‘Game-changing’ news regarding climate change?

You may also have awoken this morning to reports of  a potentially ‘game-changing’ deal between the United States and China, which pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. [Note: the US media likes to use the sports-derived phrase ‘game-changing’ to refer to significant events.]  This is certainly a significant development in the politics of climate change. Indeed, the two countries are the world’s largest emitters of GHGs and until today the two have been engaged in a game of what Paul Harris has called “you go first!” From the looks of it, they have both chosen to ‘go first’.

According to news reports, here are some of the details:

[President] Obama is setting a new target for the U.S., agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The current U.S. target is to reach a level of 17 percent below 2005 emissions by 2020…

[President] Xi committed China to begin reducing its carbon dioxide emissions, which have risen steadily, by about 2030, with the intention of trying to reach the goal sooner, according to a statement released by the White House.

China, the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter, also agreed to increase its non-fossil fuel share of energy production to about 20 percent by 2030, according to the White House.

Is the negotiated agreement ideal? Not nearly. China will still be increasing its total GHG emissions until about 2030. Despite this, however, the deal has been met with some praise from environmental groups for the symbolic significance of the deal, which makes the potential for getting a positive deal agreed in Paris next year more likely.

Jake Schmidt, director of international programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group, said no other countries can have as big an impact on the climate debate as the U.S. and China.

“They shape how the market invests,” he said. “They’ve also been two of the most difficult players in the history of the climate negotiations so the fact that they are coming out and saying they are going to take deep commitments will be a powerful signal to the rest of the world.”

Of course, not everyone is happy. Soon-to-be US Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is outraged:

mcconelll climate change

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Canadian Minister Aglukkaq’s Opening Statement at the 19th COP in Warsaw

In a couple of weeks time, we will be finishing up the course with a UN simulation. Each of the participants will be required to give a 1-minute (maximum!) opening presentation to the conference. Here is the opening statement of Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister for the Arctic Council, to the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Warsaw, Poland in 2013. Your opening statements should follow a similar structure (but not length!).

Global Civil Society(ies) begins to find its Collective Voice on Climate Change

In this week’s seminar, we had a rather spirited debate on which sector of society–the state, the market, or civil society–is most crucial to restructuring our world in a way that is conducive to protecting the global climate from irreparable damage. I think that most of us agreed that market-based solutions, such as cap-and-trade schemes, are not a panacea. At best, they do nothing and, at worst, they contribute to increasing GHG emissions, increase international injustice (rich countries are able to move pollution from the North to the South), and undermine the sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

What about the prospects for domestic/international state (i.e., government) regulation and civil society activism? It’s obvious that both will be needed. While governments have taken small steps over the last couple of decades, much more has to be done. The world’s greatest polluters–the USA and China–in particular, have to be much more pro-active.

Civil society groups, on the other hand, have begun to increase their pressure on political and economic leaders. Evidence of this was last Sunday’s climate march, which took place in over 2500 cities in more than 160 countries. Here’s a nice recap of that day’s action from the event’s organizers:

NDP MP Asks Canadian Parliament Why no PM Harper at UN Climate Summit

The UN Climate Summit of 2014 was held in New York earlier this week. More than 125 world leaders were present, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Amongst the most noteworthy no-shows were the leaders of some of the world’s largest GHG-emitting countries, such as China, India, Russia, and Germany. Joining his colleagues on the no-show was our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. The Canadian government did send a delegate from the ministerial level, however. This did not satisfy the official opposition–The New Democratic Party, as MP Megan Leslie used question period to ask the Conservative government to justify Harper’s non-appearance in New York on Tuesday. Here’s the clip (Leslie’s first offering is in French, so if you don’t follow, the English transcript is provided on youtube:

 

 

International Climate Treaties–What are they good for?

Here’s a topical story from the BBC website about a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which alerts readers to a record level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in oceans (see the charts below). What interested me more than the story itself, however, was an interesting exchange in the comments section. Here’s the exchange:

780.

767.AndyC555 -” Whatever happened to that hole in the ozone layer that environmentalists told us was going to kill us all with radiation from space back in the 1980s and 90s?”

It was closed, thanks to the Montreal Protocol 1987 and international co-operation. CFCs were banned

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100505-science-environment-ozone-hole-25-years/

Posted without further comment.

 

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Ghosts of Rwanda

In POLI 1140, we have read an excerpt from Rwanda section of Samantha Power’s prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, in which Power assesses the reasons for the lack of response by the Clinton administration in the spring of 1994 to the developing genocide in Rwanda. Power makes many points but one of the most trenchant is that despite the apparently early decision by Clinton that he would not send US troops to Rwanda (fearful that another Somalia could ensue), many other actions–short of sending troops-could have been taken by the US government and military. Something as simple as sending planes with the capability to jam radio frequencies may have slowed down the killing and saved countless lives.

Here is a compelling and very informative documentary by PBS’ Frontline series on the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide, paying special attention to the lack of action on the part of the United Nations and the United States. Many of the ideas in Power’s book are addressed here.

Universal Jurisdiction

Today in POLI 1140, we discussed and debated the topic of universal jurisdiction. What is universal jurisdiction? Universal jurisdiction is

a legal concept that permits states to claim legal authority beyond their national territory for the purpose of punishing a particularly heinous criminal that violates the laws of all states or protecting human rights. Mingst and Arreguin-Toft (222)

The most celebrated case in this relatively new area of international jurisprudence is that of former Chilean military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, about whom the New York Times editorial board wrote in 2004:

Thanks to a Chilean court ruling on Monday, the day at last seems to be approaching when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former military dictator, will go on trial for crimes committed decades ago. General Pinochet is now a very old man, but normal feelings of sympathy would be misplaced. This trial should have begun years ago.

The long delay is entirely the result of General Pinochet’s effort to evade legal accountability. The charges concern one of the most chilling crimes of his nearly 17-year rule, an international conspiracy to hunt down and murder opponents of Latin America’s military dictatorships in the 1970’s. That plot got under way in the days when Henry Kissinger was running American foreign policy for Richard Nixon, and the the United States did too little to discourage it, even though one of the resulting murders was carried out on the streets of Washington.

Gen.Pinochet would die (at age 91) before facing his accusers.

What has prompted the recent emergence, and codification into both international–for example, Article 49 of the First Geneva Convention–and domestic–Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act–law, of the concept of universal jurisdiction? According to one of the world’s leading human rights NGOs–Amnesty International–it is because

As genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are crimes under international law, all states should investigate and prosecute the crimes before their national courts.

Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparations to victims.

Of course, there are many detractors to the use of the concept of universal jurisdiction. The aforementioned Henry Kissinger has argued the concept not only risks “judicial tyranny” and cases like that of Gen. Pinochet set a “dangerous precedent” (though Kissinger is certainly less than a disinterested figure in this case!), but that

The danger [in pushing for universal jurisdiction] lies in pushing the effort to extremes that risk substituting the tyranny of judges for that of governments; historically, the dictatorship of the virtuous has often led to inquisitions and even witch-hunts.

In class, we viewed the first ten minutes of the video below in which advocates and opponents of the concept of universal jurisdiction debated the relative merits of the idea with respect to the potential arrest of Israeli diplomats on visits to Great Britain for alleged war crimes in Israel/the Occupied Territories.

In the video, Professor Dan Scheuftan, of the University of Haifa notes

[although] International Relations is political…[the increasing use of universal jurisdiction will] politicize the legal system as well. again by radicals, usually from the extreme left using it [universal jurisdiction] as a propaganda ploy.

What do you think? Is the concept a valid tool in the fight to bring perpetrators of heinous human rights abuses and war crimes to justice, or is it more likely to be abused (than used) in the politicization and propagandization (is that a word?) of international justice?