Global climate governance blog

Summary results of the 2011/12 accountability assessments of World Bank, WTO, WHO, and DFID

The ESRC funded Global Climate Governance Project of the One World Trust with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is releasing first summary findings from the 2011/12 accountability assessments of the World Bank / IBRD, the WTO, the WHO and DFID.

The briefings contain headlines scores achieved by the organisations, analysis on strengths and weaknesses encountered, and a key list of accountability policies and external standards the organisations commit to.

As in previous years the process involved collaborative engagement with all assessed organisations. Findings have been shared and discussed prior to this publications with the institutions themselves. For more information on the assessment framework, download the new Pathways to Accountability II Global Accountability Framework.

More detailed material will be made available through the projects research publications.

For more information about the project visit the project website at governance or email

Civil society at Rio+20: Participant or observer?

Wednesday marked the first day of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, commonly referred to as Rio+20 as it seen as a successor to the Earth Summit that took place in the same city in 1992.  The draft agreement presented by Brazil, the host country, to delegates as they arrived at the conference has been greeted with dismay by civil society groups who believe that it “does not reflect [their] aspiration.”  Senior NGO representatives have since requested that the opening paragraph be amended to remove reference to the “full participation of civil society”.

These disappointments, felt by NGO representatives who had higher hopes for Rio+20, point to mixed expectations between delegates and NGOs over the role of NGO consultation in improving the quality and accountability of the final agreement.  When the initial draft, entitled “The Future We Want” was published on 16th June, civil society responded with “The Future We Don’t Want,” an e-petition deriding the draft and calling for “transitional actions for global sustainable progress.”    The lack of substantive CSO input into the most recent draft highlights the struggles civil society faces in affecting the course of negotiations, despite its involvement in the preparatory process.    This reflects the continued inequitable distribution of power in global governance with respect to climate change and sustainable development.  Whilst progress has been made vis-à-vis increasing the voice of developing countries since the 1992 Earth Summit, these benefits have accrued to the dominant emerging economies, as evidenced by the significant role of Brazil in authoring the draft.    However, civil society and the least developed countries remain on the fringes.  Given the lack of NGO participation in preparing the draft it is unsurprising that their representatives requested the paragraph claiming such be removed. 

One key issue that demonstrates the limited input of civil society to the draft document is  the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, which are estimated at $400 billion by the International Energy Agency and up to $1 trillion by Oil for Change    One of the challenges in promoting increased uptake of renewable energy sources is their high price per unit with respect to energy from fossil fuels.  That fossil fuels prices are kept low by subsidies means that this price difference is to some extent artificial:  a removal of subsidies would make renewable energy more competitive and reduce demand for fossil fuels.  In this way, subsidies provide economic incentives for environmentally damaging behaviour and contribute to climate change.  The initial draft did acknowledge this issue but only tentatively, supporting the eventual phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and agreeing to their gradual elimination. There followed a high profile Twitter campaign in addition to explicit demands from numerous civil society groups to pledge swifter and more decisive action on this issue.  The negotiators did relent and inserted further paragraphs concerning subsidies but these were tokenistic, enabling them to claim that attention had been paid to the demands of civil society without actually fulfilling them.  On 19th June the text was amended to reaffirm pre-existing commitments to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, whilst merely “inviting” countries that do not yet have such commitments to “consider” introducing them.  There is still therefore no clear plan or binding agreement to end this practice.  Whilst there have therefore been some changes to the draft on this issue, the primary goal of CSOs of an end to fossil fuel subsidies is nevertheless unlikely to occur in the short or medium term in the absence of clear, binding commitments.

From this example, it can be seen that the expectations of civil society regarding Rio+20 may have been misplaced.  Hopes were high among some actors given their participation at all stages of the preparatory process of the conference, their mass presence at the summit itself including representation at the High Level Roundtables and the political will of certain key delegates such as EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard for a firm agreement.  However, the result as it stands is more a recognition of the challenges facing the globe rather than a clear plan as to how to surmount them.  Although the conference is not yet over, and there remains time for binding agreements to be reached, NGOs are not optimistic that this will occur.  It remains to be seen precisely what influence civil society would deem adequate for them to accept that the draft has been drawn up “with their full participation.”  Whilst a more equitable global governance regime that takes account of at least some of the demands of civil society is certainly desirable, it may be counter-productive for NGOs to distance themselves from all but the perfect agreement.  More explicit conditions for their approval would go some way to bringing about a more inclusive document.

"Green accounting,", transparency and the future of societal indicators

The Independent recently reported that the British Government is a supporter of “green accounting” and environment secretary Caroline Spelman will advocate its adoption by other countries at the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (often called Rio +20 following the 1992 Earth Summit in the same city.)  This represents a formal acknowledgement that using GDP as an aggregate measure of social welfare is incomplete since welfare is dependent to such a large extent on natural capital.  The importance of natural capital manifests itself in different forms.  Consider, for example, the Amazonian rainforest.  This provides instrumental value for those who dwell there in terms of provision of watersheds and food, and for citizens across the globe by sequestering carbon and therefore stabilising greenhouse gas emissions.  To many people, rainforests also have great intrinsic value and should therefore be preserved even in the absence of material benefits.  The value, both instrumental and intrinsic, of natural capital is difficult to measure in monetary terms although attempts have been made.  Costanza et al in 1997 valued the “entire biosphere” at $33 trillion per year but this tells us little- with no ecosystems services, there would be no life, making the biosphere priceless.   GDP+ accounting is therefore not simply a case of monetising natural capital and using it as an additional line in conventional GDP.  

Spelman proposes working towards new indicators to measure the green economy, but details on what these indicators might be are currently sparse.  It is well known that the Prime Minister David Cameron is a proponent of incorporating measures of wellbeing into national accounts, yet while there is certainly overlap between this and natural capital stocks, for example the enjoyment from areas of outstanding natural beauty, they are not congruent.  Incorporating the ideas of both Cameron and Spelman could lead to national accounting replicating the “triple bottom-line” approach already used in corporate sustainability reporting, whereby companies consider environmental and social impacts, as well as economic.  National accounts could, analogously, include some indicator of natural capital as an environmental measure and well-being as a social measure alongside GDP, the established economic indicator.  Combining these three indicators would provide an alternative to the Human Development Index (HDI), focussing on the environment and wellbeing instead of health and education. 

If governments are transparent about the value of their environment and natural capital stocks, then citizens can track any changes in this over time.  This would enable them to hold governments to account for any quantifiable environmental degradation.  This happens already to some extent, but it is usually the preserve of dedicated environmental groups who have done their own detailed research.  A more transparent green indicator would therefore facilitate greater accountability with respect to environmental quality for all citizens.

EU transparency legislation: The need for effective reporting

The secrecy surrounding financial payments made by multinational companies to many governments in exchange for access to natural resources continues to pose a barrier to those seeking to hold their governments to account over their financial agreements.  Too often, communities are denied the financial benefits - such as investments in local services – which they should be seeing as a result of the exploitation of their country’s natural resources. A lack of transparency concerning the financial dealings between many multinational companies and national governments means that, all too often, the flow of royalties, taxes and other payments that are made to governments cannot be traced by outside observers.

Ensuring transparency and accountability is crucial to guaranteeing responsiveness to the needs of a country’s population; by allowing the public to access financial information regarding such payments, citizens are better able to hold their governments to account. Through making this information publicly available, local communities, businesses, politicians and anyone else with an interest in the needs of a particular community or country, are able to assess whether they are getting their fair share of the profits which are being generated from the exploitation of their country’s natural resources.

With such considerations in mind, the European Parliament and member states will be considering a proposal to amend the EU’s Transparency and Accounting Directives over the coming months. The proposal, which was put on the table on 25th October 2011, advocates the introduction of European legislation which would require extractive companies listed in Europe to publish details of payments that are made to national governments. This proposal has taken its initiative from the US Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Dodd-Frank Act, which was brought into law in July 2010, requires that oil, mining and gas companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission report the payments that they make to governments.

This piece of European legislation, if introduced on a sufficiently rigorous basis, could make a significant contribution to ensuring an increase in development investment for many low-income countries. It would build on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary initiative of which Ghana (our country case study for the Global Climate Change Governance project) is already a member. However, for the EU legislation to be effective, it must take into account both listed and non-listed firms, as well as ensuring that no exemptions are in place which would jeopardise effective reporting of payments by European firms.

Recent coverage of the situation in Colombia has helped to highlight the need for such legislation. The Colombian government demands that mining companies pay royalties in order to access the country’s natural resources; although 80% of these payments are supposed to be invested in development projects in the producing region, local communities are unable to access any information regarding the status of these payments. If rigorous legislation on reporting by EU companies were brought into law, local communities and decision-makers in developing countries could hold their governments to account over the status of such payments.

Our Global Climate Change Governance project is assessing the accountability policies and quality management systems of key global institutions, as one way of understanding how responsive they are to the needs of citizens in the face of climate change. In the same manner, the need for greater accountability and transparency concerning financial transactions between companies and governments is critical to ensuring that communities in some of the poorest countries benefit from natural resource extraction. We hope that the new EU legislation, when passed, will go some way to achieving this.

Conflicting priorities at the World Bank?

This Wednesday, The Guardian leaked the World Bank’s draft ‘Mobilising Climate Finance’ report, which is due to be presented to the G20 finance ministers in November. The report, which has been commissioned by the G20 finance ministers, explores avenues for scaling up climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries (see, p.5) by outlining the Bank’s proposals for leveraging climate finance for developing countries. Given that this report is intended to provide a basis for the UN climate talks, which are due to continue in Panama next week, the proposals may prove critical in either initiating or hampering effective global action on climate change.

There are certain aspects to the report for which the Bank can be congratulated, namely the proposal for removing subsidies for fossil fuel use. Total fossil fuel subsidies for Annex II countries are estimated to lie somewhere between $40-60bn over recent years. The funding of fossil fuel projects in the name of development has long been a controversial issue at the Bank, not least because subsidising high carbon infrastructure is in stark contradiction with the Bank’s climate change objectives (an issue which we have explored in previous blogs). Moreover, in 2010, just over 20% of these subsidies went directly to oil, gas and coal companies, rather than to supporting consumers in developing countries. (See, p.21.) The proposal by the Bank to remove fossil fuel subsidies is therefore a surprising (and welcome) turnaround.

Yet while the Bank’s proposal to remove fossil fuel subsidies suggests a positive move away from providing finance to highly polluting industry, other features of the report are more concerning. The heavy emphasis on carbon offsetting, carbon trading, and using the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to achieve emissions reductions, for example, suggests a worrying move towards redirecting ‘climate aid’ money (which has already been pledged to developing countries) towards private markets that have been criticised as being ineffective.

There is a firm emphasis on leveraging climate finance from the private rather than the public sector, with the report praising the role that carbon offsetting can play in ‘catalysing low carbon investments’. Yet carbon offsetting has often been criticised for failing to achieve actual emissions reductions. Likewise, the Clean Development Mechanism has been criticised for allowing rich nations to avoid meeting their emissions reductions targets as it has, in some cases, allowed rich countries to gain carbon credits by funding low carbon projects which were already in the pipeline.

The report also discusses the potential for increasing low carbon investment by stimulating carbon markets. However the reliance on the private sector and on bolstering carbon markets is a high-risk strategy. Carbon markets have consistently failed to deliver; the EU Emissions Trading Scheme for example has been largely ineffective at delivering any substantial reduction in emissions across the EU. Furthermore, even within the report there is an acknowledgement that capital flows from offsetting initiatives have so far gone to a relatively small number of middle income countries rather than developing countries. Using public funds to support carbon markets therefore risks both diverting funds away from developing countries, and failing to achieve the climate adaptation and mitigation improvements that are needed.

Therefore despite the welcomed drive away from fossil fuel subsidies, many of the proposals being forwarded by the World Bank fail to offer a low carbon development path which will integrate developmental aims. Moreover, as accountability advocates, we also need to be asking questions about which actors were involved in developing this proposal, and whether citizens and decision-makers in developing countries in particular feel that their views have been accurately reflected with regards to global climate finance issues. How to reconcile climate change mitigation and adaptation with issues of development is no easy task, and will require the balancing of conflicting stakeholder views in the quest for a fair solution.

Battling Pollution in the Skies: Airlines challenge EU emission trading plan for aviation

In July, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) conducted an initial hearing where US airlines contest the legality of regulating certain flights within the EU under it EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) after the case was deferred by the UK government last year.

The EU ETS which started in 2005 is a ‘cap and trade’ program that places a limit on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by factories, power plants and other installations. If a limit by a company in these sectors is exceeded, it can purchase emission credits from other companies who emit below their allocated limit, therefore still reducing emissions overall.  Companies who anticipate exceeding their limit are also encouraged to find innovate ways to reduce the emissions without trading, such as incorporating energy efficient technology into their processes.

The EU seeks to further its scope of the EU ETS to encompass the aviation sector in 2012 to further reduce emissions. It will incorporate emissions from all domestic and international flights – from or to anywhere in the world – that arrive at or depart from an EU airport into the EU ETS.

American groups such as the United Continental Holdings Inc., AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) initially challenged this proposal after the UK adopted it into its national rules. It was then deferred to the ECJ.

The airlines are disputing the law as they are opposed to the regulation of American airlines when they travel to countries within the EU. A spokesman for the ATA states this nature of the regulation violates international law.

The airlines also disputed the proposal on the grounds that it violates the Convention on International Civil Aviation because this regulation is not seen as a coordinated effort, but unilateral action, thereby violating the first article of the convention establishing the sovereignty of airspace over a countries’ territory.

The EU is defending its regulation on the grounds that it takes place within a cap and trade system. The EU ETS is a pollution ceiling allowing companies the freedom to choose how they stay under that ceiling without imposing a direct tax charge or levy, expressed an EU climate spokesman.

Emissions from international aviation account for about 2-3 per cent of global greenhouse gas, which is seemingly a small amount in the larger span of things. However, airlines are one of the fastest growing industries, rising greenhouse gas emissions up 45 per cent between 1992 and 2005 within the sector, and it is projected to rise even more in the future.

This case perfectly illustrates the challenges inherent in regulating climate change, a global problem with multiple governance levels. Although the EU ETS is a coordinated effort encompassing 27 countries, it is viewed as a ‘unilateral’ action by American airlines. The desire to extend the EU ETS to encompass air transit in skies not directly above the EU highlights the limited impact climate related regulations have within territories, regardless of its deep effects domestically, a point the EU seems to recognise and attempts address.

The underlying political nature of the US airlines’ opposition to the regulation represents a common problem that prevents many climate initiatives from reaching a much needed wider scope, if it gets enacted at all. Although there is a wide consensus that we should prevent rising temperatures via lowering greenhouse gas emissions and we have an idea about how much, the difference in opinion concerning what industries should be regulated and how to do it (government, private or self) allows for political interests to enter the debate, albeit possibly under the guise of safeguarding economic growth, protecting individual/state rights or any other reason. For example, the argument that the EU ETS violates American sovereignty has been deemed valid enough to present a case to the ECJ. Or to expand, many argue that the airline industry’s relatively low present contribution to the overall atmospheric emissions merits it to become a low priority in the climate change agenda and we should concentrate on other sectors instead.

We will find out around March 2012 weather the ECJ with uphold the EU ETS expansion, which is after the 1 January 2012 date when the expansion should have come into action. Even if the regulation is allowed to go ahead, private American companies have already successfully delayed an EU level progressive policy that aims to prevent rising temperatures.

Reconciling development and climate change objectives: an impossible task?

Last week the Guardian published a story about the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee suggesting that DFID should not channel aid money through the World Bank until the latter stopped funding the construction of ‘dirty’ power stations.

The article exposes both organisations’ difficulties in reconciling the sometimes competing objectives of reducing poverty and contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation. The mission of both organisations is the former, but both have policies relating to climate change and the World Bank is playing an important and increasing role in climate finance.

DFID’s mission is to provide development assistance to further sustainable development and improve welfare. “Sustainable development” is defined as “any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country... in relation to which it is provided.” (International Development Act 2002) Thus even in DFID’s poverty reduction mission, there is a statement regarding the “lasting benefit” DFID funds should generate. Presumably, this can be interpreted to mean that funds should not cause long-term harm. Interventions such as the construction of coal-fired power stations which contribute to climate change would not fall into that category.

The World Bank, for its part, has a Development and Climate Change Strategy which recognises the negative impact of climate change on development and therefore the need of the Bank to manage the risks climate change poses to its “core” poverty reduction mission. The strategy commits the Bank to helping to facilitate the UNFCCC process, mobilising additional finance, facilitating the development of market-based financing mechanisms, leveraging private sector resources, supporting the development and deployment of new technologies and stepping up policy research and capacity-building. (Development and Climate Change Strategy)

Clearly, however, both organisations falter to a certain degree when it comes to integrating their missions with climate change objectives. In its Multilateral Aid Review, DFID assessed the organisations through which it currently channels funds against a number of criteria that it deemed important. “Ensur[ing] its activities are low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable” was only one criterion among many, and in the final weighting is not worth very much. Therefore, if an organisation performs very well against the other criteria, it is highly likely that DFID will continue to channel funding through it.

For the World Bank, problems arise primarily with regards to the funding of 'dirty' energy project. The World Bank has committed to limiting its financing of coal projects “to cases in which a country has no other options to respond to urgent demands for electricity, and providing several other conditions have been met and the process reviewed by an external advisory committee.” (Energy and the World Bank) (There are, of course, other questions here about why coal would ever be the only option, which I think relate to climate finance issues, but I’ll explore them another time.) Clearly, therefore, the World Bank has made a conscious decision to prioritise poverty reduction over its climate change objectives, at least in certain circumstances.

Is reconciling development and climate change objectives an impossible task? If it is not, how can organisations do it better? These are important questions that impact on the ability of organisations to be accountable to stakeholders for fulfilling various commitments. While I do not have the answers, I anticipate this will be one of the most interesting issues we explore during the course of our Global Climate Change Governance project, and I look forward to reporting back on what we find.

The EU’s need for committed and inspiring climate action

Very recently the South Centre called for renewed leadership of the EU in climate change negotiations at the UNFCCC climate talks in Bonn, as printed in the Guardian. A lack of EU leadership may doom climate talks to failure.

The EU sees itself as a leader in climate negotiations (see DG Climate) and in the past has demonstrated that it is capable of exerting significant influence in the climate field, most notably through its propellant position during the Kyoto Protocol agreements from the 1990s onwards. At that time the EU overcame internal divisions among its member states and took the opportunity to diminish US power in the increasingly important field of environmental governance.

Compared to those days the EU does currently not seem to be in the mood to lead. Maybe too caught up with economic recovery, signs of the EU’s aspiration to leadership are lacking in the EU internal and external policy and politics. First, in order to lead others the EU needs to clear and ambitious commitments to carbon reduction. Its lack of commitment to climate leadership became for example evident at the Cancun climate change conference last year. The EU offered to raise its carbon emissions reduction target from 20% to 30% of 1990 levels on the condition that others also committed to more ambitious targets. The EU continued to hold this position recently in Bonn. Even considering the EU’s internal constraint of having to align differing opinions from its member states, this is not how a leader in climate change politics (and as said, this is the role the EU attributes to itself) behaves. Leaders set targets and move ahead in achieving them; they do not wait for others to move alongside with them. Although there are a number of calls internally for an increase in EU climate commitments, most notably from the Committee for Environment, Public Health and Security last month, these discussions (let us hope they succeed) are too non-committal and too late to have made a change in recent climate talks in Cancun and Bonn.

More hints of lack of leadership become apparent when we look at the EU’s carbon emissions and carbon emission reductions. Besides the important fact that the EU has achieved a great deal of its CO2 reductions through the so-called “EU bubble” burden sharing agreement of shifting emission allowances internally (see John Vogler and Charlotte Bretherton 2006), we need to look at the fact that the EU is one of the greatest trade powers in the world.  

In 2008, for example, with 16.7% in global exports and 19.1% of global imports, the EU took the lead in external trade ahead of the USA and China (EC Eurostat 2011). These extensive trading activities are in contradiction with most of EU objectives in climate change. Trading activities foster carbon emissions through higher resource use for consumption and production, long and often unnecessary transport ways and higher waste production. They also confuse calculations about real EU carbon emissions and decoupling efforts. Currently, the EU comes third after China and the USA in carbon emissions by country. If we were, however, to include carbon emissions caused by import trading activities (goods are produced in one country but eventually consumed in another) and relocation of production sites (consequently also relocation of emissions abroad) the EU endeavours in climate change protection would look much worse. For example, researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that taking Germany’s trading activities into consideration (i.e. accounting for its exported and imported CO2 emissions) would lead to a revision of the country’s domestic emissions upwards by 15%, as reported in the taz. This number may not at first seem very high; considering, however, how difficult it seems to be for the EU to increase its carbon reduction commitments from 20% to 30%, the revision is significant. 

It follows that, to be a resolute and inspiring leader in climate change policy and also in other sustainability areas, the EU, in conjunction with its member states, would work towards taking full responsibility for all carbon emissions that it causes, internally as well as abroad. It could implement new, meaningful measures to work out its global emissions and by doing so encourage others to act similarly. Creating awareness of accurate emission production is the basis for fair negotiations and behaviour change.

Ultimately, for me, to be a truly coherent sustainability actor, the EU would downsize its global trading activities and instead concentrate on regional production and consumption. This however, may (still) be a little too radical for the EU. Right now, a lot of people would be content for the EU to realise its partly announced plans of reducing carbon emissions by 30% by 2020. 

Whether this move would be enough to convince others to take comparable climate protection measures, particularly considering those opportunities that the EU has missed in recent climate negotiations, I am not sure. If however, the EU is seriously interested in regaining its leadership position in climate change talks, and does not want to be led by others, it needs to demonstrate a clear commitment and lead by example.

Marine governance: a matter life or extinction

The conclusion of the first interdisciplinary meeting of scientific experts on the world’s ocean is that the health of our oceans is even poorer than originally thought. The workshop, led by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), took place on 11-13 April 2011 and a summary was released on 21 June. The report describes the “negatively synergistic” (p.4) effects of hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and anoxia (absence of oxygen), acidification and ocean warming, and explains “that these are three symptoms… associated with each of the previous five mass extinctions on Earth.” (p.5) Overfishing and chemical leaching are adding to the stresses on our ocean ecosystems. The report also identifies climate change as a major factor reducing the resilience of the oceans’ ecosystems to stress factors with a strong risk of them collapsing. (p.6)   

As the report itself states, “The findings underscore the need for more effective management of fisheries and pollution and for strengthening protection of the 64% of the ocean that lies beyond the zones of national jurisdiction.” (p.4) In other words, the only way we are going to be able to tackle these problems is through better governance.

Currently, the world’s oceans are governed through a great many different regimes. First, different areas of the ocean are governed by different entities and laws. (See the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) The waters surrounding a country’s territory, up to 200 nautical miles, are essentially governed by the coastal state. The ocean beyond this is known as the high seas. These are open to all states for navigation and fishing, subject to treaty obligations and other provisions relating to the conservation of living resources. Second, there are treaties governing various ‘themes’, such as straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. (See the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks) Finally, there are regional organisations such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization governing certain themes within certain regions. On top of this, other issues that impact on the oceans, such as climate change, are managed through entirely separate regimes.

Given that the issues facing our oceans are so complex and the governance arrangements are so fragmented, it is no surprise that coordinated action to manage the problems named in the IPSO report is lacking. Action to streamline marine governance is urgently needed.

To date, most of our efforts to improve ocean governance have involved enclosing them; that is, assigning jurisdiction of parts of the ocean to a single entity with the authority to make laws, as discussed above. This is a common solution to the problem of managing public goods: The idea is that if a country owns particular resources, it has an incentive to manage them well. However, we cannot solve the governance problem this way, because 1) we do not want to enclose certain areas of the ocean, such as strategically-important straits, 2) we cannot enclose the whole ocean because it would be politically impossible to obtain agreement about which state would manage which parts, 3) to date the effectiveness of a national management approach with a view to protection of common resources has been largely disproved as competition for resources contained in them has time and time again lead to over-exploitation and degradation of the commons in question.

The alternative has so far been management through treaties and organisations that countries join voluntarily. The problem of fragmentation has already been discussed. A second issue that often agreements cannot be enforced because there is no ‘international ocean police force’ – a common problem in the anarchic international sphere.

The IPSO report’s recommendation to establish a UN Global Ocean Compliance Commission (GOCC) is interesting because it proposes to tackle both of these issues. The Commission would essentially be responsible for governing all the issues related to the management of the high seas, including “highly migratory and straddling species, discrete high seas species, pollution including long-range/transboundary pollution, illegal fishing, overfishing, marine spatial planning, protected areas and ecosystem conservation and other processes and activities that may adversely affect the High Seas.” The Commission would have the power to enforce compliance with agreements governing the high seas by levying fines and imposing other sanctions.

What seems to be missing from the GOCC proposals is the Commission’s participation in governance regimes for interconnected issues such as climate change, trade and development. The report itself states that “Human interactions with the ocean must change with the rapid adoption of a holistic approach to sustainable management of all activities that impinge marine ecosystems.” This can only occur if the impacts on oceans of decisions made in other areas are considered, and an entity such as the GOCC would be ideally placed to ensure this occurred.


Saving the economy in reverse gear? US Congress’s short-sighted engagment with climate change

When the US steel industry recently filed a petition against China, they claimed that the country employed a number of protectionist policies in violation of World Trade Organization rules. Significant policies in question included China’s subsidisation of various technical components used to construct wind turbines produced domestically, which has helped push China to become the world’s leader in wind generating capacity. Although hailed as a victory for free market enterprise after China agreed to halt the subsidies last week, the attack by the US illustrates its unwillingness to move on from its fossil fuel-intensive mode of production and the current state of affairs regarding renewable energy and related climate change policy in the US.

After the anti-climactic withdrawal of the American Clean Energy and Security Act from the Senate in the summer of 2009, the first bill that attempted to institute a cap and trade programme and address greenhouse gas emissions at the federal level, it seems that efforts to thwart climate change have not only completely fizzled in US Congress, but have actually reversed direction. For example, parties in Congress have introduced legislation to either delay or strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to reduce GHGs under the Clean Air Act. A bill introduced by the senate will delay EPA GHG regulations for stationary sources for two years. Another bill introduced in the House of Representatives aimed to prohibit the regulation of methane from livestock using the Clean Air Act. Although not all bills aiming to prevent GHG regulations via taxes or market programmes have passed through Congress, it certainly provides insight into the mood of the current Congress in session.

Current legislation and policy have all been enacted under the justification of helping the US’s fragile economy. Upon filing its complaint, steel industry unions argued that China’s alleged protectionist policies cost Americans jobs by providing China with an unfair advantage. Representatives and Senators have introduced legislation regarding the EPA stating that additional taxes would put a burden on American consumers and prevent stimulating the economy. The current Continuing Resolution, which outlines the federal spending budget on government agencies each fiscal year, contains reduced commitments to international climate finance and funding for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Services, illustrating its priority in Congress’s spending scales.

While stunting the opportunity to enter international carbon trading markets and preventing attempts to remove fossil fuel subsidies in order to allow for renewable energy subsidies like China has established, it seems that the US may be missing an opportunity to invest in the future green business and power markets. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that due to ‘uncertainties around key policies and incentives’ (or more likely a lack of them), the US’s competitive position in the clean technology centre is ‘at risk’ compared to other countries such as China. This illustrates a point that Congress seems to be missing, namely that meeting international and national emissions reductions goals does not necessarily undermine economic stimulation and growth; production-based incentives and research programmes could be introduced as part of economic stimulus plans in order to involve the US in the new global energy market, ensuring its competitive future.