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Nelson Mandela at the UN (Video)

I just came across this cool montage of historical footage of Nelson Mandela at the UN. The UN’s new media people uploaded it to YouTube last week for Nelson Mandela International Day.  Check it out. 

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Fighting Along the Lebanese-Israeli Border

Lebanese and Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire earlier today. The clash seemed to have been sparked by Israeli attempts to remove a tree along the border fence.  (MSNBC even has a picture). Early reports indicate that four Lebanese were killed, including a journalist and two Israeli soldiers were critically wounded. 

You may recall that is was exactly four years ago next week that the Security Council passed Resolution 1701, which called for an end of hostilities between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon. The resolution beefed up a peacekeeping mission known as the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, to confirm the Hezbollah and Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Today, there are over 11,000 uniformed personnel in Southern Lebanon, but it was not imagined that they would have to serve as a buffer between the Lebanese military and the IDF. In fact, their mandate explicitly calls on UNIFIL to assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its effective authority in the area.   

Back in 2006, that was the way that Israel, Lebanon, and the Security Council wanted it.  Hezbollah vowed to retreat from southern Lebanon and the Israeli government also pledged to withdraw if the Lebanese government, backed by UNIFIL, would step in and prevent Hezbollah from reconstituting itself.  That seems to have worked. But now it would appeared that the Lebanese armed forces and the Israeli Defense Force are breathing down each others’ necks. 

When two countries want to go to war, lightly armed peacekeepers on the ground cannot much prevent it.  What can prevent conflict is the kind of creative diplomacy that lead to the Security Council authorizing resolution 1701 on August 11, 2006. What makes this latest episode somewhat interesting from a diplomatic standpoint is that UNFIL’s mandate is set to expire on August 31.   Under normal circumstances, the Security Council would just re-up the mandate with a six month extension. But if these kinds of clashes continue, the council might take the opportunity to “remind” Israel and Lebanon of their “international obligations” not to shoot at each other. So, stay tuned.   

Image: wikimeda

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UN Direct on Summer Holiday

If a tree falls in the UN in August, does it make a sound?  UN Direct will be back bringing you insider updates from the UN after a summer break. 

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The US MDG Strategy is More than a PR Ploy!

Over at Aid Watch Laura Freschi is none too impressed with the US MDG strategy, unveiled by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on Friday. Freschi argues that the US MDG strategy document is basically a PR ploy “to create a positive image of benevolence towards the world’s poor, which is sadly unrelated to whether the goals are actually achieved.”

I’m not convinced.

Let’s take a trip back in time. Five years ago, to be exact.  It was the summer of 2005, I was a reporter with the American Prospect magazine, writing about a big set of UN reforms that were being negotiated for the UN summit.  Diplomats at the UN were deep into negotiations before their heads of states arrived. And then this happened:

A month earlier, the newly minted, recess-appointed U.S. ambassador had sent negotiations into a tailspin when he submitted some 750 alterations to a 39-page text known as the “summit outcomes” document. Bolton’s most eye-popping suggestion at this summit, billed as a renewal of the UN’s 5-year-old pledge to help poor countries, was that all 14 references in the document to the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) be deleted.

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Bolton’s stance on the MDGs caused an uproar. In addition to the G-77 bloc of developing nations that had the most to lose from the elimination of MDGs, the British, who had recently played host to a G8 summit focusing on African poverty, were particularly livid. Even the United States itself seemed to back away. In a meeting with representatives of nongovernmental organizations shortly after Bolton’s edits were leaked to The Washington Post for an August 25 story, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns refused to confirm or deny that, per Bolton, the United States was dropping its support of the MDGs. To those in the room, wise to the oblique lingua franca of the diplomatic world, Burns’ pullback hinted that Bolton had forged his own policy on the MDGs — ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Prospect has learned that, in the end, it took Rice’s personal intervention to set things right. On September 5 she participated in a conference call with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw on the subject of UN reform. The next day, Bolton sent a letter to his UN counterparts relenting on the issue. Finally, to put all lingering questions about U.S. support of the MDGs to rest, President Bush himself stated America’s firm commitment to them in his September 14 speech to the UN General Assembly.

Got that?  It was only five years ago that we had a freelancing UN ambassador who thought he could get away with erasing the mere mention of the MDGs from a UN Summit.  (And he might have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that pesky Annan!)  

Fast forward to 2010 and not only is the United States embracing the MDGs, but the administration has made it an organizing principal of US foreign policy. Just take a look at the National Security Strategy released this past May. That document is full of references to economic development and carves out a role development policy in US national security. Part of that includes embracing the MDGs as an expression of core American values, which in turn helps the United States win friends and influence people abroad.

The National Security Strategy enshrined development as a key foreign policy priority, and this MDG strategy sets out the discreet ways in which part of that strategy will be implemented.  Will this strategy alone ensure that the MDGs will be fuflilled across the board? Of course not–the MDGs, after all, are a global effort.  But at least we now know what the United States is bringing to the table. 

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Arguing Over Tar Sands

By Juliana Williams, Editor It’s Getting Hot in Here.  Special to UN Dispatch

It may come as a surprise to learn that oil sands, also called tar sands, have only been a major player on the climate scene since 1995. That was the year that Canada’s National Task Force on Oil Sands Strategies released its recommendations on how to massively expand the oil sands industry in Alberta. The extraction of oil sands in Alberta in one of the most destructive projects on the planet, devastating an area approximately the size of Florida, has only taken place in the last 15 years.

The massive expansion of the oil sands industry happened after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created in 1992. After the first meeting of the UNFCCC, in 1995. After the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Second Assessment Report on climate science that identified “a discernable human influence on global climate.”

Since then, oil sands have become the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, producing about 5% of the country’s total emissions.

Canada has no excuse that they didn’t know the impact oil sands would have on the climate. Luckily, the rest of the world is beginning to sour on oil sands, a fuel that produces on average three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil.

Just this week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected the State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would import 900,000 barrels a day of oil sands crude from Canada. In addition to safety concerns and the impacts of oil sands on climate change the EPA stated that,

“There is a reasonably close causal relationship between issuing a cross-border permit for the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of oil sands crude in Canada intended to supply that pipeline.”

In other words, the State Department must address the fact that Keystone XL pipeline would contribute to increased oil sands extraction.

Earlier in July, Corporate Ethics International placed billboard advertisements in several United States cities drawing attention to the environmental impacts Alberta’s oil sands. “Alberta: The Other Oil Disaster. Thinking of visiting Alberta, Canada? Think again,” the billboards read. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach angrily rejected the “outrageous claims” of the campaign, even though his own Council on Economic Strategy released a report stating that “Alberta’s reputation with key energy customers has been damaged in recent years” by the oil sands industry.

At the Canada 2020 conference “Greening the Oil Sands” in June, John Podesta, head of the U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, challenged the premise of the conference:

“Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy-intensive. These things are facts. I think suggesting this process can come close to approximating being “greened” is largely misleading, or far too optimistic, or perhaps both. It stands alongside clean coal and error-free deepwater drilling as more PR than reality.”

Three months ago, in April, Shell Oil decided to place all further investment in oil sands on hold until the second half of this decade, after pressure from shareholders highlighted the environmental impacts of oil sands.

Back in December, Members of the European Parliament sent an open letter to the CEOs and Chairmen of the Boards of Directors of Shell, BP, Statoil and Total, all European companies, urging them to “turn away from tar sands and towards clean energy sources.”

Despite this pressure, production of oil sands crude is expected to double to over 3 million barrels a day by 2020. Additionally, Canadian company Earth Energy Resources aims to open the first oil sands mine in the United States, located in eastern Utah. Fuel produced from oil sands is a step in the wrong direction ff the world is going to successfully tackle the monumental challenge of climate change. We know that oil sands significantly add to climate change. There are no more excuses for supporting oil sands.

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Flooding in Pakistan (Video)

Terrible flooding in Pakistan’s Swat valley.  Al Jazeera has some breathtaking footage of the power of these floods.  

The UN released $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to assist in the humanitarian response. More than 1 million people are said to be affected by the flooding, and over 1,000 killed.  

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