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Bush administration pushes for bilateral ties with Iraq

In an op-ed in Tuesday's Washington Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, confident in the steps that Iraqi leaders are taking to solidify their country's sovereignty, called on Congress to support negotiations of a "normal bilateral relationship" between the U.S. and Iraq. The U.N.'s authorization of American presence in Iraq is set to expire at the end of the year, and Rice and Gates, anticipating a longer-term need for U.S. troops, advocate for developing a renewed "status-of-forces" agreement -- which dictates the terms under which troops act -- directly between the U.S. and Iraq.
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The Demand-Side Attack on Climate Change.

Diana Ferrel, the director of the McKinsey Global Institute, is currently making a convincing case for energy efficiency at the UN Investor Summit on Climate Change (the FT has a good summary). The world is obsessed with supply-side solutions to climate change (alternative utilities, renewable fuels, etc.), but demand-side solutions (i.e. increasing energy productivity) could offer remarkable results at, according to Ferrel, a profit. An investment of $194 billion a year (using ideas such as those detailed here) could yield a $17 billion a year profit, as well as getting us halfway to the reduction in carbon emissions that we need. We're talking about a possible reduction in oil consumption of 64 million barrels a day. As Ferrel puts it, even if you plus up the use of solar energy by 500 percent or wind energy by 1000 percent, you get less savings in carbon emissions than those McKinsey suggests.
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Thursday Morning Coffee

Happy Valentine's Day. Hamas is in love with its gunmen. I'm in love with the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk.

Top Stories

>>Malaysia - Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia has dissolved parliament, setting in motion a process that will result in new elections on March 8 (good overview of the stats). The elections will test the popularity of PM Abdullah and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, as well as likely stoke ethnic tensions festering between the majority Malay ethnic group (about 60 percent of the populace) and the minority Chinese (about 25 percent and in control the business sector) and Indians. Reuters gives a nice rundown of the possible outcomes.

>>Iraq - Iraq's parliament passed three landmark bills, setting a budget (which pleases the Kurds), providing limited amnesty for detainees (which pleases the Sunnis), and setting the stage for provincial elections (which pleases the Shia). This legislation package had been a source of rancor, threatening to paralyze parliament, and represents 1 of the 18 political benchmarks set by the U.S.

>>Pakistan - The NY Times is reporting that, contrary to conventional wisdom, religious parties are losing influence in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, specifically the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan, and that this represents a national trend. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 18, and the violence continues. The Guardian offers some color on electioneering in the tribal areas.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
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Stark Analysis

Professor Holdren gave an incredibly stark, complex, and truly amazing presentation. I won't do it a disservice by boiling it down to a paragraph here. (I'll publish the full text when it becomes available online). The one fact that shocked me: We previously thought that Arctic sea ice would be completely gone by 2050 if we failed to act. It now looks like it will be gone by 2013...FIVE years from now. He says, "We are already experiencing dangerous consequences of human interference in the climate system. The only question is whether that will be catastrophic." He also mentions the Sigma Xi-UN Foundation report, which he led and would give you a pretty good view of what he's presenting on now.
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Wirth opens Investor Summit on Climate Risk

Former Senator Tim Wirth, and UN Foundation President, is now opening the UN Investor Summit. His message: we are on schedule to finish negotiations on a successor regime to Kyoto in Copenhagen in 2009, and a big part of that process is understanding and making the economic case. He says, "Industry groups tends to be way out in front of the political leadership, and a big help in bringing that leadership along." He's now introducing climate scientist and Harvard professor John Holdren to give the lay of the land on climate change and set the stage for the summit.
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UN Forum Urges End to Wall of Silence on Human Trafficking

First, watch this brief video on Russian efforts to stamp out human trafficking, from Russia Today Meanwhile, in Vienna, Human Rights activists, UN Officials and delegates from member states met to pursue universal ratification of the UN's anti-trafficking protocol. From Reuters
Human rights activists, entertainers and U.N. officials said on Wednesday a "wall of silence" surrounding many victims of human trafficking was frustrating efforts to stamp out the global scourge. Speakers at the start of the first United Nations forum on human trafficking called for victims to be de-stigmatised and suspect businesses to be boycotted. "The most effective way is to break the wall of silence around it," Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egypt's president, told the assembly of 1,200 government and NGO representatives, lawmakers, business leaders and trafficking victims from 116 countries. "A lot of people don't want to know about it, a lot of them are in denial, a lot of people don't frankly care," British Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson told a news conference. "We can all do something by talking and communicating about it."
Read more.
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Better World Campaign Statement on Budget Request for UN Peacekeeping

Hot off the presses from the Better World Campaign: In advance of U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming trip to Africa and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's testimony on the Administration's fiscal 2009 international affairs budget request, the Better World Campaign today urged Congress to scrutinize the Administration's anemic funding request and growing mountain of unpaid bills for UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and around the world. What follows is a statement by Deborah Derrick, Executive Director of the Better World Campaign.