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Climate Compatible Development in Theory and Practice: three book reviews

There are growing literatures on various aspects of the link between climate and development, as a quick search of the databases reveals. Google Scholar yields 1.9m hits for climate change (CC) and development, 119,000 for CCCommunity Co-ordinators and poverty, 132,000 for CCCommunity Co-ordinators and resilience, and 64,000 for CCCommunity Co-ordinators and livelihood. The key words Africa, Asia and Latin America yield equally bountiful harvests of CC-related books and papers. Climate compatible development (CCD), the concept to which CDKN is attached, falls some way behind, but will surely catch up: our model of locking together mitigation, adaptation and global transformation for the benefit of poor people is proving to be a powerful tool at country and sub-national levels.

Climate Change and Development

Tom Tanner and Leo Horn-Phathanothai do not manage to reference CCD in an otherwise comprehensive introduction to Climate Change and Development. Their preferred moniker is ‘climate-smart development’ (only 245 hits on Google Scholar!), but their approach is consistent.   They frame the nexus between climate change and development as being about social justice and equity as well as sustainability. ‘Like an infinity knot’, they observe (Pg 47), ‘our climate and development futures are entwined in a circular chain of cause and effect’. This leads them to lay out consistently the implications of climate change and climate policy for poor people and communities, whether dealing with global mitigation targets and countries’ ‘carbon space’ or the impact of extreme weather events in rural areas. There is a strong chapter on adaptation, for example, emphasising sustainable livelihoods and adaptive capacity. The penultimate chapter on pathways to climate-smart development is explicitly located in a discourse about people-centred development and evolutionary economics. Complexity theory is not mentioned, and the publishing schedule probably meant that Ben Ramalingam’s book does not make the bibliography. That’s a pity.

In other respects, however, the book serves as a valuable primer. It gives the impression of being based on a teaching programme and of having been written as a textbook: powerpoint slides reappear as figures, there are reading guides at the beginning of each chapter, and summaries and questions for discussion are provided at the end. That’s all quite useful, actually. You could run a dinner party around the discussion questions. ‘Tell me’, you might ask, quoting Pg 43, ‘Why are the claims of climate sceptics and deniers so influential despite their lack of scientific credibility?’, or ‘Do have another glass of wine, and, by the way’, citing Pg 303, ‘To what extent does the experience of advanced industrialized countries provide a model of prosperity that can be generalized, replicated or sustained?’.

For those not at university, or who have other things to talk about at dinner, this book is still an invaluable acquisition. In eight chapters, plus a Conclusion, the authors provide a brief on the science of climate change, explore the climate-development nexus, tackle mitigation and adaptation, describe the international climate regime, tick off climate finance, and lay out pathways to the future. They end with five challenges for a ‘decisive decade’ (Pg 307ff): bending the GHG emission curve; getting ready for a 40C world; igniting the resource productivity revolution; making cities sustainable, liveable and resilient; and creating a new global partnership for sustainable development. There are no discussion questions at the end of the last chapter. The implication is clear: less talk, more action.

Planetary Economics

Michael Grubb’s book, Planetary Economics, written with Jean-Charles Hourcade and Karsten Neuhoff, is a weightier and more specialist volume, focused on energy, but with the same ethical commitment as Tanner and Horn-Phathanothai, a shared understanding of non-linear change and adaptive systems, and a similar interest in new intellectual and methodological approaches. There are no dinner party prompt cards, but the book is highly readable: equations are banished to appendices. It is mostly about developed countries, but will be invaluable also for policy-makers in developing countries. After all (and a point central to our thinking on climate compatible development) ‘development goals are also threated by global instabilities in energy or climate systems’ (Pg 483).

At the heart of the analysis is a kind of ‘framework of everything’, which encompasses three conceptions of risk, three fields of theory, three economic processes and three realms of opportunity, leading to three pillars of policy. These are the Three Domains of Policy, described as ‘satisficing’, ‘optimising’ and ‘transforming’ (Pg xxi). Frankly, I found the elaborate framework and nomenclature to be a slightly laboured trope, and agree with Grubb’s own assessment that ‘the enquiring mind may search for a universal theory but the quest is likely to be frustrating’ (Pg 73). It is certainly frustrating to try and hold all these conceptions, fields, processes, domains and pillars in ones’ mind at the same time.

Do not, however, be dissuaded from reading the book. Treat the framework as a way of organising diverse material, and focus instead on the succinct, authoritative and challenging analysis which fills the cells, so to speak, of the matrix. This is a 500-page book with twelve chapters, ranging widely across disciplines and covering many topics which keep researchers and policy-makers awake at night: what discount rate to use? Whether to opt for market or non-market solutions? How to incentivise changes in behaviour, by citizens and enterprises?

The introductory chapters provide a briefing on the inputs and outputs of the energy system and an introduction to the framework of everything (my phrase not Grubb’s). This is where to find material on the discount rate, citing Stern, of course, but also Dasgupta, Weitzman and others. It is also where to find information about the psychology of risk, citing Herb Simon and Daniel Kahnemann, and an introduction to innovation (though Schumpeter comes in more visibly towards the end of the book).

We then turn to the three pillars: the first dealing with standards and other policies, which move economies and households towards the best practice frontier; the second using markets and prices to achieve cleaner products and processes; and the third transforming energy systems through strategic investment in innovation and infrastructure. These overlap in time, but the pay-offs are faster in the first pillar, and longer-term for the third.

Three chapters deal with pillar one. We learn about the energy system, overall and with respect to particular technologies and industries. We are offered an extended analysis of why opportunities for quick wins in energy efficiency are so frequently unrealised. And we are introduced to the tool-box: information campaigns, labels, standards, fiscal measures, energy reporting, and so on. This is all serious and well-researched. The conclusions are unambiguous: to underline ‘the feasibility of actions that result in multiple gains from reduced energy use, emissions and costs’ (Pg 192), but also that on their own, these policies are insufficient: hence pillars two and three. Indeed, the rate of energy efficiency improvement in developed countries appears to be slowing (Pg 192) and gains are offset by the rebound effect, in which money saved by energy efficiency is spent on activities using more energy (Pg 186 ff).

Pillar two deals with markets, especially pollution pricing, cap and trade and the measures needed to compensate for adverse distributional impacts on businesses and households. Here we have material on fuel subsidies, a briefing on the debate between tax versus cap-and-trade (Pg 223ff), and a review of carbon pricing in various jurisdictions, including an analysis of Waxman-Markey in the US and the various phases of the EUEuropean Union Emissions Trading Scheme (Pg 240ff). The latter concludes with ten largely optimistic lessons from the EUEuropean Union ETS, at least if the over-allocation of permits which has undermined the price can be resolved. A global carbon price, by the way, is a ‘false god’ for both technical and political reasons (Pg 302ff): better to start small and local, and then ramp up.

Finally, pillar three plunges into longer-term transformation, industrial policy, innovation systems, and the ‘dark matter of economic growth’. Markets under-invest in innovation (Pg 311), so ‘extensive pubic intervention is required’ (ibid), in R and D, incubation and strategic deployment of new and desirable technologies. Transformation needs to be a ‘project’- and can be, as examples show in energy production, transport or the design of cities.

Of course, the pillars are not mutually exclusive, and need to be integrated. The book ends with five cross-cutting implications (Pgs 486 ff): first, energy systems have a large capacity to adapt, and this increases the long-term value of action; second, we need to broaden the tools of analysis, particularly relating to (systems evolution); third, multiple instruments are required; fourth, joint benefits are pervasive and inseparable; and fifth, only integrated strategies across all three policy pillars are effective or stable.

Some of Grubb’s judgements will be controversial (nuclear power, anyone?), but the ambition of the overall vision and the quality of the underpinning analysis are truly impressive. The question is whether or not vision and analysis are sufficient to overcome inertia and the vested interests. My answer would be ‘No’, that more attention needs to be paid to leadership and to communication. This explains my interest in Winning the Argument, and in the insights of authors like Drew Westen and Jonathan Haidt. The politics is insufficiently visible in both the books covered so far.

Convenient Action

In the third book, however, the politics is front and centre. This is the ‘Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change’, published in 2011 by Narendara Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, now Prime Minister of India. No doubt the book served multiple purposes. The narrative is highly positive, and the picture of Modi on the front cover certainly makes him look prime ministerial. But that’s OK, I think. We should be pleased if leaders and potential leaders see action on climate change as a way of mobilising support, securing their legacy and even securing advancement.

Remember that my five-point plan consisted of:

  1. Find a simple way to tell the story
  2. Create a positive message on the transformational benefits of taking action
  3. Craft a policy package which aids transition and helps losers
  4. Build a leadership group that will deliver a long-term consensus
  5. Focus relentlessly on implementation.

Narendra Modi appears to have ticked all these boxes. The book demonstrates: a strong ethical commitment to sustainability; stories and pictures to illustrate change, but also hard data, cost-benefit calculations and estimates of CO2 saved; illustrations of co-benefits and synergies; a strong livelihood focus in all programmes, with emphasis on benefits to the poor; description of  large-scale public education and mobilisation; and emphasis on both 'dominant interventionist model' and 'decentralised participative model', with lots of examples of cooperation to deliver practical results between Government-led and locally-led initiatives.

The key themes of the book include water security, urban environmental improvement, coastal regeneration, and roll-out of renewable energy, along with popular mobilisation. I have not been to Gujarat since the mid-1970s and hesitate to comment on the substance – I know that some have argued that the coverage is selective, for example ignoring pollution. Some may also feel uncomfortable with the spiritual foundation. Nevertheless, the overall numbers are impressive. Gujarat, after all, is a state with a population of 55 million people.

When it comes to water, for example, a state-wide drinking water grid has been created with nearly 2,000 Km of bulk pipelines and over 11,000 Km  of distribution pipelines. Nearly 17,000 villages have Village Water and Sanitation Committees, and large investments in local water conservation and harvesting projects have led to groundwater recharge, improved irrigation and significant increases in the productivity of rice, wheat, cotton and other crops – by over 50% in many cases. Interestingly, better water management reduces the need to pump water from deep aquifers, which reduces the need for electricity, which reduces the need for water used in generating electricity  - and so on ad infinitum.

In urban areas, for example in Ahemedabad, a city with 4.5 million inhabitants, river quality and water availability were improved by large-scale engineering works, and air quality was improved, also congestion reduced, by improving the road system and building a Bus Rapid Transit System. Across the state as a whole, 200,000 vehicles were converted from diesel or petrol to gas. Air pollution in Ahemdabad fell by half between 2001 and 2007.

And so on: green lighting in the state capital, Gandhinagar, 1900 MW of wind energy across the state, 3.4 million people pledging to a greener Gujarat, including students from over 9,000 schools and colleges, leading to over 1 million trees being planted. I was especially struck by the energy-saving plan for the use of lifts in the state capital:  half of the lifts disabled except during the rush hour!

Well, a pinch of salt may or may not be needed, but at first sight, Gujarat is a good case for those interested in national or sub-national planning. Leadership plays a part, the ability to engage local communities, and the capacity to deliver large-scale projects, but there is also a role for a diversified basket of policies: for example, use of CDM credits or a Special Incentive Package for investors in wind and solar.

Indeed, all these books are replete with practical ideas and options. They encourage leaders at all levels to make a personal commitment to tackling climate change in ways which contribute to rather than detract from development objectives. They enable policy-makers to see linkages and synergies. And by engaging with new approaches to theory, they open pathways to innovative, progressive and sometimes experimental solutions. In these ways, perhaps, the infinite complexity of the Gordian knot can be untangled.



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