. Pilkey warned about interfering with the natural processes of shorelines and questioned developers, politicians, and engineers who helped to fill the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts with trillions of dollars of vacation houses, investment properties, and businesses, often subsidized with generous federal tax dollars.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone appreciated his message. Some beach town mayors viewed Pilkey as the Antichrist. “I hate him, hate him, hate him,” bellowed the mayor of one of the largest and richest beach towns in New Jersey — this after Pilkey observed that the shoreline there was rapidly eroding. In 1991, the town council of Folly Beach, South Carolina, even passed a resolution condemning Pilkey’s research as “insulting, uninformed, and radical.” Pilkey framed the resolution and hung it on his office wall.
Now 84, the former Duke University professor is still busy and has anew bookon sea level rise coming out next August. With growing concerns about sea level rise and another year of catastrophic hurricanes (2018’s Florence and Michael), it seemed like a good time to talk with Pilkey about how his ideas have evolved over time, and what he sees as the biggest challenges ahead in an age of climate change, warming oceans, torrential rain storms, and more violent hurricanes.
Yale Environment 360:Recent reports by theUnited Nationsand theNational Climate Assessmenthighlight the risks of crowding the nation’s shorelines with risky property, and raise the possibility that millions may be forced to retreat to higher ground as the seas rise and hurricanes do more damage. You’ve been warning about these threats for decades, dating back to 1969, when Hurricane Camille wrecked your parents’ Mississippi retirement house. Was that a turning point in your career?
Orrin Pilkey:Yes, the loss of my parents’ house was the point at which I realized for the first time the immense power of the sea and the need to inform the world that building next to the shoreline is almost suicidal. The recent UN report and National Climate Assessment confirmed some of my worst fears about the future threats of flooding and storms. Yet people continue to build in risky places. In Waveland, Mississippi, where my parents retired to a house with 13 feet of elevation, I saw an example of a beachfront house that was destroyed by Hurricane Camille, a replacement house destroyed again by Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the vacant lot for sale for $80,000. A loud activist voice was needed.
“The question that needed to be answered was…Which is more important, beaches or buildings along our ocean shores?”
e360:You grew up in Washington State and were a smoke jumper for a time. How did you go from fighting fires to studying the coasts and earning a PhD in marine geology?
Pilkey:I first saw the ocean in Puget Sound as a teenager and was fascinated by the waves, the sea smells, and the infinite vistas. That love of the ocean continues to this day. But like me, I believe that many marine scientists have grown up far from the sea. The late Bruce Heezen, the father of marine geology, for example, grew up as an Iowa farm boy.
e360:You were one of the first coastal geologists to take a public stance about building in harm’s way, arguing that armoring the coasts with seawalls, rock groins, and other defenses was not sufficient. What was your thinking at the time?
Pilkey:I was primarily concerned that these devices were being sold as the way to save the beautiful beach cottage communities. When they didn’t work, which was the usual case, the excuse used by the engineers was that the storm that destroyed the devices was unusually severe and unexpected. It was clear that beaches were being destroyed in order to save oceanfront houses, with seawalls and other structures interfering with the natural flow of sand and accelerating erosion, and that a voice expressing that was severely needed. The question that needed to be answered from the standpoint of Americans everywhere was: Which is more important, beaches or buildings along our ocean shores?
e360:In some ways we appear to be going back to the future at the coasts. Charleston and Miami are building seawalls and giant pumps. New York City is planning for a huge surge gate. And Texans are trying to get the federal government to pay for a Dutch-style gate across the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, in Galveston. In your view, will these steps work and, if so, for how long?
Pilkey:Protection of major cities is different from the protection of much smaller resort communities on barrier islands. Stabilizing the shoreline, that is, holding it still, may be a reasonable priority for portions of big cities, but not so for smaller tourist developments, which depend on a good beach. Hard structures, such as seawalls and groins, almost always eventually destroy the beach. Surge gates depend on the blind luck that no superstorms will occur and overtop or destroy them, and also depend on a low rate of sea level rise. Their lifetime is likely to be only a decade or two. It is also likely that many other coastal cities will clamor for a surge gate once one city has one. Can we afford construction and maintenance of these large structures in view of their questionable success? The Dutch have a small country, much of it below sea level, and there is no place to escape the coming sea level rise. Therefore, they must use extreme engineering. But Americans have plenty of room to retreat.
“Government support of beach development encourages more and more development, leading to more storm damage.”
e360:Hurricanes by far account for the costliest natural disasters in the U.S., with over $500 billion in damage in recent years, and the likelihood of even more catastrophic storms in the future. Yet Americans keep building in harm’s way, often with the aid of generous federal subsidies, including flood insurance, disaster aid, and Army Corps of Engineers’ beach repairs. Don’t these subsidies distort the risks, shifting them from private homeowners to public taxpayers, and make it harder to encourage people to retreat to higher ground?
Pilkey:Unquestionably, government support of beach development encourages more and more development, leading to more and more storm damage. The mentality is why retreat when the government is right there to help you put things back the way they were before the storm.
e360:I am thinking about Dauphin Island, off the coast of Alabama, which has been repeatedly battered by hurricanes and has received tens of millions in federal aid. After Katrina, in 2005, a few dozen homeowners wanted the government to buy their homes, so they could move inland, but there was no money. Why don’t buyouts work at the coast?
Pilkey:The western half of Dauphin Island is the least suitable location for development along the entire U.S. Gulf of Mexico. North Topsail Beach in North Carolina, is similarly vulnerable. Buyouts on Dauphin Island would make sense because serious damage has occurred there five times since 1973, mostly on the west end where all of the vacation homes are. The government would have saved money in the long run if they had purchased the damaged properties, but the extreme high price of beachfront buildings prevents the buyout approach. It’s a shame. Buying these vulnerable properties could be the first step in managed retreat.
e360:Increasingly, coastal communities are seeing regular flooding, largely as a result of rising seas. Miami has its King Tides. Areas of Norfolk, the Outer Banks and New Jersey now routinely flood in ordinary thunderstorms. What does your recent research tell us about what’s happening and what residents can expect?
Pilkey:The flooding that is occurring along the fringes of many American communities is called sunny-day flooding or nuisance flooding. These high tides correspond to spring tides but have been raised higher by sea level rise, and are the first concrete evidence of a rising sea. The highest of these nuisance floods are called King Tides, which occur three or four times a year. As sea level rises, nuisance flooding will penetrate further and further inland, threatening more property and resulting in more flood claims.
e360:The general scientific consensus is that we can expect about 3.5 feet of additional water by the end of the century. But if the ice sheets melt or sea level rise accelerates, we could see 6 to 8.5 feet, which would be catastrophic. By some estimates, up to a trillion dollars worth of coastal property could literally be under water. Will we likely see a mass migration from the coast at some point?
Pilkey:Millions of people will be fleeing drowned cities this century. Low-lying cities, such as Miami, Charleston, and New Orleans, and many barrier island communities, especially in Florida – Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach – are likely to produce huge numbers of evacuees. Miami alone will produce 4 million climate refugees, probably well before 2100. Currently, there are no plans to accommodate these refugees in inland cities. Even places with higher elevations will be at risk. Surrounding access roads at lower elevations may flood in storms or high tides and prevent residents from reaching businesses, schools, stores, and churches.
“Ghost towns are a likely element of our coasts by the end of this century. Complete loss of some communities is not impossible.”
e360:In a few coastal resorts we are beginning to see home buyers factor sea level rise and flood risks into the price of real estate. In Miami, condos at higher elevation carry a premium. How quickly do you see real estate prices at the coast sinking, and what impact do you expect that will have on future development?
Pilkey:I believe that we are due for a crash in the price of beachfront property. No one knows exactly when this will occur, but it is likely within a decade or two. There are already small price reductions occurring in some places. Probably sinking prices will cause a dramatic reduction in new beachfront development nationwide. Ghost towns are a likely element of our coasts by the end of this century. Complete loss of some communities is not impossible. Edingsville Beach in South Carolina, a town of 60 houses on a barrier island, disappeared in a major hurricane in 1893. Along the Holderness Coast in England, 26 towns are under water on the Continental Shelf.
e360:If you owned an oceanfront home, say in New Jersey, what would you do?
Pilkey:If I owned a house in view of the sea, I would remember that along our coastal plains, if you can see the sea, the sea can see you. If I opted to stay, I would first investigate the evacuation routes. I would want to know what the biggest storm on record did to the coast there. Very likely, I would move my home well back from the shoreline. Better yet, I would probably look into the feasibility of moving it to the mainland. One other temporary useful alternative would be to raise the building to allow storm surge to flow underneath it. Most likely, however, I would sell.
Secretary-General’s remarks at the closing of the High-Level Segment of the Talanoa Dialogue, COP-24 [as delivered]
Ladies and gentlemen,
In my opening statement to this conference one week ago, I told you that this was the most important COP since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.
I warned that climate change is running faster than we are and that Katowice must—in no uncertain terms—be a success, as a necessary platform to reverse this trend.
To achieve it, I said that ambition and compromises were both needed. Never have the stakes been higher.
I left Katowice hopeful, but uncertain.
While I was away, three more reports were added to the long list of warnings signals:
A Special WHO report on impacts to health due to climate change;
A UN Environment Programme report which highlights the opportunities for reducing emissions in the construction sector; and
NASA’s research on the first signs of significant melting of glaciers in East Antarctica.
Returning to Katowice, I see that despite progress in the negotiating texts much remains to be done.
And today, the Presidency is presenting a text as new basis for negotiations.
I’d like to thank the Polish Presidency for its efforts.
I understand it takes an enormous amount of energy and work to organize such a conference.
I also understand the weight of responsibility that this COP carries.
There can be no doubt that it is a moment of truth.
In this regard, key political issues remain unresolved.
This is not surprising—we recognize the complexity of this work. But we are running out of time.
Today, it is only fitting that we meet under the auspices of the Talanoa Dialogue.
I’d like to thank Fiji for initiating this Dialogue.
It’s no coincidence they’re the ones who established the process to discuss ambition to meet a 1.5C° goal.
Small Island States know better than any of us the importance of meeting that goal.
As I said in my opening remarks, for people living on those islands, climate change isn’t a theoretical exercise about the future – it’s a matter of life and death today.
Talanoa’s spirit is exactly how we can achieve a successful result in these last crucial days of COP24.
It is defined by openness, driven by optimism, and focused not on political differences, but on the collective well-being of those living on this planet.
And let me be open and transparent.
The IPCC Special Report is a stark acknowledgment of what the consequences of global warming beyond 1.5 degrees will mean for billions of people around the world, especially those who call small island states home.
This is not good news, but we cannot afford to ignore it.
Over the last 10 days, many of you have worked long, hard hours and I want to acknowledge your efforts.
But we need to accelerate those efforts to reach consensus if we want to follow-up on the commitments made in Paris.
The Katowice package needs to deliver the Paris Agreement Work Program, progress on finance and a strong basis for the revision of National Determined Contributions under the Talanoa Dialogue.
These three components are linked by one central idea—boosting ambition.
Ambition when it comes to predictable and accessible financial flows for the economic transition towards a low-emission and climate-resilient world.
Ambition with respect to climate action.
And ambition with respect to developing a flexible but robust set of rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Let us start by finance.
The financial obligation from developed countries to support efforts of developing countries was established in the Convention when it was adopted in 1992—more than 25 years ago.
It’s very difficult to explain to those suffering from the effects of climate change that we have not managed to find predictable support for the actions that must be taken.
The World Bank announced a new set of climate targets for 2021-2025, doubling its current 5-year investments to US$ 200 billion, both in mitigation and adaptation, in support for countries to take ambitious climate action.
Here at COP24, Multilateral Development Banks announced the alignment of their activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement and in line with the science-based evidence identified by the IPCC.
It represents US$ 35 billion in developing and emerging economies with an additional leverage on US$ 52 billion from private and public sources.
And before the COP, we saw a new Investor Agenda, as well as, for example, an announcement by ING that it would set science-based targets to shift its lending portfolio towards a low-emission future.
These private sector actors are making important progress because they recognize the seriousness of the climate challenge we face and the opportunities related to addressing it.
Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy.
So, I urge you to find common ground that will allow us to show the world that we are listening, that we care.
Developed countries must scale up their contributions to jointly mobilize US$100 billion annually by 2020.
And we need to strengthen the Green Climate Fund.
Germany’s pledge to double its contribution in the current replenishment process is a very positive sign that I hope will inspire others to do the same.
I have appointed the President of France and Prime Minister of Jamaica to lead the mobilization of the international community, both public and private, to reach the target of US$ 100 billion in the context of the preparation of the Climate Summit I have convened in September of next year.
Second, the rulebook.
I just arrived from Marrakech.
It reminded me that the deadline to finalize the Paris Agreement Work Program was not one that was imposed upon Parties by anyone—it was a deadline Parties imposed upon themselves at COP22, precisely in Marrakech.
Both the Convention and the Paris Agreement recognize that countries have different realities, different capacities and different circumstances.
We must find a formula that balances the responsibilities of all countries.
This will allow us to have a regime that is fair and effective for all.
To achieve this, and to build the trust that everyone is doing their fair share, we need to have a strong transparency framework to monitor and assess progress on all fronts: mitigation, adaptation and provision of support, including finance, technology and capacity building.
I am aware that this issue is also technically complex and many linkages across different parts of the texts are being considered.
But I have confidence that you will find a way to overcome those challenges.
Third: climate action.
Today, Katowice is the hub of global climate action. The eyes of the world are on us. And more than 32,000 people have come here to find solutions to climate change.
They are inspired, engaged and they want us to deliver. They want us to finish the job.
Katowice must be, Mr. President, the dawn of a new determination to unleash the promise of the Paris Agreement.
We clearly have the know-how and the ability to reach 1.5C.
We see incredible momentum from all segments of society to lower emissions and make the transition from the grey economy to the green.
We have the ways.
What we need is the political will to move forward.
As the IPCC Special Report indicates, the intersection between State and non-State is essential to reaching our climate goals.
This Talanoa Dialogue is an example of how this can all come together.
The IPCC report outlined a catastrophic future if we do not act immediately.
It also clearly states that the window of opportunity is closing.
We no longer have the luxury of time.
That’s why we need to have our work here in Katowice finalized—and finalized in less than three days.
Meeting your deadline means we can immediately unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement and its promise of a low-emissions climate-resilient future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I understand that none of this is easy. I understand some of you will need to make some tough political decisions.
But this is the time for consensus. This is the time for political compromises to be reached. This means sacrifices, but it will benefit us all collectively.
I challenge you to work together for that purpose.
I challenge you to accelerate and finish the job.
And to raise ambition on all fronts.
To waste this opportunity in Katowice would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change.
It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.
This may sound like a dramatic appeal, but it is exactly this: a dramatic appeal.
Let us then carry forth the spirit of the Talanoa Dialogue in these crucial next few days and let us heed its messages.
It’s about more than the future of each country.
I have three young granddaughters. I will not be here at the end of the century. The same probably applies to all of you.
I do not want my granddaughters or anybody else’s to suffer the consequences of our failures.
They would not forgive us if uncontrolled and spiraling climate change would be our legacy to them.
An alliance of groups opposed to the proposed Adani coal mine are stepping up their campaign, targeting Labor leader Bill Shorten ahead of his party’s national conference starting this weekend.
The Stop Adani Alliance – which claims two million supporters among its 38 member groups – will on Thursday unleash an advertising campaign and release polling showing four in five respondents want the government to intervene to stop the project.
The first of a three-phased strategy will involve a so-called “summer of action”, aimed at pressing federal Labor to shift its ambiguous stance on the mine, which has the potential to open up the huge new coal province in Queensland’s Galilee Basin if it proceeds.
Mobile billboards will buzz the ALP’s National Conference in Adelaide, while organisers within the event will try to raise the Adani issue during Sunday’s debate on Labor’s climate platform.
Phase two will involve a “sprint to the election”. “We will make stopping Adani the number one issue in what will be the climate election,” John Hepburn, executive director of the Sunrise Project, said.
“If there was ever a time to demonstrate Labor’s commitment to do what it takes to protect Australians from the worsening impacts of climate change, now is it.”
A third phase would focus on pressing the newly elected federal government – the elections are expected in May – to move against the mine within its first 100 days of office.
Last month,Adani’s chief executive Lucas Dow, said the company would self-fund the construction of a scaled-down version of the mine after failing to secure funds from elsewhere.
“Commencement of works are imminent,” an Adani spokeswoman said, declining to specify a date.
Last month, Mr Shorten said of Adani:“We don’t know what they’ll be up to by the time we get into government. So we’ll deal with facts and the situation [related to Adani that] we’re presented with if we win the election in 24 weeks’ time…We’ll be guided by the best science and the national interest.”
Mr Shorten also last month launched Labor’s plan to revive the National Energy Guarantee as a key plank in its election platform. TheHeraldunderstands an original plan to release the rest of Labor’s emissions plans – such as how agriculture and industry’s carbon pollution would be treated – will now not be released until after January.
The Alliance’s national ReachTel poll of 2345 conducted on December 4 found 56 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Digging new coal mines in Australia is no longer in the national interest”.
Among those self-described as Labor supporters, 80.2 per cent agreed or strongly agree with the statement, compared with about 24 per cent of Liberal and 28.6 per cent of National voters.
On the question of whether the federal government should review the environmental approvals for Adani, about 92 per cent of Labor supporters agreed, as did about 52 per cent of both Liberal and National voters, the poll found.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) today demanded that Adani admit in Court it polluted the Great Barrier Reef with coal-contaminated water.
Today the company is back in the Bowen Magistrates Court challenging a prosecution by the Queensland government over the discharge of coal-laden water into the Great Barrier Reef during Cyclone Debbie in March 2017.
Adani’s own letter to the Queensland government last year revealed that it discharged an amount of coal-contaminated water far in excess of the temporary emissions licence it was granted by the Queensland Environment Department for the duration of the Cyclone.
“Adani is a company that has shown many times that it cannot be trusted with our precious Reef,” said AMCS Reef campaign director Imogen Zethoven.
“It has a terrible environmental record in India, including a major coal spill into the marine environment near Mumbai that it failed to clean up for more than five years. It has polluted beaches and destroyed mangroves.
“Now in Australia, it is in court fighting charges that it has polluted the Great Barrier Reef. It is also being investigated for illegal drilling at the Carmichael mine site.
“The Reef is in grave danger due to climate change, which is mainly driven by mining and burning coal. Multiple reports have been released saying that the time is up for new coal developments.
“The IPCC 1.5C report warns we stand to lose all of the world’s coral reefs if global temperature rises to 2C.
“The choice is stark and upon us now: we can either allow a monstrous new coal mine to go ahead that will push temperature rise beyond the limits for the Great Barrier Reef or we can say time’s up for new coal, and protect the Reef and the 64,000 jobs that depend on it.
“Why would any Australian government allow a mine to proceed that will spell disaster for our most precious natural asset?”
Responding to Adani’s announcement that it would start work by Christmas, and led by school students and first nations people, over 15,000 people joined Snap Marches in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Cairns to demand that Federal Labor urgently commit to stop the Adani coal mine.
It’s the springof 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.
Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.
Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants. Utilities won’t be an issue, either. Broadband and clean water are both free and publicly provisioned, and the solar array that is spread atop the roofs of her housing complex generates all the power it needs and more.
For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news. In any case, she won’t have to spend long looking for a job. At any number of American Job Centers around the country, she can walk in and work with a counselor to find a well-paid position on projects that help make her city better able to deal with rising tides and more severe storms, or oral history projects, or switch careers altogether and receive training toward a union job in the booming clean energy sector.
The AJCs are a small part of the Green New Deal Act of 2021, a compromise plan that was only strengthened in the years that followed. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Supreme Court might strike down large elements of it, but as a plan to expand the size of the court gained popularity with the public, the justices backed down.
Gina might also open her own business. Without having to worry about the cost of day care or health insurance, she can invest everything into making her dream a reality. And the cost of labor for business owners, who no longer have to pick up the health care tab, is reasonable enough that she can afford to pay good wages for the staff that she needs to meet demand.
Whichever she chooses, she’ll work no more than 40 hours a week, and likely far less, leaving ample time to travel via high speed, zero-carbon rail to visit friends elsewhere and go hiking or to the beach; enjoy long, leisurely meals of locally sourced food and drink; and attend concerts in the park, featuring musicians whose careers have been supported by generous public arts grants. As she gets older, paying for health care won’t be a concern, with everything from routine doctor’s visits and screenings, to prescription drugs, to home health aides covered under the public system, as social security continues to furnish her rent, expenses, and entertainment through the end of her life.
That’s the world a “Green New Deal” could build, and what a number of representatives and activists are pushing Congress to help set into motion. Led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 17 representatives and counting have signed on to ameasurethat would create a select House committee tasked with crafting, over the course of a year, a comprehensive plan to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels by 2030 and accomplish seven goals related to decarbonizing the economy.
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”
On Monday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the issue with Ocasio-Cortez inside the Capitol.
All of this raises a question: What, exactly, would a Green New Deal entail?
Like its 1930s counterpart, the “Green New Deal” isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative. The sheer scale of change needed to deal effectively with climate change is massive, as the scientific consensus is making increasingly clear, requiring an economy-wide mobilization of the sort that the United States hasn’t really undertaken since World War II. While the Green New Deal imaginary evokes images of strapping young men pulling up their sleeves to hoist up wind turbines (in the mold of realist Civilian Conservation Corps ads), its actual scope is far broader than the narrow set of activities typically housed under the green jobs umbrella, or even in the original New Deal.
“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, told me. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
In a broad sense, that’s what policymakers in other countries refer to as industrial policy, whereby the government plays a decisive role in shaping the direction of the economy to accomplish specific aims. That doesn’t mean that the state controls every industry, as in the Soviet system; instead, it would be closer to the kind of economic planning that the U.S. practiced during the economic mobilization around World War II, and that is practiced internally today by many of the world’s biggest corporations. Should Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution pass muster, the select committee will convene policymakers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to hash out next steps. How widely or narrowly that groups defines a Green New Deal — and whether it’ll ever be given space to meet on Capitol Hill — remains to be seen, as supportive lawmakers huddle in Washington this week to try and gain support for writing it into the rulebook for the next Congress. Ultimately, it will be that committee that fleshes out what a Green New Deal looks like. But the proposal itself, American history, and existing research give us a sense for what all it might look like in practice.
The plan itself — or rather, the plan to make the plan — lays out seven goals, starting with generating 100 percent of power in the U.S. from renewable sources and updating the country’s power grid.
As the first two points of the resolution suggest, one of the main goals of any Green New Deal that spurs a complete switch to renewables will be dialing up the amount of total energy demand represented byelectricity, by switching combustion-based activities like heating systems, air conditioners, and automobiles over to electric power. The Energy Transitions Commission estimatesthat 60 percent of energy will need to be distributed via electricity by mid-century, up from just 20 percent today. Making that possible means developing new technology, and also overhauling today’s grid, making it easier for homes and businesses that generate their own power to feed it back into the system. A modern grid — or “smart” grid, per Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — would also make way for microgrids, which are self-contained renewable energy generation systems that allow small neighborhoods and hospitals, for instance, to continue making their own power even if there are disruptions (say, hurricane-force winds or a wildfire) upstream. Assuming it won’t be entirely sustainable to import all of that capacity, scaling up renewables will also likely mean expanding the country’s renewables manufacturing sector to produce more solar and wind infrastructure, components for which are today sourcedlargelyfrom abroad.
“We build things here in Detroit, and across Michigan, and we’ve got a lot of people here with manufacturing skills who are being left behind by the corporate greed,” incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Mich., among the first supporters of the resolution and who campaigned on a Green New Deal, said via email. “Just this week we heard about how GM, a company that has received billions and billions from taxpayers, is planning to cut thousands of jobs here. So it’s really exciting to be talking about rapidly building up our green, renewable energy infrastructure, because these are jobs that can and should go to our workers here in Michigan.
“We were the Arsenal of Democracy and helped save the planet from real darkness decades ago, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be one of the regions to build America’s green energy infrastructure and help save the planet again in the process.”
Bringing more clean energy online could entail expanding the types of programs that already exist at the state level, too, though they seldom come with much teeth. Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to source a certain amount of their power from wind and solar.New York state, for instance, set a renewable portfolio standard of 29 percent by 2015. The deadline came and went quietly, without much talk of how it would pick up the slack to reach its next goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030.
Those targets would have to be much stricter to get off fossil fuels by 2035. “You say, you hit the target and you reduce emissions 10 percent every year or you go to jail,” says Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. “That would get their attention.”
That may sound aggressive by today’s standards, but has been par for the course at other points in American history when the country has faced existential threats. During World War II, for instance, the government was largely responsible for administering prices, wages, and sourcing in sectors deemed vital to the Allies. Corporate productivity and profits boomed with demand for tankers and munitions, but companies that refused to go along with mandates sent down from the War Production Board and associated economic planning bodies faced a federal takeover. Among the most iconic images of these changed power relationships was a widely circulated image of Sewell Avery, the president of Montgomery Ward. During World War II, Montgomery Ward, a mail-order corporation, produced everything from uniforms to bullets for soldiers abroad. In 1944, the National War Labor Board ordered Avery, a Nazi sympathizer, to let his employees unionize to ward off a strike, and the ensuing disruption in war production. When he refused, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the National Guard tohaul him off, chair and all, and seize the company’s main plant in Chicago. The government took over operations at the company’s factories in several other cities by the year’s end. And by the end of the war, around a quarter of all domestic manufacturing had been nationalized for the sake of the war effort.
Notably, Green New Deal proponents aren’t pushing for such drastic action. Yet given the collision course between the fossil fuel industry’s business model and a livable future, simply building up more renewable power will almost certainly need to be paired with constraints on the fossil fuel industry. Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, which is backing the Green New Deal proposal, told me, “Given the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating an untenable situation for billions of people around the world, the government should step up and promote winners and create losers, which has happened before in the United States.” Among the provisions of the committee resolution, fittingly, is that politicians who accept donations from coal, oil, and gas companies can’t be appointed to it.
At a press conference announcing additional support for the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the conflict of interest: “This is about the fact that if we continue to allow power to concentrate with corporations to dictate the quality of our air, to … tell us that we can keep burning fossil fuels — to dupe us — people will die,” she said, “and people are dying.”
Evan Weber, of the Sunrise Movement, put it in similar terms. “Dealing with climate change in the way that we need to is not just about passing a suite of policies that will transform our society to both end the causes of climate change and prepare society for the climate change that is already baked in,” he said. “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who its for.”
Especially under the Trump administration, plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the U.S. government annually spends about $20 billion on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; the richest “G7” nations overall spend about$100 billion. This in itself is a kind of industrial policy already in place, and a Green New Deal might at the very least remove those subsidies and redirect them toward the clean energy sector, where wind and solar already enjoy a much smaller degree of subsidization through the production and investment tax credits, respectively.
While winding down fossil fuel production and scaling up renewables will of course be a considerable part of any Green New Deal, so too will investing in the research, development, and manufacturing capacities to get especially difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like airlines and steel, off fossil fuels over the next several decades, as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal notes. The latter requires a still largely experimental process called electrolysis, which targeted investments could subsidize research into. In Sanders’s town hall Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference economist Mariana Mazzucato’s work, which lays out the existing progress and potential of using public investment to finance early-stage research that venture capital funds are too risk-averse to support. (Ocasio-Cortez and other members of her team have met with Mazzacuto.)
“For far too long,” she said, “we gave money to Tesla — to a lot of people — and we got no return on the investment that the public made in new technologies. It’s the public that financed innovative new technologies.”
Such a policy umbrella, though, could be just as much about decarbonization as about building out sectors of the economy which simply aren’t carbon-intensive, but are essential to a healthy economy, such as teaching and nursing. A federal job guarantee, which is cited in the draft resolution and a hot topic among 2020 presidential hopefuls, might put people to work remediating wetlands and tending community gardens while providing an alternative to low-paid work bound up in hugely carbon-intensive supply chains. Walmart, for instance, is thebiggest employerin 22 states, paying an entry-level wage of $11 per hour. McDonald’s, another major employer, is estimated to have at some point employed1 in 8 American workers and has consistently resisted calls to institute a $15 minimum wage. A federal jobs guarantee that paying that much, as outlined by several proposals, would effectively create a national wage floor, compelling retail and fast food chains to either raise their wages or risk having their employees enticed into better-paid jobs that improve their communities and make them more resilient against climate impacts.
For extractive industry workers, whose wages are traditionally high thanks to decades of labor militancy, $15 an hour may not be too big of a draw, meaning other programs could be needed to finance what’s widely referred to as a just transition, making sure that workers in sectors that need to be phased out — like coal, oil, and gas — are well taken care of and that communities which have historically revolved around those industries can diversify their economies. Spain’s social democratic government recently sponsored a small-scale version of this, investing the relatively tiny sum of $282 million, with the support of trade unions, to help coal workers transition into other work while shuttering the last of the country’s coal mines.
With the right investment, new jobs won’t be hard to come by. Research from theInternational Labour Organization finds that while a concerted transition to renewable energy could cost as many as 6 million jobs around the world in carbon-intensive sectors, it could create 24 million jobs, or a net gain of 18 million, and far more than the profound job loss that would stem from unchecked climate change.
It’s not hardto imagine cries from Republicans and Democrats alike about how much such a program might cost, and of the dangers of blowing up the deficit. Worth noting is the cost that 13 federal agencies have said are likely if we do nothing, according to theNational Climate Assessmentquietly released on Black Friday. By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession.
By comparison, the 1 to 2 percent of gross domestic product that Pollin has said a Green New Deal would cost seems pretty cheap, never mind the fact that putting millions of people to work would bolster tax revenues and consumer spending. Pollin calls it “equitable green growth,” coupled with “degrowth down to zero of the fossil fuel industry.” Incumbent fuel sources, and coal in particular, aren’t exactly saving anyone money. A recent analysis from the group Carbon Tracker has found that 42 percent of coal capacity worldwide is already unprofitable, and that figure could spiked to 72 percent by 2030.
“The question is, ‘What policy do you use to build up the public investment and incentivize private investment?’” Pollin said. “You can’t just have these private sector incentive programs. That’s just not going to get it.”
As several proponents have pointed out, though, so-called pay-for questions are rarely asked of public spending programs designed to further national interests, be that getting out of a recession or fighting a war. “If we were threatened by an invader, we would mobilize all the resources we have at our disposal to deal with that security threat,” says U.K.-based economist Ann Pettifor. “As in those circumstances, you cannot rely entirely on the private sector.”
Pettifor was among the first people to start thinking seriously about a Green New Deal just after the financial crisis. Then working at the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think tank, she helped convene a series of meetings in her living room that would eventually coalesce into the Green New Deal group. The group produced several reports on the subject. But with European sovereign debt crisis about to plunge the continent’s lawmakers into full-blown austerity hysteria, any public discussion of a big, expansionary spending package faded. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leadership helped change that. And this past March, Chakrabarti, working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign at the time, showed up on her doorstep wanting to hear more.
For Pettifor, as for many Green New Deal advocates on this side of the pond, the funding question is less about how to reconcile line items than about reconfiguring what goals the economy is working toward — that is, to make it do something other than simply grow GDP by some fixed percentage each year.
Economists’ and policymakers’ fixation on unlimited economic growth as the metric for measuring economic prosperity is a really recent invention, developed in large part by the exponential returns that were being brought in by a ballooning financial sector–and not to that point factored into economic accounts. “If I work hard every day and night I have a weekly wage. If i gamble and win a load of money, I get rich quick,” she explains. “And the finance sector has moved its focus into making money in that way and not in investing in productive activity.” That shift toward measuring growth above all else started to displace an earlier focus on full employment in the 1960s, making multiplying profits and consumption the goal rather than ensuring people’s basic needs were met. As a result, carbon emissions spiked.
It’s why Pettifor largely rejects the premise of debates among environmentalists about growth and degrowth. For the green movement to talk about growth at all, she says, “is to adapt that OECD framing of what the economy should be about” and “to adopt the framing of a neoliberal idea of the economy. I would prefer to us to talk about full employment.”
That’s not to suggest there aren’t nuts and bolts funding issues that can be easily worked out. In contrast to state governments, which rely in large part on tax revenues, the federal government has plenty of tools at its disposal for financing a Green New Deal — tools it deployed to great effect during the financial crisis. It could also set up a National Investment Bank to furnish lines of credit for green investment. A polluter fee or carbon tax could provide some revenue, as well, but perhaps more importantly would punish bad behavior in the energy sector. Loan guarantees of the sort used in the stimulus package could help to build out clean energy as they did then, before getting scrapped when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. (While Solyndra, the most infamous of those loan recipients, failed, the program overall made a return on investment greater than those enjoyed by most venture capital funds.)
In a piece co-authored by Greg Carlock, author of a Green New Deal prospectus for the upstart think tank Data for Progress; and Andres Bernal, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez; and Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee, the writers explain, “When Congress authorizes spending, it sets off a sequence of actions. Federal agencies … enter into contracts and begin spending. As the checks go out, the government’s bank — the Federal Reserve — clears the payments by crediting the seller’s bank account with digital dollars. In other words, Congress can pass any budget it chooses, and our government already pays for everything by creating new money.”
A Green New Deal, moreover, “will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done,” Kelton, Bernal, and Carlock add. “In fact, a Green New Deal can create good-paying jobs while redressing economic and environmental inequities.”
Green New Dealadvocates also have no illusions about just how flawed the original New Deal was in terms of inequities, given that it largely left Jim Crow in place. “It threw black and brown people under the bus,” Chakrabarti said, noting that Roosevelt gave up on enshrining civil rights into its programs in order to win the support of white supremacist southern Democrats. Among the most infamous examples of this dynamic was theFederal Housing Administration, which guaranteed mortgages and subsidized large housing developments for whites on the condition that African-Americans couldn’t live there. African-Americans who applied for assistance to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods were refused. It’s from these same policies that the term redlining first emerged, a reference to New Deal-era planning maps which used literal red lines to designate areas where the federally backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation would and would not insure mortgages.
“Right off the bat,” Chakrabarti says of the Green New Deal plan, “we’ve put trying to fix the injustices that have been perpetrated on black and brown communities front and center. Unless you have targeted investments in communities that have had their wealth stripped from them for generations, it’s going to be very difficult for communities that have faced redlining to enjoy economic prosperity.”
The detritus of FHA-style discrimination serves to make a transition harder, and will need to be overcome to make any new New Deal a success. Dense, transit-connected cities are on the whole more sustainable than the car-centric suburban sprawl encouraged by a mix of mid-century development schemes, segregationist policies and white flight. Yet the home solar market is oriented largely around rooftop installations, which creates obvious barriers to entry for renters in multi-unit buildings, where landlords have little incentive to upgrade. The New York City Housing Authority, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s public housing, could be a model for retrofitting public and affordable housing in cities around the country, but is currently sitting in about $17 billion of debt and remains in dire need of basic updates and repairs.
As sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen points out, density alone doesn’t make a city low-carbon. While they pride themselves as green for buying organic and taking the train, luxury high-rise inhabitants — with their taste for carbon-intensive imports, summer homes, and first-class business trips — have the largest footprints in their cities, which account for around three-quarters of carbon emissions worldwide. “When it comes to the carbon emissions of New York’s individual residents, as calculated in terms of consumption, Manhattan is the worst borough. Because it’s the richest,” hewrites. “Crowded but well-to-do West Villagers’ carbon footprints are comparable to sprawling suburbanites’ all over the country.” Beyond Manhattan,Oxfam Internationalhas found that the world’s richest 10 percent produce about half of its carbon emissions. “It is only residents of Manhattan’s less-gentrified neighborhoods,” Aldana Cohen continues, “who have really low carbon footprints. They reside by the island’s northwest and southeast tips, in zip codes anchored by public housing. … Public housing, well-stocked libraries, accessible transit, gorgeous parks: these are democratic low-carbon amenities. And they’re the political achievements of working-class New York.”
Dense, affordable housing is the key to making a low-carbon city. And with the right investments, NYCHA could cut its emissions by three-quarters or more, “while using the renovation process to clean out mold, seal the cracks and crevices where pests now thrive, and increase leaf canopy. With these and other measures, NYCHA could become the world’s largest—albeit decentralized—green city,” Aldana Cohen adds. A Green New Deal could sponsor similar improvements in towns and cities around the country, rendering cities greener, more equitable, and infinitely more livable.
Beyond redressing some of the ills of the original New Deal, those pushing for its redux are also keenly focused on the people who could be on the losing end of both climate policy and the climate crisis itself. “We know that if we are really going to make it out of the years and decades ahead, we need a government that cares for people and is of, by and for the people and acts to protect the most marginalized amongst us,” Weber, of Sunrise, says. “When we have things like extreme weather events and increased migration because of climate change, we take a more humanitarian approach to responding to those than what we’re seeing from our federal government, which is saying we need to build walls and lock people in cages.”
In the coming decades, climate change is likely to bring about the largest mass migration in human history, both within and between countries. Already, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as many as 21.5 million people have been displaced thanks to climate-related impacts, and the civil war in Syria that has led many refugees to flee that country is owed at least partially to climate-induced drought and agricultural crisis. Largely, governments in the global north have treated these flows as a problem. But the Green New Deal could adopt a different approach.
“We’re going to need tens or hundreds of millions of jobs,” Chakrabarti said, projecting that there could even be a labor shortage. “What that’s going to result in is that, yes, we’re going to have to retrain and invest in the current American workforce. But we’re probably going to be begging for more immigration.” He referenced the influx of labor needed to build up the interstate highway system in the 1950s. “It’s not just that we had an open immigration policy. We were actively recruiting.” Chakrabarti’s father, he said, immigrated after visiting an American recruitment center in West Bengal. “They were pitching them on the American dream to try to get them to come to America and build the country together.”
As the immigration question highlights, climate change isn’t an issue that confines itself narrowly to borders. The US represents about 15 percent of global emissions, so acting alone won’t get us too far. Coal is on a steady decline here, but Asia accounts for around three-quarters of global coal consumption, which has actually risen overall in the last 2 years. And while China has backed what might be the world’s most ambitious green spending package, it’s also continuing to finance coal plants domestically and throughout the global south, encouraging other countries to pursue a path to economic development based on a fuel source that climate science is increasingly clear should be zeroed out. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal frames this problem delicately, setting out an intention to make green “technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”
Aside from turning the US into a major exporter of clean energy — rather than, say, oil — that might involve US capital opening up a path to development for other countries that’s based on renewable energy and not coal or gas, in ways similar to the Marshall Plan shaped the course of economic rebuilding and development in post-war development. The approach wouldn’t be all that dramatic of a departure from current U.S. energy policy in the U.S.; the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated its intent to help bring coal to the rest of the world, including at last year’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and almost certainly at their event this year at COP 24. But extending the Green New Deal beyond the narrow confines of U.S. borders would also involve upending thetraditionally obstructive rolethe U.S. has played in international climate talks, stymying ambition and binding pledges. As Naomi Klein noted last week, the U.S. taking the climate crisis seriously — adopting what could be the world’s most ambitious decarbonization plan, in its most dominant economy — would have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the rest of the world, and more narrowly in the talks themselves as countries figure out how to ratchet up their commitments to the Paris agreement in the coming years.
All of the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a brief and entirely non-exhaustive list of some other issues that might fall under a Green New Deal: farm and agricultural policy; reforming the National Flood Insurance Program and developing a coherent plan for relocating coastal communities away from flood zones; formally honoring indigenous sovereignty and tribal land rights; ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain; a universal basic income; wildfire management; trade policy; building up infrastructure to sequester carbon; fully extending broadband wireless to rural communities; rare earths and mineral procurement; overhauling FEMA; sweeping campaign finance reform; and “Medicare for All” — to name just a few.
Needless to say,the Green New Deal faces an uphill battle on the Hill. Aside from complaints about feasibility, the pushback from other Democrats so far has been largely procedural, Weber says, citing a fear voiced by some House members that should the select committee be empowered to draft legislation, it would undermine the authority of other established committees. As he points out, the resolution outlines only that the committee be allowed to draft legislation, and wouldn’t pre-empt that legislation first going through another body before moving to a floor vote. Moreover, Weber added, “We actually do need a committee that goes beyond the very narrow focus of the existing ones. What we’re talking about is something that effects every aspect of society. A select committee that can have the purview over the issues that all of these existing committees and more is exactly the type of vehicle that Congress — if it want to take climate change seriously — should be creating.”
I contacted several incoming members of Congress that were outspoken in their campaigns about climate change but have not yet signed on to the Green New Deal resolution to ask about their positions. As of yet, no one has responded, although one — Rep.-elect Mike Levin, D-Calif. — announced his support last week.
In the coming days and weeks, House Democrats are expected to release the first version of their rules package for the next Congress, in which supporters hope that a version of the select committee on the Green New Deal will appear. “Whether we get it or we don’t get it, the biggest thing we need to have is a movement backing this stuff,” Chakrabarti said. “The movement needs to keep pushing it and making a plan to go all the way. If we don’t get the committee, it’s up to us to figure out how to do it.”