Jose Ramos Horta on E Timor: “In 20 years, we’ll be killing each other over land and water”

Ten years of freedom for East Timor today, and a notably graceful editorial in the Jakarta Post:

Indonesia would have learned a great deal from the fatal mistakes of its 24-year occupation of the then East Timor, now Timor Leste, so it hardly needs more lessons. Well perhaps one more: a lesson on statesmanship from President José Ramos-Horta.

On the 10th anniversary of the UN-sponsored independence referendum that ended Indonesian rule, Ramos-Horta’s speech Saturday was worthy of his standing as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, part of which read “My stated preference, as a human being, victim and head of state, is that we once and for all close the 1975-1999 chapters of our tragic experience [and] forgive those who did us harm.”

 It concludes:

Timor Leste is fortunate to have truly great statesmen like Ramos-Horta and Gusmao. Statesmanship will remain in short supply among Indonesian leaders for as long as we continue to let human rights violations go unpunished. While our leaders are busy talking the talk at international forums, we are certainly not walking the human rights walk.

But in an FT interview, Ramos-Horta’s own preoccupations are focused on the future:

José Ramos Horta, the president, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Indonesian rule that left more than 150,000 Timorese dead, says that when a shortage of water and dependence on subsistence agriculture is added, the scale of the problems the country faces cannot be overstated.

“With this population growth and poverty, [and] increasing pressure on water and land, 20 years from now we will start killing each other over water and land,” he told the Financial Times. He has no doubt that, unless more attention is paid to rural areas, urban migration – particularly among the rapidly escalating ranks of disillusioned and unemployed youth – will be so great that it will create a “time bomb”.

NGOs and climate change: shall we all just go home?

And so to, the most pointless NGO campaign of the year, upon whom I heaped ridicule earlier this month for their fabulously vague policy position that Copenhagen should produce “an ambitious, fair and binding climate change agreement”. After a period of silence, TckTckTck have now been in touch via email, and have explained that

We’d been waiting for our site to officially launch so that we could point you and your readers to a resource that specifically addresses your questions. The site launched earlier this week, and we’ve put this page together for that purpose.

And so (drum roll), here’s the real policy platform.


- Reduce developed country emissions by at least 40% by 2020.

- Enable and support poor countries to adapt to the worst consequences of the climate crisis, reduce their emissions and ensure technology sharing including through the provision of sufficient public funds.

- Protect marginalized communities in rich and poor countries.


- Ensure that global greenhouse emissions peak no later than 2017.

- Create a pathway to clean jobs and clean energy for all.

- Establish necessary conditions for a sustainable and prosperous future for people, flora and fauna.


- Agree to a legally binding international agreement that can be verified and enforced

Saints preserve us - that’s the detailed policy position?

OK, we do have two pieces of specificity here in the 40% 2020 target (though they forgot to stipulate 1990 as the baseline – a schoolboy error that the Japanese and others will have immense fun with in a few months’ time), and the 2017 peaking date. But where the hell is the global context – the definition of some kind of overarching objective, like a ppm stabilisation target? Where is it explained how we will achieve stabilisation at any level without quantified targets for developing countries – a subject not even alluded to here via the usual unspecific platitudes about common but differentiated responsibilities?

This “policy position” is no more specific than what we had before; instead, it’s simply more verbose.  We have a call for “sufficient public funds” for developing countries, but no number attached to it.  A reference to “a pathway to clean jobs and clean energy for all”, but no tests so that policymakers or members of the public can determine whether any given set of actions is adequate. The motherhood and apple pie of “necessary conditions for a sustainable and prosperous future for people, flora and fauna”, followed a moment later – with no discernible sense of irony – with calls for an agreement “that can be verified and enforced”.

Um, guys, this isn’t any better. TckTckTck will doubtless say in their defence that they’re trying to communicate a highly complex area in a way that will resonate with the public. But the obvious rejoinder to that is that surely the point of this campaign – if there is a point - is to influence negotiators at Copenhagen. And if the policy asks are so vague that negotiators themselves can’t tell whether they’re meeting NGOs’ headline asks, then you can bet your bottom dollar that those NGOs are failing to influence the process in any meaningful way. Continue reading

Shag camp

I went to the Climate Camp yesterday, on Blackheath, next to Greenwich Park, a brick’s throw from the Royal Observatory. The camp is maybe a 150m-diamater circle, with a metal fence around it, filled with tents. You have to enter through a steel gate, over which hangs a sign saying ‘Capitalism is crisis’, and under which crusties sit on straw bales, perusing the new entrants like monkeys outside a Hindu temple. Continue reading

Scarcity as a non-traditional security threat

I spent yesterday morning presenting on scarcity issues - water, food, energy, land and climate security – to staff from the UN Department of Political Affairs, as part of a three day session on non-traditional security threats organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Here’s a copy of my presentation on the kinds of institutional change we need in order to manage scarcity, which focuses particularly on reducing the vulnerability of poor people and fragile states.  This draws heavily on a new report on Multilateralism and Scarcity that I’ll be publishing through the Brookings Institution later in the year.

Also presenting were Geoff Dabelko from the Woodrow Wilson Center (if you don’t subscribe to The New Security Beat, the Center’s superb blog on scarcity-security links, then you should); and Mike Hutton from the US Department of Energy’s Office for Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (as previously documented here, one of a handful of hotspots of radical forward thinking in the US government – you can get involved, too).

John Prescott still doesn’t get it

He didn’t get it at Kyoto – and he doesn’t get it now.

John Prescott – former British Deputy PM, and its lead negotiator at the 1997 Kyoto climate summit – is making headlines this morning with his call for “equalising greenhouse gas emissions per head in each country”.  But what he’s getting wrong (again – sigh) is the point that what we need to equalise for a fair global deal isn’t emissions per capita – it’s emission entitlements per capita.

This is not hair-splitting. Equalising emissions per capita is just what obviously and inevitably happens if we’re solving climate change: given that total global emissions will have to fall by at least 80% by 2050, and almost certainly by close to 100% at some stage, then obviously it follows that we’ll all be equalising our emissions – at roundabout zero.

The real question is what happens between now and that point – and in particular, how global emissions permits get shared out.  We always think of emissions targets as burdens, but they’re also tradable assets, of course.  They’re worth quite a lot: global emissions trading markets were worth $64bn in 2008.  That’s already more than half the size of total global aid flows ($120bn in 2008).

So the $64bn question – literally – is what share of these assets low income countries get.  If they get an equal per capita entitlement within a global emissions budget, then the fact that their per capita emissions are so low means they get to sell their surplus permits via emissions trading markets - and a major new finance for development flow is created, at the same time as the climate is being stabilised.

If, on the other hand, all they get is John Prescott’s implied assurance that we’ll all end up at zero emissions in a hundred years or so, then that’s not really the same thing at all, is it?

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