We need an MDG on quinoa!

Breaking news on the post-2015 development agenda just in from Richard in New York, who reports that the UN Secretary-General has set a major new agenda on what should follow the Millennium Development Goals when they expire:

I believe quinoa is truly a food for the MDGs and can make an important contribution to post-2015 development strategies.

And we’ll have more from Ban Ki-moon a bit later in the programme.

NGOs at their absolute worst

Now this campaign really annoys me. A gaggle of NGOs have joined forces to launch a declaration demanding that the European Union scrap its emissions trading scheme. The declaration makes some totally valid points about the scheme’s poor track record on driving real emissions reductions, its handouts of what are effectively freebie subsidies to large polluters, its price volatility and recent collapse in carbon prices, and its susceptibility to fraud; all of which is true. And I’d be the first to agree that when you get the design of an emissions trading scheme wrong, it can lead to disastrous consequences – the Clean Development Mechanism being a case in point that I’ve written about here before.

But what’s so infuriating about this campaign is that there is not a single word on how the EU ETS could be fixed. It’s just taken as a given that scrapping it is the only possible way to deal with its flaws. Worse still, the declaration completely fails to say what its signatories would propose to do instead, other than some incredibly vague references to “regulation” (nothing on what sort of regulation, of course); the need for a “zero waste philosophy”; and… well, that’s it.

I really thought the NGO movement had started to grow out of this sort of crap – the bleating from the sidelines, safe in the protest comfort zone, with no serious attempt to engage with real world trade-offs or set out an agenda for action other than whingeing. Even Greenpeace isn’t this bad, and that’s saying something.

Austerity or plenty?

There’s a very thoughtful article on where social democracy needs to go next over at Renewal (h/t to Casper for the link), which is thoroughly worth a read. Here’s a quick sample, including some pretty arresting numbers (emphasis added). What a pleasant surprise, incidentally, to see mainstream centre left thinking integrating scarcity and environmental limits into its analysis without fuss, for once – would that this were more the norm…

Social democracy today is bereft of an economic programme. So is the broader left, which has not yet developed an alternative to an unappealing and discredited state socialism. The slow and steady build-up of democratic wealth-holding institutions provides an obvious avenue for the re-animation and re-radicalisation of both, through the generation of a new set of economic institutions and political power bases. But this will require a long-term commitment to evolutionary change and a willingness to step outside of the false choices and immediate constraints of crisis management.

In doing this, the assumptions behind austerity must be called into question. It is a deep irony that the Great Recession is unfolding among some of the richest societies the world has ever known. While the relations of production remain contested, the forces of production have been reaching new heights. In the United States in 2011, the economy produced almost $200,000 (over £125,000) per family of four. In Britain in the same year, the equivalent number was almost $150,000 (almost £95,000). In Germany, it was nearly $160,000 (£100,000). Even in Greece, going through the agony of austerity, production reached over $100,000 (£63,000) per four-person household (OECD, 2012). This is wealth enough – especially given the resource constraints imposed by climate change and emerging energy, mineral, water and other limits to unending growth. The challenge is not technological but organisational and political. It is a matter of systemic design.

President Obama wants to eradicate extreme poverty

Obama sotu 2013

This was the development bit in President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night:

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation

Two things struck me – first, this is a shift from the ‘we can end poverty’ rhetoric that Owen Barder  recently pointed out has been around for decades – it’s a ‘we will’ with a time frame, not a ‘we can’ with a vague aspiration.  This could – let’s hope – be an important difference from those earlier statements.  Secondly, this is of course more or less the time frame that a new post-2015 agreement on development would cover - twenty years from now, or just over fifteen years from 2015.  If this is Obama committing to throw the US’s weight behind getting an effective post-2015 agreement, well, that’s very exciting indeed….

Quote of the week: “While I’m not comparing the Rebel Alliance to Al Qaeda or the Galactic Empire to the United States…”

Finding myself watching Empire Strikes Back last night, I found myself reflecting once again on the general crappiness of the rebels’ defenses – for instance, the gun that looks like a radar dish and appears to fail to inflict any damage on anything whatsoever during the battle.

So it’s especially pleasing that Wired’s national security correspondent Spencer Ackerman has decided to employ his knowledge of counter-insurgency doctrine to a setting out a detailed tactical analysis of the Battle of Hoth. Sample:

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.

Later comes this gem, which will doubtless have caught a few of his readers by surprise:

Nor does [the Imperial] “blockade” trap Luke, who flies to Dagobah without a single Imperial ship harassing him. That’s the worst possible news for the Empire: Luke is about to rekindle the Jedi order that poses the biggest danger to the preservation of everything Vader and Emperor Palpatine have built. While I’m not comparing the Rebel Alliance to al-Qaida or the Galactic Empire to the United States, in strategic terms, this is like Osama bin Laden’s escape from the December 2001 battle at Tora Bora, Afghanistan — a disaster masquerading as a tactical success.

I did wonder about that reference to “freedom fighters” in the scrolling plot summary at the start of the film…

Let’s measure everything!

Here’s that nice Bill Gates extolling the gospel of measuring what we do in development:

YouTube Preview Image

And here, via former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, is the Duke of Wellington:

“Gentlemen,

Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance…
2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,
Wellington”

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