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Poznan Redux: The True Climate Cost

This is a joint posting with Kevin Ummel
Q: What can we do to save the earth?
Wendell Berry: "Stay put."
Economists are always irritating their colleagues by harping about opportunity cost, but the concept can be useful nonetheless. For example, consider the “carbon account” announced for the Poznan climate change meeting. According to the sponsors, travel and other logistics for the 8,000 conference participants will generate 13,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Participants have duly announced the purchase of “carbon offsets” as atonement for their logistical sins (which begins to sound like the sale of indulgences by the medieval Church, but that’s another story). The whole thing projects a reassuring aura: By purchasing offsets, the participants can cover the “climate cost” of the meeting.

Poznan, Hot Air, and Carbon Offsets

"I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still in a room."
-- Blaise Pascal
Q: What can we do to save the earth?
Wendell Berry: "Stay put."

Obama and House Committee Shake-Up Signal Sea Change in U.S. Climate Policy

This is a joint posting with Joel Meister
Recent announcements of climate-related transition teams and agency director appointments have provided a wealth of information about the prospects for action on climate change by the Obama White House. Bolstered by changes in the leadership of a crucial House committee, the energy and climate change agenda is likely to be a top legislative priority for the new administration. These changes also suggest that climate policies will affect the strategy for economic recovery, as well as a reorientation of US foreign assistance toward climate-sensitive policies that will yield significant benefits for poor people in developing countries.

Bail, Baby, Bail: What General Motors can Teach us about Policy Distortions

This is a joint posting with David Wheeler and Robin Kraft

When countries in Latin America or Africa descend into crisis, economists in Washington take a harsh view. Governments are forced to reduce spending in return for IMF rescue packages and in some instances, countries are even put on a cash-only budget. In the United States, we have a very different approach designed to minimize hardship of any kind -- the bailout.

Smart Obamanomics for the President-Elect's Top Priority: Energy and Climate Change

This is a joint post with Kevin Ummel, Robin Kraft, Joel Meister and Dan Hammer
During the second presidential debate on October 7, an exchange took place that tells us a lot about what to expect from an Obama administration:

Tom Brokaw: Senator Obama, if you would give us your list of priorities, there are some real questions about whether everything can be done at once.
Barack Obama: We're going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize … Energy we have to deal with today … So that would be priority number one.

Slouching Towards Copenhagen?

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
Could two U.S. delegations end up at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen next year? I’m beginning to think so. There have been some suggestive developments in recent weeks, although you could be forgiven for missing them in the furor over the financial crisis and rescue plan.

Behind-the-Scenes Debate on Clean Tech Fund Reveals Deep Divisions, Shifting Attitudes

As the World Bank moves closer to launching the Clean Technology Fund (CTF), serious questions remain over how the money will be spent. The political headwinds in Washington have shifted since June, when the Congress began to consider contributing to the fund. While the result is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that the CTF will ultimately focus on truly clean technology while generally avoiding investments in coal and other high-carbon fossil fuels.

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright: The World Bank Undermines Own Conservation Efforts With Fossil Fuel Projects

This is a joint posting with Vijaya Ramachandran
The World Bank Group's board appears to be operating under a severe case of cognitive dissonance, supporting efforts to save tigers - threatened in India and Bangladesh by habitat loss due to climate change - while helping build coal-fired power plants that will only speed up this process.
Back in June the Bank launched a campaign to help governments develop and better manage forests inhabited by endangered tigers, including in the Sunderbans. This massive mangrove forest spans the India-Bangladesh border and is home to the Bengal tiger. While the Bank has a less-than-stellar conservation track record in Sunderbans, more important is the fact that this impoverished World Heritage site would be one of the hardest hit by climate change, whether from rising sea levels or the disappearance of the glacier that feeds the Ganges river.
But the Bank's commitment to poverty reduction and biodiversity stands in stark contrast to its bread-and-butter financing choices. As the Bank planned its save-the-tiger campaign, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank's private sector arm, was putting together a deal to finance $450 million of the misguided $4+ billion Tata Mundra Ultra Mega coal-fired plant in India. Financing 10% of the cost of a plant being built by India's largest company will help propel India's power sector emissions to third highest in the world within a few years, behind China and the U.S. Is this a smart use of scarce international public resources?

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