No retreat from Kyoto, says UK Chief Scientist

The UK will respect its Kyoto Protocol obligations, and will play a full role in forthcoming negotiations on how a successor treaty could control greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change after 2012, according to the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King.

In response to questions at a climate change forum in Singapore this week, Sir David appeared anxious to paper over cracks that have appeared in the UK’s position following controversial remarks made by Prime Minister Tony Blair at the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York last month. Blair was reported to have questioned whether international treaties were the best way of reducing harmful emissions, a position long associated with the Bush administration, which has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Sir David acknowledged that alternative strategies concentrating on environmental science and technology had been discussed by the Prime Minister during a panel session with the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, but said it was completely inaccurate to infer any change of course: “The UK is totally committed to the Kyoto process.”

Sir David stressed that his own role is to place scientific knowledge in the public domain rather than to formulate policy, but he is known to be an advocate of international treaties to enforce emissions targets and timetables. At last year’s Greenpeace Business Lecture, he expressed the view that “Kyoto is not enough … it will need to be ratcheted up so that we can really bring emissions under control”. And in the Singapore forum he repeated that “effective action demands international agreement”.

The forum, “Global Action to Tackle Climate Change”, enabled Sir David to deploy the devastating scientific evidence of his Greenpeace lecture in an Asian context. “The world’s cities have been built in the wrong places,” he said, predicting a rise in sea level of 6.5 metres from a thaw of the Greenland ice sheet.

Sir David appeared concerned that recent research had cast doubt on scientists’ understanding of the process of ice melting on this massive scale. Previous estimates that carbon dioxide concentration of 500-550 parts per million (which could be reached in only 60 years at current emission rates) would trigger the mass Greenland thaw may have to be revised downwards.

As the highest point on the island of Singapore is barely 150 metres and much of its most valuable property and industry is built on reclaimed land, the audience was left to reflect on the wisdom of the Singapore government, which has aligned itself with the US in abstaining so far from the Kyoto Protocol.

The UK has its own share of small and not-so-small islands. Activists will doubtless be seeking early clarification that the Prime Minister’s commitment to enforceable treaties to mitigate climate change will not prove as fleeting as the showcase G8 and EU leadership roles that expire in the new year.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

Tories hit the road to Damascus

London Event: January 11th, 2005; jointly hosted by Centre for Social Justice and World Vision

”Idealism without illusions: a Conservative approach to combating poverty”

Speakers:
Michael Howard, Leader of Conservative Party
Oliver Letwin, Shadow Chancellor

So much for Gordon Brown’s personal crusade to meet the 0.7% UN target for overseas development assistance. A Tory government will match every penny and adhere to the same timetable – promised the Shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin, in his first major speech on international development.

This policy proposal has been in the public domain in recent weeks. Both speakers now took the opportunity to soften up the audience of charity managers with promises that more aid would be channelled through civil society, with less going to multilateral agencies. Michael Howard was quick to accuse the European Union of inefficiency and of misdirecting aid to relatively affluent recipients. The Tories instead will focus on the very poorest countries.

Other promises built on these principles. Michael Howard introduced a proposal to set up an advocacy fund to assist poor countries fight their corner in WTO disputes. And Oliver Letwin promises to advocate reform of the World Bank so that it concentrates more on grants and microcredit, and less on grandiose project loans.

The sting in the tail for this particular audience may be the unreserved commitment of both speakers to the principle that aid should be conditional upon free enterprise, liberalized markets, and free trade: “The spread of liberal markets has done more for poverty than aid,” insisted Michael Howard, citing the economic growth of China as a “huge achievement which we should celebrate”. He did accept the need to undo the hypocrisy of European tariffs and subsidies, and to recognize at least the principles of fair trade: “I believe in fair trade becoming fairer and free trade becoming freer,” he said.

Oliver Letwin echoed variations on this theme of fairer and freer trade, concepts that may require much unpicking over coming months. There was little reference to the responsibilities of corporations enjoying the benefits of free global trade, and none at all to the regulation of the arms trade, the issue which had done so much to undermine the last Conservative government.

Absent too was a sense of real belief in these new policies – which do, after all, represent a significant shift in Tory thinking. Reading prepared speeches and taking no questions, Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin lack the conviction and passion that might persuade diehard liberals to walk the gangplank and vote Conservative. Gordon Brown delivers more political punch just by walking on to a platform. This is a mountain the Tories have to climb

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

Wangari Maathai: African leadership on parole

London: December 16th, 2004; event co-hosted by Gaia Foundation and a number of development and environment organisations

What we are doing to the earth, we are doing to ourselves

Speaker: Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

How can an environmentalist win the Nobel Peace Prize? And how does an African woman gain such recognition? That both of these bastions have fallen together is a measure of the achievement of Professor Wangari Maathai who spoke in London at an evening of celebration in aid of the Foundation set up in her name.

The message of the Nobel award, Wangari suggested, is that we should stop being surprised about the conjunction of peace, environmentalism and African women. It’s time for NGOs in particular to remove their labels – environment workers, peace workers, development workers – these are unhelpful divisions; “if you are truly concerned about people”, she said, “you have to think holistically”.

The heart of the presentation was a detailed account of the work of Wangari’s Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, from its humble beginnings in the 1970s with a single group of women learning the skills of nurturing trees. The paradigm contained some telling messages for development projects. When the Kenyan Forestry Commissioners proved ineffective teachers of their skills, the group “decided to abandon professionalism and deal with common sense”. And creating livelihoods for women was not regarded as a sufficient measure of success; of far greater importance was the process of learning about power structures as they tried to replicate their work in neighbouring communities.

Wangari explained how the women came to recognize that the “governance structure was not conducive to protecting the environment because politicians are the most destructive members of society, engaged in illegal logging, corruption and mismanagement of resources”. Awakened to the importance of the ballot box, the women emerged as workers for democracy as much as workers for the environment. Likewise came the realization that tribal conflict has its origins in the fight for natural resources and can be resolved only through dialogue and understanding.

Recognition of Professor Wangari’s work enables her to paint the lessons of the Greenbelt movement on a wider canvas. The traditional three-legged African stool symbolizes her message for the continent. The 3 legs are represented by good governance of resources, democratic space for people to feel included, and dialogue to ensure peace. As with the tree-planting programmes, the stool will topple unless each leg is in place. “If a country has no peace, no democracy and its resources are badly governed, then you will waste your money“ was Wangari’s message to the donor community.

However interdependent the legs of the African stool, it is the question of good governance that most agitates Professor Wangari. For her the challenge of this Nobel Prize is especially that “African leaders must rethink their roles so that they represent the people of Africa properly” she said; “we must enable children to grow and have families instead of being shot in the frontline of battles they do not understand”. Now herself pitchforked into a potential leadership role surely beyond that of Deputy Minister for Environment in Kenya, Professor Wangari Maathai stands today as a champion of the holistic values she so passionately advocates.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

Gordon Brown’s moral universe

Ending global poverty: do we have a choice?

CAFOD: Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture: 8th December,2004

Speaker: Gordon Brown: Chancellor of the Exchequer

“We live in an interdependent world and should frame our lives within a moral universe.” This was the constant refrain of Gordon Brown’s CAFOD lecture last night. “”If some are poor, then we are all impoverished,”” he said.

The Chancellor will draw on this philosophy in his personal drive for progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the “make-or-break year” of opportunity for the UK government in 2005. “”If we fail to achieve the 2015 goals,”” he said, “”political leaders will never be trusted again…..This would be the greatest betrayal of the poor by the rich of all time.””

Needing little encouragement from the brief to include a “faith perspective” in his analysis, the Chancellor returned again and again to his themes of interdependence and morality, invoking Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Gandhi, and Isaiah. On a day of disappointment in efforts to bridge the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland, he refused to countenance any cultural barriers to his vision of a better world through global understanding of our interdependence: “The fate of the richest people in the richest countries is bound up with the poorest in the poorest countries.” The task is to extend familiar ideas of helping others in our local communities to a global battle for the dignity of all people, even those whom we will never meet.

Gordon Brown clearly feels that the MDGs are already at risk for lack of funds. He outlined his mission to encourage more countries to commit to the target aid budget of 0.7% of GDP, to push for 100% debt relief for the poorest countries, and for a successful and fair Doha round for international trade. His innovative “International Finance Facility”, to accelerate the availability of aid funds, remains firmly on his agenda.

The Chancellor faces an early test of his missionary zeal. In preparation for 2005, this week he meets opposite numbers in the United States, themselves high on a successful election campaign rooted in values. Will the US be receptive to ideas of global values as distinct from American values?

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

Naomi Klein: Iraq is a laboratory for neoliberalism

Making a Killing: The Corporate Invasion of Iraq

Speaker: Naomi Klein

Event Sponsors: War on Want, Iraq Occupation Focus, Jubilee Iraq, Voices in the Wilderness
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In her first public meeting in the UK for two years, Naomi Klein encouraged her listeners to consider “how to transform the anti-war movement into a pro-democracy movement”. And she urged campaigners to focus on issues of the present more than the horrors of the past.

In a carefully researched presentation, Naomi Klein argued that the war has little to do with the freedom of the Iraqi people. Instead, the country has become a “laboratory for the most radical form of free market economics”. In evidence she cited Paul Bremer’s de-Baathification exercise in the immediate aftermath of the war. He dismantled state institutions by sacking all the staff; and he wrote a constitution which envisages privatisation of 200 Iraqi state companies, free trade for western business, and other economic instruments of the free market. These are “antithetical to any idea of citizens’ participation”, said Ms Klein.

The most recent evidence is the decision by the Paris Club of rich nations to grant relief of 80% of debts owed by Iraq. The mainstream media has called this a “wonderful victory for debt relief”. But each tranche of relief is conditional on an IMF programme of economic measures which Naomi Klein says will take away the powers of the Iraqi government to make real decisions. Consequently, the people who elect the government themselves may begin to question a democracy in which “there is nothing left to vote for”. A sense of betrayal of the supposed aims of the war can create an environment in which the insurgency will flourish. Naomi Klein therefore urged that issues like full unconditional debt relief should be a target for campaigners.

The organisers had set Naomi Klein the objective of making the audience “feel  optimistic about the result of the US election”. “I can’t do that” she conceded, painting a gloomy picture of a “supercharged Bush acting with total impunity”. Ms Klein encouraged the anti-war movement to move beyond simplistic ideas of a war about oil, and pleas to withdraw troops. Connect with democracy and globalisation campaigns, she said; think of the war in terms of the familiar agenda of world financial institutions, albeit the “most brutal aspect of supercharged capitalism”.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

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