Yearly Archives: 2008
by John Anthony, Energy and Climate Communications Director, UN Foundation, writing from the UN climate summit in Poznan, Poland
The annual United Nations-led climate change negotiations are quickly coming to a close here in coal-rich southern Poland. In fact, Poland produces more than 90% of its electricity from coal, suggesting a challenging transition towards cleaner burning fuels in its near term future, if these talks do in fact lead to a successor agreement to 1997′s Kyoto Protocol.
Stepping back, the annual gathering is a two-week marathon of behind the scenes bargaining between official delegates, daily press briefings from the UN secretariat, the UNFCCC, and its erstwhile head – Yvo de Boer. Talk about someone in need of a vacation. Imagine the stress and strain of herding more than 180 countries toward a decision and commitment the likes of which mankind has never before made on a collective basis. And all of this through innumerable language barriers, and a looming deadline, next December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
There are also a phalanx of “side events,” at which non-profits, industry, trade and labor groups get to make their case about everything from how bioenergy is both a source of clean energy and a poverty alleviator, to what the US election results portend for the negotiations, to how labor standards will be treated under an agreement.
Mixed together with the media covering the event (possibly the next industry in need of a bailout), security, and volunteers, it’s a bit like an ant colony, but one that isn’t building anything – just moving to and fro with ideas, positions, opinions and perhaps the latest piece of intel about who is imperiling consensus on adaptation finance.
The process is mind-numbingly complex to even the most seasoned COP-follower.
After all, in Bali last year, hailed as a landmark point of progress, the target of a range of hope for emissions reductions (driven by IPCC research) ended up buried in a footnote of the Action Plan.
Michael Gerson, writing from Goma, gives the UN credit where credit is due in an exceedingly sticky situation:
Another attempt to fill the vacuum of sovereignty in eastern Congo has come from international institutions. The United Nations, in its various expressions, supervises the disarmament of willing militias, runs an airline and a number of radio stations, and attempts to enforce laws against war crimes — acting in many ways as a substitute for the state. And U.N. peacekeepers are the only reason that Nkunda has not taken Goma.
The problem, as Gerson correctly diagnoses, is that the UN is handicapped by shortages of resources and manpower, as well as by the painful requirements of bureaucracy. The UN peacekeeping force in Congo cannot by any means act “as a substitute for the state” or “enforce a nonexistent” peace. Neither, though, can the Congolese government or army right now. This only makes more disappointing the EU’s (specifically, Germany’s and the UK’s) persistent and bizarre insistence that no quick deploying EU military force is needed to complement MONUC.
No surprises here. Claudia Rosett doesn’t like Iran very much. Chief on her list of grievances? That Iran — like just about every other country in the United Nations — has contributed a gift to the organization’s headquarters in New York.
In that lobby, by far the most prominent display is a row of eight portraits, framed in gold, and showing the lineup of secretaries-general from the U.N.’s founding at the end of World War II, through the current Ban Ki-Moon. But these are no ordinary portraits. Each is actually a silk carpet, and under the woven picture of each secretary-general, there appears the woven inscription: “Presented by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
If Iran’s gift was “tailored to flatter the secretariat’s top boss,” then so was that of every other country that provided one. But in Rosett’s tendentious logic, the gifts are telltale signs of bribery, corruption, and extortion — attempts to ingratiate Iran into the inner circle of the UN. Its entrance in this inner circle is confirmed, in Rosett’s tinted glasses, by its membership in such exclusive clubs as the G-77 — whose members actually number 130 — and the U.N. Agency for Human Settlements.
Worse still is the fact that the UN Development Program — of the “scandal” that never was, yet never seems to die– dares to operate development initiatives to help the Iranian people. Along with those of 165 other countries.
Because Iran is a member of the United Nations and some of its programs, because some of these programs work in Iran, and because some of the gifts in the UN building bear that odious stigma, “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Rosett sees reason for President Obama to “bypass the U.N. altogether” once in office. Perhaps she too should heed Max Boot’s advice against “reflexive…antipathy to all things UN, as well as give the other 191 member states of the UN a little more credit.
President-elect Barack Obama is set to formally introduce his energy and climate team in the coming days. His pick for a newly created position overseeing energy, climate and environmental issues is the respected energy and environmental policy expert Carol Browner. Browner also happens to be an On Day One user. In March, we asked Browner what she thinks the next president should do, on day one. One idea was not enough, so she gave us three.
Here is the former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator advising that the next president should sign an exective order re-affirming the role of independent science in policy making. Dare I say she will be in a privileged position to see this idea though?
And remember to vote in our On Day One ideas contest! No registration is required. Just head over the site and pick the ideas you find most compelling.
Among all the holiday shopping deals, online and in stores, the one gift that never changes in price or impact is a $10 donation to send a bed net to protect children in Africa from malaria. The United Nations Foundation’s grassroots campaign Nothing But Nets is always trying to send nets and save lives, but for this holiday season, the need for nets is more urgent than ever.
The recent violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused thousands of people to flee to neighboring Uganda and settle in refugee camps there. Already crowded camps and the current rainy season in Uganda means even more nets are needed every day for children and their families.
As always, Send a net. Save a life.
At NothingButNets, you can donate a net in someone’s honor and send an eCard, or sign and print a card we’ve made especially for the holidays!
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.