Tag Archives: equity

Bolivia Barking

I recently wondered whether developing countries were asking for the wrong thing in Bonn. Now Bolivia is barking up the right tree with a proposed “climate debt” concept. The idea’s actually quite old; it’s already well developed in the Greenhouse Development Rights framework.

The trick is, how to achieve an equitable outcome that’s consistent with the physics of climate? Consider this reaction to ideas like climate debt:

Obama’s Global Tax

By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Tuesday, July 29, 2008 4:20 PM PT

Election ’08: A plan by Barack Obama to redistribute American wealth on a global level is moving forward in the Senate. It follows Marxist theology – from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Obama would give them all a fish without teaching them how to fish. Pledging to cut global poverty in half on the backs of U.S. taxpayers is a ridiculous and impossible goal.

We already transfer too much national wealth to the United Nations and its busybody agencies. …

If you’re worried abut gasoline and heating oil prices now, think what they’ll be like when the U.S. is subjected in an Obama administration to global energy consumption and production taxes. Obama’s Global Poverty Act is the “international community’s” foot in the door.

Obama has called on the U.S. to “lead by example” on global warming and probably would submit to a Kyoto-like agreement that would sock Americans with literally trillions of dollars in costs over the next half century for little or no benefit.

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times . . . and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama has said. “That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen.”

Oh, really? Who’s to say we can’t load up our SUV and head out in search of bacon double cheeseburgers at the mall? China? India? Bangladesh? The U.N.?

I suspect that these sentiments are quite prevalent, at least in the US. I’m even sympathetic in at least one respect: transfers from the global rich to poor are beneficial in principle, but difficult to execute. Transfers from country to country are susceptible to capture by elites. Direct transfers among individuals could be facilitated by a global carbon market with allowances allocated to individuals (one of the few good arguments for emissions trading in my mind), but would undemocratic regimes permit their citizens to participate?

I don’t see agreement on this front any time soon. I could see things going a different way: the US, EU and a few other developed nations move to reduce, then goad developing nations along with a mixture of carrot (offset projects and other transfers) and stick (border carbon adjustments).

Bonn – Are Developing Countries Asking For the Wrong Thing?

Yesterday’s news:

BONN, Germany (Reuters) – China, India and other developing nations joined forces on Wednesday to urge rich countries to make far deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than planned by 2020 to slow global warming.

I’m sure that the mental model behind this runs something like, “the developed world created most of the problem up to this point, and they’re rich, so they should get busy making deep cuts, while we grow a little more to catch up.” Regardless of fairness considerations, that approach ignores the physics of the situation. If developing countries continue to increase emissions, it hardly matters how deep cuts are in the rich world. Either everyone plays along, or mitigation doesn’t work.

I fired up C-ROADS and ran a few scenarios to illustrate:

C-ROADS reduction scenarios

The top blue line is the AIFI business-as-usual, with rapid emissions growth. If rich nations stabilize emissions as of today, you get the red line – still much more than 2x CO2 at the end of the century. Whether the rich start cutting emissions a little (1%/yr, green) or a lot (5%/yr, green) after that makes relatively little difference, because emissions from the rich world quickly become a small share of the total. Getting everyone to merely stabilize emissions (at 2009 levels for the rich, 2020 for developing countries, black) makes a substantially bigger difference than deep cuts by the rich alone. Stabilizing CO2 in the atmosphere at a low level requires deep cuts by everyone (here 4%/year, brown).

If we’re serious about stabilization, it doesn’t make sense for the rich to decarbonize faster, so that the developing world can construct more carbon-dependent capital that will ultimately have to be deconstructed. It may sound “fair” in carbon-per-capita terms, but I don’t think that’s a very good measure of human welfare, and it’s unlikely to end up with a fair distribution of damages.

If the developing countries are really concerned about climate impacts (as they should be), they should be looking to the rich world for help getting onto a low-carbon path today, not in 20 years. They should also be willing to impose a carbon price on themselves. It won’t collapse their economies any more than it will ours. Without a price on carbon, rebound effects and leakage will eat up most gains, as the private sector responds to the real signal: “go green (but the price of carbon is zero, wink wink nudge nudge).” Their request to the rich should be about the transfers, property rights, and other changes it takes to get the job done with some measure of distributional fairness (a topic that won’t be popular in some circles).

Is the BC Carbon Tax Fair?

That’s the title of a post today at The Progressive Economics Forum, introducing a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The bottom line:

In this study, we model the distribution of BC’s carbon tax and recycling measures. Our results conirm that BC’s carbon tax, in and of itself, is regressive. However, the overall carbon tax and recycling framework is modestly progressive in 2008/09 — that is, low-income families get back more in credits, on average, than they pay in carbon taxes. If the low-income credit is not expanded, however, the regime will shift to become regressive by 2010/11. It is important for policy makers to rectify this situation in the 2009 and future budgets by minimally ensuring that the credit grows in line with the carbon tax.

A related problem:

A second concern with the carbon tax regime is that tax cuts undermine a progressive outcome at the top of the income scale. In 2008/09, personal and corporate income tax cuts lead to an average net gain for the top 20% of households that is larger in dollar terms than for the bottom 40%.

I plotted the results in the report’s tables to show some of these effects. In 2009, the lowest income groups (quintiles 1-3) come out a little ahead, but the 4th quintile faces a net loss, while the top income group is overcompensated by the corporate tax cut:

BC carbon tax incidence and rebate distribution

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Ethics, Equity & Models

I’m at the 2008 Balaton Group meeting, where a unique confluence of modeling talent, philosophy, history, activist know-how, compassion and thirst for sustainability makes it hard to go 5 minutes without having a Big Idea.

Our premeeting tackled Ethics, Values, and the Next Generation of Energy and Climate Modeling. I presented a primer on discounting and welfare in integrated assessment modeling, based on a document I wrote for last year’s meeting, translating some of the issues raised by the Stern Review and critiques into plainer language. Along the way, I kept a running list of assumptions in models and modeling processes that have ethical/equity implications.

There are three broad insights:

  1. Technical choices in models have ethical implications. For example, choices about the representation of technology and resource constraints determine whether a model explores a parameter space where “growing to help the poor” is a good idea or not.
  2. Modelers’ prescriptive and descriptive uses of discounting and other explicit choices with ethical implications are often not clearly distinguished.
  3. Decision makers have no clue how the items above influence model outcomes, and do not in any case operate at that level of description.

My list of ethical issues is long and somewhat overlapping. Perhaps in part that is due to the fact that I compiled it with no clear definition of ‘ethics’ in mind. However, I think it’s also due to the fact that there are inevitably large gray areas in practice, accentuated by the fact that the issue doesn’t receive much formal attention. Here goes: Continue reading

Climate War Game – Reduction Illusion?

Is the cup half empty or half full? It seems to me that there are opportunities to get tripped up by even the simplest emissions math, as is the case with the MPG illusion. That complicates negotiations by introducing variations in regions’ perception of fairness, on top of contested value judgments.

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Exhibit A – the Social Cost of Carbon

I recently discovered a cool set of tools from MIT’s Simile project. My favorites are Timeline and Exhibit, which provide a fairly easy way to create web sites where visitors can interact with data. As a test, I built an Exhibit containing Richard Tol’s survey of assessments of the social cost of carbon (SCC):

Social Cost of Carbon Exhibit

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