Justice Not Charity: It’s Just Compensation

Article 8 of the Paris Agreement was monumental for advocates of Loss and Damage. But the first draft of Article 8 reveals the concessions and compromises developing countries made to get it. Notably struck from the final version are the words and concepts of “compensation.” In the early draft, “compensation” was referred to as a “regime” for developing countries to receive support – specifically “LDCs, SIDS, and countries in Africa affected by slow onset events.” Without this clause, developing countries are left to the ambiguity of the current Article 8. Ever since, there has been financial tension between developed and developing countries to provide for the tragic loss and damage costs climate change has incurred.

Without the context of “compensation” in the Paris Agreement (and without any formal agreements afterwards), many developing countries are left with a seemingly lack of avenues to finance their recovery efforts. Fortunately, not all these avenues have closed against them. Formal litigation efforts for climate change damages is one burgeoning justice avenue developing countries may use to collect remedies from historically polluting countries. As climate change litigation gains traction, advocates should pay attention to framing loss and damage issues as a matter of justice rather than a matter of humanitarian aid. As Sabine Minigner of Brot for die Welt said on Tuesday (11/14/2017), climate change compensation is not charity but justice. Developing countries should not be penalized for carbon emissions they did not emit.

This burgeoning legal environmental justice concept can be seen in U.S. courts of common law. For example, the monumental case of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil began with a vulnerable people’s group in Alaska. The eventual plaintiff-appellants alleged that many fossil fuel giants (oil, coal, electric utilities, etc.) had contributed to global warming. Under tort law they sued for remedies of $400 million under public nuisance. The case was unfortunately dismissed for judicial doctrinal reasons. But even though the plaintiffs in Kivalina did not succeed, their litigation proves an important stepping stone as U.S. courts grapple with justice for those impacted by climate justice.

The U.S. is not unique in its litigation – many other countries are establishing legal avenues through plaintiff actions to bring polluters to justice. Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 1.43.13 AMBut the Kivalina case is still unique in that the plaintiffs were not seeking injunctive or immediate action, but reactive after-the-fact measures to bring them to their previous status quo. This was not litigation with goals for unjust enrichment. It was a matter of loss and damages and how a plaintiff can get a tortfeasor to compensate them for such. In that sense, climate change litigation parallels concepts of tort litigation.

And in most, if not all, tort casebooks the themes of justice, equity, and fairness are featured. The basic concept being that if one person hurts another, the tortfeasor (the one hurt) should be held liable in court to restore that person as far as they have damaged them. With this in mind, climate change litigation – as an arm of justice – may operate similarly.  Maybe climate change litigation will gain more traction as those without, sue those who have and courts get more comfortable with climate science within their courts. So even though the Warsaw Implementation Mechanism will wait for another Excom to determine its finance arm, vulnerable people groups may have another avenue to recover incurred climate change damages from polluters. And really they should, it would just be justice taking form in compensation.


Who is representing the US at COP23?

COP 23You are on your way to COP23, the place to be for everything climate change. You walk through the doors and find yourself among hundreds of people from all over the world, running from one session to the other, with a quick stop perhaps for a cup of coffee. You attend negotiations and presentations, and develop an understanding of what is important to a country or a block of countries as they attempt to reverse the alarming rise in the planet’s temperature.

After a day or two, the chaos becomes normal and all the different languages you overhear start having a familiar tone. You begin to appreciate the setting: located by the Rhine and intersected by a city park, dotted with ponds where ducks, geese, and swans keep residence. It is beautiful. Then, as you are waiting for an electric car/bus to take you between the Bula and Bonn Zones, you notice a white dome shaped building to the side. Curious, you head there and find a sign for the U.S. Climate Action Center.  Peppered throughout the place is the hash tag #wearestillin.

You feel surprised because the U.S. declared its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But a list of this Center’s events shows these presenters: Al Gore, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, Governor Jerry Brown of California, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.  In other words, a collection of American environmental rock stars and members of the U.S. Climate Alliance fill the place.

But then you notice that the U.S. delegation is hosting a “side event” titled The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation. Unlike events held at the U.S. Climate Action Center, which attracted many attendees, this event drew protests. So who is representing the United States?

A closer look at the U.S. Climate Action Center shows that it as an effort by California Governor Jerry Brown that is funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has attracted a collection of states, counties and municipalities; colleges and universities; businesses; non-profit organizations; faith organizations; and ordinary citizens. All told, the U.S. Climate Action Center spans all fifty states, 127 million Americans, and $6.2 trillion, all intent on honoring continued U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement. A delegation called the People’s Delegation at COP23 pledged to the UNFCCC that “we are still in.”

The U.S. delegation, with representatives from the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is the delegation of record.  It, and only it, has the authority to negotiate on behalf of the U.S. (at least till the U.S. projected exit in 2020). But I believe the delegation that can effectuate the goals of the Paris Agreement has the upper hand. If “we are still in” manages to reduce GHG emissions in the U.S., then they are the delegation of record!


Conflict & Climate Change: The Real Triple C

You read this title and say to yourself, “There is no war in climate change!” “What? Scientists don’t go to war!”  Often the discussions on climate change center around the environmental effects. Experts do not attribute climate change as a direct cause of war, but it is a catalyst for conflict. The connection between conflict and climate change is not a game of six degrees of separation. Many governments and NGOs have already generated reports on the effects of climate change and security.

Climate change causes sea-level rise, natural resource scarcity, and natural disasters. These external pressures pose a considerable threat, particularly to developing nations. Climate change makes forced migration and climate refugees more prevalent. Climate change can contribute to armed conflict in two ways. First, scarcity of natural resources can change the political economy of a state. Second, climate impacts can stimulate conflict by changes in social systems. Climate change causes environmental stress which asserts an influence on peace and security.

conflict-tensions2

Examples.

Sudan. The conflict in Darfur began because of an ecological crisis that arose from climate change. Southern Sudan started experiencing drought as a result of sea level temperature rise in the Indian Ocean. This drought caused scarcity in food and water resources, and heightened tensions between the Arab herders and nomadic farmers. The conflict in Darfur arose during this drought when there was not enough food and water for all.

Somalia. Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly susceptible to climate change. Somalia has subtle connections between drought, food insecurity, and conflict. Drought and food insecurity plague Somalia, which has caused food crises. The food crises result in internal displacement within Somalia. Civil conflicts have coincided with the food crises. Militant groups have taken advantage of the current environmental vulnerabilities to expand their power, making climate change an external pressure on Somalia.

Syria. Similar to Sudan, the civil war in Syria arose in a time of drought. The drought was ongoing between 2006-2009 in the fertile crescent. As a result, rural Syrians along with Iraqi refugees were forced to migrate to larger cities. After the drought, the Syrian conflict arose in 2011.  Scientists believe that the drought played a role in Syrian unrest because food became expensive and water scarce. The expensive food and water scarcity put external pressures on the political climate in Syria.

The effects of climate change place external pressure on the political climate of nations. As nations seek to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, we face the challenges of how climate change impacts affect security and civil unrest. As we go into climate change negotiations, we should realize the threat of armed conflict that climate change poses.


Ecological Migration and Migrating Towards Ambitious Climate Change Commitments at COP22

In 2011, the UN projected that the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. These are people who need to resettle due to climate change impacts such as drought, food shortage, disease, flooding, desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems. This past week the New York Times released two stories about the plight of “ecological migrants” in the deserts of northern China. The first is a visual narrative about people living in the expanding Tengger Desert. The second article highlights the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

“Ecological migrants” are the millions of people whom the Chinese government had to relocate from lands distressed by climate change, industrialization, and human activity to 161 hastily built villages. China has already resettled 1.14 million residents of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where the average temperature has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years (more than half of that increase occurring from 2001 to 2010) and annual precipitation has dropped about 5.7 millimeters every decade since the 1960s.

China is only one example of a region where people have had to relocate due to climate change. Where will everyone go? This is a problem that all countries need to figure out quickly because, if the UN’s prediction is accurate, the current system of asylum, refugee resettlement, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may prove inadequate.

The Marshall Islands need to figure out where their people will go as their island nation is quickly disappearing underwater. Predictions of dangerous tropical storms and rising salt levels in their drinking water may force citizens to flee even before the entire island is lost. In Bangladesh, about 17% of the land could be inundated by 2050, displacing an additional 18 million people.

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Road leading to Isle de Jean Charles often floods, cutting off the community.Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times.

Climate change relocations are not limited to small, developing nations. The United States has begun preparing for its own. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants up to $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, including the first allocation of federal money to move an entire community due to the impacts of climate change: a $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles.

Other than the overcrowding of cities and uprooting and destruction of rural lifestyles, the global refugee crisis presents a larger concern: national security. Last year at COP21 in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tied the conflict in Syria and the resulting global refugee crisis to climate change. Secretary Kerry linked Syria’s drought and resulting urban migration—first domestic, then international—as a key factor to the civil war. This was a relevant example of how climate change can exacerbate existing political turmoil within a country.

Thus, all countries must stay committed to climate change goals, not only for maintaining millions of people’s lives and homes, but for national safety throughout the world. Whether they consider it a focus or not, many countries are currently facing the problem of creating new domestic policies on immigration. While it may be too late for some vulnerable areas to completely avoid the need to relocate its people, every climate change action helps mitigate the problem. Hopefully the issue of relocation and climate change refugees or “ecological migrants” will push countries to be more ambitious about their climate change actions at the upcoming COP22.


Survey says . . .

political survey resultsA new study by Yale and George Mason universities of US registered voters and their attitudes about climate change reports some consistent results:  Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be convinced that human-caused global warming is happening and to support climate action by elected officials.

But the studies’ authors dig deeper to show more nuanced shifts in public opinion about climate change.  As they wrote: “One of the most interesting—and consistent—findings is a clear difference between liberal/moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. In many respects, liberal/moderate Republicans are similar to moderate/ conservative Democrats on the issue of global warming, potentially forming a moderate, middle-ground public. Republicans are not a monolithic block of global warming policy opponents. Rather, liberal/moderate Republicans are often part of the mainstream of public opinion on climate change, while conservative Republicans’ views are often distinctly different than the rest of the American public.

Here are the numbers:

  • 73% of registered voters think global warming is happening.
  • 95% of liberal Democrats and 80% of moderate/conservative Democrats think it’s happening.
  • 74% of Independents also respond this way.
  • 47% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening.  But this number increased 19% over the last two years, making it the largest shift in attitude of any of the groups polled.
  • 71% of liberal/moderate Republicans think that global warming is happening.
  • 56% of all registered voters think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and an additional 4% think that both human activities and natural changes cause it.
  • 43% of registered voters are “more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming” while 14% are “less likely to vote for” such a candidate.

For more analysis of respondents’ support for specific government policies on renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, consumer behavior, and political activism, read here.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, attributes this rise in conservative belief in global warming in part to the drop in climate denial rhetoric on the campaign trail. “In this presidential race, climate change hasn’t come up on the Republican side at all. It means that none of the political discourse, the discussion among the Republican Party right now, is addressing climate change at all. That’s actually an improvement in the discourse.” This absence, he reasons, may have made it easier for some conservatives to shift their views “because they’re not hearing a constant barrage of ‘This is a liberal hoax.’”

Analyzing the poll data for its potential impact on the 2016 presidential election, Leiserowitz concedes that “it’s a very small proportion of Americans that say, ‘This is the one single issue that I’m voting on. … But on the other hand, there’s a much larger proportion of Americans who say, ‘It’s one of the key issues that I’m going to be paying attention to.’”

 


California Leads Subnationals in Setting a High Bar for COP21 Negotiators

Mary Nichols, Chair of the CA Air Resources Board presents to UCLA & Vermont Law Students (Photo courtesy of Tracy Bach)

Mary Nichols, Chair of the CA Air Resources Board presents to UCLA & Vermont Law Students (Photo courtesy of Tracy Bach)

The VLS delegation had the privilege yesterday to attend an intimate presentation given by Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, and Ken Alex, the Director of the Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research. Mary and Ken candidly addressed a group of professional students and professors from UCLA and Vermont Law School while a documentary crew followed Mary’s every move and captured the group’s reaction.

These representatives of the California state government offer a surprisingly powerful presence at COP21. The commitments and strategies of subnational groups have been a major topic of conversation this week since these groups, including U.S. states, represent key stakeholders in the movement to address climate change. According to some sources, “in order to keep global temperatures from rising 2˚C by 2050, the world needs to cut 8 to 10 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2020.” Our mitigation goal will be even higher if the negotiators ultimately agree on maintaining temperature rise at or below 1.5˚C. Yet, the U.N. Environmental Program reports that agreements between subnational governments to reduce emissions could prevent 3 gigatonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere by 2020. Cooperation and ambition amongst subnationals is therefore crucial to reaching our COP21 goals.

Governor Brown speaks for subnationals (From: the Office of Governor Brown)

Governor Brown speaks for subnationals (From: the Office of Governor Brown)

California is a particularly important piece of the puzzle. According to Ken Alex, the state represents 1.3% of global emissions and has a larger economy than 188 of the 195 countries that have ratified the UNFCCC. The state therefore has a large role to play, and so far, it has exceeded expectations. California is leading a group of more than 123 subnational jurisdictions (including Vermont), which represent $9.9 trillion in GDP and 720 million people, in pursuing more ambitious goals than those identified in the anticipated Paris Outcome. This group of signatories to the Under 2 MOU is aiming to reduce emissions 80 to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to achieve a two tons per capita CO2 emissions limit.

Under Governor Brown and Mary Nichols’ leadership, California is making progress toward addressing these goals. The California cap and trade scheme is gaining traction, partnering with Quebec and, hopefully soon, with other states. The state is also the only one in the country allowed to implement its own, more rigorous, mobile air emissions standards. These standards have subsequently been adopted in other international cities, including in Beijing.

From: LA Times & Christophe Petit Tesson (EPA)

Governor Brown and former Governor Schwarzenegger meet to discuss climate change. (From: LA Times & Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA)

To promote California’s progress and inspire other global leaders, several California representatives have presented at COP21 over the last several days. Governor Jerry Brown welcomed new signatories to the Under 2 MOU in the German Pavilion at Le Bourget. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke on behalf of Austria at the beginning of the week, and later conducted meetings with the current governor of California. Other state representatives, like Mary Nichols, are also participating in discussions throughout the event, including in a session dedicated entirely to California at the U.S. Pavilion.

We will continue to track the inspiring action of subnationals throughout the event, particularly those of U.S. states like California and Vermont.


Building Transparency and Accountability in a New Climate Agreement

Creative Commons (Courtesy of Benson Kua)When we seek accountability, we must start with transparency.

 

The goal of COP 21 is to produce a robust post-2020 climate agreement that establishes clear goals and a pathway for achieving them. The goals sit at the end of the path. Lighting the pathway are transparency measures built in the agreement. Climate Strategies recently released a policy brief on different measures that could strengthen accountability in the Paris Agreement. The brief identified key international and domestic actions to boost transparency and accountability.

 

The brief identifies several key international actions to improve accountability. The first and second actions work in combination. The first action is choosing the shape and form of the agreement. A legally binding agreement can hold parties accountable for their non-performance and encourage state compliance. A non-legally binding agreement would not be able to use international legal mechanisms to enforce compliance. The second action would be to create a strong legal mechanism for holding parties accountable for their climate commitments. The third action would be for Parties to improve the existing measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) system and strengthen its connections to the compliance mechanism. Fourth, the brief recommends opening up the MRV system to participation from non-state actors who would add impartiality and enhanced review of commitments. Lastly, the parties could create a politically independent body to review compliance with commitments.

 

At the domestic level, the brief focuses on actions that strengthen internal legal mechanisms within and outside of government. The first suggested action is ratification of the agreement and incorporation into domestic law. An example of incorporating domestic law include the UK’s Climate Change Act divides responsibility for carbon emission reduction between government agencies. Imposing obligations on government agencies requires them to account for their actions and encourages them to fulfill their duties. The second suggested action is to develop a proactive Parliament that uses it formal procedures to provide continuous oversight. Parliamentary review is conducted in a transparent public forum thus providing a powerful incentive to comply with commitments. Integration into domestic law also creates opportunity for citizen involvement and enforcement. Citizen enforcement actions shine light on government non-action.

 

Goal setting is an important first step for a post-2020 climate agreement. But goal setting is not enough by itself. A bright climate future requires transparency to shine a light on the path to achieving those goals.

 

 

 

 


Is Climate Change a Threat to National Security?

paris-peace-signCOP21 began Monday with a moment of silence for victims of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, and the tragedy served as a touchstone for world leaders urging unity and action. Nearly every speaker at the daylong Leaders Event expressed condolences for the Paris attacks, and some, including the Prince of Wales who opened the event, highlighted the connection between climate change and national security.

In his speech, President Obama declared “what greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it.” Later, in a press briefing room at COP21, President Obama doubled down on this sentiment stating that “in some ways, [climate change] is akin to the problem of terrorism and ISIL.” Both threats, President Obama said, require a long, sustained effort by the United States to assess and neutralize them.

French Foreign Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius has called climate change “a threat to policepeace,” describing a world where floods, desertification, and droughts will intensify conflicts over
ever-scarcer resources and spark a massive wave of environmental refugees. “Terrorism is significant, but naked hunger is as significant as terrorism,” he said. “And the relationship between terrorist activities and naked hunger are obvious. If you look at the vectors of recruitment into terrorist cells, most of the most vulnerable are hunger-prone areas.”

Also vocal on this issue is presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who stated publicly during the First Democratic Presidential Debate that climate change is the single greatest threat to the U.S.’s national security. Understandably, debate moderators revisited this question just one day after the Paris attacks during the second debate on November 14, asking Senator Sanders if he stood by his previous statement in light of the growing security threat from ISIS. “Absolutely,” said Sanders. “In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Like Fabius, he explained that climate change impacts will increase international conflicts as people struggle over limited amounts of water and land to grow their crops.

Criticizing this correlation to terrorism, an Op-Ed published in the New York Times soon after the Paris attacks called out climate change advocates, among others, and asked incredulously, “must we instantly bootstrap obliquely related agendas and utterly unconnected grievances to the carnage in Paris, responding to it with an unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief?”

However, recent reports suggest that this correlation is warranted. In July, a report by the U.S. Defense Department called climate change an “urgent and growing threat” to national security, and this October NATO’s parliament demanded stronger action by member states to tackle a warming planet. The repeated discussion of the nexus between climate change and national security Monday makes clear that this is no longer a political question – it’s a fact.

Drought


Will the Dark Cloud Over EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rain on Paris?

Powerplant.iStockLast month, EPA published the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the most ambitious and controversial rulemaking in the history of the Clean Air Act, and set off a flurry of litigation as many Republican lawmakers urged states to challenge the rule.

The Clean Power Plan is EPA’s first attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. The goal of the CPP is to achieve a 30% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 with an interim goal of an average 17% reduction in the 2020-2029 period. To achieve this goal, the CPP sets emissions rate targets for states and requires each state, by 2018, to develop a plan for how to reach its assigned target by 2030.

Only days after the CPP was published, 26 states as well as business groups and coal companies filed suit in D.C. District Court challenging EPA’s legal basis for promulgating the rule. Last week, more than two dozen states, cities, and environmental groups intervened in the litigation to support EPA . The legal issue turns on whether the Court will defer to EPA’s interpretation of its authority to regulate power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Unfortunately, during the 1990 amendments to the CAA, Congress passed both the House and Senate versions of this statutory section. In effect, the Senate version allows for regulation of power plants under Section 111(d), while the House version does not. Opponents to the CPP have asked for a stay to immediately halt the rule from taking effect while the case is ongoing. The Court will not rule on the stay until after the climate change negotiations have concluded.

Adding to the assault, Republican leaders recently attempted to pass resolutions invoking the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to disapprove of “major” rules issued by federal agencies before the rules take effect. Congressional opponents could also attempt to delay or defund the CPP by adding riders to bills or, worse yet, seeking an outright amendment to the Clean Air Act.

Power Sector EmissionsLooking ahead to Paris, the controversy surrounding the CPP casts doubt on the feasibility of the U.S.’s mitigation pledge. In its INDC, the U.S. pledged an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level in 2025. While the CPP is not the only step the U.S. is taking under its INDC to meets its mitigation pledge – investments to deploy clean energy technologies, standards to double the fuel economy of cars and light trucks, and steps to reduce methane pollution are also cited – implementation of the CPP is critical to achieve this mitigation target.

US GHGsThe importance of the Clean Power Plan for the U.S.’s role at COP 21 cannot be overstated – it is the “centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s climate policy agenda.” Not only that, announcement of the CPP continued momentum toward Paris that began a year ago with the U.S.-China bilateral agreement to reduce emissions, followed by the U.S.’s submission of its INDC in March, and the publication of the President’s Climate Action Plan this summer. Hopefully, the President’s decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday will give the U.S. negotiators “more wind at their back” at the upcoming climate talks.

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” President Obama announcing EPA’s Clean Power Plan in August 2015.


The Role of Gender in Climate Politics

Climate change is proven – the vast majority of the scientific community, along with many major businesses and nearly every major insurance provider, all agree that climate change is having real impacts on the world today. Most also believe that those impacts are the result of anthropogenic activity. However, the facts about climate change are not being translated into political action. This is in large part because the facts are not driving the discussion.

Despite the fact that the latest IPCC report states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia,” and that “human influence on the climate system is clear,” somehow 18% of the US population still does not believe global warming is occurring, and 35% does not believe that it is caused by human activity. Even worse, the 114th Congress includes 162 climate deniers (approximately 30% of Congress) with only eight states represented exclusively by individuals who believe that addressing climate change is a priority.

Sen. James Inhofe

Sen. James Inhofe

Who are all of these climate deniers? Many Americans, if asked to picture a climate denier, would likely picture a figure like Rush Limbaugh or Senator James Inhofe. It turns out that there is more to this assumption than mere stereotyping. Several studies have been published over the past five years, building on existing bodies of research, which all indicate that climate skeptics are most likely to be white, conservative men. I took a closer look at three psychology and sociology studies from three different continents, all of which came to this same conclusion.

A study out of Cardiff University indicated that men are more skeptical of climate change than women, and that “political affiliation is a strong determinant of skepticism, with Conservative voters amongst the most skeptical.” An American study out of Michigan State University was one of the first to explicitly categorize “conservative white males” as the most skeptical of climate change. This study went a step further to analyze conservative white men who self-reported an above average understanding of global warming (considered “confident conservative white men”). By isolating these individuals, the study found that 48.4% of confident conservative white men believe the effects of global warming will never happen, compared to only 8.6% of all other respondents. Additionally, it found that while 71.6% of confident conservative white men believed that recent temperature increases are not primarily due to human activities, only 34.2% of all other respondents feel that way. Finally, a 2015 study published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology supported and extended the “conservative white male” effect based on a sample of over 6,000 New Zealanders. This study confirmed that conservative white males (along with older individuals with high levels of socioeconomic status and less education) are disproportionately more likely to be skeptical of the reality of climate change and its anthropogenic cause.

These studies essentially just prove what most of us already knew or assumed. But the impact of the “conservative white man” syndrome is significant. Not only do the studies provide scientific evidence that conservative white men are the least likely to take action on climate change, it also indicates that “beliefs about climate change are fundamentally linked to existing values and worldviews,” and “are not a result of knowledge deficit or misunderstanding.” In other words, they are also least likely to be swayed by the overwhelming scientific consensus or by the urgency of environmental advocates.

Ms. Usha Nair, representative of the global south and current Co-Focal Point of the Women and Gender Constituency stakeholder group

Ms. Usha Nair, representative of the global south and current Co-Focal Point of the Women and Gender Constituency stakeholder group

None of this would matter so much if it were not for the fact that political decisions related to climate change are predominantly made by men. The UNFCCC Conference of the Parties is actually mandated to “improve the participation of women in bodies established under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.” However, progress is slow, and the involvement of women in recent Conferences of the Parties has been limited. Women only represented 36% of the Party delegates to COP20 last year, and only represented 26% of the heads of Party delegations. This year, women represent only 25% of the members of constituted bodies (which is a ~3% decline from last year) and represent only 23% of the regional groups and other Party groupings.

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other Senate republicans

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other Senate republicans

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the Conference of the Parties and assume that the participants in the process are all committed to combating climate change, any international agreement that the Parties sign must still be approved by two thirds of the United States Senate for it to become legally binding on the U.S. (although there are alternative mechanisms for the country to deposit its “instrument of ratification” with the UNFCCC). At least one source indicates that 32% of the current Senators are climate deniers, creating a very narrow margin for the 66% approval of any international climate change agreement. The fact that the whole of the U.S. Senate is currently 54% republican, 94% white, and 80% male does not lend hope to the cause.

Now, none of this is to say that every climate denier is a conservative white male, nor is it to say that all conservative white males are climate deniers. It is my ardent hope that the current United States senators (republican, democrat, Caucasian, minority, male, and female alike) will vote to approve the agreement reached at Paris this year. But if they do not, it might be an additional incentive to diversify our elected officials.


Inside out: U.S. domestic political will and bilateral negotiation with India

Bill Clinton was famous for saying during his 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  In the realm of international climate change negotiations from Lima to Paris, it’s fair to say “it’s the nationally determined contributions, mon ami.”  Deliberately intended to connect the UNFCCC goal (of keeping global warming below 2 or 1.5 Celsius) more concretely with national political and economic agendas, the inclusion of NDCs in the upcoming Paris agreement necessarily puts national climate change policy and politics in the spotlight.

Hence these two articles jumped out at me this morning.

The first one, out of Yale’s Project on Climate Change Communication, reports a split among U.S. Republican voters’ views on climate change, Yale Republican pollfinding “a more complex – and divided – Republican electorate.” The Center concludes that “solid majorities of self-identified moderate and liberal Republicans – who comprise 30% of the party – think global warming is happening (62% and 68% respectively). By contrast, 38% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening. At the extreme, Tea Party Republicans (17% of the party) are the most dismissive – only 29% think global warming is happening.” For analysis of Republican voter reactions to specific questions about EPA climate change regulation, read more here.  It’s thought provoking to read this new research in light of the poll data we blogged about last week (that found more than two-thirds of likely 2016 voters support the EPA’s power plant rule, including 87% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans).  Likewise, the recent news that Tom Steyer – a “billionaire environmentalist” and creator of the NextGen Climate superPAC – is strongly considering a run for retiring Barbara Boxer’s California Senate seat.  It makes one bullish about the potential for U.S. domestic political discussion on climate change to move closer to the front burner. Put together, they signal bonnes nouvelles for the national political will needed for ambitious U.S. NDCs, due to be communicated internationally as the UNFCCC negotiations reprise in Geneva in less than a month.

The second article looks outside the U.S. to India’s current role in the international climate change negotiations and its domestic preparation for NDCs.  The Guardian reports on President Obama’s upcoming visit to India and trips that Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. senior officials plan to make with an intention to woo India as a strategic partner in the climate change negotiations.  Sound familiar?  As we blogged last week on the back story of the U.S.-China climate change announcement made in November, the U.S. appears to be taking a page from this playbook. We look forward to hearing more news from Delhi by the end of January, well before the U.S. and EU are due to report their NDCs to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

January 13 updateScientific American reports that “when Obama and Modi meet in India on Jan. 26, few are expecting the type of landmark bilateral agreement of the type the United States struck in Beijing last year.  . . . India, like any other country, doesn’t want to look like it’s simply playing catch-up with what the U.S. and China did. They would want to make it their own, not a U.S.-China redux,” said Peter Ogden, a senior energy fellow at the Center for American Progress.  SA also points out that Kerry’s trip last weekend focused on solar development deals, given India’s ambitious clean energy goals. This focus is reinforced in the India press as well, here and here.  Also, keep an eye on the Center for American Progress’s India 2020 Initiative for timely info and analysis of  its “dream that in 2020 the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States. If that occurs, the world will be a safer place.”