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Any Good News Today from South Sudan?

JUBA, Sudan—The sun was setting at the standard Equatorial time of just after 7pm, and I was bumping along a potholed road with my trusted motorcycle taxi.  Another day in Juba beginning to draw to a close. Then, my driver Issa said to me over his shoulder, “Do you have any good news from today?” This is not the first time in the 11 months that I have known Issa that he has said something to me that has struck me as powerful, insightful, or simply startling in its honesty. Since I changed jobs last month and became a journalist, Issa has begun asking me about my reporting almost every day. He’s curious about the status of the high-level political negotiations that will partly dictate the future of Sudan and relations between the country’s north and south. He’s worried about insecurity along the north-south border because he heard things were getting tense in the Abyei region; he knows the people of Abyei are worried they are not going to get their referendum. He wonders why the army has deployed more security resources to the bridge in Juba across the Nile. When he hears something on BBC or from his fellow boda driver friends, he often asks me if I’ve heard the same things. So it wasn’t very unusual for Issa to ask me about the news on that recent evening, but something about the way he said it made me realize that I had very little good news to report to him.

Post-referendum negotiations between the National Congress Party in Khartoum and the South’s ruling SPLM are moving forward quietly on some fronts, while the most contentious aspects of these discussions—related to post-referendum wealth-sharing and citizenship rights—aren’t likely to see progress any time soon, given that both sides will need to cede ground they aren’t willing to give up in order to reach agreements. Meanwhile, with the southern and Abyei referenda just over four months away, voter registration is not yet in sight given the delays in appoint the secretary-general of the southern referendum commission. 

The commission for the separate Abyei vote has not yet been formed due to political deadlock between the parties. I could go on, but these are just a few of the challenges plaguing the holding of a peaceful and credible referendum in January. I have no qualms in saying that it seems likely that one of the two parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is responsible for mounting the bulk of the obstacles currently blocking progress toward holding the two referenda votes. This party has historical, existential, political, and strategic reasons for seeing these votes obstructed. Referring to the political dispute over the north-south border, the latest International Crisis Groups report notes that “strategic motives have…been behind NCP delays past and present” in demarcating this contested border. This is arguably the most contested outstanding element of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement aside from the southern referendum itself.  

I hope that the record will show that lack of political will, and good will in general, of one of these two parties has stymied implementation of the peace accord since it was signed in 2005. Moreover, this lack of will could hinder the ability of the Southern Sudanese to exercise their internationally-recognized right to determine their political destiny on January 9, 2011.

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Hillary Clinton: “We are constantly reminded of the UN’s Value”

Hillary Clinton delivered a sweeping speech on American global leadership earlier today at the Council on Foreign Relations.  There is a lot of love for the UN in there.  The following excerpt appeared under the sub-heading: “Global Institutions for the 21st Century.”

Effective institutions are just as crucial at a global level, where the challenges are even more complex and the partners even more diverse.

So our fifth step has been to reengage with global institutions and begin modernizing them to meet the evolving challenges of the 21st century. We need institutions that are flexible, inclusive, and complementary, instead of competing with one another for jurisdiction. Institutions that encourage nations to play productive roles, that marshal common efforts, and enforce the system of rights and responsibilities that binds us all.

The United Nations remains the single most important global institution and we are constantly reminded of its value: The Security Council enacting sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Peacekeepers patrolling the streets of Monrovia and Port-au-Prince. Aid workers assisting flood victims in Pakistan and displaced people in Darfur. And, most recently, the UN General Assembly establishing a new entity –UN Women–which will promote gender equality, expand opportunity for women and girls, and tackle the violence and discrimination they face.

But we are also constantly reminded of its limitations. It is difficult for the UN’s 192 Member States, with their diverse perspectives and interests, to achieve consensus on institutional reform, especially reforming the Security Council itself. The United States believes that the Council must be able to react to and reflect today’s world. We favor Security Council reform that enhances the UN’s overall performance, effectiveness and efficiency to meet the challenges of the new century. We equally and strongly support operational reforms that enable UN field missions to deploy more rapidly, with adequate numbers of well-equipped and well-trained troops and police they often lack, and with the quality of leadership and civilian expertise they require. And we will continue to embrace and advocate management reforms that lead to efficiencies and savings and that prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

Read the whole thing.  It is encouraging to see the Secretary of State talk about Security Council reform, which is something that is pretty much stalled at this point (much to the frustration of emerging powers.)  Perhaps this speech means some of the State Department is ready for a new push?  I know some at the top echelons of State have been on the case for some time.  Let’s see if this gains traction at all.  

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MDGs on Display at Times Square (VIDEO)

The biggest screen in Times Square is playing PSA’s on the Millennium Development goals between now and the UN Summit in two weeks.  Our friends at the UN Foundation pass along this announcement.

As world leaders convene in New York this September for a series of high-level summits, UNDP Assistant Secretary-General Sigrid Kaag, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter-television host-actress Kelly Rowland, and United Nations Foundation COO Rick Parnell, will unveil a high-impact public service announcement about the most critical issues facing the world, on WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2010, at 3 PM at the RENAISSANCE NEW YORK TIMES SQUARE HOTEL, 714 7TH AVE BETWEEN 47th AND 48th STREETS, MANHATTAN.

Kaag, Rowland and Parnell will unveil a special 30-second Public Service Announcement inviting people to get involved to solve global problems. The PSA was produced by GOOD in partnership with the UN Foundation and Millennium Promise. It is the first of its kind to be featured prominently in Times Square, the crossroads of the world. Immediately after the unveiling, the PSA will start airing on the Toshiba Vision screen on One Times Square. It will continue airing, along with three other UN Foundation PSAs, throughout the month of September as world leaders meet at the UN General Assembly, UN MDG Summit, the Clinton Global Initiative and other high-level meetings.

Here is a sneak peak:


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Angelina Jolie Visits Flood Victims in Pakistan

UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie is in Pakistan. And good for her.  This calamity really needs to stay in the headlines.

Meanwhile, back in New York today, UNICEF chief Anthony Lake and Save the Children C.O.O Carolyn Miles held a press conference for a new UNICEF report on children and the Millennium Development Goals.  (The report itself is well worth a read. It argues that “equity” ought to be a principal criteria in deciding where and how to direct donor dollars for achieving the MDGs.)

Because both Lake and Miles returned from a trip to Pakistan this weekend, much of the conversation turned to the state of international relief efforts in Pakistan. Both Miles and Lake echoed Jolie’s concern that after the emergency phase of the relief effort concludes, international support for longer-term recovery efforts may run dry.

I fear they may be right.  Later this month, the UN’s initial $460 million emergency appeal will be revised, and likely be upwards of $1 billion.  So far, the international community has only provided about two thirds of the funding for the current appeal.  When the floods retreat further from the headlines, it is hard to imagine that the funding will be there for a complex plan for Pakistan’s long term recovery.  I hope I am wrong.

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Is China Unwilling to Play the Climate Negotiation Game?

While the embattled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been the leading climate-related news the past couple weeks, of more importance to the international negotiations were two meetings at opposite ends of the globe. A week ago Saturday, China and Japan held a one-day ministerial level meeting in Beijing to discuss economic matters, among them their approaches to climate change. Then at the end of last week, experts and environmental ministers from some 45 nations concluded a two-day meeting in Geneva on climate finance, a contentious issue that developing nations consider instrumental for crafting a binding international climate agreement.

Even though the climate summit in Cancun is unlikely to produce a treaty, internationalists hope these side meetings–and the final formal talks in Tianjin, China scheduled for November–will produce the understanding needed to move closer to an international agreement in Mexico at the end of the year. Will the recent gatherings in China and Switzerland foster the teamwork necessary to construct a consensus approach to combating climate change? It is too soon to judge the outcome of the financial talks (more on those later this week), but the news from China suggests that it is sticking to its unilateral game plan.

The Japanese connection

Although China and Japan are deeply connected trading partners, the Asian giants sit on opposite sides of the climate debate. While China is the world’s undisputed king of carbon emissions and an emerging superpower, it is also a poor, developing nation eager to protect the right to continue its fossil-fueled growth. Rich Japan’s smaller economy may now produce fewer greenhouse gases than China’s, but the Japanese–like the Americans and Europeans and the rest of the rich world–bear a greater historic responsibility for the current level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.

In spite of their differences, the two countries have a history of climate cooperation. During a state visit to Tokyo in May 2008, Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda signed a Joint Statement on Climate Change. The document, which the recent Beijing meetings reaffirmed, essentially endorses the Chinese negotiation position at last year’s Copenhagen summit with a few Japanese caveats and clarifications.

In its most sweeping and controversial section, the agreement says that “the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] and its Kyoto Protocol are the appropriate and effective framework for international cooperation to address climate change.” It then goes on to enshrine “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.” These innocuous sounding sentences have emerged as two of the biggest points of contention between rich and poor countries since the disappointing outcome in Copenhagen.

Another venue

First, some countries have begun to question whether the UN is even the right venue for addressing climate change. The hastily assembled Copenhagen Accord is a concrete example of an agreement made possible by working outside of the UN process: The last-minute compromise was produced by a handful of powerful nations (among them, China) that gathered behind closed doors when it became clear that the UNFCCC had produced nothing.

China has since distanced itself from the road map laid out in the non-binding Accord. Instead, it insists that negotiators build on the Kyoto Protocol. The 1997 Kyoto treaty was drafted in a more collaborative process and at a time when the carbon footprint of China was too small to worry about its impact. (With China now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses that is clearly no longer the case.)

On the other hand, some developed nations have suggested crafting more agreements like the Copenhagen Accord. Rich but increasingly marginalized on the international diplomatic stage, EU governments–all of which were locked out of the last minute negotiations in Copenhagen–have begun to look beyond the UN. “It is it is now necessary to bring a new dynamic to the international negotiation process,” they said at the conclusion of the EU’s 2010 spring summit. Although EU leaders voiced support for the UNFCCC, they also promised to pursue climate agreements bilaterally and within the G20, the same group of rich countries that are most responsible for causing the climate crisis.

Not our responsibility

The second controversial statement Japan reaffirmed is China’s commitment to “common but differentiated responsibilities.” As D.S. Rajan of the Chennai Centre for China Studies explains in the East Asian Review, this concept is “crucial to understand the [Chinese] point of view, which fixes responsibility for climate change on the developed nations.” Indeed, in a speech last month at Peking University, China’s lead climate negotiator Yu Qingtai characterized the Copenhagen summit as a “struggle over ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ Developing nations ultimately withstood huge pressure from their developed counterparts, defended their own right to develop and achieved a positive, albeit intermediate, outcome from the conference.” In a commentary piece on Yu’s speech, Deborah Seligsohn of the World Resources Institute points out that his “equity concerns are quite real. China’s per capita emissions are still well below those of the United States.”

While China’s negotiating stance is based on justifiable concerns about inclusivity and economics, none of that matters in the face of hard scientific reality. The melting of the Greenlandic ice sheets and acidifying of the oceans’ coral won’t pause to wait for global consensus or economic parity. If Chinese negotiators, aided by the acquiescent Japanese, were to have their way, the politically difficult emission cuts made in the rich world could be swamped by dirty growth in the Basic countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) causing global temperatures to rise well above the two degrees Celsius scientists believe is the maximum life as we know it can be safely maintained. While the developed world and nouveau riche emerging giants might be wealthy enough to protect themselves from the most devastating impacts of a changing climate, the poorest nations would be left totally defenseless.

In his speech, Yu accused rich nations of using “the future of mankind… as a bargaining chip” unlike China which is unilaterally reducing its emissions per capita. What he failed to acknowledge and Japan failed to point out in its recent meeting with China is that none of their efforts matter in the absence of a global deal. China is not only sitting at the poker table, they have the most chips: They are the world’s biggest greenhouse polluter which is, due to their authoritarian tendencies, something they could rapidly change. The comments of Yu and the results of its summit with Japan suggest that China is not willing to play the game, which ensures that any pot won in Cancun will be less valuable than it could have been with Chinese involvement.

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A Currency Transaction Tax To Finance Development?

The UN is slated to review progress on the MDGs “and other international development goals” during this month’s high-level meeting in New York. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hopes the meeting “will not only result in a renewal of existing commitments but also can decisively galvanize coordinated action among all stakeholders and elicit the funding needed to ensure the achievement of the Goals by 2015.” The issue of inefficient, inadequate funding capacity is a particularly crucial one.

Funding shortfalls in development aid are common. In high-level meetings, such as at the United Nations or the G8/G20 summits, countries often commit billions of dollars to address a host of issues. From combating extreme poverty to fighting climate change or improving maternal health, leading nations regularly make public commitments to allocate funding for development. The reality of these financial commitments, however, is often very different than what the rhetoric suggests. For example, monies already budgeted can be re-allocated to meet a commitment (with no new funds being made available), funding timelines are extended over a period that suits the donor’s priorities and, sometimes, these public pronouncements never translate into real, new funding.


Innovative Financing for Development

One initiative in particular is focusing on an aspect of volatile, unpredictable levels of official development aid (ODA): the Leading Group on Financing for Development (LGFD). The LGFD, founded in 2006, is a product of the Paris Ministerial Conference on Innovative Development Financing Mechanisms. Composed of 55 member countries members, five observer countries, 15 international organisations and more than 20 NGOs, the LGFD’s mission is to promote discussions and actions about setting up innovative development financing mechanisms.

The LGFD, currently chaired by Japan, is preparing a session on the sidelines of the UN MDG review summit which will highlight “the new instruments under study” for innovative development financing. One of these instruments is the introduction of a tax on currency transactions, which the Leading Group on Financing for Development will propose to Heads of State and Governments.

The idea of a tax on currency transactions was in fact originally developed by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin in the 1970s, as a way to reduce exchange rate volatility and promote international economic stability, but it never garnered the political support necessary to be implemented.

The current proposal, though, is based on the findings of a committee of experts which the the LGFD appointed to examine the viability of financial levies as alternative funding mechanims. In their report, the committee of experts supports a plan to levy a tax of 0.005% on international financial transactions in British sterling, euros, dollars, and yen, which would be funelled to a new multilateral fund, the Global Solidarity Fund. This fund would focus on two priority areas: meeting the MDGs and “mitigation funding to enable poorer countries to switch to a low-carbon development path.”

The proposal is enjoying strong support from the European Parliament, which adopted a resolution in June 2010 “[calling] on the EU unilaterally to introduce a tax on currency and derivatives transactions in order to fund global public goods, including the MDGs.” While the plan would necessitate the participation of the United States in order to generate the expected $25-35 billion, the U.S. has notoriously been opposed to such taxes. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, however, alluded to the possibility of the 60 countries of the LGFD implementing the tax with or without the United States.


The successful case of UNITAID

Recurrent funding shortfalls in official development aid – in particular multilateral funding – lead to inefficiencies, duplication and a poor allocation of resources. Already, some mechanims meant to stabilize and improve multilateral funding flows are proving successful; UNITAID is a good example. Launched in 2006 by Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom, UNITAID is an international drug purchase facility which provides “sustained and strategic market intervention that aims both to decrease the price of medicines for priority diseases (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria) and to increase the supply of drugs and diagnostics.” The initiative has raised over US$ 1 billion and funded treatments for more than 21 million people in 94 countries since its inception, UNITAID says.

What’s unique about UNITAID is that it is financed in part by an air ticket solidarity levy. By the end of 2008, revenues from this levy accounted for 72% of UNITAID’s financial base. Multi-year budgetary contributions from donor countries and the Gates Foundation complement this funding. France, which also happens to be one of the biggest supporters of the currency transaction tax, generated an extra €160 million in aid in 2009 through the air ticket solidarity levy.

In a global financial context deeply marked by the recent crisis, the proposed tax on currency transactions, which is seen as an effective mechanism to address the issue of volatile aid flows for priority areas (MDGs, climate change), will hopefully garner broad international support. Perhaps the current political trend toward increasing governance and tightening regulation of highly-speculatory activities – like currency trading – will boost the proposal’s appeal to UN member states.

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