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First posited in 1968 by American ecologist Garret Hardin, the Tragedy of the Commons describes a situation where shared environmental resources are overused and exploited, and eventually depleted, posing risks to everyone involved. Hardin argues that to prevent this, there should be some restrictions to the amount of usage, for example, property rights must be affixed. 

What is the Tragedy of the Commons?

The definition of the Tragedy of the Commons is an economic and environmental science problem where individuals have access to a shared resource and act in their own interest, at the expense of other individuals. This can result in overconsumption, underinvestment, and depletion of resources.

Garrett Hardin, an evolutionary biologist, wrote a paper called “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the journal Science in 1968. In  summary of the Hardin paper, the Tragedy of the Commons addressed the growing concern of overpopulation, and Hardin used an example of sheep grazing land when describing the adverse effects of overpopulation. In this case, grazing lands held as private property will see their use limited by the prudence of the land holder in order to preserve the value of the land and health of the herd. Grazing lands held in common will become over-saturated with livestock because the food the animals consume is shared among all herdsmen.

Hardin argues that individual short-term interest– to take as much of a resource as possible – is in opposition to societal good. If everyone was to act on this individual interest, the situation would worsen for society as a whole- demand for a shared resource would overshadow the supply, and the resource would eventually become entirely unavailable. 

Conversely, exercising restraint would yield benefits for all in the long-term, as the shared resource would remain available. 

Tragedy of the Commons Examples

Arguably the best examples of Tragedy of the Commons occur in situations that lead to environmental degradation. 

Among many things, pollution is caused by wastewater. As the number of households and companies increase and dump their waste into the water, the water loses its ability to clean itself. This results in water that is toxic to wildlife and the people that live around and rely on it. 

Overfishing

Another example of the Tragedy of the Commons lies in overfishing. In Canada, the Grand Banks fishery off the coast of Newfoundland was a means of livelihood for regional fishermen. Abundant in cod, the fishery allowed fishermen to catch as many cod as they desired without negatively impacting their population. 

Then, in the 1960s, advancements in technology allowed fishermen to catch vast quantities of cod, far more than before. However, with each passing season, the amount of cod deteriorated and by the 1990s, the fishing industry in the region collapsed because there wasn’t enough fish to go around. This situation where individual fishermen took advantage of opportunities to benefit themselves in the short term, even when their actions were clearly detrimental to society in the long term, encapsulates the self-preserving mindset behind the Tragedy of the Commons. These fishermen thought logically, but not collectively, which led to their downfall. 

COVID-19

The Tragedy of the Commons can also be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its early days, people were generally wary of mixing with anyone outside their immediate family, leaving their homes less and working from home. However, another result of the pandemic was that people began to stock up on food and utilities. People likely assumed that everyone else would stock up as well and so the only solution was to preempt this scenario and stockpile food before the next person could. Again, people were thinking logically, but not collectively, and herein lies the relevance of the Tragedy of the Commons. Individuals took advantage of opportunities that benefited themselves, but spread out the harmful effects of their consumption across society. 

Retailers responded by imposing restrictions on the number of items one could buy, but it was too late. Entire grocery aisles were empty, wiped clean. 

You might also like: Carbon Tax: A Shared Global Responsibility For Carbon Emissions

What About the Environment?

Shared resources that mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis are abused constantly. 

No single authority can pass laws that protect the entire ocean. Each country can only manage and protect the ocean resources along its coastlines, leaving the shared common space beyond any particular jurisdiction vulnerable to pollution. This has led to obscene amounts of ocean pollution, as seen in garbage patches that accumulate in the centre of circular currents, for example. This will affect everyone as these pollutants cycle through the marine food chain, and then humans as we consume fish. Another problem facing the oceans are dead zones, areas in lakes and oceans where no marine life can live because of the lack of oxygen caused by excessive pollution and fertiliser runoff. 

The atmosphere is another resource being used and abused, as are forests. Unregulated and illegal logging pose great risks to forests’ ability to store carbon. In some parts of the world, vast expanses of rainforests aren’t governed in a way that allows effective management for resource extraction. Timber producers are driven to take as much timber as possible as cheaply as possible, without considering the wider impacts of doing so. 

Poor governance exacerbates the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons. 

Who is Meant to Fix It?

Ideally, governments at the local, state, national and international levels would define and manage shared resources. However, there are problems with this. Management inside clear boundaries is quite straightforward, but more problematic are resources shared across jurisdictions. For example, at the international level, states are not bound by a common authority and may view restrictions on resource extraction as a threat to their sovereignty. Additionally, more difficulties arise when resources cannot be divided, such as in whale treaties when the fishing of the whales’ food source is separately regulated. 

Economist Scott Barrett at Columbia University in New York says that international law “has no teeth, so treaties are essentially voluntary. “Even when countries decide to take part in collective conservation efforts, they can simply pull out again when they want to,” as Canada did in 2011 when it pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol and when America withdrew from the Paris Agreement in late 2019 – though they rejoined shortly in the following year by the Biden Administration. 

As the global population increases and demand for resources follows, the downsides of the Commons become more apparent. Some may argue that this will test the role and practicality of nation-states, leading to a redefinition of international governance. Further, it may lead some to question the role of supranational governments, such as the UN or the World Trade Organization; as resources become more limited, some may argue that managing the commons may not have a solution at all. 

What Can Be Done?

A potential solution to this is to affix property rights to public spaces. For example, charging a toll to use a freeway or implementing a tax for dumping wastewater would reduce the number of users to those who act in the best interests of others, not only themselves. Other solutions could include government intervention or developing strategies to trigger collective behaviour, such as assigning small groups in a community a plot of land to look after. 

Overall, regulating consumption and use can reduce over-consumption and government investment in conservation and renewal of the resource can help prevent its depletion.

Featured image by: Matteo de Mayda

Climate activism and capitalism are often seen as paradoxical to each other. With prominent social activists like Naomi Klein stating that a capitalist world is inherently unsustainable, the plausibility of solutions within a capitalist system are often ignored in popular discourse. However, a protest in the streets of Paris twenty years ago might hold a less radical path for climate action than the abolition of capitalism. 

In June 2000, some students from the Sorbonne raised their voices against the exclusion of issues such as inequality and environmental degradation in the teaching of economics. They believed that national or corporate economic performance did not exist separately from these social and environmental realities. In an article for the Financial Times, Leo Johnson, co-founder of the advisory firm Sustainable Finance and partner at PwC United Kingdom, stated that this idea might lie at the core of mitigating climate change. The purpose here is to rethink how performance is measured and mould capitalism into an agent for climate action. 

How Capitalism and Climate Change Are Linked

The importance of capitalism as a major contributor to climate change cannot be ignored. Jason Moore, an environmental historian and sociologist at Binghamton University went as far as to call our time the Capitalocene. He believes that the use of the term Anthropocene to define the current geological age shifts blame from corporations and capitalist structures to the average consumer. After all, the Carbon Majors Report in 2017 revealed that just 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. 

Such linkages between excessive capitalism and environmental problems have led to a rise in demand for radical climate action with movements such as Extinction Rebellion in the UK or support for the Green New Deal in America. The World Economic Forum however stated in a collaborative article with Project Syndicate that the costs of radical reform such as a zero carbon economy by 2025 might be too high which could lead to numerous developmental issues. What could work instead are new definitions and parameters for economic performance and a gradual shift towards a more sustainable economy. As German economist EF Schumacher stated, we must function as if both the planet and people matter. 

You might also like: As the World Turns to Science During a Pandemic, Will We Trust Climate Science More?

Within the corporate world change is already emerging with an increasing number of companies incorporating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors into their annual reports and according to Impax Asset Management these companies actually tend to be better investments for investors in terms of long-term performance. As more individual investors seem to choose sustainable options and consumers demand transparency in terms of ESG indicators, companies are increasingly incorporating environmental considerations when measuring performance. Harvard Business Review reported a 96% increase in the amount of financial investment firms committed to incorporating ESG factors in investment decisions since the creation of UN Principles for Responsible Investment in 2006. 

These firms are not just shifting their idea of performance based on these financial trends but there is also an increasing realisation about the effects of the climate crisis on economic performance. Rostin Benham from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of the United States said, “If climate change causes more volatile frequent and extreme weather events, you’re going to have a scenario where these large providers of financial products […] cannot shift risk away from their portfolios.” So, you have a situation where firms can no longer ignore the long-term effects of the climate crisis on financial markets which is why these new ideas of environmentally conscious economic performance are likely to gain even more traction. 

In the beginning of this year Larry Fink, BlackRock chief executive, committed to divest USD$7 trillion from coal. His actions are no longer an anomaly within the financial sector, with the Bank of England mandating disclosure of climate risk in the financial sector or the issuance of green bonds becoming more common. The corporate world is clearly starting to shift towards new ideas of how capitalism must function which will not only result in the mitigation of environmental degradation but could also help solve the climate crisis as resources will be used more efficiently to spur innovation in green technology or tap into the market for potential sustainable investments which is estimated to be around $26 trillion

It is important that this ideological shift in terms of measuring economic performance is also mirrored by governments. While the corporate sector looks into sustainable investment opportunities, nations must rethink how they view development and economic growth. Currently, GDP is most commonly used as an indicator of economic performance and while it is a good measure of the final monetary value of goods and services, it fails to account for social and environmental costs and thus provides an inaccurate picture of development and growth.

What is the Alternative to GDP?

An alternative for GDP can be found in the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), a way of measuring economic growth that takes into account both environmental and social factors and is based upon ideas of sustainable income presented by the economist John Hicks. Professor Murray Graham Patterson from Massey University found that while GDP in New Zealand has increased by 91% since 1970 the GPI only saw an increase of 51%. Recently Prime Minister Jacinda Arden spoke up about how New Zealand would have a “wellbeing budget,” something that would indicate how the nation is moving closer to adopting measures such as GPI as it starts acknowledging the importance of social and environmental issues along with economic ones. In the US, GPI has been in use since 2012, when Vermont became the first state to adopt it. Since then, 20 states have joined Vermont in using this alternative metric of measuring economic performance. 

States like Vermont present a real life example of how measures such as GPI can help in the struggle for climate action. As focus is shifted away from purely economic indicators, governments are likely to focus on actions that lift GPI, such as generating more energy from renewables, preserving natural habitats or increasing energy efficiency which will in turn help mitigate the climate crisis. This shift towards GPI is not only favourable in terms of the climate but can also prove to be more financially efficient and sustainable as it provides a more comprehensive look at success and can thus better inform state economic policy by taking into account hidden environmental and social costs. 

The capitalist system that currently governs both corporate and national interests is capable of shifting its focus from short term profit maximisation to an environmentally conscious and sustainable ideology. While radical action seems highly appealing to activists it remains costly and thus often alienates large segments of the population along with corporate and national interest groups. A strategy that integrates the current system of capitalism with climate action might prove to be more successful as measures of performance are redefined and economic growth takes environmental costs into account. 

 

On October 29th 2020, the 19th Central Committee of the China Communist Party concluded its semi-annual plenum. The issue of discussion was to review the outline for the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP), the state’s vision of economic and social policy over the next five years. The 14th FYP, which will be released in March 2021, aims to improve market efficiency and self-reliance, and emphasise R&D and technological innovation. Perhaps most importantly, however, the plan will radically expand the pilot programmes of China ’s ambitious carbon trading scheme to a national level.

Since October 2011, carbon trading schemes have been implemented in eight jurisdictions across China. The pilot programmes were intended to test how these schemes would work under different conditions. Locations of pilot programmes include the political and business hubs of Beijing and Shanghai, the heartland of China’s manufacturing industry in Guangdong province and the densely populated industrial municipalities of Tianjin and Chongqing.

 The pilot programmes appear to have been successful in reducing China’s carbon intensity, a measure of emission reductions calculated relative to economic growth and GDP, which fell by 48.1% in 2019 compared to a 2005 baseline. By the end of August 2020, China’s pilot carbon trading markets had a total carbon emission trading quota of 406 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, equal to around 9.28 trillion Chinese RMB

China has therefore moved towards adapting the scheme to a national level, where it would become the world’s largest carbon trading market. The emphasis on the scheme in the 14th FYP indicates that it will be rolled out nationally within the next five years, although the specific dates and targets will not be known until the final draft of the plan is approved next March. As the US retreats from international commitments to mitigate climate change, China continues to position itself as a global leader in this regard.

You might also like: Climate Financing for Developing Countries Rose 11% in 2018- Report

china national carbon scheme
Figure 1: Financial Times, 2017, Emissions Trading Systems (metric tonne CO2 equivalent): the largest circle refers to the emissions output that would be covered by a national carbon trading scheme in China; FT, Beijing

There have been some challenges in implementing the national scheme, including multiple delays, bureaucratic reshuffling and concerns over transparency and accuracy of emission data.

The national implementation of the scheme represents the efficient strengths of the collectivist and growth-driven perspective on policy shared by China’s leaders, as well as the Chinese state’s shift towards adopting market-based solutions to combat climate change. The scheme’s implementation has, however, encountered resistance in the shape of China’s intricate bureaucracy, and policymakers will have to evaluate how to integrate its tried and tested top-down economic planning mechanisms with the national scheme’s market-based approach.

What are China’s Plans to Mitigate Emissions?

China has pledged to reach peak emissions by 2030, potentially as early as 2027, and will source 20% of its energy from low-carbon sources in 2030. To achieve these targets, China will reduce its carbon intensity rates by 60-65% by 2030, and will increasingly limit its reliance on coal-derived energy, which in 2019 accounted for a heavy 57.7% of its energy mix. 

Discussing the national carbon trading scheme’s role in these targets, Ma Jun, director of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, stated that: “The actions of rolling out the national carbon trading scheme cannot be postponed, otherwise, China will be unable to meet the goals of carbon reduction,” underlining the scheme’s importance to the country’s leaders. With a view towards adopting more market-oriented solutions to climate change such as carbon trading, Chinese economic policymakers have shifted from a command-and-control administrative style to adopting market-oriented solutions to tackle climate change.

Authorities will rely on market dynamics to regulate the scheme. A free market environment occasionally regulated by the state should ensure that rates of emission reduction will occur in the most cost-effective manner possible, as emitting entities can be more flexible in deciding when to lower emissions and when to trade emission allowances. Market forces will also take charge in establishing the allocation of resources and allowances.

Chinese policymakers have cooperated with advisors from jurisdictions where carbon trading systems have already been implemented, specifically the EU, Australia and California. There are some similarities between China’s scheme and the models operating in Western countries; for instance, the Chinese scheme’s MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) strategies, certain target determination procedures and a preliminary focus on mitigating energy sector emissions are similar to existing policies in the EU trading scheme. 

Once China’s national scheme becomes operational, 25% of the world’s emissions and nearly 50% of global GDP will be covered by a carbon market.

China has set up its national carbon trading scheme to operate in incremental stages, gradually unfolding to involve more sectors, and focusing on carbon intensity reduction targets. The pilot programmes have been useful in evaluating how a carbon trading scheme functions across diverse sectors. Overall, the scheme will cover emitting firms operating within eight sectors: oil, chemicals, construction materials, steel, nonferrous metals, papermaking, electric power and shipping. The first stage will tackle the energy sector, specifically aiming to use market forces to wean the country off power derived from inefficient coal-fired plants.

While the energy sector phase of the national scheme had most recently been slated to roll out by the end of 2020, it appears that the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact have pushed the programme back indefinitely, due to pauses in economic activity and difficulties in collecting and verifying emissions data. However, the scheme’s prominent inclusion in the 14th FYP indicates it remains a priority and that the energy sector phase will be rolled out over the next five years.

Carbon Trading in China’s Energy Sector

Tackling energy sector emissions will be critical to the scheme’s long-term feasibility. Coal continues to dominate China’s energy mix, and successful implementation of a national trading scheme in the coal sector will pave the way for future transitions.

china national carbon scheme
Figure 2: IEA, 2020, CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion, China compared to the rest of the world, 2000-2018; IEA, Paris 

For the first phase of the national scheme, policymakers do not appear to be imposing a hard cap on emission rates, as the focus remains on carbon intensity reductions rather than reducing absolute emissions. Each power company will have an individual carbon intensity benchmark based on their emissions relative to the electricity they produce. If a company outperforms their benchmark, they will be allocated tradable credits. Critics have pointed out the risks of this approach, as the lack of a hard cap and absolute emission reduction targets does not incentivise a transition away from coal, only to a more efficient use of coal. Chinese policymakers do, however, intend to gradually minimise the presence of coal in the country’s energy mix, by lowering price ceilings and cutting back on the credits that can be allocated.

Given the focus on carbon intensity reduction, and in the name of remaining cost-efficient and reliant on market dynamics, the Chinese government does not wish to phase out coal entirely. The goal, rather, is to retire inefficient plants before the end of their expected lifetimes, and retrofit existing plants for carbon capture, storage and reutilisation systems. The credit system has been designed to redirect investments into new and more efficient plants, expediting the transition of capital and human resources away from aging, inefficient plants. 

In the short term, a national carbon trading scheme in China will incentivise coal-fired plants to improve plant efficiency or burn higher quality fuel. In the long-term, as alternative energy sources become more widespread and affordable, the aim will be to phase out inefficient and outdated plants altogether.

China’s Bureaucracy and Environmental Policy

The Chinese government has generally viewed the impacts of climate change through a macroeconomic lens. Historically, climate change policy in China has been devised by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), an institutional body for macroeconomic management, tasked with devising economic and social development policy. The NDRC is a massively influential body in Chinese politics, and climate activists have largely been in favour of having an important and relevant body tasked with combating climate change.

 The NDRC played a significant role in devising China’s first carbon trading pilot programmes in 2011, by framing the relevant policy and selecting the participating localities. In 2014, the NDRC issued a set of measures that established a preliminary legal framework for a national carbon trading system. Over subsequent years, NDRC officials continued to tout the eventuality of a national system, and the body was viewed as playing a critical role in the system’s planning.

In 2018, however, as part of a major governmental reshuffle, duties related to climate change policy were stripped from the NDRC, and passed on to a newly formed cabinet body, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE). Under the jurisdiction of the NDRC, climate change had become categorised as a strictly economic and developmental issue, dispersing environmental policymaking duties and causing serious bureaucratic inefficiencies and difficulties in coordinating environmental policy.

As Zhou Shengxian, China’s former Environment Minister, stated in 2013: “We take care of carbon monoxide, while carbon dioxide falls under the National Development and Reform Commission.”

The reform policies streamlined a very fragmented approach to drafting environmental policy in China. When the NDRC formulated policy on issues pertaining to climate change, other key inputs to the environmental policymaking process were dispersed throughout Chinese politics’ bureaucracy, requiring the NDRC to coordinate exhaustively with multiple other agencies and institutions of China’s intricate machinery of state. The government hopes to improve efficiency by assigning all duties related to environmental policy to the MEE.  

china national carbon scheme
Figure 3: China Water Risk, 2018: Before and after visualisation of 2018 ministry reform; China Water Risk, Hong Kong 

The multiple delays in formalising the national carbon trading scheme in China, which had at first been ambitiously slated to begin in 2017, were in large part due to bureaucratic inefficiencies at the policymaking level. One of the major challenges was organising an efficient and reliable data collection system that could indicate baseline emission rates across multiple sectors. This was necessary to establish targets and to efficiently allocate allowances. A more streamlined and coordinated approach to environmental policy through the MEE may reduce the latencies of China’s prior environmental policymaking model.

There remain some concerns over the MEE and its future role. Critics believe that moving climate change-related responsibilities from a massively influential policymaking body such as the NDRC to a smaller and newly formed ministry organism may limit climate change and other environmental issues’ visibility at national policymaking discussions. So far, the national scheme does not appear to have suffered significantly from the governmental reshuffle, other than being delayed. The Chinese state will need to ensure that climate policy remains a priority for legislators in future socio-economic planning.

Systemic Obstacles to a Market-Based Approach

A major difference between China ’s approach to implementing a national carbon trading scheme and those in Western countries lies in the nature of respective structural impediments. For systems established in the EU, for instance, action was challenged by the opposition of industry actors and other stakeholders. Adjusting the market to account for carbon trading was not an insurmountable challenge when compared to the political resistance of powerful lobbyists and industry representatives.

The Chinese government will presumably not encounter substantial political resistance, given the collectivist view on policy that the country’s leaders share. Additionally, many of the highest emitting industries in China, particularly in the power and steel sectors, are state-owned enterprises, virtually eliminating the risks and delays to legislation caused by industry lobbying.

The Chinese government however, faces an altogether different type of challenge. How can a country, which has prided its growth over 40 years on the virtues of a planned and top-down system of economic governance, introduce market-based incentives as the driving factor behind policy outcomes in the span of just a few years?

Despite trends that indicate movement towards a mature market economy, this transition has not been completed, nor do the country’s leaders express any desire to do so. At its core, China remains a socialist market economy, in which free markets and private property only exist within the ubiquitous reach of dominating state-owned enterprises and government actors. This is true in certain sectors more than others, and especially so in the power sector which is largely controlled by firms closely affiliated with the state.

Larry Goulder, a Stanford University economist who has worked on establishing carbon markets in California and Guangdong, said in 2017:

“In China, it’s not explicit political challenges that one faces as much as institutional. That is to say, the country doesn’t have as much of an apparatus for monitoring and keeping track of emissions. In addition, much of the economy is still not a market economy, but rather state-run in terms of the way prices are set, and that’s particularly true of the power sector. One of the key challenges is how to introduce environmental regulations, even market-based regulations, in a world where many of the sectors won’t respond as well because prices are controlled.”

The Chinese government has made it clear that market forces will play a key role in determining the dynamics of a national carbon market, although allowing markets full control over sectors that have historically been dominated by the heavy hand of government presents a significant challenge.

To move towards market-oriented regulating mechanisms, the Chinese state has gradually been enacting relevant reforms. In 2012, the state passed a bill to reform coal pricing. The bill allowed all prices of coal commodities, which had previously been split between state and market determination depending on the buyer and intended use, to be determined by market forces.

Pegging single unit prices to other commodities directed by market dynamics has also been a successful strategy. The case of natural gas is a good example. Historically seen as a lesser fuel source to coal, state agencies have long priced natural gas significantly below production costs, discouraging domestic producers from investing in gas production and restraining imports. Natural gas’ resurgence as a relatively clean alternative to coal, however, led to the introduction of a new pricing mechanism in 2011 by the NDRC, that pegs the per-unit price of natural gas to the price of other alternative fuels that are determined through market forces. This mechanism allows gas prices to be determined according to the market developments of other alternative fuels, gradually decoupling natural gas from years of state price controls and allowing the industry and related infrastructures to grow in China and supplant inefficient coal plants. This pricing mechanism was employed to positive results in some of the pilot trading programmes’ markets.

China has put in motion a series of reforms to decouple prices and resource demand from state interventions, relying increasingly on market forces. For a national carbon market to operate self-sufficiently within a free market environment, these steps are critical. Chinese companies, however, remain in uncharted waters for the most part, and will need to be guided by occasional state intervention. Price floors on carbon trading will be important to implement and adjust when needed, to motivate investor participation and an active market environment. Likewise, price ceilings can limit any single firm or enterprise from gaining disproportionate levels of size and power. Environmental taxes and penalties should not be discounted either, should competition ever need to be balanced out.

The state will need to strike a delicate balance between interventionism and allowing the market to govern itself, between encouraging competition and ensuring a level playing field. China already possesses a wealth of experience from its pilot programmes, as well as important advisory inputs from other carbon trading markets in the world. China’s centralised political system is an advantage, in that the state will not need to worry about combative non-compliance, obstructionist industry lobbying or contesting political priorities. For decades, China’s rapid growth has benefited from coherent policy through command-style economic planning, and the development opportunities afforded by free market capitalism. If the state can balance these two ideologies, it can certainly stake a strong claim as a global leader in market-driven environmental action.

Featured image by: Flickr 

Agriculture is the major source of food supply for the global population. It also helps reduce poverty, raise incomes, create more and better jobs and support livelihoods, and improve food security for 80% of the world’s poor people who live in the rural areas of developing countries and rely largely on farming. Approximately 70% of freshwater is used for agriculture globally. With rapid human population growth, by 2050, farmers and food producers will need to feed about 9 billion people, which will require an estimated 50% increase in agricultural production and a 15% increase in water withdrawals. However, agricultural production is threatened in countries in the Middle East, which depend significantly on imported food commodities because of the constraints of land and water scarcity, along with climate change. A Norwegian company has found an innovative way to solve all these problems: transform poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land with Liquid NanoClay.

Desertification resulting from decreasing water resources and vegetation is another factor challenging agricultural productivity. The combined impact of climate change, drought, overgrazing, unsustainable freshwater use and other human activities further accelerates the degradation of water-scarce regions in the world. Consequently, the soils in those regions become less fertile and less able to support crops, livestock and wildlife. In addition, drylands cover around 40% of the Earth’s land surface and are home to around 2 billion people. Thus, desertification will have a huge impact on our planet. A report, titled The Value of Land from the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, presented that land degradation can cost the world up to US$ 10.6 trillion every year. There is also a concern for the communities in the desert regions that are dependent on other countries (imports) for agricultural resources due to poor-quality soils and lack of advanced agricultural systems. Taking into account the accelerating rate of food consumption and decaying soil quality, it is necessary to advance agricultural technologies. 

A Norwegian startup, Desert Control, has developed a new technology to combat desertification and transform sandy deserts into fertile farmland. This innovation, called Liquid NanoClay (LNC), is created when irrigation water and clay are mixed. The mixing is carried out on site and the LNC is spread onto sandy soil using traditional irrigation systems such as sprinklers or water wagons. The individual clay flakes bind to the surface of the sand particles with a Van der Waals binding, and the mix percolates the ground down to root depth (normally 30-60 cm). This significantly increases the ability of the soil to retain water and nutrients and host plant-boosting fungi, creating conditions for fertile land. (Moreover, LNC application only takes 7 hours to saturate into the land, whereas the natural process of regeneration from dry to arable land generally takes around 7 to 15 years). 

Kristian P. Olesen, the chief technical officer and founder of Desert Control, says, “Liquid NanoClay could be a game changer for farming in arid conditions.” He continues, “We can change any poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land in just seven hours.” While the natural process of regeneration from dry to arable land generally takes around 7 to 15 years. The cost of LNC treatment also pays for itself over time, as one application can last for 5 years and reduce the quantity of water used by up to 65%. Additionally, the benefits of treating desert soil with LNC can be directly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as Goal 2: Zero Hunger, Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Goal 13: Climate Action and Goal 15: Life on Land.

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The startup was established in 2017 with over 10 years of R&D. Field tests have been conducted in multiple locations, including Egypt, China, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. The field trials conducted in the UAE were particularly important, since the country currently imports around 90% of its food and growing crops in the desert has become a high priority for the UAE to increase food security. Yet despite the long development of the LNC technology, it has only been set on the path to commercial scaling after being independently tested by the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai. 

Further, in March, another UAE trial was conducted by the team in a plot of desert in Dubai, where watermelon, zucchini and pearl millet were planted. 5 months after the start of the trial, the plot was filled with many rows of green leaves, punctuated with freshly grown fruits and vegetables, showing that this innovative solution can be deployed in what would typically be difficult terrain for agriculture. 

With desertification and a rapidly growing world population, the technology of Liquid NanoClay would be an effective solution for increasing food security of many countries in the future. Apart from agriculture and food production, LNC can be further applied in reforestation and projects to reclaim degraded and desertified land, climate impact projects and commercial greenery that require irrigation in areas with sandy soil.

The cost of treatment per hectare of land is high- varying from US$ 1 800- 9 500 depending on the size of the project- making it unattainable for most farmers, however should solutions such as this be scaled to a commercial level, costs will eventually dip to affordable levels, allowing most farmers to reap its benefits.

Featured image by: Flickr 

In complete contrast to the climate skepticism and inaction that has dominated the Trump administration’s environmental policies, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), a federal government agency, issued a report acknowledging that frequent and devastating shocks from climate change are a menace to the financial stability of the US. Central banks and corporates are waking up to the crisis and taking steps to build resilience, but political inertia can stand in the way.

“It’s the first time something like this has been done under the auspices of a US financial regulator,” said Dave Jones, a former insurance commissioner for California and one of the 34 industry leaders who put the report together. The 200-page report gives a comprehensive look at climate-change-induced risks to all financial markets, translating data and scientific revelations into language that Wall Street professionals and regulators understand. It includes projections of the fiscal impact that climate change and subsequent inaction could have on the US ‘ troubled economy amid the coronavirus pandemic and predictions of intensifying downpours and more potent hurricanes. It also offers 53 recommendations on how the sector and policymakers can address the elephant in the room.

The warning could not have come at a more vital time. The risks of climate change (and inaction) are looming and ever-growing across the US and around the world. The impacts of climate change are already manifesting in the largest state economies. The “one-two punch” of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, the blazes sweeping across California and the now-routine flooding in Florida are only a fraction of the climate-related calamities that have wreaked havoc on US soil.

“By the end of this century, the negative impacts on the United States from climate change will amount to about 1.2 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) for every 1 degree Celsius increase,” the report estimates. This is tantamount to wiping out nearly half of the average annual GDP growth rates in recent years. “There is great uncertainty about how those losses may be distributed across the US and within any given sector or asset class,” but how some sectors are impacted can hint towards what could come in the next decade.

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(Source: CTFC, 2020). 

The farming industry, which contributed USD$1.053 trillion to US gross GDP in 2017- a 5.4% share according to the Economic Research Service– now bears the brunt of the damage caused by climate change. In 2019, historic rainfall and flooding devastated the Midwest, costing the region more than $400 million worth of livestock and more in damage and flooded farmland. 

The scorching heat can be just as damaging to the health of an economy as excessive precipitation. By 2090, total impacts from extreme heat attributed to climate change could result in more than 2 billion lost labour hours, representing $160 billion (2015) in lost wages. “Companies that rely on outdoor and manual labour may face physical risks from declining labor productivity and higher costs associated with workers’ compensation, health insurance and general liability insurance,” the report says. 

Physical risks such as these have taken up much of the media’s front pages. Less visible, but just as powerful, are the transition risks that constitute a bigger part of the story of the economic threats. Transition risks arise when companies fail to adapt to changes in policy, technology and consumer behaviour as the world moves towards a net-zero economy. 

(Source: CTFC, 2020

These risks are already nascent in banks and companies’ balance sheets. In 2018, Germany saw its weakest economic performance in five years. The recession hit in part due to the new EU emission tests, which have hampered auto production, one of the country’s pillar industries. That same year, Jaguar and Land Rover wrote off £3.6 billion, largely due to uncertainties around Brexit and diesel engines. Their depreciation could make them a risky investment to investors and banks. 

What happened in Germany could happen to the US at any time. The report says that the financial system might be able to absorb the effect of climate change here and there, but when its spillover effects start to happen, more fundamentally, it is the underlying drivers of these risks that need to be addressed. 

“A fundamental flaw in the economic system lies at the heart of the climate change problem- the lack of appropriate incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the report says. For decades, economists have contended that pricing carbon emissions is one of the simplest and most efficient ways to address the “negative externalities” of fossil fuels. Negative externalities are situations when there is an external cost that accrues to other people or society as a whole. 

In the case of greenhouse emissions, an additional cost has been shifted to society as a negative externality in the form of future climate impacts. As estimated in 2016 by the federal government, the quantifiable economic damage associated with a small increase in carbon emissions amounts to $52 per metric ton of CO2 in today’s dollars. However, many experts agree this is far lower than the true costs of carbon pollution. In the absence of an “economy-wide price on carbon that reflects the true social cost of the emission,” all manner of financial instruments- stocks, bonds, futures and bank loans- will not factor in those risks in their calculus. Hence, the mismeasurement of known risks, which, as they build up, can eventually cause “a disorderly adjustment of prices.”

Undeniably, there has been a growing nervousness among US investors about swiftly mounting environmental risks in the sector. Last year, executives from more than 75 companies, which altogether represented a market value of $2.5 trillion and employed over 1 million US workers, traveled to Capitol Hill to call for a federal carbon price. More companies, including energy companies such as Equinor and Shell are providing some climate-related disclosure as a measure to mitigate the risk. Still, actions such as this have primarily been voluntary- and disordered, “presenting a challenge for investors and others seeking to understand exposure to and management of climate risks.” 

For the past few years, carbon pricing efforts have largely remained at the state level as Congress remains gridlocked on climate policy. “While there is an ongoing debate about the right price for emissions, what we do know is that inaction creates a large and growing liability,” says subcommittee chair Bob Litterman, a founding partner of the investment adviser Kepos Capital, in his foreword to the report.

How will these recommendations be taken forward? Some deem it likely that they will be shelved. Others remained hopeful that it could be a policy roadmap for the next administration now that Joe Biden is the president-elect. That said, the task force agrees that whoever comes next to the Oval Office should not make the same mistake twice. Likening climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caught the ill-prepared country off guard and thrown it into an economic crisis, Litterman writes, “time is of the essence. We do not know precisely when the planet’s climatic system will be pushed past catastrophic tipping points. But what we do know is that the cost of delay in responding to the risk can be devastating.”

Featured image by: Flickr

A coalition of UK health professionals has called for a carbon tax to be imposed on food with a heavy environmental impact, like meat, by 2025, unless the industry takes voluntary action on the impact of their goods.

In its new report, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) says that the climate crisis cannot be solved without action to cut the consumption of food that causes high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, such as meat and dairy products. It adds that more sustainable diets are healthier and would reduce illness. 

The UKHACC includes 10 Royal Colleges of medicine and nursing, the British Medical Association and the Lancet, representing doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including calling for public information campaigns on diet to include climate messages, and putting labels on food to reveal its environmental impact. 

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Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, says that the latter recommendation is especially important. He says, “Today you can walk into a shop and buy something with an environmental impact many times higher than another food, and have no idea you have done so. For example, Brazilian beef uses 200 times more land and causes 80 times more emissions than European tofu.”

More importantly, the coalition says that we need to rethink the food system. Kristin Bash, who leads the Faculty of Public Health’s food group and is a co-author of the UKHACC report, says, “the climate crisis isn’t something we should see as far in the future. It’s time to take these issues seriously now.”

Additionally, the report calls for the UK government to levy a food carbon tax on all food producers if the industry does not take action by 2025 to reduce the environmental impact of its products, such as meat. Nicky Philpott, the director of UKHACC, said taxes on plastic bags and sugary soft drinks show that such policies can reduce harmful activities. 

Already, the NHS has set a target of cutting its net carbon emissions to zero by 2040 and included food in its action plan, saying that “healthier, locally sourced food can improve wellbeing while cutting emissions,” however the UKHACC believes that “the Government must do more to encourage, enable and support these changes.” 

Food production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and studies have shown that red meat and dairy are more harmful than plant-based food. 

Bash clarifies that the report is not telling people to become vegans. “It’s just saying increase your consumption of plant protein. It’s a simple message and something that’s widely supported by health organisations around the world.” 

On November 4, the US officially left the Paris Agreement, three years after President Donald Trump vowed to do so. However, this may be short-lived, as President-elect Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to rejoin the Paris Agreement later that day. The move has drawn praise from experts and environmentalists alike.

In the afternoon of November 4, Biden tweeted, “Today, the Trump administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” 

Why Does This Matter?

Further, on his campaign website, Biden has promised not only to rejoin the agreement, but to lobby for more significant international climate ambition. The site says, “He will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets. He will make sure those commitments are transparent and enforceable, and stop countries from cheating by using America’s economic leverage and power of example.”

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Scientists around the world are breathing a sigh of relief. Trump and Biden have taken opposite positions on how to address the climate crisis. Biden has proposed to spend USD$2 trillion over four years to boost green jobs and infrastructure and achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions nationwide by 2050. In contrast, incumbent president Trump has repeatedly denied climate science and has rolled back nearly 100 climate policies throughout his term, including standards for power plant and vehicle emissions. He has also appointed former energy lobbyists to head both the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as a climate change denier at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

If Biden rejoins the agreement on January 20, the US would officially be back in 30 days later.

However, Joe Biden has his work cut out for him if he does rejoin the Paris Agreement. Other countries may be reluctant to trust US leadership on the issue; after all, this is the second time that the US has helped to negotiate an international climate deal and then been unable to garner domestic support- the Clinton administration was unable to get the Senate to support the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Featured image by: Flickr

The scientists who re-engineered PETase, an enzyme which has evolved to break down plastic, have now created an enzyme ‘cocktail’ which can digest plastic up to six times faster than previously possible. By combining PETase with a second enzyme called MHETase, they were able to break down PET, a common thermoplastic which takes centuries to biodegrade, in just days.

Since it was first patented in the 1940s, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) has been used in the production of billions of plastic bottles and synthetic fabrics across the globe. Many of these products, once discarded, have ended up in the Earth’s ecosystems, polluting landscapes and waterways and threatening wildlife.

The global appetite for plastic is only increasing. At present, over 300 million tonnes are manufactured each year, 50% of which are single-use. And, as about 90% of this is not recycled, the need to transform the way it is produced and to protect the living world is becoming ever-more urgent.

PET bottles – among the most archetypal forms of plastic waste – are usually not fully recycled, but rather melted and remoulded into harder plastics. But the recently-created two-enzyme ‘cocktail’, which strips PET plastics down to their original structure, could enable them to be recycled infinitely. This has the potential to limit the amount of plastic that is manufactured and discarded, while also reducing our reliance on the fossil fuels used in its production.

Enzymes are produced by all living things to catalyse and regulate chemical reactions, such as digestion. Those with the ability to digest plastic were first discovered in 2016, when scientists from the University of Kyoto identified a microbe at a bottle-recycling facility which secreted two enzymes (PETase and MHETase) in order to break down plastic and use it as a primary source of energy and carbon. The microbe, named Ideonella sakaiensis, has evolved this behaviour in response to an environment rich in PET. Thus, it seems that, over the last few decades, nature has been developing a strategy for dealing with our increasingly prevalent plastic litter. 

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This discovery provided the basis for a second study in 2018, when Professor John McGeehan, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Gregg Beckham, Senior Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US, re-engineered the enzyme PETase and found that its activity could be accelerated by 20%. This was the first intimation that the global plastic problem could be solved by the industrial application of specialised enzymes. Then, earlier this year, the same scientists observed that mixing PETase with MHETase doubled the rate of PET disintegration, while physically connecting them further tripled this rate.

Professor McGeehan said: “Gregg and I were chatting about how PETase attacks the surface of the plastics and MHETase chops things up further, so it seemed natural to see if we could use them together, mimicking what happens in nature.

“Our first experiments showed that they did indeed work better together, so we decided to try to physically link them, like two Pac-men joined by a piece of string.

“It took a great deal of work on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was worth the effort – we were delighted to see that our new chimeric enzyme is up to three times faster than the naturally evolved separate enzymes, opening new avenues for further improvements.”

Indeed, while the speed at which the re-engineered PETase acts alone is not fast enough to make it a commercially viable solution, it seems that the PETase-MHETase ‘super- enzyme’ could hold the key to solving the problem of plastic pollution by being able to break it down quicker. The question is: how soon can it be harnessed on a large scale and applied to the ubiquitous piles of plastic that plague the planet?

Featured image by: Flickr 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, are campaigning the most aggressive climate platform ever put forward in a US general election. As a result of mounting pressure from climate activists, the Biden-Harris campaign has been working alongside progressive policy makers and scientists for months to draft an action plan that will appeal to the large faction of liberal voters for whom the climate crisis is at the forefront this election. From this collaborative effort came The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, or the Biden Plan for short, but how does it differ from the Green New Deal?

Biden and Harris are walking the political tightrope between appeasing environmentally-oriented leftist voters by putting forth an ambitious climate plan, and securing the support of moderate voters by distancing their campaign from the Green New Deal (GND), the aggressive climate action resolution spearheaded by progressives Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, which some centrist voters view as “too radical.”

During both the first presidential debate on September 29 and the vice presidential debate on October 7, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence criticised the GND, calling it “the dumbest and most ridiculous [resolution],” promoting the misleading claim that it would cost the US USD$100 trillion (a number determined by a right wing policy group). The President and Vice President also repeatedly conflated the GND with the Biden Plan during both debates, leaving many viewers with questions about the overlaps between the two proposals and the points on which they diverge. The official statement on Joe Biden’s campaign website maintains, “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” nodding to the GND and its co-creators (many of whom, including Ocasio-Cortez, helped to draft the Biden Plan), without openly aligning with it. 

There are a number of similarities between the two proposals, and it is clear that the GND inspired the Biden Plan, but there are many crucial differences.

Emission Reduction

Both plans are committed to making major strides towards the goal of net-zero emissions nationwide. The Biden Plan is far less ambitious, calling for a carbon-pollution free US power sector by 2035, and net-zero emissions nationwide by 2050, while the GND calls for a complete, nationwide transition to zero-emission energy sources over a timeline of just 10 years. 

Both proposals emphasise that this transition will go hand in hand with the creation of millions of green jobs with family-sustaining benefits and the guaranteed right to unionise.

International Progress

Both proposals recognise the necessity of international cooperation and collaboration in order to address the climate crisis. Biden promises to not only re-enter the Paris Agreement on day one of his administration, but also to actively “use every tool of American foreign policy to push the rest of the world to raise their ambitions alongside the United States.” The GND does not explicitly mention the Paris Agreement, but promotes “the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal.”

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Housing and Infrastructure

Both proposals deal with housing insecurity as it pertains to the climate crisis. The Biden Plan draws connections between the lack of affordable housing in job centers, which forces many lower- and middle-income Americans to live far away, and higher emissions due to increased traffic and long commutes. To address this issue, the Biden Plan will involve constructing 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units, upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherising 2 million homes over four years. Though ambitious, it does not go as far as the GND, which sets goals to provide “all people of the United States with affordable, safe and adequate housing,” and to upgrade “all existing buildings in the United States to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort and durability” over ten years. 

Increased access to quality public transportation and improved infrastructure to enable the transition toward electric vehicles are also key aspects of both the Biden Plan and the GND. While the GND approaches the issue of transportation broadly, calling for investments in zero-emission vehicle manufacturing, public transit and high speed rail, the Biden Plan sets specific goals such as the development of a comprehensive electric vehicle infrastructure, including 500 000 car charging stations across the nation and new, rigorous fuel economy standards. This endeavor will require massive amounts of labor, creating millions of prevailing wage green jobs.

Environmental Justice

The GND is founded upon the principle of environmental justice, the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, national origin or income, with respect to the development and implementation of environmental policies. It seeks to remedy inequities that leave marginalised populations, including minority, indiginous and low-income communities disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, including higher exposure to pollutants, natural disasters and other environmental negatives. The Biden Plan also emphasises the importance of environmental justice, pledging to establish a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Department of Justice that will be tasked with prosecuting anti-pollution cases. Furthermore, to ensure that those on the frontlines of the climate crisis reap the benefits of improved infrastructure, housing and well-paying green jobs, the Biden Plan directs 40% of investment into marginalised communities.

Fracking

One of the most significant and controversial differences between the Biden Plan and the GND is on the issue of fracking. Fracking, the use of high pressure water to expel deep underground oil, is an extraction method forcefully opposed by climate activists, due to the many environmental and human health concerns linked to the practice, including groundwater contamination, exposure to toxic chemicals, methane leaks and even earthquakes. Although the GND does not explicitly mention fracking, its supporters argue that the elimination of fracking is implied in the proposal, due to the extreme dangers and human rights violations associated with the industry and its contribution to the climate crisis. The Biden Plan does not propose a ban on fracking, though Trump and Pence are keen on falsely claiming that the plan calls for the total decimation of the industry. Banning fracking would eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in three key swing states that could determine the fate of this election: Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. If the Biden Plan were to ban fracking, the campaign would lose tens of thousands of votes in those states, possibly securing a second Trump term. 

It’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to directly compare the Biden Plan and the Green New Deal, considering the GND is a broad, nonbinding resolution, not a specific plan. It is also necessary to recognise that the Biden Plan is tailored to a four-year presidential term, and its goals must be realistic and achievable within that timeline. The Biden Plan is not perfect, but it is still the most progressive plan in US history to be presented on the presidential debate stage, and takes important steps toward a more sustainable future. On twitter, Ocasio-Cortez explained, “Our differences are exactly why I joined Biden’s Climate Unity Task Force– so we could set aside our differences & figure out an aggressive climate plan to address the planetary crisis at our feet.”

Featured image by: Flickr

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has picked Senator Kamala Harris of California to be his running mate. Harris beat out a long list of qualified women for the spot — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former national security adviser Susan Rice, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and others were in the running. Biden’s decision to pick a woman of color sends the signal that the former vice president is serious about issues of racial and gender inequity … and about energizing voters who care deeply about representation. What does his decision mean for climate and environmental policy in a Biden administration?

Harris — formerly the district attorney for the city of San Francisco and the attorney general of California — has been known to be somewhat of a political chameleon. Her once-promising presidential campaign failed in part because of Harris’s inability to nail down her political ideology. But, over time, the Democrat has become increasingly firm in her commitment to one particular issue: environmental justice.

Kamala Harris and the Green New Deal

When Kamala Harris was running for president in 2019, she released a climate plan that put environmental justice front and center. Last July, she and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York unveiled a plan to introduce climate legislation in Congress that would ensure new environmental regulations and legislation get evaluated through an environmental justice lens before becoming law. Last week, the two Democrats made good on that plan by formally introducing legislation called the Climate Equity Act. The act would set up a new Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget.

A week prior to that announcement, Harris introduced another piece of climate legislation in the Senate: a companion bill to the Environmental Justice for All Act introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives by Democrats A. Donald McEachin of Virginia and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. In an email interview with Grist ahead of the introduction of that bill, the senator explained why environmental justice is so important to her. “Our country is in the midst of multiple crises,” Harris told Grist:

“First, there’s the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus that has killed over 148,000 people. It disproportionately affects Black and brown people in part due to the high frequency of pre-existing conditions like asthma and high blood pressure. These can stem from decades of toxic pollution being dumped in communities of color and which place people at higher risk of complications. Meanwhile, there is the continuing crisis of systemic racism in America that people of color have known and experienced for generations. All of these things intersect, and we must center the fight for environmental justice in the broader conversation.”

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Harris’ commitment to this kind of work dates back to her days as a district attorney. In 2005, she created a mini version of the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability she’s proposing now within the San Francisco district attorney’s office. “Crimes against the environment are crimes against communities, people who are often poor and disenfranchised,” she said at the time.

In short, she’s got a good record on justice that’s getting better and better. That could serve Biden well as he continues to hash out his climate plans in the months leading up to the election. He’s already introduced a more comprehensive and equitable version of his initial climate plan and sought input from an array of formal and informal climate advisors from many different corners of the climate movement, including environmental justice advocates. Kamala Harris will no doubt continue to steer his campaign in a justice-friendly direction. She also supports abolishing the filibuster, a step that will likely be necessary to get any climate or environmental policy through Congress in a Biden administration.

Harris isn’t quite a climate activist’s dream. She was one of the last Democrats running for president to release a climate plan last year, lagging far behind other candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee. Her plan did not include a full ban on fracking unlike some of her competitors’ plans, and she has taken donations from the fossil fuel industry in the past, though she did take a vow not to accept donations from fossil fuel companies this election cycle.

But Harris’s proximity to rising temperatures may be another indication that the senator would take climate change seriously as vice president. Kamala Harris is the first person from a state west of Texas to appear on a Democratic presidential ticket, and she has come up against the effects of climate change firsthand in California, where wildfires, rising sea levels, and drought are near-constant sources of concern. As a result, her state has become a leader of the charge to tackle rising emissions in the United States. Let’s hope Harris brings a little bit of that urgency to the ticket.

Featured image by: Gage Skidmore

This story originally appeared in Grist, written by Zoya Teirstein, and is republished here as a part of Earth.Org’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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