Cop-out CoP and the elephant in the room

cop out CoP Economist 11 2021

I am copping out of my CoP post. I am way off target. Instead of editing my article reviews I got lost in a meandering mishmash of a maybe essay on money, value and growth. Like “Growth! What Growth?

Trying to think (too) big was probably inspired by the Dawn of Everything. I’ve had too much fun reading David Graeber’s late masterpiece to bother with boring cop-out CoP.

So it’s pick your own from the article collection below. To be updated as I digest the smoke signals form the ongoing hot air convention. As to last weekend’s CoP offerings Gilian Tett and Simon Kuper stood out to me with their shouts from the aisles. Kuper had a shot at less work = more life, and Tett wields her guns to challenge you to look at deniers without demonising.

Oh and the elephant in the room was, of course, going to be money, as in the status quo money system requiring monetary growth derivatively divorced from “real value”. To pay marginal respect to the title, here is some commentary I wrote on Mark Carney‘s statement (later echoed by Rishi Sunak)

“We need to rewire our economies … not to be judged on style or black box ESG ratings …but hard numbers for true sustainability. … To make all this add up we must build a financial system entirely focused on net zero.”… 30/10/2021 Mark Carney

I hope Mike Carney is not literally equating sustainability with net zero? I also hope that by hard numbers he means real socio ecological quantities, not their valuations. It is production that has got to go green, let alone fair, not the narratives of valuation but production itself. Production rather than consumption. Measuring pollution via the personal footprint of consumption is to fall for a calculus that distracts from the real source of pollution, ie the product and its reproduction. Rather than moralise individual consumption, it is products that need to be priced by their negative utility. I don’t want transparent consumers but transparent products. The personal footprint is fine in as far as it enables me to see my personal consumption in the global context. But used as a metric for moralising status rankings, personal eco-footprints turn into weapons of the divide-and-rule variety, unleashed perhaps by fears of overpopulation or product transparency?

I don’t need to know about corporate commitments. I need to know the product’s composition. Not people but products need to be transparent. I don’t care about the brand’s philosophy. I want to know how much irresponsibly mined copper, non recyclable plastic and dehumanising labour are contained in my next electric toothbrush? I want hard ESG type numbers processed from real data to signal the product’s relative virtue for real. Or rather the anti-virtue or disutility of global unsustainability. Read this as a story about paying back a loan from the planet. Think of it as the globe taxing the unsustainable processes of production. Many ways to do it. Plenty of precedents for turning debt into money. Including the monetary status quo with it’s 97% credit money.

Lately economists have rallied around a carbon tax. Having preached “Tax is Evil” for 50 years, perhaps not surprising no one has been listening to the new sermon. Carbon tax is better than zero tax, let alone the existing subsidies. Nonetheless the Davosian net zero ambitions smell of a fishy portfolio cop-out, externalising pollution to infidel investors or shell covered funds: “Ooops, I honestly never knew I still had money in slavery?” Unless net zero refers to the absolute global eco-physical balance it’s just a privatised financial absolution: “I still use slaves but I don’t actually own them any longer?” That’s just part of why net zero is potentially counterproductive. Also there is a lot more to the climate crisis than carbon…

Still, why economists haven’t grabbed ESGs for real is beyond me. Rather than pointlessly play with graphic nonentities, or disaggregate soft aggregates, one could be processing hard eco-physical data for good reason? Finally a chance to have some numbers on the other side of the price equation? Liberation from the dismal pretence of marginal utiliy? Or the eternal search for abstract labour…

Just follow the money…

articles etc updated 12/2021 23/11/2021 Heiner Flassbeck, Kersten Reich: So werden wir die Nachhaltigkeitskrise nicht lösen – Die Ergebnisse der Klimakonferenz in Glasgow sind ernüchternd und enttäuschend – wie nicht anders zu erwarten, sagen Heiner Flassbeck und Kersten Reich und diskutieren über den weiteren Weg.

“Heiner Flassbeck hält den Ansatz von vornherein für falsch, dass unabhängig voneinander agierende Länder sich verpflichten, irgendetwas zu tun, dann werde alles gut. Das stärkste Bindeglied zwischen diesen Ländern sind nun mal die Märkte für fossile Energie und solange man diese Märkte nicht berührt, geht es immer so weiter. Es ist naiv zu glauben, dass etwa China und Indien ihre Entwicklungspfade ändern, obwohl sie extrem billige Energie zur Verfügung haben, bloß weil wir ihnen erzählen, es gebe ein Klimaproblem. Kersten Reich nimmt die Politik in die Pflicht: Wenn die Wirtschaft als Reaktion auf Glasgow schon sagt: „Ihr habt zu wenig erreicht“, dann müsse die Politik doch aufwachen! Die Politik muss anfangen, in Fairness-Kategorien zu denken – denn wenn das nachhaltige Gemeinwohl nicht in den Vordergrund tritt, dann werden wir gnadenlos scheitern. Im Gespräch zwischen Flassbeck und Reich werden also zwei völlig verschiedene Ansätze einer Kritik der Klimakonferenz und ihrer Ergebnisse deutlich…”… podcast/audio/video hier 6/11/2021 More hot air than progress at COP26 6/11/2021 11/2021 young-activists-denounce-climate-plans-betrayal 11/2021 cop26-greta-thunberg-brazilian-boris-johnson-joe-biden 5/11/2021 Climate change and investing – The uses and abuses of green finance – Why the net-zero pledges of financial firms won’t save the world

…”Pledges like GFANZ are good as far as they go, but the world needs a widespread price on carbon if finance is to work wonders. That would target all firms, not just those controlled by some institutional investors. The urge to avoid the tax would supercharge efforts to count emissions. Firms and governments would have an incentive to grapple with questions of who is polluting and who should pay. Crucially, a carbon price would align the profit incentive with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. The job of the financial system would then be to amplify the signal sent by the price of carbon. That combination would be a powerful engine for changing how economies work.” 4/11/2021 Mark Carney at COP26: Countries should have a carbon price – Every country should try to have a “price on carbon”, the UK prime minister’s finance adviser for COP26 has said.

The former Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, told the BBC’s Christian Fraser that although a global carbon price would be the best option, carbon taxes would probably have to be related to a country’s resources. Measures could be put in place to stop so-called carbon leakage where companies relocated to countries with lower carbon prices, he said. 3/11/2021 Today is all about finance at COP26 and as the host nation it was UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak who got things under way. If you missed his speech, he said that the challenge facing finance ministers is to “direct the world’s wealth to protect our planet” – deploying investment from both public and private sources. According to Sunak, there are three main strands to the approach:

  • Public investment – Sunak says developing countries have been devastated by the “double tragedies of coronavirus and climate change”. He says that the G20 will step up to deliver $500bn of investment to the countries that need it most over the next five years. The G20 is also renewing its pledge of $100bn a year to help developing nations – although Sunak says this is not happening as soon as it needs to.
  • Private investment – Sunak says COP26 has seen private institutions with assets worth $130tn create a “wall of capital for the net-zero transition around the world”.
  • Greener financial system – Sunak goes on to say that the entire global finance system will be rewired for net zero. This will involve better climate data, sovereign green bonds and mandatory sustainability disclosures. He says the UK is playing its part and says the UK will become the first ever net-zero aligned financial centre. He says it will become mandatory for firms to set out how they plan to decarbonise and transition to net zero with and independent taskforce to monitor this. 5/11/2021 ‘Luxury carbon consumption’ of top 1% threatens 1.5C global heating limit – Richest 1% will account for 16% of total emissions by 2030, while poorest 50% will release one tonne of CO2 a year s 2/11/2021 Generation Greenwash: are the young really as ‘eco’ as they think they are? Research shows Boomers are doing more to help the environment than the vocal younger demographic, who don’t always practise what they preach By Judith Woods 1/11/2021 At Cop26 the stage is set for a battle over the next phase of capitalism – Bewildered by the talks? Try viewing them as a struggle among three blocs of countries, companies and protest movements – by Simon Lewis 30/10/2021 Mark Carney: the world of finance will be judged on the $100tn climate challenge – by Mark Carney

Mark Carney Climate COP  ft 2021 3/2021 Mark Carney: ‘We need 50 shades of green’ 30/10/2021 Why the COP26 climate summit will be both crucial and disappointing – Such global gatherings remain the best forum to force change

…”The dream of a planet of almost 8bn people all living in material comfort will be unachievable if it is based on an economy powered by coal, oil and natural gas. The harms from the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide would eventually pile up so rapidly that fossil-fuel-fired development would stall.

As our special report in this week’s issue sets out, nowhere is this logic more pressing than in Asia. About 1.5bn Asians live in the tropics. Hundreds of millions of them live near the coasts. For their economies to continue to grow, they will need ever more energy. If this comes in the fossil-fuelled manner of past decades they will have to bear the mounting costs of adapting to and living with floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts long before they get rich. As the world heats up, they will have to run faster just to stay in the same place.Zero-emissions technology could free them from this dismal bind: in principle, they can tap into a supply of development-promoting energy that is, in effect, unlimited.

In the long run, therefore, the only way to keep growing is by leaving fossil fuels behind.That requires Asian countries, in most of which emissions are still surging, to forgo much more by way of future emissions than the countries of the developed world, where emissions are already declining. India is vocal in pointing to the unfairness of this, so far refusing to embrace carbon neutrality. Let others with more responsibility for historical emissions do more, it says.

However just that may be, the problem for India—and for everyone else—is that the daunting cost of limiting emissions is falling on a few generations, most of whose members live in developing countries. All of them live in a fractious world where there is a dearth of leadership. America’s government is not suddenly a reliable partner just because it has now rejoined the Paris agreement. Nor is China, the world’s largest emitter. Though its capacity for action is great, its pledges thus far are more about posturing than substance. The multilateral institutions created to spread the cost between countries equitably are weak and hostage to procedures based on consensus and unanimity.”… 11/2021 SIGN THE EMERGENCY APPEAL FOR CLIMATE ACTION! – Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, Dominika Lasota, and Mitzi Tan are sending this urgent call to world leaders to finally face up to the climate emergency.

  • Keep the precious goal of 1.5°C alive with immediate, drastic, annual emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen.  
  • End all fossil fuel investments, subsidies, and new projects immediately, and stop new exploration and extraction.
  • End ‘creative’ carbon accounting by publishing total emissions for all consumption indices, supply chains, international aviation and shipping, and the burning of biomass. 
  • Deliver the $100bn promised to the most vulnerable countries, with additional funds for climate disasters.
  • Enact climate policies to protect workers and the most vulnerable, and reduce all forms of inequality. 3/10/2021 Why green activists should watch Fox News – by Gilan Tett

Cop  G Tett FT 2021 30/11/2021 The first step to saving the planet? A four-day week by Simon Kuper

Less = More 30/10/2021 My two-year, 26-country journey to the frontlines of the climate battle – by Simon Mundy

CoP  FT S Mundy 2021
CoP S Mundy FT 2021 4/2021 Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap by James Dyke, Robert Watson, Wolfgang Knorr

…”We have arrived at the painful realisation that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier “burn now, pay later” approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar. It has also hastened the destruction of the natural world by increasing deforestation today, and greatly increases the risk of further devastation in the future. To understand how this has happened, how humanity has gambled its civilisation on no more than promises of future solutions, we must return to the late 1980s, when climate change broke out onto the international stage…”…. 28/10/2021 Degrowth: why some economists think abandoning growth is the only way to save the planet – podcast

patreon/SteveKeen  23/10/2021  From Economic Fantasy to Ecological Reality on Climate Change  Steve Keen

“This was an invited talk to the Oxford Department of International Development “Climate Change and the Challenges of Development Lecture Series”, on my criticisms of the application of neoclassical economics to climate change. I focus on the new paper by Dietz et al. that allegedly calculates the economic costs of tipping points …  Upon closer examination, this paper fails to consider tipping points in any credible way, and this is obvious in its incredible claim (in the original sense of the “not credible”), that: “Tipping points reduce global consumption per capita by around 1% upon 3°C warming and by around 1.4% upon 6°C warming”. This is ridiculous: the tipping points they consider are: Arctic summer sea ice, the Greenland Ice Sheet, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (“Gulf Stream”), the Amazon Rainforest, the Indian Monsoon, Permafrost, and Ocean methane hydrates. If all 8 of these tripped–especially with a temperature 3-6°C above pre-industrial levels, we would be experiencing a climate utterly unlike anything Earth has seen for tens of millions of years.  The thought that this would just reduce global consumption by just 1.4%–compared to what it would be if none of these tipping points were triggered–doesn’t pass what Nobel Laureate Robert Solow once called “the smell test”: “every proposition has to pass a smell test: Does it really make sense?”. I show why this paper stinks in Solow’s sense.”…”… /2021/oct/31/reasons-to-be-hopeful-the-climate-solutions-available-now 29/10/2021 Avoiding apocalypse – COP26: Doomsters, deniers, deal-makers and dreamers – by David Wallace-Wells

“The first COP (Conference of the Parties) was held in Berlin in 1995, a time when there were 360 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere: eighty above the pre-industrial standard of 280 and already ten above the “safe” concentration later highlighted by Bill McKibben’s advocacy group Today, we are at 420, a level not seen on Earth since sea levels were twenty metres higher than they are now. The inaugural conference was called out of a sense of crisis. Since then, we have more than doubled the damage done, with half of all the carbon ever released into the atmosphere by humans since the dawn of humanity put there since that first COP. By the mid-1990s, the planet had already warmed by about 0.6°C since the Industrial Revolution, though newspapers like the New York Times were still reporting that “only a few” scientists attributed that warming to human activity; today we are at 1.2°C or 1.3°C – and we know, unequivocally, what has caused it. …”…