Tag Archives: climate change

Addressing Global Climate Change in Paris

The international community yesterday agreed to an historic international agreement to address global climate change, concluding a two-week meeting in Paris. Representatives from 195 countries agreed to commit all countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of an effort to keep global temperatures from exceeding a 2 degree Celsius target that scientists say could be catastrophic.  The scope of the agreement is particularly impressive, as previous agreement had exempted developing countries, including India and China, from mandatory reductions. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the agreement as “truly a historic moment. For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.” President Obama described the agreement as “a turning point for the world.”

The agreement includes a wide range of initiatives and commitments, including efforts to curb deforestation, mobilization of funding for sustainable energy production, mechanisms to ensure transparency, and regular updating on progress in achieving the goals by individual countries. But Republican Presidential candidates were quick to dismiss the deal, and many said that they would seek to overturn US commitments if they were elected. Environmentalists were also quick to criticize the agreement, arguing it doesn’t go far enough quickly enough to prevent a sharp increase in global temperatures.

What do you think? Do you support the climate change agreement that came out of the COP21 Paris climate talks? Why? Do you think it will be effective in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing global change? Why?

The Shifting Politics of Climate Change

President Obama yesterday dealt a fatal blow to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ending a seven-year review period with a decision hailed by climate activists as critical in global efforts to address climate change. Stating that “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” President Obama said that “approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.” The proposed project had been strongly backed by pro-industry Republicans and many Democrats in oil producing states like North Dakota. But environmentalists had sought to block the pipeline.

Rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have connected oil sand fields in Western Canada with refineries and ports in Texas and Louisiana. But the project became the focus of anti-climate change activists, who noted that the oil produced in Western Canada was among the most polluting in the world. For his part, President Obama’s rejection of the proposed pipeline was part of a broader effort to address global climate change, a key policy area for his final year in office. President Obama had previously announced new regulations to cut emissions from power plants across the country. And Bill McKibben, a noted American environmentalist, commented  that the decision was a “turning point” in the fight against climate change and observed that “President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate. That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight.”

What do you think? Was President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project the correct one? What are the environmental implications of this decision? What are the economic implications of the decision? Would you have arrived at the same decision? Why?

Pope Francis’ US Visit

Pope Francis ended his four-day visit to Cuba and entered the United States to begin a six-day visit yesterday. The Pope’s visit to the United States includes many high-level meetings with the President, Congressional leaders, and others.  Controversially, the Pope also plans to canonize Rev. Junípero Serra, elevating Father Serra to sainthood. The move is a controversial one, opposed by many Native American communities across the United States, because of Serra’s work in spreading Christianity as a part of Spanish colonization of the Western United States.

During his visit, Pope Francis in expected to address a wide variety of topics, including the need to confront global climate change, tackling global poverty, and expanding care for migrants and refugees. But his message has also stirred opposition, particularly from congressional Republicans, who argue the Pope’s message is just ”socialist talk” and request the Pope limit himself to spiritual rather than secular affairs.

What do you think? Will the Pope’s visit to the United States have an impact on US policy with respect to issues like climate change and immigration? Why? And if not, what do you think his visit will accomplish?

Climate Change and National Security

A new report by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggests that rising sea levels resulting from global climate change may present a greater threat to the world’s cities that previously thought. According to the report, rising global ocean levels resulting from thermal expansion and the melting of land-based ice could displace millions of people globally.

While several US states—including Florida and Wisconsin—have been prohibited from discussing or even using the phrase “climate change,” the Pentagon earlier this year described climate change as an “urgent and growing threat” to national security. Multiple analyses by the Department of Defense have concluded that global climate change could aggravate existing global tensions and exacerbate domestic political instability in countries around the world.

What do you think? Should climate change be framed as a national security issue? Why? What are the implications—both positive and negative—of thinking about climate change as a security rather than as strictly an environmental issue?

Climate Change, National Security, and Domestic Politics

Of all agencies of the US government, perhaps the US military has exhibited the highest level of concern over the potential impact of climate change on its operations. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), issued by the Pentagon in March, described climate change as a “threat multiplier” that will alter global defense priorities and policies into the future. Climate change, the report warned, will force the Pentagon to rethink both its mission and its operations, as problems like delivering humanitarian aid will be exacerbated by climate change.

But yesterday House Republicans approved an amendment to a National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit the Pentagon from using resources to assess the impact of climate change.

Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) decried the amendment, describing the vote as “science denial at its worst [that] fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”

The Political Economy of Valentine’s Day

redandwhiterosebouquetValentine’s Day is celebrated across the United States on February 14, and is often marked by the gifting of flowers. But we rarely stop to consider how the global trade in flowers—which increases sharply ahead of both Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day—connects us to the broader world.

The global trade in cut flowers is estimated to be worth $100 billion annually, with the United States alone accounting for about $13 billion. About 82 percent of all flowers sold in the United States are imported from abroad, with the majority of US-destined flowers arriving from Latin America. Europe, by contrast, tends to import the bulk of its cut flowers from Africa.

The sharp seasonal fluctuations in flower production presents challenges to customs and border officials responsible for inspecting imports. Concerns over pests and disease are the primary focus for their inspections.

Developing countries looking for a comparative advantage in the context of historical subsidies offered to food and cotton producers in the developed world have often transitioned to specialized crops like cut flowers, spices, or specialty coffees in an effort to carve a market niche where they can complete on a more equal playing field.

While the global flower trade has increased sharply over the past decade, concerns over the environmental impact of the practice are growing. A 2009 report by Flowerpetal.com noted that about 80 percent of the estimated 100 million roses sold for Valentine’s Day were produced abroad, generating an estimated 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A similar study by Cranfield University  in 2007 found that a single rose imported from Kenya generated about 1.1 pounds of CO2. The same report noted, however, that imported flowers were far more carbon efficient than flowers raised in greenhouses in Europe, the production of which generated an estimated 6.4 pounds of CO2 per flower. In such a case, the higher CO2 emissions associated with transporting the flowers are offset by the more favorable growing environments abroad.

Then there’s the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers in the growing process, all of which raise potential questions about the ecological suitability of the cut flower trade.

What do you think? Should we be concerned about the ecological questions raised around the cut flower trade? How should we balance ecological concerns associated with climate change and chemical runoff against the clear need to secure economic development in the global south? What solutions might you envision to this tradeoff?

(This story was previously published at Global Food Politics and is reprinted here by permission.)

The Economic Challenge of Climate Change

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum

Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum

Government ministers and corporate executives descended on Davos, Switzerland, to meet at the World Economic Forum last week. While the world faces numerous challenges, ranging from the threat of an internet meltdown to the situation in the Middle East, the topic of climate change quickly took center stage. Delegates agreed that climate change posed a major threat to the global economy, with Coca-Cola’s Chief Environmental Officer, Jeff Seabright, noting that “Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years—we see those events as threats.” Seabright also noted that access to water, sugar cane, sugar beets, citrus juice and other key ingredients was also threatened by climate change.

But while the World Economic Forum is noting the importance of addressing climate change, individual governments appear unwilling to make significant strides towards real action. A report in the New York Times last week noted that the European Union is moving to ease climate rules in an effort to alleviate some of the economic pain associated with the global downturn. The United States has refused to sign most international climate change accords, usually citing the threat to the national economy as the reason. Economic growth and a clean environment as thus often cast as rivals in a tradeoff—to get more of one, you have to accept less of the other.

But is this accurate? Are environment and economy in constant competition? Al Gore, Bill Gates, and others are hoping not. In a conversation on climate change and development at this week’s World Economic Forum, Gates raised the connection between climate change and development, noting that, “As the poorest are being lifted up, as they’re getting lights and refrigerators, we are going to use more energy. There’s not a scenario here where we use less energy. We have to make the energy we use not emit any greenhouse gases, particularly CO2.” But Gore and others are hoping that “clean development” can create jobs and reduce carbon emissions around the world, removing the tension between economy and environment. If they’re right, the future looks a lot brighter. If not, there are some real challenges ahead.