Posts Tagged 'Politics'

Dr. R.K. Pachauri on Climate Change

rkpachauri_-_high_resolutionDr. R.K. Pachauri on Climate Change


Dr. R.K. Pachauri is the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The IPCC, under the stewardship of Dr. Pachauri, received the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2007, along with Al Gore. 

Dr. Pachauri answered a few questions on Climate Change for Liberal Voice.



Q. Though the scientific world continues to remain polarised on the anthropogenic contribution to Climate Change, there does seem to be a broader recognition of the Global Warming trend. What is your take on this debate?


A. The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC has provided substantial new evidence on the nature and causes of climate change. The reason why there is growing concern not only in the scientific community but among policymakers as well on the anthropogenic contribution to climate change is because this is an issue on which we can take action. We naturally cannot do anything about natural factors that contribute to climate change. And given the fact that in a relatively short period of time i.e. since industrialization, we have caused a serious imbalance in the climate system, it is essential for us to accept responsibility for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the earth’s climate.


Q. Does there really exist a first-best (in the sense of Pareto optimality) solution to the problem? What is the short- and long-term trade-off between the attempt to check Climate Change and economic growth?


A. We have clearly brought out the fact that all the technologies that are required for initiating a programme of stringent mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions are either available or due to be commercialized soon. We have also shown that the cost of stringent mitigation would amount to less than 3 percent of global GDP in 2030. This, of course, does not take into account several co-benefits from mitigation which could actually convert this cost of less than 3 percent into a negative cost. In that sense there are several Pareto optimal solutions that are available to us, but never get translated into action in the market place because of pricing distortions or the exclusion of externalities in our calculations. In my view, both in the short and long term, there is no trade off between mitigating climate change and economic growth. This is particularly so if we take into account intergenerational dimensions of optimality.


Q. Do you believe a decentralised (country-specific) or a centralised solution (global level) would be better for the task at hand?


A. Essentially it is country specific solutions that would be most desirable, simply because conditions differ from one country to other, and therefore, so would factor costs. Variations would also exist in the comparative advantage of each country associated with specific projects. However, there should be options for trading across countries in arriving at projects that would contribute to a global reduction in emissions. This, of course, presupposes that there would be some regulation at the global level that would place limits on emissions for each country to make trading in solutions possible in an efficient and cost effective way.


Q. What are the major pros and cons in favour and against the two major market creating policies (for carbon) that are on the table at the moment, viz. cap-and-trade and carbon tax. Does either of them gain your personal approval?


A. Both solutions, namely cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, have their merits, but what is essential is to see that any scheme for either approach is preceded by adequate analysis to ensure optimality. There are also administrative complexities that need to be taken into account before implementing either scheme, but the world now has enough experience in both, that could help in design of a system in any country. I am personally in favour of using both methods, and it is really up to a society to decide which one it prefers. I do not see inherent weaknesses, but there could be major deficiencies or distortions in the way either programme is implemented.


Q. The viewpoint that USA and China must take up their fair share of the remedial process has been put forward time and time again. Is there no way forward without the cooperation of both these countries?


A. I think we should not forget the principle of common but differentiated responsibility that is part of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The problem of climate change has been caused by a stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and not by current flows. In that sense the first move has to be made by the developed countries. That indeed is the equitable and fair approach to dealing with the problem. Developing countries can implement certain measures, but this should happen with the provision of resources to take care of incremental costs and access to technologies which at the margin would cost more than conventional technologies. These available technologies which may be more polluting at the global level, but in terms of private cost are much cheaper. I believe the only way forward to get the cooperation of the developing countries is for the US to lead and make up for the time that has been lost since 1992 when the UNFCCC came into existence.


Q. Among the possible solutions, the CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration) has been eagerly awaited, and currently a pilot project is being run in Germany to estimate the viability of the technology.


A. The IPCC has prepared a special report on carbon capture and storage which provides an assessment of the potential of CCS technology and the need for much greater research and development and project implementation experience before this approach becomes economically viable. I believe we are not at a stage where CCS can provide a credible and large scale option for mitigation.


Q. With the global financial crisis on the front burner for most economies, would you say that the endeavour against climate change is not receiving adequate attention?


A. Indeed the global financial crisis is a serious distraction for policymakers who would like to take action in the field of climate change. However, I think we would see solutions for the economic crisis that also simultaneously deal with mitigation such as President-elect Obama’s plan for generating green jobs and ensuring a green recovery of the economy. Thinkers and policymakers are very soon going to move away from fire fighting solutions to basic changes that would address systemic problems inherent in the pattern of economic growth pursued in the past. As a result of such an effort we are bound to see climate change being dealt with as a part of the package to address the current economic crisis.


Q. Would you view the financial crisis as an opportunity to get the ball rolling quicker in terms of heavy investment in Climate Change technologies to in turn have the Keynesian macroeconomic benefits that are much needed at this stage?


A. My conviction is that the financial crisis is indeed an opportunity for ensuring large scale investments in greener infrastructure, greener technologies and greener products and processes by which we would not only produce large macroeconomic benefits but also deal effectively with the problem of climate change. I believe a great deal of this can be done with very low or even negative costs.







Liberalism after the Death of Politics

Liberalism after the Death of Politics

                                                                            – by Seth Thévoz


For much of the last century, British Liberals have been met with derision. Whilst liberalism has flourished at the heart of government in countries such as Canada, in Britain it has been accused of being abstract, vague, and unconnected to the day-to-day rough-and-tumble of politics. Indeed, the remaining proponents of liberalism in the UK are something of an oddity: They believe in something. Amidst the professinalisation of politics, and its subjection to the process of advertising, the British political spectrum does not have much to offer by way of ideology. In surveying the landscape around us, we shall see that British politics is both very hostile to ideologies, and yet has never been in more need of an ideology, especially liberalism.


Socialism is dead. That much is certain. What allegedly left-wing politicians now call ‘socialism’ or ‘social democracy’ or even its loosest ‘New Labour’ permutations are so far removed from the ideological roots of socialism, or indeed ideological roots of any kind, that it is more a combination of pragmatism, and a desire to capture the electoral inheritence of the traditional Labour coalition; a vast alliance of inner cities, progressive suburbs, declining industry, and a unionised workforce. The Labour Party in its present ‘New’ form is a deeply cynical exercise in power politics that seeks to dominate elections by occupying ‘the middle ground’; the problem with New Labour permanently seeking to occupy ‘the middle ground’, is that it is not a fixed point. There is no principle involved in ‘The Third Way’, indeed, as political issues and debates vary every year, so the middle ground oscillates wildly between the left and the right, the liberal and the authoritarian. To quote Tony Blair himself, “I have taken from my party everything they thought they believed in. I have stripped them of their core beliefs. What keeps it together is power.” That holds true of the New Labour coalition.


Turning to the more traditionally socialist elements of the Labour Party, they are doomed to pursue small-C conservatism. Not the conservatism of the economic right, but the moderate conservatism which comes from a lack of imagination; an overdependence on tried and trusted methods; a distrust of innovation. It is the conservatism that does not question the old wisdom that the Trade Unions know best, collective wisdom is always superior to that of the individual, and so the mantra of ‘might is right’ survives through the majority always suppressing the minority, whether it be through the electoral college of Trade Union bloc votes, or the flagrant disregard for ‘outsiders’ who are not part of the Labour movement – consider, for example, the unabashedly exclusionist immigration policies of the Wilson and Callaghan governments in the late 1960s and 1970s which bordered on racism. It is thus perhaps unsurprising that traditional socialism, with its tribalism and chauvinism, has few adherents today even in the Labour Party.


On the other side of the spectrum, traditional, paternalistic conservatism is dead also; at least, within the Conservative party. If paternalistic conservatives can bear to wear jeans, they might find a reasonable imitation of their creed amidst the bland centrism of New Labour, but certainly not within the Conservative Party. Despite the attempts of Major and even Cameron to lay claim to the old ‘One Nation’ mantle, the Conservative Party today seems suspiciously far from the ideas of Disraeli and Macmillan that resolved to unite the ‘two nations; the rich and the poor.’ Even with their new ‘cuddly’ image, the Conservatives have not recently been able to lay claim to the title of ‘unifier’. What Alan Duncan referred to as The Tory Taleban still carry enough weight to have made the party divisive, and abrasive to many on issues such as the repeal of Section 28, William Hague’s populist U-turning in opposing lower fuel taxes one week, and proposing the lowest of all the next. This Tory Taleban does still wield a strong streak of Thatcherite dogma – a good counter, it could be argued, to the idea that politics is devoid of ideology. But they are ever increasingly being marginalised by the slick, professional, insincere image being projected – in the case of Margaret Thatcher during the last election, quite literally the embarrassing relative being kept locked up in the attic. We live in a political culture where one is penalised for sincerity, and rewarded for blandness and a lack of any views whatsoever.


The Liberal Democrats do not claim to be a home for all the vanquished and sidelined ideologies – though it is certainly worth mourning the passing away of a politics based on the engagement of ideas. What they do represent is a vehicle for Liberal ideas amidst a political process which no longer places great emphasis on ideas of any kind. Perhaps the massively prescriptive ideologies of past centuries have had their day – but if so, there is no satisfactory successor to them.


If ideology is to be reinvigorated within politics, surely liberalism is the framework for it. One of liberalism’s many strengths is that it is a means, rather than an end – a system of governing through due process, safeguarding against abuses of power. Liberal systems can end up paving the way for governments of the left, or the right – or they can remain Liberal. Witness, for example, how the United States was founded upon one of the most liberal constitutions, but how it has grown profoundly conservative over the years in its defence of that original constitution. Contrast this with the gradual reshaping of Canada over the years, how the increasing progressive liberalism of the Trudeau years culminated in the constitution of 1982, and how successive Conservative governments since then have still not succeeded in removing the underlying liberal consensus in everyday attitudes forged over the past few decades.


No liberal could ever dispute the central message of Voltaire’s argument, “I may vehemently disagree with what you say, but I would die for your right to say it.” What a vibrant, liberal democracy needs is a meaningful dialogue of opposing views to be considered by actively participating citizens. Ever lazy parties with ever lazier, simplified slogans, asking less and less of the people is not the way to engage people. What is needed is a Liberal approach based on devolving power to the people; taking power out of the hands of Whitehall, and giving it to local councils. If local elections were meaningful, and had real power over local schools and hospitals, they would actually be worth turning up for, instead of generating dismal 40% turnouts, and votes based on vague impressions rather than real interest. If local and national issues were separated, then elections could actually be about specific issues, instead of once every five years being a maelstrom of parochial referenda irrelevant to the elections at hand. What is needed is nothing less than a Liberal reshaping of the constitution of this country, to restore a sense of ownership in our politics and our politicians. Only with this level of attention to detail can we get out of the rut of advertising agency politics.


The writer has graduated from Cambridge in History and Politics, and was the CSLD chair in the year 2005.