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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 since November 2011

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Durban Diary: Repaying Climate Debt

November 29, 2011 ·

A major flashpoint at the UN Climate summit in Durban is how nations in the global north should deliver the money that they're supposed to give countries in the global south to support efforts to deal with climate change.

Delegates at COP17 have presented different visions of how the Global Climate Change fund will work. Photo by UNClimateChange. It's not chump change. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs says it will cost developing countries upwards of $1 trillion every year to address climate change in the coming years.

Many negotiators want the UN to open the doors of the Green Climate Fund created at last year's summit in Cancun. They're also debating the scale and sources of long-term finance. The U.S. government is blocking both conversations.

Instead, Washington wants the private sector to take a leading role, and for tricks like carbon trading to leverage public money by raising big bucks in the financial market. This might sound good, but it would just add another roulette wheel to the casino economy that plunged the world into the worst recession since the 1930s.

Therefore, civil society groups and developing–country governments have demanded that the Green Climate Fund not serve as yet another game room for financial speculators to gamble with public dollars. A growing movement for innovative sources of climate finance — including a tiny tax on financial transactions — has shown that money is available for global public goods like climate change programs.

Now we just have to mobilize the political will of rich countries to share the wealth. With European countries adopting austerity measures, and a U.S. Congress that barely believes that the climate is changing, that'll be an uphill, but necessary, struggle.

Will the next two weeks of climate negotiations unleash a violent storm that makes our planet uninhabitable? Or can governments come together to keep our future safe?

As the second day of climate talks are winding down, storm clouds are building again.

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.

Durban Diary: What's on the Table?

November 29, 2011 ·

There are hundreds of issues and interests at stake at the 2011 UN climate summit, as well as representatives of the 192 countries who signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. But just two questions are on everyone's mind.

The first is whether the Kyoto Protocol will survive. The second is whether the world can agree on a climate finance system. Climate finance is the term we're all using for the money promised by developed countries to support developing countries as they adapt to a warmer world and shift to low-carbon development pathways.

Activists warn that the wealthiest countries are not negotiating in good faith at Durban. Photo by adoptanegotiator.

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and enacted in 2005, is the only international, legally binding treaty regulating climate-warming pollution.

We're still in the pact's first "commitment period." For this phase, most developed countries (the recalcitrant United States didn't join) promised to reduce their emissions by 5 percent by the end of 2012.

That deadline is rapidly approaching. If countries don't agree to the second commitment period, which is slated to begin in 2013, there'll be nothing to keep global emissions from shooting through the roof.

But instead of getting behind a second commitment period, countries — especially the wealthiest ones — are dragging their feet.

Canada, Russia, and Japan say they won't sign up unless emerging economies like China take binding regulations. China says it shouldn't have to take mandatory cuts until the biggest polluter — the United States — shows any evidence of that it's reducing emissions or taking steps in that direction. And Washington flat out admits that it will never sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Stalemate.

U.S. climate negotiators say the world needs a new mandate. The Obama administration is proposing that the world move to a "pledge and review" model. It would allow countries to volunteer goals for cutting emissions. A couple of years later, world leaders would convene to see if anything's happened. There'd be no overall target that lines up with what scientists say is necessary, no repercussions if countries don't meet their goals, and no distinction between countries that are most responsible for creating the climate crisis and those that are primarily its victims.

This flies in the face of the "polluter pays" principle that we all learn in kindergarten - if you made the mess, you have to clean it up. It's also simply suicidal.

Social movements, environmental groups, trade unions, development organizations, human rights advocates, and youth activists — all the folks that will be most impacted by global warming — have made clear that inaction is not an option. "Governments are playing games with us while people are dying," said Desmond D'Sa, chair of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, which helped organize an alternative summit called the People's Space being convened at Durban's University of KwaZulu Natal.

Developed countries made a commitment to reduce their emissions when they signed the UN climate convention. The mandate is there. It's clear. Now it's time for those countries, which grew wealthy exploiting cheap but dirty fossil fuels, to fulfill their promise.

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.

Durban Diary: UN Summit's Stormy Backdrop

November 29, 2011 ·

On Sunday night, as I met with colleagues from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America to prepare for the UN climate summit, the unseasonably blustery evening went from windy to rainy to a huge downpour.

It was a perfect illustration of why we were in Durban, South Africa. Scientists are finding increasing evidence that climate change is behind the recent surge in extreme weather. By the time we ran (literally) down the block for dinner the rain was hard enough to soak us in spite of raincoats and umbrellas.

There's a stormy backdrop as delegates from around the world prepare to discuss the future of the world. Photo by UNClimateChange.We woke Monday morning to news that the violent storm had killed eight people in Durban and neighboring Pietermaritzburg, and destroyed scores of houses. The security guards that checked our badges at the door reported that local farmers' crops were ruined. It was the second deadly deluge in the KwaZulu-Natal province in less than two weeks.

UN climate scientists recently predicted that extreme weather — heavier rainfall, more floods, stronger cyclones, more landslides and, ironically, more frequent serious droughts — will increase as we continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise.

This is a big part of why I've made the carbon-spewing trip from Washington DC to South Africa.

Over the course of this yearly summit, I'll advocate for rapid and deep cuts in climate pollution from the world's wealthy industrialized countries. I'll also call for financial support for poorer countries to move from dirty development pathways to low-emission strategies for lifting people out of poverty (like access to clean, renewable energy), and to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, like extreme weather-related disasters.

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.

The Lineup: Week of Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2011

November 28, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Janet Redman sizes up the latest reasons for the international community to take bold action to halt climate change and cartoonist Khalil Bendib illustrates how hard it's getting to deny that global warming is a dire problem. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. A Blizzard of Bad Climate News / Janet Redman
  2. A Main Street Jobs Agenda / John Cavanagh and David Korten
  3. The Cost of Congressional Dithering / Martha Burk
  4. The UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident / Kate Zarrella
  5. Shocked and Disappointed / Donald Kaul
  6. Catering to the Frozen Pizza Lobby / Jim Hightower
  7. Chump U / William A. Collins
  8. Climate Denial Man / Khalil Bendib

Climate Denial Man, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

How Occupy is Transforming Our National Conversation

November 23, 2011 ·

Shift your gaze for a moment from the lurid headlines of police shutting down Occupy sites in Oakland, New York and other cities to the scene on a sunny day in early November here in Washington, D.C. In front of the grandiose U.S. Treasury Department building, thousands of nurses dressed in red shirts gathered holding high large signs proclaiming: “Heal America: Tax Wall Street” and “Tax Timmy’s Friends” (as in U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner). They and their allies next marched to the Bank of America, then to the Occupy D.C. site, and onward to the corridors of Congress. Their rallying cry: a tax on the speculative trades that dominate Wall Street.

These nurses are one of many reminders of how far we have come since Occupy Wall Street pitched its first tents in Zucotti Park on September 17 and of how much the national conversation has shifted. They remind us how significant have been the successes of the Occupy movement, whatever happens to those tents.

Nurses are among the Occupy protesters changing the national converstion. Photo by Glyn Lowe.Occupy has already succeeded in challenging the old, faulty dominant story spread by the 1 percent and replacing it with another one that resonates with what most Americans know to be true.

For the thirty years until September 17, the dominant national narrative was framed by the overarching philosophy of free-marketers like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Milton Friedman. Starting around 1980, they successfully sold a story-line that government should step aside, eliminate regulations, and let the “free market” and its large corporations create prosperity for all of us. As for the resulting rise in inequality? Not to worry, their storyline argued, this was not a problem because everyone had a chance to get rich and anyone who did not – well, that was their own fault.

Across the world, for years, millions of people challenged this elite-driven and elite-benefiting “Washington Consensus.” In Brazil, for example, landless workers occupied farmland and ultimately helped elect a government of the 99 percent. Similar movements helped elect governments that challenged the 1 percent in Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

But, in the United States, the dominant story persisted for decades, drowning out the voices of victims and critics — leaving us with a callous national narrative that tolerated obscene wealth among the few, mounting poverty among the many, and an escalating gap between the two.

Tolerated, that is, until Occupy Wall Street.

The signs and chants of “we are the 99%” have broken the spell, liberating the public imagination to unearth the true narrative of what has happened in this country and across the world during the past three decades.

Pay no heed to what the self-serving mainstream pundits of the 1 percent say about the Occupy movement. The reality is this: Occupy has already succeeded. It has succeeded in shaking us as a society out of our hypnosis. Occupy has already succeeded in its role as a social movement in challenging the old, faulty dominant story spread by the 1 percent and replacing it with another one that resonates with what most Americans know to be true.

The truth: The policies and practices of giant corporations and the U.S. government over the past three decades have rigged the system to benefit the 1 percent. The truth: The resulting inequality has grown to grotesque levels not seen since the first “Gilded Age” 100 years ago. Inequality is crushing millions, while destroying our democracy.

Ignore also what the pundits of the 1 percent are telling you about who is at Occupy. The Occupy sites are not filled with partying spoiled rich college kids. There are ordinary people, some who have lost jobs, some who have lost homes, some who cannot find jobs, most who had lost hope. People who are tired of being blamed, tired of feeling alone, and tired of not being heard.

Now, they are being heard and they are not feeling alone.

In choosing Wall Street as its main initial site, Occupy brilliantly changed the narrative to focus on the real villain: a Wall Street that gambled the hard-earned savings of ordinary Americans and precipitated the crash of 2008. A Wall Street that was then bailed out by the 1 percent in the U.S. Congress.

Pay no heed to those pundits who say that Occupy will fail unless it puts forward a specific list of specific demands. This is not the role of a social movement such as Occupy. Rather, if Occupy can keep the spotlight on this new narrative, this gives space, power, and voice to other groups to put forward specific demands on behalf of the 99 percent. Case in point: those nurses who marched with other Occupy supporters on that sunny day in early November to demand the tax on financial transactions of the 1 percent.

Indeed, as the nurses rallied in Washington, three of their leaders joined in a demonstration thousands of miles away in France, pressing leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies including President Obama to embrace this tax. Obama had previously been opposed. But, as IPS fellow Sarah Anderson reported from France: “After the protests, Obama stood up in France at a news conference with the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And, to our surprise, Obama announced that he was now open to the financial speculation tax.”

In sum: Occupy is successfully shifting the national conversation and, in doing so, it is opening the door to a new realm of possibilities.

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