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Confronting the Twin Tragedies of Open Access

By James K. Boyce, Director of the Political Economy Research Institute’s program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment and Professor, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts

To combat global warming we must confront two tragedies of open access.

The first used to be called the “tragedy of the commons,” a misnomer since societies often devise rules to manage common property sustainably. The problem is that when there is open access to a scarce resource, individuals have no incentive to conserve it and instead will overexploit it, even to the point of collapse. In this case the scarce resource is the limited capacity of the Earth’s biosphere to absorb and recycle our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.The second tragedy of open access is less widely recognized but no less real. Although in theory open-access resources are equally available to all, in practice some people are, in George Orwell’s haunting phrase, “more equal than others.” Open access often generates short-run benefits for those who least need them and long-run costs for those who can least afford them. Global warming is a good example. Rich countries burn more fossil fuels than do poor countries, generating more carbon dioxide emissions. And within any given country, richer people benefit most from the fossil-fueled economy by virtue of the facts that they consume more goods and services.

Meanwhile it is poor countries and poor people who stand to bear the greatest costs of global warming. They are less able to invest air conditioners, sea walls, or other adaptations. They live closer to the edge: the rich can weather a 20 percent decline in their real incomes, for example, with relative ease, but for the poor the same decline may be the margin between life and death. And the places that climate models show will be hit hardest by global warming — including drought-prone regions of sub-Saharan Africa and coastal south and southeast Asia — are home to some of the world’s poorest people.

Crafting climate solutions requires us to address both tragedies. At the international level, the key to a comprehensive agreement to reduce emissions is the principle that every person in the world has an equal right to the planet’s limited carbon-storage capacity. In exempting the developing countries from emission targets, the Kyoto Protocol implicitly embraced this principle. But by basing targets for industrialized countries on past emissions, Kyoto ignored it and instead rewarded countries for their past pollution. To devise an accord that is acceptable to all nations, it will be necessary to build it around the principle of equal entitlements.

Does this mean that the majority of people in the industrialized countries must suffer a cut in their standard of living to safeguard the global environment? Not if the same egalitarian principle is applied within countries, too. The creation of national “sky trusts,” which receive revenue from the sale of carbon permits to the firms that bring fossil fuels into the economy, and then recycle the money equally to every woman, man, and child, will protect the real incomes of lower-income and middle-income households. The cost of carbon permits ultimately will be passed to consumers, so all households pay more for goods and services, with the amount depending on how much they consume. Upper-income households, who generally consume the most, will pay the most. Since all receive the same sky-trust dividend, households who consume less than the average will come out ahead financially. Because incomes and consumption are skewed toward the rich in every country, this revenue recycling would protect the real incomes of the middle class as well as raising the incomes of the poor.

Well-designed policies can combine environmental protection with income protection for the majority of the world’s people. This combination is not only ethically desirable, but also politically necessary to win support for effective policies to fight global warming.

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Afghan children fly kites for peace

To mark the International Day of Peace, some 100 Afghan children flew kites decorated with doves and olive branches in Kabul.

Today’s event, on Nader Khan hill, was one of many around the country in the final days of a two-month campaign launched by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the global campaign group Peace One Day. Kite flying was banned under the brutal Taliban regime which was ousted in 2001.

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First Steps on Climate Change

By Representative Tom Udall (D-NM)

As Congress takes its initial steps to address the global warming crisis, I am learning a lesson that is as true in public policy as it is in sky diving: the first step is always the hardest.

Thanks to the work of activists from Al Gore to the Union of Concerned Scientists, people from all walks of life finally have begun to pay attention to global warming. Large majorities in countries around the world now acknowledge that global warming constitutes a serious and immediate threat to the world’s ecology and economy. Yet strong Congressional action to address the problem often has seemed a distant hope.The world wants action, but we have little experience with the kind and magnitude of action that the problem demands. To effectively address global warming, we must rethink our whole approach to the politics and economics of energy. We must reshape our energy markets to internalize an externality of global proportions. America did it with the Apollo program, and we must do it again. However, it will require renewed trust between citizens and government, and between nations.

Unfortunately, that trust has not yet been built. In the U.S. Congress, regulating carbon dioxide and other emissions presents a monumental challenge because of the far-reaching implications for our nation’s economy. The science underpinning the need for emissions reductions is indisputable, but the American people must see that a plan for tackling global warming can be good for business and workers. On the international level, no country wants to accept curbs on emissions until they know that other countries will also do their part. The United States, which produces 36 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, must play a leadership role on this issue, but we cannot succeed alone. Through our example and our diplomacy, we must build a global consensus that every country will do what it takes to protect our planet. We are all in this together, and the solution requires a global effort.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tasked the 110th Congress with crafting legislation to combat global warming. The House took a first step this past August when my Renewable Electricity Standard amendment to the energy bill comfortably passed the House. My amendment requires America’s investor-owned electricity supplying utilities to provide 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures by 2020. Studies have shown that an RES will reduce global warming emissions at a rate equivalent to taking 71 million cars off the road. A more comprehensive global warming bill is needed, however. I believe it must set achievable emissions reductions goals without harming the U.S. economy. I introduced such a bill during the 109th Congress and will be doing so again soon. These measures are modest because they set achievable goals and protect our workers and our economy. But they are revolutionary because they set a precedent for concerted action against climate change.

Through pragmatic measures like these, Americans will learn that environmental sustainability can produce jobs, encourage investment and boost the economy. Leaders around the world will learn that America will be part of the solution to global climate change, not part of the problem. With policies like these, we will finally take that crucial first step towards a sustainable future.

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UN hosts premiere of anti-trafficking film ‘Trade’

The world premiere of Trade, a movie highlighting the horrors of human trafficking, will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Tonight’s premiere of Trade is being co-hosted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), film distribution company Roadside Attractions and international human rights organization Equality Now.

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The movie is based on “The Girls Next Door,” a 2004 New York Times Magazine article by Peter Landesman, and features Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline.

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Driving into the Sunrise of a Sustainable Future

By Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes A/S

Deadly tornados, hurricanes, extreme and unexpected weather, melting glaciers — climate change is here. Regardless of the argument of who is to blame for it, global warming has sunk its warm claws into our planet, becoming the greatest global challenge of the 21st century.

Countering this challenge requires each one of us to do our share — use fluorescent light bulbs, choose renewable energy, use energy-saving appliances, drive less, drive fuel-efficient cars, use environmentally-friendly fuel.

In the large schema, many measures are being taken and are in the planning to fight global warming. Biofuel has emerged as one of the top warriors in this battle. Experts foresee that biofuels could achieve a 25% share of the liquid fuels market in the future.The biofuel industry today is based on first generation starch and sugar conversion — it is an environmentally friendly renewable energy source that is one of a few technologies available for limiting the negative impacts of road transport. Second generation biofuels will be made from what is deemed as waste matter, including corn stover, bagasse, and other agricultural and industrial by-products, but also energy crops like switchgrass, which binds more carbon and requires less fertilizer than traditional crops. The technology is still new and it will take about three to five years to make it commercially viable.

Biofuel reduces carbon dioxide emissions (second generation biofuel will reduce this by nearly 90%); creates jobs and stimulates development in rural areas and developing countries; helps alleviate poverty by improving economies; and, last but not the least, gives developing countries access to energy, a prerequisite for economic development.

However, the production of biofuel can do more harm than good if pursued irresponsibly. Some unfortunate impacts are difficult or impossible to entirely mitigate, and we may have to accept them as necessary costs in order to reap greater benefits. Most of these issues can be effectively tackled if developing countries as well as developed countries continue to actively promote the production of biofuel in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.

The international community must come together to exploit the benefits of biofuel and minimize any unfortunate impacts.

The biofuel industry can and will develop the technology to make commercial ethanol from cellulosic feedstock, which will increase benefits and mitigate costs. Politicians around the world must ensure that standards for sustainable biofuel production, including sustainable agricultural practices, are developed. A trustworthy global certification scheme for biofuels should be created and implemented as soon as possible. In addition, the academic community must supplement the industry in the quest to create innovative and sustainable solutions to counter global warming.

The end is not exactly near — but time is definitely up. We need to band together as a world community and save the planet; make sure we don’t melt glaciers while we tank up our cars.

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Public Service Announcement: Emmanuel Jal Concert

Emmanuel Jal thinks he’s 27 years old. Like all of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” Emmanuel says his birthday is New Years day — and guesses the year was 1980.

Emmanuel’s confusion should not come as a surprise. When he only was eight years old, Emmanuel left his hometown in Southern Sudan to join an Ethiopian-sponsored militia that was fighting against the Sudanese government. For the next four years Emmanuel fought as a child soldier in South Sudan’s devastating civil war, which lasted two decades and claimed more than 2 million lives. Then, at the age of twelve Emmanuel was rescued by Emma McCune, the late human rights activist who is the subject of the book Emma’s War (which is being turned into a film.)

Like his late rescuer, Emmanuel is also the subject of a forthcoming film. When I met him in a lunch organized by the documentary’s production team, it was apparent that he is still haunted by memories of life as a child soldier. When he wakes up each morning, he instinctively checks himself for bullet wounds. In one recurring nightmare, he is surrounded by enemy soldiers, but his gun won’t fire. “When I don’t talk about it for a few weeks, the nightmares stop,” says Emmanuel.

But Emmanuel does more than just talk about his experience as a child soldier — he raps about it. Emmanuel Jal is one of the rising stars of the world music scene. Check out his YouTube page and you will see why. His unique brand of hip-hop layered with African beats is taking the world music scene by storm. His song “Child Soldier” was featured on the soundtrack to Blood Diamond. USA Today calls him “Africa’s hottest rap star.”

Emmanuel is playing a concert tomorrow night in Washington, DC at Night Club Ibiza. Proceeds will benefit a foundation he has established to build poly-technical schools in Southern Sudan, which under the UN’s watch (which includes 10,000 peacekeepers) is slowly recovering from civil war. Those in the DC area should stop by, listen, and learn. You won’t be disappointed. You can buy tickets (only $15) by following this link.

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