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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "United Nations"

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Durban Diary: Dispatch from the Ground

December 6, 2011 ·

As UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, go into their final week, IPS got a quick update from Janet Redman, co-director of IPS’s Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, who is in Durban at talks.

Janet spoke to us from the corner of a crowded conference room at the summit about the current state of the negotiations:

Interviewer: It’s recently been announced that 2010 saw the most dramatic upswing in greenhouse gas output on record. How are folks in Durban reacting to this?

People not pollutersJanet Redman: Greenhouse gas emissions rose between 2009 and 2010 by a record-breaking 6 percent in one year. There’s a real sense of urgency here in Durban because of the news that emissions are growing at such an alarming rate.

But unfortunately that sense of urgency is not translating to action by the biggest historical polluters here.

In particular, what’s happened this week is a blame game that’s now shifted to the big developing countries. Developing economies still have incredibly high rates of poverty, even in countries that are considered “emerging economies” such as India and China. The EU and the U.S. are pegging the potential failure to reach a climate deal here in Durban on those two countries.

But we don’t need a new deal – or what some are calling a new mandate. What we really need out of this next week is to see countries agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and to see a completion of the Bali action plan, which was a set of commitments and obligations that developing countries said they would take on with the support of developed countries and a commitment by the United States to take actions comparable to those of other wealthy northern countries. This was the compromise world leaders struck because the U.S. said it would never, ever sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The big news is that if developed countries are willing to agree to fulfill their own obligations that already exist in the convention and in this Bali action plan, then developing countries are considering negotiating internationally-binding activities that could take effect in 2020. That’s a pretty big deal. So basically, China’s already doing more than the U.S. is on renewable energy, but they’re even saying, we’re willing to take on binding commitments in the near future, as long as you show us good faith that you’re willing to do what you said you would do in Bali in 2007.

Interviewer: It sounds like there’s a lot of discussion on just renewing what’s already been agreed upon. Do you think that renewing or approving these already-negotiated terms would be enough?

JR: Well, in some sense it’s a first step toward a bigger change. One of the things that we’re hearing here is a call for a new mandate. I think that’s a real mistake because there are two existing mandates right now.

Again, the Kyoto Protocol is one mandate, and the Bali action plan is another mandate. The convention has set that up very clearly, so the idea of asking for a new mandate here in Durban actually undermines existing commitments that are science-based that have been agreed to already in the past 20 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was established.

So I think having movement on agreements would be enough to set the negotiations on a really positive track for subsequent periods after the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, but also on a positive track in terms of implementing the convention which of course is what this is all about.

Interviewer: There’s been discussion on possible threats to climate financing for developing countries. Are there any further observations that you’d like to share about that?

JR: Last week we were really concerned about the U.S. obstructing talks on opening the doors of the Green Climate Fund. As of earlier today, it looks like almost every country is satisfied with moving forward on the Fund, and building the Board that will put more meat on the bones of the GCF over the next year.

What’s still incredibly frightening is the blatant cooptation of the Green Climate Fund by the private sector, with unabashed support from the U.S. and the UK. If the financial sector and multinational corporations have direct access to the Fund and can bypass sovereign national governments, then we have a real potential for serious problems with democratic control, transparency, the application of social and environmental safeguards and basic standards, and the Fund’s effectiveness in achieving climate goals.

Finally, even if we get the Fund here in Durban it may be nothing more than an empty shell. The U.S. is still blocking a conversation on long term finance – both the scale that should be delivered on and the sources of where that money should come from. A text released last night did mention innovative sources of finance, but an outcome here in Durban needs to be much more specific about how countries will make that real. One thing they can do right now is commit to a work plan for implementing some of the leading proposals, such as a financial transaction tax.  

Interviewer: Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me, Janet!

JR: Thank you!

Ideas into Action in Durban

December 2, 2011 ·

Last week, we sent our supporters the Institute's new America Is Not Broke report, which explains how the nation could raise more than $800 billion dollars annually through a tax on Wall Street and other popular measures. My IPS colleagues Sarah Anderson and Janet Redman have spent years helping to build a coordinated campaign in the United States, Europe, and other countries to back a "financial transactions tax."

This week, Janet is in Durban, South Africa, where she's rallying other groups at the global climate talks to support this tax to help fund poor countries making the leap into a clean energy future. In the dispatches Janet is writing from South Africa, she reports that the UN estimates it will cost poorer nations close to $1 trillion annually to address climate change in the coming years. A significant share of this could come from a financial transactions tax.

Janet has pulled together a rainbow of global groups to do an action, press conference, and sign-on letter to South African President Jacob Zuma to support this Robin Hood effort. Sarah reports that it is likely that Europe will adopt this tax next year.

IPS is committed to bringing the momentum in Europe and elsewhere into the U.S. debate in the coming months, and turning this Occupy moment into a time of real change. In the face of growing pressure, the Obama administration has dropped its active opposition to new taxes on financial transactions. The door is now open for a win that both reins in the Wall Street casino and raises substantial funds for vital issues like climate.

The Institute is also releasing a Main Street jobs agenda report this week with YES! Magazine and our other allies in the New Economy Working Group. In this report, we explain how to create millions of jobs by shifting the locus of our economy from the Wall Street to a vibrant, green Main Street economy.

Durban Diary: #Occupy the COP

December 2, 2011 ·

With the Occupy movement spreading faster than wildfire, it's hard not to ask how every issue relates to it. Climate change is no exception. The question is particularly compelling right now because representatives of 194 countries are gathered in Durban, South Africa, to negotiate next steps for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Former Costa Rica President Jose Maria Figueres wants vulnerable countries to Occupy the UN negotiations. Photo by Pixel y Dixel.The connection is easy to make, actually. Like the economic crisis that sparked the Occupy movement, climate change is about inequality.

A few countries are responsible for releasing the vast majority of the global warming pollution that’s in the atmosphere. And they got rich pumping the subsidized oil and burning the cheap coal that produced those emissions. Their wealth did come at a cost — but to poor communities, especially in the global South. And, ironically, the countries and communities that are least responsible for today’s climate crisis are some of the most vulnerable to its impacts and have the fewest resources to respond.

A cacophony of global voices comes together at the annual UN climate summit. Policymakers, indigenous nations, labor unions, youth activists, environmentalists — you name it, they’re probably here, trying to stop global warming.

But powerful corporations whose bottom line depends on access to cheap energy, land, water, and other natural resources are here as well. Not surprisingly, their mission is to defend the status quo, and they wield the political weight of some of the richest nations and the most influential financial institutions (like the World Bank).

Frustrated with the seemingly boundless clout of corporate interests and those heralding the benefits of market-based solutions, like carbon trading, critics have taken to referring to this 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the climate convention as the Conference of Polluters. They're putting out a call to #OccupyCOP17.

José María Figueres, a former Costa Rican president, echoed the sentiment. Calling on all vulnerable countries to occupy the meeting and refuse to leave until progress is made, he said, “We need an expression of solidarity by the delegations of those countries that are most affected by climate change, who go from one meeting to the next without getting responses on the issues that need to be dealt with."

Figueres was referring to two key goals. First, developed countries must renew their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol — the only internationally binding treaty on climate pollution. Second, they must commit to providing developing countries with the money they need to support their adaptation to a warmer world and the transition to low-carbon economies. The United States and other rich countries are sidelining both of these broadly shared objectives.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org

Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

Ideas, Reaction, and Action in Canada

September 30, 2011 ·

When the issue of Palestinian statehood and UN recognition finally came to the United Nations, CTV, Canada’s largest commercial television network, invited me to comment. A CTV regular, I watched Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas address the General Assembly at the CTV studio, and went on the air moments after his speech. As usual, my comments were framed by international law, human rights and equality. I focused on the 20-year-long failure of the U.S.-backed “peace process,” Israel’s continuing violations of the Geneva Conventions and other international obligations of an occupying power, and the centrality of the United Nations. 

Shortly after the live interview, the B’nai Brith of Canada launched a public campaign against CTV, urging their supporters call the network to say that “biased reporting against Israel is unacceptable” despite their inability to identify a single error of fact in my commentary. In response, CTV removed the interview from their website, replacing it with an interview with the head of B’nai Brith who views Israel’s occupation as completely acceptable.

But then, following an immediate push-back by a number of Canadian organizations, including Canadian Friends of Sabeel, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and others, CTV quickly restored the on-line version of my commentary.  Watch it yourself (scroll down on the CTV News Video section on the right) – see why we need places like IPS that encourage independent ideas, and why IPS has friends in social movements in the U.S., Canada (and beyond) to turn them into action!

A New Fund Could Revolutionize the Global Health Landscape

June 10, 2011 ·

This week, the United Nations is hosting its General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS, for which roughly 3,000 people and 30 Heads of State have flocked to New York to evaluate the past three decades of AIDS research and activism. This meeting provides an excellent backdrop against which to assess the current state of global health. Like many diseases, AIDS disproportionately affects people in developing countries. For example, according to the latest UN statistics, roughly 25 percent of the adult population in Lesotho and Swaziland suffer from the disease, as compared to 0.6 percent in the United States and 0.2 percent in the United Kingdom. The UN reported in 2007 that 95 percent of people afflicted by AIDS live in poor countries, with 76 percent of AIDS-related deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

But such disparity is preventable, according to Incentives for Global Health, a new NGO. This group — with an advisory board that includes among others philosophers Peter Singer and Baroness Onora O'Neill, economist Amartya Sen, and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin — envisions a future in which everyone may access quality medication through a proposed "Health Impact Fund." The problem, the group's members argue, is that the current system of drug development and sales hurts the poor.

"Despite relatively low manufacturing costs, patented medicines are often very expensive and are therefore unaffordable for most people; and diseases concentrated among the poor attract little or no pharmaceutical research," wrote the group's leaders Yale Professor Thomas Pogge and University of Calgary Professor Aidan Hollis in their Health Impact Fund report. "As a result of both factors, the disease burden among the poor is, avoidably, very high."

The Health Impact Fund aims to solve both problems by giving pharmaceutical companies the option to sell their drugs at a uniform low cost worldwide. In exchange, the companies would for ten years receive payment from the fund — a fixed sum starting at roughly six billion dollars — proportional to the health impact of their drug, giving them incentives to focus on diseases that disproportionately affect the poor. The fund is to be financed by countries supporting the project, so as more and more countries sign on, the fund will grow and attract more pharmaceutical companies. At the conclusion of the tenth year, the company would also concede a royalty-free open license for generic versions of the medicine.

The project is designed to align the incentives of companies with social welfare. We shouldn't be surprised when companies fail to focus on finding treatments or cures for very important health needs if there's no money in it. And there's little point browbeating companies on the basis of "corporate social responsibility" if as societies we're really just passing the buck. Health innovation is a global social responsibility for which all must cooperate — companies will simply respond to incentives. If companies find it profitable to invest in developing drugs for the most pressing health needs, then results will follow.

"All people benefit when pharmaceutical firms organize themselves for optimal health impact: when their innovations target the most burdensome diseases and when they market their products for optimum disease reduction and not merely for sales," Pogge and Hollis continue in their report. "And low prices for advanced medicines will have a large impact on poor people in the United States no less than in Haiti, because high prices deter the poor everywhere from purchasing medicine."

Before the Fund becomes a reality, the group must test its efficacy in a few pilot runs. In particular, they must figure out the best way to assess a given drug's health impact. But the project is underway. If successful, it may revolutionize the global health landscape. As people who care about the well-being of others, we — scholars, activists, governments — have an obligation to get on board.

Nikita Lalwani is an Institute for Policy Studies intern, managing editor of The Yale Globalist, and a Yale Daily News staff writer.

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