Sandbag is pleased to welcome Rob Elsworth as the newest member of Sandbag. He kicks things off here with some thoughts about climate change, emissions trading and the role of civil society.
Is there a growing climate change crisis? Recession, the failure to secure an international treaty at Copenhagen, the resignation of Mr. de Boer, climate gate, the growing voice of climate sceptics, the publics’ waning attitude to climate change and to top it off Europe was subjected bitterly cold and snowy winter. All this suggest that climate change is losing its legitimacy, nevertheless, climate change cannot afford to go through an identity crisis, the issues are too great and the stakes are too high. Addressing climate change transcends the usual range of variables needed to deal with other policy issues. Its represents a problem on a global scale that needs a global consensus, with any outcome having a profound knock on effect on almost all aspects of life, ranging from international trade to human rights.
There is no panacea for climate change, so then what must we do? Understanding the processes that govern the environment is of paramount importance. If we accept governance to be the drawing together of social, economic and political pillars that help describe, categorise and explain the changes and transformations within the problem solving process. Then we can understand environmental governance to be the sum of institutions, organisations, policy instruments, economic mechanisms, societal structures, rules and norms that regulates the process of global environmental protection. These pillars must be balanced with one another to facilitate meaningful action.
The political process surrounding climate change is overwhelmingly complicated. On top of this, expectations are titanic. The failure at Copenhagen to secure an international treaty and the subsequent torrent of disappointment is evidence of the high emotion that surround the political process. Likewise the economics of climate change are a murky business, markets do not react kindly to the prospect of additional costs but their ability to take advantage of emerging opportunities is staggering. For all the talk of failure, both the political and economic pillars have made huge progress. The Copenhagen accord is not as ambitions as once hoped for, but it’s nevertheless has created a platform, with some (http://www.usclimatenetwork.org/policy/copenhagen-accord-commitments#Note1 “”) countries associating themselves with the accord, covering 83.25% of global emissions. Likewise, markets are shifting and the move towards green economies is no longer a pipe dream, rather it is the goal of most countries.
This leaves the third pillar of environmental governance, society. Increasingly the public has been bombarded with information about climate change, much of it laced with guilt and questionably counterfactual. There are interest groups and NGOs covering every possible aspect of the environment, however, it feels like they are losing any form of shared voice. Green groups and NGO are increasingly finding themselves isolated from one another, divided by core beliefs and vying for supporters, resulting in increasing apathy and disinterest from the public. The UK foreign Secretary, David Miliband has accused the [public of apathy](http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6886363.ece “”) toward climate change and the [polls](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8500443.stm “”) seem to back this up. It would be deeply unfair to suggest that society has not made efforts against climate change, quite the opposite, huge advances have been made. However, there does seem to be a problem in the balance of these three pillars, with the general public isolated from the political and the economical. There is a plethora of legislation in place to deal with climate and environmental issues and its time there was a greater understanding of what is already in place and how it affects people on a daily basis.
There is no better example of this imbalance than the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), possibly the single most important piece of legislation in the move to combat climate change, yet it remains almost totally alien to the majority of people. In 2005 the European Union introduced legally binding cap on all large point sources of green house gasses (GHG) in each on the 27 member states. This cap accounts of roughly 50% of Europe’s emissions and covers the power sector, steel production, cement production to name just a few. A cap on emissions means that each participating installation will be allowed to emit a certain amount of GHGs into the atmosphere, installation are issues allowances that represent emissions. If the installation exceeds their emissions allowance they must by allowances from those plants that have made reductions or not reached their limit and thus have a surplus of allowances which they are able to sell on. For those plant who exceed their allowance they are able to buy EU emission Allowance (EUA) from other plants or international offsetting credits in the form of certified emissions reduction (CERs), international credits allow for a more cost effective form of compliance as they tend to be cheaper than the EU EUAs
What does this mean for the general public? Fundamentally this means that a large percentage of carbon entering the atmosphere is pre determined, savings made in the UK will not necessarily result in the prevention of carbon entering the atmosphere, rather it will result in the creation of surplus allowances that can be sold onto other EU countries that can use them to pollute on our behalf. Put frankly, turning your lights off at home will save you money, but it will not prevent carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. This seems to counter the most basic of green approaches of saving energy by turning the TV off standby and the like. This legislation might seem counter intuitive, striving to save electricity will not prevent carbon entering the atmosphere? It is exactly for this reason that the societal pillar must interact more with the political and economic, only when these are balanced will the environment be governed effectively.