Can the poor adapt to a changing climate?

by Tim Wilson, March 29, 2011

One of the major outcomes of the Cancun UNFCCC meeting was the official agreement to establish a $100 billion-a-year Green Climate Fund to assist in climate change adaptation for the developing world. Investing in climate adaptation makes sense, regardless of whether anthropogenic climate change is occurring.

But interestingly it may not be so urgent. A new research paper has come out highlighting that one of the biggest threats to the developing world – sea level rises – may not be a threat at all. In fact the paper concludes:

Our analyses do not indicate acceleration in sea level in U.S.
tide gauge records during the 20th century. Instead, for each
time period we consider, the records show small decelerations
that are consistent with a number of earlier studies of
worldwide-gauge records. The decelerations that we obtain
are opposite in sign and one to two orders of magnitude less
than the +0.07 to +0.28 mm/y
accelerations that are required to
reach sea levels predicted for 2100 by Vermeer and Rahmsdorf
(2009), Jevrejeva, Moore, and Grinsted (2010), and Grinsted,
Moore, and Jevrejeva (2010). Bindoff et al. (2007) note an
increase in worldwide temperature from 1906 to 2005 of 0.74uC.
It is essential that investigations continue to address why this
worldwide-temperature increase has not produced acceleration
of global sea level over the past 100 years, and indeed why
global sea level has possibly decelerated for at least the last
80 years

“Our analyses do not indicate acceleration in sea level in U.S. tide gauge records during the 20th century. Instead, for each time period we consider, the records show small decelerations that are consistent with a number of earlier studies of worldwide-gauge records. The decelerations that we obtain are opposite in sign and one to two orders of magnitude less than the +0.07 to +0.28 mm/y2 accelerations that are required to reach sea levels predicted for 2100 … Bindoff et al. (2007) note an increase in worldwide temperature from 1906 to 2005 of 0.74uC. It is essential that investigations continue to address why this worldwide-temperature increase has not produced acceleration of global sea level over the past 100 years, and indeed why global sea level has possibly decelerated for at least the last 80 years”.

We’re agnostic about the science of climate change at Sustainable Dev. But as a contribution to the general body of scientific theory supporting the cause and impact of climate change this paper matters. It can be found here.

The risk of carbon tariffs hitting the poor …

by Tim Wilson, March 22, 2011

The Australian government has taken the extraordinary step of announcing it will seek to legislate a carbon tax as a stepping stone to an emissions trading scheme while political will on the issue elsewhere is in retreat.

The impact on the Australian economy from a carbon tax is huge, but not relevant to this blog. What is relevant is the impact on those in the developing world and whether Australia will impose taxes and tariffs on imports.

Australian Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, has importantly rallied against a push for a retaliatory carbon tariff against imports from countries without a carbon price.

But there’s no guarantee it will end there. Advocates for a carbon tariff include the heavily political and influential Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

During the last Australian debate about a carbon price the then Rudd government proposed providing free permits into the scheme for emissions intensive trade exposed industries to avoid tariff calls. It was arguably not enough. A tax would require equivalent rebates to avoid similar calls.

Trade Minister Emerson is one of the most market-orientated Ministers in the Gillard government, but he is often a lone voice of dissent against bad policy. And rarely gets his way.

As the debate about a carbon tariff develops it will be important for poverty-alleviating free trade advocates to hold their ground.

Efficiency vital to bring down food prices

by Tim Wilson, January 25, 2011

With food prices back on the international agenda largely as a consequence of weather events we were heartened to read Director General of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy’s recent address on the importance of free trade to bring down prices for the world’s poor.

Throughout his career Lamy has been soft on the poverty-alleviating benefits of free trade. His term as EU negotiator defending their awful subsidy regimes were shameful. But we give him credit that since taking on the job as D-G of the WTO he has changed his tone. In fact he’s transformed himself from a spokesperson for rent-seekers to becoming one of the most forceful advocates for trade liberalisation in the world. This turn hasn’t delivered the sort of concrete results we would like to help the millions trapped in poverty, but at least the rhetoric is right.

And while Doha stalls Lamy has been giving some excellent speeches on the benefits of trade as a solution to global economic problems. And his speech to the Berlin Agriculture Minister’s Summit is no exception.

In fact Lamy highlights some truths that are too often missing in international debate.

First, free trade will increase global food supply at cheaper prices – the solution is more trade, not less.

Second, where global food supply is increasing it is because of increased efficiency and yields, not expanded land use. That matters because it means humanity is producing more with less which is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

We recommend a read of Lamy’s speech here.

It’s time our Prime Ministers had an honest chat about sustainable development …

by Tim Wilson, October 29, 2010

Today Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is flying off to Vietnam to attend the East Asian Summit and will then proceed to Malaysia to meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak. They’re certainly going to have a lot to talk about.

The Australian government has commissioned the Blewett Review looking into food labelling laws, and one of the proposals is the separate labelling of palm oil from other vegetable oils. This campaign was started by the hectoring of the anti-palm oil lobby who appear to oppose the use of the oil for any purpose whether it is sustainably harvested, or not.

The review should cause concern to the Malaysian government for two reasons.

First, because any separate labelling of palm oil as different from other vegetable oils would set a precedent and encourage consumer boycotts based on false information.

Second, because it will be government endorsement of the misinformation being put out there by the anti-palm oil lobby. This misinformation recently became apparent to the Malaysian government during recent reports responded to by the Malaysian Prime Minister from misleading attacks by zoos undermining the palm oil industry and attacking Malaysia itself.

The misinformation being put out by zoos has previously been a focus of Sustainable Development’s Report Exposed: The inaccurate and inappropriate campaign by Zoos Victoria. The report concluded that of twelve claims made by the zoo only two are actual facts.

The attacks by zoos have reached such an irrational fever pitch that the Malaysian palm oil industry has lodged a formal complaint with the Australia government. Their action is understandable to protect their commercial interests.

But it is also in the interests of the Australian government to take action. Australia is a liberal country that believes in freedom of speech. But government-funded bodies shouldn’t knowingly use taxpayer dollars to mislead the public on issues surrounding the environment and economic development which is what zoos are doing. There’s also our national economic interest that cheap imports help drive domestic industries. Without them business is less competitive.

No doubt the comings and goings of the palm oil debate will be on the Malaysian Prime Minister’s agenda. And it should be if he’s interested in the ongoing sustainable economic development of his country. And it should be on Prime Minister Gillard’s agenda to ensure the Australian public is being told the truth in food labelling or zoo information campaigns. Currently they’re not.

More evidence | Green protectionist collusion by vested interests

by Tim Wilson, October 8, 2010

Sustainable Development’s recent report, Green Excuses: Collusion to promote protectionism? caused quite a stir. We had representatives from the paper industry contacting us arguing that their calls for protectionism were fair. We disagree because of the risks of tariff escalation.

In Australia some businesses have already changed their purchasing behavior to reflect the impact of these green protectionist campaigns. Commercially they may feel they had no choice because of the risk of greenmailing, but we disagree. The beneficiaries of free enterprise and sustainable economic development also need to defend the system that made them rich so others can have the same opportunities. They should go back to the negotiating table in the interests of workers in the developing world.

Interestingly a group in the United States has come out with similar arguments. The Empires of Collusion report identifies that the tactics used by Australia’s unions, multinational paper subsidiaries and green groups are either being copied, or are being copied from, their equivalents in the United States.

Green protectionism is one of the biggest risks to sustainable economic growth in the developed and developing world alike. It was welcome that The Australian ran an editorial highlighting the negative impact green protectionism can have.

For the developed countries the cost is to industries who rely on imports to be competitive, and consumers who’ll spend more of their disposable income on less.

For the developing world the cost is whether they can sustainably exploit their natural resources on their pathway to development, and the jobs and livelihood it provides for the poor.

There is a desperate need for public debate on how these groups are working together to introduce green protectionism.

As Sustainable Development’s report found, the cost to consumers from the erection of retrograde tariffs and regulatory trade barriers called for by unions and paper industry interests could be significant.

Any cooperation between these groups needs to be exposed to ensure we have an honest debate about the impact of wood imports and the use of forests in the developing world.

In particular policy makers need to take note. And the honesty of Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund have to be questioned. Their reports warrant scrutiny. Then again, they always have.

Ultimately it is up to people to make up their own mind. But they need to have access to fair information.

Both reports shine a light into this black and white debate about wood imports that clearly has shades of grey. I encourage you to read both. They can be found here and here.

Tim Wilson is Director of the Sustainable Development Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Sustainable Dev’s work in The Australian and ABC Online

by Tim Wilson, September 2, 2010

Sustainable Development’s work has been attracting attention. This week it has been mentioned in The Australian in an excellent piece by well-respected economist, Michael Stutchbury who looks at the cost and validity of ‘green’ policies in election campaigns. Similarly, we had our own piece looking at the impact of ‘green’ policies on the cost-of-living following the Australian election that was published on ABC’s The Drum.

Submission | World Bank framework for engagement with palm oil should focus on poverty reduction

by Tim Wilson, August 23, 2010

The World Bank is currently completing a consultation on its financing of palm oil projects. Central to the World Bank’s draft is the obligation for certification of palm oil plantations against developed world environmental and social management standards. There is nothing wrong with sustainability certification for agriculture production. But extra costs and regulations will come at the expense of poverty reduction. Sustainable Development has made a submission highlighting it doesn’t oppose voluntary certification, but it opposes compulsory obligations for financing. The submission can be found here.

Sustainable Development in the Bangkok Post and Washington Times

by Tim Wilson, August 9, 2010

Today Sustainable Development was invited to publish an article in the Bangkok Post. The article is here.

While the impact of green protectionism is real for consumers in developed countries like Australia, the worst impact will be on jobs and investment in the developing world.

Unfortunately the impact of protectionist policies is often lost in developed countries like Australia. Though fortunately the Washington Times understands and also accepted a post from Sustainable Development on its Watercooler Blog. The post is here.

New report | Green excuses: Collusion to promote protectionism?

by Tim Wilson, August 4, 2010


Today Sustainable Development has launched its latest report Green excuses: Collusion to promote protectionism? looking at the emerging collusion in messages by unions, industry and green groups to push for trade protectionism using environmental disguises.

Overseas green groups, unions and industry have a history of collaborating to stop imports in forestry products using environmental arguments. It now appears to have arrived in Australia.

For Australians the impact is concerning because it will result in the increase of the cost-of-living for products like toilet paper by as much as up to 42 per cent in the cost of a roll.

For workers in affected industries in the developing world the impact is likely to be far worse with the loss of jobs and employment.

The report breaks down the key examples of industry, unions and green groups pushing consumer activism and using political and legal avenues to achieve their objectives. Its time their push for green activism is exposed before industries and jobs get lost for some of the poorest people in the world. The report can be found here.

New paper | Exposing Zoos and their political anti-palm oil campaigns

by Tim Wilson, July 4, 2010

Today Sustainable Development released its latest paper, Exposed: The Inaccurate and Inappropriate campaign by Zoos Victoria, looking at the behaviour of Zoos Victoria, and many Australian and New Zealand Zoos, who are engaged in inaccurate political campaigning against palm oil.

It’s important to understand that zoos have a reasonable role to promote conservation campaigns. And they have a reasonable right to promote facts about conservation issues. But Zoos Victoria’s Don’t Palm Us Off campaign does neither.

As the report highlights, of the twelve ‘facts’ promoted by Zoos Victoria on palm oil, only two can be substantiated with evidence. The remainder are directly contrary to evidence, or there is no evidence to support them. And while Zoos Victoria has a broad mandate to promote conservation and zoological resources, the Don’t Palm Us Off campaign doesn’t qualify. It is simply a political campaign based in dodgy facts.