Reflections on Forum from Gayatri Khedkar

Gayatri Khedkar, is a researcher at the Integrated Research & Action for Development (IRADE), in New Delhi and presented at the DevMit Forum

Among the most discussed themes in the forum, the most striking to me was a need to change consumption patterns. In the days following the forum, there was news that Paris had to limit its car use and encourage public transport in the face of increasing pollution levels in the city. From China come reports that Beijing’s smog is keeping the foreign talent away and that many resident foreigners are leaving the city due to health concerns. Research has shown that as countries move up the development ladder, emissions increasingly come from the consumption side, mainly from the burgeoning transport sector and proportionately less from the production side (like power, industry sectors). The Paris and Beijing examples illustrate a need to adhere to an ancient Indian tenet, “Naticharami” meaning “I will not do excess of anything”. As many developing countries grow there is clearly an imperative to shift to clean fuels for transport and more R&D. However, it may not be sufficient and public transport, walking and cycling will have to play bigger roles in fulfilling people’s transport needs and curbing excessive use of cars.

Whilst many people will agree to the need to change consumption patterns – what is not so obvious – and requires deliberation – is the aspect of what motivates people to adapt to other goods and lifestyles. For example, over centuries people have moved away from cotton towards using plastic, from bicycling to cars, from the stationary telephone to mobile smart phones. It is because these newer goods have made life easier and catered to dynamic lifestyles. Unless environment friendly and sustainable goods, which will be of more utility, are provided, people will not easily shift to them. Why is this so? Firstly, it is because what economists call ‘externalities’ are not taken into account by individual consumers. When I buy a car, I benefit in terms of increased mobility but I don’t necessarily have to suffer from the pollution caused by the car’s manufacture or the production of the fuel it uses. Secondly, most of governments have not found a way to make people pay for such externalities. Thirdly, environmentalists face stiff competition from market forces that are constantly molding people’s perceptions of what is desirable and needed. Continue reading

Paying the social cost of carbon

The DevMit Forum makes sure it pays the full social cost of carbon for its conference off-set.

What is the real cost of a ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere? Economists call this cost the “social cost of carbon” – a reflection of the total damage that an emitted ton does through accelerated climate change.

It is not an easy thing to calculate, most obviously because it is impossible to anticipate exactly what damage will be caused by climate change, when it will be caused and what the knock-on effects might be. We know climate change is, on balance, likely to be harmful to agriculture, coastal property and human health but in an interconnected global system it is also likely to cause changes – both positive and negative – that we do not know enough about and won’t anticipate. By way of illustration, roughly half any emitted ton will currently be re-absorbed by the ocean, plants and soils. But that could change if these carbon sinks become saturated or perturbed by climate change itself. As a result, putting a value to the net change over fifty years, and attributing it to an emitted ton of carbon dioxide today is not an exact science.

The difficulty and subjectivity of calculating the social cost of carbon has not deterred economists from trying: The Stern Review (US$85 per ton), the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (US$12-US$61 per ton) and South Africa’s own Long Term Mitigation Strategy each draw on their respective estimates of the damage caused by an additional ton of emitted carbon dioxide.

The social cost of carbon is an important concept for the carbon market, which attempts to “internalize” that cost and get the emitter to pay. The carbon market, like economists, has not yet settled on what this cost should be and instead accommodates a spread of carbon prices. What is not disputed is that most carbon market transactions come in way below the estimates of the social cost of carbon, and as a result almost certainly fail to fully internalize the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions. This is a key component of carbon market failure. Continue reading

Beyond DevMit?

by Emily Tyler, DevMit Forum Lead
4 February 2014

‘The week after the week that was’ – is certainly how the Development and Mitigation (DevMit) Forum organising team is feeling right now! A little disoriented (what do I now do 24/7?), very relieved, and reflecting on invaluable time spent with excellent colleagues.

When I embarked on the DevMit Forum journey in May last year it was, with the benefit of hindsight, from a mitigation entry point. About half way in, steeped in the logistical nightmare of blind peer reviewing papers and envisioning the DevMit Cafe, I attended a workshop of the South African National Treasury’s REDI 3×3 research project, focused on inclusive growth and attended by senior South African development experts from across the spectrum. To cut a long story to blog-length, the experience blind-sided me. Firstly by realising afresh that development, or ‘inclusive growth’ as it was phrased in that context, is multi-faceted, attended by numerous disciplines, consisting of many discourses played out in different contexts, and in climate mitigation speak; lacking in silver bullets. Secondly, that neither climate impacts nor mitigation really featured in the discussion, and where they did get air-time, the perspectives were decades out of date. Continue reading

A developmental approach to mitigation

Post by Harald Winkler

The challenge of development and climate

The challenge at the heart of the DevMit Forum is about the relationship between development and climate – how to improve our understanding and change our practice. In other words, next week we seek to theorise more fully the relationship between development and climate through a conversation between development and climate discourses and through engagement between two communities of practice, work towards new solutions.

The current reality of climate change is one of inadequate and fragmented action. That is starkly at odds with the required future, which has to involve massive redirection of the entire economy. How do we get from where we are heading to where we need to go? It requires a developmental approach to climate change.

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Warsaw COP highlights need for discussion of development, mitigation nexus.

The recent Warsaw COP saw important but slow progress towards the goal of effective international climate mitigation policy under the UNFCCC. In the meantime, developing countries continue growing at a level of carbon intensity which the globe cannot sustain. The global window for emissions peaking is narrow, and there is still much work to be done to understand how to drive mitigation in developing countries.

For most of these countries, development is the immediate and first order policy priority, with mitigation a second order, longer-term priority. This a priori constrains those who are advocating more ambitious mitigation action now in the developing country context. In the long-term, effective global mitigation is good for development goals such as poverty reduction because the poor will be hit hardest by climate impacts. But this is a hard sell to developing countries that are not yet seeing action by the developed world, and face increasing pressure from their own citizenry to reduce poverty and increase growth in the short-term.

The current framing of mitigation in the domestic policy of most developing countries is not leveraging sufficiently ambitious mitigation action, and may even be hindering the identification of synergies, points of contact and leverage between mitigation and development goals. All too often mitigation is pitted against development, as being an either / or choice, which then means mitigation inevitably loses out. This framing also doesn’t assist in ensuring that policy responses to development challenges do not undermine the sustained growth and development of developing countries in a carbon constrained future. Continue reading