In Tom Athanasiou’s recent post, “The greening of the global south,” he describes an article in U.K. magazine The Prospect as “honest,” “well-informed,” and “criticizing the alternatives to trading.”

I actually think these objections are pretty easy to answer, but in order to do so, I have to present the objections first.

The article begins by adopting some of points Tom and Paul present in their book The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World:

  • The fair way to divide the cost of fighting climate chaos is to allocate according to a combination of responsibility (in terms of historical emissions) and capacity (in terms of current wealth).
  • Capacity should be measured not according per capita income but according to total national income held above the poverty level — poverty level defined not as $2 per day or something stupid like that but around $36,000 per year for a family of four. That is, if someone in a poor country earns $36,001 per year with a family of four, they have $1 in capacity to pay to fight global warming. And a family of four in a rich nation with hundreds of millions in income, whether in a rich or poor country, has hundreds of millions in capacity, minus that $36,000. (Paul and Tom give $36,000 per year as an example. They don’t insist on that number, but they do want to illustrate that a few dollars a day is absurd.)
  • They don’t suggest, of course, that there is any way an international treaty can levy taxes directly on individuals. But they do suggest that we can determine each nation’s capacity based on money over and above survival capability. (They don’t suggest tapping a huge percentage of that, just that this money is the “pool” from which funds to fight global warming can come.)
  • Another point is that if we look at the total cuts needed to beat global warming, there is no room for rich nations like the U.S. to pay other nations to cut emissions for them. The only trajectory that will work is drastic cuts in both the global north and the global south.
  • Therefore Tom and Paul suggest that a sufficient and just path would lead to rich nations cutting their emissions more than 100 percent — a target they could only meet by making large cuts and paying for cuts in poor nations as well.
  • Lastly, Tom and Paul suggest that after the rich nations cut their own emissions 90 percent or more, they could buy offsets from the global south as a way to assume their responsibility for cuts in poor nations. They argue that, given the political difficulty of getting rich nations to buy into this general framework, it is essential that cuts be done by the cheapest method possible — which, to them, means emission trading.

The article goes on to argue that alternatives to poor nations selling rich nations offsets have proven as unreliable as the current form of carbon trading. The alternative is aid or funds, and rich nations simply don’t honor their aid agreements. Every time rich nations have pledged fixed sums or percentages of their GDP to poor nations, they break their promises. The argument, essentially is that while neither has worked, carbon trading can be fixed while aid can’t.

My next post will reply to these points, but first I wanted to have them in one place. Tom, I hope I’ve done a fair and accurate summary.