Paris Agreement: global solidarity in action

Paris Agreement: global solidarity in action

The debate about global warming is heating up , in some ways quite literally – the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that 2016 is on track to be the “hottest year on record.”  Fortunately, glance at the news and you can easily believe that state institutions have the issue well in hand. The wording of the well-publicised Paris Agreement was finalised before the end of 2015, undeniably a success when one considers it marks the first time nearly two hundred nations have been able to agree on anything. Under the agreement, states aim to strengthen “the global response to the threat of climate change…keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Criticisms of the agreement are well-known, and arguably too extensive for a mere blog post. The main problem seems to lie with the targets, which some perceive as not ambitious enough, particularly taking into consideration  findings from MIT indicating that temperatures could increase by up to 3.7% by 2100. Developing countries have the most to lose if this situation arises, as highlighted by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous women’s leader from Chad who spoke at the COP21 conference about the threat rising temperatures pose to development in her country. Yet money remains a sticking point; while developing countries need aid to adapt to both climate change and the move towards green energy, countries with more to give don’t seem particularly willing to commit to any tangible targets.

Image of climate leaders standing up and holding hands in the air as the Paris climate deal is finalised at COP21
The Paris Agreement was adopted on December 12 2015 | Photograph UN.org

 

The legality of the Paris Agreement is another grey area.  There seems to be a legally binding element to the treaty, but there is confusion over what this legal form should be. The reality of getting 197 countries to agree universally to a treaty on climate change means some of the more forceful language had to be omitted, a disappointment to the EU and small island states who would have liked for the agreement to go further, ensuring countries meet their targets. However, this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. The theory that a treaty must be legally binding to be effective didn’t hold for the Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor to the Paris treaty. Despite the internationally binding nature of that agreement, the United States failed to ratify it, and developing countries received a free-for-all pass on emissions.

The truly global nature of the Paris Agreement is what needs to be held onto. 197 countries agreed to it and it is expected to come into force by November 4. Countries known for releasing the most greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, such as India, China and the United States have all ratified the agreement earlier than expected, an endorsement that is likely to catalyse further action on climate change.  Action is the crucial thing here, rather than further commitments. This is more likely to be achieved through global solidarity anyway, given the role of diplomatic relations in this globalised world, as it is possible that countries failing to meet their commitments could suffer the weight of international exclusion instead of lengthy legal proceedings – a reality none care to face.

Woman in mac and green scarf holds up banner saying "climate is a common good" at a climate protest march
Photograph CAFOD

 

Meanwhile, developments continue and while not explicitly related to the Paris Agreement, are interesting signposts about what could be around the corner. The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently decided that environmental crimes would be included in their remit – a change of focus for the court of last resort. While the weaknesses of the ICC, such as problematic bias and ineffectiveness, are well-documented, this demonstrates an expanded focus on regulating the environment and holding actors who abuse it to account. While there has been no indication that state governments will be brought before the ICC for failing to reach their targets, the precedent set by the American bill which allows families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia shows countries’ previously concrete immunity is no longer secure. While it seems unlikely that this could be used as a way for countries to hold others accountable for failing to meet their agreements, it is interesting to note that this law doesn’t come from the state level. Instead, the suit comes from families impacted, arguably harder to ignore.

Progress over the last year has been encouraging, but it must not lag. The early ratification of the Paris Agreement is a sign that states are finally beginning to take notice of President Obama’s words from 2015, that “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate.” Let’s all hope our leaders are up to the task.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The trouble with the status quo: energy security and development in the Caribbean

The trouble with the status quo: energy security and development in the Caribbean

Fossil fuels come with a volatile price tag. For regions dependent on fossil fuel imports, energy can begin to hinder development rather than support it. In this article, Leo Marioni examines the problems posed to the Caribbean region by an over reliance on fossil fuels, and looks at how renewable energy generation might be the key to reigniting the region’s development.

When one imagines the Caribbean, a paradisiacal scene of calm azure waters, cloudless skies and golden sands may spring to mind. Such perceived serenity belies an insidious current of great change engulfing the region; a current which will either jeopardise the region’s development, or catalyse it, depending on how each Caribbean state now acts.

The Caribbean islands are slowly sinking under the weight of inertia. The region has become one of the most indebted in the world, relying on an under-diversified economy centred primarily around tourism, which is prone to downturns.

Travelbusy.com/Creative commons license
Travelbusy.com/Creative commons license

More problematic, however, is the lack of energy diversity. A majority of Caribbean states depend on a trade alliance with Venezuela, known as Petrocaribe, through which they can purchase most of their oil at a fraction of market value, with the remainder being paid over the following 17-25 years at less than 1% interest. This seemingly positive alliance has de-incentivised energy sector development, and led to increased debts in the region, despite Petrocaribe’s low interest rates (debts through Petrocaribe account for 20% Nicaraguan and Jamaican GDP, for instance). The results of this partnership sees consumers locked into a system with regional energy prices ranking amongst the highest in the world, a significant hindrance to development and prosperity.

With Venezuela’s economy hard hit by the fall in oil prices, Petrocaribe is slowly crumbling. Cuba, which relied on selling the oil it received from Venezuela, is being particularly hard hit, leading to unlit streets, lack of petrol, and a general malaise on growing Cuban businesses and economic activity. At present, oil prices are low enough that the remaining Caribbean states are able to purchase the fuel outside of Petrocaribe. Governments, however, are worryingly looking towards what will happen when oil prices once again recover, with a chance that there will be no Venezuelan imports to once again return to.
High energy costs and an economy highly reliant on tourism make for a set-up which both limits the island’s developmental potential and makes the region extremely sensitive to changes elsewhere in the world.

Fortunately, the future is bright, but each Caribbean state must act. There exists a vast wealth of untapped renewable energy resources at each islands’ doorstep which, if seized effectively, could slash energy costs, catalyse growth, and see the Caribbean sit amongst the ranks of the global leaders in renewable generation. Solar radiation potential alone is 200-300% greater than it is for the current European leaders in solar energy production, and will be a valuable resource despite the islands’ small land surfaces. So too will wave and offshore wind technologies be a valuable energy source for the island states. Some states can also harvest significant latent geothermal resources; using geothermal energy alone, Nevis is estimated to be capable of producing 15 times more energy than it consumes, which would drastically cut energy costs. Energy security is widely regarded as the key to reigniting the region’s development.

The great challenge that remains is finding the cash with which to make this transition. Investment is severely needed, but the islands’ small market size does not offer an attractive financial return to prospective investors. The island states, aware of the need for investment, are now looking towards regulatory changes to encourage private investment, in addition to early talks for a regional grid which would greatly expand the energy market.
In the meantime, Caribbean states might look towards ethanol production, which they can produce 31% more effectively than the USA. Given the growing demand for biofuels for transport, ethanol exports might provide a healthy income. So too might liquefied natural gas exploitation provide both energy security and revenue from surplus exports with which to finance the drive towards renewable energies.

Rodrigo Suarez/Creative commons license
Rodrigo Suarez/Creative commons license

On the other side of the coin lies the potential for grass-roots energy projects. Grass-roots solar panels are springing up across the islands, enabling business to take control of their energy costs. New feed-in tariffs, where individual producers can sell their surplus energy into the island’s grid, means local production can benefit the rest of the island. If this trajectory continues, energy security will be bolstered, pricey oil imports will no longer be a necessity, and small businesses may flourish, boosting the economy as a whole.

The immediate future seems rocky, and each Caribbean state now stands at a crossroads. Taking their energy security into their own hands, working towards encouraging investment, and increasing the drive towards renewables will allow the islands to inject a new lease of life to their developmental trajectory. Doing nothing will see the islands’ hindered by the ball and chain of fossil fuel imports, surrounded by the turbulent seas of the world economy.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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How solar power is revolutionising the developing world

How solar power is revolutionising the developing world

Does solar power have the potential to transform poverty-stricken regions? Harriet King explores how the sustainable energy resource is opening a multitude of new opportunities across developing countries. 

The advantages of solar power are becoming increasingly evident, and everyday more and more countries are turning to the promising source of renewable energy in order to overcome issues of poverty and corruption.

The growth is in light of the International Solar Alliance, led by India

Jimmy_Joe/Creative commons license
Jimmy_Joe/Creative commons license

at the Paris climate conference, which invites 120 countries to collectively support the expansion of solar technologies in the developing world. Countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and Ghana are now also building solar farms and installing solar panels across their countries as an alternative solution to unreliable energy sources.

Why Solar?

There are multiple reasons as to why solar energy is spearheading the clean energy market. The sun, as one of the most powerful sources of energy, means solar is as a guaranteed form of sustainable consumption – generating electricity at a price effective cost. The price for installation and upkeep of solar power is minimal compared to fossil fuels and other sources. Solar energy systems generally require little maintenance, and most manufacturers guarantee that the systems will work efficiently for 20-25 years.

Solar energy is also universal, and can be applied diversely. Not only can it produce electricity in areas without access to the energy grid, but also distil water in regions with limited clean water supplies. Technology within the industry is constantly developing and adapting to a sundry market, meaning both richer and poorer countries will be introduced to the same advancements. In the future, it is predicted that innovations within the sector would mean double, or even triple, the current electrical turnover of solar power.

India Sets The Trend

In July this year, India signed an agreement with the World Bank to borrow over $1bn in order to build and develop a flourishing solar power sector. The decision meant a step in the right direction for the country’s president, Narendra Modi, whose green dream is to install 175GW of renewable power by 2022 – mostly solar. Despite this highly ambitious target, the goal is achievable and Modi has shown persistent commitment to the industry: “The world must turn to the sun to power our future. As the developing world lifts billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planned rests on a bold, global initiative,” he said in a statement at COP21.

Officially the second most populous country in the world, India is the ideal country to front the solar energy movement. It has an average of 300 sunny days a year, meaning a guarantee of solar power generation. Neighbouring developing countries, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, also experience the same climate therefore would find solar power highly advantageous and can follow in India’s footsteps.

Solar Power and Development

Nancy Pelosi/Creative commons license
Nancy Pelosi/Creative commons license

India is in the position to prove the potential of solar power in terms of development and prosperity. Out of 250 million households across the country, 56 million struggle to maintain electricity, the majority of which are located in rural areas. In total, one in four people in India do not have access to a source of electricity – an obstacle that stops poorer communities from going to work and receiving an education.

Off-grid solar installations, suitable for single homes or small clusters of buildings, could prove extremely helpful in these areas. Students throughout rural areas are unable to be educated, as they are either not equipped to go to school and complete their studies due to lack of technology – many lack basic needs to study such as adequate light.

Solar power would not only benefit schools and workplaces, but also create thousands of well-paid jobs within the industry itself. India is one of many countries experiencing heightened poverty in certain areas due to a lack of resources. Electricity can change the lives of families, communities, and entire regions.

Essentially, sunlight is free and solar power comes a very little cost. The solar power industry is proving a stable, cost-effective, trustworthy, reliable business which is applicable to all countries, communities and regions throughout the world. If government projects, NGOs, and research funds invested time and effort into solar energy projects, we could see a huge decline in poverty and destitution, and a rise in demographic equality and education across developing countries.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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A Critical Overview: Global Food Shortages

A Critical Overview: Global Food Shortages

Eliminating hunger and malnutrition, and achieving wider global food security is imposing enormous challenges on the world’s policy agenda. A combination of factors are disrupting the balance of the global food supply – rising population, price volatility, energy crisis, water scarcity, climate change and political instability. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, slowly but surely industrial civilisation will essentially collapse due to catastrophic food shortages. 

The effects of global warming and climate change are the leading causes of food shortages. Recent years show increasing temperatures in various regions causing extremities in weather patterns, resulting in storms becoming more volatile and droughts becoming more severe. Some of the weather conditions that are associated with climate change are extreme cold, extreme heat, and excessive amounts of rain and snow. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. These conditions will have a devastating effect on crop production around the world. A report by the Washington International Food Policy Research Institute predicts by 2050, irrigated wheat yields will fall by 30 per cent in developing countries, while prices will be pushed up to 121 per cent.

Another clear indication that a food crisis is imminent is that the global population is growing at an alarming rate. The United Nations records that each day 200,000 more people are added to the world food demand. The World Bank states the world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Richer diets will also mean higher meat intake imposing greater strain on energy, cereal and water. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished especially in the deprived countries.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socitie's / Creative Commons License
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socitie’s / Creative Commons License

The price spike in 2007-2008 has continued to create economic uncertainties. For almost two decades, production has grown at a slower rate than population growth. Consumers are now paying more for basic staples and this is having the hardest impact on poorer nations. With increased demand from developing economies that rely on exports and international aid, rising fuel prices and a shift to biofuel production makes it increasingly difficult for over three billion poor people around the world where 60-80 per cent of their incomes are spent on food. With food prices predicted to rise by an annual rate of 10 percent over the next 10 years, the number of hungry people is expected to rise from around 890 million today to around 1.2 billion by 2025.

In the event of a food shortage, the possibility of riots and chaos against governments pose a significant risk. Not only will less wealthy countries suffer from starvation and death, but the increase in malnutrition from lack of food will cause pandemics of diseases that could spread globally.

To prevent the likelihood of a food crisis requires both a local and national response. In 2008, The United Nations High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF) developed the first Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The framework provides a catalyst for action by providing governments, international and regional organisations with policies and actions aimed to draw appropriate responses to food shortages. It pursued a twin-track approach: It outlined activities related to meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable people such as investing in food assistance and social safety nets, and longer structural needs such as scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, and post-harvest technologies.

Another response to tackle food shortages requires more efficient distribution of food. The United Nations’ data shows that we produce enough food for everyone to have an adequate diet, but poor distribution means that 805 million people are hungry while over 1.4 billion people are overweight or obese. Equally, the world should be more creative on recycling food and the reduction of waste.

The Advocacy Project / Creative Commons License
The Advocacy Project / Creative Commons License

Mitigating the exposure of vulnerable populations to this volatility means avoiding excessive reliance on trade, and ensuring resilient local food production systems. We need to identify ways small-scale farmers can increase their production of basic foods to support local and regional markets. A large emphasis is on the formulation of effective domestic and international policies involving public and private investments to raise agricultural productivity. Such policies could be based on paying farmers for managing well cared for environments or by taxing pollution such as carbon emissions. On the other hand, we should utilise science and technology to empower small-scale farmers by providing them with better infrastructure and opportunities to adopt better methods to help protect wildlife, and the preservation of water quality. This requires scientists, engineers and governments to engage with small-scale farmers across South America, Asia and Africa to provide technical and financial support to produce food. Amongst this, famine-prone regions and countries hit by natural disasters should have enough contingency reserves as a source of emergency food.  This would require partnerships between non-governmental organisations, national governments and the World Food Programme.

Increasingly, we understand the challenges imposed on building food security and awareness that the present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. Essentially, there must be a solid framework where there will be enough resources for our growing population, driven by our desire to support those requiring the most immediate need.

 

 

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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COP21: Expectations and Challenges

COP21: Expectations and Challenges

In the first of a two-part series, Nina Rachet analyses the workings and possible outcomes of COP21, and the Paris treaty’s impact on investments and business by economic sectors.

Climate change is the most important problem of the 21st century. It is becoming costly, both politically and economically, to ignore. The public support for a “greener” world has recently peaked, a change in behaviour accompanying growing economic losses in business and investments. Thus, all eyes will be turned towards the 21st Conference Of the Parties (COP21) set to take place in Paris.

COP21 represents a major opportunity to regulate and adapt to climate change. Past summits on this global problem have failed to result in a significant globally-inclusive deal of carbon emissions. The Kyoto protocol came to an end in 2012 and no other global deal on carbon emissions has emerged since then. The reputational costs if COP21 should fail will be important for states. France, as the host of the conference, is particularly concerned due to internal political divisions and its position as a diplomatic power.

The human and economic costs of climate change will continue to increase thus regulating this global matter is increasingly costly the more an international treaty is delayed. Rachel Kyte, VP of the World Bank, recently declared that the world was at the bottom of a hockey stick. By 2050, without carbon regulations, climate change will have generated billions of economic losses, massive migration movements and thousands of climate-related casualties. It is thus necessary – both economically and politically – to agree on a global deal on carbon emissions at COP21 in Paris this winter.

COP21: a Global Solution for a Global Problem

A global political solution to climate change is necessary in order to plan and implement international long-term policies. It would offer the assurance of stability and continuity of a global regulatory framework needed to invest in green activities. COP21 has ambitious objectives, necessary for adapting and mitigating climate change.

The Paris summit has already achieved considerably more than previous summit. Through pledges and interstate agreements, China and US appear to be committing fully to resolving climate change. The business world seems attached to a greener production since climate-related losses have recently and dramatically increased. Therefore, a global deal on carbon emissions in Paris is likely to include four pillars-objectives.

Global Deal on Carbon Emissions: Challenges

Obtaining an international agreement on carbon emissions will be complicated. Past COPs have shown that business elites more willing to cooperate towards regulating carbon emissions than political elites. While governments failed to achieve a concrete agreement during COP16, important businesses encouraged industries to move forward with implementing greener forms of production rather than wait on a global political deal. The Paris Agreement must therefore be too costly to disregard for states, thus a legally binding treaty on which the public and all branches of the state agree must emerge. This implies a lengthy ratification process in democratic countries as heads of states and government must obtain parliamentary approval to implement the treaty. This issue particularly concerns the USA, as the Republican-dominated Congress is not inclined to climate politics. In the absence of ratification, efforts to reduce carbon emissions and implement greener forms of production would be severely delayed and states would not insure the stability and continuity of long-term regulation on carbon emissions as well as financial aid to green activities. Additionally, while states have been committing to reducing carbon emissions, governments’ pledges currently do not meet COP21’s first and second objectives.

Finally, climate finance is one of the major issues in the negotiations towards Paris. The emergence of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) at COP17 was a successful measure towards providing aid to developing countries’ transition towards green economic development. However, these nations’ representatives have complained about the reluctance of developed countries to pledge financial aid to the Fund. Estimating that US$100bn per year by 2020 needed to finance the poorest regions’ green development, pledges to the GCF only amount to US$10.2bn and less than 60% of these pledges have been officially transferred to the Fund. The USA contribution to GCF – US$3bn – has yet to be ratified by the Congress. The uncertainty of green aid to developing states is problematic, as climate change is increasingly devastating and costly for the world’s poorest populations. Climate finance is also competing with fossil fuel subsidies that take up to US$2 trillions globally. These subsidies crowed up governmental capacity to finance greener activities, such as research into renewable energy and sustainable productions. Although recent scientific advancements have helped towards reducing carbon emissions, it is essential for the successful transition to zero-carbon world that research and development (R&D) be given the appropriate attention by governments. This funding would ensure continued governmental help toward green R&D and offer added stability to investments research. However, carbon pricing has recently been included in the Paris Agreement proposal that would help implement carbon regulation and provide stability to future energy prices.

Nina Rachet has recently completed a MSc in International Public Policy from the University College London (UCL). Currently working as a freelance political analyst, her main interests are climate politics, post-war development and conflict. In the future, she aspires to work on international development and peace projects.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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An uninvited guest: Karachi’s Heatwave

An uninvited guest: Karachi’s Heatwave

KARACHI, Pakistan -The devastating heatwave has taken a toll of over 1200 and has overwhelmed the city with panic which is persisting through it. With the temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) Imaan Faruqui discusses the impact on the health care system ;  stunned by this tragedy as they were underprepared for it.

This was not only a record breaking temperature but took place on the second day of Ramadan. During this period, eating and drinking in public is prohibited from dawn until dusk. As one can imagine, fasting in itself puts a strain on one’s body but this sweltering weather increased the pressure on Pakistanis foregoing food and water.

©U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons License
©U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons License

With multiple failures in the power gird being observed all across Karachi tackling the heat was done with no electricity and water- although there was a clear distinction between rich and poor: with affluent areas not impacted by the power grid failures unlike the low-income areas who are facing prolonged and unannounced power outages.

The Majority of the public and politicians were quick to place the blame on electricity outages as the main cause for the heatwave. But the truth is that Climate Change has arrived, and it’s here to stay, but people are reluctant to believe so, since they do not believe that it is the core factor contributing to the cause of the heatwave.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, With the Sindh government focusing on electricity as the main cause behind the deaths, and not enough on measures that more directly deal with the cause of the deaths. The majority of the 65,000 heatwave victms have ended up in Karachi’s poorly run, neglected and under-financed government hospitals, and majority of these victims do not receive immediate medical attention in these over-crowded hospitals.

Due to the lack of immediate government intervention Karachi is at a state of chaos where the citizens are now standing in and volunteering and lending a helping hand in places where the administration has been too slow to act. Regardless, with the pre-existing problems with electricity there is not enough attention to the elephant in the room. That elephant being Climate Change.

Each year there are records being broken for the hottest month or the warmest year globally and there are so many factors which contribute towards this.  Asif Shuja, the former director of the Pakistan environmental protection agency stated that “there has been a rise in the Earth’s average temperature from 15.5°C to 16.2°C over the last 100 years due to which we are experiencing such extreme weather conditions both in summers and winters.

The rapid expansion in urbanisation, deforestation, and the multiplication of private vehicles are helping to fuel this fire. But if the problems have been identified why are the government and individuals acting so slowly in taking measures to halt this?

©Farhan Chawla/Creative Commons License
©Farhan Chawla/Creative Commons License

The dilemma is that, these initiatives such as installing new air conditioners and bulk distribution of bottled water may be causing temporary relief for the heatwave victims but is also harming the environment in the long run. In order to make this sustainable there is a need for funds to educate the public on these issues, and developing countries such as Pakistan do not possess these lucrative funds. Which leave them to be the most vulnerable to Climate Change.

Scientists in the region say “climate change has certainly intensified heatwaves in the same way it has accelerated other extreme weather events including floods, droughts, and wildfires, among others”. It is very difficult for developing countries to take urgent action when they do not have the material capacities to do so.

The Edhi foundation which runs a private and largest ambulance network in Pakistan is left overburdened. The morgue, which has a capacity of 200, is working extensively since the heatwave and have been pushed towards quick burials due to the conditions of the body and the morgue losing all of its cooling functions as it was being over burdened with the current capacity. This is the sad reality which we are facing that there are not enough cold storage areas, and funeral vans that bodies need to be transported in food trucks.

Nobody is immune to climate change, especially the poor as they will be suffering the most, unless governments start acting now. By creating an urgency on the issue, adopting measures and implementing afforestation schemes will help in sustaining a cooler future rather than an unpleasant one, and, for obvious environmental reasons, turning towards air conditioners would not be the solution to this impending problem.

Dr Pervaiz Amir, a well-known environmentalist has argued that “it was high time that we urgently focus on extensive tree plantation with provision for adaptation centres for both citizens and the animals in Karachi and other parts of the country”. This is a great opportunity to get everyone involved by promoting awareness on the concerns of climate change, and by creating more job prospects available to those in the low-income neighbourhoods.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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A New Big Society: social solidarity without growth?

A New Big Society: social solidarity without growth?

Mitigating climate change is often seen to be at odds with economic growth. This is confirmed by the fact that rapidly developing countries hold the lion’s share of carbon emissions. Kilian Raiser asks: can we achieve social solidarity without growth?

Never before will a topic have had this amount of political and social clout. As our politicians gather, and our societies march, we have never been so bound together, united in our collective need for action. In climate change there is an opportunity for change beyond our energy industries, a precedent for social transformation.

Change the goal

Our economic model of “growth or die” will never provide the levels of economic development we strive for. At current rates achieving $1.25 a day per person will require a century, and is still too little. $5 would be more in line with meeting basic needs, so two centuries, and a GDP per capita of $1,000,000. How many planets will we need to sustain these levels of growth? How many more of us must be exploited to provide the resources and cheap labour needed to fuel our consumption habits, which in turn drive our economy?

©Oxfam International /Creative Commons License
©Oxfam International /Creative Commons License

These absurd numbers are driven by inequality. How much less time would we need to achieve them, if our incomes were capped at say $10,000,000 per year, the rest being used to fund community development, to alleviate poverty, to combat climate change?  Andrew Simms and Naomi Klein have both recently argued that climate change is intrinsically linked to inequality. That over coming one will undoubtedly require the other.

Yet, none of the parties running for office are really debating our policies toward regulating what will undoubtedly become one of the world’s largest markets in the future: renewables. Even the Green Party, by far the most concerned with our energy future, who do advocate a swift phasing out of fossil fuels, only mention the need for a public programme for climate change mitigation and adaptation. How can we ensure that the renewable energy firms that take over from their fossil fuel counterparts will not also exhibit the same profit driven, ruthless tactics of growth? And if we are ready to discuss this why not move on from the energy sector.

Sustainability cannot be obtained with CEOs benefiting whilst jobs are cut. Sustainability will not be achieved if IT conglomerates such as Google gain the same lobbying power of our current fossil fuel and pharmaceuticals industries. Sustainability cannot be achieved if Apple continues its record-breaking profits streak. Our planet will simply not sustain these consumption habits.

Valuing society and each other

We may complain about inequality, but we have institutionalized competition. Our education systems encourage us to compete. We are tested against each other, rather than on the grounds of our own personal ability. We strive for admiration. And our technological progress has only exacerbated our disposition. Now we judge our own progress online, based on fabricated accounts of our happiness. We constantly gaze in the mirror of our smart phone screens hoping to feel better because we have already been there, because we heard it before the world did, because we reached more people, and have collected virtual thumbs up before we ever got a real one.

©Southern Africa /Creative Commons License
©Southern Africa /Creative Commons License

We shun ideas of community. Who now knows their neighbours? Or can walk into their local bar/café and be sure to strike up a conversation? Do you know the name of the person selling you groceries everyday? And yet community will define our response to climate change. Carbon neutrality relies on our communities. Politics is and should be intrinsically linked to the community.

Although we focus most of our attention on the national elections, on who wins and will govern our nation(s) for the next electoral term, we should be equally, if not more, concerned with our local community politics. Support your local MPs as much as you do the PM candidate they might represent. Effect change locally, rather than complain about the inability to do so nationally.

Policy not Personality

Politicians have a pretty low shelf life, but their policies should nonetheless take effect over a longer-term their own times in office. This is why it is important to vote for policies not personalities. If we want to achieve sustainability, we need to vote for the policies that bring us closest to these goals, policies that will continue taking effect long after their initiating personalities have retired.

Politically, climate change is a precedent for radical measures. So let’s cap global income! Not at 100,000 (still reasonably high), not even at $1,000,000 (beyond most of our wildest dreams), but at $25,000,000. The surplus each year could be used to fund global public health schemes, free education, and an open-source pool of knowledge tailored to tackling our most pressing issues.

This one example would probably already be enough to solve most of our political struggles. But in order to govern well, we as a society must first transform to embody the values we want to be governed by.

©James Emery /Creative Commons License
©James Emery /Creative Commons License

Climate change presents us with an opportunity. Let us ensure that our grandchildren do not inherit a world without climate change but a lot more of everything else. Let us start now by voting for policies, not personalities, for the future of our grandchildren, not the face representing us at the next global environmental summit.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Moving Beyond Apathy: the role of the media in connecting an online generation

Moving Beyond Apathy: the role of the media in connecting an online generation

Kilian Raiser’s parents witnessed the historic fall of the Berlin wall. In today’s world, the Internet has created a sense of connectedness and immediacy that has come to play a strong role in politics. As part of the online generation, Kilian raises the important question of whether the internet has made young people less or more involved in large-scale political events than previous generations. 

My mother was an East German. She was there on November 9th, 1989. She witnessed first hand the ability for a collective of human beings to stand together to achieve their goals. Her account of that night is infectious.

The fact that my dad, a West German, thought he was dreaming when late at night my mom called him from a hotel in West Berlin, ecstatic with adrenaline, emotion, and champagne, lifts the story out of our grounded realities into the fairy-tale worlds of our imagination. And yet it happened, so why not again?

©Daniel Antal /Creative Commons License
©Daniel Antal /Creative Commons License

Every generation has had their achievements. Our modern, post World War 2 history has seen many youth led revolutions and social transformations from the birth of the welfare state, to student protests in Paris, to Tiananmen square to the Arab spring. The media has played a massive role in this. Through our allegiances to radio and television, to newspapers or blogs, we are bound together beyond the geographical demarcations of nationality, state or city.

When Obama was first running for President, one of the first news stories I followed daily, I was suddenly bound to a nation I bore no real connection to. We all, in our own ways, read the news [feed] so adamantly in hope of witnessing something extraordinary. So, June 5th, 2013, reading about the NSA leaks I wasn’t surprised about the breadth of the surveillance, although it was still shocking to see it so blatantly presented. Rather than outrage, I thought, this could be it, our generations’ Berlin wall!

The leaks definitely helped fuel a wider realisation that our supposed freedom was maybe false. It got us talking. And yet we accepted the reality of our fears, and moved on. Although the truth was offensive to our ideologies, we already knew that our so-called democratic freedom, the liberal, ever forward gazing ideal of that “western” role model was at best a fairy-tale. Unwilling to try and change this, our apathy had won.

In this behaviour, we as a generation exhibit a painstaking naivety in our dismissal of those issues that will shape the legacy we leave behind. In 2013 the British government announced plans to privatise student debt. Of a total of 14,000 students at the University of East Anglia, maybe 100 turned up to march against the policy, probably less. Of these, at least 10 were international students, devoid of any debt, participants out of pure idealism. How, if we are unable to campaign for our own well-being, will we be able to end poverty or discrimination, or even avoid a climate apocalypse?

We are bombarded daily by the breadth and speed of modern media. Our filters numbed by wave after wave of violence, racism, and tax evasion. By celebrities, football, and an endless library of entertainment, updated hourly, for our personal pleasures. Finding our voice through all this information is no doubt a daunting task. Slowly though, our generation seems to be coming together.

©DonkeyHotey /Creative Commons License
©DonkeyHotey /Creative Commons License

Racial tensions in America have rekindled our yearning for an end to discrimination. Some of our young idols have become powerful voices, speaking out for sexual equality. Together we are marching, pressuring our leaders to take responsibility for the future, to affect meaningful change. And all the time we are connected through that beautiful World Wide Web. No generation before us has been so connected, so able to stand together devoid of geographical boundaries.

The extent of our success in tackling climate change will define us. No matter the efforts we employ to end poverty or discrimination, if we do not find a way to successfully avert climate breakdown, our other achievements will be marred by failure. We have had our mouths glued to fossil fuel taps, drunk with wealth and comfort, our bar tab of environmental and human devastation gaining lengths.

So, when Alan Rusbridger recently explained why The Guardian is running a special monthly program on climate change and the environment I once again felt that shiver of hopefulness, the excitement of the prospect of change. This is truly “the biggest story in the world”. So my eyes are glued to the newspaper again, excited by what I am reading, excited by where this could lead us.

The problem with reporting climate change is that it is not news. No matter the evidence, we know what is happening, we are aware of what needs to change, and yet we have so far been unable to do so. So how do we read something that isn’t news? How do we write about climate change so that all who read our article are astounded, so that the way in which we present such common content remains extraordinary? We just continue writing. We continue enabling that connection between people, continue breaking down the boundaries of nations, states and cities, we continue giving people a platform to discuss and to support each other, to stand together with the common goal of change.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Lima Climate Change Conference: cause for cautious optimism

Lima Climate Change Conference: cause for cautious optimism

After a series of  challenging negotiations, the Lima Climate Change Conference concluded amidst cries from both attendees and observers that the agreement was “weak and ineffectual”.  Konstantinos Chatzigeorgiou argues that the backlash against the conference was an overreaction. 

Despite the criticism, this conference was only meant to be laying the groundwork for the upcoming Paris meeting in 2015. As such, the progress of many countries in reducing carbon emissions as well as the possibility of reaching another unanimous agreement should give us cause for cautious optimism as we count down to Paris 2015.

Making Progress?

One of the many reports presented in the conference illustrated a gloomy picture regarding the climate change performance per nation.  The report examined the level and development of emissions, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable sources of energy in 61 countries to assign ranks to the different countries.

In an ironic, yet substantial gesture, the report’s first three ranks remain open. Apparently, no country “is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change”. Even countries such as Denmark with its “exceptional” policy evaluation and the United Kingdom’s with its 15% decrease in emissions are simply not doing enough.

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License
© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

Despite the generally worrisome conclusions, some of the report’s findings offer glimpses of hope. For instance, China, the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, improved its overall performance with a heavy investment in renewable energies and a departure from carbon intensive infrastructure development. However, the country still ranks poorly, lagging behind Bulgaria, Belarus and Indonesia.

The USA also showed a decrease in energy-related CO2 emissions which is a positive trend in itself. Furthermore, the country aspires to capitalise on this trend by further regulating climate policies. Nevertheless, these developments could be attributed to the extensive use of shale gas. Interestingly, Canada and Australia have fared poorly ranking 57 and 58 respectively, thus being the lowest of the developed countries in the climate change performance index.

Talks also revolved around other crucial issues such as deforestation. This phenomenon, largely caused by increased demand of agricultural products, threatens to undermine environmental objectives by altering rainfall patterns.  Therefore, the need to offer political and financial support to farmers, who in turn will invest in sustainable land, was expressed. It was also suggested that failure to do so will radically decrease the chance in limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Reducing the effects of deforestation is no easy task, but some advances were noted. A Rainforest Alliance delegation presented its certification work in Lima, such as some of the first deforestation-free cattle ranches in Brazil and Colombia, commercial reforestation in Ecuador and the sustainable harvest of forest products in Peru.

Reaching Agreements

Negotiations were not always smooth. As Matt McGrath of BBC comments, talks “had almost collapsed because of the wide gaps between the positions held by rich and poor nations.” Eventually, however, unanimous agreement was reached.

© The Irish Labour Party/Creative Commons License
© The Irish Labour Party/Creative Commons License

Ultimately, a 43-page draft was prepared, paving the way for a conclusive 5-page document which summarizes the convention’s outcome. The agreement requires “developed country Parties to provide and mobilize enhanced financial support for developing country Parties for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions” and demands all Parties to “communicate their intended nationally determined contributions” before the upcoming Paris conference.

While these papers do not seem to imply a radical breakthrough, some commentators note that the devil is in the details. Michael Jacobs, writing for The Guardian, claims that even though there are still no definite commitments, the Lima convention has managed to “end the longstanding division of the world into only two kinds of countries, developed and developing.”

Prior to Lima, developing countries’ obligations were voluntary. By requiring all countries to take action, it is implied that the world will not remain divided when fighting climate change. This is particularly important when considering that some of the world’s biggest emitters like Brazil, India, and China were practically given a free pass previously.

While it is not clear what each country’s intended nationally determined contributions will be, it is apparent that compromises will have to be made by everyone. In short, while the Lima talks have not cleared the fog on climate change policies, future measures are going to involve the whole world and not only a small number of developed nations.

In the end, while the outcome of the Lima talks leaves much to be desired, some breakthroughs were achieved. Reports indicate the severity of the situation, while the scope of the agreement allows a certain amount of leniency when combating climate change. Next year’s meeting in Paris will reveal whether environmental considerations can and will overwrite political and economic ones.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The war against climate change

The war against climate change

Climate change truly is a global, contemporary problem, with various debates and controversies attached to it. Thomas Augur asks whether the high profile agreements on carbon emissions are really enough to curb this problem. 

The recent US-China deal to limit carbon emissions stands as proof that the world’s two greatest carbon emitters – and economic powers – are willing to at least try to work together on global climate policy. This came shortly before a deal announced last week at the conclusion of the climate conference in Lima. The Lima deal, including the 194 countries who participated in the conference, is viewed as important step in the march toward the critical conference in Paris next year.

But is this really enough?

There have been a multitude of conventions and agreements since 1988 when, according to activist and author Naomi Klein,“Governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions”. And while many had limited successes, the failures continue to add up and contribute to anthropomorphic climate change.

Need for a new ideology

According to Klein, “We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism”. Klein reminds us that deregulated capitalism has no use for moral leadership, as it would only potentially get in the way of its primary objectives: profit and growth.

©Adbusters/Creative Commons License
©Adbusters/Creative Commons License

In any era, under any circumstances, it is difficult to ask the global business community to reign in or cut back its emissions – businesses are designed to target growth and expand in their search for ever greater profit margins. Therefore, to ask the business community to cut back on emissions at the same time that globalization has erupted, seems – in hindsight – like an awfully big ask. And so it has been that the business community could not resist the lure of global trade and record profits over restraint, even with the steadily growing warnings around the harmfulness of emissions.

Why can’t we escape?

We know that it’s not a sustainable culture but for some reason we, as consumers and producers, seem unable to stop the cycle.

The aforementioned deals and pledges as well as the publicity surrounding the 2015 climate conference in Paris lull the public into a false sense of security where we believe we can in fact curb climate change without a large scale change to our society.

Anyone following the issue closely can see how big business has deliberately thwarted climate change action . Big businesses, on the whole, have chosen to use their immense wealth and power to actively fight against the policies and changes recommended to combat climate change. From a moral perspective, this is just plain sad. From a practical perspective, this represents possibly the greatest obstacle going forward in dealing with our climate crisis.

Overcoming these obstacles?

In order to offset the business community’s obstructionism, the climate movement must raise its game to another level. This is more than a battle – it is a war. And that is an important distinction, because until we come to see this crisis as a war – it is unlikely that we will mobilize sufficiently enough to go toe-to-toe with powerful business interests.

© Eden, Janine and Jim/Creative Commons License
© Eden, Janine and Jim/Creative Commons License

There is no historical equivalent to the current climate crisis: it represents a unique and unprecedented threat to all of us. Perhaps we can take inspiration from wars where, in times of extraordinary crisis, wholesale changes in ideology are made in the pursuit of victory. During the Second World War, countries such as the US and UK effected changes such as price controls, rationing, increased labour hours and higher taxes. Women took on a greater share of the workforce, with so many men in uniform. New civic organisations were formed and the feeling of solidarity and togetherness reached new heights. In short, in a time of crisis, people sacrificed in ways that would have previously been unthinkable.

The war is on, even if many people don’t (or refuse to) realise it. Let’s raise our collective awareness, and let’s increase the public pressure on business and government to enact aggressive, systemic change. Along the way, let’s trust that every bit of action helps – just as every bit of pollution hurts. Your planet needs you!

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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What EU pledges mean for the future of the climate

What EU pledges mean for the future of the climate

EU leaders have agreed to a domestic emissions reduction target of 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The new framework, initially set out in January, also includes increasing energy efficiency and renewables targets 27% by 2030.

Key features and reaction

While the news was quick to be congratulated by politicians, untidy comprises were required for the deal to be brokered. Poland, who get almost all of their energy from coal, threatened to veto the agreement over fears it would lead to rising energy bills. One compromise made allowances for poorer member states to give their power industries free emissions credits through the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). A similar concession exists under previous policy but, controversially, so far funds have generally gone to supporting coal industries. The 2030 agreement aims to eradicate this practice, explicitly stating that free credits should be used “to promote real investments modernising the energy sector” and, despite not expressly forbidding the support of coal industries, aims to eradicate this practice. Another key concession is the creation of a new fund comprising 2% of all EU ETS permits to poorer EU countries to assist them in modernising their energy sectors. It is unclear who will manage this fund and the possibility still remains that the money could be spent on coal investment.

©Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam/Creative Commons License
©Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam/Creative Commons License

Several critics have voiced their disapproval at the deal, saying it doesn’t go far enough. Professor Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the plan is too weak and would not lead to the IPCC’s long-term target of 80% by 2050 saying “I don’t think many people have grasped just how huge this task is”. Professor Skea claims that cutting emissions by 40% by 2030 leaves too much to do in the run up to 2050, as future leaders will have to make a three-fold cut in just 20 years, a change he considers too steep. This view is shared by Brook Riley, climate justice and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, who said the emissions targets don’t go far enough to “end Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future”. The other targets for efficiency and renewable energy have also been the target of criticism from a variety of groups and companies. It is also seen as essential that ETS is updated to ensure that the carbon price is reliable and forces adoption of low-carbon technology and energy sources.

Why the EU cannot act alone

Despite this criticism, the 2030 deal is the most ambitious climate change deal announced by the European Union to date. Unfortunately for the EU, no matter what agreements are reached in the region, it will take commitment on a global stage for the necessary change to occur to reduce carbon emissions to a sustainable level. This is a point not lost on Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate commissioner. Hedegaard has urged the US to follow the example set in Europe, saying “in itself [the EU] cannot solve the climate change issueThe Americans have to come forward with something ambitious, something tangible and something concrete.” She added, “I believe that only the moment that the Americans have done so, then the Chinese will come forward”.

The United States of America and China are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, contributing 16% and 29% of global emissions, respectively (see figure 1). As it stands, the US is set to fail its Copenhagen 2009 pledge to reduce emissions by 3.6% by 2020 from 1990 levels, with emissions last year actually increasing.

Andrew Graph

Figure 1. Global emissions over time (source: World Energy Outlook 2014 presentation to the press)

Shortly after the 2030 policy announcement by the EU, it was been revealed that, after secret talks, the US and China have started to make commitments on emissions. The US has pledged to cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and China has for the first time put a cap on its own emissions. China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, has agreed to stop increasing these emissions by 2030 at the latest. Perhaps more significantly, China aims to produce 20% of its total energy consumption from sources other than fossil fuels, amounting to an enormous 800 to 1,000 additional gigawatts of energy generation to come from zero-emission sources such as nuclear, wind and solar. Despite this landmark announcement, severe criticism remains, with experts predicting that China’s pledge is not enough to limit global warming to a 2° C rise, the IPCC’s critical limit. As China’s emissions are predicted to peak around 2030, their pledge may not actually involve taking any deliberate action on their rising emissions.

Where does this leave us?

While there are some encouraging movements coming from the big players in climate change action, the pledges and targets set have largely consisted of what leaders consider as politically achievable, regardless of the demands made by activists and scientists. Despite politicians reaching comprises that equate to the minimum action required, there is still the possibility that they may fail on their weak promises. With so much at stake at the UN’s critical climate summit in Paris next year, the battle between science and politics will only intensify as an agreement satisfactory to all parties looks to be made. As discussions in the lead up to Paris are currently taking place in Lima, it is only possible to wait and see if a real global attempt is agreed upon to halt, or at least slow, climate change.

Andrew Stretton

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Sustainable and responsible finance: is it worth it?

Sustainable and responsible finance: is it worth it?

As more and more private investors turn towards ethical investing, there is debate arising over building responsible portfolios. Alexander Whitmore investigates whether profit maximisation and sustainable finance can converge. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded earlier this month with “greater certainty” that humans have been the dominant cause of climate change in the 20th century. As the political debate intensifies, it is clear that we must also look to the private sector to reduce anthropogenic climate change. For some, the poor environmental record of many oil and gas companies and the urgency to reduce carbon emissions means that there is a move away from investing in these areas. This has led to a trend known as the ‘divestment’ movement.

What is divestment?

The financial services industry uses the umbrella term ‘sustainable and responsible finance’ to describe financial products that include considerations other than monetary returns. The most common set of considerations are environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Some investors, rather than just focusing on the greatest returns, are beginning to move their capital away from oil and gas companies towards more ‘ethical’ (or at least less damaging) investments.

Earlier this year, the government of Norway reviewed the share of fossil fuel companies in their sovereign investment fund, and more recently Glasgow University voted to divest away from fossil fuel companies. The divestment movement is a prominent example of some investors seeking to marry their finances to their ethics.

©Third Way Think Tank/Creative Commons license
©Third Way Think Tank/Creative Commons license

Why divest?

Advertisements for personal investment platforms have dotted the London Underground in the last few months. Demand for private investment management is up, driven by a recovering and relatively stable economy and the growing market of self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs). Research by one of the largest sustainable banks in the UK reported that “three quarters” of investors would like their pensions and investments to be invested more in environmental and social sectors. Yet 64% are unsure of how ethical their investments are. This information gap means many people are unaware of the externalities that affect their financial decisions and available options.

But does ‘ethical’ investment make financial sense? A common perception is that investments with ethical criteria necessarily underperform traditional portfolios. Private investors are generally unwilling to risk their money for anything less than the most stable or greatest return. Ethical investments are perceived to exchange a degree of monetary return for social good, and are often considered more volatile than their traditional counterparts.

This view is challenged by new evidence. In one piece of research by Moneyfacts, a financial product cost-comparison site, so-called ethical funds outperformed non-ethical funds in 2013. Inclusion of ethical criteria does not mean ethical funds necessarily outperform non-ethical ones. However, it does mean that such funds may perform differently. Ethical funds often invest in smaller, more specialised companies whose activities are different to larger, integrated multinationals. This leaves room for growth by innovative companies, but some may consider this a riskier investment than a firm with an established pedigree.

However, companies with a genuine commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility may be less likely to receive disciplinary measures or government intervention as a result of their actions, and typically have a long-term outlook for their business. These companies are therefore often more suitable for long-term investment.

Sustainability in particular is a driving force behind the divestment movement. If, as the governor of the Bank of England believes, the “vast majority of [fossil fuel] reserves are unburnable”, then oil and gas companies will be left with ‘stranded assets’ (inaccessible deposits of fossil fuels). These companies may therefore be overvalued in what is known as a ‘carbon bubble’. International action to limit climate change could cause the value of oil and gas companies to drop dramatically. This provides the financial case behind the divestment movement.

Not just investors

In October of this year, the Good Money Week campaign aimed to raise awareness of sustainable and responsible finance. Sustainable finance isn’t just about investment; it also includes things like taxes, pensions, savings and current accounts. Banks use deposits to fund loans to businesses that engage in a variety of different practices; some of which you may disagree with.

Sustainable and responsible finance often makes good financial sense, even if you are not concerned with ethics. For those that are, it is possible to make money and make a difference by investing in successful companies that promote social good. Individuals affect the world through their financial choices; so the next time you consider opening a bank account or making an investment, take a look at The Life of a Fiver and see the difference even a small amount of money can make.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Republicans vs. Climate Change

The Republicans vs. Climate Change

Climate change is a topic that is growing increasingly political. Andrew Stretton explores the future of President Obama’s environmental policy in light of the Republican Senate victory in the recent US mid-elections. 

Last week, the Republicans won control of the US Senate, meaning they now control both chambers of Congress. While this power shift won’t result in the Republicans having significantly more direct power, it will allow them additional influence over Barack Obama’s policies and agenda in his final two years as President. There will be meaningful changes to the chairs of several Senate committees and this is likely to have substantial effects on US climate, energy, and environmental policy.

Obama’s green credentials seemed assured in his first term, being perceived as America’s first ‘green president’ shortly after taking office. He spoke about the development of green energy as a way to transform the economy and protect US security, asking Congress to provide legislation to allow him to put a cap on carbon emissions and drive production of renewable energy. $100 billion dollars were put towards making private homes and government buildings more efficient, developing wind and solar power and improving public transport.

©Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons license
Jim Inhofe ©Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons license

For all of Obama’s attempts, the expected appointment of Republican Jim Inhofe as chair of the Environment and Public Works committee, which is in charge of climate change legislation, is likely to limit further progress. Inhofe, who chaired the committee from 2003 to 2007, is a prominent climate change denier. He has written a book claiming that climate change is a hoax and even compared the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which develops and enforces environmental regulations, to the Gestapo. He has also claimed that it is impossible for human caused climate change, or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), to be true because “God’s still up there.” Inhofe cited evidence in the Bible and declared that humans should not be “able to change what He is doing in the climate”.

This expected appointment comes at a time when the scientific opinion on AWG has reached a consensus that is endorsed by over 97% of scientists who have written on the topic. It has also been revealed that the number of papers that rejected AWG has decreased over time and “is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research. A few days before the elections, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their fifth comprehensive assessment report on the latest climate science and technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change. The report, written by over 800 expert authors, warns that should no action be taken on climate change “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” will be inflicted on both humanity and the natural world. At the report’s launch, UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side”.

Given the conclusive verdict passed by scientists, it would be reasonable to expect that politicians would follow the strong recommendations and cap fossil fuel emissions and turn to renewable energy as soon as possible. However, for various reasons, a political consensus to pursue such strategies has yet to be established. In the US Senate, Inhofe is not alone in refusing to accept the overwhelming evidence of AWG. Come next January, Ron Johnson, Mike Enzi and Ted Cruz, all fellow climate change deniers, are expected to be the chairs of key Senate committees.

©Playing Futures/Creative Commons license
©Playing Futures/Creative Commons license

Why the denial?

A quick look into who funds politicians like Inhofe reveals the likely source of such widespread denial. Inhofe raised $4.6 million dollars for re-election in 2014, over ten times the amount of his closest challenger. His top contributors were Devon Energy (oil & gas), Boeing Co (aviation) and Murray Energy (coal mining), followed by many other fossil fuel companies including Koch Industries. It is a similar case for other deniers. Should Inhofe and his fellow climate change deniers have a change of heart, it is safe to assume that their considerable funding would diminish.

This round of US midterm elections saw a record $85 million pledged by environmental organisations and individuals such as Tom Steyer. However, this unprecedented spending still resulted in defeat at the ballot box. The harsh reality is that for every dollar environmental groups will spend, the fossil fuel corporations will always have a dollar more. For instance, the political network backed by the Koch brothers (owners of Koch Industries) was estimated to have spent over $300 million on the midterms, buying over 44,000 TV ads in the process.

What next for America and the World?

Despite Obama’s 2009 plea, Congress has proven to be uncooperative with his green policy attempts. As recently as May 2014, the Senate blocked an $85 billion tax cut which would have helped wind energy. It is now increasingly likely that successful climate change action in America will have to occur at a local level. World leaders have a self-imposed deadline to agree a new global climate deal by the conclusion of the Paris 2015 summit. With the current lack of political consensus, it will take a combination of strong leadership and public pressure, through protest or ballot box, to instigate real change.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The fight against food waste: lessons from the UK

The fight against food waste: lessons from the UK

Food wastage is one of the ills of modern globalisation, fuelling climate change and flying in the face of the food insecurity becoming ever more of an issue in developed (as well as developing) countries. Foodsharing start-up founder Amira Aleem brings attention to just a handful of civil society campaigns aiming to redress the balance in the UK.

 

A selection of the kind of food thrown away on a daily basis by households, grocery stores and restaurants. © bigbutpretty / Creative Commons license

In an era recovering from one of the worst economic recessions of our lifetimes, the need to reduce and reuse has become increasingly important. Yet, the UK alone wastes an estimated of 7 million tonnes of food per year, much of it avoidable. A combination of factors including stringent cosmetic standards, food safety laws and retail negligence means that this enormous quantity of food ends up wasted – a huge environmental problem and a crushing waste of money. It is a figure that is especially ironic given that an alarmingly large number of Britons are turning to emergency food aid, as food poverty increases.

This level of food wastage costs the economy £12.5 billion annually. Since throwing away food involves a waste of all the resources that went into growing, producing, packaging and transporting the food, the long-term environmental effects are disastrous. Breakdown of food propagates climate change by increasing levels of methane in the atmosphere – a gas 25 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It also leaches nutrients into the soil when dumped in landfill, which in turn can contaminate groundwater resources. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Earth Day 2014 | The problem with palm oil

Earth Day 2014 | The problem with palm oil

Buying ethically sourced products has become a part of everyday life for consumers wishing to minimise their impact on the environment. However, many of the products we don’t think twice about purchasing may actually contain one of the most harmful ingredients of all, palm oil. Sean Mowbray introduces the ubiquitous culprit and the measures being taken by both activists and industry to clean up its production.

 

Cargill's Problems With Palm Oil
The raw product: palm fruit being harvested in Sumatra, Indonesia. © Rainforest Action Network/Creative Commons

Palm oil has become one of the essential foodstuffs of the modern world. Often listed under the vague term ‘vegetable oil’ it can be difficult to find out whether a particular product actually contains palm oil. However, it is thought to be present in around 1 in 10 grocery items (including ice cream, breakfast cereals, ready meals, washing up liquids and cosmetic products) and to account for roughly one third of global vegetable oil usage, making it nearly impossible to avoid.

As one of the cheapest and high yielding oil crops, palm oil production has increased substantially since the 1960s. Today, the industry produces approximately 50 million tonnes of palm oil annually, but it is estimated that demand will have doubled by 2030, and tripled by 2050.

Palm oil is clearly an extremely important – even staple – commodity of the twenty-first century, and provides an essential source of income for nearly 4.5 million people in Indonesia and Malaysia alone, together responsible for 85% of global output. The problem is not the product itself, but the environmentally destructive methods involved in its production. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Coping with climate change: The Uganda story

The effects of climate change are hitting Uganda hard. What are ordinary people doing to adapt to extreme conditions? Ugandan journalist and guest DiA blogger Mubatsi Asinja Habati finds out

Lake Bunyonyi faces silting. Photo by snowflakegirl/ Creative Commons
Lake Bunyonyi faces silting. Photo by snowflakegirl/ Creative Commons

Every time Joseph Musoke visits his ancestral home in Mubende in rural central Uganda, he leaves it a sad man. “My village is no longer the same as 20 years ago when we grew up. The steady rain and thick forests are no more. Too much sunshine and erratic rains have reduced the once plentiful village to a hungry one,” he says. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The impact of climate change on the developing world

Climate change is a problem that has mostly been created in developed nations and exported to the developing world. DiA blogger Adam Routledge explores the challenges facing developing countries

flood india
Flooding is becoming more common due to climate change. Photo by barry.poussman

The effects of the rapid alteration of our climate vary across the world. There’s no doubt that the weather in the UK has become more sporadic in recent years: colder and more dramatic winters than previous decades; more frequent floods with greater ferocity. This, however, is little compared to the impact that climate change is causing, and will continue to cause, on parts of the developing world. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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How climate change is destroying the earth: an infographic

“Mad March!” screamed the font page of London’s Evening Standard today, with extensive coverage of the recent wintry gales that have swept through the UK over the past few days – producing the coldest March for 27 years. And it is mad, when you remember the heatwave we had this time last year.

There’s no doubt that climate change is having a serious effect on our weather. And not just in the UK – the rest of the world is experiencing severe weather conditions. LearnStuff.com has provided DiA with an infographic detailing the detrimental effects of climate change on our planet. Check it out below.

– Emily Wight, blog editor

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The hunger alarm: hear the scream

What is the relationship between the changing climate and food poverty? DiA blogger Hannah Loryman outlines the grave challenges we face and the measures we need to take to lift the world out of its food crisis

Hurricane Sandy caused a food crisis in Haiti. Photo by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)/ Creative Commons
Hurricane Sandy caused a food crisis in Haiti. Photo by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)/ Creative Commons

There has been a global alarm screaming at us about world hunger since 2008 and this year is predicted to see the highest ever food prices.

Climate change is already having real and severe effects on the way people eat. Severe weather conditions throughout the summer in the USA, South America and Russia wiped out entire harvests and changing rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures are gradually pushing prices up. Predictions suggest that one or more extreme weather events in a single year could cause two decades of price inflation to occur in a matter of months. Despite not actually hitting Haiti, Hurricane Sandy caused a severe food crisis putting 450,000 people at risk of acute malnutrition. We cannot just use technology to increase the amount of food we create because falling water tables, rising temperature and soil erosion all place huge challenges on increasing production. This demonstrates how vulnerable we are to the climate and that solutions to hunger need to take into account the new and increasing challenge of climate change. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Cyclone Thane hits Pondicherry

An uprooted tree in Angalakkupam

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Last month a cyclone hit South India and Pondicherry, where Development in Action’s partner organisation Sharana is, was badly affected. Blog Editor and DiA committee member Emily Wight reports on the effects. Emily spent five months volunteering in Pondicherry last year.

Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

***

Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.