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Climate Change and Everything Else

The long awaited report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has hit the presses. It’s “concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.”  But it gets worse! The report also emphasized that food levels are diminishing, particularly in poor countries.

Here are some facts and figures, from Climosphere.

By 2050,climate change could increase number of undernourished kids in Africa to 52 million

In the Mediterranean, invasive species will replace native ones by nearly 25% in 20 years.

Warmer temperatures mean more habitat for mosquitoes. The spread of dengue fever has meant economic losses of $2.1 billion over the past 25 years.

Precipitation in Mexico is projected to decline by up to 30% by 2040.

In many ways, the report does not tell us what we don’t already know: the climate is on an unsustainable path. But this report shows precisely how interrelated climate is to a host of other issues that are pressing on the global agenda. Take, for example, the section human security:

Climate change over the 21st century is projected to increase displacement of people (medium evidence, high agreement). Displacement risk increases when populations that lack the  resources for planned migration experience higher exposure to extreme weather events, in both  rural and urban areas, particularly in developing countries with low income. Expanding  opportunities for mobility can reduce vulnerability for such populations. Changes in migration  patterns can be responses to both extreme weather events and longer-term climate variability and  change, and migration can also be an effective adaptation strategy. There is low confidence in  quantitative projections of changes in mobility, due to its complex, multi-causal nature.

Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and  inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as  poverty and economic shocks (medium confidence). Multiple lines of evidence relate climate  variability to these forms of conflict.

The impacts of climate change on the critical infrastructure and territorial integrity of  many states are expected to influence national security policies (medium evidence, medium confidence)

Climate change is the thread that weaves through issues like human security, conflict, water scarcity, development and health. To solve these issues requires progress on climate.  This report should serve as ammunition to policy makers this september as they gather in New York for the latest round of climate talks. At the very least it provides evidence that climate change connects pretty much every global challenge that confronts the United Nations and the majority of its member states. 

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Myanmar Census Confronted by Ethnic and Racial Tensions

Yesterday, Myanmar started conducting its first national census in over 30 years. The census is an important exercise, one will give the government much needed information about the total population and demographics which it has lacked for three decades. But what should be an opportunity to move forward in the democratization process for the country is instead becoming yet another controversial development in the Myanmar’s bumpy transition out of international isolation.

Chief among concerns is the government’s overall approach to ethnicity in the census questionnaire. Not only does it ask very detailed questions about ethnicity and religion but as Elliott Prasse-Freeman pointed out late last year, it also forces a very diverse society to identify with just one ethnicity and group when Myanmar is far more of a melting pot of its 135 recognized ethnic groups. This proposes an absolute view of ethnicity that could further divide the country in light of growing ethnic and religious tensions. As with the collection of any type of personal information by the government, the major question is how it will be used by the government. It is unclear whether enough reform and democratization has occurred for people not to be concerned about the collection of incredibly detailed personal information, particularly about religion and ethnicity.

These general concerns don’t take into account the controversy surrounding treatment of Rohingya Muslims who under a 1982 law are not granted Myanmar citizenship despite a long history in the country. Often referred to as one of the most marginalized groups in the world by the UN, the plight of the Rohingya has only worsened in recent years due to inter-communal violence with Buddhists that erupted in Rakhine State in 2012. Since then hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and an estimated 140,000 displaced in what Human Rights Watch has called a campaign of ethnic cleansing. As Myanmar continues to take promising steps towards democratization with successful parliamentary elections in 2012 and a planned general election in 2015, the issue of the Rohingya remains a difficult thorn in Myanmar’s new image.

The national census offers little to fix this. Initially there were hopes the Rohingya would be included in the census but significant pushback by the Buddhist community complicated those efforts. Even the rumor that Rohingya would be included led to a new campaign of sectarian marking, with people hanging Buddhist flags outside their homes to signify who is, and who is not, Buddhist. When a Western aid worker took down a flag from their office building last week, hundreds of Buddhists attacked the building and forced the government to put international aid workers under protective custody. This comes after the government banned Doctors Without Borders (MSF) from operating in Rakhine State due to what they called a “Rohingya bias” as MSF became the primary provider of medical care of the increasingly displaced population. With such tensions, the option of “Rohingya” has been left off the census in favor of the foreign “Bengali”, further signaling that things are unlikely to change and the Rohingya will remain stateless and marginalized for the foreseeable future.

Given the inter-communal and sectarian violence that has wracked Rakhine state for the last two years and the ongoing ethnic tensions throughout the country that are deeply rooted in decades of strife, it makes little sense to risk the democratization process on an ill-timed and poorly thought out census. The International Crisis Group raised a plausible compromise where only the first six questions on the questionnaire – those dealing with age, sex and marital status – could be asked, successfully giving the government the information it needs to meet the development and governance needs of the people while also not unnecessarily stirring the pot with issues that need much more thought and planning. Obviously, such suggestions went unheeded. Thus while the census exercise will wrap up by April 10, the real concern is what impact it will have on an already fragile transitional state and its most vulnerable populations.

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Pauline Marois, leader of Parti Quebecois. Credit: Parti Quebecois

Elections in Quebec: What You Need To Know

The province of Quebec is gearing up for a key election next weekend. The current Premier, Pauline Marois, rose to power following the massive student and popular protests during the spring of 2012. Her party, the Parti Quebecois, has been in a minority government situation – Marois’ inability to pass her legislative agenda led her to decide to dissolve the National Assembly and trigger an election last month. Over the course of 33 days, candidates from rivaling political factions in Quebec are jostling for votes, leading up to the April 7 general election. Marois, who called for the election believing she would clinch the majority government that would allow her to realize her party’s ambitions, is now seeing her position diminished, due to a miscalculation of Quebeckers’ position on key electoral questions.

Her political agenda, which includes support for Quebec sovereignty and a Charter of Values which would ban public sector workers from wearing overtly religious symbols, were thought to be wedge issues that would allow Marois to give her party a stronger position. But, as it turns out, Quebec voters are not so clearly in favor of these policies. Marois initially launched her campaign by focusing on Quebec sovereignty, and promising to call for another referendum on independence from Canada (the last one, in 1995, saw the “No” win with barely a one percent margin). But lack of clarity around what she believes the contours of sovereignty would look like, and the recruiting of Pierre Karl Peladeau, a staunchly sovereigntist media and business magnate, is clashing with Quebeckers’ political beliefs and hopes for their province. A March 9 poll shows that 60% of Quebec voters would not support Quebec becoming a sovereign country. Marois and the Parti Quebecois are in a difficult position, both trying to reassure the die-hard sovereigntists that an independence vote is not off the table, all the while trying to appeal to a majority that doesn’t want this question revisited.

On the eve of the election, Marois’ Parti Quebecois has taken a tumble in the polls. The Liberal Party of Quebec is now poised to win the vote on April 7 – possibly with enough margin to form their own majority government. This would deal a serious blow to the Parti Quebecois and to the ideas and political beliefs they represent.

Photo credit: Parti Quebecois Flickr Stream

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Top of the Morning: 1 Million Displaced in South Sudan

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Over 1 Million Now Displaced by South Sudan Conflict…It has been 100 days since the outbreak of civil conflict in South Sudan and this sad milestone has now been reached according to the the latest UN report on humanitarian activities on the ground. Key figures: Over 800,000 people are now internally displaced and over 250,000 have been made refugees. 4.9 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Funding level: only 25% of a $654 million appeal. Food security a key concern. The report says the conflict has caused “a serious deterioration in the food security situation” leaving around 3.7 million people at high risk. Big aid operation underway. UNICEF and the WFP launched a large aid operation on Friday to pre-position aid in remote villages before the rainy season hits and makes roads impassible. Deeper dive: OCHA’s latest humanitarian snapshot.

Guinea Ebola Outbreak: The death toll is now at 70, with over 100 confirmed cases. Senegal has closed its border with Guinea to prevent the spread of the disease. (CNN

At least 24 people have been killed and another 100 seriously injured by Chadian soldiers sent to repatriate their compatriots from the Central African Republic. (AFP

Brazilian security forces have moved into a slum near Rio airport, as part of efforts to drive out drugs gangs before this year’s football World Cup. (BBC

The faltering, US brokered Israel-Palestine talks are on the brink of collapse over Israel’s delay of releasing Palestinian prisoners. (Bloomberg

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Here’s What UNICEF and WFP’s New Relief Operation in South Sudan Looks Like

This is an airdrop of food.


The airdrop is part of a new humanitarian operation by UNICEF and the World Food Program that launched today in South Sudan. The operation aims to reach some of 250,000 people over the next month.

The operation is targeting people in the most remote conflict-affected communities in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states.  I caught up with UNICEF’s James Elder, who had just returned from rebel held areas of South Sudan. Elder discusses the population that is being targeted by this relief operation, how UNICEF and WFP are reaching inaccessible areas and why humanitarians are racing against time as rainy season approaches. Have a listen.


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Finally Some Justice for Sri Lanka?


Justice may finally be coming to the victims of a mass atrocity that took place in Sri Lanka in the spring of 2009.

An estimated 40,000 ethnic Tamils were slaughtered in the concluding weeks of a Sri Lanka’s long civil war. Tamil civilians, along with the last remnants of the Tamil Tiger militia, were cornered into a small patch of beach about the size of Central Park in New York City. They were surrounded by the Sri Lankan military, which called this patch of land a “no-fire zone.” Just the opposite was true.  Stories in the press and reports from reputable research institutions and the United Nations provide evidence that the Sri Lankan military made no attempt to distinguish between civilian and combatant while they pummeled the area with artillery. What resulted was a bloodbath that lasted several weeks.

From the International Crisis Group

The intentional shelling of civilians. Starting in late January, the government and security forces encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into ever smaller government-declared No Fire Zones (NFZs) and then subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire. This continued through May despite the government and security forces knowing the size and location of the civilian population and scale of civilian casualties.

The intentional shelling of hospitals. The security forces shelled hospitals and makeshift medical centres – many overflowing with the wounded and sick – on multiple occasions even though they knew of their precise locations and functions. During these incidents, medical staff, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others continually informed the government and security forces of the shelling, yet they continued to strike medical facilities through May forcing civilians to abandon them.

The intentional shelling of humanitarian operations. Despite knowing the exact location of humanitarian operations and food distribution points, the security forces repeatedly shelled these areas, which were crowded with humanitarian workers, vehicles and supplies, and civilians. Many were killed or wounded trying to deliver or receive basic humanitarian assistance, including women, children and infants.

This was the most horrific mass killing since Darfur, but it has received relatively little international attention. The Security Council failed to act, and the Human Rights Council was hobbled on this situation for years because of objections by key member states.

That may be about to change.  Yesterday, the UN Human Rights Council approved an official  inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. By a vote of 23-12 (with 12 abstentions) the Council agreed to a proposal from the High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay to dispatch a team of experts to investigate the alleged crimes.

This may provide the first clear path toward accountability and justice for the victims of this  horrific slaughter. What often happens in investigations like this is that the report conclusions recommend that the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court, so that the perpetrators may be brought to justice.  This would require an act of the Security Council, and this report provides a neutral set of facts upon which the Security Council can base its decision.

It could be a heavy lift to get the Security Council to agree to an ICC referral to Sri Lanka.   Still, given the reluctance of the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate their own, if justice is to be served at all the ICC is probably the most likely venue. That means the Security Council must heed the recommendations of the Human Rights Council’s inquiry.


Image credit: IDP settlement near Putumattalan Hospital in second No Fire Zone, March 2009/UN


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