“A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure” – New York Times, 14 December 2014

Last month, almost 200 nations gathered in Lima, Peru to agree on a global pact to reduce fossil fuel emissions, one of the primary causes of climate change. The deal — called the Lima Accord — shows huge progress in global effort to fight the effects of climate change: it’s the first time that these nations will make a unilateral effort to curb the use of oil, gas, and coal.

However, the Lima Accord is not lawfully mandatory. If it were legally binding, then the nearly 200 nations wouldn’t have agreed to the deal — not even the US. Instead, the hope is that global peer pressure will be the impetus to move the accord forward. At this point, every nation has agreed to place limits on its carbon emissions.

According to the accord, each nation will have to introduce carbon-cutting domestic legislation by either March or June. Laws will delineate how each country will curb emissions after 2020. These proposals are known to the UN as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which will be included in an upcoming climate deal in Paris in 2015.

But because the Lima Accord has no requirements, countries could conceive of feeble plans that wouldn’t drastically combat the effects of climate change. Countries also have the choice of not even offering a plan — and if they don’t submit a plan, there are no fines or retribution.

Again, the accord relies on peer pressure and a method called “name-and-shame.” Each countries’ plan will be posted to the UN’s site as public information. If the countries’ plans are made public and some are found to be weak in comparison, then the shame of such a weakness will hopefully push that country to strengthen its plan.

The biggest worry comes with the top three polluters: the US, China, and India. While President Obama has tried to make climate change a vital element of his second term, his legacy really depends on what happens after his term is over. He has vowed to reduce emissions by at least 28 percent by 2025, which can be attained if tailpipe and power plant emissions regulations are passed. Unfortunately, most Republican White House contenders are staunch opponents of Obama’s climate change policies and likely don’t care about global urgencies.

China has been pushed to seek methods of reducing emissions due to discord among its citizens, as citizens disapproved of China’s worsening air quality. The country has now eclipsed the US as the number one polluter — President Xi Jinping has promised that China’s emissions will spike in 2030 and then fall. In order to ensure that target, the country is enacting a national cap-and-trade structure where polluters will have to purchase greenhouse gas emissions.

Because curbing emissions can be costly, it is a difficult burden for developing nations. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast aside any efforts towards reversing climate change, instead focusing on economic growth and poverty, which could mean building new coal power plants. However, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has stated that the country will offer a plan in June.

Other countries that climate change policy observers are following are Russia and Australia. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin doesn’t believe that humans cause climate change, and Australia has phased out its Department of Climate Change, and also revoked a carbon tax.

While we have a majority of the countries on board with the deal, there are a few important strays that will determine whether or not the Lima Accord is indeed productive.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 15, 2014

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The Washington Post’s “A Climate for Change”

The Washington Post announced that it is initiating a series of editorials, called “A Climate for Change,” urging a shift in the way climate change is spoken about and acted upon in the US.

In America, many still hold the paradoxical belief that climate change doesn’t exist, and/or there is nothing we can do about it, and use a number of reasons to justify their skepticism and distrust. While the general public often places the importance of the economy and jobs above the environment, Republicans contend that we can’t trust the science, curbing emissions will further injure our already-hurt economy, and the US won’t make an impact if China and India don’t also cut down on their emissions. Democrats who represent coal states don’t necessarily stand behind their party’s climate policy because it could damage their chances for reelection. Conversely, a number of environmentalists and Democrats push to win trivial conflicts, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Action on climate change has declined since President Obama arrived in the Oval Office in 2008. Obama has made climate change a key cornerstone of his agenda for both his terms, as did 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain. But when Obama took office in 2008, the Republicans simultaneously took a fierce opposition to his climate policy, forcing Obama to enact his Climate Action Plan through executive order.

Now the world desperately needs us to rethink how we deal with climate change. Sea levels, temperatures, and the likelihood of natural disasters are rapidly rising, all of which will impact every corner of the earth. As the Washington Post points out, Obama and the EPA might not even be doing enough to counteract the effects of climate change. The US should be a leader in introducing new climate change policy, which will hopefully spur other nations to follow suit.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 25, 2014

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“The Real Climate ‘Deniers’ Are the Greens” – Wall Street Journal, 2 February 2014

Europe’s strategies to use more green energy have mostly failed, causing some countries to accumulate enormous debt. Germany and Spain, for example, have both decided to reduce their renewable energy subsidies—for Germany, renewable energy subsidies have been estimated at costing $32 billion per year for consumers.

According to the Center for European Policy Studies, European steelmakers pay two times as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas than US steelmakers; electricity costs for homeowners in Denmark have also skyrocketed, costing over three times the average rate in the US.

While the term “climate denier” has been applied to those who don’t believe in the effects of climate change, the term should now be used for environmentalists who incessantly promote renewable energy and its positive outcomes, like job growth.

‘Climate deniers’ refuse to believe in the high costs that renewable energy subsidies have cost Europe; they refuse to believe in the advantages of the US’s natural gas boom; and they refuse to believe in the difficulties of lowering global carbon dioxide emission levels.

Natural gas has had a large positive environmental impact in the US: in 2013, we saw a 41% increase in US natural gas production from 2005. This boom in natural gas reduces the US’s need for coal, thus curbing emission levels. According to the EPA, coal power plants expend twice the amount of emissions than natural gas power plants. Moreover, the US’s emission levels are diminishing at a faster rate than the EU’s: from 2005-2012, the US’s carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 10.9%, while the EU’s emissions only fell by 9.9%.

Instead of turning to natural gas to decrease debts, coal-use and emission levels, countries are using more and more coal. Global coal consumption has risen by almost 55% during the last ten years, as both populations and demand grow; global carbon dioxide emissions have also risen by 32% over that ten year span. Germany is likely to turn to coal as the country continues to shut down its nuclear power plants. China too will gravitate towards coal, its carbon dioxide emission levels having increased by almost 3.6 billion tons since 2005.

What we can gather from this information is that the US knows how to successfully implement carbon policy, what Obama has introduced as the Climate Action Plan. The US has been able to simultaneously cut emissions while fostering a natural gas boom.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

February 23, 2014

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“Rethinking Energy Subsidies” – Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2013

While climate change remains a large global issue, the world’s leaders have had a hard time addressing it. In a critique of the world’s subsidies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that energy subsidies might be to blame — that they both hinder and worsen climate change debate and subsequent actions.

Energy subsidies are a large part of global government funds, annual budgets often reaching into the billions. There are a few reasons why governments don’t curtail their energy subsidies: most people don’t understand the disadvantages of subsidies; energy producers protect them; and they are mistakenly thought to help the poor.

Energy subsidies allow residences and businesses to pay less than production and distribution costs. Energy subsidies also boost the use of fossil fuels, and force governments to cut spending in other areas of their budgets, like education and health. The IMF reported that if the world lowered its energy consumption, then we would meet 25% of our goals established at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. We are currently nowhere close to any of those goals.

It is frequently argued that energy subsidies also aid the poor. The IMF reported that, “the richest fifth of households in low- and middle-income countries, garner six times the energy subsidies as the poorest fifth.” Those in lower income brackets, who don’t own things like cars or A/C units, use less energy, and therefore use less subsidy; while those in higher income brackets with multiple cars and A/C units use more energy, and receive more subsidy.

Because energy subsidies push down the prices of gas, cooking fuel, electricity, etc., people tend to use more of them, which inevitably leads to severe environmental impacts. Undervaluing energy costs are also severely detrimental to countries that use a lot of energy, costing major economies — those that are prone to using more energy — $1.41 trillion per year.

Economically speaking, subsidies rarely work as a long term solution, since selecting what to subsidize is often not objective, and subject to undue political and personal influence. Experience has shown that it is difficult to monetize effects of climate change. People and societies only implement what is practical and pocketbook-economical.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 6, 2013

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