A unity task force made up of supporters of both Sen.Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) and former Vice PresidentJoe Bidenhas come up with a series of broad environmental recommendations for Biden as he prepares to become the official Democratic presidential nominee.
The task force’s broad plan includes a goal of eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, achieving net-zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030, and making energy-saving upgrades to as many as 4 million buildings and 2 million households within five years.
Some of the recommendations released Wednesday set more specific targets than the former vice president’s current climate plan,which calls for a shift away from coal-fired electricity, halving the carbon footprint of buildings by 2035 and starting a national program aimed at affordable energy efficiency retrofits in homes.
The group is one of several “unity task forces”made up of supporters of Sanders and Biden that is making platform recommendations as Biden courts favor from the progressive faction of the party.
Sanders, who sought to challenge the former Delaware senator from the left, came in second place in the 2020 Democratic primary, repeating his result from 2016, when he lost the presidential nomination to former Secretary of StateHillary Clinton
“The Unity Task Force urges that we treat climate change like the emergency that it is and answer the crisis with an ambitious, unprecedented, economy-wide mobilization to decarbonize the economy and build a resilient, stronger foundation for the American people,” the document says.
The plan also calls for a significant investment in renewable energy, including installing 500 million solar panels and manufacturing 60,000 wind turbines.
In the transportation sector, the group recommends the adoption of “strong standards” for clean cars and trucks and the transition of all school buses to American-made, zero-emission alternatives within five years.
A spokesperson for the Biden campaign did not immediately respond to questions from The Hill about whether the campaign would adopt any or all of the climate recommendations, though the former vice president praised the task forces in general for “their service and helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country.”
Task force member Rep. A.Donald McEachin(D-Va.) who has endorsed Biden, expressed support for a strong climate platform in a statement to The Hill.
“The Trump administration and its acolytes have sought to prevent the bold climate action this moment of crisis demands at every turn, but today’s recommendations released by the Biden/Sanders Unity Taskforce represent a new and necessary sense of urgency on environmental justice and climate change for the United States under a Biden administration,” McEachin said. “It is up to all of us to translate this enthusiasm into action under the diverse coalition we need to mobilize behind Vice President Biden in November.”
“Shifting baselines syndrome” means we could quickly get used to climate chaos.
By David Roberts
The afternoon sky glows red from bushfiresexacerbated by climate changenear Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019.Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images
For as long as I’ve followed global warming, advocates and activists have shared a certain faith: When the impacts get really bad, people will act.
Maybe it will be an especially destructive hurricane, heat wave, or flood. Maybe it will be multiple disasters at once. But at some point, the severity of the problem will become self-evident, sweeping away any remaining doubt or hesitation and prompting a wave of action.
From this perspective, the scary possibility is that the moment of reckoning will come too late. There’s a time lag in climate change — the effects being felt now trace back to gases emitted decades ago. By the time things get bad enough, many further devastating and irreversible changes will already be “baked in” by past emissions. We might not wake up in time.
That is indeed a scary possibility. But there is a scarier possibility, in many ways more plausible: We never really wake up at all.
No moment of reckoning arrives. The atmosphere becomes progressively more unstable, but it never does so fast enough, dramatically enough, to command the sustained attention of any particular generation of human beings. Instead, it is treated as rising background noise.
The youth climate movement continues agitating, some of the more progressive countries are roused to (inadequate) action, and eventually, all political parties are forced to at least acknowledge the problem — all outcomes that are foreseeable on our current trajectory — but the necessary global about-face never comes. We continue to take slow, inadequate steps to address the problem and suffer immeasurably as a result.
David Wallace-Wells, author of the popular and terrifying climate change bookThe Uninhabitable Earth, discussed this possibility ina New York Magazine piecewritten during theapocalyptic fireslate last year in Australia. One might have thought that fires consuming hundreds of millions of acres and killing more than a billion animals would be a wake-up call, but instead, Wallace-Wells writes, “a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention.”
Maybe climate chaos, a rising chorus of alarm signals from around the world, will simply become our new normal. Hell, maybe income inequality, political dysfunction, and successive waves of a deadly virus will become our new normal. Maybe we’ll just get used to [waves hands] all this.
Humans often don’t remember what we’ve lost or demand that it be restored. Rather, we adjust to what we’ve got.
Concepts developed in sociology and psychology can help us understand why it happens — and why it is such a danger in an age of accelerating, interlocking crises. Tackling climate change, pandemics, or any of a range of modern global problems means keeping our attention on what’s being lost, not just over our lifetimes, but over generations.
Shifting baselines are a form of generational amnesia
In 1995, fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly published a one-page article in the journalTrends in Ecology & Evolutiontitled“Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome in fisheries.”It contained no original experiments, no numbers or equations, but it went on to be the most cited and widely discussed thing he ever wrote.
Pauly had something particular in mind about the transition from pre-scientific (anecdotal) to scientific data, but the conceptual architecture of shifting baselines also proved to be incredibly fruitful in other contexts and went on to be “revolutionary for the field of ecology,” write Jeremy Jackson (an emeritus professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Jennifer Jacquet (an environmental studies professor at New York University). The notion was later introduced to the public by filmmaker Randy Olsen in a2002 LA Times pieceand has since become a subject of much popular discussion.
So what are shifting baselines? Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience.
And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward. By the end, the fishers are operating in a radically degraded ecosystem, but it does not seem that way to them, because their baselines were set at an already low level.
Over time, the fish goes extinct — an enormous, tragic loss — but no fisher experiences the full transition from abundance to desolation. No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway.
“An animal that is very abundant, before it gets extinct, it becomes rare,” says Pauly in hisTED talkon shifting baselines. “So you don’t lose abundant animals. You always lose rare animals. And therefore, they’re not perceived as a big loss.”
The same phenomenon is sometimes called “generational amnesia,” the tendency of each generation to disregard what has come before and benchmark its own experience of nature as normal.
A2009 study from researchers at the Imperial College Londonexamined a series of case studies, from “hunters’ perceptions of change in prey species populations in two villages in central Gabon” to “perceptions of bird population trends of 50 participants in a rural village in Yorkshire, UK.” Sure enough, they found evidence of generational amnesia, “where knowledge extinction occurs because younger generations are not aware of past biological conditions.”
It’s easy to see the same thing happening on a larger scale with climate change. Few people are aware, in a conscious way, of how many hot summer days were normal for their parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Recent research shows that “extremely hot summers” are200 times more likely than they were 50 years ago. Did you know that? Do you feel it?
It’s not just intergenerationally that we forget, either. The Imperial College researchers also demonstrated the existence of another form of shifting baselines syndrome: personal amnesia, “where knowledge extinction occurs as individuals forget their own experience.”
Just as generations forget about ecological loss, so do individuals
It turns out that, over the course of their lives, individuals do just what generations do — periodically reset and readjust to new baselines.
“There is a tremendous amount of research showing that we tend to adapt to circumstances if they are constant over time, even if they are gradually worsening,” says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon. He cites the London Blitz (during World War II, when bombs were falling on London for months on end) and the intifada (the Palestinian terror campaign in Israel), during which people slowly adjusted to unthinkable circumstances.
“Fear tends to diminish over time when a risk remains constant,” he says, “You can only respond for so long. After a while, it recedes to the background, seemingly no matter how bad it is.”
He notes that big events, or “teachable moments,” can momentarily shock us into willingness to make big changes, but “a teachable moment is only a moment,” he says. “Once the fear is gone, the willingness to take measures is also gone.”
We tend to dramatically overestimate the effect that large events, good or bad, will have on our happiness. We think the death of a family member will make us enduringly less happy, or winning the lottery will make us enduringly happier. In fact, what psychologists find again and again is that we quickly return to our personal happiness equilibrium. A soldier who loses a leg and a soldier who returns home safe to a new baby will generally, a year or two later, be roughly as happy as they were before those events. It’s called “hedonic adaptation.”
Just as we adjust emotionally, we adjust cognitively. We forget what came before; we simply don’t think about it. For the most part, only our recent experience is salient in defining our baselines, our sense of normal.
The process of forgetting, of resetting, is almost possible to resist, even for those acutely aware of it. In 2013, author JB MacKinnon released a book calledThe Once and Future World, about the extinction crisis and the abundant natural world that Americans are barely aware is draining away.
“Even though I spent several years writing a book about things disappearing from the natural world,” MacKinnon says, “I can’t hold it in my head. I have to go back and reread it in order to refresh my eyes so that when I go out into the natural world, I think, ‘there are things missing here’. Otherwise, I’m just gonna go, ‘What a beautiful day’.”
“I mean, who remembers what the price of coffee was 10 years ago?” he asks.
Humans view the world through the lens of recent experience
UC-Davis environmental economist Frances Moore thought of a clever way to test this phenomenon of short-term salience in the context of weather.
How many times must unusual temperatures be repeated before they cease to be experienced by individuals as unusual? How fast do unusual temperatures become unremarkable? To find out, Moore and colleagues turned to Twitter. In astudy published last year, they analyzed Twitter’s massive US database to correlate unusual heat or cold events with chatter about the weather. In this way, they tried to track the “remarkability” of temperature anomalies.
“Something crazy happens, and then the same crazy thing happens the next year, and people are able to realize, ‘Oh, it’s two crazy things’,” Moore says. “Then it starts happening again, and people start to think, ‘I guess this isn’t so notable anymore.” Accordingly, tweets about the weather decline.
How quickly does the effect take hold? “The reference point for normal conditions appears to be based on weather experienced between 2 and 8 years ago,” the study concluded.
The study’s conclusion about what this portends for climate change is unsettling: “This rapidly shifting normal baseline means warming noticed by the general public may not be clearly distinguishable from zero over the 21st century.”
Let that sink in. Even though atmospheric temperatures are, on a geological time scale, changing at a headlong pace, on ahumantime scale, they are still changing too slowly to be perceptually or emotionally salient. Put more bluntly: The public may never notice that it’s getting warmer.
Research based on social media in a single country has obvious limitations, and Moore is reticent to speculate about how long the window of salience might be for other kinds of weather, or in other places.
But it stands to reason that something like the same window applies to other natural or even social phenomena. It may be just as likely that the public never notices the increasing intensity of storms or frequency of flooding or regularity of crop failures. However rapidly those phenomena might change, they rarely change fast enough to be dramatically different from conditions two to eight years ago.
The window of experience that humans find emotionally and cognitively salient is simply too narrow to take in long-term changes in ecological systems. What was unthinkable to previous generations — say,regular nuisance flooding in southern Florida— is normal now. What seems unthinkable to us now — say, stay-at-home orders in large swathes of the US Southwest for several weeks a year due to dangerous heat — will be, by the time it rolls around, not that much worse than what came just before it.
We adjust; we can’t help it. If we wait for ecological change to thrust itself into the consciousness of ordinary Americans, we may be waiting forever.
Walking through a daylight flood in Miami Beach, Florida, on September 29, 2015.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Shifting baselines apply to several other social problems
Once you start thinking in terms of shifting baselines, you start seeing them everywhere, not just in ecology.
What is the unendingdebate over the “normalization” of Trumpbut a debate over shifting baselines? President Trump has degraded and discarded longstanding norms of presidential behavior with astonishing speed and recklessness, but it has proven incredibly difficult for the press and the public to assess his record based on pre-Trump baselines. This is why people are always asking, “What if Obama did this?” They are trying to ask, “Why have we shifted our moral and political baselines so quickly?”
Similarly, the US is busy normalizing the grim reality that college graduates will enter a world of high debt, expensive housing, and parlous job prospects. The post-war expectation of a middle-class life with a family-supporting job and a reliable pension might as well be ancient history.
Shifting baselines are evident in the steady erosion of unions, the militarization of police, and the infusion of US politics with dark money. They are even evident, as we’ll discuss in a moment, in our experience with Covid-19.
For the generation of Americans coming of age today, Trump, gridlocked politics, and a rapidly warming planet are normal. How can they be convinced that they should expect, and demand, something better?
How to fight shifting baselines and personal amnesia
The human propensity to rapidly adapt is part of our evolved cognitive and emotional machinery. But our ability to heed and remember the past is also shaped by culture.
“I looked at Native Hawaiian culture,” MacKinnon says. “They had individuals within communities who were assigned to have a social relationship with species that were never even given names in English.” North America’s indigenous cultures still carry an enormous amount of accumulated knowledge that can help reveal what’s been lost.
That kind of historical consciousness — a day-to-day awareness of the obligations that come with being a good ancestor — has faded. And modern consumer capitalism might as well be designed to erase it, to lock everyone into an eternal present wherein satisfying the next material desire is the only horizon.
One answer is for journalism and the arts to pull the lens back and try to recenter a richer historical perspective. One ambitious effort to do that is journalist John Sutter’sBaseline 2020project. He and his team have picked four locations around the world that are particularly vulnerable to climate change — Alaska, Utah, Puerto Rico, and the Marshall Islands — and will visit them every five years until 2050, documenting the changes facing the people who live there. (It is modeled on directorMichael Apted’s “Up” documentaries, which check in on the same group of Brits every seven years.)
“Change is invisible in any one moment,” Sutter says. He notes that scientists often do studies that last for years or decades, but “that longitudinal approach just doesn’t happen in journalism.” Taking the long view is one way to make changing conditions salient and emotionally impactful.
In a similar spirit, artist Jonathon Keats has designed a special camera to take a 1,000-year exposure of Lake Tahoe. Hecalls ita “sort of cognitive prosthesis, a mechanism for us to be able to see ourselves from that far-future perspective.” TheLong Now Foundation, established by Stewart Brand in 1996, has been hosting seminars to spur long-term thinking for decades.
“Culture will hang on to knowledge of things that are changing or gone longer,” MacKinnon says, “if those things are the kinds of things that they pay attention to.”
It’s not just about documenting decline, either. There have been long-term victories, too — reductions in poverty, increases in the number of educated young girls, declines in air pollution, and so forth. These also happen incrementally, often beneath our notice. We adjust our baselines upward and do not register what, over time, can be substantial victories. Making those victories more visible can help show that decline is not inevitable.
There is no substitute for leadership and responsive governance
It can not ultimately fall to ordinary people to hold baselines stable. On these matters, as on much else, they take their cues from their leaders. Studying and understanding the long arc of history, considering the experience of previous generations and the welfare of coming generations, making decisions with the long view — those are things leaders are supposed to do.
The most reliable way to stop baselines from shifting is to encode the public’s values and aspirations into law and practice, through politics. They can’t be held steady through acts of collective will. They have to be hardwired into social infrastructure.
Unfortunately, US politics has become almost completely unresponsive, which reinforces rather than ameliorates our slipping baselines. One crucial part of registering a crisis as a crisis is a sense of agency, and Americans increasingly feel that they have no ability to shape national policy.
Negative changes “are normalized more quickly if you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Moore. “That might be what’s going on with the coronavirus — people don’t feel like they have agency on a collective level, because the government is not doing anything, so their response is to say, ‘well, I gotta live my life’.”
On top of that, it’s just tiring to feel anxious for so long. “The combination of adaptation and fatigue is absolutely deadly in terms of our ability to respond to the virus at this point,” says Loewenstein.
What if Americans simply accommodate themselves to thousands of coronavirus deaths a day? As writer Charlie Warzel noted in arecent column, it’s not that different from the numbness they now feel in the face of gun violence. “Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale,” he writes, “we get used to it.”
Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and climate change may make pandemicsmore common. It is not difficult to imagine Americans forgetting a time when mingling freely was taken for granted. When being in public did not mean constant low-level exposure anxiety. When there weren’t regular waves of infection and death.
“If we keep getting zoonotic disease pandemics, then we’ll just say, ‘well, here comes the winter one, catch you on Zoom until June’,” says MacKinnon. “Our baseline could shift to the point that we don’t remember there was a time when people went most of their lives without hearing the wordpandemic.”
Our extraordinary ability to adapt, to get on with it, to not dwell in the past, was enormously useful in our evolutionary history. But it is making it difficult for us to keep our attention focused on how much is being lost — and thus difficult for us to rally around efforts to stem those losses.
And so, little by little, a hotter, more chaotic, and more dangerous world is becoming normal to us, as we sleepwalk toward more tragedies.
Consumer activism is the new reality for many brands.
But has coronavirus pushed climate change off the consumer agenda?
We decided to find out.
By Solitaire Townsend
As a 1980’s teen, arguments raged amongst my back-combed friends about swopping CFC-laden hairspray cans for pump-action bottles to save the ozone layer.
Some thought changing wouldn’t make any difference, apart from to how high we could tease up our crimped locks.
Thankfully, for the ozone layer (if not for taste or style) those of us who dumped the can and boycotted CFCs reduced the marketto the extentthat companies were forced to take radical action far before the official ban. Consumers shifted the market. Yet politicians still receive much of the acclaim for what former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the “single most successful international agreement to date.”
Consumer activism is the new reality for many brands. But some have wondered if the pressures of the pandemic willpush climate change off the consumer agenda. Perhaps the growing wave of new green consumers will retreat in the face of COVID-19 concerns?
We decided to find out. SoFuterra, in partnership with the innovative market researchersOnePulse, surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 people in the UK and USA respectively. The results weren’t what we expected.
Rather than a dip in climate interest, we discovered that nearly 80% are willing to make lifestyle changes to stop climate change as big as those they’ve made for coronavirus.
This is a huge market for consumer activism on climate. Perhaps the global pandemic, even with the grief, fear and life-changing impacts it has held for many, has revealed to people their capacity for change. That normal isn’t always necessary. And, as any psychologist will tell you,willingness is a pre-requisitefor any real step towards action.
Once we are willing, then we must decide what we are actually going to do. When asked which lifestyle changes people are prepared to make, ‘waste less’ came out on top at 57% of respondents, followed by 50% of people willing to ‘avoid plastics’ and 40% willing to ‘switch to green energy’ providers. Only 5% (combined) of the US and UK respondents were not willing to make any changes – again, far lower than we expected.
For entrepreneurs in climate-friendly packaging, travel, food and energy: this is a market ready for solutions. But for any brand offering real solutions to our climate crisis, our final finding is crucial.
People firmly believe that lifestyle changes to combat climate change will improve their quality of life, not worsen it.
Far too often green and sustainable living is framed as a ‘sacrifice’ or ‘duty’, even by brands. But it seems the public isn’t buying that, with only 11% feeling that their lives would worsen from doing what’s needed. In myHappy Herobook, I set out to investigate if that ‘sacrifice for sustainability’ mantra was correct, and discovered that in fact most of the behaviors: from walking more, to eating less meat and even volunteering or getting politically active, are all incredibly good for you.
Indeed, they can lead to longer, healthier and happier lives.
For brands, this ‘do the right thing and enjoy the benefits’ is a far more effective message than ‘do the right thing and we’ve tried to minimize the hassle’. Leaning into the feelgood factor, the health improvements and the money/time saving of green living is the key to unlocking an untapped market ready for new solutions. People believe that changing the world is good for them. That’s a message that deserves reinforcing.
And helping people to change for the better really could land a punch on climate change. If an average day of the UK’s car, energy, food and holiday purchases were replaced with smart green alternatives, it wouldsave 250,000 tons of carbon. That’s equivalent to shutting down a coal-powered fire station for an entire year – just by changing consumer choices for one day. Name a government policy that could achieve the same in 24 hours.
But this potential hasn’t stopped the significance of household decision-making being undermined from all sides, including from those within the green movement itself. George Monbiotpositsthat ethical purchases are an addition rather than a replacement, creating a glut of eco-gadgets. And sustainable lifestyle blogger Alden Wickerarguesthat our choices are of no consequence and ‘too little, too late’.
I admit that one person’s actions can feel very small (although I’d argue that one less plastic bag is still one less plastic bag). But that impact starts looking much more consequential when we remember that private actions also have very public consequences. Each choice individuals make sends a message. Fly less and new runway expansions are questioned, cycle more and new road building is called into doubt. Changing your diet pulls influence from big agriculture and meat lobbies. Switching to green energy dampens arguments that we still need coal. Every CEO, lobbyist and politician constantly crow they have ‘public mandate’ on their side. People’s everyday actions are that mandate: so changing behaviors with change who gets voice at the political table. And taking to the streets, writing to politicians and making blistering political speeches isn’t for everyone. I believe that publics actions (like marches) aren’t inherently more virtuous than personal.
Putting the political before the personal also sidelines the role of women. Women account for85% of all consumer purchases– which runs to the tune of $20 trillion globally. Marketers, of course, want in: brands know how to target their advertising to female power-purchasers, which is why 99% of UK ads for laundry products and 70% of ads for toiletries and food products areaimed at women. That’s an extraordinary power, and one ripe for a more positive and significant ask of female consumers. Not least because whilst women hold equally strong political opinions as men, we areless likely to voice them publicly(and considering the trolling many of us suffer – that’s perhaps understandable). Offering products and services with purpose or even with political impact gives women more options to show what they believe in.
This pandemic is a crossroads, a tipping point in which our behaviors and habits have been thrown into disarray. This offers a chance to change them, whilst everyone around us is also changing, for the better.
People are willing to change. Are brands willing to help them?
Climate economics Nobel may do more harm than good.
How much are we willing to pay today to avoid climate impacts 50, 100 or 200 years from now?
There are many reasons humanity has failed to rein in climate change despite decades of dire warnings.
The inertia of an energy system overwhelmingly powered by oil, gas and coal; half-a-trillion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies every year; leaders too corrupt or feckless to push for systemic change; rich folk reluctant to consume differently, and poor folk eager to consume more -– all are huge obstacles to slowing, much less stopping, the global warming juggernaut.
Leading scientists and economists, however, say there is another impediment to climate action that merits closer scrutiny: the profoundly influential work of 2018 Nobel economics laureate William J. Nordhaus.
Nearly half-a-century ago, while other economists obsessed over resource scarcity, Nordhaus understood that environmental degradation was probably a greater long-term threat to economic growth. He predicted with uncanny accuracy the danger-zone levels of CO2 pollution we see today.
“I think of climate change as a menace to our planet and to our future,” Nordhaus, an economics professor at Yale since 1974, said in collecting his profession’s most coveted prize.
His ground-breaking 1991 study weighing the costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions evolved into the standard toolbox for calculating the economic damages -– now and in the future -– of climate change.
It also established carbon taxes as a key policy lever for promoting green growth.
By the time, however, Nordhaus gave his acceptance speech in Stockholm, his models—out of sync with both the galloping pace of global warming and new approaches in the field of economics -– were probably doing more harm than good, say experts.
Exhibit A is Nordhaus’ conclusion that the cost -– measured in lost economic growth—of capping global warming under three degrees Celsius overwhelms the benefits of avoided impacts.
“It is simply not aligned with climate science,” said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “It is an unequivocal finding in the natural sciences that a 3C warming is a disastrous outcome for humanity,” Rockstrom told AFP.
If climate scientists have long raised red flags about Nordhaus’ work, criticism among economists -– with a few exceptions, such as the late Martin Weitzman of Harvard, another environmental economist -– has been more recent.
But no less categorical.
Nordhaus’ model—known as DICE, or Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy –- “is so badly flawed that it shouldn’t be taken seriously,” Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz, who won an economics Nobel of his own in 2001, told AFP.
“In fact, it’s dangerous because we don’t have another planet we can go to if we mess this up. The message he’s been conveying is foolhardy.”
For Gernot Wagner, an economist at New York University who has spent much of the last decade forging an alternative approach to the economics of climate change, it is a matter of timing.
“If he had won the Nobel Prize 20 years ago, it would have helped climate policy,” Wagner told AFP, adding that Nordhaus “absolutely” deserved the award.
“But the fact that he won it two years ago is, in many ways, a step back.”
Social cost of carbon
Experts interviewed by AFP outlined two core criticisms of Nordhaus’ work, one ethical and the other from the perspective of Earth System scientists such as Rockstrom.
Nordhaus declined to “respond individually” to emailed questions detailing these critiques, which he said were “generally half-right”.
“My main point is that—outside of the European Union—we have not taken even small steps to slow climate change in this century,” he told AFP.
“We need national mechanisms (such as carbon taxes and support for technologies), and international cooperation (such as a carbon compact). That is where my efforts today are directed.”
If disagreements over Nordhaus’ signature accomplishments were no more than ivory tower squabbles, it wouldn’t matter if his once pioneering ideas have slipped behind the curve.
The discussion, however, is anything but academic. Indeed, the stakes -– whether humanity thrives or merely survives -– could hardly be higher.
“What makes his contributions all the more notable is the deep influence they have had on policy -– something that cannot be said for every Nobel laureate,” Yale economist Kenneth Gillingham, a Nordhaus co-author, said approvingly.
Nowhere is that influence more in evidence than with something called the “social cost of carbon”, which quantifies the damages caused by global warming, and points to the policy actions –- namely, a price on carbon—needed to curb emissions.
“It is an unequivocal finding in the natural sciences that a 3C warming is a disastrous outcome for humanity,” says Earth system scientist Johan Rockstrom
“If there’s a holy grail of climate economic analysis -– a single number that attempts to summarise the immense complexities of climate change -– it’s the ‘social cost of carbon’,” said Wagner.
Nordhaus was the first economist to apply a cost-benefit analysis to global warming by, in his words, “weighing the cost of reducing emissions and slowing climate change, on the one hand, with the reduction in damages, on the other.”
How much, in other words, are we willing to pay today to avoid climate impacts 50, 100 or 200 years from now?
To make that calculation, Nordhaus needed to put a price on something that had never been given a dollar value: a tonne of CO2 pollution.
‘Discounting’ future generations
For Nordhaus, that magic number is about $40 a tonne, and should rise gradually over time as the global economy transitions from brown to green.
“It was crucial in determining the US social cost of carbon under Obama. This in turn was used, at least indirectly, as a benchmark for the US commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement and the Clean Power Plan,” said Wagner.
But while Nordhaus is celebrated, even by his critics, for pioneering the concept, the way he applied it has been found wanting.
Determining the price of carbon pollution requires estimating how much damage climate change will do in the future, and to do that economists apply something called a discount rate to the impact of, say, sea level rise or more frequent heat waves 50 or 100 years from now.
The reasoning is straight-forward: assuming the global economy continues to grow, societies will be richer in the future and –- with better technology and more money -– can cope more easily with those impacts than today.
Economists using this classic approach commonly discount future damages by four or five percent, compounded annually.
But such a high rate, scientists and some economists say, vastly downplays the risk to future generations.
Let’s say climate damages in 2120 are estimated at $2 trillion, and the annual investment needed today to avoid them is about one percent—$860 billion—of global GDP, as proposed by British economist Nicholas Stern in his landmark 2006 Stern Review.
The climate change crisis will still be with us long after the COVID pandemic, however painful, is in our past
If those future impacts are discounted at four to five percent per year, their “value” a century from now drops to $15-$39 billion -– 20-30 times less than the cost of avoiding them.
But if those same impacts are discounted at 0.5 percent instead, as recommended by Stern and others, the value of those damages a century from now exceed $1 trillion, making one percent of GDP a worthwhile investment.
Underestimating the costs of climate change means that “world leaders understand neither the magnitude of the risks to lives and livelihood, nor the urgency of action,” Stern commented shortly after the 2018 Nobel were awarded.
Ammunition for sceptics
For Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, Nordhaus’ “heavy social discounting inappropriately down-weights devastating impacts that fall disproportionately on future generations, arguably violating basic ethical considerations”.
Nordhaus’ calculus also challenges a global political consensus that is already fraying at the edges.
The 2015 Paris climate treaty calls for holding the rise in temperature to “well below” 2C compared to preindustrial levels, and the UN’s climate science panel (IPCC) subsequently concluded in a landmark report –- unveiled, ironically, on the same day that Nordhaus was awarded his Nobel -– that 1.5 C is a far safer guardrail.
His ideas “provide ammunition not only to climate sceptics, but to major actors that feel more comfortable with the status quo,” said Rockstrom.
“It allows them to say, ‘If the optimal temperature for the economy is 3C, well then we can continue burning fossil fuels over the next century without any significant problems’,” he added.
“I hear this line of argument when confronted with the executive leadership at Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, the car industry and energy utilities.”
Ultimately, climate economics is all about measuring risk and uncertainty, and this is where Nordhaus’ ideas come in for a drubbing from natural scientists and some economists, who confront the same challenge.
In the 30 years since Nordhaus’ foundational work, tens of thousands of studies -– summarised periodically by the UN’s climate science panel, the IPCC -– have shown that global warming is advancing more quickly than once thought.
They have also revealed multiple thresholds in the Earth climate system that, once crossed, would see Nature itself accelerating global warming, either by adding more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (permafrost melting, forest fires) or absorbing more of the Sun’s radiative force (melting of the mirror-like Arctic ice cap).
Nordhaus’ models -– which presume that changes will be gradual and linear -– fail to recognise the potential and danger of these “tipping points”, scientists say. Nor do they adequately allow for low probability impacts that may have catastrophic costs.
A new model
“Extreme events like hurricanes, fires, droughts that have been so clear in recent years –- all of those things are really not adequately accounted for in his analysis,” Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, told AFP.
Nordhaus recently attempted to rebut these criticisms by evaluating the risks associated with the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which accounted for 40 percent of sea level rise last year and holds enough frozen water to lift oceans seven metres.
But scientists dismissed his peer-reviewed study as an exercise in self-justification.
“This is a perfect example of where Nordhaus’ approach breaks down in the real world,” said Mann. “No amount of wealth can rebuild an ice sheet, and the dislocation of hundreds of millions of people will lead to massive unrest and conflict.”
“It is impossible to accurately put a price tag on that,” he added.
In the end, the most stinging rebuke to Nordhaus’ Nobel may come from within his own tribe, where an alternate school of thought grounded in financial economics risk analysis that looks at emitting CO2 much like it would at other financial decisions -– thus treating CO2 as an asset, albeit one with a negative payoff.
“It’s an asset that might kill us, so we need to evaluate its negative effect,” said Wagner, co-author with Robert Litterman, a former top risk manager at Goldman Sachs, of a recent study arguing the case.
“Nordhaus’ DICE model implicitly assumes that climate damages are worse when we are richer, and that we should start low and increase the price of carbon over time,” said Wagner. “But what if climate change makes us poorer every step of the way?”
There are by now dozens of economic studies, he pointed out, showing how global warming is already hitting growth rates and productivity.
“We don’t argue against DICE’s conclusions with the force of an ethical argument, we offer a new model that calculates a price of CO2 by taking the financial economic view seriously,” Wagner added.
“And that price is not the $20, $30 or $40 that Bill comes up with. In our model, we can’t get our price below $120 a tonne.”
Australia is fighting a climate war which demands a military-style national response, the bushfire and natural disaster royal commission has heard.
Former state fire chiefs are calling for a national, military-style response to increasing risks from bushfires and other natural disasters.Alex Ellinghausen.
Australia is fighting a climate war as well as battling more natural disasters, which demands a military-style, co-ordinated national response, the bushfire and natural disaster royal commission has heard.
Former Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Lee Johnson fronted the royal commission on Monday, saying “we’re confronted with a locality of battles in a greater climate change war”.
He said state and federal emergency agencies need help from the Commonwealth to develop military-style capabilities in “communications, intelligence, surveillance and support”.
“Following Tropical Cyclone Larry in 2006 I realised that emergency services needed to operate in a more military-like fashion,” Mr Johnson said. “This is where the federal government can support with experts and probably what’s missing is some kind of national command college.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements in February as heshouldered blamefor the federal government’s response to the Black Summer bushfire crisis andworsening impacts from global warming. Public criticism centred on the length of time taken to mobilise Commonwealth resources to help state emergency services.
Mr Morrison set a breakneck reporting deadline of August 31, arguing the inquiry must lead to “practical action” ahead of the next fire season, which in 2019 began in August in northern NSW.
Former NSW Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins and former interstate counterparts identified holes in federal disaster arrangements that the commissioners may be able to address in their recommendations.
Mr Mullins said the climate change enemy had “gone nuclear”, which required a “step change in how we coordinate the insufficient resources we have to deal with this threat”.
A “huge gap in the natural disaster space” opened up in 2018 when Emergency Management Australia was moved from the federal Attorney-General’s office to the newly-created Home Affairs Department, Mr Mullins said. EMA co-ordinates national support for state emergency agencies.
The head of EMA “no longer has direct access to the Prime Minister or the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet”, Mr Mullins said. “There needs to be that instant access so that decisions can be fast and made at the top, and I don’t see that now. I know particularly during the bushfires it was too slow and too late.”
Former Victorian chief fire officer Gary Morgan said while EMA remained a “good organisation” it lacked crucial bushfire expertise, with about a dozen people advising the agency but only “one forest fire person on that committee”.
Deficient bushfire input was “probably about egos and people who have been appointed to roles as more in the managerial or in the non-forestry skills side”, he said. Mr Morgan is the current Institute of Foresters fire management committee chairman.
According to former ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Major General Peter Dunn, a current resident of Conjola on the NSW south coast, “non-existent” evacuation plans left peopleflinging themselves into Lake Conjolaas the Currowan fire bore down on the Conjola Park hamlet, where 89 homes and three lives were lost to the flames.
“The evacuation was totally unplanned and it was chaotic and what I can say is that we were very, very lucky that there were not a lot more injuries, indeed deaths … during that evacuation,” Mr Dunn told the commission.
Local media have reported Japan plans to phase out 100 out of 114 plants built before the mid-1990s that emit more carbon-dioxide than newer models.
Japan has vowed to study concrete ways of phasing out old, more carbon-emitting coal-fired power stations by 2030, following reports it plans to mothball around 100 ageing plants.
The world’s third-largest economy has come under fire for continuing to build coal-fired plants at home, as well as financing projects to build them abroad, notably in Southeast Asia.
Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said he had ordered officials to make proposals to “phase out inefficient coal-fired power plants and make renewable energy a main power source”.
The options could include tightening regulation to ensure the ageing plants are phased out by 2030, he added.
Mr Kajiyama declined to give any numerical targets but local media have reported the government plans to phase out 100 out of 114 plants built before the mid-1990s that emit more carbon-dioxide than newer models.
In total, Japan has 140 coal-fired power plants, providing nearly one-third of the nation’s total electricity generation.
Coal is the second-biggest power-generation method behind LNG-fired plants, which provide 38 percent of the nation’s needs.
There are also more than a dozen projects to build coal-fired power plants underway in Japan.
Japan’s basic energy plan aims to have 22-24 percent of the country’s energy needs met by renewable sources including wind and solar by 2030, a figure critics describe as unambitious based on current levels of around 17 percent.
Tokyo has been struggling to cut carbon emissions after shutting down its nuclear reactors following the 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima sparked by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Mr Kajiyama said officials were now “in the final stages of discussions” over stricter rules on exporting coal-fired power generation.
Japanese megabanks have been major financiers of such projects but have changed direction, said Yukari Takamura, an energy expert with the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Future Initiatives.
They now need “a clear policy guideline” to follow, she told AFP.
Covid-19 should teach us the value of being fully prepared for catastrophic risks. But on climate, the Australian Government is walking blindfolded off a cliff.
Unprecedented bushfires, Covid-19 and climate warming all raise the question of the preparedness of governments to deal with catastrophic risks, and what allows nations to successfully respond to big crises.
On 15 March, the Chief Medical Officerdefendedkeeping schools open because “if they (school children) are getting infected and they’re perfectly well, whilst they might spread it, it also creates a herd immunity”. Australia appears to have changed course due to the stronger advocacy by State premiers, and the alarming early evidence from Italy and Spain about the consequences when the virus takes hold of a population.
In his recent book,Upheaval: How nations cope with crisis and change, geographer and anthropologist Jarod Diamond concludes that the key predictors of success in facing crises are “acknowledgment rather than denial of a crisis’s reality; acceptance of responsibility to take action; and honest self-appraisal”, plus the “presence or absence of a shared national identity” which can help a nation’s people recognise shared self-interest and unite in overcoming a crisis.
The first step to success is to recognise the reality of a potential crisis. Pandemics and climate change, along with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, ecological collapse, asteroid impact, supervolcanic eruption and artificial intelligence are catastrophic, and potentially existential, risks.
Existential threats require a particular approach to risk management. This includes:
A tough look at the real risks with an emphasis on the potential consequences of the high-end possibilities, which may be damaging beyond quantification and devastating for human society;
Acknowledgement that existential risk reduction is more important that any other global public good, and being alert and prepared, including a coherent strategy based on the latest science, and a clear understanding of the institutions and practices that are necessary to act when the threat is material;
Developing strategy that is integrated across national, regional and global boundaries, and which recognises that complex issues are inextricably linked and cannot be treated in separate “silos”.
But that is precisely what the Australian government is not doing. It is not assessing the real threats of climate change, and appears to have no explicit laws, regulations or policies that require departments to regularly undertake specific assessments of catastrophic or existential threats to Australian society and the global community, even though the World Economic Forumrecognisesthat the world’s “top risks are environmental”.
The Australia Government’s approach is a fundamental dereliction of its duty of care when there is growing global understanding that climate disruption now manifests as an emergency in whichthe climate system is close to tipping points that could drive it to a “point of no return”, where further warming would become self-sustaining.
In one troubling revelation last year, contrary to sound risk management practices, Australia’s then intelligence chief,Nick Warner, saidthat the government’s intelligence services do not look at worst-case scenarios:
“That is exactly what we don’t do, what we do is tell the government how we see the situation now and how we think it will develop, not the worst case… what we think actually is happening now, what actually will happen in the future. If you go around putting forth worst-case scenarios all the time you will alarm, and probably alarm needlessly, so that is exactly what we don’t do.”
Since the Howard Government, the senior levels of the Australian Public Service (APS) have become politicised and are generally unwilling to carry out preparatory work that is contrary to the government’s desires. Consequently, thinking that would have once been done about high-risk eventualities is not being done well, or at all, especially in regard to climate change. Initiating work on climate change within the APS that is not specifically mandated by ministers is, in general, not occurring.
Thus the government was ill-prepared for the drought and the APS scrambled to catch up as the drought worsened and the government came under pressure from its rural base. Likewise, when Australia brought into China-US contest in the Pacific just as Prime Minister Morrison was parading his coal credentials and alienating Pacific leaders, there was a scramble within the government to produce up-to-date assessments of climate impacts in the region, and policy options.
Senior Australian Government emergency management officials wrote a plan on how to prepare for the increasingly dire effects of fires and other natural disasters, whichwarnedof disasters on “unimagined scales, in unprecedented combinations, and in unexpected locations,” with effects “likely (to) exceed the capacity of the nation.
The consequential damage, loss, and suffering would be immense and enduring.” And the warnings from state-based fire chiefs who have the primary responsibility for disaster response were unambiguous. The government’s response was to refuse to even meet former fire chiefs; funding for more water-bombing aircraft was turned down; and the natural disaster plangathered dust for 18 months.
At present, if APS personnel wish to initiate broader thinking on climate issues, there is political incentive to ensure that the work is not overtly identified as climate-focused because it could lead to the project being closed down. This is a particularly stark expression of how the current government’s ongoing denial of the real climate risks has neutered public policy advice. In reality, there is an almost total absence of sound analysis and risk assessment of climate impacts within the Australian government, and the climate risks to human and global security are poorly understood.
Likewise, the security think-tank sector, which depends in part on federal government spending, has not given priority to high-end climate risks and security issues by way of publications, advocacy or public events. And large businesses and business umbrella organisations have also failed to demonstrate any significant awareness of how the climate-security nexus and the high-end risks are projected to affect their operations or how they will respond.
In the award winning Australian documentaryHome Front, some of Australia’s most senior former security, defence and political leaders warned that climate change is “a catalyst for conflict” and a “threat multiplier,” as it fuels instability in the world’s most vulnerable regions. Whilst climate change may first present as changes in temperature, precipitation and escalating extreme climate events, these will increasingly manifest as drought, desertification, severe food and water insecurity, unbearable heat, and threats to buildings, infrastructure and coastal regions.
There is an unacceptable risk that these processes will have large-scale socio-political consequences that include mass forced migration, state failure, regional conflict and the breakdown of relations between nations, as illustrated by the Syrian war. If warming continues along its present path, the world will likely reach 3°C of warming around 2050-2060, leading to widespread social breakdown and a threat to human civilisation and contemporary societies,describedby US national security analysts as “outright chaos”.
These risks may be characterised as threats to national security, but equally as threats to human security understood as the protection, safety and well-being of the population. Hence the urgent need for climate and security analysis to become an integral part of the public climate conversation and incorporated into a whole-of-government approach to existential risks.
In Jarod Diamond’s terms, the nation’s future requires acknowledgment rather than denial of a crisis’s reality, and acceptance of responsibility to take action.
Any hope of a lasting reprieve for the environment is fading as nations emerge from the shadow of Covid-19 and scramble to resuscitate flatlining
By Jonathan Gornall
Choking smoke discharged from chimneys at a coal-fired power plant in eastern China’s Jiangsu province in December 2018. Photo: AFP
Any hope of a lasting reprieve for the environment is fading as nations emerge from the shadow of Covid-19 and scramble to resuscitate flatlining economies.
Back in May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted not only that 2020 would record an 8% decline in global carbon emissions, but also that the pandemic crisis would all but wipe out demand for fossil fuels.
It has since emerged that while emissions of carbon dioxide, for example, did indeed fall by a quarter at the height of the global lockdown, daily output now is back to within 5% of normal – and rising faster than anyone imagined.
Even the IEA appears to have given up wishful thinking. It calculates that governments will be spending US$9 trillion over the coming months on kickstarting economies and that, in the interest of short-term necessity, very little of that money is likely to be invested in renewable-energy projects.
It also admitted that predictions about the world reaching peak oil were “overhyped.” In fact, the demand for oil and gas is likely to grow at record rates over the coming year.
But increased oil production is not the only obstacle to achieving climate-change targets. In fact, it isn’t even the biggest.
Before oil, coal was king. It was the filthy black stuff that powered the Industrial Revolution, choked cities and their citizens and set the planet on course for today’s climate crisis. But it would be very wrong to think coal is a thing of the past. In fact, it remains the world’s largest single source of electricity, generating 38% of all power in 2018.
The biggest user by far is China. Of the 1.8 million megawatts of global coal-fired energy production in 2019, China was responsible for 1 million megawatts.
China is the world’s factory for three reasons. It has a huge pool of cheap labor, lax labor laws and vast reserves of easily mined coal. In 2019, 60% of the country’s energy was coal-generated. The climate-science analysts at CarbonBrief say China’s economic miracle “has been built on a boom in energy from coal, meaning China has also become the world’s largest carbon polluter by far.”
China isn’t solely to blame. Coal is the world’s dirty little secret.
There are currently 2,485 coal plants in operation around the world, with more than 560 on the way. China’s nearest rivals are India, with 294 plants supplying three-quarters of the country’s electricity and another 60 in the pipeline, and the US, which operates 280 plants but at least has no plans to build new ones.
Even the oil-producing United Arab Emirates is constructing its first coal plant. By the time the Hassyan power plant in Dubai is fully online in 2023, it will supply electricity to 250,000 households.
The problem with coal is that there is so much of the stuff and it’s easy to access. There are 1.1 trillion metric tons of proven coal reserves worldwide, enough to last around 150 years – three times as long as the world’s accessible stocks of oil and gas.
The World Coal Association spends a lot of time talking up what it calls “the pathway toward zero emissions from coal.” But this amounts to two as yet immature technologies: High Efficiency, Low Emission (HELE) and Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS). The WCA says both are “critical to meeting energy needs and our climate goals.”
Unfortunately, neither of them is going to have any appreciable impact on global warming before it is much too late.
The function of HELE technologies is to increase the amount of energy that can be extracted from a unit of coal. But although already available, HELE is expensive to fit retrospectively and not widely used.
CCUS technology is also far from becoming a meaningful reality. The WCA admits that “the current rate of CCUS deployment is too slow to allow necessary emissions-reduction goals to be achieved.” According to the Global CCS Institute, a think-tank dedicated to accelerating the deployment of carbon capture use and storage, there are only 19 large-scale facilities in operation globally, capturing less than 0.1% of total carbon emissions.
The Petra Nova coal plant in Texas and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s Emirate Steel Industries plant are two of the most significant. But the carbon they extract is not stored safely underground. It is injected into otherwise hard-to-tap oil reservoirs, unleashing yet more fossil fuels. What an irony.
As the pandemic has demonstrated, the only viable way to bring about a sufficiently rapid slowdown in climate change is to cut down global energy consumption. Unfortunately, everything about the way we live today militates against this; the success of every company, city and nation is dependent upon constant growth and expansion.
Consumer societies are based on the consumption of stuff, from household cleaning materials and garden furniture to smartphones and computers, and today much of this stuff comes from coal-hungry China.
If it helps, the next time you shop online, try to imagine a coal-fired furnace roaring into life in a distant Chinese city when you click that “Buy now” button. Because as economies inevitably rebound, be sure that China’s factories will go into overdrive to meet global demand and more and more coal will be burned on the altar of economic recovery.
Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.
The International Energy Agency sounded the alarm Thursday about the “critical need” to rapidly accelerate clean energy innovation. That’s because the climate goals set by governments and corporations around the world depend on technologies that have not yet reached the market.
“The message is very clear: in the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving net-zero goals in 2050 will be all but impossible,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement.
Major parts of the world economy don’t have clean energy options as yet. Power companies are dumping coal in favor of increasingly affordable solar and wind power. And all the major auto makers are racing to develop the best electric vehicles to compete with Tesla.
Yet there are few technologies available to bring emissions down to zero in areas such as shipping, trucking and aviation, the IEA said. The same problem exists in heavy industries like steel, cement and chemicals.
“Decarbonizing these sectors will largely require the development of new technologies that are not currently in commercial use,” the report said.
And that is no slam dunk. It took decades to scale up solar panels and batteries to make them economical. And plenty of technologies failed along the way.
“Time is in even shorter supply now,” the IEA report said.
‘Disconnect’ between goals and efforts
That’s not to say progress isn’t being made.
Late last year, Heliogen, aclean energy startup backed by Bill Gates,discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to generate extreme amounts of heat from the sun. The goal is to use that carbon-free sunlight to replace fossil fuels in certain heavy pollution industrial processes, such as making cement, glass and steel.
Still, the IEA said there are “no single or simple solutions to putting the world on a sustainable path to net-zero emissions.”
About three-quarters of the cumulative reductions in carbon emissions to get on that path will need to come from technologies that have “not yet reached full maturity,” the report said.
For instance, while battery technology has evolved significantly, the IEA said “rapid progress” is required to transition battery prototypes to the world’s long-distance transportation needs.
Yet there isn’t enough money being deployed by corporations or the public sector toward researching next-generation energy solutions.
“There is a disconnect between the climate goals that governments and companies have set for themselves and the efforts underway to develop better and cheaper technologies to realize those goals,” the IEA’s Birol said.
Pandemic deals blow to energy spending
That disconnect, like so many others now, is being amplified by the pandemic.
Although social distancing and health restrictions are causing carbon emissions to tumble, investment in energy is also falling sharply. Spending in the energy industry is expected toplunge by a record $400 billion,or 20%, this year, the IEA previously estimated.
That slowdown in spending undermines efforts to develop clean energy solutions.
At the same time, questions about the future of the economy, especially the energy and transportation sectors, will make it harder for startups to attract capital. Governments grappling with dualhealthandeconomiccrises may be tempted to divert money away from developing clean energy at exactly the wrong time.
“Failure to accelerate progress now,” the IEA report said, “risks pushing the transition to net-zero emissions further into the future.”
How the ‘roadmap for humanity’ could be changed by a pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us a new world; one where the status quo no longer exists.
Millions of people are experiencing untold misery and suffering as the virus overwhelms our bodies and economies. Rich and poor, the pandemic has forced us to reconsider almost every aspect of how we live.
And COVID-19’s reach is only just beginning to be felt.UNDP estimatesglobal human development—a combination of education, health, and living standards—could fall this year for the first time since 1990, when measurements began.
“The world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09. Each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year. COVID-19, with its triple hit to health, education, and income, may change this trend.”
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner
The pandemic presents both an enormous challenge and tremendous opportunities for reaching the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs are a roadmap for humanity. They encompass almost every aspect of human and planetary wellbeing and, if met, will provide a stable and prosperous life for every person and ensure the health of the planet.
This year they have received a grievous blow—one that will be far reaching for years to come.
But the pandemic also shows us the wisdom of what is already inherent in the SDGs; the challenges we face cannot be dealt with in isolation.
Our socio-economic assessments, based on findings from more than 70 countries and five regional reports, show that while most developing countries are in the early stages of the pandemic, they are already dealing with its negative effects.
Even before the crisis, the world was off track to ensuring healthcare for everybody by 2030.
Now, the impressive gains made in recent years—declining infant and maternal mortality rates, turning the tide on HIV/AIDS and halving malaria deaths—are threatened, and we face possibly alarming setbacks, not just from the disease itself, but the knock-on effects of breaks invaccination campaigns.
The number of undernourished people has dropped by almost half in the past two decades. Central and East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean have all made huge progress.
COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in global food supply chains. And it has pushed fragile countries, such as Yemen, where, despite humanitarian assistance,15.9 millionwake up hungry every day, pushmillions moreinto further distress.
Rapid economic progress in India and China has lifted millions out of poverty, but as of 2015, about 736 million people still lived on less than US$1.90 a day.
SDG 1 is the bedrock of the goals. The crisis has made this goal more challenging, but also presents an opportunity to completely revolutionize development.
About 1.6 billion people work in the informal economy—that’s about half the global workforce. The International Labour Organization reports that they are in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.
The ILO reports that more thanone in sixyoung people have lost their jobs since the pandemic began and those that are still at work have seen their hours reduced.
As the leader on COVID-19’s socio-economic response, UNDP will be working with private and public partners to encourage integrated growth that truly leaves nobody behind.
UNESCO estimates about 1.25 billion students are affected by lockdowns. UNDP estimates 86 percent of primary school children in developing countries are not being educated.
The pandemic has re-emphasized the ‘digital divide’ and the right to internet access, particularly for those in rural areas.
UNDPestimatesthat closing the digital divide would reduce by more than two-thirds the number of children not learning because of school closures.
At least 18 national elections and referendums have already been postponed. Sometimes this can lead to increased risk of unrest. Governments, particularly in fragile contexts are under unparalleled pressure to deliver digital services and social protection, and to function in ways that advance social cohesion, while upholding human rights and the rule of law.
Scientists have warned for years that unrestricted deforestation, the illegal wildlife trade, and diseases that cross from animals to humans would unleash an uncontrollable pandemic. That’s why investing in green economies is crucial to restore the balance between people and planet and help countries recover.
Like a double helix, the SDGs and the COVID-19 pandemic response are intertwined and cannot be tackled by a piecemeal approach.
In our role asSDG Integratorwe are helping countries address all the public and private challenges connected to COVID-19.
UNDP is breaking with the past. The pandemic has given us permission to do what was once almost unimaginable—redesign the way we work.
UNDP is uniquely qualified to work on complex problem solving, as our successful response toIraqi stabilizationhas demonstrated.
InAngola, we are helping to tackle deforestation. In Moldova,climate smart ecotourismcontributes to sustainable growth. And from Belize to Belarus we have protected more than680 millionhectares of land and sea for the past 20 years.
The next phase of our COVID-19 response is to help decision-makers look towards 2030 and manage uncertainty in governance, social protection, the green economy and living in the digital world as we lead the UN’s socio-economic response.
For the first time in a hundred years, the world is focused a common goal: beating coronavirus.
Getting “back to normal” is simply not feasible—because “normal” got us here. The crisis has shown us how deeply connected we are to others and to the planet. COVID-19 is forcing us to revisit our values and design a new area of development that truly balances economic, social and environmental progress as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
Integrated solutions are the only way in which we’ll be able to build a greener and more inclusive future to help countries meet the 2030 goals.