rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

On climate, OECD head embraces environmentalism

Jose Angel Gurria. Image: Jose Angel Gurria/Wikimedia Commons

Angel Gurria sounds like the leader of an environmental or social justice group.

In a recent University of Toronto lecture, "Climate Action: Time for Implementation", he stressed that climate change is a public health issue "disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable as well as those least responsible for anthropogenic warming."

Gurria is Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group representing some of the richest, most industrialized nations on Earth.

He said the Toronto lecture was his third climate talk in recent years. In the first, he argued that fossil fuel emissions to the atmosphere must be "completely eliminated in the second half of this century." I disagree with his support of carbon capture -- allowing carbon dioxide pollution to be created but storing it below ground. But his vision of worldwide net-zero emissions is breathtaking. We associate the words "completely eliminated" with Greenpeace, not the OECD.

He's certainly no friend of coal-fired power. He argues it's "no longer cheap given rapid advances in renewables and the heavy costs of air pollution." In a report, Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth, the OECD laments that "far too much coal-based power generation capacity is still being built." Given that many member states are economically vested in coal, Gurria's stance is admirable. He doesn't ignore the fuel's harmful effects nor is he afraid to critique his own constituents.

And he understands the situation's urgency: "Countries can no longer credibly argue that better evidence is needed before we take action." He has no patience for those who claim the science is unsettled or that climate remedies can be postponed. It's encouraging that someone of his stature believes the question is no longer "whether" but "how fast?"

He's a great supporter of the Paris climate agreement but believes it doesn't go far enough. Rather than adopt a cautious approach -- perhaps waiting for nations to meet their current targets before embarking on more stringent ones -- he urges greater ambition, arguing there is presently a "serious shortfall in the aggregate level of pledged emissions reductions." He notes that even if Paris commitments keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius there will be more extreme weather events -- including flooding and drought -- and food insecurity. 

Perhaps most encouraging, he calls for higher carbon prices and a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies. Carbon prices, he says, "have been too low so far. Many carbon dioxide emissions are not priced at all, and over 90 per cent are priced at less than EUR 30 per tonne." In recent years, the debate in Canada has been over whether or not to implement carbon pricing. For Gurria that question is settled. The issue now is raising the price to levels that will achieve emission-reduction goals. By taking this position, the OECD provides the valuable service of putting opponents of pricing on notice that they are out of step with mainstream economic thought.

Fossil fuel subsidies, Gurria writes, function as "negative carbon price signals" furthering the uptake of oil and gas at the very moment when their use needs to be curtailed. He could have urged the subsidies' reduction; instead, he calls for their removal. He reminds us of their staggering global scale -- about half a trillion dollars annually. He says they "disproportionately benefit" the well off. Criticizing these subsidies takes guts. It means targeting some of the world's largest resource companies.

The only serious flaw is his unquestioning support for economic growth. He believes that can be "inclusive and climate-compatible" but his argument is not wholly convincing. In a recent open letter, some 15,000 scientists raised concerns about "the role of an economy rooted in growth." At a minimum, Gurria should recognize the work of thinkers such as Canadian economist (and former David Suzuki Foundation board member) Peter Victor, who argue vital societal goals, such as full employment, can be achieved without growth.

The lesson is not that the OECD still embraces some tenets of traditional economics. That's a given. The interesting thing is how far elite actors have come in acknowledging key drivers of the climate crisis, and the means to its solution. Sceptics take note: In Gurria we have one of the world's most influential economists urging dramatic climate action, including a higher, and rising, price on carbon.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Climate Change Policy Analyst Gideon Forman.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Image: José Ángel Gurria/Wikimedia Commons

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.