With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Climate change and development are closely intertwined. Poor people in developing countries will feel the impacts first and worst (and already are) because of vulnerable geography and lesser ability to cope with damage from severe weather and rising sea levels. In short, climate change will be awful for everyone but catastrophic for the poor.
Preventing dangerous climate change is critical for promoting global development. And saving tropical forests is essential to doing both. Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch's new book, Why Forests? Why Now?, illustrates how today—more than ever—saving forests is more feasible, affordable, and urgent.
Historically, the responsibility for climate change, though, rested with the rich countries that emitted greenhouse gases unimpeded from the Industrial Revolution on — and become rich by doing so. Now, some of the most quickly developing countries have become major emitter themselves just as all countries are compelled by the common good to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A major challenge of reaching a global deal on climate change was to find a way for poor countries to continue developing under the planetary carbon limits that rich countries have already pushed too far. That will involve scaling up finance to deploy clean technologies, to adapt to the effects of climate change, and to compensate countries that provide the global public good of reducing emissions, especially by reducing tropical deforestation.
CGD’s research and policy engagement on climate and development has had two aims: to strengthen the intellectual foundation for a viable international accord to come out of the COP 21 in Paris and to provide data, research, and analysis that policymakers and others can act upon even in the absence of an international agreement.
Since 2008, programs for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) have pioneered the use of performance payments to reduce tropical deforestation. While these programs generated hopes of slowing climate change and protecting indigenous peoples’ access to their lands, they also generated fears over misuse of funds, abuses of rights, displacement and commodification of the environment.
In response, international forest agreements have been “aidified”—moving away from their initial “hands-off” approach and adopting detailed implementation plans and preparatory phases. This shift has had consequences for the pace of implementation, for slowing deforestation, and for the status of indigenous peoples living in and near these forests.
A new CGD working paper—“Guyana’s REDD+ Agreement with Norway: Perceptions of and Impacts on Indigenous Communities”—describes how this process unfolded in Guyana. In this case, it seems that neither hopes nor fears were fully realized. But the consequences are still significant, as the imperatives of preserving the forest and securing indigenous rights have entered the country’s political discourse and survived a significant change in government.
In 2009, when Norway and Guyana signed a $250 million agreement to preserve tropical forests, the two governments envisioned a financial mechanism that would rapidly channel resources into this nation of 770,000 people—with a forest the size of England—to support low-carbon economic development and preempt pressures that might otherwise lead to deforestation. Adding urgency to this initiative, a government report based on analysis by McKinsey consultants warned that deforestation could rise from less than 0.3% to over 4% annually due to agricultural expansion.
The Guyana-Norway agreement was promoted as another “hands-off” agreement, similar to Norway’s previous agreement with Brazil. It established a contribution of $5 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions averted for keeping deforestation below a historical rate—in this case a target of less than 0.275% of Guyana’s standing forests. But in practical terms, the agreement was increasingly “hands-on.” In particular, Guyana had to establish a strategic framework, engage in a national consultation process, improve governance, and channel funds through an intermediary—the World Bank— which added further conditions for disbursements.
The consequence of this “hands-on” design was to slow implementation and limit adaptability. Norway had disbursed about $125 million in performance payments by 2016, but much of this money was held for investment in the Amaila Hydropower project (which was subsequently cancelled) and most of the rest was held up in the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF). The GRIF is administered by the World Bank, which focused its attention on compliance rather than technical support. As for adaptability, in retrospect, the biggest problem was the program’s failure to anticipate and address the threat posed by gold mining (see Figure 1).
We cannot know if a more “hands-off” REDD+ program would have worked better. It might have been more agile, spending less time on compliance with procedure and more attention on the actual trends which required timely action. However, it could also have stalled if the government failed to exploit this flexibility effectively.
Deforestation on Amerindian Lands, Gold Production, and Gold Prices (1995-2015)
Source: Guyana Forestry Commission (2015); Kitco; and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission
Few harms—or benefits—for Indigenous peoples
Given the slow pace of implementation, it is not surprising that the main fears voiced by indigenous groups have not materialized, nor have their hopes. The Government’s new national strategy did not lead to land seizures or threaten traditional cultivation practices. But it also did not generate many benefits. For example, under the Amerindian Land Titling Project, only 15 certificates of title were issued to Amerindian villages—well below the program’s original goal of 68. The national consultation process was unprecedented, involving 0.5% of the population, but was short-lived and criticized as “one-way.” A key element of the national strategy, the Amaila Falls hydropower project, was ultimately cancelled, eliminating jobs and financing that were supposed to benefit indigenous communities, but also relieving a significant pressure on the forest. At this stage, Amerindian groups seem to have lost interest in REDD+, with leaders skeptical that anything will materialize.
Forest protection and indigenous rights on the agenda
The author of the paper, Tim Laing, argues that the main consequence of the REDD+ agreement in Guyana may have been to secure a place in the national debate for climate change, forest protection, and indigenous rights. The national low-carbon development strategy launched in 2009 was closely associated with President Bharrat Jagdeo, who negotiated and signed the REDD+ agreement. The consultation process was criticized in particular for not engaging opposition members in Parliament. Yet, the government elected in 2015 (and led by parties that were in opposition to Jagdeo) has preserved the main elements of the low-carbon approach in its Green State Development Strategy. Smaller-scale forest conservation projects and efforts to address mining are also underway, but ultimately the biggest impact on Guyana’s forests and indigenous peoples will depend on national policies, not local projects.
Testing the “hands-on” approach
We will never know if a more “hands-off” approach with greater flexibility could have moved faster and with more agility to forestall deforestation—or what impact it would have had on indigenous peoples. However, we will get to see the results of being “hands-on.” The most lasting effects of REDD+ implementation in Guyana over the last nine years are typical of the “preparatory phases” envisioned by the UNFCCC prior to full-scale performance payments. These measures include establishing a forest monitoring system; adopting a low-carbon development strategy; and structuring a multi-stakeholder consultation process. Alone, these measures are unlikely to slow deforestation or protect indigenous peoples. Rather, progress will depend on the government tackling unresolved issues involving land rights and conflicts with extractive industries. In this regard, the interests of REDD+ and indigenous peoples appear closely aligned. Guyana needs REDD+ and rights.
This report examines the impact of the REDD+ agreement between Guyana and Norway on indigenous communities in the country. It aims to understand the concerns, hopes, and fears of indigenous communities at the start of the agreement, and the effects, if any, that communities have faced from REDD+.
Fuel subsidies are bad for the planet, expensive, and often regressive. With new, high-frequency price data researchers explore why they’re also so hard to kill.
Economists rarely reach the kind of consensus that we see on the topic of fuel subsidies. Bottom line: they’re a really bad idea. On the one hand, they encourage us to burn more fossil fuels and kill the planet, and on the other hand, they’re a massive drain of fiscal resources—equivalent to 6.5 percent of global GDP according to the most eye-popping IMF estimates—that are very poorly targeted at the poor.
Yet attempts to roll back subsidies often provoke strong political backlash. Movements from the Arab Spring in Jordan to Occupy Nigeria have marshalled popular resistance to raising fuel prices, and generally won.
So in the wake of the Paris accord, are countries doing anything to unravel these inefficient subsidies? At a CGD event this week organized by my colleague Todd Moss, Michael Ross of UCLA presented his multi-year project with Paasha Mahdavi of Georgetown and others to gather high-frequency gasoline prices from 157 countries around the world since 2003.
Global fuel subsidies are falling—but mostly due to a falling market price in the face of fixed price ceilings, not politically difficult reform
Two things jump out from the visualizations of their data that Ross, coauthor Chad Hazlett, and Mahdavi present in their recent paper in the journal Nature Energy.
First, the price you pay at the pump in most countries is higher than the global benchmark price of fuel, i.e., most countries are net taxers—not subsidizers of fuel. As it turns out, 95 percent of global fuel subsidies are concentrated in just 22 countries, all of which are also oil exporters. (Note the definition of a subsidy here is more restrictive than the expansive definition that IMF researchers use to get to 6.5 percent of GDP.)
Figure 1: Gasoline prices by country and benchmark price trends over time – Ross et al (2017)
Source: reproduced from Ross et al (2017): “Individual country price trends are shown in grey, and the global benchmark price is plotted in red. Countries fall into two groups: those with prices above the benchmark (who tax gasoline) and those below it (who subsidize it). The overall shape of many trend lines is driven by changes in benchmark price. In general, countries that tax gasoline also allow the price to fluctuate in tandem with global prices, while those that subsidize gasoline keep their prices fixed for long periods. All prices are in constant 2015 USD per litre.”
Second, the lower lines are much less squiggly. That means that countries which subsidize fuel, by charging a retail price below the world price, tend not to let the price move with market fluctuations—whereas taxes are more often defined in proportional terms.
Fixing the retail price has an interesting side-effect: when the world price of fuel drops, the subsidy—defined as the gap between the world price and the retail price—automatically falls. Cheaper gas masquerades as subsidy reform! Mahdavi et al note that most reductions in fuel subsidies since 2014 have come from this phenomenon—which is fine from a fiscal perspective, but isn't going to save the planet or our lungs from air pollution.
Figure 2: Net taxes and subsidies by country in 2003 versus 2015 – Ross et al (2017)
Source: reproduced from Ross et al (2017): “Eighty-three countries increased their net taxes or reduced their net subsidies between the first six months of 2015 and the first six months of 2003; they are shown in blue and lie above the 45◦ dashed line. By contrast, 46 countries reduced net taxes or increased net subsidies over the same period, and are shown in dark orange below the 45◦ line. While most countries had net taxes in both periods (placing them in the upper-right quadrant), 14 countries had subsidies in both periods (placing them in the lower-left quadrant). Just two countries changed from net taxers to net subsidizers (lower-right quadrant) while two others changed from net subsidizers to net taxers (upper-left quadrant). Text size is proportional to average gasoline consumption.”
Overall, are things getting better or not? The short answer is yes, but slowly. From 2003 to 2015, most countries started and ended as net taxers. And countries gradually raised gas taxes, shown by the cloud of names above the diagonal line in the upper-right quadrant. But most countries who started off with net subsidies kept those subsidies, as see in the population of the bottom left quadrant relative to the upper left.
So why do governments subsidize fuel? And why are climate-killing, anti-poor subsidies considered vaguely left-of-center and populist?
The proximate cause is obvious: attempts to remove subsidies are often met with angry protests. Subsidies are politically popular. But at a deeper level, why?
Trust in government appears to be one factor. In a forthcoming paper in Comparative Political Studies, Jordan Kyle looks at public support for replacing fuel subsidies in Indonesia with a targeted transfer program—in which, crucially, monies would have to pass through local government. Kyle documents large variation in corruption in existing programs and finds that this corruption is highly predictive of support for fuel subsidy reform. In villages where transfers tend to go missing, poor households in particular would prefer to keep inefficient fuel subsidies than move to a transfer system.
In a separate project in Tanzania with colleagues Nancy Birdsall, Jim Fishkin from Stanford, and Mujobu Moyo, we found hints of a similar dynamic: citizens who have more trust in the current government were more supportive of exporting Tanzania’s recently discovered natural gas reserves and using the money for other purposes—whereas those with low trust were somewhat more inclined toward using the gas on shore or subsidizing fuel.
The technocratic hope, embodied in India’s Aadhaar system of biometric identification, is that new technology will make it possible to replace inefficient subsidies with reliable electronic transfers that don’t leak and are beyond the reach of local corruption and rent-seeking. My colleagues Neeraj Mittal, Anit Mukherjee, and Alan Gelb have documented in detail how the Indian government has pursued this goal with the reform of cooking fuel subsidies. The politics of Aadhaar remain contentious to say the least.
Using their price data, Ross and Mahdavi have now turned to exploring the determinants of successful (i.e. lasting) reform, asking who raises the retail price of gas and when? That work is still in process, but preliminary results suggest a few factors. Reform is more likely when prices are low (so a price hike is less painful), countries face sovereign risk (so the expense of subsidies bites), and elections are far off.
At the end of the seminar, Ross noted that so far their model has very little explanatory power. A slew of political and economic factors can't seem to predict when fuel subsidy reform will happen. And that seems to be a good metaphor for experts’ understanding of this topic more broadly. Fuel subsidies are bad economics. They cost gobs of money, increase carbon emissions, and fail to reach the poor. But they remain popular, often with the people we think benefit the least.
Of course, the world hasn’t stood still since we hit “send” on our manuscript in October 2016. The scientific and economic literature on the importance of forests for climate and development continues to grow. More noticeably, near-term politics have shifted in decidedly unhelpful ways, dominated by the new American presidential administration. However, the fundamental messages of our book remain as important and urgent as ever: tropical forests are an undervalued asset for fighting climate change and promoting development, and payment-for-performance finance holds promise as a way for rich countries to partner with developing countries to reduce deforestation.
If we were to write a second edition to Why Forests? Why Now? today we’d have plenty of new material to add. Chapter by chapter, here’s a roundup of a few of the most significant developments of 2017:
New evidence confirms that tropical deforestation is a big part of the climate problem—and tropical forests are an even bigger part of the solution.
In Chapter 2 we described how carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation are a large share of the climate problem and keeping tropical forests standing can be an even larger share of the potential solution. New research is showing how deforestation warms the planet in more ways than just by releasing carbon dioxide: Natalie Mahawold and her colleagues quantified how tropical deforestation affects the climate through methane and nitrous oxide emissions, while Natalie Schultz and her colleagues quantified the effect of deforestation on local temperatures, with daytime heating exceeding nighttime cooling, especially in the tropics. New studies have affirmed the critical role of forest protection in meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement: avoiding deforestation and other land-based climate solutions can contribute more than one-third of the abatement needed to meet a 2 ˚C climate goal, according to Bronson Griscom and his colleagues, and one-quarter of the abatement needed to meet a 1.5 ˚C target, according to Stephanie Roe and her colleagues.
Even more links have emerged between tropical forests and development.
Forests are still the best option for carbon capture and storage.
In Chapter 5 we showed how reducing deforestation can make the global response to climate change cheaper, cooler, and faster. We illustrated how forest protection is far more ready than other carbon-capture-and-storage prospects with a comparison to the ill-fated Kemper “clean coal” plant in Mississippi. After years of delays, cost overruns, and corruption allegations, the Kemper CCS project was finally shuttered in June 2017. The pan-tropical modeling by Jonah Busch and Jens Engelmann that underpinned the book’s estimates of how much deforestation could be reduced where and at what cost was published in Environmental Research Letters in December.
A field trial shows that paying to keep trees standing pays off.
In Chapter 6 we recounted the history of decades of initiatives intended to “make forests worth more alive than dead”—non-timber forest products, bioprospecting, ecotourism, and the like. A new paper by Seema Jayachandran and her colleagues was the first to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of payments for ecosystem services using the gold-standard randomized controlled trial method, finding that emissions could be avoided for $2.60 per ton of carbon dioxide by paying landowners in Uganda to keep trees standing on their property. This adds another strand to a rope of evidence finding that forest protection offers plentiful emission reductions for less than $10/ton.
New research indicates that formalizing indigenous land rights can make a difference in reducing deforestation.
In Chapter 7 we presented approaches that have been shown to stop deforestation, both in Brazil and beyond. These include designating protected areas, recognizing the territories of indigenous peoples, enforcing forest laws, and paying land owners for their forests’ ecosystem services, as well as limiting the destructive potential of roads and clearing for the production of agricultural commodities. Empirical evidence on the effect of formalizing greater land rights for indigenous people is nascent, but that’s starting to change. Allan Blackman and his colleagues showed that awarding land title to indigenous people reduced deforestation in Peru.
Progress toward deforestation-free commodity supply chains is moving slowly.
In Chapter 8 we described how global demand for commodities produced in the tropics is a key driver of deforestation, and how perverse policies in consumer countries such as biofuel subsidies exacerbate the problem. We also identified “demand-side” policies that could be part of the solution by providing incentives for legal and sustainable production. A 2016 assessment documented slow progress toward achieving corporate targets to get deforestation out of commodity supply chains, and multi-stakeholder coalitions are now focusing their attention on implementation at the scale of subnational jurisdictions.
The action on REDD+ is now at the country level.
In Chapter 9 we recounted the fraught history of international negotiations on forests, and how the link to climate change shifted a confrontational dynamic to one of cooperation on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). With endorsement of REDD+ in the Paris Agreement, the center of gravity has shifted to country-level implementation in the context of Nationally Determined Contributions toward the goals of the Agreement. More than two dozen countries have now submitted reference levels to the UNFCCC as a step towards eligibility for results-based payments under REDD+, although many are incomplete.
Forest politics remain volatile in Brazil and Indonesia.
In Chapter 10 we analyzed the political economy of forest resource management in developing countries, with a particular focus on Brazil and Indonesia. In both countries, domestic constituencies for forest conservation have continued to struggle against the forces of deforestation-as-usual, while international actors have applied a mixture of carrots and sticks to incentivize reform. In Brazil, an uptick in deforestation in 2016, attributed in part to law enforcement leniency in the midst of a broader political and economic crisis, led to a decrease in performance-based REDD+ payments in accordance with the provisions of its agreement with Norway. In 2016, Indonesia became the first country in the world to obtain the right to issue licenses for the export of legally certified timber to the European Union, reflecting progress in addressing illegal logging. In 2017, government efforts to protect carbon-rich peatlands were dealt a setback when, in the face of industry pressure, the Supreme Court struck down a 2017 ministerial regulation imposing new obligations on holders of fast-growing timber concessions.
In the US, hopes for action on forests and climate have shifted to non-federal leadership.
In Chapter 11 we focused on the politics of REDD+ finance in rich countries, describing how recognition of reduced tropical deforestation as a cost-effective climate mitigation option layered on top of existing rationales for international cooperation to protect forests, such as conservation of biodiversity. In 2017, support for international cooperation on forests weathered national elections in Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In contrast, the unexpected results of the US 2016 presidential election, and the subsequent announcement of the Trump administration’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, dashed any hopes of stepping up US finance for forests and climate change. However, the abdication of climate leadership at the federal level has injected new energy into non-federal initiatives such as the State of California’s cap-and-trade program, which is now linked to the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, and retains the possibility of including international forest offsets in the future.
The missing piece? It’s still finance.
In Chapter 12 we described how the availability of international finance has fallen far short of the amount needed to constitute meaningful incentives for change in tropical forest countries, and how disbursement of pledged REDD+ funds has been slowed by a process of “aidification” by donor agencies. In 2017, the board of the Green Climate Fund approved a $500 million pilot program for results-based payments for REDD+, while a handful of countries inched their way toward concluding the first Emission Reduction Performance Agreements under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s Carbon Fund. And a report assessing progress toward Goals 8 and 9 of the New York Declaration on Forests revealed the continuing large gap between forest mitigation potential and available funding. So finance remains the missing piece.
2018 will no doubt be another exciting year for tropical forests, climate, and development. We invite you to start it off right by downloading a free copy of Why Forests? Why Now?
This post originally appeared on theguardian.com, as part of CGD’s sponsorship of the Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network. Frances Seymour is now a distinguished senior fellow at the World Resources Institute.
If tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third after China and the United States as a source of emissions. Currently a large part of the problem, forests can be an even bigger part of the solution because trees offer the potential to achieve negative emissions. For example, ending tropical deforestation and allowing damaged forests to recover could reduce global net emissions by up to 30 percent.
The 2015 Paris agreement recognises the importance of forests in achieving climate goals. The agreement incorporates a framework of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (Redd+). The “plus” connotes the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Here are three reasons why Redd+ is a valuable tool in the fight against climate change.
1. It offers a low-cost path to climate stability
Paying developing countries to reduce deforestation is one of the cheapest emission mitigation strategies available to industrialised countries. It allows them to take on more aggressive climate targets at a lower additional cost. Bilateral Redd+ agreements have been drawn up with commitments of only $5 (£4) per tonne of avoided emissions, compared to the $100 per tonne estimates for “clean coal” technologies.
Brazil has led the world in cutting emissions by reducing deforestation in the Amazon. And it did so at an out-of-pocket cost of only one-third the amount spent on hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. And that reasonable expenditure does not take into account all the other benefits produced by standing forests such as generating fresh water for drinking, irrigation, and hydropower.
2. It encourages better international cooperation
While funding for developing assistance is always under pressure, it is particularly so in times of economic austerity and resurgent nationalism. An inconvenient truth is that decades of aid to the forestry sector has not turned the tide on tropical deforestation. But due to its novel payment-for-performance feature, Redd+ promises to be different by focusing on ultimate outcomes rather than proximate inputs.
If the desired results are not achieved, no payment is made. This feature of Redd+ is also politically attractive to developing country governments. A focus on results frames payments as a business transaction among equal partners rather than a paternalistic relationship between donors and recipients.
3. It helps developing countries be part of the global climate solution
Developing countries increasingly recognise that protecting forests is in their own interest, above and beyond the opportunity to obtain results-based finance. Many have signalled their intention to reduce emissions from deforestation as part of their national contributions to reaching the global climate goals, and have pledged to do more with international support.
The map below indicates the dozens of countries that are taking part in internationally-funded Redd+ programmes. Only those highlighted in orange have so far been promised any performance-based reward for success.
Only those highlighted in orange have so far been promised any performance-based reward for success. Source.
If Redd+ is so attractive to industrialised and developing countries alike, why hasn’t more funding been promised? Here are three criticisms put forward by aid agencies, and why they no longer hold up.
1. “It’s hard to measure forest-based emission reductions”
It used to be extremely difficult to monitor forest loss. Before images from satellites became widely available and affordable, it was almost impossible to know if remote areas of forest had been protected or cleared. But now advances in remote sensing technologies have made it possible to detect forest cover change in areas the size of a baseball diamond every few days. In addition to this, our ability to estimate the carbon stock contained in forests is constantly improving. These tools make it feasible to estimate the carbon emissions that result from forest loss with sufficient accuracy to provide a sound basis for results-based payments.
2. “There’s a high risk of corruption”
Some aid agencies have been reluctant to assign funds on a payment-for-performance basis due to fears of corruption. But compared to traditional funding for project participation, results-based finance offers fewer opportunities for diverting funds because payments are not made unless agreed outcomes are achieved.
3. “It has adverse impacts on communities”
To address possible risks to the rights and interests of local communities when a value is placed on forest carbon, principles for safeguards and benefit-sharing have been built into Redd+. Indeed, indigenous groups have used Redd+ policy forums at national and international levels to advance their agendas, and have begun to access a share of Redd+ finance directly.
The main complaint of Redd+ opponents is that buying the carbon protection services of developing countries lets rich, heavily polluting nations off the hook in reducing their own emissions. Let’s be clear: we need both to end deforestation and reduce emissions in rich countries. As Why Forests? Why Now?, the new book that I’ve written with Jonah Busch details, payment-for-performance for protecting tropical forests can be structured in ways to ensure that emission reductions are real and additional. By doing so, rich countries are “buying their way up” rather than “buying their way out”.
The science, economics, and politics of Redd+ are finally aligned. It’s time for results-based finance to follow.
President Trump’s recent decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement—what does it mean for the agreement? For the climate? And for the US? CGD senior fellows Scott Morris, director of CGD’s US Development Policy Initiative, and Jonah Busch, coauthor of the recent book on climate change Why Forests? Why Now?, join this week’s podcast to discuss.
When President Trump announced his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement recently, CGD senior fellow Jonah Busch described the move in a CGD blogpost as a "shameful act of self-harm." Given the chorus of good intentions from other world leaders, as well as governors and mayors in the US, Busch offers advice for how they can step up on climate action, in this edition of the CGD podcast as well as in a follow-up, more forward-looking blogpost How Leaders Condemning Trump’s Paris Pullout Can Match Words with Deeds on Climate.
"It’s great that these many political leaders have signed on,” says Busch, “and I hope that they start turning these into climate action. If they do, they will go a long way toward filling the gap."
My other podcast guest, Scott Morris, senior fellow and director of CGD's US Development Policy Initiative, agrees with Busch’s characterization of the president’s decision as harming the US, which, he says, has traditionally shared a sense of common purpose with other countries.
“In my mind, the politics of this globally have very, very wide ramifications beyond climate—and that’s certainly not to sell climate short,” he says. “It’s a hugely consequential issue, but it really implicates a much wider issue where the modus operandi, particularly as a leader among nations, has been to work in this community of nations. And what we are seeing from this administration in the very justification for the withdrawal is a flat out rejection of that approach. And that really is deeply concerning for a wider range of issues.”
Last Thursday President Trump announced he’d withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement—a shameful act of self-harm. Condemnation has been swift, widespread, and gratifying. But if dangerous climate change is to be prevented then dissenting statements must be backed up with strong climate policies. Fortunately some countries, states, cities, and businesses are already matching words with deeds on climate. Here’s a rundown:
The greatest climate success story of the last decade is one many haven’t heard of because it’s not about energy, it’s about trees. While the most ambitious countries and states aspire to cut emissions 80 percent by mid-century, it’s worth noting that Brazil already cut deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent between 2004-2014, making it the country that reduced emissions more than any other. It did so while growing beef and soy production, and it cost governments just one-third the cost of the Rio Olympics, as Frances Seymour and I describe in our book, Why Forests? Why Now?
In the wake of Trump’s announcement, a bipartisan group of governors from nine states formed a United States Climate Alliance aimed at meeting the US climate goals, chaired by the governors of California, New York, and Washington. Ten more governors have expressed support for the Paris Agreement but have not yet joined the Alliance (the most up-to-date list seems to be on Wikipedia).
State governments can match climate words with deeds by putting a price on carbon pollution. This is happening not just in California, where the legislature is vigorously debating alternative proposals for extending cap-and-trade as a cost-effective way to meet the state’s ambitious climate targets. Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe has ordered a carbon cap on power plants. And several gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey have stated intentions for the state to rejoin the northeastern states’ cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Since Trump’s announcement nearly 200 mayors and counting have adopted the Paris Agreement. To back words with deeds, they can make their cities higher-density with more alternatives to driving, as Josh Barro writes. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg contends that the US will meet the climate targets it set in 2015 on the basis of actions by states and cities alone; this seems overly optimistic, but certainly worth a try.
The list of captains of industry with harsh words for President Trump included Apple’s Tim Cook, Disney’s Bob Iger, General Electric’s Jeff Immelt, and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein. But even better than critical statements is demonstrating the profitability of climate-friendly businesses. An Elon Musk disassociation from Trump is fine; low-cost Tesla batteries and electric cars are far better. It’s worth noting that technological advances, while critically needed, are no substitute for strong public policies on climate change—both are needed.
Lost in the noise from the announcement, Exxon Mobil shareholders passed a resolution over management’s objections instructing the company to report on the impact of climate protection policies on their business. (The New York Attorney General is fast on the heels of Exxon Mobil for misleading investors on the costs of climate change.)
President Trump’s announcement told the world he doesn’t care to act on climate, but he’d been showing this for months by deprioritizing climate within executive agencies and issuing executive orders to unravel his predecessor’s achievements on clean power, fuel efficiency, methane emissions, pipelines, drilling on federal lands, and more. However, Trump has had less success pushing an anti-climate agenda through Congress. He has failed in efforts to roll back other Obama-era methane regulations and cut funding for clean energy research and the Landsat satellite program, for example. I hope climate supporters in Congress don’t just oppose Trump’s announcement through statements, like those from Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), but continue to fight to uphold critical functions of the federal government on climate through the remainder of President Trump’s time in office and beyond.
The pronouncements on climate from within the United States and around the world in the last few days have been inspiring; now let’s hope strong words lead to more strong actions.