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Tianjin Climate Talks Recap: Little Progress on the Policies

Since the outcome of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Copenhagen failed to meet the sky high hopes environmentalists had placed in it, international negotiators have been working hard ever since to lower expectations. Gone is talk of quickly crafting an binding successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which effectively expires in 2012. Diplomats have given up on a firm agreement until the 2011 summit in South Africa and are instead trying to do what is “politically possible.”

Yet even with those diminished goals, the six-day Tianjin climate talks, which concluded this weekend, made so little progress that some diplomats openly wondered whether continuing the UNFCCC process was even politically worthwhile.

The Tianjin talks were a big deal. An estimated 3,100 delegates from 177 countries attended the talks from October 4-9. Thousands of other representatives from business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions also attended the event.

UNFCCC meetings like this exist because world leaders believe a global commitment to reducing emissions and cooperating on clean energy and carbon storage is necessary to address global warming. The problem has been getting nations with very different interests to find policy solutions that every country can agree on. While no country will benefit from uncontrolled climate change, some have more to gain–or lose–from preventing it.

Problematic policies

Negotiators came to Tianjin with four items on their agenda: Codifying the voluntary pledges made after Copenhagen (as inadequate as they are), setting up the rules for forest conservation and clean tech cooperation, creating a process for transferring and verifying climate aid, and–most vexing–determining the structure of an eventual climate treaty. The hope was that diplomats could start working on the broad outlines in China and then sign a pact combining the areas of agreement in Mexico next month.

“The agreements that can be reached in Cancun may not be exhaustive in their details,” UNFCCC chief negotiator Christiana Figueres explained in a statement. “But as a balanced package they must be comprehensive in their scope and they can deliver strong results in the short term as well as set the stage for long term commitments to address climate change in an effective and fair manner.”

Forestry rules are unlikely to be included in any “balanced package,” as Figueres and others referred to the hoped-for Cancun agreement. Discussions on REDD+, the updated program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation that now includes conservation, never happened. As an unfortunate result, a workshop and technical meeting on the policy planned for later this month in Japan was canceled.

The lack of certainty about the REDD+ rules also makes countries wary of agreeing to binding emissions reductions. Countries first want to know how much of their total emissions can be offset by their carbon storing forests or by carbon credits purchased from heavily forested emerging economies like Indonesia or Brazil. For example, New Zealand’s delegation told the press that a rule change could shift the country’s emissions reduction target by as much as 4 percent. In an interview with Bloomberg, EU Climate Adviser Jurgen Lefevere described China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil as the main blockers. Conservation groups fingered the Saudis as well as tiny Papua New Guinea.

“It now looks like there might not be a deal on [REDD+] at Cancun,” Peg Putts of the Wilderness Society said to the Guardian. “This was supposed to have been a confidence-building exercise but discussions this week have been shatteringly awful.”

Less money, more problems

Climate aid is another crucial area where the UNFCCC and NGOs hoped to see progress. The UN’s Figueres called fast-track finance “the golden key to Cancun.” Developing countries see delivery of the mitigation and adaption money promised to them in the Copenhagen Accord as a crucial test of rich countries’ commitment to collectively addressing climate change. The non-binding Accord pledges $30 billion before 2012 in so-called fast-track finance money, which will be ramped up to $100 billion a year by 2020. “I am confident that the golden key will be dutifully unlocked,” Figueres said. “Developed countries are all committed to the pledges they have made for fast track finance.”

But the real value of that commitment is being called into question. Is this just aid to Africa being re-branded as fast-track financing? It is difficult to know, because negotiators failed to work out the details.

“The US says it is doubling or tripling climate finance, but there is very little clarity and very little sense that it is new and additional from existing aid flows. A lot of countries are doing this,” Greenpeace’s Steve Herz told the Guardian. “They look at what they are doing in other parts of their aid budget, such as on food security, and double count it.”

UN treaty or bust?

On what is perhaps the most important issue that was discussed in Tianjin there was absolutely no progress: What to do after the Kyoto Protocol commitment period expires. Here, there two countries to blame, which together account for 40% of global emissions: China and the US.

For both political and practical reasons, the two countries have diametrically opposing viewpoints. China, the world largest CO2 polluter, wants to make new emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, which exempts developing countries like itself from binding, verifiable cuts. The US, the largest historic polluter, insists that the pledges China made under the Copenhagen Accord be internationally monitored. And with the two superpowers firmly opposed to the others plan, neither went forward. (More on that later this week.)

With no progress made on establishing a post-Kyoto legal framework, diplomats in the US and EU have begun to ask whether the UNFCCC process is capable of producing international climate protection measures. “The consequences of not having an agreement coming out of Cancun are things that we have to worry about.” US negotiator Jonathan Pershing said to AFP. “It is something to be considered seriously, because the process is going to be very hard-pressed to continue to meet and to continue.”

Artur Runge-Metzger, a negotiator with the European Commission, was more blunt: “If Cancun does not produce a solid outcome … then I think it risks becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the rest of the world,” he warned the Canadian Press. “Decision-making will go to some other forum.”

Figureres, the executive director of the UNFCCC, disagreed: “I understand there is disappointment with the multilateral process but this issue is not easy. This is the greatest societal and economic transformation that the world has ever seen.” If the frustrated talk coming out of Tianjin is to be believed, she may only have until December to prove that her organization can help the world make that change.

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Portugal beats Canada for Security Council seat in tight election

Security Council elections: this morning the GA elected Colombia, India, Germany, Portugal and South Africa to two-year non-permanent seats on the Security Council starting January 1, 2011.  They will replace Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda.  The Latin American & Caribbean, African and Asian seats went uncontested, while Germany, Portugal and Canada competed for 2 WEOG seats.  With Germany securing a 2/3 vote in the first round, Portugal and Canada continued to a second round, after which a 2/3 majority had still not been reached.  Canada ultimately withdrew its nomination and Portugal secured over the 2/3 necessary to win in a third round.  CBC news has an interesting piece on the dynamics behind Canada’s bid and the outcome.  Bill Varner also wrote on the strategic implications of India and South Africa winning seats.  All four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are now members of the Council.  Ambassador Rice’s statement on the elections is available here.

SG travels: though the details have not yet been elaborated, the SG’s Spokesperson confirmed the SG’s plan to visit Thailand soon.  The press is also reporting that he will attend the World Policy Conference in Morocco later this week.  Details are expected soon.

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George Clooney on South Sudan (Video)

George Clooney just returned from a trip to South Sudan with the Today Show reporter Ann Curry and the Enough Project’s John Prendergast.

This is about the best television reporting you will get on Sudan. It is just a shame that it takes a mega star like George Clooney to get the networks to finally pay some attention to South Sudan.  (To be fair, Ann Curry has reported from Sudan multiple times, but she is an outlier.)

Clooney and other Sudan activists are meeting with a number of officials around Washington today, including the President. Later tonight, they are holding a press conference  at the Council on Foreign Relations where I hope to get a sense of what these meetings accomplished.

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Image: Flickr user yuyang226

Happy Election Day

Election day here in the United States is still about one month away. But in New York today, the General Assembly is set to select new members of the Security Council for two year stints.

There are five non-permanent seats up for election this year.  As is the case with most UN bodies, a set number of seats are apportioned via geographical region. There is one seat open for Africa, one for South America, one for Asia and two for what is called Western Europe and ‘Others’ (WEOG). ) ‘Others’  = the British Commonwealth, Israel, and North America).

There is only one candidate running for each of the Africa, South America, and Asian seats (Uganda South Africa, Columbia, and India, respectively), so those three countries are a sure bet. The big contest today is in the WEOG group in which Portugal, Canada, and Germany are vying for two seats.

The vote will occur sometime today.  Anyone want to venture a guess as which two WEOG countries will make it?

UPDATE:  And the winners are…Germany and Portugal.  Germany won in the first round of voting. Facing a run-off with Portugal, Canada withdrew its candidacy.

UPDATE II: It’s recriminations time, Canadian style.  Doug Saunders, a foreign correspondent for the Globe and Mail tweets: Given that this has been the number one diplomatic priority for the Harper government for 2+ years and reason for $1-bil G20 spend – heavens.

UPDATE III: More recriminations. This time, the conservative government is blaming liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.  From the Toronto Star:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office wasted little time assigning blame for the disappointment, placing it at the feet of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

“I would say a big deciding factor was the fact that Canada’s bid did not have unity because we had Mr. Ignatieff questioning and opposing Canada’s bid,” Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s communications director, said in an interview.

“That was a factor that played ultimately against Canada because people outside of Canada were saying, ‘Well, Germany and Portugal have a united front, their opposition and their governments seem to be fully, 100 per cent behind this bid.’

Ignatieff’s offending comments? From the Star:

“This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, ‘Hey, put us on the council,’“ he said.

“Don’t mistake me. I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security  Council, but Canadians have to ask a tough question: Has this government earned that place? We’re not convinced it has.”

UPDATE IV: Bill Varner offers an interesting take on the significance of India joining the Security Council. For one, he says, it adds one more skeptic to the U.S.-led get-tough approach on Iran.

India signaled possible opposition to sanctions on Iran before the Security Council’s vote in June. India’s government released a statement saying it “conveyed to the U.S. that sanctions on Iran have proved to be counterproductive and that all differences with Iran should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and negotiations.”


India is one of Iran’s largest crude oil customers. It is also pursuing the import of Iranian natural gas through a pipeline that transits Pakistan, Oil Minister Murli Deora said in a written reply to a question in parliament in August.

Read the whole thing.

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Water and Sanitation still in Short Supply in Pakistan (Video)


Meanwhile, the Floods Emergency Response Plan and Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan are funded at 33 percent and 46 percent respectively.  That’s not even half of what the international community says is required to meet basic needs of people affected by the floods.

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Sec Council in Sudan IDP Camp, UNESCO Board Meeting, OCHA Pakistan Update

SC in Sudan: today the SC delegation, currently in El Fasher, met with the Wali of North Darfur, where UK Amb. Mark Lyall Grant expressed the SC concern with sexual violence, the illegal flow of weapons and yesterday’s abduction of a UNAMID staff member.  The delegation also met with residents of the Abu Shouk IDP camp and were briefed at a police community center.  The delegation will be in Khartoum tomorrow.  Ambassador Rice’s tweets from the mission can be found here.

Nobel Peace Prize: the SG’s statement on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo of China can be foundhere.

UNESCO: at UNESCO’s Board Meeting in Paris today, the U.S. introduced a resolution to rescind the controversial “Obiang” prize “in view of the strong global reaction to the establishment” and “its negative impact on the credibility, prestige and basic values of Unesco”, which very well may force a vote on the issue.

Global Mapping of Emergency Stockpiles: today OCHA and the Logistics Cluster, led by WFP, launched an interactive online tool with information on stockpiles in emergency relief warehouses, to assist affected countries and humanitarian relief agencies facilitate emergency relief.

Pakistan: OCHA is reporting that approximately 8 million people are being targeted for food assistance in October and the Sindh Province remains the hardest hit, where 1 million people are in need.  Huge numbers of people continue to depend on life-saving assistance, while access is improving.  The Floods Emergency Response Plan and Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan are 33% and 46% funded, respectively.

Week ahead: on Tuesday, the GA will hold Security Council elections where Canada, Germany and Portugal will compete for two rotating WEOG seats.

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