Playing Games with the Global Climate

INTERNATIONAL cooperation is vital if we are to agree a new deal on climate change at the Copenhagen talks in December. But will non-cooperation be the dominant strategy adopted by world leaders?

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78981INTERNATIONAL cooperation is vital if we are to agree a new deal on climate change at the Copenhagen talks in December. But will non-cooperation be the dominant strategy adopted by world leaders?

The problem with the atmosphere is that is a free resource with no ownership. As a consequence it has been overused as a dumping ground for polluting gases which have contributed to levels of atmospheric pollution and climate change. China is now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions followed by the United States.

International agreements have established an institutional structure for the global communal management of the atmosphere. The United Nation’s Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol attempts to do this with regard to taking actions to reduce greenhouse gases and the effects of global climate change.

In the 1960s Garrett Hardin developed the notion of the ‘Freedom of the Tragedy of the Commons’ where he used the analogy of a common grazing land to illustrate that sharing common resources leads to overuse. Each herdsman as a rational individual seeks to maximise his gain. By adding one more animal to the common land he will gain, however, the overgrazing caused by the additional one will be shared by all herdsmen.

eth_29947 The rational herdsman concludes that he would benefit from adding another animal to the common land. However, this is the conclusion of all the herdsmen which ultimately leads to the ‘tragedy’ as each herdsmen is locked into a system which compels him to increase his herd without limit.

Hardin uses the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ to explain the problem of pollution, which results in emitting polluting emissions into the natural environment. The polluter as a ‘rational man’ will come to the same conclusion as the herdsmen, that the cost of polluting can be less than the treatment or abatement of polluting emissions.

Hardin concludes that “Freedom on the commons brings ruin to all” and that “… we are locked into a system of “fouling our own nest” so long as we behave as independent rational, free-enterprises”. His solution was “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”.

Hardin’s analogy has been criticised as being a false analogy because it ignores the powerful sense of community obligation which could exist and act as a deterrent for abuse of such a common grazing land.

Communal management can be effective if there is an agreement to cooperate to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the case of climate change. However, there is a risk that one nation will ‘free ride’ and not fulfil its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

International negotiations can be viewed as a game which results in a “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.
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The Prisoner’s Dilemma
2nd 100 yrs digTwo suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?
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In the case of climate change the developed and developing nations are the prisoners. If each co-operate then we would be spared from runaway climate change and global temperatures exceeding 2 degrees centigrade. However, non-cooperation gives one nation a greater payoff.

For non-cooperation would result in one of the nations saving investing billion of dollars in technology to reduce emissions. In this case the nation that does not cooperate would be a free-rider and enjoy any benefits from the other nations which reduce GHGs without having to bear the cost. The dominant strategy for each nation would be one of non-cooperation.

Unlike the Prisoners Dilemma, the climate crisis will means that in the long-term there will be no winners. Europe Is attempting to reassert its international leadership by offering to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95% by 2050 and by 30% by 2020 if a climate change pact is agreed in Copenhagen. However, US, China, and India have yet to unveil targets or specific figures for a new deal on climate change.

We are already perilously close to the brink of climate catastrophe and developing nations have little room to grow out of poverty. If we fail to produce a new deal climate deal then it will truly be a tragedy of the commons.

© Gary Haq 2009
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Food for Thought: Averting the Food Crisis and Reducing Waste

The UK throws away an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food away every year. Most of the food could have been eaten. Not only does throwing away food waste precious resources, food waste equates to annual cost of £10.2 billion and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Are we taking our food for granted?

food-for-everyoneThe UK throws away an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food away every year. Most of the food could have been eaten. Not only does throwing away food waste precious resources, food waste equates to annual cost of £10.2 billion and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Are we taking our food for granted?

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the average UK household throws away 18% of all food purchased with families with children throwing away 27%. It is mostly food that could have been consumed if it had been better stored or managed, or had not been left uneaten on a plate. Much of the food waste goes into landfill with an estimated £1 billion worth of food wasted in the UK still “in date” while nearly a quarter was disposed of because the “use by” or “best before” date had expired. Salad, fruit and bread are most commonly wasted food while 60% of all dumped food remains untouched.food-waste

We are not only paying for food we do not eat, we are having to deal with the cost that the waste creates as well as the cost to the climate with regard to the energy used in growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin.

While we throw away food in the UK people in other parts of the world are struggling to cope with an increase in food prices. In 2008 there was a surge in food prices which resulted in millions of people being plunged into hunger causing rioting in countries such as Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt and Haiti. The increase in selected commodity prices for wheat, corn, and soya resulted in 110 million people being driven into poverty and added 44 million more to the undernourished. Although prices have fallen sharply since the peak in July 2008, they are still high above those in 2004 for many key commodities.

unepfoodA recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the The Environmental Food Crisis states that up to 25 per cent of the world’s food production may become lost due to environmental breakdowns by 2050 unless action is taken.

Cereal yields have already stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining. Drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks all contribute to the current food crisis. These may worsen the situation substantially in the coming decades. The amount of fish currently discarded at sea – estimated at 30 million tonnes annually – could sustain more than a 50 per cent increase in fish farming and aquaculture.

Climate change emerges is a key factor that may undermine the chances of feeding over nine billion people by 2050. Increasing water scarcities and a rise and spread of invasive pests such as insects, diseases and weeds may substantially depress yields in the future.

Over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. Rather than focusing solely on increasing production, food security can be increased by enhancing supply through optimising food energy efficiency. The world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet.

Tackling the global crisis starts at home. We all need to do our bit by ensuring we do not waste this precious resource we have taken for granted for so long.

© Gary Haq 2009

Could Austerity be Good for the Planet?

WITH the shrinking of the UK economy, planned increase in public borrowing and expected higher taxation and public spending cuts it is claimed that Britain is entering a decade of austerity. Could we see a return to more sustainable lifestyles?

article-1169140-009206c7000004b0-284_468x3751WITH the shrinking of the UK economy, planned increase in public borrowing and expected higher taxation and public spending cuts it is claimed that Britain is entering a decade of austerity. Could we see a return to more sustainable lifestyles?

On 22 April the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced in his annual budget that the economy would shrink by 3.5 per cent this year. He also outlined plans to increase public borrowing of £175 billion with borrowing levels to be £173bn, £140bn, £118bn and £97bn in years after.

The Chancellor has been criticised for being over optimistic about future growth forecasts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned the Labour government must close a £90 billion hole in order to balance the budget. The independent think-tank claimed that this would cost every UK family £2,840 per year by 2017-18 in higher taxes or public spending cuts. Critics argue that this will see the dawn of a new age of austerity on the scale of that experienced after the Second World War.

images-7The baby boomers born were the first generation of the consumer society born in Post-War Britain. Since the 1950s we have whole-heartedly embraced consumer values with an emphasis for immediate gratification and satisfying individual needs. We have now arrived at a point where we are living beyond our means not only in the financial sense but also in the ecological sense. The demands of our increasingly globalised, industrialised, high consuming society have overloaded the planet’s natural ability to absorb, replenish and restore. We are now drawing on our ecological capital rather than living off nature’s interest. For sometime we have been experiencing an ecological credit crunch but this has not received much media or public attention.

A new period of austerity could provide the opportunity to rediscover values that were lost sometime ago. While being on a budget may not be fun it does make us thing about how we spend our money and whether purchases are really necessary.

2292499420_1cf4c88267Many people over the age of 65 lived through the War and grew up in years of austerity. They were forced to appreciate the value of food and goods due to having experienced rationing. This instilled a “mend and make do” attitude where waste was avoided. As a consequence many people aged over 65 tend to be prompt bill payers, debt averse and dislike waste.

Since the War we have managed to export our manufacturing base to the Far East to take advantage of low cost labour and consumer products. It is now cheaper to throw away and buy new rather than repair. Gone are the days when things were made to last or where we would have an item for many years with an occasional service or repair. We now consume to be fashionable – when a new trend comes along the old is ditched for the new.

The biggest incentive to encouraging a move to greener lifestyles is cost. There are many things we can all do so save pounds and the planet. Less consumption and profligate use of resources does not have to be austere. It means appreciating the value of not consuming, making do and reusing and recycling and buying to last.

The next decade could be the time we finally begin to live within both our ecological and financial means.

© Gary Haq 2009

GREEN Shoots of a Global Economic Recovery

WITH the global economic recession, a broken financial system, job losses, fall in assets, drop in wealth, persistent poverty and growing environmental problems it is time to change our model of economic growth

Gary HaqWITH the global economic recession, a broken financial system, job losses, fall in assets, drop in wealth, persistent poverty and growing environmental problems it is time to change our model of economic growth.

The global recession is an economic tsunami that sweeping across the planet destroying companies, banks, jobs and lives in its path. To recover from the global slump an economic stimulus is deemed necessary to kick-start production and consumption. The rebuilding of the global economy provides a unique opportunity to create a low-carbon economy that will provide jobs, stabilise the climate and ensure both financial and ecological sustainability.

The capitalist model of development has been to strive for ever more growth but it has failed to deliver greater happiness, freedom from poverty and sustainable use of the planet’s finite natural resources. Instead it has delivered prosperity for the few based on ecological destruction and social injustice. A report of the UK Sustainable Development Commission entitled Prosperity without Growth? claims that it is delusional if we think that the current capitalist economic model can stabilise the climate and protect resource scarcity. Improvements in energy intensity (carbon) have been offset by increases in the scale of economic activity. Global carbon emissions from energy use have increased by 40 per cent since 1990. There is no credible socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario for a growing incomes of 9 billion people.

ls-logo-gif1The economic recovery will demand investment. At the G20 London Summit on 2 April 2009 leaders of the world’s largest economies agreed a global plan for economic recovery and reform. The twenty-nine point communiqué, included US$1.1 trillion for global economic recovery, but was weak on trade issues and a commitment to spend a substantial share of the economic stimulus on low-carbon recovery projects.

Many environmental groups are calling for a need for a global green deal to invest in a green economy. Targeting investment towards energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection is vital if we are to achieve a green recovery. It has been suggested that at least two per cent of world GDP should be targeted to green investment and job-generating projects.

A report on pathways to a low carbon economy by McKinsey and Co claims that moving to a “green” global economy is affordable and can protect the planet from the worst effects of climate change by being kept global temperatures below the critical 2°C. The study lists more than 200 opportunities, spread across ten sectors and twenty-one geographical regions, which could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. That is if all the technology options were put into practice.

For a bargain price of less than half a per cent of global GDP greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced. This would be achieved by investment in wind, solar and other sustainable renewable energy which could by 2030 provide almost a third of all global power needs. Energy efficiency could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than a quarter and deforestation in developing countries could be almost fully halted.

This need for a green recovery is slowly trickling thorough to our political leaders. In an interview with The Independent newspaper, the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in a reference to green initiatives in the budget, which will be on Wednesday 22 April, Brown said: “This is a major part of our plan for recovery in the budget. We will set our proposals for greener economy.” This will enable Britain to become a market leader across the world for electric and hybrid cars. We wait to hear the measures that the UK government will take.

It is clear we cannot go back to our past ways of operating our economic system. The economic recovery has to deliver a different quality of economic growth that can deliver immediate and long-term benefits, reduce the effects of climate change, reduce energy insecurity and the depletion of natural resources.

A Green recovery is the only option.

© Gary Haq 2009

Stressing Over Water

FOR far too long rich Western countries have had the luxury of a plentiful supply of water. Yet water scarcity will be common as we experience greater water stress. This week delegates met at the World Water Forum in Istanbul to discuss what action can be taken to prevent global water scarcity. A combination of climate change, population growth, and increased demand for food, energy and biofuels will mean that by 2030 water scarcier than ever with almost half of the world’s population living in areas of water stress.

gallery-severe-drought-a-020FOR far too long rich Western countries have had the luxury of a plentiful supply of water. Yet water scarcity will become a common occurrence as we experience greater water stress

This week delegates met at the World Water Forum in Istanbul to discuss what action can be taken to prevent global water scarcity. A combination of climate change, population growth, and increased demand for food, energy and biofuels will mean that by 2030 water will be scarcer than ever before with almost half of the world’s population living in areas of high water stress.

When it comes to water we are most definitely leaving beyond our means. We may extract even greater amounts of water from the surface and groundwater sources. However, this is not a long-term solution.

Water is a crucial element for human existence. It is estimated that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day for the basics – to drink, cook and wash. Everyone has a right to sufficient, safe, acceptable and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. Safe water is necessary to avoid death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for cooking, personal and domestic uses.

Original Title: j1Unfortunately, these days fresh, clean water is becoming a precious commodity. Access to basic water-related services (e.g safe drinking water, sanitation and food production) remains inadequate in many developing countries. Especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where about 340 million people lack access to safe drinking water. It is often the poor who suffer the most. The number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day coincides with the number of those without access to safe drinking water.

Individuals and companies are all guilty of the wasteful consumption of water. The World Water Development report published this week warns some countries are already reaching the limits of their water resources. Climate change is likely to aggravate this situation even further leading to intense competition for water resources. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that up to 2 billion people may be at risk from increasing water stress by the 2050s, and that this number could rise to 3.2 billion by the 2080s.

A European Environment Agency report on water resources across Europe shows that southern Europe continues to experience the greatest water scarcity problems. However, water stress is growing in parts of northern Europe. Climate change will further exacerbate water stress due an increase in the severity and frequency of droughts in the future, especially during the summer months.

If we are to avoid water stress than we need to cut demand, minimise the amount of water that we are extracting and increase the efficiency of its use. Good governance is essential for water management as water scarcity becomes an increasingly political issue. While policies exist to improve water management and to reduce water demand and loss these reforms have not had any noticeable effect. The World Water Development report calls for increased investment in water infrastructure by political and business leaders to avoid the risk of economic activity and development goals being undermined. It emphasises the importance of partnerships between governments the private sector and civil society.

The current global economic crisis could provide an opportunity to begin to address the emerging water crisis. However, the future management of water needs to be seen as an urgent and real issue to ensure that stakeholders can engage in addressing the issue.

As pictures are beamed back from Mars of droplets of water on Nasa’s Mars Phoenix Lander providing the first photographic evidence of water existing in its liquid state on the planet, we can only hope we can make the necessary changes to ensure we have more that a few droplets left on this planet.

© Gary Haq 2009