Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Climate wars - Eagle vrs Dragon

It is always interesting to take a step back and have a quick look at what the world's two largest polluters are doing about climate change.

This neat little summary from PlanetArk speaks volumes although I am not sure what about.

It is clear that with the current rate of progress we had better get used to warmer temperatures (and more globally catastrophic events). I will be looking for viable vineyard locations in the north of England soon.


* China's latest five-year plan calls for a 20 percent cut in energy intensity by the end of 2010, from 2005 levels. Chinese authorities estimate this would cut the country's carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 1 billion tons. However, the effort has fallen behind schedule.

* Beijing also has set a goal for about 15 percent of the electricity it generates to come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

* China's fuel economy standards for its rapidly growing passenger vehicle fleet are more stringent than those in Australia, Canada and the United States. Average fuel economy for new vehicles was projected at 36.7 mpg in 2008.

* Some energy-intensive products for export no longer qualify for special tax breaks in an attempt to encourage energy efficiency.

* At a recent summit in Italy, China joined rich and poor countries acknowledging that global temperature increases should be limited to 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, a goal that would force deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

* But in a disappointment to environmentalists, China was among developing countries that would not commit to a goal of cutting world carbon emissions in half by 2050.

* Environmentalists also worry that China plans to significantly expand the number of coal-fired power plants that contribute to global warming.


* No national carbon-reduction goals have yet been set but the House of Representatives has narrowly passed legislation calling for industrial greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels, and 83 percent by 2050.

* Senate leaders say they are considering similar legislation. While a bill might be debated in October, the measure has not been introduced yet and a difficult fight is expected.

* If Congress fails to finish a bill, the Obama administration has indicated it will go ahead with regulations to control climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency, early next year, has the power to move ahead.

* Some states, such as California, have set their own goals for reducing emissions.

* An economic stimulus measure enacted in February included $30 billion for investments in renewable energy technology and improved energy transmission.

* With no agreement among policymakers over whether to expand non-polluting nuclear power, mostly because of waste storage problems and high construction costs, many fear that continued use of dirty coal will hobble climate change efforts until alternative methods can be developed.


Waterwars - Bear vrs Dragon

Things could get ugly.

Russia complains about Chinese border river project [PplanetArk]

MOSCOW - Russia complained about a major Chinese river project on Monday which it says will harm the Russian environment, the latest sign of strained relations between the two countries.

In a statement, Russia's Environment Ministry expressed "serious concern on information about the continuation of construction in China of drainage canals, which may make the river Argun shallow on Russian territory."

The Argun runs into the Amur river that acts as the frontier for Russia and China along a long stretch of their vast border.

The environmental complaint came a few days after a Chinese delegation met Russian officials to discuss the June 29 closure of a vast Moscow market which employed tens of thousands of Chinese.

"In light of the development of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, China urges the Russian side to take a historical perspective, legally resolve the situation and protect Chinese merchants' legal rights," Vice-Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said in a statement after the talks.

Moscow's Foreign Ministry later responded by saying China had agreed that the closure of Cherkizovsky market -- which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had said was a major focus of contraband goods -- should not be allowed to sour ties.

China and Russia are members, along with Brazil and India, of the BRIC alliance of major developing economies and want closer economic and diplomatic ties. Beijing agreed this year to lend Russian oil firms $25 billion in exchange for 20 years of oil supplies at below market rates.

In the latest grievance, Moscow complained that China's work on widening the Argun River, which had been suspended by a joint agreement in 2006, had restarted, according to satellite images taken between May 17 to July 17.

"According to our data, (the construction) can lead to significant negative consequences for the river Argun, its ecosystem, the life of which is linked to the river, as well as for the economic development of the trans-Baikal region," said Rinat Gizatulin, a ministry department chief.

Environmental organization WWF in May warned that the Chinese project could have a devastating impact.

"Of course, we're happy with the ministry's response. The Chinese plans would have serious consequences for the region on the Russian side of the border," said Evgeny Shvarts, director of conservation policy with WWF in Moscow.


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Left’s Civil War on Cap-and-Trade

Some of the "free market" blogs have interesting articles. This one gives some food for thought (and some good quotes).

Here are some quotes from this post.

The Left’s Civil War on Cap-and-Trade: Who Likes Political Capitalism? [MasterResource]

The political hijacking of climate legislation is why the Left is now embarrassingly split on the issue. And just maybe this is the opening wedge to get the Left to reconsider climate alarmism in its wider dimensions. After all, higher energy costs disproportionately affect the poor and slow the drive to mass-electrify the developing world. And the climate crusade is resurrecting (uneconomic) nuclear power–a Left no-no. And geoengineering–that too is an unwanted stepchild of climate exaggeration.


There are good reasons for the Left to oppose the Waxman-Markey climate bill that is now in debate in the U.S. Senate.

1. HR 2454 does virtually nothing to reverse out the human influence on climate.
2. The political attempt to deal with the issue has been hijacked by, in Hansen’s words, “people in alligator shoes.”
3. Climate progressivism, led by cap-and-trade, is a throwback to Ken Lay’s Enron.
4. Carbon-code regulation for its own sake is dumb, vindictive, and elitist–an affront to the “little guy” rhetoric of the party in power.


Climate change deal has a Himalayan mountain to climb

The climate change debate saw the rift between development and developing countries widen. I have tried to point out numerous times just how big the gap is and that the chances of it narrowing are very slim. This article merely emphasises why a deal is close to impossible to achieve.

The fact that India reject "key scientific findings" is more worrying. What hope is there if basic science is not trusted.

Are the Himalayan glaciers melting or not? You would have thought that would be fairly simple to calculate.

IF Western science is correct populations in China and India are in huge trouble. That is the irony of this debate. It is developing countries will suffer the most from climate change.

Before reading on guess how many Himalayan glaciers there are?

a) 15
B) 1,500
C) 15,000
D) 150,000

India widens climate rift with west [FT]

A split between rich and poor nations in the run-up to climate-change talks widened on Thursday.

India rejected key scientific findings on global warming, while the European Union called for more action by developing states on greenhouse gas emissions.

Jairam Ramesh, the Indian environment minister, accused the developed world of needlessly raising alarm over melting Himalayan glaciers.

He dismissed scientists’ predictions that Himalayan glaciers might disappear within 40 years as a result of global warming.

“We have to get out of the preconceived notion, which is based on western media, and invest our scientific research and other capacities to study Himalayan atmosphere,” he said.

“Science has its limitation. You cannot substitute the knowledge that has been gained by the people living in cold deserts through everyday experience.”

Mr Ramesh was also clear that India would not take on targets to cut its emissions, even though developed countries are asking only for curbs in the growth of emissions, rather than absolute cuts.

His stance was at wide variance with that of Andreas Carlgren, his Swedish counterpart. Sweden holds the European Union’s revolving presidency until a conference in Copenhagen in December at which governments will try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto protocol on curbing greenhouse emissions – the main provisions of which expire in 2012.

Mr Carlgren said in Are, Sweden, that developing countries such as India, China and Brazil must propose more ambitious plans to reduce emissions if they were to receive finance from wealthy nations.

Rich and poor countries have been squabbling over the issue of financing for months, imperilling the outcome of the Copenhagen talks. Rich countries have not agreed to provide the funding that poor nations say is necessary to help them cut their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Mr Carlgren went on the offensive on Thursday, saying poorer countries must come up with firm plans to cut emissions before financing will be forthcoming.

States such as China and India have produced plans for curbing the growth in their emissions but these have not been formalised within the negotiating process.

Mr Carlgren also criticised rich countries for failing to agree to cut their emissions by the amounts needed. “So far, what we have seen from other countries is too low. We expect more from developed countries,” he said.

But the Swedish environment minister said poor countries must also do more to forge an agreement. “We are prepared to put money on the table. But it should also be said that if we don’t see significant reductions that will really deviate from business as usual . . . then there is no money,” Mr Carlgren said, singling out China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia. “We are also prepared to deliver financing, but we must see that there is something to pay for.”

India has taken the hardest line in the negotiations so far. Along with China, India refused at the meeting of the Group of Eight industrialised nations this month to sign up to a target of cutting global emissions by half by 2050. The countries were holding out to gain concessions from the west on financing.

The claims from Mr Ramesh that Western science was wrong on the question of melting Himalayan glaciers appeared to reinforce Delhi’s recalcitrant stance.

Mr Ramesh this week challenged Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, over her appeal to India to embrace a low-carbon future and not repeat the mistakes of the developed world in seeking fast industrialisation.

The consequences of depleted glaciers – sensitive to rising temperature and humidity – would be dire.

Seven of the world’s greatest rivers , including the Ganges and the Yangtze, are fed by the glaciers of the Himalayas and Tibet. They supply water to about 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Water supply is likely to become an increasing national security priority for both India and China as they seek to maintain high economic growth rates and sustain large populations dependent on farming. Some scientists have warned that rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra could become seasonal rivers as a result of global warming.

Indians are also fearful of weakening monsoon rains. Some parts of India, including Delhi, the capital, are still waiting anxiously for this year’s rains to come in earnest. A late, or a poor, monsoon would be a drag on economic growth.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, has described melting glaciers as a “canary in the climate-change coal mine”, warning that billions of people depend on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, power generation and agriculture.

Mr Ramesh said the rate of retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas varied from a “couple of centimetres a year to a couple of metres”, but that this was a natural process that had taken place occurred over the centuries. Some were, in fact, growing, he said.

The glaciers – estimated by India’s space agency to number about 15,000 – had also been affected by debris and the large number of tourists, he said.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

US should pay for carbon content

The blindingly obvious come back to the recent US regulation is summarised by the headline of this blog post. This is no surprise and shows why troubled negotiations are ahead.

It comes down to the simple question of whether the consumer or producer pays for the pollution caused by the production. If American consumers did not demand the product the pollution would not exist. Then we have the fact that a lot of the production in China is produced by US owned firms.

The US regulatory framework is flawed.

U.S. Should Pay for Carbon Content of Imported Goods: Locke [PlanetArk]

SHANGHAI - To address the serious threat of global warming, Americans should be required to "pay" for the carbon content of goods they consume from countries around the world, a top U.S. official said on Friday.

"It's important that those who consume the products being made all around the world to the benefit of America -- and it's our own consumption activity that's causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

Locke spoke to the business group after meetings this week with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other officials on how the two countries could work together to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

Unless China, the United States and other countries begin to reduce output of the heat-trapping gases, the world faces a "catastrophe" in the form of more frequent floods, droughts and rising sea levels, Locke said.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that creates a market for companies to trade permits to emit greenhouse gases, which would be capped at a certain level and then reduced over time.

The bill also contains "carbon tariffs" that would allow the United States to slap duties on imports of carbon-intensive goods such as steel, cement, paper and glass from countries that have not taken steps to reduce their own emissions.

Locke said Chinese officials raised concern about those provisions this week.

"They feel in essence it's a tax on their carbon activity," he said.

China has recently surpassed the United States as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Its emissions come largely from production of steel, cement, aluminum, paper and chemicals, most of which are consumed in China rather than exported.

In contrast, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come mainly from domestic consumption, such as fuels to heat and cool buildings and to power vehicles. Only about 25 percent of U.S. emissions are caused by factories.

Though U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed concern about the House "carbon tariffs," Locke said it was an open question whether he opposed them or not.

"The president has not taken a position on any particular element of the legislation," Locke said.

"It's simply premature to talk about individual pieces of the legislation without seeing it in it's totality," Locke said, noting the Senate still has to pass its version of the bill.

Once that happens and negotiations begin between the House and the Senate, the administration will weigh in more heavily on various elements of the bill, Locke said.


Water wars - India V Bangladesh round 1

This is the sort of headline I expect to see a lot more of in years to come.

The question is what Bangladesh can really do about it. Wait until this sort of event occurs in the middle east.

Bangladesh Ex-PM Asks India to Scrap River Dam Plan [PlanetArk]

DHAKA - The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) asked India on Saturday to scrap a controversial dam project on a common river which experts say could make two rivers in Bangladesh dry up, affecting millions.

India has approved plans for a 1,500 megawatt project at Tipaimukh on the Barak River, which flows from northeast India into Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

"We urge upon our neighbor to cancel the dam plan for the sake of millions in both countries who will be adversely affected," BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia told a meeting of politicians, experts and activists.

Experts warn that the dam could cause two Bangladeshi rivers -- the Surma and Kushiara in northeastern Sylhet -- to dry up.

Khaleda, a former prime minister, urged the Awami League government to change its "kneel-down policy toward India."

"Take a bold step against the dam, we will assist you. Don't think that you are alone," she said, adding that the planned dam was likely to become "another Farakka-like death-trap for Bangladesh."

Speakers at another seminar on Saturday called on Bangladeshis to forge a national consensus and seek international assistance to stop India from building the dam.

India commissioned the Farakka Barrage in 1974 on the river Ganges along Bangladesh's northern border to divert water to the river Hoogly to keep Kolkata port navigable.

As a result, Bangladesh faced severe water shortages during winter until a 30-year agreement was signed in 1996 to share the flow.

Critics of the new project cite environmental experts as predicting similar results this time.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina last week that he would make sure the dam did not harm her country.

They met at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on the sidelines of a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on Wednesday to discuss bilateral issues, including the dam.

Former water resources minister Abdur Razzak will head a Bangladesh parliamentary team due to visit the site of the planned dam at India's invitation from July 29.

"We will oppose the construction of the dam through diplomatic and political channels, if the dam poses a threat to our environment and ecology," Razzak, also a senior leader of the ruling Awami League, told reporters.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Economics of Renewable Energy"

When I saw the title I wondered who would use such a broad title for a paper. Have a guess. Correct - it was Geoffrey Heal.

The Economics of Renewable Energy
Date: 2009-06
By: Geoffrey Heal

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15081&r=env

Greater use of renewable energy is seen as a key component of any move to combat climate change, and is being aggressively promoted as such by the new U.S. administration and by other governments. Yet there is little economic analysis of renewable energy. This paper surveys what is written and adds to it. The conclusion is that the main renewables face a major problem because of their intermittency (the wind doesn't always blow nor the sun always shine) and that this has not been adequately factored into discussions of their potential. Without new storage technologies that can overcome this intermittency, much of the decarbonization of the economy will have to come from nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and energy efficiency (geothermal and biofuels can make small contributions). Nuclear and CCS are not without their problems. New energy storage technologies could greatly increase the role of renewables, but none are currently in sight.


Green Market Geography

Matt Kahn (fellow environmental economics blogger) has a nice little B.E. Journal paper out in a recent issue.

Environmental spatial papers are something I am working on at the moment so it must mean it is no longer fashionable.

The results are pretty much as you would expect. Green communities buy more green cars. There must be a twist?

Green Market Geography: The Spatial Clustering of Hybrid Vehicles and LEED Registered Buildings

Matthew E. Kahn, UCLA and NBER
Ryan K. Vaughn, UCLA

A BEJEAP Contributions1 article.


This paper uses zip code level data to investigate the spatial distribution of two major "green" products. Using data from California, we document where hybrid vehicles cluster within the state. Using data for the entire nation, we study where LEED registered buildings cluster. By creating a novel measure of community environmentalism based on revealed preference political data, we document that green products cluster in environmentalist communities.

Submitted: May 26, 2008 · Accepted: November 20, 2008 · Published: March 30, 2009


"Monkey harvesting" and the monkey market

Any academic paper that talks about "monkey harvesting" is a must blog piece.

Ecological Economics is a well respected journal. The data that managed to source for this paper sounds great.

Not surprisingly the conclusion is that being a monkey on Boiko Island is not good for your chances of living into old age as a Colobus Satanas.

The market for bushmeat: Colobus Satanas on Bioko Island

Wayne Morraa, Gail Hearnb, and Andrew J. Buckc


Species conservation is an important issue worldwide. The market for monkeys consumed as food on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, is modeled as a bargaining game. The bargaining set-up leads to the conclusion that black colobus are being over-hunted. Using daily data an empirical density is fit to the price–quantity pairs resulting from exchange between buyers and retailers. The density provides support for the bargaining model. Quantile regressions are also fit to the data. The median quantile indicates buyers have greater bargaining power than retailers. Knowing who has bargaining power aids in the design of policy to reduce bushmeat hunting. Strategic elasticities are constructed from the quantiles. Given the harvest rate of monkeys and the elasticity estimates, the monkeys of Bioko Island are under considerable pressure.

Keywords: Bushmeat; Biodiversity; Price elasticity; Quantile regression; Empirical distribution


"Green Suicide"

Headlines such as "GREEN SUICIDE: CALIFORNIA FACES MASSIVE CLIMATE BILL, 1 MILLION JOB LOSSES" do not to the anti-climate change lobby any favours.

We revisit the "jobs vrs environment" debate this time in California.

California Small Businesses Face $50,000 Cost from State Implementation of AB 32

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A new study released today found that small businesses in California will pay an additional $49,691 as a result of the California Air Resources Board’s implementation of AB 32. Citing severe economic impacts, a coalition of small business organizations called today for the suspension of the regulatory proceedings to implement California’s greenhouse gas program until the report’s findings are analyzed and mitigation measures are added to the state plan.

The report concluded that when the program is fully implemented, the average annual loss in gross state output from small businesses alone would be $182.6 billion, approximately a 10% loss in total gross state output. This will translate into nearly 1.1 million lost jobs in California. Lost labor income is estimated to be $76.8 billion, with nearly $5.8 billion lost in indirect taxes.

“We support the state’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but we are very concerned that these costs will apply disproportionally to California small business. Consumers will be hurt and the environmental goals will not be achieved,” said Esteban Soriano, Chairman of the California Small Business Association and a founding member of the California Small Business Roundtable.

The analysis of the state Scoping Plan was led by Sanjay Varshney, Dean of the College of Business Administration, California State University, Sacramento and Dennis H. Tootelian, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing and Director, Center for Small Business, California State University, Sacramento. The study reveals that when the plan is fully implemented, California families will be facing increased annual costs of $3,857.

Varshney explained that the study’s cost analysis was based on the California Air Resources Board’s own findings, which revealed significant cost increases. The study’s findings are consistent with the Peer Review analysis that CARB commissioned, which also concluded that the cost of the AB 32 Scoping Plan would be significant, and that CARB had significantly underestimated these costs.

“Given California’s current economic plight, the state must refrain from imposing new fees on taxpayers to pay for an expanded bureaucracy,” said Michael Shaw of the National Federation of Independent Business. “When Assembly Bill 32 authorized this program in 2006, CARB promised to develop a greenhouse gas plan that would provide benefits to small business, not bankruptcy.”

The study also found that in order to cope with the increased costs generated by the AB 32 program, consumers will be forced to cut their discretionary spending by 26.2%.

“Californians will be getting less and paying more. How can the small business community survive in a political climate so determined to put us out of business,?” asked Griselda Barajas, owner of Tex Mex Restaurant in downtown Sacramento, where the study was released.

“Many lawmakers who enjoy our tacos will see a significant increase in their daily lunch bills if these problems are not addressed,” said Barajas. “All of the Capitol community folks who dine at Tex Mex will have to bear the burden of an unfunded mandate placed against my business.”

According to the authors, the study utilized IMPLAN, a widely used economic modeling program that has more than 1,500 active users in the United States and internationally. These include clients in federal and state government, universities, and private sector consultants. Joining the California Small Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Business at Monday's event were the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

US carbon tax on imports gets a Chinese burn

As I pointed out yesterday, the carbon tax on imports idea really needs more careful thought (and for me to write a paper on it).

China lays into the idea and the FT reports. This is the bread and butter of "globalisation and the environment".

Fears of a global trade war are over done and you can see why the US may give any criticism short thrift. It takes them 10 years to put at least something on the table and they get grief for that. They may wonder if it is worth the effort. Is something not better than nothing?

It is if it leads to a whole new raft of academic papers.

This merely opens up the "secondary trade barrier" literature all over again. The irony of course is that it may well be US companies in China that are being hit.

At least Obama is clever enough to see the protectionism hidden in the bill. That is at least a good signal of the mans intelligence. Something that would not have happened under the previous president.

China joins carbon tax protest [FT]

Beijing on Friday joined a growing clamour of complaint about US plans for a carbon tax on imports from countries without their own emission caps, warning it could set off a global trade war.

The warning follows the passage of a cap-and-trade bill in the US House of Representatives last weekend, which contained tough provisions to impose carbon tariffs to ensure that American companies would not lose competitive advantage. A recent report by the World Trade Organisation and the UN said such taxes could in theory be crafted to be compatible with WTO law, but it would be hard to prove they were not an illegal disguised restriction on international trade.

“It has always been China’s position that the international society should fight climate change together, but the proposal of some developed countries to slap a carbon tariff on some imported products violates the WTO’s basic principles and is trade protectionism in the disguise of environmental protection,” said Yao Jian, spokesman for China’s ministry of commerce.

Earlier this week, Jairam Ramesh, the Indian environment minister, described carbon tariffs as “pernicious” and flatly rejected the idea of negotiating climate change at the WTO.

After the passage of the House bill by a narrow vote last week, President Barack Obama warned imposing carbon border taxes might send a protectionist signal. “I think there may be other ways of doing it than with a tariff approach,” he said. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it is likely to receive an even rougher ride from moderate Democrats concerned about imposing more costs on US businesses.

The Chinese government also said it believed the carbon tax proposal violated the principle set out in the Kyoto protocol that developed and developing countries should respond to climate change together but with different responsibilities. “[It] severely harms developing countries’ interests,” Mr Yao said.

The WTO report, which gave a cautious nod to carbon tariffs, was prepared by the organisation’s secretariat, which can advise and facilitate discussion among the WTO’s members but does not set the rules itself. If a government such as China’s challenged such taxes, the case would be decided by the WTO’s dispute settlement system – panels of independent trade experts and lawyers.

Some trade lawyers point out that past WTO decisions have permitted governments to restrict trade in order to protect natural resources. But others say the case law is patchy, and it is hard to prove that such measures are being applied in a fair and consistent manner – a necessary condition for meeting WTO rules.

Brendan McGivern, partner at the law firm White & Case in Geneva, said: “I don’t think previous rulings provide a particularly solid basis for moving ahead with carbon border taxes. If a case comes, which is likely at some point, the outcome is very uncertain.”

Beijing’s comments reflect the tough initial negotiating stance China has taken for the Copenhagen talks in December aimed at working out a follow-up deal to Kyoto. China has rejected any emission caps for developing countries. It also wants developed nations to cut emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and pay for clean technology in developing countries.


Monday, July 13, 2009

"Treatise of the Soul" gets environmental

Environmental quote of the day:

“Our teeming population is the strongest evidence
our numbers are burdensome to the world, which
can hardly support us from its natural elements.
Our wants grow more and more keen and our
complaints more bitter in all mouths, while nature
fails in affording us our usual sustenance. In every
deed, pestilence and famine and wars have to be
regarded as a remedy for nations as the means of
pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”
Tertullian, Treatise of the Soul

From the PDF in the previous post.

For those not familiar with Terullian, he was the North African theologian and apologist (ca. 160-ca. 220) who was the founder of Latin Christian theology. The first major Christian writer to use the Latin language, he gave to Latin Christian thought a decidedly legal stamp.

Was he ahead of his time or does this merely show that people have been worried about the environment for hundreds of years without civilisation as we know it coming to a climate change induced end. Perhaps technology will solve the problem.


Population boom - are we still doomed?

Again, any title that includes the word "doomed" perks my interest.

The "population bomb" was written 40 years ago and has had a lot of attention for its neo-Malthusian stance. It is interesting that the authors think that:

"perhaps the most serious flaw in The [Population] Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future".

Not looking good is it? Read on because the optimists then join in the debate. Do they have a point?

Interestingly, 1968 was also the year that saw the publication of "tragedy of the commons" and look where that got us - 4 hours of lectures a year on Econ211.


The Population Bomb is one of the founding texts of the modern environmental movement. It popularised neo-Malthusian concerns that current rates population growth would lead to human and environmental disaster, a fear revived every year on the UN's World Population Day (Saturday July 11).

Since its release, The Population Bomb has received aplomb and approbation in more or less equal measure. But writing in the new issue of the Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, its authors Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich (unnamed co-author of the original book) have few regrets: indeed, they argue that "perhaps the most serious flaw in The [Population] Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future".

From global warming and ozone depletion to collapsing fisheries and industrial agriculture, the Ehrlichs say that "the environmental and resource impacts of past and future population growth will haunt humanity for a long time."

But another paper in the new issue of the EJSD suggests that the Ehrlich's doom-and-gloom scenarios are unwarranted. Indur Goklany - co-editor of the EJSD - argues that "despite unprecedented growth in population, affluence, consumption and technological change, human well-being has never been higher."

Reduced hunger and malnutrition, improved access to clean water and sanitation, higher literacy and schooling - all of these things mean that we now live longer and better lives than we did forty years ago - a stark contrast to the scenario painted in the Population Bomb.

Goklany concedes that the record is mixed for the environment - but argues that this justifies more, not less, wealth and technology: "Initially, in the rich countries, affluence and technology worsened environmental quality, but eventually they provided the methods and means for cleaning up the environment... After decades of deterioration, their environment has improved substantially."

The main worry for Goklany and others is that the "policy preferences of some environmentalists and Neo-Malthusians, founded on their skepticism of affluence and technology, would only make progress toward a better quality of life and a more sustainable environment harder. Their fears could become self-fulfilling prophecies."


Africa to be sacrificed on the alter of climate change by the Tories?

In a sense the title of this post meant I had to blog on it. Nothing like a good anti-Tory story to start the week.

Whatever the politics there will always be these sorts of tradeoffs. Helping Africa is fine but the money will be wasted if climate change kills off whatever projects are invested in. It is right to think of climate change and aid/
development together. To do otherwise would be madness.

This is a bit of a none story really. I almost have sympathy for the Tories on this one.

Tories may sacrifice Africa to fund climate change fight [Independent]

A draft Tory policy statement, leaked to The Independent, reveals that a Tory Government would give the Department for International Development (DFID) a bigger role in helping developing countries meet the cost of combating climate change. But aid groups fear this would be a cover for cutting funds to Africa.

The Tories' green paper, which will be launched on Monday by David Cameron, will reiterate the party's pledge to match Labour's commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid by 2013. Aid and National Health Service budgets are the only two budgets which would be protected by an incoming Cameron Government as it sought deep public spending cuts to balance the nation's books.

But the promise on aid has been called into question, with suspicions that the party plans to funnel funds away from aid towards spending to fight global warming. The Tory paper says: "Action to tackle and adapt to climate change will permeate international development policy under a Conservative Government. It requires a multi-faceted approach. We will mainstream adaptation to the impacts of climate change throughout DFID's work by supporting development activities that reflect the changing nature of the climate."

Pressure groups are deeply concerned about the "mainstreaming" policy because the document makes no mention of a ceiling on how much of the DFID budget could be spent on climate change. Gordon Brown has promised a 10 per cent cap if Labour retains power. He has proposed a £100bn climate change adaptation fund as part of the negotiations on a new global deal to be discussed at a summit in Copenhagen in December. There has been persistent speculation in Tory circles that the party would try to spend less on helping the world's poorest countries.

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, said: "The Conservative Party is fully committed to tackling both the causes and consequences of climate change, and the Department for International Development has an important role to play in this. Above all we will push for an ambitious international agreement that limits emissions and sees substantial financial resources made available to help developing countries adapt to the changing climate."

Kevin Watkins, a director at UNESCO, said that the spending on climate change could see the amount spent on traditional aid fall below the 2013 target. "The 0.7 per cent commitment is not unequivocal," he said. "The money spent on climate change could take a big chunk of the department's budget, meaning aid will be hit." Another aid agency head said yesterday: "It seems that the Tories would divert a lot of money from aid to climate change, while keeping the headline pledge on aid spending. That would mean a lot less help for Africa."

Aid groups are also worried about a Tory plan to offer "vouchers" to people in poor countries so they could shop around for schools. They fear this could undermine attempts to build up the state education system in developing nations and help "middle class" children rather than the poorest. One aid worker said this would boost private schools, describing it as "as assisted places scheme for Africa." Mr Watkins said that the Tory focus on vouchers was "an absurdity" that would set back progress. "The idea that you can trot around slums and dish out vouchers is so far fetched that it shouldn't be taken seriously."

The Tory paper also suggests a key role for the private sector in improving health care. Pressure groups say this could threaten a global drive towards health care being free at the point of use. "Rather than aiming to replace or eliminate the private sector from healthcare, we will seek to work with governments and the private sector to help them achieve the Millennium Development Goals," the document states. "This could involve regulating providers and creating a framework that allows both private and public provision to grow in a coherent way, until ultimately people have access to affordable healthcare.

"There are many different ways to provide healthcare. All health systems feature a mixture of private and public provision. We will not insist that developing countries follow the exact path that we in Britain have taken—that is a choice for them to make."


Welcome "Carbon space" to the negotiating table

I cannot remember how many times the "globalisation and environment" debate returns to the elephant in room. Developed and developing countries are simply miles apart on climate change.

We all agree that there is a problem and we all know that CO2 emissions must fall but there is simply a massive gulf when it comes to the solution.

We grew by polluting so we have no right to stop others.

The Economist sum up the current debate on this old problem is a good article. I like the Indian use of the term "carbon space" which provides a useful way to think about this issue (even if it brings us no closer to a solution).

The old "per capita" emissions is again on the table. I am on the side of developing countries on this - it is hypocritical of the west to demand pollution reductions from countries without enough to eat or with millions below the $1 poverty threshold.

The trade-environment implications of the new US legislation open up a whole new area for research. I smell an academic paper.

However, the implications of per capita emissions targets are dire for the future of the planet. Ironically, it is the developing countries such as India and China that will suffer the most from climate change.

That is why in true dismal scientist speak - "we are all doomed".

Wanted: fresh air [Economist]

WHEN argument fails, try metaphor. Shyam Saran, who heads India’s international negotiating team on climate change, says that greenhouse gases are taking up “carbon space” in the atmosphere. Past emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from rich countries have taken up much of that space. Now the poor countries are standing up for their right to a little bit of that space too.

Put in those terms, it seems a matter of plain justice. Mr Saran is merely defending India’s right to industrialise. But as a negotiating position, it is one of the reasons why the talks on climate change at the G8 meeting in Italy this week have proved so fractious. Mr Saran says that the only limit India will accept on greenhouse-gas emissions is the same per-person amount enjoyed by citizens of developed countries. From the planet’s point of view that would mean a huge, and possibly catastrophic, increase in overall emissions.

India’s tough approach is supported by other developing countries. China, now the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, is particularly annoyed about a provision in America’s new cap-and-trade legislation on carbon emissions that would let America impose tariffs on goods from countries that do nothing to control emissions. The bill’s drafters reckon that China and similarly energy-thirsty countries are in effect subsidising their exports by allowing their firms to dodge costly environmental standards. But the Chinese say the measure could lead to a trade war.

Brazil takes a similar position. The cutting down of trees in the Amazon alone releases 700m tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air annually, fully half of the country’s total emissions. Brazil says it wants to curb deforestation, but it is reluctant to let outsiders’ rules tie its hands on the management of its sovereign territory.

The rich countries think they have already done a lot to meet the poor world halfway. At the G8 meeting in L’Aquila they proposed a “vision” in which the industrialised countries would by mid-century cut their emissions by 80% (against which base year is unclear), as part of a global effort to reduce emissions by half. The developing countries could burn more carbon as they got richer, but far less than the rich countries did in the 20th century. If the sums are correct, this would cap the rise in average global temperatures at 2°C (though that may still cause a lot of harm). If the poor countries do nothing, the rich countries argue, their own expensive efforts will be in vain. But with no interim targets, by mid-week the “vision” was fading from the draft deal at the summit.

This failure threatens to unravel a flimsy diplomatic consensus that dates back to the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Signed by most rich countries, this spoke of “common but differentiated” responsibilities for cutting emissions. This was diplomatic language that required nothing binding of developing countries and was the main reason why America never signed up for Kyoto. Barack Obama’s green-minded administration has changed that. So the spotlight is now on the poor countries. Their past position, of denouncing the previous American administration for inaction and hypocrisy, was enjoyable while it lasted but looks flimsy now. Instead they are being pressed to explain what if anything they are willing to do to save the planet.

The rich-world coalition is getting rickety too. America’s new seriousness turns unwelcome attention on countries such as Canada, Japan and Australia. They are seen as having fallen behind by the Europeans, the leaders (relatively speaking) in clean green growth

A dose of Mr Obama’s eloquence may bring a breakthrough by the end of the week. But the departure of the Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, to deal with unrest at home, seemed set to jinx the meeting’s chances. If the L’Aquila summit fails, the deadlock will threaten the climate summit to be held in Copenhagen in December. Governments’ efforts to deal with what many voters see as the world’s biggest problem will look pretty feeble.

Fresh thinking, instead of stale arguments, has rarely been so badly needed. A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week offered a contribution, based on the idea that it is rich people, rather than rich countries, who need to change the most. The authors suggest setting a cap on total emissions, and then converting that cap into a global per-person limit. This would be low enough that if everyone stuck to it, the worldwide target would be met.

Each country would then have the task of reducing its national consumption according to its number of “high emitters”—people with an extravagant output of carbon. Such individuals are scarce in India, more common in China, and common in America. If the goal were to cap emissions at 30 billion tonnes in 2030, say, that would mean squeezing the behaviour of some 1.1 billion “high emitters” worldwide. So the high-living, carbon-guzzling rich minority in India and China would not be able to hide behind their poor and carbon-thrifty compatriots.

The paper suggests that the personal emissions target would be set at around 10.8 tonnes of CO2 per year. China would have 300m emitters over this level by 2030, meaning that the country’s 4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in 2003 should rise to no more than 8.5 billion in 2030, as opposed to a predicted 11.4 billion if China does nothing. The cuts required in Brazil and India would be far smaller, as they have fewer rich people. America’s cuts would have to be greater than those in the administration’s cap-and-trade bill.

It sounds a rather elegant idea—if implausibly complex to carry out. But as a thought experiment, it shows how even Mr Saran’s definition of “fair” falls short of the mark.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Future King of England talks "environmental economics"

Has Price Charles been sneaking into Environmental Economics 101 lectures?

He actually uses the word "economic" and demonstrates some decent joined up thinking.

"...a new economic model must be found because the Earth can no longer support the demands of a growing "consumerist society" where growth is an end in itself."

Time to wheel out the theorists. He could do worse than reading Copeland and Taylor's Green Solow paper.

Nature Can't Take Unrestrained Economic Growth: Prince Charles [PlanetArk]

LONDON - The quest for unlimited economic growth is unsustainable and could bankrupt the environment through climate change and depleted natural resources, Britain's Prince Charles said Wednesday.

Charles, next-in-line to succeed Queen Elizabeth, said a new economic model must be found because the Earth can no longer support the demands of a growing "consumerist society" where growth is an end in itself.

People must realize they are not "the masters of creation," rather just one part of a fragile natural world, he added.

"Just as our banking sector is struggling with its debts... so Nature's life-support systems are failing to cope with the debts we have built up there too," Charles said at a BBC lecture at St James's Palace in central London.

"If we don't face up to this, then Nature, the biggest bank of all, could go bust.

"That is the challenge we face, it seems to me -- to see Nature's capital and her processes as the very basis of a new form of economics."

Charles, the former husband of the late Princess Diana, has long campaigned on the environment.

His own farm went organic in the 1980s, he publishes details of his estate's annual carbon emissions and has developed a sustainable village in western England called Poundbury.

"Our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change...depends on us adapting our pursuit of unlimited economic growth to that of sustainable growth," he said.

While conceding that industrialization had brought benefits such as better education, prosperity and higher life expectancy, the future king said that progress had come at a price.

Consumption has grown so much in the last 30 years that demands on natural resources now exceed the planet's capacity for renewal by a quarter each year, he added.

By 2050, the world's population will swell to about 9 billion people, from more than 6 billion currently, and a higher proportion will expect Western levels of consumption.

Modern farming methods that use fertilizers and pesticides that have helped feed a growing population have taken a "huge and unsustainable" toll on ecosystems, he added.

"Our current model of progress was not designed of course to create all this destruction," Charles said. "However, given the overwhelming evidence from so many quarters, we have to ask ourselves if it any longer makes sense or whether it is actually fit for purpose."

Economic growth has failed to end poverty, stress, ill health and social tensions, he added. A reformed economy must give more weight to the environment and local communities.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Incentives and Mosquitos

I have always wondered whether anti-virus software detection companies employ hundreds of people to write virus' so that customers then have to buy and renew ant-virus software. If not, why not (apart from the moral issue).

News from Sri Lanka at least shows such perverse incentives exist this time for mosquitoes.

Mosquito Repellent Firm In Dock For Mosquito Breeding [PlanetArk]

COLOMBO - A Sri Lankan court threatened a mosquito repellent factory manager with six months in jail for failing to destroy mosquito breeding areas on company premises to stop the spread of dengue fever, an official said Tuesday.

The Indian Ocean island nation is battling an outbreak of the mosquito-borne viral infection that has killed more than 150 people this year and infected 13,479 people, according to Health Ministry figures.

"The court fined the superintendent of a mosquito coil company for failing to destroy mosquito breeding places after we found larvae in several empty cans inside the premises," said Rohana De Silva, Attagalla public health inspector.

The court Monday fined the superintendent 1,500 rupees ($13) and imposed a suspended sentence of six months hard labor, which can be reinstated if the company does not keep its premises free of breeding grounds, De Silva said.

To fight the spread of dengue, police and health officials have started a campaign to destroy mosquito breeding grounds through insecticide spraying and the removal of standing fresh water from public and private property.

Those who do not comply face fines and punishments including imprisonment.

Sri Lanka's public health infrastructure and services suffered during a quarter-century war with Tamil Tiger separatists, when the health budget was cut to help bear the cost of fighting. The government declared victory on May 18.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Waxman-Markey - Stavins summarises

I appear to have missed some serious climate change action over the pond.

Stavins provides a good overview of what actually happened. It is a good start.

National Climate Change Policy: A Quick Look Back at Waxman-Markey and the Road Ahead[Belfer Centre]

Like any legislation, the Waxman‑Markey bill has its share of flaws, but its cap-and-trade system has medium and long‑term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are sensible, and the cap‑and‑trade system is — for the most part — well designed. With some exceptions, the bill’s cap‑and‑trade system will achieve meaningful reductions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions at minimal cost to the economy.

There has been much lamenting about the corporate give-away in the bill, but this is unfounded, as I explained in detail in my May 27th post on The Wonderful Politics of Cap-and-Trade: A Closer Look at Waxman-Markey. Concerns have also been expressed — such as by a number of Republican members of Congress during last Friday’s floor debate in the House of Representatives — about negative impacts on the international competitiveness of U.S. firms. The only real solution to the international competitiveness issue in the long term is to bring non‑participating countries within an international climate regime in meaningful ways. (On this, please see the work of the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements.) But that solution is fundamentally outside of the scope of the domestic policy action of any individual nation, including the United States.

In the meantime, the Waxman‑Markey approach of combining output‑based updating allocations in the short term for select sectors with the option in the long term of a Presidential determination (under stringent conditions) for import allowance requirements for specific countries and sectors was sensible and pragmatic (see my June 18th post on Worried About International Competitiveness? Another Look at the Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade Proposal).

That’s the good news. But the bad news is that last-minute changes in the bill changed what was a Presidential option regarding long-term back-up border adjustments (tariffs) to a requirement that the President put such tariffs in place under specified conditions. This moved the legislation considerably closer to risky protectionism, as President Obama rightly noted in comments to the press on Sunday.

Also, the compromise amendments with the House agriculture committee that provide for generous numbers of potential offsets from the agricultural sector (regulated not by EPA, but by USDA!) are troubling — not in terms of driving up compliance costs, but in terms of reducing the real environmental performance of the system. This is because of the general problem of limited additionality of claimed reductions under offset (or emission-reduction-credit) systems, as opposed to cap-and-trade systems, plus the well-known difficulties of measuring non-point emissions, let alone emissions reductions, from agriculture.

These and other design issues will be important topics when the Senate takes up its own climate legislation, although the debate in that body on some of these issues will likely be quite different. For example, there is likely to be more interest in the Senate in the use of a “price collar,” a mechanism to constrain both the maximum and the minimum market price of allowances over time. This would be a move beyond the safety-valve mechanism that is provided in the House legislation.

When the action moves to the Senate, the greatest attention and the greatest skepticism should be directed not to the cap‑and‑trade mechanism, which is — for the most part — well designed in Waxman‑Markey, but rather to other elements of the legislation, some of which are highly problematic. While the titles of Waxman‑Markey that create the cap‑and‑trade system are ‑‑ on balance ‑‑ sensible, and will result in meaningful emissions reductions cost effectively, the other titles of the bill include a host of conventional standards and subsidies, many of which (under the cap‑and‑trade umbrella) will have minimal or no environmental benefits, but will limit flexibility and thereby have the unintended consequence of driving up compliance costs. That’s the soft under‑belly of this legislation that needs to be selectively, surgically repaired.

It is the fault of economists — myself included — that we have given so much attention to the cap-and-trade system that we have ignored these other important elements of the legislation, elements that unfortunately can degrade significantly the cost-effectiveness of the package while providing little if any incremental benefits to the environment. Even the Congressional Budget Office, in its excellent economic analysis of HR 2454, focused exclusively on the bill’s cap-and-trade program. Going forward, CBO, EPA, and independent analysts need to examine the bill’s other elements, and assess what those elements provide at what incremental cost.

A broader question — also raised by House Republicans in the floor debate — is whether the United States should be moving towards the enactment of a domestic climate policy before a sensible, post‑Kyoto international agreement has been negotiated and ratified. Such an international agreement should include not only the countries of the industrialized world, but also the key, rapidly‑growing economies of the developing world ‑‑ China, India, Brazil, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and Indonesia ‑‑ which are and will increasingly be major contributors to emissions.

It’s natural for such a question to be raised about the very notion of the U.S. adopting a policy to help address what is fundamentally a global problem. The environmental benefits of any single nation’s reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are spread worldwide, unlike the costs. This means that for any single country, the costs of action will inevitably exceed its direct benefits, despite the fact that the global costs of action will be less than global benefits. This is the nature of a global commons problem, and this is the very reason why international cooperation is required.

The U.S. is now engaged in international negotiations, and the credibility of the U.S. as a participant, let alone as a leader, in shaping the international regime is dependent upon our demonstrated willingness to take actions at home.

Europe has put its climate policy in place, and Australia, New Zealand, and Japan are moving to have their policies in place within a year. If the United States is to play a leadership role in international negotiations for a sensible post‑Kyoto international climate regime, the country must begin to move towards an effective domestic policy ‑ with legislation that is timed and structured to coordinate with the emerging post‑Kyoto climate regime.

Without evidence of serious action by the U.S., there will be no meaningful international agreement, and certainly not one that includes the key, rapidly‑growing developing countries. U.S. policy developments can and should move in parallel with international negotiations.

So, the Waxman‑Markey bill has its share of flaws, but it represents a reasonable starting point for Senate deliberation on what can become a national climate policy that will place the United States where it ought to be -‑ in a position of international leadership to help develop a global climate agreement that is scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically acceptable to the key nations of the world.


"environmentally induced migration"

Apologies for the lay off from blogging - academia can be a tough taskmaster.

I have no doubt that climate change induced migration is on the rise and will cause significant tensions across the globe. The Economist provide a nice introduction. Academics will follow.

I predict a value closer to the top end of estimates - 700m by 2050.

This article is "classic" journalism. Keep it personal about a small tribe in a small region and they go global with the dull science stuff.

Lovelock stars yet again - now we are talking:

James Lovelock, an environmental guru, posits a collapse in human population, in part related to migration, with a few “lifeboat” regions surviving.

Here is the article in full.

A new (under) class of travellers [Economist]

THE airstrip at Lokichoggio, in the scorched wastes of north Kenya, was once ground zero for food aid. During Sudan’s civil war, flights from here kept millions of people alive. The warehouses are quieter now, but NGOs keep a toehold, in case war restarts—and to deal with what pundits call the “permanent emergency” of “environmentally induced” migration.

Take the local Turkana people. Their numbers have surged in recent decades, and will double again before 2040. But as the area gets hotter and drier, it has less water, grazing and firewood. The drought cycle in northern Kenya has gone from once every eight years to every three years and may contract further. That means no recovery time for the Turkana and their livestock; the result is an increasingly frantic drift from one dry place to another.

A local crisis with local causes? Only partly. Scientists think it is part of a global phenomenon: people across the world on the move as a result of environmental degradation. Just how many are moving, or about to move, is maddeningly unclear.

The International Organisation for Migration thinks there will be 200m climate-change migrants by 2050, when the world’s population is set to peak at 9 billion. Others put the total at 700m.

These startling numbers may conjure up a picture of huge, desperate masses, trekking long distances and if necessary overrunning border defences because their homelands have dried up or been submerged. But at least initially, the situation in Kenya and other parts of east Africa is likely to be more typical: an already poor population whose perpetual search for adequate pasture and shelter grows harder and harder. In such conditions, local disputes—even relatively petty ones between clans and extended families—can easily worsen, and become embroiled in broader religious or political fights. And that in turn makes it harder for everybody in the area to survive, and more desperate to find new places to live, even if they are not far away.

A new report—“In Search of Shelter”—by the United Nations University, the charity CARE and Columbia University in New York lists the eco-migration “hot spots”: dry bits of Africa; river systems in Asia; the interior and coast of Mexico and the Caribbean; and low islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

A one-metre rise in sea levels could displace 24m people along the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers—which together support a quarter of humanity. A two-metre rise could uproot 14m people on the Mekong alone and swamp much of its farmland. Meanwhile, the melting of the Himalayan glacier will cause floods and erosion upstream, boosting the price of rice and other staples. And many regional conflicts could be exacerbated.

The scale of the likely population shift raises big questions. Will climate-change migrants be recognised? The classic definition of refugees—tossed between states by war or tyranny—is outdated. Eco-migrants will be paperless paupers, whose multiple woes are hard to disentangle.

Poverty campaigners want a revised legal regime to protect the new migrants. However, this looks tricky. America resists calling them “environmental refugees”: the word “refugee” implies guarantees that cannot realistically be given to the coming torrent of migrants. As American diplomats quietly admit, their rich country is still reeling from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed 1,800 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Can the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expand to cope with eco-migrants? It has already struggled to widen its remit to include the internally displaced (26m at the end of 2008) as well as strictly-defined refugees (10m, excluding the Palestinians who come under another agency). A tenfold surge in the numbers within its orbit would push the agency out of control, says James Milner, a professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University. Meanwhile some aid workers see signs of a competition between institutions to take ownership of the eco-migration issue, perhaps by oversimplifying it.

Charles Ehrhart of CARE thinks UNHCR will remain central, but wonders how it or anybody can now distinguish between “forced” and “voluntary” migration. He says climate change may cut agricultural output by half in lowland Africa by 2020. “In such a context, does migration constitute a choice or a necessity?”

Migrants’ rights may be easy to assert for islanders whose homes are drowned—but hard in the case of big, messy movements across Africa and Asia. Most of the displaced will drift to the next-most-liveable place, as the poor do anyway.

“Many states are already overwhelmed by internally displaced populations,” says Mr Ehrhart. “Will they be able to support even more people on the move? If not, whose duty is it to make up the difference?”. At the least, the gap between carbon usage and climate change’s effects portends angry North-South rows.

Meles Zenawi, who as Ethiopia’s prime minister will speak for Africa at several global gatherings this year, predicts that some parts of the continent will become uninhabitable and “those who did the damage will have to pay.” At the December summit on climate change in Copenhagen, he hopes that Africa will “aggressively” demand compensation for environmental damage as well as help with migrants and the mitigation of climate change: in his view a demand of $40 billion would be reasonable.

Many agree that more research is needed to pinpoint the reasons why migrants pick up sticks. People concur that climate change fuels conflict in Darfur, but nobody knows how big a factor it is. Drought helped jihadist fighters seize bits of south Somalia, but was it the main reason?

Gloom abounds. James Lovelock, an environmental guru, posits a collapse in human population, in part related to migration, with a few “lifeboat” regions surviving. Then there is the pace of social change. The number of “megacities”—with populations in the tens of millions—may grow to several hundred by the middle of the 21st century. Most are poorly planned.

Would a migrant from a collapsed city receive aid? “We’ve not experienced anything of this kind, where whole regions, whole countries, may well become unviable,” says Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

No wonder strategists see vast new security risks, and a big expansion in the world’s “ungoverned spaces”. But much can be done before the exodus turns biblical. In West Africa subsistence farming is badly irrigated. Improve that, throw in some seeds and fertiliser, scrap tariffs, build warehouses and roads, and the region may beat the worst of climate change.

Geographers at UN Habitat, a city-planning agency, say conurbations must adapt to the needs of climate-change migrants. “You can’t just stockpile people,” says Alex de Sherbinin of Columbia University. The pressure is tangible in Addis Ababa, which already has teeming slums. The price of teff, a staple, has surged after a famine that is still pushing people to the city. Mr Meles is not alone in his wrath.