In December 2015, countries from around the world met in Paris at the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The key element of the resulting Paris Agreement was to keep ‘global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.’ At the same time it was agreed that the IPCC would conduct an analysis of what would need to be done to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The IPPC has just published its report.
The report, based on more than 6000 scientific studies, has been compiled by more than 80 of the world’s top climate scientists. It states that, with no additional action to mitigate climate change beyond that committed in the Paris Agreement, global temperatures are likely to rise to the 1.5°C point somewhere between 2030 and 2040 and then continue rising above that, reaching 3°C by the end of the century.
According to the report, the effects we are already seeing will accelerate. Sea levels will rise as land ice caps and glaciers melt, threatening low lying coastal areas; droughts and floods will become more severe; hurricanes and cyclones will become stronger; the habits of many animals will become degraded and species will become extinct; more coral reefs will die and fish species disappear; more land will become uninhabitable; more displacement and migration will take place, leading to political tensions and worse.
The problem of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons. This is where people overuse common resources, such as open grazing land, fishing grounds, or, in this case, the atmosphere as a dump for emissions. They do so because there is little, if any, direct short-term cost to themselves. Instead, the bulk of the cost is borne by others – especially in the future.
There is another related tragedy, which has been dubbed the ‘tragedy of incumbents’. This is a political problem where people in power want to retain that power and do so by appealing to short-term selfish interests. The Trump administration lauds the use of energy as helping to drive the US economy and make people better off. To paraphrase Donald Trump ‘Climate change may be happening, but, hey, let’s not beat ourselves up about it and wear hair shirts. What we do will have little or no effect compared with what’s happening in China and India. The USA is much better off with a strong automobile, oil and power sector.’
What’s to be done?
According to the IPCC report, if warming is not to exceed 1.5℃, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 and by 100% by around 2050. But is this achievable?
The commitments made in the Paris Agreement will not be nearly enough to achieve these reductions. There needs to be a massive movement away from fossil fuels, with between 70% and 85% of global electricity production being from renewables by 2050. There needs to be huge investment in green technology for power generation, transport and industrial production.
In addition, the report recommends investing in atmospheric carbon extraction technologies. Other policies to reduce carbon include massive reforestation.
Both these types of policies involve governments taking action, whether through increased carbon taxes on either producers or consumer or both, or through increased subsidies for renewables and other alternatives, or through the use of cap and trade with emissions allocations (either given by government or sold at auction) and carbon trading, or through the use of regulation to prohibit or limit behaviour that leads to emissions. The issue, of course, is whether governments have the will to do anything. Some governments do, but with the election of populist leaders, such as President Trump in the USA, and probably Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and with sceptical governments in other countries, such as Australia, this puts even more onus on other governments.
Another avenue is a change in people’s attitudes, which may be influenced by education, governments, pressure groups, news media, etc. For example, if people could be persuaded to eat less meat, drive less (for example, by taking public transport, walking, cycling, car sharing or living nearer to their work), go on fewer holidays, heat their houses less, move to smaller homes, install better insulation, etc., these would all reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Finally, there is the hope that the market may provide part of the solution. The cost of generating electricity from renewables is coming down and is becoming increasingly competitive with electricity generated from fossil fuels. Electric cars are coming down in price as battery technology develops; also, battery capacity is increasing and recharging is becoming quicker, helping encourage the switch from petrol and diesel cars to electric and hybrid cars. At the same time, various industrial processes are becoming more fuel efficient. But these developments, although helpful, will not be enough to achieve the 1.5°C target on their own.
Videos and audio
- We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods
The Guardian, Nicholas Stern (8/10/18)
- Rapid, unprecedented change needed to halt global warming – U.N.
Reuters, Nina Chestney and Jane Chung (8/10/18)
- Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’
BBC News, Matt McGrath (8/10/18)
- New UN report outlines ‘urgent, transformational’ change needed to hold global warming to 1.5°C
The Conversation, Mark Howden and Rebecca Colvin (8/10/18)
- Earth’s temperature to rise 1.5C as early as 2030 amid dire warnings from UN climate panel
The Telegraph (8/10/18)
- UN Climate Change Report: Everything You Need To Know
Huffington Post, Isabel Togoh (8/10/18)
- Thirty years of the IPCC
Physics World (8/10/18)
- 13 things you should know about 1.5
Unearthed, Zach Boren (8/10/18)
- Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns
National Geographic, Stephen Leahy (7/10/18)
- World to miss Paris climate targets by wide margin, says UN panel
Financial Times, Leslie Hook (8/10/18)
- We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN
The Guardian, Jonathan Watts (8/10/18)
- Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible – if there is political will
The Guardian, Christiana Figueres (8/10/18)
- The Trump administration has entered Stage 5 climate denial
The Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli (8/10/18)
- ‘Unprecedented changes’ needed to stop global warming as UN report reveals islands starting to vanish and coral reefs dying
Independent, Josh Gabbatiss (8/10/18)
- Explain the extent to which the problem of global warming is an example of the tragedy of the commons. What other examples are there of the tragedy?
- Explain the meaning of the tragedy of the incumbents and its impact on climate change? Does the length of the electoral cycle exacerbate the problem?
- With the costs of low or zero carbon technology for energy and transport coming down, is there as case for doing nothing in response to the problem of global warming?
- Examine the case for and against using taxes and subsidies to tackle global warming.
- Examine the case for and against using regulation to tackle global warming.
- Examine the case for and against using cap-and-trade systems to tackle global warming.
- Is there a prisoners’ dilemma problem in getting governments to adopt policies to tackle climate change?
- What would be the motivation for individuals to ‘do their bit’ to tackle climate change? Other than altering prices or using regulation, how might the government or other agencies set about persuading people to ‘be more green’?
- If you were doing a cost–benefit analysis of some project that will have beneficial environmental impacts in the future, how would you set about adjusting the values of these benefits for the fact that they occur in the future and not now?
Obesity is on the rise, especially in children. With all the attendant health problems, concern is growing and various policies have been proposed to try to tackle the problem. One such policy is a sugar tax. This could be either a universal tax on sugar in food products or a tax just on soft drinks, many of which are very high in sugar – typically about seven teaspoons in a can or individual bottle.
Currently the issue is being considered by the UK’s Parliamentary Health Select Committee. Jamie Oliver, the TV chef and restaurateur, argued strongly before the committee in favour of a sugar tax on fizzy drinks. He has already imposed a levy on soft drinks with added sugar in his restaurants. He maintained that it was not just the higher price from a sugar tax that would deter consumption of such drinks, but it would send out an important message that too much sugar is bad for you.
Two days later, Dr Alison Tedstone appeared before the committee. She is chief nutritionist at Public Health England. PHE has been carrying out research into obesity and ways of tackling it. It has reviewed two types of evidence: experimental data on the effects of imposing higher prices on products with added sugar; and the effects of policies pursued in other countries. She stated to the committee that ‘universally all the evidence shows that the tax does decrease consumption’ and that ‘the higher the tax increase, the greater the effect’.
The government was not planning to publish the report at this stage, but under considerable pressure agreed to its publication.
The articles look at the prospects for a sugar tax, its likely effects if one were introduced and at the politics of the situation, which are likely to result in such a tax being rejected.
Videos and audio podcasts
Can you be trusted to eat less sugar? BBC News, Hugh Pym (22/10/15)
‘Introduce sugar tax’, health officials tell government Channel 4 News, Victoria Macdonald (22/10/15)
Jamie Oliver: ‘Bold’ sugar tax to beat childhood obesity BBC News, Hugh Pym (19/10/15)
Be bold on sugar tax, Jamie Oliver says BBC News, Nick Triggle (19/10/15)
Health scientists’ links with sugar industry queried BBC News, Dominic Hughes (12/2/15)
Mexico’s soda tax is starting to change some habits, say health advocates PRI’s The World on YouTube, Jill Replogle (2/12/14)
Jeremy Hunt told sugar tax would cut childhood obesity as review Government tried to suppress is published Independent, Charlie Cooper (20/10/15)
Sugar tax could help solve Britain’s obesity crisis, expert tells MPs The Guardian, Ben Quinn (21/10/15)
Jamie Oliver ‘expects kicking’ over sugar tax The Guardian, Jessica Elgot (22/10/15)
Sugar tax, fat fines and gold coins: new ways cities are tackling obesity The Guardian, Sarah Johnson (22/10/15)
Sugar tax and offers ban ‘would work’ BBC News (22/10/15)
Public Health England tells UK government: Sugar taxes do work FoodNavigator.com, Niamh Michail (21/10/15)
Childhood Obesity Partially Down To The Coco Pops Monkey, Sugar Tax Report Claims Huffington Post, Sarah Ann Harris (21/10/15)
Health officials back a sugar tax – and want the Coco Pops monkey banned The Telegraph, Laura Donnelly (20/10/15)
Jeremy Hunt embroiled in row over sugar tax report The Telegraph, Laura Donnelly (11/10/15)
Revealed: ‘Sugar tax report’ which was suppressed by Government The Telegraph, Laura Donnelly (22/10/15)
Public Health England obesity report: the key points The Guardian, James Meikle (22/10/15)
Cameron says no to sugar tax Mail Online, Jason Groves and Daniel Martin (21/10/15)
Sugar tax: Former health minister backs levy to prevent NHS ‘obesity crisis’ Independent, Charlie Cooper (21/10/15)
Journal articles and reports
Sugar Reduction: The evidence for action Public Health England, Dr Alison Tedstone, Victoria Targett, Dr Rachel Allen and staff at PHE (22/10/15)
Effects of a fizzy drink tax on obesity rates estimated NHS CHoices (1/11/13)
Overall and income specific effect on prevalence of overweight and obesity of 20% sugar sweetened drink tax in UK: econometric and comparative risk assessment modelling study British Medical Journal, Adam D M Briggs, Oliver T Mytton, Ariane Kehlbacher, Richard Tiffin, Mike Rayner and Peter Scarborough (2013;347:f6189)
Perspectives: Time for a sugary drinks tax in the UK? Journal of Public Health, Oliver Mytton (29/5/14)
Sugar reduction: Responding to the challenge Public Health England, Dr Alison Tedstone, Ms Sally Anderson and Dr Rachel Allen and staff at PHE (June 2014)
- What factors are driving the current high consumption of sugar?
- How is the concept of price elasticity of demand relevant to the effectiveness of imposing a sugar tax?
- What would determine the incidence of such a tax between food and drink manufacturers and consumers?
- Would such a tax be progressive, regressive or neutral? Explain.
- What other policies could be pursued to discourage the consumption of sugar? Discuss their likely effectiveness and compare them with a sugar tax.
- What externalities are involved in sugar consumption? How would you set about measuring them? Should a sugar tax be set at a rate that internalises the estimated externalities?
- Examine the objections to imposing a sugar tax.
Did the benefits of the London Olympics outweigh the costs? The government’s UK Trade and Industry (part of the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills) has just published a report, London 2012, Delivering the economic legacy, which itemises the economic benefits of the games one year on. It claims that benefits to date are some £9.9 billion.
This compares with costs, estimated to be somewhere between £8.9 billion and £9.3 billion, although this figure does not include certain other costs, such as maintenance of the stadium. Nevertheless, according to the figures, even after just a year, it would seem that the Games had ‘made a profit’ – just.
The £9.9 billion of benefits consist of £5.9 billion of additional sales, £2.5 billion of additional inward investment and £1.5 billion of Olympic-related high value opportunities won overseas. Most of these can be seen as monetary external benefits: in other words, monetary benefits arising from spin-offs from the Games. The ‘internal’ monetary benefits would be largely the revenues from the ticket sales.
In a separate report for the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, Report 5: Post-Games Evaluation, it has been estimated that the total net benefits (net gross value added (GVA)) from 2004 to 2020 will be between £28 billion and £41 billion.
But benefits are not confined just to internal and external monetary benefits: there are also other externalities that are non-monetary. The Culture, Media & Sport report identified a number of these non-monetary externalities. The Summary Report itemises them. They include:
• The health and social benefits of more people participating in sport
• Inspiring a generation of children and young people
• A catalyst for improved elite sporting performance in the UK
• Setting new standards for sustainability
• Improved attitudes to disability and new opportunities for disabled people to participate in society
• Greater social cohesion as communities across the UK engaged with the Games
• Increased enthusiasm for volunteering
• Accelerated physical transformation of East London
• Beneficial socio-economic change in East London
• Important lessons learned for the co-ordination and delivery of other large-scale public and public/private projects
But with any cost–benefit analysis there are important caveats in interpreting the figures. First there may be monetary and non-monetary external costs. For example, will all the effects on social attitudes be positive? Might greater competitiveness in sport generate less tolerance towards non sporty people? Might people expect disabled people to do more than they are able (see)? Second, the costs generally precede the benefits. This then raises the question of what is the appropriate discount rate to reduce future benefits to a present value.
Perhaps the most serious question is that of the quantification of benefits. It is important that only benefits that can be attributed to the Games are counted and not benefits that would have occurred anyway, even if connected to the Games. For example, it is claimed in the UK Trade & Industry report that much of the Olympic park and stadium for the Winter Olympics in Russia was “designed and built by British businesses”. But was this the direct result of the London Olympics, or would this have happened anyway?
Another example is that any inward investment by any company that attended the London Olympics is counted in the £2.5 billion of additional inward investment (part of the £9.9 billion). As the London Evening Standard article below states:
In London, it credited the Games with helping seal the deal for the £1.2 billion investment in the Royal Albert Docks by Chinese developer ABP, the £1 billion investment in Croydon by Australian shopping centre developer Westfield with UK firm Hammerson and the £700 million investment in Battersea Nine Elms by Dalian Wander Group.
It is highly likely that some or all of these would have gone ahead anyway.
Then there are the £5.9 billion of additional sales. These are by companies which engaged with the Olympics. But again, many of these sales could have taken place anyway, or may have displaced other sales.
Many cost–benefit analyses (or simply ‘benefit analyses’) concern projects where there are strong vested interests in demonstrating that a project should or should not go ahead or, in this case, have gone ahead. The more powerful the vested interests, the less likely it is that the analysis can be seen as objective.
Webcasts and Podcasts
Have Olympics and Paralympics really boosted trade? Channel 4 News, Jackie Long (19/7/13)
Economy boosted by Olympics Sky Sports News, Amy Lewis (19/7/13)
Olympic investment boost to last decade – Cable BBC News (19/7/13)
Did the UK gain from the Olympics? BBC Today Programme (19/7/13)
Government announces almost £10bn economic boost from London 2012 Specification Online (19/7/13)
Olympic Legacy Boosted Economy By £10bn, Government Insists The Huffington Post (19/7/13)
Olympics are delivering economic gold but volunteering legacy is at risk The Telegraph, Tim Ross (19/7/13)
Vince Cable: Case for HS2 still being made The Telegraph, Christopher Hope and Tim Ross (19/7/13)
Olympic legacy ‘gave London a £4bn windfall’ London Evening Standard, Nicholas Cecil and Matthew Beard (19/7/13)
London 2012 Olympics ‘have boosted UK economy by £9.9bn’ BBC News (19/7/13)
The great Olympic stimulus BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (19/7/13)
London Olympics still costing the taxpayer one year on Sky Sports (19/7/13)
Mayor missed long-term London Olympic jobs targets, says report BBC News, Tim Donovan (19/7/13)
Olympics legacy: Have the London 2012 Games helped Team GB develop a winning habit? Independent, Robin Scott-Elliot (19/7/13)
London 2012 added up to more than pounds and pence The Guardian, Zoe Williams (19/7/13)
London 2012 – Delivering the economic legacy UK Trade & Investment (19/7/13)
London 2012: Delivering the economic legacy UK Trade & Investment (19/7/13)
Report 5: Post-Games Evaluation: Summary Report Department for Culture, Media & Sport (July 2013)
Report 5: Post-Games Evaluation: Economy Evidence Base Department for Culture, Media & Sport (July 2013)
- Distinguish between gross and net benefits; monetary and non-monetary externalities; direct costs (or benefits) and external costs (or benefits).
- How should the discount rate be chosen for a cost–benefit analysis?
- Give some examples of monetary and non-monetary external costs of the Games.
- What are the arguments for and against including non-monetary externalities in a cost–benefit analysis?
- Why might the £9.9 billion figure for the monetary benefits of the Games up to the present time be questioned?
On April 20 2010, there was an explosion on one of BP’s drilling rigs approximately 50 km offshore and over 1000 metres underwater in the Gulf of Mexico. This has led to more than 5000 barrels of oil leaking into the sea every day. The slick now covers an area the size of Luxembourg. Attempts have, at this time, failed to stop the leaks and the massive sheet of oil is edging closer and closer to the coast.
A giant dome was the original idea to stop the oil leak, however, this proved ineffective, due to a buildup of crystallised gas in the dome. The next step is to shoot debris underwater, including golf balls, tyres and human hair, under intensely high pressure and try to clog the leak. However, every time a new idea to stop the leak is tested, costs for BP mount. Furthermore, every time an idea fails, costs for the environment and the affected industries increase. Costs to BP are currently estimated to be $350 million, but other businesses are also suffering. Oil has now started to appear at costal resorts, yet even before it did, the tourism industry was suffering. Captain Louis Skmetta from Ship Islands Excursions said:
“Yesterday was beautiful. School are letting out, and we were hoping for about 500 passengers yesterday. We had a total of 166. So we are definitely seeing a little bit of an impact”.
Another industry that is concerned about the effects is the restaurant trade, in particular those who specialise in sea-foods. With the oil killing off marine life, prices of seafood for businesses and customers have already begun to rise in New York and London. The impact on this industry cannot be accurately estimated at present, but costs are continuing to rise every day this environmental crisis continues. These price rises are on top of already rising commodity prices: Wholesale food prices rose 7 percent in the 12-month period that ended March 31 2010. There is great uncertainty about the overall economic impact of this crisis, but what is certain is that every day oil continues to leak, costs will continue to rise.
Dome fails to stop Louisiana oil leak Independent (10/5/10)
Aerial view of oil leak in Gulf of Mexico BBC News (9/5/10)
BP plans to use debris to staunch Louisiana oil leak Financial Times (10/5/10)
Cost of oil leak spills into valley Dayton Daily News, Mark Fisher and Steve Bennish (9/5/10)
BP: oil leak will be stopped but can’t say when Associated Press (7/5/10)
BP shares down; Says Deepwater cost $350m so far Wall Street Journal (10/5/10)
BP misses out on FTSE rally as oil spill costs reach $350m so far Guardian, Nick Fletcher (10/5/10)
Conn. restaurants fear spike in costs of crabs, shrimps, oysters following Gulf oil-spill The Middletown Press, Cara Baruzzi (10/5/10)
BP examining oil leak options ABC News (10/5/10)
Oil-soaked crab threatens sea-food prices at top-ranked eateries Bloomberg BusinessWeek (10/5/10)
Tourism operators say oil threat hurting their pocketbooks WLOX, Danielle Thomas (10/5/10)
Coastal businesses feel the pain of Gulf oil leak NPR, Debbie Elliott (7/5/10)
- Try to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the two attempts to stop the oil leak.
- Which industries are likely to be affected by the oil rig explosion? Explain your answers.
- Who should have to pay for the clean-up? Could the oil spill be seen as a negative externality?
- Why are restaurants in London seeing rising food prices, when the oil leak is located in the Gulf of Mexico?
- What has happened to BP share prices? How do you think they will change when the oil leak is stopped?
- What will be the impact on BP in the long term? Think about the role of corporate social responsibility.
Transport issues in the UK are always newsworthy topics, whether it is train delays, cancelled flights, the quality and frequency of service or damage to the environment. Here’s another one that’s been around for some time – high-speed rail-links. Countries such as France and Germany have had high-speed rail links for years, but the UK has lagged behind. Could this be about to change?
The proposal is for a £30bn 250mph high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, with the possibility of a future extension to Northern England and Scotland. This idea has been on the cards for some years and there remains political disagreement about the routes, the funding and the environmental impact. Undoubtedly, such a rail-link would provide significant benefits: opening up job opportunities to more people; reducing the time taken to commute and hence reducing the opportunity cost of living further away from work. It could also affect house prices. Despite the economic advantages of such a development, there are also countless problems, not least to those who would be forced to leave their homes.
People in the surrounding areas would suffer from noise pollution and their views of the countryside would be changed to a view of a train line, with trains appearing several times an hour at peak times and travelling at about 250mph. Furthermore, those who will be the most adversely affected are unlikely to reap the benefits. Perhaps the residents of the Chilterns would be appeased if they were to benefit from a quicker journey to work, but the rail-link will not stop in their village. In fact, it’s unlikely that they would ever need to use it. There are significant external costs to both the residents in the affected areas and to the environment and these must be considered alongside the potential benefits to individuals, firms and the economy. Given the much needed cuts in public spending and the cost of such an investment, it will be interesting to see how this story develops over the next 10 years.
Podcasts and videos
£30bn high-speed rail plans unveiled Guardian, Jon Dennis (12/3/10)
Can we afford a ticket on new London-Birmingham rail line? Daily Politics (11/3/10)
All aboard? Parties disagree over high-speed rail route BBC Newsnight (11/3/10)
The opportunities and challenges of high speed rail BBC News, David Miller (11/3/10)
Beauty of Chilterns may be put at risk by fast rail link, say critics Guardian, Peter Walker (11/3/10)
High-speed rail is the right investment for Britain’s future Independent (12/3/10)
Hundreds of homes will go for new high-speed rail line Telegraph, David Milward (12/3/10)
- Make a list of the private costs and benefits of a high-speed rail link.
- Now, think about the external costs and benefits. Try using this to conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis. Think about the likelihood of each cost/benefit arising and when it will arise. What discount factor will you use?
- There are likely to be various external costs to the residents of the Chilterns. Illustrate this concept on a diagram. Why does this represent a market failure?
- How would you propose compensating the residents of the Chilterns? Are there any problems with your proposal?
- Will such a rail link benefit everyone? How are the concepts of Pareto efficiency and opportunity cost relevant here?
- To what extent would this rail link solve the transport problems we face in the UK. Think about the impact on congestion.