3E Intelligence

Eberhard Rhein’s proposals for an new international climate regime (see his guest blog post from yesterday) has the merit of being more concrete than what I have seen from the EU up to now in terms of efforts to put a global agreement on the rails. Nevertheless, I have two fundamental problems with it (like I have with the EU’s climate policy in general BTW).

First, Eberhard looks only at the climate change challenge. This might be appropriate if you focus on the current international talks but it is not enough when you take as a starting point the global crisis we are facing. Indeed, the climate crisis is just one symptom of a much broader “problematique” which is the unsustainability of our industrial development model. There are other symptoms which show that we are reaching the limits of this model: peak oil or even peak energy (also gas, coal, uranium), the new commodities price boom, our global water and biodiversity threats. All these symptoms demonstrate that the natural capital, which the Earth had built up over the course of millions of years, has been exhausted in less than 150 years to feed our (mostly Western) “growth and consumption hunger”.

Anyone who thinks (like the EU and the whole international community) that by tackling the climate crisis, we are out of the woods, is fundamentally mistaken. We will have to do much more than move to a low-carbon economy; we will have to build a one-planet economy and learn to produce and consume within the Earth’s resource constraints. The transition to such a new development model will not be easy and the ride will be even rougher if we keep postponing the structural reforms needed.

Secondly, while I agree with Eberhard’s analysis that we will not have binding CO2 targets and we should concentrate on the big sector solutions, I miss in his proposal a frank reflection on what these sector proposals will mean for prices of electricity, driving, food etc. Politicians will need to have the courage to tell their citizens that the era of cheap electricity, cheap car petrol, cheap flights and holidays is over and finished. Will our political systems be resilient and visionary enough to deliver such messages and the required political action? Or will we have to wait until economic and ecological collapse will force sustainability upon us? And what will be the cost of such a forced transition to sustainable development which respects the one-planet limits of our future lifestyles?

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