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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Todd Stern, President Obama's Special Envoy on Climate Change, Says U.S. Can Take Lives and Destroy Property in Developing World With Impunity

Todd Stern, President Obama's Special Envoy on Climate Change, Says U.S. Can Take Lives and Destroy Property in Developing World With Impunity

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Sunday, 17 November 2013 09:21

It would have been useful if the NYT had made this point in an article that discussed the impact of global warming on the developing world. After noting the destruction caused by events related to climate change, like the typhoon that hit the Philippines and the droughts afflicted wide areas across Africa and the Middle East, the piece tells readers:

"The United States and other rich countries have made their opposition to large-scale compensation clear. Todd D. Stern, the State Department’s envoy on climate issues, bluntly told a gathering at Chatham House in London last month that large-scale resources from the world’s richest nations would not be forthcoming.

"'The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it,' he said. 'This is not just a matter of the recent financial crisis. It is structural, based on the huge obligations we face from aging populations and other pressing needs for infrastructure, education, health care and the like. We must and will strive to keep increasing our climate finance, but it is important that all of us see the world as it is.'

"Appeals to rectify the injustice of climate change, he added, will backfire. 'Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and their publics.'"

The position that the United States finds it inconvenient to compensate poor countries for the damage it has caused them runs directly counter to the United States usual position in international forums where it typically is the strongest proponent of property rights. In this case the United States is effectively arguing that it will not compensate poor countries for the damage it has done to their property (and lives) because they can't force it do so. It would have been helpful if the article had explicitly noted this departure from the normal U.S. position.

It would have also be useful to note that Stern is 100 percent wrong on the economics. For the foreseeable future the United States, along with most wealthy countries, face no realistic budget constraints. With economies operating well below full employment additional government spending would help to boost demand, employment, and growth. The only obstacle to more spending is a bizarre cult of budget balancers that dominates politics in the United States and Europe in defiance of all available economic evidence and theory. 

Comments (11)Add Comment
A Rising Tide Lifts...
written by Bart, November 17, 2013 9:43

I won't be around to see it, but just wait until our own cities like NYC and Miami need to relocate to higher ground. It won't be a pretty picture as taxpayers elsewhere object.
...
written by skeptonomist, November 17, 2013 9:55
It would probably be very beneficial to the US to spend money on developing alternate (non-fossil) energy sources. If the dependence of foreign oil could be reduced this would greatly benefit the balance of trade. The US is better able to do fundamental research on this than other countries. But this is not the same as compensating other countries for any damage, say because of sea level rise, which would be nearly impossible to evaluate (completely impossible in the case of typhoons). Such compensation would hardly benefit the US - this seems to be Stern's main message. Would it more to the benefit of the world for the US to spend money on research and development of alternate energy or for it just to send the money to the Phillippines?
Very Serious Persons: Another Zero Sum Lecture On Between a Rock and a Hard Place
written by Last Mover, November 17, 2013 10:35

Imagine that. Another Very Serious Person manages to work into climate change issues, the economic burdens of "health care" and an "aging population" in defense of not paying third parties property right compensation for CO2 pollution.

What's next America, cancel garbage collection services because health care and entitlements are too expensive? Just dump it on each other's property so no one owes anyone in terms of total net cost incurred.

Stand up and take the lead on property rights America. Do unto others before they can do unto you. If anything happens, America will just fire up the very affordable George Washington aircraft carrier to steam over and clean up the mess.
...
written by PeonInChief, November 17, 2013 10:50
No, the United States is not always the strongest proponent of property rights. It is the strongest proponent of property rights when defending those rights benefits rich people. Such rights are not so important when the rights of poor people are being protected.
...
written by AlanInAZ, November 17, 2013 11:04
A carbon tax that supports a global insurance plan would seem an appropriate solution. The chances of such an idea gaining traction would be about zero. I am disappointed that our economist heavyweights and politicians are mostly silent on the issue.

Philippines Did Get US Bailout Money
written by john, November 17, 2013 11:57
One thing that was missed when our govt was doling out all that cash to the banks during the crises was many banks had their call centers in the Philippines. Due to our generous gifts to the banks we kept open the Philippine call centers.
Correlation Between The Damage We Caused Does Not Compute
written by john, November 17, 2013 12:32
Where is the evidence the damage we cause correlates to damage caused elsewhere, such as in the Philippines? Sure, the Philippines, China, India, etc.... get together and demand rich countries pay for climate change, but they approved polluting industries on their soil.

Also, if a polluting factory moved from Illinois to China and shifted the pollution there, who should pay for the soot and resulting environmental (property) damage?

Enquiring minds want to know.
The party of the environment-the Democratic Party!
written by Jennifer, November 17, 2013 12:46
"Appeals to rectify the injustice of climate change, he added, will backfire. 'Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and their publics.'"

Wow, talk about putting it all out there. Complain all you want, you people who were not lucky enough to be born in the right place. You're screwed and don't think any amount of kicking and screaming will change it. We are the global superpower and while we have plenty of wealth, seriously, if we aren't going to give it to our own what makes you think we'd give it to you?
...
written by watermelonpunch, November 17, 2013 2:04
This is what he said...
"Appeals to rectify the injustice of climate change, he added, will backfire. 'Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and their publics.'"

But what I heard...

Appeals to rectify the injustice of climate change, in the U.S. or abroad, by ordinary people, will backfire. Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among big corporations, the politicians who represent them, and their wealthy shareholders.

I mean after all, not like that's not already goin' on at home.
"fiscal reality"
written by Joe, November 18, 2013 10:48
The "fiscal reality" is that the US has no fiscal problems. It has it's own currency and can afford anything for sale in US dollars.
Carbon tax and spending
written by Lord, November 21, 2013 3:40
A combined carbon tax and credit market that raises money on one side to be spent on reductions on the other would be most effective. Let those countries face the costs of higher fossil fuel costs while competing in opportunities for reduction with others. If they are the least expensive means of carbon reduction they can benefit.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

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