The Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) is under way. At the opening on November 30, 150 Heads of State gathered in Paris, most of whom addressed the conference. With representatives from 195 countries and observers from a range of organisations, the conference is set to last until 11 December. Optimism is relatively high that a legally binding and universal agreement will be reached, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C – what is generally regarded as a ‘safe’ limit.
But although it is hoped that a successor to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 will be put in place, there are many problems in getting so many countries to agree. They may all wish to reduce global warming, but there is disagreement on how it should be achieved and how the burden should be shared between countries.
There are several difficult economic issues in the negotiations. The first is the size and impact of the external costs of emissions. When a country burns fossil fuels, the benefits are almost entirely confined to residents of that county. However, the environmental costs are largely external to that country and only a relatively small fraction is borne by that country and hardly at all by the polluters themselves, unless there is a carbon tax or other form or penalty in place. The problem is that the atmosphere is a common resource and without collective action – national or international – it will be overused.
The second problem is one of distribution. Politicians may agree in principle that a solution is necessary which is equitable between nations, but there is considerable disagreement on what is meant by ‘equitable’ in this context. As the third Guardian article below puts it:
The most important hurdle could be over whether industrialised countries like the US, UK and Japan, which have contributed the most to the historical build-up of emissions, should be obliged to cut more than developing countries. India, on behalf of many poor countries, will argue that there must be “differentiation” between rich and poor; but the US wants targets that are applicable to all. A collision is inevitable.
A third problem is that of uncertainty. Although there is general agreement among scientists that human action is contributing to global warming, there is less agreement on the precise magnitude of the causal relationships. There is also uncertainty over the likely effects of specific emissions reductions. This uncertainty can then be used by governments which are unwilling to commit too much to emissions reductions.
A fourth difficulty arises from the intertemporal distribution of costs and benefits of emissions reductions. The costs are born immediately action is taken. Carbon taxes or charges, or subsidies to renewables, or caps on emissions, all involve higher energy prices and/or higher taxes. The flows of benefits (or lower costs), however, of reduced emissions are not likely to be fully experienced for a very long time. But governments, whether democratic or dictatorships, tend to have a relatively short time horizon, governed by the electoral cycle or the likelihood of staying in power. True, governments may not be solely concerned with power and many politicians may have genuine desires to tackle climate change, but their political survival is still likely to be a major determinant of their actions.
Of course, if there is strong public opinion in favour of action to reduce emissions, governments are likely to respond to this. Indeed, all the expressions of public support for action ahead of the conference from all around the world, do give some hope for a strong agreement at the Paris conference. Nevertheless, there is still widespread scepticism in many countries over the relationship between human action and climate change, and many argue that the costs of policies to tackle climate change exceed the benefits.
Game theory can shed some insights into the difficulties ahead for the negotiators. The global optimum may be for a strong agreement, binding on all countries. The Nash equilibrium, however, may be a situation where countries push for their own interests at the expense of others, with the final agreement being much more minimalistic.
There do, however, seem to be more reasons to be cheerful at this summit that at previous ones. But negotiations are likely to be hard and protracted over the coming days.
Videos and webcasts
Paris Climate Conference: The Big Picture Wall Street Journal on YouTube, Jason Bellini (30/11/15)
Why is the Paris UN climate summit important? PwC, Leo Johnson (14/10/15)
Paris climate change summit 2015: ‘the near impossible task’ Channel 4 News on YouTube, Tom Clarke (30/11/15)
COP21: Rallies mark start of Paris climate summit BBC News, David Shukman (29/11/15)
With climate at ‘breaking point’, leaders urge breakthrough in Paris Reuters, Bruce Wallace and Alister Doyle (1/12/15)
COP21: Paris conference could be climate turning point, says Obama BBC News (30/11/15)
Leaders meet to reach new agreement on climate change BBC News, David Shukman (30/11/15)
Poll: Growing Doubts Over Climate Change Causes Sky News, Thomas Moore (30/11/15)
Paris climate protesters banned but 10,000 shoes remain The Guardian (29/11/15)
COP-21 climate deal in Paris spells end of the fossil era The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (29/11/15)
Is there an economic case for tackling climate change? BBC News, Andrew Walker (28/11/15)
World Leaders in Paris Vow to Overcome Divisions on Climate Change Wall Street Journal, William Horobin and William Mauldin (30/11/15)
Experts discuss how to build a carbon-free energy industry The Guardian, Tim Smedley (25/11/15)
Africa could lead world on green energy, says IEA head The Guardian, Anna Leach (11/11/15)
Climate change talks: five reasons to be cheerful or fearful The Guardian, John Vidal (30/11/15)
The Paris climate change summit, explained in 4 charts The Washington Post, Philip Bump (30/11/15)
Why This Goal To Curb Climate Change ‘Is Not Ideal’ Huffington Post, Jacqueline Howard (30/11/15)
Paris climate change talks: What the different groups attending expect from these crucial meetings Independent, Tom Bawden (29/11/15)
UN Climate Change Conference: World Leaders Call For Price On CO2 Emissions Despite Uphill Battle At Paris Summit International Business Times, Maria Gallucci (30/11/15)
World Bank, six nations call for a price on carbon SBS (Australia) (1/12/15)
Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy The Guardian, Jonathan Watts (3/12/15)
- Why is COP21 considered to be so significant?
- For what reasons is there hope for a binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C?
- What would be the effect on global warming of the commitments made by more than 180 countries prior to the conference?
- What market failings contribute towards the problem of global warming?
- Why, if all countries want to achieve a binding agreement at the Paris conference, is it likely to be so difficult to achieve?
- Explain what is meant by a ‘Nash equilibrium’ and how the concept is relevant to international negotiations.
- Why is China investing heavily in solar power?
- Could Africa lead the world in green energy?
- Is a ‘cap and trade’ (tradable permits) system (a) an effective means of reducing emissions; (b) an efficient system?
- What is the best way of financing investment in renewable energy?
- How does the structure/order of the Paris conference differ from previous COPs? Is such a structure more likely to achieve substantial results?
In many parts of the world, life in the oceans is dying out. The term ‘dead zones’ is used to describe seas that are devoid of marine life. And these zones are growing in size and number.
It’s not just the decline in fish and other marine species that’s worrying environmentalists and many others; it’s a growth in rubbish. Part of this is caused by natural disasters, such as the 2011 Tsunami in Japan that washed huge amounts of debris into the Pacific Ocean. But much of it is caused by rubbish carried down rivers and into the seas, or rubbish jettisoned from ships. The problem is particularly acute in areas of the oceans where currents circulate the rubbish into huge rubbish dumps. There are two such areas either side of Hawaii in the Pacific. Both are vast.
The first article below tells the tale of Newcastle (Australia) yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen. He completed the 2013 Melbourne to Osaka double handed yacht race earlier this year as skipper of his yacht Funnelweb and then went on to bring the yacht home to Australia via America and race the famous Trans-Pac Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii along the way.
Exactly 10 years before, when [he] had sailed exactly the same course from Melbourne to Osaka, all he’d had to do to catch a fish from the ocean between Brisbane and Japan was throw out a baited line.
“There was not one of the 28 days on that portion of the trip when we didn’t catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat with some rice,” Macfadyen recalled. But this time, on that whole long leg of sea journey, the total catch was two. No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.
After reaching Osaka in Japan, they sailed on to San Francisco via Hawaii.
“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” Macfadyen said. “We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.”
“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”
In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes.
As economists, you should readily understand that here we have a case of over-exploited common resources – a Tragedy of the Commons of epic proportions. One ship’s rubbish may make a tiny difference, but when the cost of dumping is near zero and when the oceans are not policed, what is rational for a single ship becomes a disaster when repeated tens of thousands of times by other ships
Again, overfishing is the result of seemingly rational behaviour by crews of individual fishing boats. But as Economics (8th edition) points out on pages 328–30:
Common resources are not owned but are available free of charge to anyone. Examples include the air we breathe and the oceans for fishing. Like public goods, they are non-excludable. For example, fishing boats can take as many fish as they are able from the open seas. There is no ‘owner’ of the fish to stop them. As long as there are plentiful stocks of fish, there is no problem.
But as more people fish the seas, so fish stocks are likely to run down. This is where common resources differ from public goods. There is rivalry. One person’s use of a common resource diminishes the amount available for others. This result is an overuse of common resources. This is why fish stocks in many parts of the world are severely depleted, why virgin forests are disappearing (cut down for timber or firewood), why many roads are so congested and why the atmosphere is becoming so polluted (being used as a common ‘dump’ for emissions). In each case, a resource that is freely available is overused. This has become known as the tragedy of the commons.
… When I use a common resource, I am reducing the amount available for others. I am imposing a cost on other people: an external cost. If I am motivated purely by self-interest, I will not take these external costs into account.
Try doing some research to find out just what has been happening to the state of the oceans in recent years.
The ocean is broken Newcastle Herald (Australia), Greg Ray (18/10/13)
Our Planet Is Exploding With Ocean Dead Zones Business Insider, Dina Spector (26/6/13)
Health of oceans ‘declining fast’ BBC News, Roger Harrabin (3/10/13)
Chaos in the Oceans Huffington Post, Evaggelos Vallianatos (14/10/13)
Ocean Health Suffers from Overfishing, Index Finds Live Science, TechMedia, Douglas Main (16/10/13)
Dead zone (ecology) Wikipedia
Common Fisheries Policy Wikipedia
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy Fisheries DG, European Commission
Ocean Health Index OHI
- How does a common resource differ from a public good?
- What is the equilibrium use of a common resource? Demonstrate this with a diagram.
- What is the socially efficient use of a common resource such as a fishing ground?
- In what ways have modern ‘industrial’ methods of fishing compounded the problem of the overuse of fishing grounds?
- What criteria, other than social efficiency, could be used to determine the optimal use of a common resource?
- Explain how the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU works. Are there any lessons that can be learned by other groups of countries from the experience of the CFP?
- Are there any ‘good news’ stories about the state of any of the oceans? If so, to what extent are they the result of deliberate human action?
- To what extent is the Internet a common resource?
Investment is crucial in all sectors of the economy. With growing demand for travel abroad, airports across the world have begun implementing investment strategies to increase capacity. Airport bosses at Heathrow are currently considering a 5 year investment plan that is expected to cost £3 billion.
Although investment is certainly needed and passengers will benefit in the long run, the cost of this investment will have to be met by someone. If these plans are approved by the airport bosses, it is likely that ticket prices will be pushed upwards to pay for it. Any increase in charges will have to receive approval by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The plan at the moment would see ticket prices, via landing charges, increase by £19.33 per passenger before a further rise to £27.30. The impact on customers has already been raised as a key concern.
If the investment plans proceed, Heathrow expects to see its passenger numbers increase by 2.6m over the next 5 years, despite the proposed price hikes. This would naturally increase revenue and this money would provide at least some of the funds to repay the cost of the investment.
The price rises have been described as ‘incredibly steep’ and there are concerns that they will penalize customers. Airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic have recognized the need for more investment, but are more focused on finding ways to provide it without the price rises.
However, Colin Matthews, the Heathrow Chief said:
Heathrow faces stiff competition from other European hubs and we must continue to improve the service we offer passengers and airlines.
Passengers have already seen prices rise and Heathrow’s cost base has been described by British Airways as ‘inefficient’. Despite the fact that the decision by the CAA is not expected until January 2014, speculation will undoubtedly continue until any decision is reach. The following articles consider this case.
Heathrow hits turbulence over airport charges The Telegraph, Nathalie Thomas (12/2/13)
Heathrow Airport proposes ‘to raise ticket prices’ BBC News (12/2/13)
Heathrow investment to raise ticket prices Sky News (12/2/13)
Cost of Heathrow flights to rise by £27 in five years thanks to investment surcharge plans Mail Online, Helen Lawson (12/2/13)
Airlines fly into a rage as Heathrow warns charges must climb steeply Independent, Simon Calder (12/2/13)
Heathrow investment plan may lead to ticket price rise Reuters (12/2/13)
Heathrow calls for rise in airline tariffs Financial Times, Andrew Parker (12/2/13)
- If you had to undertake a cost-benefit analysis concerning the above investment proposal, which factors would you consider as the private and external benefits?
- Which factors would have to be taken into account as the private and external costs for any cost-benefit analysis?
- How important is it for the CAA to consider external costs and benefits when making its decision?
- If prices rise as the plans propose, what would you expect to be the effect on passenger numbers? How would this change be shown on a demand and supply diagram?
- According to Heathrow, they are expecting passenger numbers to increase, despite the price rises. What does this suggest about the demand curve? Illustrate your answer.
- Would you expect such an investment to have any macroeconomic impact?
Ginsters is a large producer of pasties in Cornwall. Most of its ingredients come from Cornwall, but the pasties are sold throughout Britain. But, not surprisingly, they are also sold in Cornwall. In fact, there is a large Tesco virtually next door to the Ginsters’ pasty plant and, as you can imagine, it does a good trade in Ginsters’ pasties, pies and sandwiches. After all, they are a local product.
But are they delivered directly from the Ginsters’ factory? No they are not. In fact, they are sent by lorry to the Avonmouth distribution depot, some 125 miles away, only to be sent back again to the Tesco supermarket next door! So does it make economic sense to incur all the costs of transporting the pasties 250 miles only to end up virtually where they started?
It is a similar story with Rodda’s Cornish clotted cream. It is made with Cornish milk but is also sold nationwide. In this case it is transported some 340 miles to get to another Tesco supermarket virtually next door to the Rodda plant.
The following articles and podcast consider the logistics of manufactured food distribution, and ask whether private costs are the only thing that should be taken into account when judging the sense of the system.
From here to eternity: 340-mile journey for clotted cream made two miles away Guardian, Steven Morris (3/9/10)
Food miles row as pasties travel 250 miles to the supermarket next door This is Cornwall (30/8/10)
Supermarket food mileage ‘completely bonkers’ BBC Today Programme, Tim Lang (30/8/10)
- Why does Tesco’s distribution system for pasties, clotted cream and other products made in parts of the country away from large centres of population make sense in ‘conventional economic terms’?
- What economies of scale are there in pasty production and distribution?
- What externalities are involved in the distribution of Ginsters’ pasties?
- Consider the arguments for and against locating mass producers of food products nearer to the ‘centre of gravity’ of markets.
Whenever a sporting event comes around, there is mad frenzy from countries across the world to enter a bid – this was entirely evident with the 2018 World Cup bids! And it’s not really surprising with the attention that the World Cup and the Olympics receive. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, billions of pounds worth of investment in infrastructure, thousands of jobs created and television deals in every country of the world.
However, why is it that every sporting event of this magnitude fails to come in on budget? The costs are always underestimated. The Athens Olympics was supposed to cost £1.5 billion, but ended up costing over 10 times as much. It is also suggested that it may have played a part in the current Greek financial crisis. The 2002 Japanese World Cup had little effect on the struggling Japanese economy. The London 2012 Olympics was estimated to cost £2.35 billion, but suggestions say it will now cost taxpayers some £20 billion, although budget cuts are inevitable. What about South Africa? Costs of $300 million were estimated for stadiums and infrastructure, with a boost to GDP of $2.9 billion. However, $300 million was not even sufficient to renovate Soccer City (where the first and final game will be held). Add on to this over $1 billion to rebuild the rest of the stadiums and then take into account rising inflation, which has caused inevitable cost over-runs.
On top of this, every country says ‘look at the benefits’ when they enter their bid. However, economists have suggested that there are actually minimal employment benefits in the long term. Obviously there is substantial investment in infrastructure leading up to the World Cup, which will benefit locals, but the overall boost to GDP is not expected to be significant. A similar thing can be seen with the London Olympics. In the study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2005, there were estimates of a direct gain to London’s GDP of £5900 million between 2005 and 2016. However, UK GDP would only rise by £1936 million. Some of the costly stadiums that were built for the Portuguese European Championships were simply knocked down after the event.
So, what can we expect from South Africa? There have been many criticisms of poor ticket sales and that this World Cup is only for the rich. Street sellers have been booted out of their normal selling ground, as they do not have the necessary permits to sell and cannot afford to buy the permits anyway. Whilst transport has been improved, there are still concerns about the distance that has to be travelled between stadiums and this has put off many potential spectators. However, the Super 14 Southern Hemisphere Rugby tournament was staged in South Africa, with the final at the end of May and the event was successful. Transport worked perfectly, spectators arrived by the thousand and it is hoped that this is a positive omen for the fast approaching World Cup!
Saved by the Ball Times Online (5/6/10)
South Africa World Cup just for the rich BBC News (10/5/10)
Footing South Africa’s World Cup bill BBC News (4/6/10)
Will South Africa reap rewards from hosting the tournament? Peace FM Online (5/6/10)
Did 2004 Olympics spark Greek financial crisis The Associated Press (4/6/10)
Cost of 2012 Olympic pool triples BBC News (8/4/08)
Watchdog attcks ‘astonishing’ £5bn rise in cost of 2012 games Times Online (22/4/08)
South Africa World Cup costs above budget Reuters (13/8/08)
Reports and papers
Olympic game impact Study PriceWaterhouseCoopers December 2005
A Cost-Benefit Analysis of an Olympic Games Queen’s Economics Department Working Paper No. 1097, Darren McHugh, Queen’s University (Canada) (August 2006)
- Why do costs tend to be under-estimated and benefits over-estimated?
- What technique could be used to determine whether a sporting event, such as the World Cup, should go ahead? Can you apply this to the London 2012 Olympics?
- How is the multiplier effect relevant to a sporting event, such as the World Cup or the 2012 Olympics?
- To what extent do you think the Athens Olympics contributed to the Greek Financial Crisis? Could the same thing happen with London?
- What might happen to the South African exchange rate during the South African World cup and the sterling exchange rate during the London 2012 Olympics?
- How has inflation affected the budget of South Africa?