Pathway to Paris Blog

Sustainable Development Goal #5: Gender Equality

Gender Equality, Climate Change, and Intertwined Challenge

Written by: Celia Buckman


As COP21 is underway, the media is following every step of negotiations: who’s there, who said what, who wants what. But as we pick apart this parade of world leaders, it’s equally as important to consider who isn’t there. The biggest players in negotiations--President Obama, President Hollande, Prime Minister Narenda Modi, President Putin, and President Xi Jinping among them--are representing some of the world’s most populous, developed countries. The voices of countries hit the hardest by the climate change crisis are conspicuously absent, as are the perspectives of one particular group perhaps more affected than any other: women.


Although global warming affects everyone, it is women who are bearing the brunt in developing countries where the harsh realities of climate change are already being felt. Women make up most of the world’s small-scale farmers, and when sources of food become unpredictable due to soil erosion, floods, or changing weather patterns, their incomes, and abilities to feed their families, are most likely to suffer. In times of drought and famine, families are more likely to prioritize the health of their sons, furthering cycles of structural gender inequality and creating long-term malnutrition for girls.


Women and girls have the responsibility of fetching water in 89% of Sub-Saharan African households. Desertification is making water sources sparser, making walks to fetch it longer and more likely to cut in time otherwise spent at school or earning an income.

But women are not simply victims to this crisis. Take, for example, Vanastree, a grassroots group of women farmers in southwest India that organized to share adaptation strategies in the face of changing monsoons and soil erosion. Or One Million Women, a female-led Australian movement that aims for one million women to pledge to lower their carbon emissions. Despite exclusion from climate negotiations, women have been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of fighting climate change. As we move forward in implementing the SDGs and in COP21 negotiations, it has never been more important to recognize.

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Sustainable Development

When we talk Sustainable Development, many people solely think about building green buildings or anthropogenic development in a way that steps out of the orthodox to be “sustainable.” What is really meant by Sustainable Development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

 In 1987, the concept Sustainable Development was published in a report by the Brundtland Commission—named after Gro Brundtland—the former Prime Minister of Norway. What was revolutionary about this concept was that it was inclusive of everything and everyone with a specific focus on those with a low standard of living. It’s a way to engage people to care about sustainability and as Joel Sartore once said, “We can all save the world or die trying, we just have to take care of our own corner of the world.

 So what does this all mean for you? The first step is understanding how sustainable development relates to your every day life and how you can play an incremental part in the overall effort. Action has three main components made up of: The Individual, The Activists, and The Governments. Every person can play a role within each of these groups, but for the novice to sustainable action, one should start with evaluating their life and habits. This doesn’t necessarily mean selling your car and taking to the woods, but it does mean understanding that every action has it’s own consequences.

 The best way to understand the definition of Sustainable Development is to recognize that with the problem of overpopulation, resource deceits, and climate change there needs to be a change. We need to look at our “needs” and recognize our limitations as individuals, developed nations, and developing nations alike. As a global community, we currently use 1.6 Earths to sustain our global lifestyle per year, which in layman terms means that it will take 1 year and 6 months to regenerate the resources that we consume per year. The United Nations also predicts that by 2030 it will take approximately 2 Earths to sustain our irresponsible consumption habits.



Graph by FootPrintNetwork.Org

With this growing problem however, the UN has devised a plan to address this daunting problem that could potentially lead to the demise of the species—the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs are a set of 17 goals that contain 169 comprehensive targets to address this problem along with the rising concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and human inequality. The goals grew out of PM Brundtland’s vision for Sustainable Development and passed unanimously on September 25th, 2015.

 With the passing of the SDGs comes a moment of redefining how people generally view Sustainability and it’s role in every conversation. It attempts to take the bad taste out of your mouth and bait you with an issue that you are already concerned about—whether it be inequality—or various aspects of nature.



The great thing about the goals is they’re all equally important with the exception of one. The 17th goal, Partnership, could potentially be the most important goal— that a failure to achieve could cripple the rest. Within the targets of the goal, it calls for the unification, mobilization and cooperation of developed and developing countries alike. It recognizes that without global teamwork, there will be no success towards addressing the pressing issues of the day.

 Stated explicitly within the targets, it calls on developed nations to play a key role in helping developing nations accomplish their share of the work. It recognizes that without technological advances, capital investments, and universally fair and transparent laws there will be no success. Without Sustainable Development—we won’t progress to a better and safer world.

 Climate change may hit small island and developing nations first, but it will take everyone to bring us back to a healthy climate. Just in the US alone, a 2008 climate change study estimated that it is set to cost approximately $270 billion per year by 2025 and gradually increase every few years. The 2012 climate disruption budget was $100 billion and this year the Department of Defense issued a report saying: “Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries….

 Climate change is a serious threat that is affecting and costing developed nations a great deal, but the real cost is that in a few years island nations will start to become submerged and millions of people will die—each year.

 With Sustainable Development, we are able to ensure that we are naturally and creatively finding ways to sequester carbon, we can rebuild ecosystems, and actively take steps to protect humanity; there is hope for a future without increasing temperatures and severely rising sea levels. With each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we are entering a new era of sustainability and global cooperation. As Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon once said, “We are the first generation that can end poverty, the last that can end climate change.”





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The importance of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water

UNCLOS: a brief history


With the most recent update, the word “oceans” may not be included within the official COP21 agreement—again. To fully understand the impact of omitting the word “oceans,” you must understand a multitude of topics. First being The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  


Beginning in 1973 and continuing until today, we have established a law to the sea. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982. The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. As of January 2015, 166 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention.


In the early 20th century, some nations expressed their desire to extend national claims to include mineral resources, to protect fish stocks, and to provide the means to enforce pollution controls. (The League of Nations called a 1930 conference at The Hague, but no agreements resulted.) Using the customary international law principle of a nation's right to protect its natural resources, President Truman in 1945 extended United States’ control to all the natural resources of its continental shelf. Other nations were quick to follow suit. (United Nations)


Recently, the 30th Anniversary of the UNCLOS has passed, you can read more about it here.




Understanding Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and oceans


At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, the largest gathering of world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions. The MDGs are as follows:


  1. Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

  2. Achieve Universal Primary Education

  3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

  4. Reduce Child Mortality

  5. Improve Maternal Health

  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

  7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability

  8. Global Partnership For Development


With these eight goals there were both shortcomings and successes. According to the United Nations, the world has made significant progress in achieving many of the eight goals. Between 1990 and 2002 average overall incomes increased by approximately 21 percent and the number of people in extreme poverty has declined by an estimated 130 million. Child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88. Life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years. An additional 8 percent of the developing world's people received access to water. And an additional 15 percent acquired access to improved sanitation services. But progress has been far from uniform across the world-or across the Goals. There are huge disparities across and within countries. Within countries, poverty is greatest for rural areas, though urban poverty is also extensive, growing, and underreported by traditional indicators.



The Oceans

Humanity is constantly putting pressure on terrestrial ecosystems of all kinds (e.g. polar, alpine, tropical rain forests, dry land areas) and we are especially putting immense amount of pressure on our marine ecosystems.

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. But, we are changing basic ocean chemistry. Without the oceans, our world cannot function as it naturally should and neither can we. According to the United Nations, over three billion people depend upon marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihood out of the seven billion people that inhabit the planet.

In total, oceans cover three-fourths of the Earth’s surface area. We have built our cities hugging ocean shores because we are not only dependent on our oceans for its unique biodiversity, but also invaluable nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids; We are dependent on oceans for trade and as economic drivers. According to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy as over ninety percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move mass goods and raw materials around the world. Oceans are also are carbon sinks

What is a carbon sink? A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon that it releases.  While a carbon source is anything that releases more carbon than is absorb. Forests, soils, oceans and the atmosphere all store carbon and this carbon moves between them in a continuous cycle.



Source: Global total wild fish capture and aquaculture production in million tons, 1950-2010 as reported by FAO/FishStat database, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.


The data provided above, offers a basic lesson in how the industrial fishing industry has affected our world. In 1990, the ocean catch reached a maximum capacity and led to an increase in aquaculture production. There are two important points to remember when looking at this data.

  1. Humanity hit it’s limit of ocean fishing and in fact exceeded those limits. This overfishing has lead many fisheries around the world into decline or complete collapse. The threats of overfishing in the oceans remain dangerous today in most fishing areas in the world.


  1. The cultivation of fish in a fish farm may lead to the spread of disease, excessive nutrient flows of many kinds, and threats to wildlife populations when farm fish escape into the wild. Aquaculture can be highly effective if it is done properly. But, due to its complexities and many challenges of executing it properly.




If the oceans were only troubled by the excessive wild catch of fish, we would have trouble enough, yet the sad fact is that humanity is assaulting marine ecosystems on many fronts.


Another way that humankind is damaging the ocean is through the destruction of corals around the world. We are damaging coral in various ways, including acidification of the oceans, warming of the oceans, coral destruction by tourists, overfishing, direct harvesting of coral themselves (e.g. for home ornaments and jewelry), dynamite used for fishing, pollution, and sedimentation caused by human actions (e.g. construction, mining, deforestation, and flooding). Human activities such as these are driving corals to depletion and perhaps, extinction for many of the species.  With careless actions such as these it is very important to remember that it takes an average of 10,000 years to replace coral and they are a keystone species and that Coral can also prevent the erosion of our shores.  


Human threats to biodiversity do not arise from a single factor, but from the sum of many factors. Oceans absorb about thirty percent of the carbon dioxide produced by humankind, and we are seeing a twenty-six percent rise in ocean acidification since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And an overwhelming majority of marine pollution comes from land-based sources and it is reaching alarming levels, with an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter to be found on every square kilometer of ocean.


Humanity depends on the oceans in countless ways for our wellbeing and critical for human survival. If we do not take the necessary steps to take care of our oceans properly and act quickly to end these problems, we will be facing a growing crisis in the not so distant future.


Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and oceans


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)create a framework to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from land-based pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification. Enhancing conservation and the sustainable use of ocean-based resources through international law will also help mitigate some of the challenges facing our oceans.


Protecting our oceans is one of the 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which all the member states voted to adopt in September 2015. Currently at COP21, ocean advocates are looking for a more binding agreement that addresses each of the SDGs, but SDG 14 has definitely has brought the correct conversation to the table.


Below are the targets for the 14th SDG. Each target is integral to ensure the success of not just goal 14 but also the other 16 goals.  

SDG 14 Targets:


By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution



By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans



Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels



By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics



By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information


By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation


By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism



Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries.



Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets



Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want.



The Age Of Sustainable Development, Jeffery D. Sachs

The Sustainable Development Goals

Oceans & Law of the Sea




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Isolation of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Part I

Isolation of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Part I

27 November 2015

James Hansen

Earlier this year I received a message from a long-time reader of my Communications[1], who was persuaded of the urgency of the climate problem. As a significant supporter of the Democratic Party, he had the opportunity to meet President Obama, and he was preparing a specific question: would the President be willing to “meet with Jim Hansen”, who, the supporter asserted, understood the problem as well as anyone and has “some viable ways to fix the problem”?

Obama’s response: he had already read my stuff (presumably meaning my book[2]), but would be interested in talking if it were about policy (presumably meaning that he was already convinced about the reality of the science).  My response to the supporter was that we should check whether the offer was real after my long-overdue “Ice Melt” paper was submitted for publication.

This summer, after submitting the paper, my supporter tried valiantly, but dolefully reported that he could not get through, the President was too well protected.  Not so easily deterred, I reported the matter to Obama’s Science Adviser, John Holdren, and sent him my Ice Melt paper.  Holdren responded that it was a valuable paper, but he ignored my request to meet the President.

So who does the President listen to?  It is worth revealing.  But first let’s note facts that must be included in honest capable advice.  China now has the largest fossil fuel emissions (Fig. 1a).  U.S. emissions are dwindling a bit, and they will continue to be a decreasing portion of ongoing global emissions.  India, the #3 emitter behind the U.S., is moving up fast.

However, human-caused climate change is not proportional to current emissions; instead, climate change depends on cumulative emissions[3]. CO2 from early emissions is now largely incorporated into the ocean and biosphere, but it had a longer time to affect climate, compensating for the small fraction remaining in the air today.  Stated differently, the date of burning is irrelevant because of the millennial lifetime in the Earth system of CO2 released in burning of fossil fuels.

We see (Fig. 1b) that the U.S. is responsible for more than a quarter of global climate change.  Europe is also responsible for more than one quarter.  China is responsible for about 10%, India for 3% and so on.  However, even Fig. 1b is misleading about responsibilities.

Fig. 1.  Annual 2014 and cumulative (1751-2014) fossil fuel CO2 emissions

Fig. 1.  Annual 2014 and cumulative (1751-2014) fossil fuel CO2 emissions (CDIAC data, BP updates).[4]

Fig. 2.  Per capita cumulative (1751-2014) fossil fuel CO2 emissions4 based on 2010 populations.

Fig. 2.  Per capita cumulative (1751-2014) fossil fuel CO2 emissions4 based on 2010 populations.

Per capita responsibility for climate change (Fig. 2) has the UK, where the industrial revolution began, as most responsible, followed closely by the U.S. and Germany.  Chinese responsibility is an order of magnitude smaller and India’s share is barely visible (Fig. 2).

Another crucial fact is that we have already burned most of the carbon that we can afford to put into the climate system[5],[6] (even under the flawed proposition that 2°C global warming is a safe “guard rail”).  In other words, the West burned most of the world’s allowable carbon budget.

The scientific community agrees on a crucial fact: we must leave most remaining fossil fuels in the ground, or our children and future generations are screwed.  Yet Obama is not proposing the action required for the essential change in energy policy direction, even though it would make economic sense for developed and developing countries alike, especially for the common person.

How can such miserable failure of political leadership be explained, when Obama genuinely wants climate policy to be one of his legacy issues?  Don’t blame it on the fossil fuel industry; many industry leaders are beginning to say sensible things about the direction needed.  And Obama is in his final political office – he could act – he does not need oil industry money.

My thesis is that Obama actually means well, has some gumption, and wants effective actions to be taken, but he is being very poorly advised.  As a result, people at the working level have been given no effective direction and are producing little.  Mostly they are working on spin.

Get ready for the great deceit and hypocrisy planned for December in Paris.  Negotiators do not want the global leaders to look like fools again, as they did in Copenhagen.  They are determined to have leaders clap each other on the back and declare the Paris climate negotiations a success.

A prelude of Paris deceit is shown by Chart 3, a press conference with John Podesta, once czar of Obama’s climate policy, and Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz.  They express optimism on the Paris summit, citing an agreement of the U.S. and China to work together to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS). That spin is so gross, it is best described as unadulterated 100% pure bullshit.

I am not criticizing Ernie Moniz, an exceptional Energy Secretary who did yeoman service in negotiations to limit nuclear weapons proliferation.  I am only pointing out the dishonest spin that is being put on total failure to address the fundamental issue.

China and India coal use is the main source of growing global CO2 emissions (Fig. 4), but China and India are not going to attach carbon capture and storage to their thousands of coal plants, which would be hugely expensive.  We (the West) used coal and other fossil fuels to raise our

Chart 3.  Excerpt from news article (The Hill, 24 August 2015).

Chart 3.  Excerpt from news article (The Hill, 24 August 2015).

standard of living, without capturing the CO2 – and in the process we burned much of China and India’s fair share of the global carbon budget.  If that means China and India must capture CO2, the West should pay the cost – but we know that is not going to happen either.

Solution requires realistic definition of the problem.  The fundamental fact is that fossil fuels are the cheapest energy for developing countries, providing the best chance to raise people from poverty to a higher standard of living.  China uses coal for that purpose, as does India, and they will continue to do so.  Climate goals and targets will not change that fact.

However, fossil fuels appear cheapest to the consumer only because they do not incorporate their costs to society, including the effects of air pollution, water pollution and climate change.  Economies are more efficient if energy prices are honest, including external costs in the price.

A consequence of this fundamental truth is that climate change can be addressed at no net cost, indeed with economic gain, provided that true costs are added into the price gradually.  A simple

Fig. 4.  Fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions of China and India by fuel source

Fig. 4.  Fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions of China and India by fuel source4.  There are uncertainties in both the coal use rate and the carbon content of the fuel, as discussed elsewhere.

transparent way to do this is to collect an across-the-board (oil, gas, coal) carbon fee at domestic mines and ports of entry.  If the funds collected are given in equal amount to all legal residents, the fee is revenue neutral and spurs the economy.  This is a conservative approach, because it allows the market to assist change and it does not provide a dime to make government bigger.

Such a common sense approach has not been tried by any government.  Instead legislation is proposed by liberal governments who want funds for bigger government or programs such as renewable energy subsidies.  A carbon tax is hidden in “cap-and-trade-with-offsets”, yielding higher energy prices, more government controls, and a burden on the public and businesses.  The proposed bill in the United States (Waxman/Markey) included 3500 pages of giveaways to every lobbyist who could raise his arm to write a paragraph that was then stapled into the bill.

I have suggested, asked, or begged lawmakers, in more nations and states than I can remember, to consider a simple, honest, rising carbon fee with all funds distributed to legal residents.  Instead, invariably, if they are of a bent to even consider the climate issue, they propose the discredited ineffectual cap-and-trade-with-offsets (C&T) with all its political levers.

In my frustration, I describe C&T as half-assed and half-baked, which is an accurate assessment if the objective is a formulation that can address the global climate problem.  C&T is half-assed, because there is no practical way to make it global as it requires individual adoption by 190 nations, and half-baked because there is no enforcement mechanism.

In contrast, a carbon fee would require agreement of only a small number of the major economic powers, for example, the United States and China.  Upon agreement, they would place a border duty on products from nations without an equivalent carbon fee, and they would give fee rebates to domestic manufacturers for exports to non-participating nations.  This would be a huge incentive for other nations to have an equivalent carbon fee, so they could collect it themselves.

Why would conservatives in the U.S. agree to a carbon fee?  Utility and oil industry executives and other “captains of industry” that I have encountered in the past two decades invariably approve of such an approach – indeed, utility CEOs almost beg for such simple guidance for their investments, rather than more government prescriptions and regulations.  It is not necessary to destroy capitalism to fix the climate – most captains of industry want to be part of the solution.

Would China be willing to impose a domestic carbon fee?  China has little responsibility for global climate change (Fig. 2) and will surely give first priority to raising its living standards.  Same for India.  They have every right to do that – they did not cause the climate problem.  Furthermore, raising human living standards is the best thing for the natural world, the way to reduce human population growth, putting less pressure on other species.

But consider this.  China and India have huge air pollution problems from burning of fossil fuels.  They also stand directly in the path of some of the greatest impacts of climate change, including hundreds of millions of people living near sea level.  The possibility of needing to handle millions of climate refugees, including their own citizens as well as those from Bangladesh and other low latitude countries, is a real threat.

In such countries a carbon fee and dividend to legal residents has multiple merits.  It encourages the public to pay attention to their fossil fuel use.  The fee and dividend is progressive, with most low income people coming out ahead, because their added energy costs are outweighed by the dividend, so it addresses growing income inequality.  The need for a citizen to be registered to receive the dividend helps to minimize undocumented aliens.  Perhaps most important, it makes

Chart 5.  Excerpt from news article (Reuters, 28 October 2015).

Chart 5.  Excerpt from news article (Reuters, 28 October 2015).

citizens feel that they are part of the solution – instead of complaining about air pollution and other woes, they have a means to help solve the problems.

Fee-and-dividend is not a panacea, many other things are required including smart technology development, but a rising carbon fee and dividend is the required underpinning, the sine qua non.  Economic studies show that in the United States fee-and-dividend would decrease carbon emissions by 30% in 10 years and more than 50% in 20 years, while increasing GNP and creating more than 3 million new jobs.[7],[8]

Don’t be misled by some economists or pseudo-economists who say, oh let’s do something better than giving 100% dividends, let’s reduce some other tax.  The public will not buy that one.  And soon it would be forgotten what tax was reduced, people would demand that the carbon tax be removed or at least not rise – because the carbon fee is a tax if there is not 100% dividend.

How do we know that a “cap” approach can never solve the climate/fossil fuel problem?  You must beg 190 nations to each set a low cap.  What is India’s cap?  Why would India accept a low cap, when they have not caused the climate problem (Fig. 2)?  But for illustration, let’s say that miraculously India agreed to have a low carbon cap across all carbon sources (even though caps are never across-the-board on all fossil fuels at the source).  What would be the effect of that success?  It would reduce demand for the fossil fuels, making them cheaper, thus facilitating their use in other places.  The solution is a carbon fee that is made near-global via border duties.

The Threat of a Bad Paris Accord.

The danger is that Paris will lay a Kyoto.  That is the easy way out.  Each country promises to do better, but there is no global carbon fee. Fossil fuels remain cheap. Someone keeps burning them.

Understandably, developing countries focus on near-term support to deal with climate impacts, as they have done little to cause climate change but stand to be hit hard.  It makes sense to provide funds, because cooperation of developing countries is needed to sequester carbon via improved forestry and agricultural practices, and to limit trace gas emissions.  Mutual needs can make this work, with payments contingent on cooperation and success in each program.

However, we cannot let developed countries use these payments to buy business-as-usual.  The future of people in all countries requires rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions. An across-the-board carbon fee is needed to achieve rapid emissions reduction, avoiding the Kyoto debacle.

Yet UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres declares that the Paris accord will not include a carbon price (Chart 5).  “(Many have said) we need a carbon price and (investment) would be so much easier with a carbon price,” Figueres said, “but life is much more complex than that.”

Baloney.  A flat carbon fee is too complex?  Figueres deserves our respect and thanks for hard work, but we cannot let politeness damage the future of our planet and loved ones.

I know the “complexity” Figueres encounters with global leaders, notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel[9].  Merkel is suggesting that others adopt the German approach: close nuclear power plants, subsidize renewables, reduce emissions via resulting high electricity prices and a cap & trade scheme, and export production of many products for domestic consumption to other countries (where fossil fuels may be used).  Result: global emissions decline little, if at all.

Germany is providing a valuable experiment.  Can a wealthy nation with exceptional engineering ability and a public willing to subsidize renewable energies rapidly phase out carbon emissions?

However, it is a mistake to assume that all other nations will follow the German example or even that this approach leads to carbon-free electricity, which is the fundamental technical requirement for phasing out CO2 emissions.  Indeed, it is disquieting that Germany is building coal-fired power plants and other nations are building gas-fired power plants.  If this continues, the “technology lock-in” from long-lived power plants could guarantee expanded fracking and high CO2 emissions through most of this century.

The danger that Paris may mimic Kyoto is heightened by the “guard rail” concept, which allows governments to promise future emission reductions rather than set up a framework that fosters rapid emissions reductions.  Climate science does not define a safe guard rail; instead science indicates that atmospheric CO2 is already into the dangerous range, as shown by a group including world experts in the carbon cycle, paleoclimate and other relevant areas.[10]

The valid scientific message is that emissions must be reduced as rapidly as practical.  And in turn, that implies the price of fossil fuels must be made honest by adding a rising carbon fee.

However, instead, in pre-Paris negotiations each nation is being asked how much it will reduce emissions.  These pledges are then used to estimate whether global temperature will be within the “guardrail”.  Meanwhile low fossil fuel prices continue, guaranteeing that more fossil fuel infrastructure will be built and high emissions will continue.  Valuable time is wasted.

Fig. 6.  Fossil fuel emissions growth this century in the 21 nations with largest current emissions

Fig. 6.  Fossil fuel emissions growth this century in the 21 nations with largest current emissions.4


The situation is summarized in the emissions changes of the 21 highest emitting nations (Fig. 6).  Global emissions increased almost 50% in the last 14 years.  Most developed nations achieved only small reductions, although in Italy and the United Kingdom reductions are about 25%.

The bottom line is this: rapid reduction of global emissions is not happening without a fundamental economic drive toward clean energies.  A rising revenue-neutral carbon fee7,8 would strengthen economies.  So why should this not be pursued and be potentially achievable?

In fact, with agreement between the United States and China, it could be achieved.  As far as I know, they have not ceded authority to a United Nations bureaucrat to decide what is possible.

If the U.S. fails to lead, it seems unlikely that China would immediately take the lead to propose a carbon fee, given that China is not the cause of most climate change.  However, China may take leadership as their self interest in preserving climate grows, especially if bickering between political extremes continues to hamstring the United States[a].  In that case, the best hope for young people and the planet will be rational Chinese leadership, which will likely find many other nations ready to form a coalition of the willing.

You might argue that such a diplomatic agreement would never be approved by conservatives (not only in the U.S., but also other nations).  I disagree.  Thoughtful conservatives, behind the scenes, are coming around to the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon fee.  Obama’s carbon regulations are of little value for reducing global emissions, but they are a useful bargaining chip for persuading conservatives to support a revenue-neutral carbon fee as a compromise.

I do not suggest that Obama would get prompt agreement from the U.S. Senate for a Paris accord with a carbon fee.  Acceptance likely would take a number of years, but if an international framework for common domestic carbon fees is set up (with border duties on products from nonparticipating nations), pressure to join would mount as climate impacts grow.

Compare that approach with the route Obama seems to be on.  First, note that his signature victory (EPA regulations that reduce domestic emissions), assuming that it stands up in court, amounts to only several percent of U.S. emissions, which is about one year’s growth of global emissions during the past 14 years.  Second, what is the chance that what he is proposing for Paris will fly with the U.S. Senate?  Zilch.  Even many Democrats would oppose it.  Not much better than the Clinton-Gore 97-0 blowout.  The fossil fuel industry’s ‘I am an energy voter’ campaign, energy independence, easily wins.  They would laugh all the way to the bank.

Obama’s climate legacy, on his present course, will be worse than a miserable failure: it will be an unnecessary miserable failure.  His popularity in 2008 was 70% and his party controlled both houses of Congress.  Anniek and I wrote a letter[11] to Michelle and Barack Obama in December 2008 explaining the climate situation and needed policies, which he could have initiated then.  However, John Holdren would not deliver the letter, arguing that he would not be confirmed as Science Adviser for months.  Obama, instead, listened to Big Green.

Big Green consists of several “environmental” organizations, including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), each with $100+M budgets, each springing from high-minded useful beginnings, each with more high-priced lawyers than you can shake a stick at.  EDF, with purblind equation of the sulfur and carbon pollution problems, was chief architect of the disastrous Kyoto lemon.  NRDC proudly claims credit for Obama’s EPA strategy and foolishly allows it to migrate to Paris.

Obama still has a chance at a positive climate legacy, if he ditches Big Green.  Better to sit down with the Chinese leaders, who are technically trained, rational, and understand we are together in the same boat.  We had better figure out how to plug the leaks together or we sink together.

Watch what happens in Paris carefully to see if all that the leaders do is sign off on the pap that UN bureaucrats are putting together, indulgences2 and promises to reduce future emissions, and then clap each other on the back and declare success.

In that case President Obama will have sold our children, and theirs, down the river.



[a] As I will discuss in Part II, it is not difficult to make a case that extreme liberals have done as much damage to the future of young people and other life on Earth as “human-made climate change is a hoax” extremists.



[3] Hansen, J., M. Sato, R. Ruedy, P. Kharecha, A. Lacis, R.L. Miller, L. Nazarenko, K. Lo, G.A. Schmidt, G. Russell, 2007: Dangerous human-made interference with climate: A GISS modelE study. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 7, 2287-2312.

[4] From with data sources there being Boden et al. (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and British Petroleum data concatenated for most recent years.

[5] Hansen, J., P. Kharecha, M. Sato, V. Masson-Delmotte, F. Ackerman, D.J. Beerling, P.J. Hearty, O. Hoegh-Guldberg, S.L. Hsu et al., 2013: Assessing “dangerous climate change”: Required reduction of carbon emissions to protect young people, future generations and nature. PLOS ONE, 8, e81648, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648.

[6] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Climate Change 2013, Stocker, T., Dahe, Q., Plattner, G.K., et al., eds., Cambridge University Press, 1535 pp., 2013.


[8] Hansen, J.E., 2015: Environment and development challenges: the imperative of a carbon fee and dividend, in The Oxford Handbook of the Macroeconomics of Global Warming, Eds. L. Bernard and W. Semmler, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199856978.013.0026  also available

[9] Eight years ago, on the advice of the Science Adviser to Merkel, I foolishly agreed to withdraw an open letter to Merkel on energy policies that was to be published in Die Zeit, instead agreeing to a trip to Berlin to discuss the matter with the German government, on the rationale that such was the way to really have an impact on policy2.

As it turned out I only met Minister Gabriel, who promptly said that cap & trade and phase-out of nuclear power were irrevocable German policy.  The function of their 2°C “guardrail” seemed to be to allow several decades for phasing down CO2 emissions.  In response to repeated assertion that the target should be 350 ppm, not 2°C, he repeatedly said they could “tighten the carbon cap”.  In response to the question of what is the cap for India, which proves that a cap approach cannot work, he had no answer. Any serious policy discussion was successfully avoided.2

[10] Hansen, J., M. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. Masson-Delmotte, M. Pagani, M. Raymo, D. Royer, and J.C. Zachos, 2008: Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, 217-231.


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