BRICs Cook the Climate (Part Two)

By Patrick Bond, a political economist with longstanding research interests and NGO work in urban communities and with global justice movements in several countries. He teaches political economy and eco-social policy, directs the Centre for Civil Society and is involved in research on economic justice, geopolitics, climate, energy and water. Cross posted from Triple Crisis

Second of two parts, see Part One here

A secondary objective of the Copenhagen deal – aside from avoiding emissions cuts the world so desperately requires – was to maintain a modicum of confidence in carbon markets. Especially after the 2008 financial meltdown and rapid decline of European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, BASIC leaders felt renewed desperation to prop up the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM), the Third World’s version of carbon trading. Questioning the West’s banker-centric climate strategy – which critics term ‘the privatisation of the air’ – was not an option for BRICS elites, given their likeminded neoliberal orientation.

By the end of 2012, the BRICS no longer qualified to receive direct CDM funds, so efforts shifted towards subsidies for new internal carbon markets, especially in Brazil and China. In February 2013, South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan also announced that as part of a carbon tax, Pretoria would also allow corporations to offset 40 percent of their emissions cuts via carbon markets.

The best way to understand this flirtation with emissions trading is within the broader context of economic power, for it is based on the faith that financiers can solve the world’s most dangerous market externality – when in reality they cannot maintain their own markets. As sustainability scholars Steffen Böhm, Maria Ceci Misoczky and Sandra Moog argue, ‘the subimperialist drive has remained the same: while domestic capital continues to invest heavily in extractive and monocultural industries at home, it is increasingly searching for investment opportunities in other peripheral markets as well, precipitating processes of accumula­tion by dispossession within their broader spheres of influence. This mode of development can be observed in many semi-peripheral nations, particularly in the BRICS.’

For example, according to Böhm, Misoczky and Moog, “China’s extensive investment in African arable land and extractive industries in recent years has been well docu­mented. What is perhaps less well recognized in the development literature, however, is the extent to which financing from carbon markets like the CDM is now being leveraged by elites from these BRICS countries, to help underwrite these forms of subimperialist expansion.”

In terms of global-scale climate negotiations, the Washington+BASIC negotiators can thus explicitly act on behalf of their fossil fuel and extractive industries to slow emission-reduction obligations, but with a financial-sector back-up, in the event a global climate regime does appear in 2020, as agreed at the Durban COP17. Similar cozy ties between Pretoria politicians, London-based mining houses, Johannesburg ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ tycoons and sweetheart trade unions were subsequently exposed at Marikana, the site of a massacre of 34 Lonmin platinum workers in August 2012.

Other BRICS countries have similar power configurations, and in Russia’s case it led to a formal withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period (2012-2020) in spite of huge ‘hot air’ benefits the country would have earned in carbon markets as a result of the industrial economy’s disastrous exposure to world capitalism during the early 1990s. That economic crash cut Russian emissions far below 1990 Soviet Union levels during the first (2005-2012) commitment period. But given the 2008-13 crash of carbon markets – where the hot air benefits would have earlier been realised as €33/tonne benefits but by early 2013 fell to below €3/tonne – Moscow’s calculation was to promote its own oil and gas industries helter-skelter, and hence binding emissions cuts were not in Russia’s interests, no matter that 2010-11 climate-related droughts and wildfires raised the price of wheat to extreme levels and did tens of billions of dollars of damage.

The same pro-corporate calculations are being made in the four other BRICS, although their leaders occasionally postured about the need for larger northern industrial country emissions cuts. However, the crucial processes in which UN climate regulatory language was hammered out climaxed at the COP17 in Durban in December 2011 in a revealing manner. ‘The Durban Platform was promising because of what it did not say,’ bragged US State Department adviser Trevor Houser to the New York Times. ‘There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions. There is no mention of economic development as the priority for developing countries. There is no mention of a difference between developed and developing country action.’

The COP17 deal squashed poor countries’ ability to defend against climate disaster. With South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane chairing, the climate summit confirmed this century’s climate-related deaths of what will be more than 180 million Africans, according to Christian Aid. Already 400 000 people die each year from climate-related chaos due to catastrophes in agriculture, public health and ‘frankenstorms’.

What, then, should be done about the BRICS? They have been given a ‘pass’ from many climate activists because on per capita and in historic terms, their industries and agriculture have not been nearly so guilty of greenhouse gas emissions as the rich Western countries. Most recently, the huge increase in emissions by China for the sake of manufacturing production is now understood to be associated with the deindustrialisation of the West: the ‘outsourcing’ of emissions. So emissions from the east coast of China should logically be attributed to Western consumers, in large part.

But the pass is over. Pablo Solon and Walden Bello of the Bangkok-based institute Focus on the Global South opened a debate in September 2012: “We should demand that China, India, Brazil and South Africa also agree to mandatory cuts without offsets, although of course, these should be lower than the Annex 1 countries, in line with the UNFCCC principles.’ For Solon and Bello, the problem is the BRICS’ “high-speed, consumption-dependent, and greenhouse gases-intensive growth paths.”

The Durban summit is an opportune moment to ask and answer many questions regarding the BRICS’ economic strategies. With Zuma recently declaring his government “anti-imperialist: on foreign policy, it is appropriate to ask whether this is not merely another case of talk left so as to walk right, because on the most crucial long-term foreign policy of all, climate, BRICS appear distinctly sub-imperialist.

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  1. different clue

    Doesn’t a unit of stuff-production in newly industrializing China emit twice as much carbon as the same unit of stuff-production emitted in the Industrial West and Japan when it was still produced there? If so, then shutting down that production in China and returning it to the Industrial West and Japan at its former level of carbon efficiency would cut those emissions in half.

    It is a neat guilt-trip to accuse “Western Consumers” of causing those emissions from China when it was not “Western Consumers” who made or supported the decision to outsource their formerly-domestic production to China. And there is no cure whatever for that problem in the present context of Forced Free Trade. Only the abolition of Free Trade and the Restoration of Protectionism can allow the “Western Consumers” to become “Western Producers” as well . . . producing their own production as they did before the Great Outsourcing. And at much greater carbon-efficiency than what China and the other captors of our kidnapped production in exile achieve now.

    1. different clue

      And do I here someone say ” well what if China counter-bans imports from the West?” Good! Let that happen. Support it! Let China produce for China and let EuroJapanAmerica produce for EuroJapanAmerica.

      1. Chris Engel

        I don’t think you grasp just how interwoven the suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, and marketers are amongst those two “regions”.

        Cooperation will reign supreme for generations to come, until a cataclysmic climate event occurs that forces people to disturb the status quo.

        1. The Heretic

          You wrote ‘…cooperation for generations to come…’

          I disagree… The intense outsourcing of US industry started in the 70’s with Mexico, increased in the 80’s, and accelerated again in the 1990’s as China opened itself. Businesses were allowed much lattittude In deciding when to enter China. If we put in the right protectionist and pro-environmental and pro-employment policies, with appropriate incentives and penalties, and rigorous and fierce enforcement, we could shift all of the Capitol intensive industries back in 5-10 years.

          There will be a lot less Walmarts and sprawling plazas, and much more semi-conductor plants, highly automated production plants, and environmental protection/waste reduction industries.

        2. different clue

          Chris Engel,

          If you are correct, then we are joined in a Climate Death Suicide Pact.

          I hope you are wrong. Abolishing Free Trade and Restoring Protectionism would allow us to tear apart all those interlinked supply chains in order to avoid the coming Climate Death Ecotastrophe currently in mid-rollout.

    2. Thorstein

      Excellent point, Chris Engel’s skepticism notwithstanding. When even environmental advocates like Bond lay charge for outsourced carbon emissions on “Western consumers”, it’s clear that green advocates have failed to fully make the connections among climate, outsourcing, and the Waltons of the world.

    3. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


      How many “Western consumers” have knowingly or unknowingly funded the “globalization” of which you lament via his/her pension fund, 401K invested in transnational corporations, or emerging markets? If the goal is to maximize returns – whether individually or collectively – isn’t this a large part of the problem even though it may be one or two steps removed from the destruction of the rain forests or the deadly air/water pollution in China? Aren’t the latter connected to the former – the maximization of returns?

      As my mother’s doctor [very progressive] once told me, her investments in emerging markets were doing quite well. Likewise, the same with a cousin [pro-union] when he moved his funds to emerging markets. When I pointed out that those monies were likely putting other Americans out of work, nothing but stares and shrugs. My cousin hunched his shoulders and quipped “gotta look out for #1” … Never even got to a discussion of pollution/climate change. But it’s the disconnect between the two among “consumers” that is alarming. And I’m not so sure it’s a disconnect!

      I find it ironic that many a baby boomer funded the very “globalization” which makes their “golden years” problematic and their descendants’ standard of living even moreso. But only now are these “Western consumers” realizing that “decisions” made 40 years ago are now bearing poison fruit.

      So it’s not merely a question of tariffs and/or autarchy, but the realization that the funds for investment have to be monitored/controlled as well. And this cuts to core of the institution of private property. If you resent someone telling you how to spend your money – your private property – then it’s the same for everyone else, irrespective of whether we’re talking about $50 or $5 million… Granted there is a difference, but on the surface this notion of private property plays well with the population at large. And until this principle and its consequences are understood by the average Western consumer nothing much will change. Moreover, the short term mentality of the eternal present doesn’t make for such understanding. If anything it reinforces this principle and the notion that “cheaper is better”.

      So if one excuses the average American for his/her “ignorance” then what about the average BRIC member who wants a better standard of living for himself/herself and their children? Neither has much control over INVESTMENT decisions. It’s the latter – INVESTMENT – that both need to acquire some control over if WE are to survive.

      1. different clue

        Fair points.

        If Forced Free Trade had never been allowed, there would have been no incentive to tranfer all that investment to the
        low-cost low-standards areas to begin with. If Forced Free Trade were banned and abolished, we could tarriff or outright ban any product from places less carbon-efficient than we are, and an incentive to re-patriate those investments back here would be created.

        And of course the more carbon efficient European countries could ban imports from America until America became as carbon efficient as the most advanced European countries. Under Protectionism we could have a Forced March to the Top instead of a Power Dive to the Bottom as we now have.

  2. TimR

    This recent interview on re-affirms my skepticism about “greenhouse gas emissions” being a genuine concern. Here is a scientist whose CV shows decades of research related to climate science, who has been close to the inner workings of that community, and declares that a great fraud is being foisted on the lay community. Please inform me if you have information that he is a paid hack of the oil industry, or getting money under the table from somebody – I welcome any legit charges against his credibility as a chance to remove any blinders I may be wearing. But listen to the interview and tell me it’s such a clear-cut case and you, a lay-person like myself, have made up your mind to put your faith in the institutional/establishment camp:

    As the interviewee writes on his site “…climatology is a generalist discipline in a world of specialization. Even a basic understanding requires integration of everything from cosmic radiation from space to volcanic heat on the bottom of the ocean and everything in between.”

    I’m an “environmentalist” so far as not wanting to despoil the air, water, natural habitats, etc. but the focus on man-made climate change strikes me as a case of putting the politics before the science, then using the science as a cudgel to pound the public into submission.

    1. afisher

      He is an admitted climate skeptic. It is on his website. Additionally, if you check out his CV – there is no evidence that he has done any research on Climate Change.

      One of his common arguments is: If we can’t predict the weather a week in advance, how it is possible to predict human impact on Climate change. When one tries to assume that “weather” prediction for a day or week is relevant to the paleo-records of Climate Change – then folks are either ignorant of the actual debate or haven’t actually thought through what he is selling.

      His claims of being a climatologist ended with a lawsuit, in which he claimed that his “reputation was being attacked” . After a back/forth led to a restatement by the Canadian Herald in which it asserted that Ball “never had a reputation in the scientific community as a noted climatologist and authority on global warming” and “is viewed as a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry, rather than a practicing scientist”. (excerpt from M.Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) which discussed Climate Cover-Up book).

      He is one of many player’s who make a good sounding talking point – but in fact is more a bait / switch BS.

      1. MRW

        He is an admitted climate skeptic. It is on his website. Additionally, if you check out his CV – there is no evidence that he has done any research on Climate Change.

        Complete BS. You have not read one single one of his papers, his work for the Canadian government on the climate, or his research papers.

        Further, climate science was only invented as a university program in 1979 at the Univ of Wisconsin. Climate Scientists who researched aspects of the climate before that time were atmospheric scientists, geologists, physicists, etc.

        You are a gossip. You are impugning a man you know nothing about.

      2. MRW

        The rest of your points are laughable leads from blog post that indicate you have not done any further research.

        Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” has been discredited, if you’d bother to check.

      1. MRW

        Whenever you hear of something you feel is a valid argument, go to Skeptical Science and look it up. Then see whether you still feel it’s valid.

        Skeptical Science? Where one of the main writers is an ex-policeman whose hobby is climate science? Read the bios of the rest of the Skeptical Science “team.”

        Skeptical Science? Where they have recent articles like this “Recursive Fury: Facts and misrepresentations”? Written by Australians Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook (already the object of much derision for their climate skeptics = moon hoaxers argument) which is being laughed at across the climate science world as I write. Excuse me for offending you by offering the best article to describe the laugh by citing
        : “IPCC Lead Author calls Lewandowsky “deluded” Lewandowsky and Cook impugn

        Richard Betts under the heading “Excerpt Espousing Conspiracy Theory” (in the supplemental data). But instead of being a comment from a rabid tin-foil-hat skeptic, Betts turns out to be Head of Climate Impacts at the UK Met Office and an IPCC lead author.

        When Betts was informed about this by Barry Woods, he tweeted “Lewandowsky et al clearly deluded!”

        This is the kind of advocacy, and astute scientific judgment, present at Skeptical Science.

    2. MRW

      I’m an “environmentalist” so far as not wanting to despoil the air, water, natural habitats, etc. but the focus on man-made climate change strikes me as a case of putting the politics before the science, then using the science as a cudgel to pound the public into submission.

      I agree.

      The IPCC AR5 Second Order Draft report is due out next year. It was leaked December 2012. The “Second Order Draft” indicates that all science input has halted.

      Figure 1.4, Chapter 1, page 1-39 shows that the global temp has flatlined for the past 17 years.

      The IPCC Head Rajendra Pachauri was interviewed in Australia four weeks ago. It was reported in The Australian, “”The UN’s climate change chief, Rajendra Pachauri, has acknowledged a 17-year pause in global temperature rises.”

      1. different clue

        Has there been a 17 year pause in glacier/icefield meltback? Has there been a 17 year pause in Arctic Ocean seaborne icepack thinning?

  3. Susan the other

    I’d like to hear the latest discussion on European climate change. At some point the gulf stream that is the heat exchange mechanism for Europe which maintains its temperate climate is going to fail due to fresh melt water in the arctic diluting warm salt water and northern Europe will, they say, be thrown into a mini ice age. This model, plus all the research on ice cores going back hundreds of thousands of years showing when CO2 builds up to a certain level (which we are presently exceeding) it triggers a new northern hemisphere glaciation, is never really discussed. As a generalization of the dynamic at work we only hear about global warming and all the chaos it will cause. This is probably true enough, but after a certain number of years of “chaos” we could all be frozen.

    And to carry my confusion a bit further, I’m wondering if burning coal which adds particulates to the atmosphere which then have a cooling effect because they block the sun’s radiation (“dimming”), is a bigger problem than say natural gas/oil. I have to conclude the reason there is no discussion on any particular details of climate change is because no one dares to speculate. No one knows what to do.

    1. mikkel

      Susan, the growing consensus is that there isn’t enough ice available to shut down circulation.

      That said, there has long been speculation (and it seems to have occurred the last few years) that lack of ice in the Arctic Ocean changes atmospheric currents so that during the winter more cold air can “leak” out and hit Europe/North America at certain points.

      About coal particulate pollution: the problem is that CO2 causes warming for thousands of years, while particulates only stay in the atmosphere for a couple of years. We can’t keep burning dirty sources of CO2 because it will cause way more warming over a decade+ time scale, but if we stop then the particulates will fall out quickly and there will be rapid warming. I believe the impact of sulfur pollution is estimated at about 0.3-0.5C

      1. MRW

        At some point the gulf stream that is the heat exchange mechanism for Europe which maintains its temperate climate is going to fail due to fresh melt water in the arctic diluting warm salt water (Susan)

        Susan, the growing consensus is that there isn’t enough ice available to shut down circulation.

        Crack a science book. The gulf stream cannot be shut down by fresh water. If that were the case, the gazillions of tons of fresh water rain would have done it in the eons before now. This is Bill Nye make-it-up science for idiots.

        The gulf stream is controlled by the wind (so is the arctic sea ice) and the axis of the earth.

        1. different clue

          Well . . . you’re just a regular Energizer Bunny, arent’ you?

          You still haven’t acknowledged the falsity of your previous claim that there has “never been an Enbridge dilbit pipeline leak or spill” no matter how many times I have drawn your attention to the Enbridge pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. \

          Did you think I would just forget about that?

    2. different clue

      Wheels within wheels within wheels . . .

      Black soot’s various effects may well be waging an everchanging tug-of-war with eachother. I have read (and this seems logical to me) that ONE of its effects is that when it settles out on snow and ice, every little particle of it absorbs whatever sunlight hits it and turns that light into heat. And that heat melts the tiny little bit of snow and ice right around that tiny little bit of black carbon soot. Multiply that by a thousand eleventeen million hundred particles of black soot sitting on several million square miles of snow and ice surface and you may get a faster-enough meltoff to expose the dark soil or rock beNEATH the now-melted-off ice and snow. And that dark substrate will absorb the non-infrared sunlight hitting it much more than the missing snow and ice used to do when it was still there. And that dark substrate will turn that absorbed non-infrared light into heat. Part of that heat will re-radiate back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation, part of which the global warmy-gas enriched atmosphere will retain instead of allowing to re-radiate all the way back out into Space.

      Whatever else all that black carbon soot may do or represent, it certainly represents incompletely combusted fuel, which is a waste and a loss right there. If I were to pay a bunch of money for a bunch of fuel oil, I would want to get every oxygen bonding-site’s worth of energy out of that oil. I would be unhappy if half the molecules I paid for went up the chimney as unburned black carbon soot.

  4. Calamity Jean

    On the other hand, not everything is bad. Here’s bits of good news from two of the BRICs:
    China’s Wind Power Production Increased More Than Coal Power Did For First Time Ever In 2012


    Solar Report Stunner: Unsubsidized ‘Grid Parity Has Been Reached In India’, Italy–With More Countries Coming in 2014

    Chinese citizens hate the air pollution from coal burning, and the Chinese government is well aware of the danger of climate change. Now that wind turbines are improved to the point that wind power is less expensive that power from newly built coal-burning plants, I expect that China will soon stop building coal-fired generators altogether.

    The Indian grid is well-known to have unpredictable power failures, and just about everyone who can afford it has a generator. Now that solar can compete on price with coal, I wouldn’t be surprised if Indians begin to install PV systems with batteries as superior alternatives to generators to cover grid failures. Solar has no fuel to buy, no noise, and no stinky exhaust.

    Developing countries could have an easier time of converting to renewables than “First World” nations, because they don’t have an existing huge investment in built-and-paid-for fossil fuel burning generators.

  5. gozounlimited

    God Cooks The Climate….

    Global Warming Conference Postponed Due to Snow 2008

    Record Cold To hit Global Warming Conference 2009

    Global Warming Summit Cancelled Due To Snow! 2010

    Global Warming Meeting Cancelled Due to Snow 2011

    Doha: a strange place to host a climate-change conference 2012

    Now ……. That’s Hilarious!!!!!!!!

    1. different clue

      We could all use a good chuckle. Now, if the shrinky/melty glaciers and ice fields all stop in mid-melt and then start growing back to the size they were 50 years ago . . . you can laugh last at all of us.

      But why wait? If you are confident in the actual existence of global no-warming, you have a tremendous contrarian investing opportunity spread out before you. Buy all the oceanside coastal seafront land you can, especially in places like Florida and the Gulf Coast and wait for global no-warming’s sea level non-rise to really set in, and then your heirs and descendants can reap the reward of your bold gamble.

    2. different clue

      There is nothing strange about Doha for a Climate Conference. Doha is far away, isolated, ingress and egress are super contrallable, and protesters can be kept thousands of miles away. Doha is the perfect place for a pack of International Capitalis Pigs and their Agents to conspire against us in perfect safety. That’s why the International Free Trade Conspirators had their Doha Round Conspiracy Conference in Doha. To keep the “Occupy Free Trade” protesters away.

  6. rob

    So far this discussion encompasses many issues.Like a knot.In order for a rational discussion, that knot must first be looked at “unwoven”. Then once these seemingly associated topics are better understood, can a “best step forward” approach be thought of , as far as the “inseperable” reality of the now.

    one issue, is the whole carbon credit/monetary scheme “crap”.all I see is a bunch of lingoistic euphemisms with attributed scientific looking graphs and I’m sure well worked algorithms,All specifically leaving loopholes the multinationals will be able to exploit, to the “letter of the agreement”.It is a game. That is a certainty.This is another play of the financialization crowd. after all, they are the ones who are really using pension funds and PE/hedge fund money to outsource everything and are choosing lax enviromental standards as a way to save money,rather than include better practices in the cost of doing business.
    This is wholly unrelated to actually doing something to mitigate the effects of global warming.Even addressing the fundemental issues we will have to face,in one fashion or another.

    1. different clue

      An Energy-subjects blogger named Big Gav on his Peak Energy blog has long suggested a straight up carbon tax at the wellhead or minemouth. He compared “cap and trade” for
      carbon emissions reduction to ending slavery by . . . creating a cap and trade market in auctionable rights to buy, sell and own slaves.

  7. different clue

    For those who find Protectionism to be too crude, simplistic and vulgar to even entertain thoughts of even entertaining thoughts of; there is a measured, nuanced, well-thought-out alternative called Equity of Trade. Here is a little article about that.

    But since the Class Enemy Occupation FedRegime which currently rules us will permit no legislative challenge in the forseeable future to the International Free Trade Conspiracy for which the CEO FedRegime fronts and works the question arises: what can We the Millions of Disorganized Individuals do in our daily lives of getting and spending to at least sweat some of the carbon emmissions out of our own lives? Yves Smith has suggested eating lower on the food chain (and I and others have offered the hopeful possibility – deserving of study – that eating range-and-pasture fed beef actually drives more carbon bio-sequestration than carbon emission) is one way to lower our own individual contribution to carbon emission.

    I hope that Yves Smith and/or Lambert Strether and/or other guest posters will offer the opportunity for more threads on “how to reduce personal or regional carbon emissions”.

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