Shayne MacLachlan, OECD Environment Directorate
Newcastle, Australia has the dubious honour of being the world’s largest port for coal exports. There’s even a coal price index named after it: The NEWC Index. Surfing Novocastrian beaches not only means “watching out” for great-white sharks, but also “being watched” by the lurking great-red coal ships out beyond the breakers, waiting to come in to port for their fill (see photo). Growing up accustomed to these ever-present leviathans, I never questioned what ships did to the environment and to our health apart from when they crash and leak oil. This all changed recently as I discovered a raft of statistics about the shipping industry that indicate we’ve been sailing too close to the rocks since the engine started replacing sails and oars in the early 1800s.
A stern warning for climate change, and our health
Shipping brings us 90% of world trade and has increased in size by 400% in the last 45 years. Cargo ships, tankers and dry-bulk tankers are an essential element of a globalised world economy, but they are thirsty titans and they won’t settle for diet drinks. There are up to 100,000 working vessels on the ocean and some travel an incredible 2/3 of the distance to the moon in one year. Some stats floating around state that the 15 largest ships emit as much as all the 780 million cars in the world in terms of particulates, soot and noxious gases. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) says sea shipping makes up around 3% of global CO2 emissions which is slightly less than Japan’s annual emissions, the world’s 5th-highest emitting country. Ships carry considerable loads so they’re reasonably efficient on a tonne-per-kilometre basis, but with shipping growing so fast, this “broad in the beam” industry is laying down a significant carbon footprint. And local pollution created by ships when they are moored and as they rev hard to get in and out of port can be severe as most use low-grade bunker oil, containing highly-polluting sulphur. Ships also produce high levels of harmful nanoparticles, but encouragingly we’ve seen IMO collaboration to raise standards on air pollution from ships.
Mal de mer with rudderless regulation
A recent estimate forecasts that CO2 emissions from ships will increase by up to 250% in the next 35 years, and could represent 14% of total global emissions by 2050. This could wreck our hopes of getting to a well-below 2°C warming scenario. Even though many, including Richard Branson, called for emission reduction targets for international aviation and shipping to be included in the COP21 Paris Climate agreement, we failed. The IMO has introduced binding energy-efficiency measures so by 2025 all new ships will have to be 30% more efficient that those built today, but in my view there are questions about stringency and seemingly they don’t go far enough.
Navigating alternative routes to <2°C
As the Arctic ice sheet melts, a route across the North Pole would be about one-fifth shorter in distance than the Northern Sea route. But this isn’t what I have in mind for reducing shipping fuel consumption and emissions. We need to develop a copper-bottomed response to the challenge by further boosting investment in innovation and research. It’s great to all these sustainable shipping initiatives in the offing:
- Fit wind, wave and solar power such as kite sails, fins and solar panels. There’s some research into other energy sources underway such as nuclear cargo ships, but of course that presents another element of risk if something goes wrong.
- Increase carrying capacity of ships and future proofing of ships for a further 10-15 years with increased fuel efficiency by retrofitting vessels with more technologically advanced equipment.
- Use heat recovery technology to harness waste energy from exhaust gases to create steam, then mechanical energy, then electrical energy to power elements of the ship’s systems.
- Construct ships with sleeker design to reduce drag and install more efficient propellers.
- Use Maritime Emissions Treatment Systems (METS) in the form of a barge which positions large tubes over ships’ smoke stacks and captures and treats emissions from berthed vessels.
Let’s sink fossil fuels
Innovation and efficiency is hardly a “cut and run” approach. And typically when an industry reduces fuel costs they use the savings to increase activity, meaning carbon reduction is limited. This “rebound effect” could happen in maritime shipping. Truly green shipping will require vessels that are 100% fossil-fuel free. To help drive down fossil-fuel use, a carbon charge for shipping (and aviation) has been proposed. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) queried the carbon price of $US25 per tonne. Indeed this is higher than the price on CO2 for onshore industries in developed countries. What’s needed is a system where emitters that aren’t linked to a country’s climate policies are accountable. At COP17 in Durban, delegates discussed a universal charge for all ships that would generate billions of dollars. The money could be channelled to developing countries’ climate policy action. Phasing out subsidies on bunker fuel used by ships is also needed to get us on the right course.
You can’t cross the sea by standing and staring at the water
Following Paris it’s time for specific shipping emissions targets. It appears we know the co-ordinates but the fuel tanks are full of the wrong stuff. Earlier this month, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO discussed emissions targets but only got as far as approving compulsory monitoring of ship fuel consumption. This is a key step if one day we introduce market-based mechanisms to reduce shipping emissions. What’s needed is accelerated action consistent with the Paris agreement.
In the doldrums of COP21, it seems shipping (and it’s by no means the only sector) is rather like that surfer, sitting on their board waiting for the next wave. At the same time it’s trying to avoid the lurking great white shark.
Did shipping just fail the climate test? ITF’s Olaf Merk on Shipping Today
Kiln have produced this interactive map showing movements of the global merchant fleet over the course of 2012, overlaid on a bathymetric map with statistics including a counter for emitted CO2 (in thousand tonnes) and maximum freight carried by represented vessels (varying units).
There is something ominous in the words ‘money in politics’. It evokes payoffs and payolas, fat cats, power brokers and kingmakers dealing in smoke-filled rooms, deciding the future of people not present. Perhaps more to the point, it highlights the natural tension between egalitarian ideals embedded in a strictly non-egalitarian society. Economist Arthur Okun talked about the double standard of capitalist democracy “professing and pursuing an egalitarian political and social system and simultaneously generating gaping disparities in economic well-being.” With those gaping disparities widening to historic levels, could it be that the political apparatus of democracy is failing to deliver?
Financing Democracy, The Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns and the Risk of Policy Capture, recently published by the OECD, explores the state of political finance reform in the OECD and beyond. It presents the positive role money plays in our democracies, but also expresses important caveats.
We live neither in oligarchies nor in libertarian free-for-alls. Our democracies are based on the principles of fairness and equality of opportunity (although not equality of outcomes). Castes and pre-determined assignments within social hierarchies are abhorrent to the democrat. While competition is a natural feature of life on earth, equality of opportunity is an artificial notion that has been added with care to the equation. It’s part of the part we built when we built our democracies. As such, it requires active protection.
How can we do that? First, by ensuring that the widest number of people participate in democracy. In the most recent elections for which data are available, one-third of the voting-age public in the OECD did not vote. Further, because the rich vote more than the poor and the older more than the young, essential voices in our democracies consistently go missing.
Second, votes have to be meaningful. When the needs of the rich and powerful are given priority, citizens lose faith. Trust in government is already low. But more importantly, we see a growing gap in trust levels between the educated public and the general public—signs of a society that delivers for some but not for all. Campaign finance reform sets out to ensure that the apparatus of democracy is responsive to all citizens and produces fair outcomes.
From an OECD-wide perspective, some interesting data emerge. For example, 35% of OECD countries set no limits on the amount a political party or candidate can spend. This can create problems not just in establishing a level playing field, but also in preventing runaway spending races. Yet, in some cases, no limits exist because there is no real need for them. A handful of countries on the list enjoy strong reputations for corruption-free politics. It offers a reminder that one-size-fits-all solutions don’t always apply in campaign finance reform.
If you limit contributions to parties and campaigns, spending becomes a non-issue—theoretically. Restricting private contributions is intended to limit the possibility of undue influence by vested interests. 35% of OECD countries have outright bans on contributions to parties and candidates from corporations. Of 25 OECD countries examined, 15 had ceilings on private donations from individuals to parties, candidates or both.
For most countries, the origin of contributions matters. 50% of OECD countries ban anonymous donations and 38% have bans above certain thresholds. 68% of OECD countries ban donations from foreign interests to political parties and 56% ban them to candidates. This said, globalization has made it increasingly difficult to separate domestic from foreign interests. At least USD 18.1 million, and likely much more, was directed by foreign banks, telecom operators, liquor manufacturers and other industries to the US 2012 presidential campaign. Of the top 20 contributions to the campaign from foreign-owned firms, nearly 60% went to Republican candidates.
State contributions help political parties conduct their daily business and reduce dependence on private funding for parties and campaigns. All OECD countries, with the exception of Switzerland, provide public subsidies, most allowing mixed systems of public and private funding. But rules matter. Public funding ultimately helps to make the state an arbiter of who competes in elections. International recommendations suggest that the threshold for public funding should be lower than the electoral threshold to ensure that new parties and small parties have access to the political arena and can compete under fair conditions. Not doing so could lead to a cartelization of political parties, according to the report.
A variety of oversight arrangements exists across the OECD, with 47% of members having either an electoral management body (EMB – 29%) or other specialized institution (18%). In the majority of countries, the oversight function is handled by one or more existing institution. But not all bodies are granted effective monitoring and enforcement powers or possess sufficient resources. Also, sanctions can be insufficiently dissuasive.
Streamlined, online reporting practices can enhance the effectiveness of oversight bodies. Yet, only a few countries in the OECD—Estonia is a shining example—have so far managed to ensure that political finance reporting is standardized, machine readable, comparable and easily accessible for public scrutiny.
Third-party spending presents an emerging challenge. It can constitute a means of re-channeling election spending through committees and interest groups that are independent in name only. Political Action Committees (PACs), ubiquitous in American politics but also present in different forms in other countries, fall within this category. These are sometimes referred to as non-party campaigners and may include charities, faith groups, individual or private firms that campaign but do not stand as political parties or candidates. Few OECD countries currently have regulations for third-party campaigning.
Super PACs may raise unlimited amounts of money from third parties in favor of a candidate (or against the candidate’s rivals) but are prohibited from giving money directly to the candidate or coordinating with the campaign. Super PACs grew in the US after a 2010 Supreme Court decision protecting the free speech rights of independent, expenditure-only committees. Yet, loopholes and disclosure issues present challenges. Super PACs are taking on increasing amounts of basic campaign work. Meanwhile, in the 2012 election cycle, $9.6 million was spent by non-disclosing groups (whose donors are generally known to party leaders but not made public), growing to $15 million in 2014 and $23.6 million for the present year, with elections still 7 months away.
But even with unlimited contributions, campaign spending can be notoriously unreliable for those seeking a solid return on investment. In July of 2015—a full year before the US presidential primaries—one candidate’s super PAC had raised 100 million dollars, 10 million of which was from a single corporate donor. By February, that candidate had dropped out of the race.
The length of campaigns impacts the money required by parties and candidates. In Australia, federal election campaigns last approximately six weeks. France’s presidential campaign lasts for two weeks preceding the first ballot. Campaigns for seats in France’s lower house last for 20 days prior to the first ballot. In the UK, the campaign period is typically six weeks. Combined party spending for the UK 2010 general election was estimated at USD 48.5 million. By contrast, in the US, where elections are long, the cost of elections in 2012 was close to USD 6 billion. Michael Toner, former Chief Counsel to the Republican National Committee and former chair of the Federal Elections Commission, added some perspective: “Americans last year spent seven billion dollars on potato chips – isn’t the leader of the free world worth at least that?” Surely. But long, protracted campaigns and uncapped spending contests have consequences, notably the huge amount of time politicians must dedicate to fundraising—from 30% to 50% of their day for a member of the US House of Representatives. Somewhat perversely, it is time spent listening to the needs and wishes of rich donors rather than the voices of a more representative selection of constituents.
Are our democratic processes more responsive to the rich than they are to the poor and the middle class? Studies in the US point to a distinct difference in policy concerns between the affluent and the middle and lower classes, and persistent bias in policy outcomes towards the rich (Gilens and Page, 2014). As hosts to growing inequality, it is incumbent upon governments to do everything in their power so that our democracies are able to deliver on their promise of equality of opportunity and fairness for all. The OECD’s Framework on Financing Democracy identifies pathways towards averting policy capture, ensuring transparency and accountability, fostering a culture of integrity and ensuring compliance and review.
In the meantime, power and money will continue to hold court.
Laurence Matthews of Feasta The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability
The initials ‘CCS’ usually stand for Carbon Capture and Storage, which was discussed in a post here recently. However, I was with the team in Paris during COP21 promoting the Cap Global Carbon proposal (as described in John Jopling’s blog post here last year); the mechanism embodied in Cap Global Carbon is Cap & Share, and it occurred to us that the name ‘Carbon Cap & Share’ has the same initials, CCS. We wondered, are these two types of CCS complementary or antagonistic? Are they friends or enemies?
Let’s take a look.
The Paris Agreement was hugely symbolic. But if it remains only symbolic, then we’re in deep trouble. We need to implement it quickly, and then some. But it’s clear that cutting carbon emissions won’t happen fast enough. CCS (and for that matter geo-engineering) offer to help.
But there’s a defeatist sleight of hand in that previous paragraph. We may start by agreeing that we need to move fast, but then somehow we slide into accepting that we are unable to just decide to do this. So instead we turn to trying to fix things with technology. But are we really incapable of acting decisively? Are we really limited to moving at a slow, ‘politically feasible’ pace – or is this just a framing of the situation by vested interests?
On first encountering CCS, you might ask the following: prevention being better than cure, why dig up carbon only to re-bury it? If you’re confronted with a flooding bathroom, surely one of the first actions is to turn off the taps? Go for the root cause of the problem and shut it off. Otherwise, we’re into an ‘eating a spider to catch a fly’ series of escalating problems and side effects.
Although the recent post here on CCS stated that ‘a revolution in the global economy is needed’, CCS doesn’t offer one. With CCS, we’re still firmly in the ‘frame’ that takes digging up the fossil fuels for granted. Questioning the digging up falls outside the frame.
Cap & Share, on the other hand, does offer a revolution. Not the kind that overthrows capitalism perhaps, but one that does put capitalism at the service of humankind. We simply insist on the market operating within a set of rules we decide. It’s like our decision to abolish slavery: we said to the market, ‘these are the rules, slavery is out; now go and do your thing within those rules’.
With Cap & Share our ground rule is that the worldwide extraction of fossil fuels must be capped (limited to a certain amount, in accordance with the latest science, that reduces briskly each year towards zero). That’s the ‘Cap’, and we achieve it through an annual global auction of fossil fuel extraction permits. Then we share out the auction income to all adults (that’s the ‘Share’). This is essentially a global Cap & Dividend system (similar to the ‘Fee & Dividend’ idea, advocated by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and others). Cap & Share replaces the need for emissions trading, national emissions limits, and indeed any scrutiny of emissions at all. Everything’s taken care of ‘upstream’, by turning off the taps.
So Cap & Share takes the root cause of most emissions – namely the extraction of fossil fuels – and tackles it head on; CCS simply tries to ‘cope with it’. CCS, like ge-oengineering, is a useful avenue to pursue (and surely, we’re going to need everything we’ve got), but all too often CCS will be used to give cover to those who want to maintain the ‘extraction is sacrosanct’ frame in place.
Where does all this leave us?
With the feeling, perhaps, that Cap & Share and CCS seem to be at odds. But no. Despite this, I would argue that we should see them as partners.
On the one hand, Cap & Share which tackles fossil fuel emissions, can be complemented by CCS, which can tackle the non-fossil CO2 emissions (steel and cement production, say). And conversely, Cap & Share delivers (among other things) a carbon price, which is needed for CCS.
So, do we need CCS? Probably; and CCS needs a carbon price. But are CCS and a carbon price sufficient? No. We need both partners. We need to get serious; to make the carbon price high enough to enforce an effective cap; we need a simple system to do this – and one that also addresses inequality would be good. In other words, we also need Carbon Cap & Share – the other CCS.
Verena Weber, OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Directorate
Do you remember the “not-so-good old days”? When you were delayed while travelling abroad and it was too expensive to use your smartphone to check for alternatives online and inform the people you had to meet?
While recently travelling in Germany, I found myself in exactly this situation – in a train that was delayed at a station, but this time with the difference of having a roam-like-at-home plan.
While I was checking online maps to see how I could still make my appointment on time, I was chatting with friends, agreeing on a new meeting place and receiving real-time updates from another friend on the train delays. All of this was included in my normal French mobile plan, without any additional costs.
You might stop reading here and think that you still find yourself in the not-so-good old days because your mobile plan does not allow you to roam abroad. At the OECD, we have been following recent developments in international roaming services and have been comparing them across countries.
Our new report on Developments in International Mobile Roaming (IMR) provides an overview of progress made in the implementation of the OECD recommendation on international mobile roaming. We found that since the 2012 OECD Recommendation, IMR prices have been significantly reduced, either by ensuring effective competition or, in its absence, applying regulation.
Since 2012, different mobile operators across the world have developed ‘Roam Like at Home’ (RLAH) plans, which do not require purchasing ‘add-ons’ and use the subscriber’s domestic mobile package, such as the one described at the beginning of this post. Our report found that these offers are more prevalent in markets with four rather than three mobile network operators (MNOs), likely a result of the additional competition provided by more players.
Wholesale competition, provided by more MNOs, is also key to enabling Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) develop additional offers. Since 2014, for example, some MVNOs in countries such as France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States have all begun to offer RLAH offers covering continents – Europe, in the case of the Netherlands and France, and most of North and South America in the case of the United States, as well as one MVNO data RLAH offer announced in April 2015 for over 120 countries for users travelling from the United States. A UK operator reported that on average its customers used 500 MB per trip and, the two million that had travelled since the introduction of the RLAH offer, had saved in total the equivalent of USD 2 billion.
In the absence of sufficient competition, the report shows that authorities have applied regulation, for instance, in the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA). The European Union (EU) regulatory initiatives in the international mobile roaming market have provided a benchmark for many countries outside the EU and have highlighted the role that regional bodies can play in significantly reducing prices and creating competition in IMR services. By 15 June 2017, roaming charges in the EU will cease to exist. As an intermediary measure, from April 2016, roaming will become even less expensive: operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount on top of domestic prices- up to €0.05 per minute of calls made, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data (excl. VAT).
The report also found that several new bilateral agreements which have been concluded or are in the process of finalisation should lead to price reductions and provide a paradigm for other countries to follow suit where there is insufficient competition. Some of these bilateral agreements have also been undertaken between countries with free trade arrangements and could provide a framework to follow for other regions.
Finally, we also took a look at new technological developments, which could play a significant role in reducing roaming charges. Take, for instance, the case of SIM cards that can be associated with multiple operators or, going even further, virtual SIM cards. The Apple SIM is a good example for the first case: It enables consumers to choose the mobile network they prefer for data when they want to connect a mobile device such as an iPad. Users can travel between the UK, the US and Japan, availing themselves of the same rates paid by local users without the need to purchase a local SIM card. Virtual SIM cards, like the Xiaomi Roaming Card, also let travellers roam abroad without swapping SIM cards on their mobile devices.
Overall, being connected to the Internet – be it for people or things – becomes more and more indispensable in an increasingly networked world and one in which your car or medical device could include one or more SIM cards. This report addresses the most recent developments and policies to further meet the growing demand for roaming services. We will continue this work at the OECD with our member countries and stakeholders to further ensure IMR better meets the needs of travel across the globe.