In 2011, two deeply intertwined themes dominated international climate and energy stories: equity and the intersection of the economy and the environment.
“These two themes – equity and economy versus environment – will continue to shape stories in 2012,” says Manish Bapna, acting president of the World Resources Institute, in an interview on the Climate Progress podcast.
The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and protests in China all forced leaders and journalists to talk about issues of equity. And those movements all influenced climate and energy stories in some way.
“What’s quite interesting is that those notions around justice and around inequality played out not only politically…but also played out in the environmental arena,” says Bapna.
Protests in Tunisia and Egypt were sparked partly because of rising food prices – raising awareness of how climate change may impact agriculture and thus help drive political and social conflict.
The Occupy Movement helped breath new life into the Keystone XL protests, helping environmental groups delay – if not possibly stop all together – the tar sands pipeline that was considered a “done deal” last summer.
And in China, a wave of protests against oil spills, coal plants and air quality stimulated greater discussion of environmental issues in the country.
The events of 2011 came to a head at the Durban climate talks, where a last-minute agreement rested on fairness: “Equity has to be the centerpiece of the Climate discussion and our negotiations should be built on it,” said India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan before agreeing to loose language that may bring developing countries on board for long-term emissions reduction commitments.
Meanwhile, as developed countries struggled with debt crises, high unemployment and sluggish economies, the political debate over the prudence of environmental protection raged on.
While some European countries rolled back support mechanisms for renewable energy, the region stayed committed to aggressive emissions reductions targets through 2020.
In the U.S., the picture was decidedly more negative. Energy became an extraordinarily contentious topic and conservatives pushed forward a political narrative that environmental protection and economic growth are diametrically opposed.
“This issue will undoubtedly be central to elections in the U.S.,” says Bapna. “And the way candidates respond will tell us a lot about how the President and Congress will deal with them in 2012.”
In this podcast, we speak with WRI’s Bapna about how concerns over equity and economic growth will influence a wide range of global issues, including climate policy in China, world-wide investment in renewable energy, and the conversation moving from the Durban climate talks and into the Rio +20 conference on sustainable development.
To listen to the interview, play the podcast above.
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