Justin Trudeau, climate change, and emissions targets

Justin Trudeau has announced that the Liberals “won’t set a specific emissions target” for greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change. His reasoning is that “what we need is not ambitious political targets. What we need is an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions in the country.”

Trudeau is rehashing a debate in climate policy that goes back to the 1990s. Then, in international negotiations leading up to the Kyoto Protocol, the debate was between those (like the EU) who wanted to focus on targets to reduce emissions, and those (like the US and Canada) who wanted to agree on the “policies and measures” to be implemented. That debate has been decidedly answered in favour of targets and it’s a rare political leader (at least, one who actually wants to act on climate change) who still argues for policies without targets.

In other words, Trudeau’s announcement displays a very poor understanding of the evidence about how governments can help their societies reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If we look at the countries that have started on the path of substantial emissions cuts, such as Sweden, Germany or the UK, as well as the EU as a whole, all started with targets and then worked out what policies were needed to reach them. None started with policies alone.

There are good reasons for this. Trudeau is of course correct to assume that the targets on their own will not reduce emissions – they need follow-up policies, investment, and other sorts of action. And he is correct to say that previous and present Canadian governments have not followed up on their targets, rendering them empty promises. But targets do achieve two specific sorts of things that enable those policies to work effectively.

First, they focus the attention of government on the task at hand. They create a context for goal-oriented public policy. Without this goal, none of the specific policies, such as the investment Trudeau announced in clean tech innovation, can be evaluated as to their success, and the long-term attention by politicians and civil servants to the effects of policy is likely to be easily distracted.

Second, they can operate as a powerful signalling device for industry, consumers and above all investors. Investors are now deciding about what types of energy investments to make, and these are typically investments with long payback times. A strong, ambitious target to reduce emissions tells investors clearly that an investment in, say, a new coal-fired power plant is simply going to be unprofitable. So they will put their money into investments more consistent with the target. If you have no target, investors have no signal. It is no surprise that investors in particular have been calling for years for clearer signals from politicians about the desired depth and pace of emissions reductions.

A target is thus just the beginning. But it is an extremely important beginning. Climate policy at the federal level in Canada has been in a parlous state for the last 20 years, and vies with Australia for being the worst performing rich country on this crucial issue. If any new government elected on October 19th wants to do better, it needs to recognise the clear evidence of what has worked elsewhere and how that lesson can be adapted to Canadian conditions, not be tempted down a blind alley.

Mapping climate change initiatives in Ottawa

As part of the research in my Cultural Politics of Climate Change project, I’m exploring the politics of climate change within the City of Ottawa. I’m looking for help in building this research, by crowdsourcing ideas and material to research further.

One bit of this research involves establishing a database of climate change governance initiatives within the City. This draws on similar work done by Harriet Bulkeley and various colleagues, both looking at comparisons of climate change experiments in various cities around the world (see her book An Urban Politics of Climate Change), and specifically in Australian cities (warning, paywall for academic article).

Along with a research assistant, Benoit Metlej, I’ve established a provisional database of initiatives for Ottawa. The criteria for inclusion are pretty broad:

  • it must be an initiative which explicitly regards climate change in its goals and aims. It doesn’t need to have climate in its name, or necessarily be “primarily” about climate, but it must articulate its goals in relation to climate change
  • it must seek in some sense to govern in relation to climate change. Governance or governing is however here understood very broadly – it is not only about making laws, but anything that seeks to shape directly how society responds to climate change. It can include making new rules, introducing new technologies, financing activities, building new buildings or other physical infrastructure, capacity building for organisations and communities, setting targets and monitoring progress. And it is not only done by “governments” in the traditional sense – all sorts of actors can be involved in governing. The main exclusion is that it needs do something more than simply lobby some other agency to do something.
  • We’re not interested only in ones that “work” or seem “important”. The objective at this stage at least is to map as much of the population of initiatives as we can. We may be able to learn much from which seem to work and which seem to do less well.

Here is our current list: Initiatives (click on the link to see the pdf). We are fully aware that it’s provisional (indeed it’ll never be final) and we’ve probably missed some obvious ones.

If you know of any others, I’d love to hear from you. You can put them in as comments below, but ideally email them to me at matthew.paterson@uottawa.ca. We don’t need anything other than the name of the initiative: we can research the rest (but we may be back in touch if you are involved in the initiative.)

Thanks for your help! I look forward to hearing from you.


PhD/MA scholarships to work on ‘cultural politics of climate change’

In the context of my current SSHRC grant, I’m advertising two linked PhD scholarships to work on the “cultural politics of climate change”. One scholarship is available to work with Simon Dalby at Wilfrid Laurier on narrative strategies in global climate politics, while the other is to work with me at the University of Ottawa on popular culture, technology, and climate politics.

Project 1. Professor Simon Dalby is offering funding, from September 2015 for a PhD student to work on a thesis on narrative strategies in global climate politics. The student’s research will focus on approaches within popular culture that enable novel ways of imagining responses to climate change. Within this broad framing, the student will identify their particular approach and focus.

The research will be supervised by Simon Dalby. The student will be a member of a team of researchers (faculty and graduate students) at Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Ottawa, Simon Fraser University, Lund University (Sweden) and Durham University (UK). In particular, I will be supervising a PhD student also working on popular culture and climate change politics, with whom the successful candidate will be encouraged to collaborate.

The stipend will be worth $11,000, and will be awarded for three years for a PhD student. In addition, the student will have access to funding for travel to conferences and carrying out fieldwork. Students in the PhD Global Governance program normally receive four years of funding. In addition to the stipend, the Ph.D. student will be eligible to receive a $25,000 Balsillie Doctoral Fellowship in their first year and to apply for Balsillie Doctoral funding in subsequent years. The final terms of the funding will be outlined in the offer of acceptance. In the event that student receives an external award, the funding package would be revised.

For more details, including regarding the overall project within which the students’ work will be situated, see here. For enquiries, please contact Simon Dalby at sdalby@gmail.com. For details of the application process to the Balsillie School please contact Dr Andrew Thompson at asthompson@balsillieschool.ca.


Project 2. I am is offering stipend funding, from September 2015, for a PhD/MA student to work on a thesis on popular culture, technology, and climate politics. The student’s research will focus on the inter-relation between popular culture, low carbon technologies, subjectivity, and the politics of the shift to a low-carbon future. Within this broad framing, the student will identify their particular approach and focus.

I will be supervising this research. The student will be a member of a team of researchers (faculty and graduate students) at Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Ottawa, Simon Fraser University, Lund University (Sweden) and Durham University (UK). In particular, Simon Dalby at Wilfrid Laurier University will be supervising a PhD student also working on popular culture and climate change politics, with whom the successful candidate will be encouraged to collaborate.

The stipend will be worth $17703 per year (increasing in line with University commitments), and will be awarded for three years (PhD student) or one year (MA student). It will cover the Faculty’s portion of the university admission scholarship (see http://www.grad.uottawa.ca/Default.aspx?tabid=1458) plus the equivalent of an additional research assistantship for the summer. In addition, the student will have access to funding for travel to conferences and carrying out fieldwork.

For more details, including regarding the overall project within which the students’ work will be situated, see here. For enquiries, please contact me at matthew.paterson@uottawa.ca. The student could be registered in a number of possible programs at the University, including Political Science, Sociology, Feminist and Gender Studies, and Environmental Sustainability. For details of admission and the programs see here. Admission deadlines to these programs are mostly in late January or early February. I’ll be happy to talk about which programs may work best depending on your interests.

The UNFCCC and Beyond: Transnational Climate Change Governance – See more at: http://cips.uottawa.ca/the-unfccc-and-beyond-transnational-climate-change-governance/#sthash.QNCPs4W5.dpuf

The world’s attention (or at least that bit of it thinking about climate change at all) is focused again on the annual UN negotiations that convene for two weeks every December. This year in Lima, increasing attention is being given to a huge array of initiatives that work outside, or alongside, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Academic research has recently started to focus intensively on this phenomenon, now most commonly captured in the term ‘transnational climate change governance’ (TCCG).

See more at: http://cips.uottawa.ca/the-unfccc-and-beyond-transnational-climate-change-governance/#sthash.QNCPs4W5.dpuf

Cultural politics of climate change – current SSHRC research grant

In May 2014, I was awarded a grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to work on the ‘cultural politics of climate change’. This is a large, 5-year project, involving collaborators from various universities, specifically Caroline Andrew, Harriet Bulkeley, Simon Dalby, Shane Gunster, Matthew Hoffmann, Paul Saurette, and Johannes Stripple.

The project has four sub-projects.

The first looks at explicit attempts at “carbon governmentality”: campaigns or governing initiatives that seek to shape individual subjects. A useful example is the notion of “carbon dieting”.

The second explores the politics of attempting to manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the level of a single city – Ottawa – where many of the key conflicts over transport, housing, and energy arise in daily life.

The third explores the campaigns to undermine climate change science, attempting to go beyond an exploration in terms of corporate interests and conservative thinktanks (the focus of existing literature) to explore the underlying cultural values at stake.

The fourth explores how climate change subjectivities, and the conflicts around them, are constructed and reflected in popular culture – film, novels, cartoons, and so on. These are deliberately designed to be diverse, and thus to explore the breadth of the sites in which the general phenomena arise.

You can find more details of the project here: Cultural politics of climate change description


Sabbatical readings

I am on research leave in the Winter Semester. Can’t say I’m not ready for it.

I decided what I really need is to read. I don’t need time to write, but I am in grave danger of having no real ideas about which to write. Jo came up with the great metaphor (not least given my gardening tendencies) that my soil is exhausted and I need to add some organic matter – leaf mould, sheep manure, etc. to fertilise the brain.

So I asked a bunch of my colleagues, with different sorts of interests, the following question:

Can you give me a couple of suggestions of readings – books or articles – that you’ve found really exciting and interesting, that you’ve read in the last year or two? I don’t care in what area (I need to be eclectic), just the most interesting things you’ve read, full of ideas to get the ‘little grey cells’ going.
And please don’t agonise, whatever comes into your head first!

Here are the responses from those who responded, in no particular order. Some are more obvious than others, but a pretty decent reading list to be going on with. They are academics, so the ‘two’ constraint was clearly a struggle for some :-).

Reviel Netz, Barbed Wire

Grégoire Chamayou, Manhunts: a philosophical history

Franco Bifo Berardi, After the Future

John Blewitt and Ray Cunningham (eds) The Post-growth project

Andrew Dobson, Listening for Democracy

Andrew Barry, Material Politics

Warren Magnusson, Politics of Urbanism

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (two votes)

Tanya Murray Li, The Will to Improve

Clive Hamilton Earthmasters

Barbara Kingsolver Flight Behavior

James Lovelock Rough Ride to the Future

Peter Taylor Extraordinary Cities

Saskia Sassen Expulsions

James Meek Private Island

Anna Tsing Friction

Cary Wolfe Before the Law

Timothy Campbell Improper Life

Timothy Mitchell Rule of Experts

Geoff Mann Disassembly Required

Jessica Dempsey Enterprising Nature (not out yet!)

The Polity Resources series books (Timber, Fish, Coltan, Oil, Land, Food, etc.).

Stacy VanDeveer’s Trans Atlantic Institute report “Still Digging

Gavin Bridge’s 2004 Annual Review of Energy and Environment piece on Mining and the Environment.

Nicole Detraz: International Security and Gender (2012, Polity) and Environmental Security and Gender (2015-but out already, Routledge)

Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World became Modern (Norton, 2011). A brilliant read about Renaissance book-hunters rediscovering lost classics from antiquity. (MP: I’ve already read this – it is excellent)

Melissa Lane, Greek and Roman Political Ideas (Pelican, 2014). Great intellectual history that explores key political concepts in the ancient world.

Brendan Simms, Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present (Penguin, 2014). A very readable book that tells the history of Europe exactly as the sub-title says.

Slavoj Zizek First as Tragedy, then as Farce

The documentary series Untold History of the United States

Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism
Robert Heilbroner, Worldly Philosophers
William James, Pragmatism.

Thanks very much to Michele Betsill, Simon Dalby, Richard Devetak, Andy Dobson, Steve Hinchliffe, Mark Lacy, Robert Macneil, Tom Princen, Kara Shaw, Johannes Stripple.

With U.S.-China climate deal, Canada’s isolation deepens – See more at: http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/blog/us-china-climate-deal-canadas-isolation-deepens#sthash.4SHCEV39.dpuf

Tuesday’s U.S.-China climate deal has been hailed widely as an “historic deal” that dramatically changes the dynamics of international climate politics as countries search for a new global agreement by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Climate Convention in Paris in 2015.

Clearly it is a welcome development in a number of senses: it involves a very public commitment from the world’s largest emitters that will be hard to renege on; it puts pressure on other countries that have not already made pledges (many already have) to reduce emissions, or to up the ambition of their pledges in some cases; and it can act to create further trust amongst countries that the major emitters are negotiating in good faith building momentum towards Paris.

for more, see: http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/blog/us-china-climate-deal-canadas-isolation-deepens


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.