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About the Big UN Climate Conference in Paris

by Mike Sandler, Co-founder of The Climate Center  |  Oct. 9, 2015

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You may have been hearing about the big climate conference
coming up in Paris in a few months. It is called COP-21, short for the 21st
UN Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC).

The group has already convened 20 times, and are still
struggling to find a solution. Many observers have given up on the UNFCCC
producing an international “top down” treaty and are focusing instead on
nationally adopted actions that can be added up. Unfortunately, each nation’s
“intended” action plan, or INDC, reflects its leaders’ views on what is
politically feasible, not what is scientifically required. In many cases, the
actions are voluntary and would be implemented by future administrations, so
there is no assurance the pledges will be fulfilled. Therefore, some groups are
now putting forward an idea for a backup to the UNFCCC’s official work in the form
of a citizen-led movement to establish a global regulator for the atmospheric
commons.  

One such proposal is called “CapGlobalCarbon” (www.capglobalcarbon.org). The goal is
for non-governmental actors to establish an independent Global Climate Commons
Trust to act on behalf of humanity as a whole. Based on the advice of climate
scientists, the Trust decides the total amount of fossil carbon from coal, oil,
and gas that can safely be extracted each year, with the quantity diminishing
each year.

The Trust would introduce a global permit system to control
the introduction of coal, oil, or gas anywhere in the world, through what is
known as an ‘upstream cap’. The permits are valuable and must be purchased by
fossil fuel extraction companies. Having paid market price for the permits, the
fossil fuel extraction companies pass on the cost to their customers. The net
proceeds collected for the permits would then be distributed directly to the
people throughout the world in equal shares.

This proposed new global system ensures that the necessary
reductions in total global carbon emissions are achieved in a way that addresses
global poverty and reduces inequality. It is similar to the carbon pricing
approach that The Climate Center (CCP) has been advocating for
in California, called “Cap & Dividend.”

Stay tuned!

Mike Sandler is co-founder of The Climate Center (CCP) and part of CapGlobalCarbon’s Steering Committee.

CCP invites you to support Mike’s trip to Paris to promote CapGlobalCarbon at COP-21. CCP is collecting donations on behalf of the project. Make sure to note that your donation is to support Mike Sandler/CapGlobalCarbon in Paris. He has also set up a crowdfunding webpage for CapGlobalCarbon (coinciding with his 40th birthday) at http://www.plumfund.com/birthday-fund/mikesandlercop21.

Mike will be blogging about Paris on Huffington Post, and CCP will be watching the talks closely. Please contact CCP if you are interested in joining or supporting this effort.

CCP recently became an affiliate with the CapGlobalCarbon project.

The Case for Cap and Dividend

by Meghan Demeter  |   September 1, 2015

California has long been at the forefront of climate protection,
and the state has been something of a testing ground for environmental and
energy legislation. We’ve experienced both successes and failures, and can
learn valuable lessons from both.

The State has already allocated $1.4 billion in auction revenue
from California’s cap and trade system for numerous projects across the state. Much more revenue is anticipated as the system broadens to
include the transportation sector. But is this approach for allocating revenue the
most cost-effective?

First, consider effectiveness in reducing emissions. Though many
of the projects being funded by the cap and trade revenue facilitate green
technology innovation, it begs the question: will this make emissions go
down any faster than just mandating a cap on emissions alone?  As
green innovation reduces emissions in one sector – for example, transportation
– that sector will require fewer permits to pollute, therefore freeing up some
permits. When the permit supply increases, price goes down and it becomes
cheaper for other industries to purchase more permits. In other words, the
current system seems to simply shift the right to pollute among industries,
thereby negating the emissions-reductions benefits of the investments.   

Next, consider the aspect of fairness. Having the state charge
companies for emitting greenhouse gas will, by design, raise the cost of fossil
fuel. Those who are economically disadvantaged are disproportionately impacted by
this increase in cost. Although 25% of Cap and Dividend revenues are earmarked
for economically disadvantaged communities, this is not as powerful of an
offset for them as dividends would be.

Another aspect of fairness is people’s right to any income
associated with wealth that we create or inherit together, as Peter Barnes
explains in With Liberty and Dividends for All. The atmosphere is an
example of this shared wealth. When we charge for the emissions that are
harming our society, the revenue doesn’t belong to any one person–or even to
any one government. Rather it belongs to the people as a whole. Thus, that
money should be distributed as an equal dividend to all.

Another criterion for evaluating the allocation of revenues is the
importance of building political support for the Cap and Trade system. Although
Californians currently receive a biyearly climate dividend of about $35 as a
credit buried in their electricity bills, the relative invisibility of the
climate credit jeopardizes the entire system. Because very few people know they
are benefitting, political will is not being built to keep the system in place.

Contrast California’s approach to dividends with Alaska’s
successful example. The Alaska Permanent Fund writes a yearly check to every
Alaska resident. In 2014, this amounted to $1,884 per person. The off-bill
check is a tangible reminder of a policy that benefits every Alaskan. As a
result, there has never been a serious political challenge to the fund, and to
do so is now considered political suicide.

Dividends could function as a source of basic income, a type of
universal welfare that has been advocated for by economists and politicians on
both sides of the political spectrum. Furthermore, dividends are among the most
effective methods of increasing income equality. Once again, Alaska exemplifies
the impact that a successful dividend system can have; it is among the top
states for income equality.

It is rare that a single policy can address two important issues,
but cap and dividend has the potential to ameliorate both climate change and
income inequality.

Momentum is building, as bills in both Oregon and the U.S. Congress
are calling for cap and dividend as the next step in the environmental
movement. Representative Van Hollen has sponsored The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act, proposing cap and dividend on a national level, while Oregon Climate is in the midst of a campaign to institute the system in Oregon.

California has another opportunity to be a national leader in
environmental policy. The California Air Resources Board is currently updating its
investment plan for Cap and Trade revenues. The state should use this
opportunity to expand the climate credit and create an equal, off-bill climate
dividend. Through this, California could show how a cap and dividend system can
make the country a greener, more equitable place.

Make your
voice heard. Sign
our petition
to tell the California Air Resources Board that you support
cap and dividend. We’ll submit comments on Thursday, September 3.

Learn more:

Meghan Demeter is an intern with The Climate Center. She will be entering her senior year at Western Washington University, double-majoring in Environmental Economics and French with a minor in Energy Policy.

Talking Cap and Dividend with Peter Barnes

by Meghan Demeter  |   July 28, 2015

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[Pictured above: Meghan Demeter, Peter Barnes, Ann Hancock]

I packed up my car five weeks ago and drove down to Santa Rosa from Seattle to start my internship at The Climate Center. I was drawn to the Center as a way to study carbon pricing. As a student of environmental economics, I see this as a necessary step in climate policy, and am interested in the different kinds of systems and how they function.  

The Center advocates for cap and dividend as the best method of carbon pricing. A declining cap is placed on carbon emissions, permits for emitting carbon are auctioned to companies, and revenue from auctioning the permits is distributed evenly back to citizens.

Over the past month, I have been working on projects related to cap and dividend, starting with reading the phenomenal With Liberty and Dividends for All by Peter Barnes. Last week, I had the privilege to meet Peter himself, and discuss his book with him.

Peter has pioneered the cap and dividend movement, and remains a wealth of knowledge on its intricacies and the policies and politics surrounding it. While reading his book, I developed a list of questions, to which Peter responded with candor and clarity. Though I already agreed with Peter on many things, I found his responses refreshing and thought-provoking. I imagine I’ll be contemplating his ideas for some time, and hope to be part of making them a reality.

Peter believes that in order to build a movement – as is necessary to see dramatic success in climate protection – we need to create economic benefits for people. This is one of the underlying principles of carbon pricing: by putting a price on something we don’t want, we disincentive its use. But Peter goes further in his advocacy for dividends. If we implement a carbon pricing system in which every person is paid directly, the benefits become more visible and the negative aspects (e.g. higher energy prices) harder to find. By benefitting the average person, we can build a coalition with a broader support, beyond the usual suspects of environmentalists, Democrats.

And that is absolutely necessary. To build support for climate protection – particularly carbon pricing – we must enlist support from people and groups beyond those that already agree with us. Peter summed it up quite nicely when he said that we should be pursuing change in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary way. By finding a solution within our current economic system that provides something for everyone, cap and dividend can help us do just that.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will look into California’s cap and trade system and the “invisible” climate dividend.

Meghan Demeter is an intern with The Climate Center. She will be 

entering her senior year at Western Washington University,

double-majoring in Environmental Economics and French with a minor in Energy Policy.