Good As Far As It Goes… But Where’s the Environment?

April 19, 2011

I’m very grateful for the reports and reviews of Getting Better that have started to appear –especially given that most of them have been broadly positive.  But one thing many reviewers have wondered: where’s the environment? It’s a point that has been made by Duncan Green, Madeleine Bunting, and Jeni Klugman, Felix Salmon and Brad Plumer in an FP Book club.It’s a fair cop (COP?).  There’s not much in the book about climate change or other threats to global and local commons.  I note the fact that current consumption trends in the rich world are unsustainable and would only get more so if everyone consumed like a rich person.  But that was largely to point out that this is a problem for the rich world to solve –with the bottom 600+m people worldwide seeing incomes one percent of those enjoyed by the richest 600m people, it is pretty clear who is doing the excessive consuming (brief version here, Hans Rosling saying it far, far better in a Ted Talk here).So why wasn’t there more?  I think we should tackle climate change, preserve biodiversity and improve management of natural resources as a matter of urgency.  But beyond the fact I just don’t know all that much about global environmental issues (though I’m learning fast, reading stuff by my old-and-new colleague David Wheeler), so far, climate change hasn’t derailed global progress in human quality of life.  And it really is an issue where the rich world has to take the lead –we won’t solve climate change by denying electric light to rural people in Malawi.  So it wasn’t immediately relevant to the story or policy conclusions of Getting Better –even though it is mighty important.If I had put down some more (partially thought through at best) ideas, though, they’d have tended towards the technological.  I’m all in favor of either a carbon tax or cap and trade (I’ll take whichever we can get).  And, with regard to additional development aid to help tackle adaptation and mitigation, I’d love to see a pilot of cash on delivery of environmental services. But it would be great if there were also a series of advanced market commitments for new sustainable development technologies or some attempt to replicate the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research for off-grid renewable energy, as it might be.  At this point, it’s probably worth trying multiple approaches with the hope that at least one of them sticks…


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