N8 Science Events

N8 Science Events. August 2010. Published 30.7.10.

Stars come out to tackle climate change economics
By Helen Gavaghan, Manchester.

Two nobel laureates, a former president of Puerto Rico, an Indian government advisor and the director of the G24 secretariat assembled earlier this month (6th July) at The University of Manchester to present ideas on sustainable economics in a world of climate change.

To Jose Maria Figuerez Olsen, former president of Puerto Rico (1994 to 1998), the World's pattern of recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 was a missed opportunity. "We're trying to recover by aiming back to the old economy rather than taking advantage of the situation to move to a low carbon economy," he said, adding the planet is a bounded environment and that that is obvious today in a way it was not when there were only 2 billion people on the planet.

Amar Bhattacharya said the World needed to look forward not backward and to develop long term regional plans. Guiding principles, he said, should be that the developing world not be penalised and that there are growth opportunities for low carbon economies.

Mr Bhattacharya worked formerly at the World Bank where he was advisor to the president and senior management about bank interactions with the International Monetary Fund, the G7, G20, OECD and Financial Stability Forum. He was an undergraduate at the University of Delhi, then Brandeis and a postgraduate at Princeton, New Jersey.

Though conscious of the disappointment of the Copenhagen meeting on climate change at the end of 2009 Mr Bhattacharya stressed that it was important to note that everyone came to the table, including the US.

I think there needs to be a boarder tax imposed on countries
which do not comply with carbon reduction targets.

Joseph Stiglitz, 6th July 2010.

Mohan Munasinghe, who is director-general of the Sustainable Consumption Institute, based in Manchester, broadened the discussion by saying, "We face not only climate change, but multiple problems - we need to change value systems - to enlightened self interest. The financial meltdown is a reality. And pressure on resources - we already have a problem, even without climate change. Look at how we set about solving the problem. $5 trillion in short order. Problem because of overvalued financial assets. Environmental degradation is another use now pay later approach."

Not a disjointed presentation as the quote makes it seem. More a need to squeeze as many bullet points from a life time of expertise into a very short presentation. The system of thinking he has developed is sustainomics in which the economic, environmental and social domains overlap one another. "We can't tinker in one domain and not expect a problem somewhere else, like poverty."

Professor Munasinghe was one of the recipients of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice-President Al Gore.

Ambuj Sagar's perspective was that one needs the developed and developing worlds to work together, but that this will take time. Professor Sagar holds the Vipula and Mahesh Chatuvedi chair in policy studies at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

"I have been working with the Indian government on some of these issues, focussing on technology. Technology is the key issue." I asked him later if technology was keeping up with the problem. His instantaneous reaction was no, followed quite quickly by signs of wanting to qualify his answer in some detail but torn by the need to catch up with the other panelists who had left and were, presumably, looking for their dinner.

In his presentation he said that India is already experiencing energy problems and cannot afford to make high cost energy available. Globally, he said, the problem was more serious with 1.6 billion having no access to electricity and 2.5 billion still living on biomass.

He understood the difficulties of technology transfer needed to solve climate change problems, particularly when there are not big money making opportunities. There is a need to work together on financing, delivery, policy and regulation. We really need to understand the local needs and local situation.

Last to speak was Columbia University's economic star and visiting professor at the University of Manchester, professor Joseph Stiglitz. "There is a broader acceptance now of the science of targets, but in spite of agreement about the science there has clearly been a failure in Copenhagen."

Professor Stiglitz outlined some economic concepts, not always distinguishing to non experts such as myself between his academic role as lecturer and his role as a World expert and US government advisor. For example, he said that making everyone a little better off is a standard economic model, a statement begging in my mind a multitude of definitional questions. I sought to follow up via email to his Columbia University address but was unable to reach him.

At Kyoto, he said, countries were given the right to pollute, and value was given to those rights. That is, the right to pollute was a newly created property right and the result was a stock issue not a flow issue. "Overuse of resources by the US can be thought of as the US trespassing on someone else's property." With the property being the right to pollute.

He said next countries have carbon allocations, and that in 1992 it was agreed that underdeveloped countries ought not to bear the burden of others' earlier development. And he reported that the US is now trying to back out of that agreement vis-a-vis China.

Professor Stiglitz gave it as opinion that in his view the global public good is hard to deliver when there is less social agreement between countries than within countries. "I think there needs to be a boarder tax imposed on countries which do not comply with carbon reduction targets. We are trying to solve a global public problem without global governance. We are not going to get global governance, but we have to work to make our global governance more democratic."

Minor corrections made on line within 24 hours of publishing and print taken for the publisher's private record at 10.40 bst 30.7.10.

GavaghanCommunicationsPublished by GavaghanCommunications