Oct 2007

Climate change and some other links

For reasons I’m at a loss to explain, I absolutely love the fact that this exists.

This one is from a while ago, but I think the headline is a classic… Rich ‘can pay poor to cut carbon’. Because it’s the poor doing all the emitting, right? Like most soundbites though, it actually provides an inaccurate characterisation of what Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had to say. On the surface it sounds like he’s implying that “wealthy nations” can buy their way out of their responsibility to cut their own emissions. But that’s not what he’s saying at all, though you only get a hint of that fact from the BBC article when they quote the vital line:

… So it actually becomes economically quite attractive for a company, for example in the UK, that has a target, to achieve this goal by reducing emissions in China.

Yvo de Boer | BBC News article

Note the important word… “company”. This proposal isn’t in the context of a national carbon trading scheme, but as part of a direct carbon tax on corporations. And this is a man who clearly understands the reality of the global manufacturing industry. He knows that the products being bought by American and European consumers come from factories in China and India and Mexico. So don’t force Nike to spend money cutting emissions in the United States when all their carbon emissions are happening in Vietnam. Especially… and here’s the killer point… since a dollar spent reducing the emissions at an American factory won’t go half as far in cutting emissions as that same dollar spent on a factory in a nation with laxer environmental regulations. And it’s all about cutting the global total; it matters little whether the carbon dioxide is released into US or Mexican skies.

It’s not Americans and Europeans paying the poorer nations to clean up their factories. It’s Americans and Europeans paying the poorer nations to clean up our factories. And so long as the proposal is within the context of a corporate levy rather than a trading scheme, then I say let’s just do the damn thing right now. A simple, blunt law introduced immediately and applying to the current financial year. It will do as a stop-gap while the politicians faff about for a wee bit longer, and can be replaced by whatever they eventually decide on (once the IPCC have judged it to be at least as effective in cutting total emissions in the short, medium and long term).

Proposal: Every company that wishes to continue trading in Europe in any capacity must spend 25% of all profits made in Europe directly on carbon reduction measures within their own organisation. If cleaning up their Indonesian manufacturing plants would get the best “carbon value for money” then that’s what they should do. But they will be audited, and failures to comply will result in crippling fines.

Do I hear a second?

25% is probably a tad low, but you’ve got to pick a realistic starting point, right? I mean if this genuinely is the most important problem facing our generation, then let’s get serious about it. 25% off the net profit. I’m not talking about plunging companies into losses here. Only readjusting things a bit. It just means that shareholders will get a bit less money and yes, R&D will slow down a bit, as will the economy. But that’s a small price to pay, right? Or are we too cheap for even that? To safeguard a future for our children and all of theirs? Holy crap, we are, aren’t we?

Note: companies and projects working in areas that directly contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions (renewable energy projects, for instance) would probably be exempt from the 25% corporate-carbon levy; both to allow them to maximise inward investment and R&D spend, but also to make them more attractive to investors.

Just a thought.

And on the subject of climate change, it appears that here in Ireland our climate is “hotting up twice as fast as anywhere else in the world. It’s official.” Hard to know which is worse; the news or the copywriting.

In other news: I am dismayed. Though utterly unsurprised.

And although I know how cruel it is, for some reason I find myself grinning at the images conjured by this story here.

Oh, and lest you think climate change is the only thing you should be depressed about; read this and weep.

Posted in: Opinion