News Article | May 21, 2017
New coalmines will leave more people in poverty, Oxfam has said in a new report, calling on Australia to commit to no new coalmines and to end public subsidies for coalmining. The report comes as the Queensland and federal governments continue to push for the controversial Adani coalmine in the Galilee basin, signalling potential infrastructure support and “royalty holidays”. The government’s support for the mine, which would be the biggest in Australia, has been met with a fierce campaign of resistance from environmental, legal, social justice and human rights groups. The Oxfam report, More Coal Equals More Poverty, says the climate change impacts of coal-fired power will disproportionately affect the world’s poor and – with most of the energy-poor households in developing countries beyond the reach of electricity grids – new coal-fired power plants won’t bring them energy. “Renewables are the clear answer to bringing electricity to those who currently live without it,” the report says. “The real cost of burning more coal will be measured in further entrenched poverty – through the escalating impacts of climate change and humanitarian disasters, increasing hunger and deaths and disease caused by pollution.” The Oxfam report cites the example of the two most populous nations on earth – with emerging middle classes in the hundreds of millions – China and India, which have recently suspended or abandoned plans to build new coal-fired power plants in favour of renewable energy. China has suspended more than 100 planned or partly-constructed coal-fired plants and has earmarked more than $493m for renewables projects over the next three years. India’s draft 10-year energy blueprint, released in December, predicts 57% of the country’s total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027, far above the Paris climate accord target of 40% by 2030. India and China also have nuclear power. The Oxfam report calls on the Australian government to prohibit new coalmines in the country and to end public subsidies for coalmining. It identified, in particular, the Indian conglomerate Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine in the Galilee basin, which would be the largest coalmine in Australia’s history. The state and federal governments are supportive of the mine. The federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, has consistently said the mine is “great news for regional Queensland and ... will boost the Queensland and Australian economies”. The federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is considering funding Adani’s coal rail line to the coast, while the Queensland government has reportedly offered Adani a “royalties holiday” worth more than $300m from state coffers. But the mine faces a financing impasse. Globally 19 banks, most recently Westpac, have either specifically or by way of stated policy committed to not funding the Adani project. Subsidising coal-fired power plants is “clinging to the technologies of the past”, the Oxfam report says. “Australia’s current stance is fundamentally at odds with the global shift to renewable energy and ignores our responsibility to help protect communities from the ravages of climate change, the opportunities for new jobs and prosperity through renewable energy, and the global goals of achieving universal energy access and ending poverty.” Oxfam Australia’s chief executive, Helen Szoke, said the development of renewables in Australia had been hampered by shifting government agenda and a lack of policy certainty over several years. “Against the backdrop of an imperilled Great Barrier Reef and extreme weather disasters, Australia’s carbon pollution is continuing to climb – the tragic consequence of more than a decade of climate policy paralysis and short-term political opportunism,” she said. “Renewable energy is set to power the fair economies of the future and Australia can make a choice to be part of that. Through its 2017 review of climate change policies, the Australian government has the opportunity to set a credible long-term goal and plan of action.” The next round of global climate talks will be held in Bonn in November. But the meeting, COP 23, is being chaired by Fiji, which has said it will bring the concerns of developing and vulnerable Pacific states to the fore of negotiations. The Pacific – which, as a region, has the lowest per capita emissions in the world – has felt the impacts of climate first and most acutely. Pacific states, many of which are low-lying archipelagos, have experienced cyclones and storm surges of increased frequency and power and are losing arable land and, in some cases, whole islands to rising sea levels.
News Article | May 22, 2017
That’s according to a report from the global anti-poverty organization Oxfam, which specifically calls for Australia to stop propping up the coal industry — especially the $300 million in subsidies it’s offered up for a proposed mine in Queensland. “Against the backdrop of an imperiled Great Barrier Reef and extreme weather disasters, Australia’s carbon pollution is continuing to climb — the tragic consequence of more than a decade of climate policy paralysis and short-term political opportunism,” Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia, says. Oxfam notes that increased investment will especially harm the world’s poor in developing nations that aren’t benefiting from the energy production. The report also hails efforts by China and India to ditch coal for renewable energy. From an economic point of view, Australia might do well to heed Oxfam’s advice and to keep an eye on what’s happening in the U.S., where the market is moving away from coal, even while the Trump administration is trying to breathe new life into the industry. Just this year, U.S. utilities announced the closure of eight coal-fired plants that generate enough energy to power the country of Qatar.
News Article | May 15, 2017
The Oxfam charity thrift store in Swansea in the UK has a paperback problem on its hands. The shop is currently drowning in copies of Dan Brown's hit 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code," so it had to take action. The Oxfam shop built a display using stacks and stacks of the bestselling book and offers this message to well-meaning customers: "You could give us another Da Vinci Code...but we would rather have your vinyl! We urgently need more records to keep our customers happy! ...And to make more money for Oxfam!" The store posted a photo of the plea to its Facebook page last week, and The Telegraph brought our attention to this serious matter on Monday. Shop manager Phil Broadhurst told The Telegraph the shop receives one copy of the book every day. Oxfam, a confederation of charitable groups, works to fight poverty around the world and provides aid in disaster situations. In the spirit of helping out the charity store, here are some handy suggestions for what to do with your copy of "The Da Vinci Code" instead of donating it to Oxfam: Does the Mac still matter? Apple execs tell why the MacBook Pro was over four years in the making, and why we should care. Virtual reality 101: CNET tells you everything you need to know about VR.
News Article | May 22, 2017
Techno-industrial society is in dangerous ecological overshoot – the human ecological footprint is at least 60% larger than the planet can support sustainably. The global economy is using even renewable and replenishable resources faster than ecosystems can regenerate, filling waste sinks beyond nature’s capacity to assimilate. (Even climate change is a waste management problem – carbon dioxide is the single greatest waste by weight of industrial economies.) Despite the accumulating evidence of impending crisis, the world community seems incapable of responding effectively. This situation is clearly unsustainable and, if present trends continue, is likely to lead – in this century – to runaway climate change, the collapse of major biophysical systems, global strife and diminished prospects for continued civilised existence. The proximate drivers are excess economic production and consumption, and over-population – human impact on the ecosphere is a product of population multiplied by average per capita consumption – exacerbated by an increasingly global compound myth of perpetual economic growth propelled by continuous technological progress. While there is evidence of some decoupling of economic production from nature, this is often an artefact of faulty accounting and trade (eg, wealthy countries are offshoring their ecological impacts onto poorer countries). Overall, economic throughput (energy and material consumption and waste production) is increasing with population and GDP growth [pdf]. Consequently, carbon dioxide is accumulating at an accelerating rate in the atmosphere and 2014, 2015 and 2016 sequentially shared the distinction of being the warmest years in the instrumental record. There is widespread support for the notion of clean production and consumption but in present circumstances, this must soon translate into less production and consumption by fewer people. It complicates matters that modern society remains dependent on abundant cheap energy still mostly supplied by carbon-based fuels. Despite rapid technological advances and falling costs, it is still not clear that renewable energy alternatives, including wind and photovoltaic electricity, can replace fossil fuels in such major uses as transportation and space/water heating in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, in the absence of effective carbon sequestration technologies, reducing fossil fuel use remains essential to avoiding catastrophic climate change. Resolving this energy-climate conundrum will require major conservation efforts, the prioritising of essential non-substitutable uses of fossil fuels and the banning of frivolous ones. At the same time, this is a world of chronic gross social inequity that erodes population health and social cohesion. According to Oxfam, the world’s richest eight billionaires possess the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the human family. More generally, the richest quintile of humanity takes home about 70% of global income [pdf] compared with just 2% by the poorest fifth of the population. Higher incomes enable citizens of high-income countries to consume, on average, several times their equitable share of global biocapacity, while denizens of poor countries are unable to claim a fair allocation of Earth’s bounty. This situation is egregiously unjust, socially destabilising and ecologically precarious. The major social implications of these realities should be self-evident. In a rational world, the global community ( the UN, the World Bank, the IMF) would cease promoting material growth as the primary solution to both north-south inequity and chronic poverty within nations. On a finite planet already in overshoot it is not biophysically possible to raise the material standards of the poor to those of the rich sustainably– in other words, without destroying the ecosphere, undermining life-support functions and precipitating the collapse of global society. The reasoning is simple. Because they facilitate growth and (over)consumption, globalisation and trade have enabled many densely-populated high-income countries (most western European nations and Japan) to greatly exceed their domestic carrying capacities. These nations live mostly on imported biocapacity – they are running “ecological deficit” with other nations and the global commons. Not every country can be a net importer of bioresources: the development path worn by first-world nations cannot be followed by developing countries. (Note that the bloated eco-footprints of many high-income countries make them effectively more over-populated than poorer countries with nominally higher population densities.) In particular, it is irresponsible for the governments of high-income countries to treat economic growth as the panacea for all that ails them. The evidence argues instead that the global community should cooperate on redistribution – on devising methods to share the benefits of development more equitably. Unsustainability is a collective problem that requires collective solutions. Contrary to politicians’ assertions, there is an unavoidable conflict between material economic growth and the environment. The larger the human enterprise, the more diminished the ecosphere. Homo sapiens have competitively displaced countless other species from their habitats and food resources. From only 1% 10,000 years ago, humans and their domestic livestock had grown to comprise over 97% of Earth’s mammalian biomass [pdf] by 2000. This number may be closer to 98.5% in 2017. The goal should be to enhance the material wellbeing of developing countries and the poor while simultaneously reducing both aggregate material throughput and world population. Ensuring an economically secure and ecologically stable environment for all requires: • That rich nations consume less to free up the ecological space needed for justifiable consumption increases in poorer countries. • That the world implement a universal population management plan designed to reduce the total human population to a level that can be supported indefinitely at a more-than-satisfactory average material standard. This is what it means to live sustainably within the means of nature. Fortunately, planned degrowth toward a quasi steady-state economy [pdf] is technically possible, would benefit the poor and could be achieved while improving the overall quality of life, even in high-income countries. Considering the human suffering that would be avoided and the number of non-human species that would be preserved, it is also a morally compelling strategy. Obviously, the foregoing diagnosis is anathema to the prevailing growth ethic, the belief that wellbeing is a linear function of income and political correctness pertaining to population policy. Many will therefore object on grounds that the foregoing prescription is politically unfeasible and can never be implemented. They may well be correct. The problem is that what is politically feasible is often ecologically irrelevant. Effective sustainability policy must be consistent with available scientific evidence; alternative facts are mere self-delusion. Failure to implement a global sustainability plan that addresses excess consumption and over-population while ensuring greater social equity may well be fatal to the human prospect. Indeed, adherence to any variant of the status quo promises a future of uncontrollable climate change, plummeting biodiversity, civil disorder, geopolitical turmoil and resource wars. Under the circumstances, opponents of the present prescription have an obligation to propose an alternative plan that similarly promises ecological stability, economic security, social equity and improved population health to future generations. William E Rees is a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, and former director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC. He originated and co-developed ecological footprint analysis, which is described in the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact On the Earth. This blog was first published on the Millenium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere website. Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow @GuardianGDP on Twitter.
News Article | May 26, 2017
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fire towards Islamic State militants during a battle in Qairawan, west of Mosul, Iraq May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer BAGHDAD/MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets on Friday urging residents in the Islamic State-held Old City center of Mosul to flee, raising fears among humanitarian groups for the safety of desperate civilians there. The leaflet drop, announced in an Iraqi military statement, signaled that the decisive offensive to dislodge the militants from their remaining enclave in the northern Iraqi city was imminent. The U.S.-backed offensive on Mosul, now in its eighth month, has taken longer than planned as the militants are dug in among civilians, fighting back with booby traps, suicide cars and motor-bikes, snipers and mortar fire. Civilians trapped behind Islamic State lines face a harrowing situation with little food and water, no electricity and limited access to hospitals. "Iraqi air force planes dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets a short while ago on the non-liberated areas ... urging citizens to exit through safe corridors," an Iraqi military statement said. A resident in Farouq, an Old City neighborhood, sounded desperate in a telephone interview. "We're waiting for death at any moment, either by bombing or starving," he said, asking not to be identified for his safety. "Adults eat one meal a day, either flour or lentil soup." The humanitarian group Oxfam said the leaflets suggested that the Iraqi forces' move on the Old City in Mosul "is imminent ... This could involve an official announcement from the military in the coming days". "Save the Children is deeply concerned that any calls to leave west Mosul will mean that civilians, particularly children, are in significant danger of being caught in the crossfire," another aid organization said in a statement. The militants have laid sheets of corrugated metal over pebbles in the alleys as an early warning system, residents said. The grinding noise produced by treading on it would alert them to any troop movements or civilians trying to escape. The United Nations last week said up to 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as fighting moves to the Old City. Residents said millet, usually used as bird feed, is being baked like rice as food prices increased by ten folds. People were seen collecting wild mallow plants in abandoned lots and also eating mulberry leaves and other types of plants. About 700,000, about a third of the pre-war city's population, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had initially hoped Mosul would be retaken by the end of 2016. The fall of Mosul would mark the end of Iraqi half of the "caliphate" declared nearly three years ago by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which also covers parts of Syria. Iraqi military commanders had expressed hope of taking control of the Old City's Grand al-Nuri mosque, from which Baghdadi declared the caliphate, before the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on Saturday or Sunday in Iraq. The insurgency is expected to continue in the sparsely populated desert region along the Syrian border even if Mosul is fully captured. Iranian-backed Shi'ite paramilitary forces are fighting Islamic State in that part of the country where Baghdadi is believed to be hiding, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. The Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary force, known as Popular Mobilisation, is theoretically under Abadi's command. On Friday, it announced it had captured the Sinjar military base, cutting the road between two cities that remain under Islamic State control west of Mosul, Tal Afar and Baaj, and getting closer to the Syrian border. Iraq's Shi'ite-led government is aiming to control the border in coordination with the Iranian-backed army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Linking up the two sides would give Assad a significant advantage in fighting the six-year rebellion against his rule.
News Article | May 26, 2017
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with President Donald Trump during a family photo with G7 leaders at the Ancient Greek Theater of Taormina, during the G7 Summit, Friday, May 26, 2017, in Taormina, Italy. From left, European Council President Donald Tusk, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Merkel, and Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) TAORMINA, Sicily (AP) — The Latest on the G-7 summit in Taormina, Sicily (all times local): German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she's spoken to President Donald Trump about his reported criticism of Germany for its trade surplus with the U.S. Merkel said Friday that it's well known that Germany sells more to the U.S. than it buys from America, but there is also a lot of German direct investment in the U.S. — "and in my opinion, one has to see these things together." Merkel also noted that Germany should not be singled out. German news agency dpa reported that she said: "We have a currency union, we are practically a common market. To pick out one country is, I think, not so appropriate." Group of Seven leaders are appealing to internet providers and social media companies to join the fight against terrorism. The leaders meeting in Taormina, Sicily signed a declaration pledging to intensify the fight against terror in the wake of "the brutal attack in Manchester" that killed 22 people outside a pop music concert. The declaration urges internet providers to "act urgently in developing and sharing new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection of content promoting incitement to violence." The leaders say they are targeting "propaganda supporting terrorism and violent extremism, online recruitment by extremists, radicalization and incitement to violence," and that they would work with youth and religious leaders, prisons and educational institutions toward that end. The leaders of the Group of Seven nations have agreed to do more to fight terrorism. Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, host of the G-7 summit, signed a declaration in the presence of the other leaders. He called it a strong message of friendship and solidarity with Britain after the deadly terror attack in Manchester. British Prime Minister Theresa May held up the declaration on fighting terror during a group photo with the other leaders after the document was signed. The others embraced her as she prepared to return to London a day before the summit ends. The G-7 group of wealthy democracies includes the United States, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Canada. Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump are both cutting elegant figures at events for spouses on the sidelines of the G-7 summit. The two greeted each other warmly when they met Friday at Catania's City Hall. Brigitte Macron dressed casually in white jeans, a red sweater and wedged Espadrilles, while Melania Trump wore a floral applique designer jacket over a smart white dress with a matching floral clutch. The spouses were invited for an Italian aperitivo and lunch at the historic Elephants Palace, greeted by the mayor and his companion. The guests included also German Chancellor Angela Merkel's husband, Joachim Sauer, who rarely joins his wife abroad, Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie Abe, and Italian host Paolo Gentiloni's wife, Emanuela Mauro. Some of the spouses got a helicopter's eye view of Mount Etna, an active volcano near Catania, but not Mrs. Trump, who arrived separately in her own minivan. She also skipped a tour of a Baroque Benedictine Monastery. Residents of the hilltop Sicilian town of Taormina are cheering and waving as the leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies pass by — a rarity for global summits, where ordinary people are usually kept far away for security reasons. Crowds lined the route as Donald Trump and the other six G-7 leaders made their way from Taormina's famed ancient Greek theater, where they took the traditional G-7 photo, to the five-star San Domenico Palace, where meetings were taking place The leaders made a brief stop along the way to take in a breathtaking view of the sea. While most people were kept far from the summit site, residents of Taormina, a town of 11,000, were given accreditation passes to wear around their necks, allowing them to stay at home during the two-day summit. One man toted his groceries through the crowd, and two little girls in white T-shirts were waving at the leaders. Germany is rejecting U.S. suggestions that bilateral deals might be possible between the U.S. and European Union members. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the EU "has a common trade policy that is implemented by the European Commission." He says in the last 50 years the EU has "done very well as an increasingly big and powerful economic bloc by agreeing trade deals for the (entire) union and for individual member states." He also says it could be a "thorn in the side" of the U.S. government that the EU is "probably a stronger and more powerful trade bloc than the United States of America or NAFTA." Schaefer says the EU has no reason for "be sad about this, it's what makes us strong." Germany is rejecting a U.S. official's assertion that efforts to combat climate change will harm economic growth. White House economic adviser Gary Cohn was reported to have said that economic considerations would prevail if they collide with measures to curtail global warming under the 2015 Paris climate accord. Asked about the comments Friday, a spokesman for Germany's environment ministry says "we expressly don't share the view that protecting the climate harms economic growth." Nikolai Fichtner says Germany sees protecting the climate as "a modernization program for national economies. And the key question is whether one is part of this early on or not." As G-7 leaders gathered in Sicily, Fichtner says Germany is "lobbying at all levels right now for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Agreement" on fighting climate change. A German government spokesman says trade surpluses like the one that's provoking President Donald Trump's ire are the result of market factors and are "neither good nor bad." Spokesman Georg Streiter didn't comment directly on a report that Trump called Germany "bad, very bad" on trade because of the success of German companies in selling autos and other goods to U.S. customers. But, speaking in Berlin, Streiter said Germany's current account surplus — the broadest measure of trade and investment flows — reflects economic factors that the German government can't directly do anything about. He said it was "also caused by factors that cannot, or at least cannot directly, be influenced by economic or financial policy measures in Germany, for example the oil price, the euro exchange rate, but also structural factors such as demographic developments." The Italian air force's Frecce Tricolori acrobatics team is putting on a show for the G-7 summit, streaming the colors of the Italian flag over the sea as the leaders watch from garden in Sicily. U.S. President Donald Trump, and the leaders of six other wealthy democracies — France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada — are in Taormina, Sicily for this year's G-7 summit at the 5-star San Domenico Palace hotel. The top issues of the two-day meeting Friday and Saturday are climate change, security, trade and immigration — and the differences between the leaders are substantial. Endorsing measures to combat terror is expected to find easy agreement, however, especially after the attack on a pop concert killed 22 people Monday night in Manchester. Environmental activists have staged protests on a beach and at sea near the Sicilian hilltop town of Taormina, where leaders of the world's seven wealthiest democracies were meeting. Greenpeace and Oxfam members carried out stunts on the seafront of Giardini Naxo on Friday to urge the Group of Seven leaders to fight climate change, one of the most problematic issues on the agenda of the two-day meeting. Greenpeace activists on eight kayaks unfurled banners at sea with messages including "Planet Earth first." On shore they unveiled a 4-meter (13-foot) Statue of Liberty in a life jacket that symbolized the plight of migrants and the threat of rising seas, one effect of climate change. Oxfam activists wore masks representing the seven leaders and had a banner with the words "Paris Agreement," the deal to fight global warming which U.S. President Trump has threatened to abandon. French President Emmanuel Macron has detailed his top priorities at the G-7, which include climate change and trade. At a bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, Macron insisted on the need for "reciprocity" on trade and said Europeans sometimes had a "too naive" approach on trade deals. The two leaders also found common ground on terrorism, following the attack on a pop concert in Manchester that killed 22 people. Macron offered his condolences for the Manchester attack, calling for increased European cooperation against terror "because they attack our young." That comment also referred to the Nice truck attack last summer that killed children and young families at a fireworks display, as well as the attack on a concert at the Bataclan theater in Paris. Macron spoke fluent English, which is very unusual for a French president. Despite U.S. President Donald Trump's views, Italy's leader is pushing for the G-7 summit to issue a strong statement on both fighting climate change and on handling the vast flow of migrants and refugees in need of help around the world. Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni, the host of this year's G-7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, spoke Friday as the two-day summit of the world's wealthy democracies began. Gentiloni says "We will make an important declaration today here in Taormina on climate change, on great migrant flows, on free trade in the world on which so many jobs depend and the future prospects for our economy." The Italian leader says the talks won't be easy but "the spirit of Taormina will help push us in the right direction." The chairman of the European Union's council says he agrees with President Donald Trump that the international community should be "tough, even brutal" on terrorism and Islamic State. European Council President Donald Tusk said terrorism was one of the main topics between EU officials and Trump during his visit to Brussels, especially in the wake of the Manchester pop concert bombing. Tusk said that "I totally agreed with him when he said the international community, the G7, the United States, Europe — should be tough, even brutal, with terrorism and ISIS" an acronym for the extremist group fighting in Syria and Iraq. Tusk spoke at the start of a meeting of the Group of Seven democracies in Taormina, Sicily. The hot-button issues of climate change, trade and migration threaten to throw a summit of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies off its consensus game, with U.S. President Donald Trump cast as the spoiler-in-chief. While Trump has met all of the leaders one on one, this will be the first time all seven are around the same table, including newcomers Emmanuel Macron of France, Theresa May of Britain and the Italian host, Paolo Gentiloni. Climate policy promises to be the real buzzkill at the G-7 party. Endorsing measures to combat terror is expected to find easy agreement, especially after the attack in Manchester on a pop music concert that left 22 people dead. Trump also going against the grain on trade, taking a more protectionist stand. His pending review of U.S. climate policies has left environmentalists bracing for the possibility of bland G-7 promises that says little after years of increasingly stronger commitments to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
News Article | February 15, 2017
An overhaul of a trading scheme to cut carbon emissions by European industries has been approved in a knife-edge vote by MEPs, although environmental campaigners have been quick to denounce the legislation for not going far enough. Under the proposals agreed in the European parliament in Strasbourg to update the emissions trading scheme (ETS), MEPs hope to balance greater cuts in greenhouse gases with protection for energy-intensive industries. The ETS imposes a cap on emissions from 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 31 countries by forcing companies to buy allowances to emit carbon. The new measures agreed by MEPs will gradually reduce the number of allowances available in an attempt to push up their cost and provide an incentive for industries to adopt cleaner technologies. The cap on emissions will fall by 2.2% a year – the so-called linear reduction factor – until at least 2024. The highest performing 10% of factories and other installations will also receive all their allowances free while a fund of up to €12bn (£10.2bn) is to be established to help industry innovate and invest in technology. The Conservative MEP Ian Duncan, who steered the legislation through the parliament, said: “By passing this report we will be reminding member states of the commitment they signed up to. We simply must deliver the ambitions of the Paris agreement on climate change and do what is required for our planet. “This is bigger than Brexit, bigger than Britain, bigger than the EU. We have to get it right.” The report will now enter so-called “trilogue” negotiations between the European parliament, commission and council, which represents member states. Efforts to overhaul the ETS have also been overshadowed by Britain’s decision to leave the EU, raising fears the country would also leave the scheme. The draft measures were approved by 379 votes to 263 with 57 abstentions, although until a few hours before the vote MEPs were not sure the proposals would be passed. The parliament’s environment committee had suggested a more radical cut in the number of allowances allowed under the scheme. Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe, a coalition of environmental groups, said MEPs had failed. He said: “It is shocking that the parliament chose to bow to the interests of polluting industries instead of protecting citizens from a catastrophic climate breakdown. The parliament has completely failed the first test of its commitment to the Paris agreement. “The proposed reforms will keep the carbon market ineffective for a decade or more. We urge progressive EU governments to finally turn the ETS into a functioning tool and create a stimulus to ditch old models and move to green economy.” Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU policy adviser, said: “Today’s vote by the European parliament represents a missed opportunity for the climate and for those hardest hit by global warming. “The text adopted fails to set new ambitious limits for climate-damaging emissions of the EU’s industry after 2020. “In addition, no share of the revenues from the EU emissions trading scheme was allocated to help poor countries adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change. The parliament and the council must address these flaws when they decide on the final text of the legislation.” Changes to the ETS will now be debated at the council of environment ministers on 28 February.
News Article | February 23, 2017
The four richest men in Indonesia own as much wealth as the country’s poorest 100 million citizens, despite the nation’s president repeatedly pledging to fighting “dangerous” levels of inequality. Oxfam on Thursday highlighted Indonesia as one of the most unequal countries in the world, where the number of dollar billionaires has increased from one in 2002 to 20 in 2016. The development charity worked out that the four richest Indonesians – led by brothers Budi and Michael Hartono – control $25bn of assets, which is roughly equal to the wealth of the poorest 40% of Indonesia’s 250 million population. The charity said the Hartonos – who own a clove cigarette company – could earn enough interest on their fortune in a year to eradicate extreme poverty in Indonesia. “Since 2000, economic growth has taken off in Indonesia,” Oxfam said in its report. “However, the benefits of growth have not been shared equally, and millions have been left behind especially women.” Oxfam said that despite rapid growth in gross domestic product (GDP) – which averaged at 5% between 2000-2016 and caused the country to be included in economics Civets list of fast growing emerging nations – “poverty reduction slowed to a near standstill”. Based on the World Bank’s “moderate” poverty line of $3.10-a-day, some 93 million Indonesians are living poverty. “The growing numbers of millionaires and billionaires, when set against a backdrop of staggering poverty, confirms that it is the rich who are capturing the lion’s share of the benefits of the country’s much-vaunted economic performance, while millions of people at the bottom are being left behind,” Oxfam said. When he was elected in 2014 President Joko Widodo pledged to prioritise closing the wealth gap ahead of blindly pursuing growth. “Economic growth is very important for my administration, for my people but it’s more important to narrow the gap,” Widodo said in an interview with Bloomberg shortly after his election. “When we invite investors they must give benefit to my people. Also to my country.” Widodo said the country’s Gini coefficient (the global inequality measure) was about 0.43, and “for me it’s dangerous”. Last month Widodo conceded that the country had made little progress in rebalancing the society, and vowed to make narrowing the gap his top priority of 2017. “Despite a slight improvement in our Gini ratio, it is still relatively high,” Widodo said, according to the Jakarta Globe. The country’s bureau of statistics said the Gini coefficient had reduced to to 0.387 in March 2016 compared with 0.402 in September 2015. Dini Widiastuti, spokesperson for Oxfam in Indonesia, said: “It is simply not right that the richest person in Indonesia earns more from the interest on his wealth in just one day than our poorest citizens spend on their basic needs in an entire year. Inequality in Indonesia is reaching crisis levels. If left unchecked, the huge gap between rich and poor could undermine the fight against poverty, exacerbate social instability, and put a brake on economic growth.”
News Article | February 24, 2017
Channel Nine has apologised to billionaire Gina Rinehart for its depiction of her in its 2015 miniseries The House of Hancock, and agreed not to circulate the program again. Rinehart had instigated legal action against Nine and the production company responsible for the program, Cordell Jigsaw, over the two-part miniseries recounting the family drama of one of Australia’s wealthiest mining dynasties. Nine and Cordell Jigsaw apologised to Rinehart in a statement on Friday that clarified the program “was a drama, not a documentary, and certain matters were fictionalised for dramatic purposes”. “Nine and Cordell Jigsaw accept that Mrs Rinehart had a very loving and close relationship with her mother, father and husband, and has with [her children] Hope and Ginia ... “Nine and Cordell Jigsaw accept that Mrs Rinehart found the broadcast to be inaccurate. That was certainly not the intention of Nine or Cordell Jigsaw, and each unreservedly apologises to Mrs Rinehart and her family for any hurt or offence caused by the broadcast and its promotion.” The statement also acknowledged Rinehart’s “significant contribution” to Australia’s industry and economy, as well as her “longstanding support of elite sport and numerous worthwhile charities”. The program makers agreed to pay Rinehart’s legal costs, likely to be a six-figure sum, and confirmed that the miniseries would not be sold to streaming channels, foreign markets or released on DVD. The first episode attracted more than 1.4 million viewers when it aired on the Nine network in February 2015. Rinehart won the right to see the second episode before it was broadcast in an out-of-court settlement, and ordered Nine edit parts of it out. She later took legal action against the network – and subsequently the production company – for defamation. Rinehart’s solicitor, Mark Wilks, said at the time the House of Hancock was “twisted” and “offensive”, and that some scenes were “entirely false”. In a statement Rinehart said she was pleased to receive a public apology for “such an inaccurate and distorted mini series”. “This case was not about money. It was about Mrs Rinehart standing up for her deeply loved family members to try to stop the further spreading of unfair and grossly disgraceful falsehoods about her family, especially when certain of her family members are no longer here able to defend themselves.” She called on politicians to “activate long overdue reform” to protect public figures from unfair representations in the media. In January, an Oxfam report found Rinehart to be among the wealthiest 1% of Australians.
News Article | March 2, 2017
It may sound strange, but a number of prominent people have been asking this question lately. As fears about the impact of automation grow, calls for a “robot tax” are gaining momentum. Earlier this month, the European parliament considered one for the EU. Benoît Hamon, the French Socialist party presidential candidate who is often described as his country’s Bernie Sanders, has put a robot tax in his platform. Even Bill Gates recently endorsed the idea. The proposals vary, but they share a common premise. As machines and algorithms get smarter, they’ll replace a widening share of the workforce. A robot tax could raise revenue to retrain those displaced workers, or supply them with a basic income. The good news is that the robot apocalypse hasn’t arrived just yet. Despite a steady stream of alarming headlines about clever computers gobbling up our jobs, the economic data suggests that automation isn’t happening on a large scale. The bad news is that if it does, it will produce a level of inequality that will make present-day America look like an egalitarian utopia by comparison. The real threat posed by robots isn’t that they will become evil and kill us all, which is what keeps Elon Musk up at night – it’s that they will amplify economic disparities to such an extreme that life will become, quite literally, unlivable for the vast majority. A robot tax may or may not be a useful policy tool for averting this scenario. But it’s a good starting point for an important conversation. Mass automation presents a serious political problem – one that demands a serious political solution. Automation isn’t new. In the late 16th century, an English inventor developed a knitting machine known as the stocking frame. By hand, workers averaged 100 stitches per minute; with the stocking frame, they averaged 1,000. This is the basic pattern, repeated through centuries: as technology improves, it reduces the amount of labor required to produce a certain number of goods. So far, however, this phenomenon hasn’t produced extreme unemployment. That’s because automation can create jobs as well as destroy them. One recent example is bank tellers: ATMs began to appear in the 1970s, but the total number of tellers has actually grown since then. As ATMs made it cheaper to run a branch, banks opened more branches, leading to more tellers overall. The job description has changed –today’s tellers spend more time selling financial services than dispensing cash – but the jobs are still there. What’s different this time is the possibility that technology will become so sophisticated that there won’t be anything left for humans to do. What if your ATM could not only give you a hundred bucks, but sell you an adjustable-rate mortgage? While the current rhetoric around artificial intelligence is overhyped, there have been meaningful advances over the past several years. And it’s not inconceivable that much bigger breakthroughs are on the horizon. Instead of merely transforming work, technology might begin to eliminate it. Instead of making it possible to create more wealth with less labor, automation might make it possible to create more wealth without labor. What’s so bad about wealth without labor? It depends on who owns the wealth. Under capitalism, wages are how workers receive a portion of what they produce. That portion has always been small, relative to the rewards that flow to the owners of capital. And over the past several decades, it’s gotten smaller: the share of the national income that goes to wages has been steadily shrinking, while the share that goes to capital has been growing. Technology has made workers more productive, but the profits have trickled up, not down. Productivity increased by 80.4% between 1973 and 2011, but the real hourly compensation of the median worker went up by only 10.7%. As bad as this is, mass automation threatens to make it much worse. If you think inequality is a problem now, imagine a world where the rich can get richer all by themselves. Capital liberated from labor means not merely the end of work, but the end of the wage. And without the wage, workers lose their only access to wealth – not to mention their only means of survival. They also lose their primary source of social power. So long as workers control the point of production, they can shut it down. The strike is still the most effective weapon workers have, even if they rarely use it any more. A fully automated economy would make them not just redundant, but powerless. Meanwhile, robotic capital would enable elites to completely secede from society. From private jets to private islands, the rich already devote a great deal of time and expense to insulating themselves from other people. But even the best fortified luxury bunker is tethered to the outside world, so long as capital needs labor to reproduce itself. Mass automation would make it possible to sever this link. Equipped with an infinite supply of workerless wealth, elites could seal themselves off in a gated paradise, leaving the unemployed masses to rot. If that scenario isn’t bleak enough, consider the possibility that mass automation could lead not only to the impoverishment of working people, but to their annihilation. In his book Four Futures, Peter Frase speculates that the economically redundant hordes outside the gates would only be tolerated for so long. After all, they might get restless – and that’s a lot of possible pitchforks. “What happens if the masses are dangerous but are no longer a working class, and hence of no value to the rulers?” Frase writes. “Someone will eventually get the idea that it would be better to get rid of them.” He gives this future an appropriately frightening name: “exterminism”, a world defined by the “genocidal war of the rich against the poor”. These dystopias may sound like science fiction, but they’re perfectly plausible given our current trajectory. The technology around robotics and artificial intelligence will continue to improve – but without substantive political change, the outcome will range from bad to apocalyptic for most people. That’s why the recent rumblings about a robot tax are worth taking seriously. They offer an opportunity to develop the political response to mass automation now, before it’s too late. When I asked the prominent leftwing thinker Matt Bruenig for his thoughts, he explained that whatever we do, we shouldn’t try to discourage automation. “The problem with robots is not the manufacturing and application of them – that’s actually good for productivity,” he told me. “The problem is that they are owned by the wealthy, which means that the income that flows to the robots go out to a small slice of wealthy people.” Job-killing robots are good, in other words, so long as the prosperity they produce is widely distributed. An Oxfam report released earlier this year revealed that the eight richest men in the world own as much wealth as half the human race. Imagine what those numbers will look like if automation accelerates. At some point, a handful of billionaires could control close to one hundred percent of society’s wealth. Then, perhaps, the idea that wealth should be owned by the many, rather than monopolized by the few, won’t seem so radical, and we can undertake a bit of sorely needed redistribution – before robot capitalism kills us all.