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UN’s IPCC and Gore win Nobel Peace Prize

Although most headlines today will read the other way around, it’s importantly not to overlook that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been central to coalescing the “scientific consensus,” or what the public would recognize as the “scientific consensus.” (Hear Climate Expert Richard Moss’s assessment of the IPCC working group I report.) It’s hard to image that we’d even be where are now without such effort.

The Nobel Committee said as much in its announcement:

Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

As did Gore:

This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world’s pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis — a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years.

This isn’t to shortchange Gore. As everyone has said, he’s had an amazing year. David Roberts has already posted — despite living on the west coast! — a thorough analysis of what this means vis-a-vis the presidential race. Though he might very well be correct in what would happen to Gore were he to choose to throw his hat in the ring, I disagree that “there’s no reason to think that winning the prize would have any positive effect on Gore’s chances if he did run.” Being lumped in the same category as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., UNHCR, UNICEF, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi, necessarily imbues one with a certain level of gravitas, which voters will respond to. Sure, the Nobel Committee has made missteps over the years, but most only remember the highlight reel, which Gore is now on.

Climate change in general also has a new feather in its cap. As 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad Yunus said during his Nobel Lecture last year:

By giving us this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace.

They have now made the same statement about climate change — a similar one to that made by the UK and other nations earlier this year in the Security Council.

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Misreading Romm

I began writing a post this morning about something striking that I read in this Joseph Romm post yesterday, in which he discusses the similar new books Break Through, by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, and Cool it, by Bjorn Lomborg.

Shellenberger, Nordhaus, and Lomborg are part of a dangerous new movement that believes in the science behind climate change but doesn’t think the effects will be that bad (or that we need to drastically cut carbon emissions). Clearly, this runs the risk of turning into a warm bottle for some world leaders and some Americans who are desperately needed to put pressure on Congress. Why stress about impending devastation when you have an excuse not to? Such an enticing possibility could quickly take the wind out of the sails of those fighting for a quick and comprehensive (and possibly costly) response to these challenges. That is why I was so shocked to see Romm, a brilliant champion for decisive action on climate change, quote a Robert Collier review of the books in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Nordhaus and Shellenberger, like Lomborg, will get plenty of attention in Washington from those who want to preserve the status quo. But for those who recognize the urgent need to transform the national and world economies and save the planet as we know it, they are ultimately irrelevant,” and then respond, “Precisely.” No, not precisely! As I have said before, there is real danger in underestimating the scope of the effects of climate change, in this case the chance that it will tamp down political will. They are not “irrelevant”; they are dangerous.

Thankfully, I looked back at some of Romm’s earlier writing (here, here, and here). He has gone beyond debunking them. He has said, in several different ways:

I strongly disagree with both statements — but I go further than simple disagreement, which is why I have spilled so much ink debunking both Lomborg and S&N. As long as Lomborg and S&N keep repeating their core positions and beliefs, they help undermine the consensus needed to achieve the urgent steps that could avoid apocalypse.

Well done. Romm has done yeoman’s work in this effort. The message: “Precisely” must have been a slip of the pen, and I need to keep up with my Romm reading.

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How Open Source Technology can be a Development Tool

Yesterday, the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Group Foundation announced the successful conclusion of a year long pilot program that integrated open source mobile phone technology into the public health systems of Kenya and Zambia. The pilot program equipped Palm Zires with a software tool called EpiSurveyor, created by the NGO Datadyne. (A little while back UN Dispatch featured a Delegates Lounge post by Datadyne’s Dr. Joel Selanikio, who was training public health officials in Zambia how to use EpiSurveyor.)

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The pilot projects were huge successes.

[H]andheld devices facilitated the supervision of public health clinics, and resulted in improved drug supply-chain management and more regular access to public health trends. Additionally, country health officials modified the EpiSurveyor software to track and contain disease outbreaks, and to identify immunization campaign coverage rates.

And because the pilot program used open source software, it could be easily modified by country health officials as needed.

Designed to facilitate the supervision of health data in public clinics using handheld computers, the initiative broke ground when country officials modified the open source EpiSurveyor data-gathering software to meet other public health needs as they arose. In Kenya health officials modified EpiSurveyor to investigate and contain a polio outbreak, and in Zambia health officials modified the software to conduct a post-measles-immunization campaign coverage survey to identify which children had not been vaccinated. Because the EpiSurveyor application is open source, its application was owned and controlled entirely by WHO and country health officials without depending on outside consultants.

Next week, the United Nations will be hosting a conference on how free and open source software (FOSS) can be better harnessed as a development tool. The conference, organized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development will “present case studies of successful FOSS implementations in various environments.”

No doubt they could point to the Episurveyor experiment in Zambia and Kenya as a case study.

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The UNCLOS Battle

At the Heritage Foundation’s in house blog, Andrew Grossman admits ignorance to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Nothing wrong about that–you have to be fairly plugged in to know what the Convention is all about.

The problem is, he looks to Doug Bandow for enlightenment. Bandow, you may recall, was the syndicated columnist who resigned from CATO last year after it was revealed he was secretly on the take from Jack Abramoff, who paid Bandow $2,000 per column to shill on behalf of his clients. Bandow was picked up by an outfit called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which apparently does not mind if one its “experts” used to accept cash to promote the clients of a now convicted felon.

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Note, Scott Paul offers some smart commentary on what is really at stake with the UNCLOS ratification battle:

The conventional wisdom is that multilateral treaties are dead on arrival in the Senate. If we’re interested in promoting the International Criminal Court, a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, or the Conventions on women’s rights, children’s rights, landmines, or biological diversity, we’ve got to get the Law of the Sea done.

My colleague Don Kraus sums it up:

“Think about it. If a Senate with a Democratic majority can not muster the 66 votes to pass a treaty supported by a Republican president, what is the possibility of doing so under a potential Democratic president who will face much stiffer Republican opposition?

“If the U.S, cannot join an agreement supported by environmental groups, petroleum trade associations, peace groups, the Coast Guard, Navy, departments of State, Commerce, and the Interior (just to name a few) — what is the chance that we engage on other agreements?

“One senate staffer I talked to recently has been yelling at groups coming to talk with him about climate change. He’s been telling them that he doesn’t want to talk to them unless the first words out of their mouth are “Law of the Sea,” because “if we can’t get this one through, none of the other agreements are going to get through.”

The stars are aligning on UNCLOS’ behalf. As Scott and Don like to say UNCLOS is “low hanging fruit.” Perhaps this helps explain why folks like Bandow and Frank Gaffney are on a mission to make UNCLOS into a boogey monster. (To wit: this ad, flagged by Matt Yglesias, from “America’s Survivial,” which is an outfit dedicated to opposing international treaties.) The stakes are high for the knee-jerk anti-UN crowd. UNCLOS’ wide support from diverse constituencies could mean ratification. And from there it is only a slippery slope to the moment when UN tax collectors come knocking at their door the United States becomes more positively engaged in multilateral institutions that advance American interests by promoting the rule of law.

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What about the Veto?

I certainly agree with Blake’s premise that the unilateral efforts of any one nation, even China, are unlikely to completely turn the tide in Myanmar. However, I think he overlooks one key aspect of China’s foreign policy arsenal, its veto on the UN Security Council.

Unfortunately, for those who see multilateral economic sanctions and curbing of weapons sales as a logical move forward, China chose today to withdraw that option, stating that it is “resolutely opposed” to Security Council sanctions. This announcement no doubt came as a relief to Than Shwe, who has been concerned enough about sanctions to state that he would meet with Aung San Suu Kyi if she stopped calling for them.

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AU-UN Force Commander Speaks Out

The force commander of the AU-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, grants an interview to Newsweek International. The frustration he expresses is palpable. Via the DARFUR blog:

You’ve warned the international community not to set its expectations too high. Why?

The resolution that created this hybrid [peacekeeping] operation is not a secret document, so many people have read that the force is to have 20,000 troops. I have had telephone calls from different organizations and individuals congratulating me that I now have 20,000 troops. Unfortunately, as you and I know now, we don’t even know the troop contributors, so how can we talk about what those troops will do? Those people who are calling me will see nothing happening on the ground and feel disappointed. That is why I have already cautioned people not to expect too much because there is not much happening on the ground.

So you’re saying things aren’t changing fast enough?

Definitely. I am very concerned. I accepted the job because I wanted to give it my best, and I can only give it my best and be judged by the world depending on the resources available to me. And the resources are not forthcoming. They are not giving me 20,000 [troops], not to mention the equipment the troops will use, not to mention the other staff we will need in the mission. Nothing. So I am really, really concerned.

Plus, there’s no peace deal yet. How can you be expected to provide security when there’s no peace deal?

Lack of peace on the ground is definitely another big challenge because we are here as peacekeepers, and our job would be easier and smoother if there were a peace deal brokered for us. Unfortunately, right now, there is no peace to keep. So it has become another Herculean task to see that people are protected. We hope the talks in Libya [scheduled to start Oct. 27] result in an acceptable, comprehensive peace agreement for us and for every party involved.

Essentially, the general is saying that he has no troops to keep a peace that does not exist–and, in any case, he does not expect troops will be made available to him in the near future. Until member states pony up, it is hard to see how the situation on the ground can change for the better. This includes providing the force with proper financial and diplomatic support. A Security Council peacekeeping authorization is basically useless unless member states are willing to back it up by providing troops and funding for the mission.

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