Green Politics: Climate Talks in Qatar

It’s warm and sunny today in Doha.

That’s where representatives from UN member countries are gathered for another round of UN climate talks.

It’s a fitting location in many ways. The world overall is getting hotter and dryer.

(At least where it’s not getting colder and wetter.)

Will the talks bring us any closer to a global climate treaty designed to hold us under the 2C degree tipping point? There’s a lot at stake, well described in this Environmental Leader article.

As much as I deeply admire the UN’s work, I’m doubtful for any significant outcomes.

If Sandy couldn’t rattle souls to put climate change at the top of the political agenda, then I don’t hold much hope for a conference half-a-world away.

Not to mention that host country Qatar is the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases per capita and has not announced any reduction goals.

The two-week event includes release of a new UN report on the increasingly liquid state of the planet’s permafrost. Very bad news.

Green Business: World Bank Issues Dire Climate Change Projections

Forget 2 degrees.

A new World Bank report projects a 4C rise by 2100.


The [World Bank] organization has released a new report summarizing a range of the direct and indirect climatic consequences under the current global path for greenhouse gas emissions, taking a look at the potential impacts if the world’s temperature increases by 4 degrees by the end of the century.

Worth a complete, thorough read:

Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C Warmer World Must Be Avoided

Green Government: Can We Talk About A Carbon Tax Now?

Who’s ready for a carbon tax?

The words that dared not speak before Nov. 5 can now be spoken.

Judging by the flood of news I’m seeing, get ready to hear a lot about a carbon tax as a two-in-one solution for both the fiscal cliff and climate change.

First, what’s a carbon tax?

As described by Wall St. Journal journalist Keith Johnson, “The idea of a carbon tax is simple: Put a price tag on the harmful emissions from fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and use the revenues to fund clean-energy development, pay down the deficit or slash taxes. Proponents often describe it as a win-win-win policy, because carbon taxes would penalize things that are bad (pollution) and lower taxes on things that are good (labor and capital).”

For both economic and political reasons, a carbon tax has been a complete non-starter for Congress in recent years.

But maybe now, post-election, post-Sandy, and gratefully post-Athena, there might be more room to consider this idea?

No less than vehement anti-taxer Grover Norquist floated a tiny, carbon tax-filled balloon yesterday to see where the wind was blowing:


Norquist: Carbon-Tax Swap for Income-Tax Cut Wouldn’t Violate No-Tax-Hike Pledge

In a step that may help crack open the partisan impasse on climate change, Grover Norquist, the influential lobbyist who has bound hundreds of Republicans to a pledge never to raise taxes, told National Journal that a proposed “carbon tax swap”—taxing carbon pollution in exchange for cutting the income tax—would not violate his pledge.

Alas, Mr. Norquist abruptly and definitively yanked back his position back today.


Grover Norquist Abruptly Changes Position On Carbon Tax After Facing Criticism From Koch-Backed Group

But one day later, after being criticized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of a Koch-supported energy think tank devoted to promoting fossil fuel development, Norquist has completely reversed his statement, saying there virtually “no conceivable way” he could support a tax on carbon.

Well that was fun while it lasted. Cross him off the carbon-tax seating chart.

But seriously, the real reason we’re talking about a carbon tax today is that the conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting a meeting about it.


Carbon Tax Idea Gains Wonkish Energy

With the fiscal cliff looming and parts of the U.S. still digging out from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, calls for the U.S. to adopt a carbon tax are gathering steam–even though there’s little sign of interest from Congress or the White House.

Today the conservative American Enterprise Institute is holding an all-day, on-the-record discussion of the idea. And the Brookings Institution is unveiling a slate of new measures meant to make the government more effective, including a carbon tax that could raise $1.5 trillion over ten years. All that follows a cascade of carbon-tax advocacy in recent days from the chattering classes and a slate of academic work over the summer (not to mention our own two cents).

“The time seems ripe for this discussion. The president is committed both to raising tax revenue and to dealing with climate change. A carbon tax kills two birds with one stone,” said Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who advised the Romney campaign and has long pushed for more efficient taxation, including a carbon tax.

As Mr. Johnson notes in the links above, other voices are weighing in as well.

From the science community…


America’s carbon compromise

As looming tax increases and budget cuts threaten to plunge the US economy back into recession, Congress should take a hard look at introducing a carbon tax as an important part of the solution.

And familiar, long-time political activists…


Gore warns of ‘climate cliff,’ pushes carbon tax in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

Former Vice President Al Gore called for a carbon tax to be part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in the lame-duck session of Congress.

“It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.”

Meantime, columnist Matthew Yglesias dismisses the idea of a carbon tax getting passed as a “pipe dream.”


A Sensible Grand Bargain Addresses Climate Change

I’m not one to go all gaga over grand bargains, but this [carbon tax] is the grand bargain that actually makes sense—a proposal that would divide both parties’ core coalitions.

Is this even remotely likely? No. It’s a pipe dream.

While I appreciate Mr. Yglesias’ perspective, I hope he’s wrong.

Just wait until the White House chimes in. Things are starting to get very interesting.


Green Government: (Climate) Change is in the Wind

Climate Change.

Superstorm Sandy’s hurricane force winds brought those words to the minds and hearts of many people last week.

And started a conversation.

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed President Obama, citing Climate Change.

Non-partisan political pundits called Climate Change  the October surprise no one saw coming.

Global financial entities calculated the costs of insuring against future Sandy-strength events.

Millions of Americans found themselves personally affected.

Sustainability heavy-weight Andrew Winston blogged about the costs and consequences of Climate Change and Sandy for the Harvard Business Review.

And Businessweek chimed in with a front-page story headlined,  “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

I’m glad that more people are talking about Climate Change, even as I am heartsick, from my front-row seat as a New Jersey native and resident, at so much devastating loss.

In the wake of Sandy’s destruction, here’s hoping that we can now begin working concretely, practically and steadfastly on Climate Change challenges.

(Climate) Change is truly in the wind.