‘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

US Midterm Election Results and Climate Change

Election results in the United States are mostly final and the Republican Party has had a big night, capturing control of the US Senate, which combined with a Republican-controlled House of Representative means that President Barack Obama will face a united (in party name, at least) Republican Congress upon the opening of the new Congressional session–the 114th–which meets for the first time in early January of next year.

The New York Times has a handy graphic, summarizing the disconcerting results (from the perspective of climate change politics) of exit polls earlier today. This seems to be disheartening news to those who wish to see the United States government become more proactive in the are of climate politics and climate change. As you can see, while six in 10 voters said that climate change is a problem, fully 83\% of the partisans of the majority party in Congress believe the same.

us_midterm_elections_exit_polls_climatechange

Domestic Politics and Climate Change

Last week we discussed the role of domestic politics–institutions, electoral systems, partisanship, etc.,–on national political leaders’ attitudes towards and policies on climate change. We noted that the Canadian federal governments stance toward mitigation and adaptation changed dramatically upon the ascension of the Conservatives to power in 2006 (a minority government). The majority government that Harper was able to win in 2011 signalled the death knell for Canada’s involvement in the Kyoto process as Harper’s government reneged on Canada’s obligations quickly thereafter.

The United States, meanwhile, enters the final week of the biennial “midterm elections”, with most candidates (and the public) focused on issues other than climate change. When climate change is mentioned, however, the candidates responses are not reassuring. Have a look at this video for an impressive compilation of candidates’ responses to whether they believe in the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Incidentally, for a comprehensive debunking of Representative Steve Pearce’s claim that 31,000 scientists signed a petition claiming that there was no global warming, click here.

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:

 

 

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.

In POLI 1140 this week, we’ll look at war and conflict (and strife), which, according to Mingst and Arreguin-Toft, “is generally viewed as the oldest, the most prevalent, and in the long term, the most salient” issue in international relations. Indeed, this attention to war and security is warranted given that without at least a minimal degree of security it is difficult to achieve other, worthy values.

As many of you are well aware, the US military, with its NATO allies, has been at war in Afghanistan since just after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Canadian military, of course, stood by its NATO ally from the beginning taking a large number of casualties during its time in Afghanistan. Our last combat troops left Afghanistan last summer. While in Afghanistan, the Canadian military was responsible for securing the Kandahar province, which was, by all accounts, the most dangerous province in that war-torn country:

The military first went into Kandahar in 2005, the beginning of the combat mission. The forces are now into a training mission based in Kabul, where they’re teaching Afghan national security forces.

Kandahar was Afghanistan’s most dangerous province, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement.

Following Canada’s military withdrawal from Kandahar, the US military took over responsibility for the area. Unfortunately, tragedy struck over the weekend as a US soldier allegedly walked off of his military base in Kandahar and killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of which were children, who were all asleep at the time. Those who are familiar with war and its effects on the psychic health of all involved understand that these types of things do happen in war zones. I have personally interviewed soldiers who described to me similar incidents that they either witnessed or in which they were personally involved.

Based on what you’ve read in Chapter 8 of the textbook, which theory of IR best accounts for the war in Afghanistan and for why NATO troops are still in combat there?

“Ghosts of Rwanda” Documentary

As a video supplement to the Rwanda chapter from Samantha Power’s book on genocide, and the Gourevitch book, we viewed the first part of the PBS Frontline documentary “Ghosts of Rwanda” in class today. Please view the remaining hour or so sometime before next Friday’s class as we will use the first portion of that session to continue our discussion on the international community’s failure to halt the slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis by the Hutu-led Rwandan government.Here’s the first part of the documentary. Click on the video to take yourself to Youtube, where you will easily find the remaining parts.