Nicholas Stern (of the Report) argues that climate agreement should not be legally binding

We used the last session of IS450 as a chance to hold a mock United Nations climate conference simulation. The participants brought forward many intriguing and instructive topics, and I applaud them for putting in the time and energy to make the simulation as successful as I, at least, judged it to be. At some point during the proceedings, there was majority agreement (finally!) on one small element of the overall framework resolution. Interestingly, though, immediately upon the successful passing of that small piece of the framework a couple of delegates put forward a motion to make the obligations legally binding. A heated discussion ensued debating the merits and disadvantages of such an approach.

In the current round of UNFCCC climate negotiations, behind held in Lima, Peru, Nicholas Stern (author of the well-known Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change) has argued against making international climate treaty obligations legally binding. What is Lord Stern’s rationale for this?

“Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility,” he said.

“That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

In Lima, negotiators are trying to hammer out the format that mitigation efforts should take. By the end of March next year countries have to declare their hands, but they have yet to formalize what will be included in these commitments and what will not.

Lord Stern believes that grounding the process in the laws and promises that countries undertake by themselves is a better model for a deal than a top-down process like Kyoto.

“It will be enforceable and deliverable through the arrangements and laws in the countries themselves.

“That way you will get stronger ambition as countries won’t be tempted to be hesitant about some type of international sanction.”

What do you think about Lord Stern argument? Would you support voluntary obligations over mandatory ones?

Here is an interview with Lord Stern from earlier this week in Lima, wherein he speaks on the link between economic growth, development, and better climate responsibility?

 

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!).

There’s always Vancouver–if you can not make it to Climate March in NYC

Here is something of an update to a previous post on the planned climate march of 21 September in NYC, meant to coincide with the UN Climate Summit. If you are either unable or unwilling to go to New York, but also wanted to take part in this civil society manifestation, there is a local march planned for that day. Here is more information (note: this should not be meant as an endorsement/non-endorsement of the event or the organizers):

We are at the crossroads of the future. Vancouver stands as either the terminus or the gateway of a potential flood of oil, coal and LNG headed out to contribute substantial, irreparable damage to the world’s earth, air and water. We are uniquely situated to act in defense of our planet by helping to stem that flood. Now is the historic time! We have waited all our lives for this moment, to discover that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Facebook page
We are staging an event in Vancouver to mark our solidarity with the largest environmental protest in history, at the UN Climate Conference in New York on September 21st. This event page is to keep everybody informed as we get closer to the date. If you have ideas and want to help plan, there is also a Facebook group. We also need volunteers! If you’d like to help, we need drivers, sign and banner makers, posterers, tent assemblers, crowd marshals … contact aalarigakis@shaw.ca.

Here is the trailer for a movie, Disruption, that has been produced to coincide with the Climate March.

 

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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Climate March on NYC Planned for September 21

What organizers are calling the “largest climate march in history” is set to descend upon New York City in less than two weeks’ time (September 21). The event is meant to coincide with a key UN Climate Summit, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized to not only give global leaders in business, politics, and civil society a chance to discuss this important topic, but also to build momentum in advance of the crucial 2015 Paris 21st COP to the UNFCCC. (Don’t worry, by the end of the semester you’ll know exactly what these acronyms mean.) Amongst the projected crowd of tens-of-thousands of protesters will be the current leader (and Member of Parliament) of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May. “Taking it to the streets” in the hopes of hastening socio-political change is something with which May agrees, if her Twitter account is any indication:

Here is part of the Green Party of Canada press release announcing the climate march and encouraging other Canadians to join May in New York City:

On September 21, tens of thousands of concerned citizens from around the world will gather in New York City for the People’s Climate March. They will be marching to show the world leaders assembled there for the 2014 UN Climate Summit that our planet cannot wait for more negotiations – we need climate action now.

At the Climate Summit, Canada will stand out as having the worst climate policy record in the industrialized world.

From their dismantling of environmental regulations to their rush to expand Canada’s pipeline capacity, no government on earth has worked harder than the Harper Conservatives to speed up catastrophic climate change.

Maybe someday we can get the Honourable Member for Saanich–Gulf Islands to tell us what she really thinks about the Harper government’s climate policies.

Is Canadian government climate policy really the industrialized world’s worst? Worse than the USA and/or China? Will you also be increasing your carbon footprint to join the march in New York City?

 

 

Statistics, GDP, HDI, and the Social Progress Index

That’s quite a comprehensive title to this post, isn’t it? A more serious social scientist would have prefaced the title with some cryptic phrase ending with a colon, and then added the information-possessing title. So, why don’t I do that. What about “Nibbling on Figs in an Octopus’ Garden: Explanation, Statistics, GDP, Democracy, and the Social Progress Index?” That sounds social ‘sciencey’ enough, I think.

Now, to get to the point of this post: one of the most important research topics in international studies is human welfare, or well-being. Before we can compare human welfare cross-nationally, we have to begin with a definition (which will guide the data-collecting process). What is human welfare? There is obviously some global consensus as to what that means, but there are differences of opinion as to how exactly human welfare should be measured. (In IS210, we’ll examine these issues right after the reading break.) For much of the last seven decades or so, social scientists have used economic data (particularly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita as a measure of a country’s overall level of human welfare. But GDP measures have been supplemented by other factors over the years with the view that they leave out important components of human welfare. The UN’s Human Development Index is a noteworthy example. A more recent contribution to this endeavour is the Social Progress Index (SPI) produced by the Social Progress Imperative.

HDI–Map of the World (2013)

How much better, though, are these measures than GDP alone? Wait until my next post for answer. But, in the meantime, we’ll look at how “different” the HDI and the SPI are. First, what are the components of the HDI?

“The Human Development Index (HDI) measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.”

So, you can see that it goes beyond simple GDP, but don’t you have the sense that many of the indicators–such as a long and healthy life–are associated with GDP? And there’s the problem of endogeneity–what causes what?

The SPI is a recent attempt to look at human welfare even more comprehensively, Here is a screenshot showing the various components of that index:

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 2.17.50 PMWe can see that there are some components–personal rights, equity and inclusion, access to basic knowledge, etc.,–that are absent from the HDI. Is this a better measure of human well-being than the HDI, or GDP alone? What do you think?

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.