Says Paris Pledges Are Just Economic Self-Interest
Surprisingly, she also says they are not to save the planet. But does she understand that climate is a problem of the global commons and consequently more is needed? Here’s a complete analysis and documentation.
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has been the most candid of any official. Here are two of her brilliantly informative statements (watch her make them):
- “They’re doing it [their pledges/INDCs] for what I think is a much more powerful political driving force, which is for the benefit of their own economy.”
- “The United States or China or Tuvalu … none of them are doing this to save the planet.” In other words, the INDCs are not motivated by climate-change concerns.
These are both true, and both are very bad news.
(Full quotes and all sources are given below.)
We think Figueres is making these two points because she’s extremely familiar with the pledges, and that’s exactly what she has seen—self-interest and no concern for the planet. The UN reports on pledges (INDCs) convinces us that she is right.
So why is Figueres optimistic? Because she’s believes technology will save us. Here are the three main views on how to save the planet from climate change:
- Altruism: Countries should be so concerned that they band together and act with altruistic ambition, spontaneously doing more than is in their narrow self-interest.
- Selfishness: Environmentalists should convince the world to use smarter technology. This is so cheap that all countries adopt it out of economic self-interest (greed) even though they ignore global warming.
- Reciprocity: Countries, in a large “coalition of the willing,” should make a deal such as, “We will price carbon at $P if all of you price carbon at $P.” This deal aligns their narrow self-interest so that they act in their broader self-interest and for the common good at the same time.
Figueres view is #2 — selfishness is all we need. But why?
- She believes “Technology has come to our rescue.”
- She does not understand the problem of the commons.
- She does not understand its solution.
A) It is very comforting to believe that new technology has made fossil fuel obsolete and that if people just realize this, greed will cause them to stop using fossil fuel (and cutting down forests too?). But if this is true, why does Figueres think that poor countries will not make switch to renewables just to save money? Why do they need many $100B?
B) The problem of the commons (regarding climate) is that emissions mostly harm others. So when you take account of your own smog and your own climate problem, you still have not taken account of 95% of the climate damage that you do to others. So, yes, your economic self-interest makes you do something, but not nearly enough.
C) The solution to the commons problem is reciprocity—making a deal: I will do more than my economic self-interest if you will. This is what Figueres’ Paris agreement deliberately leaves out. (expanded below).
Who believes #1? — We need altruistic ambition
Almost everyone believes #1, even Figueres. Although she forgets this when she claims that selfishness (#2) is all we need. “Ambition” means doing more than what you would do if you did nothing to save the planet.
- All poor countries say that the rich should do more than their economic self-interest because they caused the problem.
- Many rich countries agree.
- Everyone, even Figures, calls for more ambition.
- The whole purpose of the UN negotiations is to get countries to do more than their economic self-interest, more than “for the benefit of their own economy.”
Who believes #3? — We need reciprocity to solve our common problem
Most prominently Elinor Ostrom believes this. She was a political scientist who spent her life studying how common people, with the help of a government, actually solve this type of problem. She won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009. She found that solutions to this problem always rely on reciprocity and trust, and that reciprocity is necessary for trust.
Almost all behavioral scientists (from psychology, political science and behavioral economics) agree.
The reciprocity approach combines the insights of #1 and #2.
- Ambition is necessary (from #1), but altruism is not strong enough.
- Self-interest is much stronger (from #2), but narrow economic self-interest is misguided.
- Narrow self-interest can be re-aligned with a reciprocity agreement so that it aligns with the common good — that makes self-interest ambitious.
You can learn more about this on “The Fix” page.
The bottom line — economic self-interest (#2) is the disaster we’ve always had
Narrow self-interest, simple concern “for the benefit of their own economy,” can cause countries to help (by reducing smog) or do harm (by installing cheap coal plants). Figueres is right that it is a “powerful political driving force.” It causes most wars and motivates most dictators and corporations.
But with a problem of the commons (what benefits me harms you and you can’t stop me), greed is not enough. Figueres does not understand this. Elinor Ostrom did. So Figueres has not even tried to solve the problem. Elinor Ostrom spent most of her life studying how people solve it — what works and what doesn’t.
We should trust Ostom; reciprocity works in the real world. We should not entrust the world to the Figueres philosophy: Greed is all you need. Life is not quite that simple.
CNN video: Why agree to a climate change deal?
2 December, 2015
“Why are they doing this? Frankly, none of them are doing it to save the planet. Let us be very clear. They’re doing it for what I think is a much more powerful political driving force, which is for the benefit of their own economy. And I think that is really the story here.
They have understood that this is actually in their own interest. There is nothing more powerful than you, me or any country acting in their own interest. And that is what we have here, which is fundamentally different from where we were three or four years ago. It is in all of our shared interests.
With 150 states, I think we can say (A) climate change is on the political agenda and there is an extraordinarily good mood. What will make me very happy is we have a legally binding agreement that brings all countries on board, leaves no country behind, protects the most vulnerable, and accelerates all the benefits that acting on climate change can actually bring to everyone.
Can this woman convince the world to act on climate change?
“Can the United States actually afford to stay out of the largest market that will exist this century? It’s a pretty simple decision that needs to be taken. Well, the fact is that in the United States there are two times as many jobs in renewable energy as there are in coal.
Renewable energy technology, in particular solar, have come down in their costs remarkably. Compared to where we were five to six years ago, solar is 80 percent cheaper, 40 percent more efficient. Technology has definitely come to our rescue. The Patent Office receives one request for a patent on anything to do with fossil fuels and ten for renewable energy. I think that gives you a very good sense of where the future is. Where you see the growth of job creation, that’s where the future is.
China is very, very clearly moving in that direction. Why? First, because they are listening to their citizens who actually would like to breathe air without having a negative impact on their lungs. Secondly, they totally understand that this transformation of the global economy is irresistible; it is unstoppable, and that if they want to continue being competitive in the global economy, they need to be there first.
The United States or China or Tuvalu (to choose a tiny little economy) – none of them are doing this to save the planet. All of these countries are putting their best foot forward because they understand it’s good for their economies. And that is the most powerful driving force – the self-interest of every country is what is behind all of these measures. It’s not because they want to save the planet.”
Not on the video, but quoted in article:
“Maybe it surprises you that I say that. Let’s be realistic here.”
“It would make me very sad were China and India increasingly to take the lead in being the developers and importers of these new technologies that everyone is going to be needing, This is not a small market. The global market is going to be demanding clean energy and the question is, who is going to be producing it? Who is going to be exporting it? If the United States wants to leave that export capacity to China and India, that is a choice that needs to be made. But it doesn’t seem to make too much sense.”
Christiana Figueres: ‘Climate Change Is About The Fate Of Humanity’
From an interview on MSNBC news
6:30 I wouldn’t say “failed to reach the two degree goal,” because if you’re traveling from Washington to New York, by the time you get to Philly you haven’t reached New York, but you’re on your way to NY, and that’s the logic that needs to be applied here. So yes it is on the way towards 2degree, but not there yet. [Actually we are headed the other direction. INDCs are making it much harder to get to 2C, and by 2030 it will be next to impossible.]
10:10 This is the largest market that has ever been created is the renewable energy market. The entire world is moving toward renewable energy. So wouldn’t the US not want to be part of that market? Or does the United States want to continue China to be #1 in both producing and exporting solar panels and #2 in producing and exporting wind turbines, it’s a matter of economic competitiveness. Whether you believe in climate change or not, I think you want to protect your economy.
11:40 We have to look into the future and go “and now what do we do?” Because it is actually the emerging countries who will be the greatest demanders for energy. They will certainly have the greatest population growth, And it is those countries who if they are not supported for them to make a transition out of fossil fuel dependence into clean energy, they will be the highest emitters, so the challenge here is to support those countries to make the transition that they know they have to make.
Christiana Figueres on COP21 Paris and the World’s Response to Climate Change
The Hertie School of Governance, Published on Jun 18, 2015.
27:50 Then to the question of how do you ensure that there is actually progress … One of the fundamental decisions that has already been taken is the concept of no backsliding. Which means, all of these countries are putting forward their carbon-management plans that will basically establish the baseline if you will of their engagement with this issue for the first five years, 2020 to 2025 or 2030 in some cases, and then, every crop after that, needs to be progressively more ambitious. There’s no backsliding. You can’t say, OK I did this, but now I changed my mind, and I’m gonna do less. No. Everybody every time needs to do more, because we know that the problem that the problem is getting increasingly serious. So that concept of no backsliding is on that has already been agreed to and decided by all countries in order to ensure that over time, over a multi-decadal period, we’re actiually going to be able to get to the final destination. …. This is not going to be a punitive agreement.
29:50 This is going to be a facilitative character of an agreement; an enabling agreement. And why does that make sense, because of the increasing recognition that everyone is doing it out of their own self-interest. In China’s case, their peaking coal in 2020, peaking all greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. Are they doing it to save the planet? No, they’re doing it because they want to improve health conditions in China. And because even wonderful Chinese citizens want to be able to breathe the air in their cities, so it makes a lot of sense. Everybody is understanding that there is a lot to be gained from this. That there are jobs to be gained, that there is water security, that there is food security, that there is much more of a positive agenda around addressing climate change than there is a negative agenda. Hence not a punitive system, but rather a facilitative system, that seeks to encourage everybody to do as much as quickly as possible, and furthermore that seeks to encourage countries to work with each other to do more than they would do nationally. Good example, the agreement between the United States and China, announced in Nov. of last year, where each of them says this is what I’m going to do nationally, but these are the things that we’re gonna do together because, together we can do more than individually.
Do not mention 2°C “I will chop the head off the person who asks that question.”