Why it’s wrong to preach “climate justice”

Two wrongs don't make a right -- carbon is not a prerequisite to development

The Copenhagen Accord is a month old, but its future -- and origin -- is still being furiously debated. The international political profile of climate change is now changing rapidly -- and growing in what will, I hope, be a more useful direction. Old alliances are breaking apart, and new ones are forming.

All of us must reconsider our beliefs as a result.

My decision to write about the heads of state meeting I attended in Copenhagen was not taken lightly; I was initially reluctant to speak publicly about what I had witnessed. The piece I eventually published in the Guardian (with a short version here in the New Statesman) got a lot of attention, but also exposed polarised opinions on who was to blame for the failure at Copenhagen.

What surprised me most was how many campaigners automatically rejected the conclusion, backed up by my direct participation in the negotiations, that it was the developing world -- primarily China and India -- that destroyed the putative "deal". In blogs and emails between groups such as the World Development Movement and their supporters, it was suggested that anything calling into question the roles of developing countries must be a plot by the rich former colonial powers, of which I must be an unwitting (or witting, if you believe the conspiracists) pawn.

Copenhagen has opened up a chasm between sustainability and equity. NGOs that ideologically support equity defend the right of developing countries to increase their emissions for two to three more decades at least, while advocating limits to an increase in temperature (1.5°C) and carbon concentrations (to levels of 350 parts per million or less). Yet, for these goals to be realised, global emissions must peak now -- there is no room for expansion by anyone.

This would be a problem if carbon were a prerequisite for development. But it isn't. Large-scale alternatives, such as wind, hydro and nuclear, can generate all the energy at present delivered by burning coal. Electrification will gradually deliver carbon-free surface transport, while solar power can produce both heat and cooling (and more electricity) at reasonable costs in the tropics and subtropical regions. That is why the decision of the Maldives (whose delegation I joined in Copenhagen) to go carbon-neutral is so important in showing a better way ahead for developing nations.

Many NGOs, with the best of motivations, insist that the historic responsibility for causing climate change (which lies overwhelmingly with rich countries) should confer an equal right to pollute on those who are poor. But two wrongs don't make a right, and the fact is that the capacity of the atmosphere to act as a waste dump for carbon has already been overshot -- if we want to limit temperature increases to levels that would allow nations such as the Maldives to survive.

In my view, the historical responsibility question is an unassailable argument for adaptation financing. It is a clear legal principle that if you cause damage you must pay compensation. (Indeed, the $100bn in initial financing put on the table at Copenhagen was a de facto recognition of this principle.) But to use "climate justice" as an argument for increased future pollution by anyone is wrong. It is time that campaigners rightly concerned with equality recognised that there can be no trade-off between solving poverty and planetary survival.

This article appears in this week's issue of the New Statesman, available from all good newsagents.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Mark Lynas has is an environmental activist and a climate change specialist. His books on the subject include High Tide: News from a warming world and Six Degree: Our future on a hotter planet.
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5 times Hillary Clinton completely owned Donald Trump

The Democratic presidential candidate called out her rival on multiple occasions. 

Only 5 per cent of what Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump says is true, according to the fact checkers Politifact. And yet for months his outspoken comments on race, his business acumen and most of all his rival's emails has sustained his campaign.

But when the two candidates stood head to head in the first debate, Hillary Clinton was the clear winner. Here are some of her best quotes:

1. Nuclear tweets

"That is the number one threat we face in the world and it becomes particularly threatening if terrorists ever get their hands on any nuclear material. So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes as far as I think anyone with any sense should be concerned."

2. Racist lies

"He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen."

3. Zero taxes

"Maybe he doesn't want the American people to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years anybody's ever seen were the couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a a casino licence, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax. So if he's paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health. I think probably he's not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see."

4. Pigs and slobs

"This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs. Someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, and has said women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men."

5. Little guys

"If your main claim to be President of the United States is your business, I think we should talk about that. Your campaign manager said you built a lot of businesses on the backs of little guys. And indeed, I have met a lot of people who were stiffed by your and your businesses, Donald. I've met dishwasers, painters, architects, glass installers, marble installers, drapery installers, like my dad was, who you refused to pay when they finished your work that you asked them to do.

"We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your club houses on your golf courses. It's a beautiful facility it was immediately put to use, and you wouldn't pay what the man needed to be paid - what he was charging you.

"Do the thousands of people who you have stiffed over the course of your business not deserve some sort of apology?"

4. Negative painter

"It's really unfortunate that he paints such a dire, negative picture of black communities in our country."

5. Fact check

Donald Trump: "You're telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you've been fighting Isis your entire adult life."

Clinton (68): "Please, fact checkers, get to work!"