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Over 100 killed in Baghdad bombings

A truly horrific day in Badhdad.  A coordinated suicide bombing attack against five targets has killed well over 100 people.  The New York Times has the story. Meanwhile “Baghdad Kill” is a trending twitter topic.    Here is a report from ITN:

 

 

Security | | 2

A Bad Omen as Sudan Cracks Down on Opposition

The Sudanese government has detained top politicians from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a group comprised of southern Sudanese ex-rebels who signed a 2005 peace accord with the central government.  Why is this significant? Well, according to the agreement Sudan is meant to have its first parliamentary and presidential elections in April.   In turn, these elections are a precursors to a 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence.  If the Sudanese government effectively blocks the national elections, chances are that it will also block the 2011 referendum, precipitating a resumption of a decades-long civil war.   

Of course, activists have been warning for years that these elections were doomed.  E.g. John Prendergast:

It was fanciful of the United States and other donor nations to think that the ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, which has ruled Sudan with an iron fist and tolerated no peaceful dissent, would suddenly loosen its grip and allow peaceful elections and their necessary precursor: peaceful freedom of assembly.

And the always insighful Bec Hamilton notes:

We can expect to see more and more incidents like this in the coming weeks. In my view, the only real question is when (not if) the tipping point will occur and discrete incidents will overflow into sustained conflict.

Should (when) that point come, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement will look more like a brief pause in a 20 year civil than anything resembling a peace accord.  I just wonder (and worry) about how the 10,000 or so peacekeepers in Southern Sudan will respond?

 

UPDATE: Sean Brooks offers a run-down of disturbing recent developments in Sudan. 

Security | | 8

Our Copenhagen Curtain-Raiser

The delegates have descended on Copenhagen. The curtain has been raised. And as UN climate chief Yvo de Boer told the representatives of 192 countries at the opening festivities of the 12-day international climate conference, “The clock has ticked down to zero. After two years of negotiation, the time has come to deliver.”

Momentum is on their side. After months of stagnation, culminating in the Nov. 14 decision not to attempt a legally binding, comprehensive climate treaty at Copenhagen, the past week has brought a flurry of positive developments for environmentalists seeking to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. India has pledged an emissions target, following similar announcements by the United States and China. President Obama has decided to attend the last day of the conference, when final decisions will be made, rather than making a one-day stop in Copenhagen this Wednesday en route to Oslo. And in another demonstration of his commitment to progress in Copenhagen, Obama will meet today with former Vice President Al Gore, a fierce environmental advocate who himself will attend the conference, to discuss strategy going into the talks.

This morning, an editorial ran in 56 newspapers in 45 countries calling on the world’s developed nations to commit to “deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade.” Delegates themselves are seeking to send a powerful message to the conference; 400 of them arrived in Copenhagen this weekend on board the carbon-neutral Climate Express.

Of course, the rollout of the Copenhagen talks has not been without problems. With protests expected, security has been a major issue, and demonstrators have taken issue with Denmark’s wildly ramped-up security operation. And conservative media outlets have highlighted the specter of the “Climategate” scandal, which threatens to hover over the negotiations, despite the continued scientific consensus that man-made global warming is a real and serious threat to the planet.

While a final climate treaty is not expected until next December, the next two weeks promise to lay the groundwork and answer crucial questions about the prospects for global consensus.

We’ll have daily updates here at UN Dispatch that will provide easy-to-digest roundups of the days’ activities and developments. 

Climate | | 7

The editorial seen around the world

A version of the same editorial calling for action in Copenhagen ran in 56 newspapers in 45 countries today.  Many on the front page. This unprecedented effort was spearheaded by the Guardian.   Good for it. 

 

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

 \Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Climate | | 3

Stopping Smoking in Africa

The WHO just launched a major tobacco control program in Africa. It’s funded with ten million dollars from the Gates Foundation, and it’s going to focus on building the ability of African governments to enforce controls against tobacco use.

Tobacco tends to get forgotten in global health. Its death toll is frequently underestimated because tobacco tends to make existing illnesses worse. Deaths from emphysema and lung cancer are the smallest part of damage done. The biggest damage is done by all the other illnesses that tobacco contributes to: multiple cancers, high blood pressure and cardiac problems, and respiratory infections. Pneumonia is a killer in the developing world, and tobacco is a big part of that. You don’t see that in the numbers.

So I am glad to see this new effort on tobacco control in Africa. It will be focused on helping governments enforce international treaties on tobacco, and also the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It’s an interesting approach. It’s not focused on getting people to quit smoking or convincing them not to start.

Instead, the effort will be looking at the regulation of tobacco sales and advertising. This seems like a better way to leverage efforts – stop smoking at the source. The biggest part of regulation is not selling it or advertising it to kids, and not allowing sales of single cigarettes. That really might have an impact on smoking. Ten million dollars, though, is not going to go far in a whole continent.

 

| 5

Obama will travel to Copenhagen on the *last* day of the conference

The White House announced that President Obama has changed his travel plans for Copenhagen.  Rather than stoping by Copenhagen en route to picking up his Nobel Prize on December 9th, the President will attend the very last day of the conference, December 18th.  This is good news.  As one close observor writes via email,

“By switching his visit from Dec. 9 to Dec. 18, Obama appears to be betting that his presence can – as he has expressed hope for several times in the past – push the negotiations “over the top” toward an agreement.”

Hopenhagen indeed. My only question is why would the White House chose to release this news late on a Friday evening. This is a development to be celebrated, not hidden!

 

UPDATE: Dave Roberts says, “Momentum is finally on the side of an international agreement.”

 

 

Here is the full White House statement.

The President strongly believes that all nations have a responsibility to combat the threat of climate change. He has already taken unprecedented action to do so at home, including an historic investment in clean energy solutions that will reduce our dependence on oil and create jobs. Abroad, he has engaged leaders bilaterally and multilaterally on the issue of climate change, and agreed to participate in the climate conference in Copenhagen.

After months of diplomatic activity, there is progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord in which all countries pledge to take action against the global threat of climate change. Following bilateral meetings with the President and since the United States announced an emissions reduction target that reflects the progress being made in Congress towards comprehensive energy legislation, China and India have for the first time set targets to reduce their carbon intensity. There has also been progress in advancing the Danish proposal for an immediate, operational accord that covers all of the issues under negotiation, including the endorsement of key elements of this approach by the 53 countries represented at the Commonwealth Summit last weekend.

This week, the President discussed the status of the negotiations with Prime Minister Rudd, Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, and Prime Minister Brown and concluded that there appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012 to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable and least developed countries that could be destabilized by the impacts of climate change. The United States will pay its fair share of that amount and other countries will make substantial commitments as well. In Copenhagen, we also need to address the need for financing in the longer term to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Providing this assistance is not only a humanitarian imperative – it’s an investment in our common security, as no climate change accord can succeed if it does not help all countries reduce their emissions.

Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the President believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th rather than on December 9th. There are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated for an agreement to be reached, but this decision reflects the President’s commitment to doing all that he can to pursue a positive outcome. The United States will have representation in Copenhagen throughout the negotiating process by State Department negotiators and Cabinet officials who will highlight the great strides we have made this year towards a clean energy economy.

 

Image credit: Hopenhagen

Climate | | 2

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