This afternoon, taking the briefest of breaks from arguing over Palestine, leaders are gathering in the Security Council to talk about preventive diplomacy. Josh Rogin of FP’s Cable blog will be there. He’s excited by the turnout:
The meeting will be chaired by the President of Lebanon Michel Sleiman. Other heads of state in attendance will be Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa. Portugal will be represented by its prime minister, while the remaining council members will be represented at the level of foreign minister.
Oddly enough, I haven’t been invited. But my colleague Emily O’Brien and I have published a brief preview of the event over at World Politics Review. We’re not convinced it’s going to be a thriller:
The Security Council session is unlikely to generate anything more than well-aged truisms: Prevention is better than reaction; diplomacy is better than force, and so on.
That may sound cynical, but last month I somehow guessed that a similar (if lower-level) Security Council debate on peacekeeping would be stunningly dull, and I was right. But, just like peacekeeping, preventive diplomacy matters:
Officials at the U.N. have been working hard to frame a clearer picture of how and why preventive diplomacy succeeds and fails. The current thinking on the issue is summarized in a report from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the pithy title, “Preventive Diplomacy: Delivering Results,” which will serve as the backgrounder for Thursday’s debate.
As the report states at the outset, Ban has been interested in boosting the U.N.’s role in preventive diplomacy ever since he took office in 2007 following a long career in South Korea’s foreign service. Ban felt that the U.N. was too heavily invested in large-scale, high-cost military peace operations and had given too little attention to diplomacy.
This was a huge oversimplification, one that failed to capture the stabilizing if imperfect role of hefty U.N. peace operations in places like Haiti and Liberia. But it contained a kernel of truth. So it is welcome that Ban and his undersecretary-general for political affairs, American diplomat B. Lynn Pascoe, set about retooling the U.N. secretariat’s preventive capacities.
Over the past four years, U.N. officials have scored some noteworthy successes, as the new report describes. These include helping resolve the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008 that forced more than 200,000 civilians into flight; assisting Guinea emerge from a long political crisis in 2009-2010 to hold credible elections; and working with European diplomats to contain the horrific violence in Kyrgyzstan.
These successes have underlined the value of the U.N. Secretariat’s roster of experienced mediators, facilitators and diplomats. Still, Ban’s report emphasizes the need to boost the caliber of U.N. officials further and make their work easier by overcoming the phalanx of budgetary and staffing rules that can delay the U.N.’s efforts interminably.
These budgetary constraints and unwieldy hiring processes might seem irrelevant to anyone not immersed in the minutiae of the U.N.’s bureaucracy. But they matter. The organization’s attempts to engage meaningfully with the Arab Spring were held up by a lack of financial resources and a lack of experts in the region. The new report outlines options for increasing the U.N.’s readiness for future crises, like expanding its small network of regional political offices.
To be honest, I think that the UN report could have been a bit bolder in its proposals for boosting conflict prevention, but at least it will get some high-level attention this afternoon. Hopefully some UN members will be motivated to follow up with related policy initiatives. Nonetheless, Emily and I aren’t convinced that all the big powers on the Security Council are 100% committed to preventive diplomacy…
The actors most likely to stop an escalating crisis in its tracks remain the world’s great powers. But after the crises of the past year, it is hard to argue that these powers have a coherent grasp of this responsibility. Take the example of Syria. China and Russia have opposed even mild condemnations of the Syrian regime, while other emerging powers on the Security Council — notably Brazil, India and South Africa — have only been marginally more flexible. The U.S. and its European partners have also struggled to find a mix of economic, diplomatic and moral pressure to affect decisions in Damascus. The confusion reflects the many political, security and economic interests all the powers have in Syria.
So it’s nice that the Council’s talking about the importance of prevention. But treat its pronouncements on the topic with caution. I look forward to Josh Rogin’s take.September 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm | More on Conflict and security, Cooperation and coherence, Global system, Middle East and North Africa | 1 Comment
Earlier today, I was reading the transcript of an interview that my brother (GD contributor Jules Evans) conducted earlier this year with Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. En route back from the moon, Mitchell recounted to Jules, he had the following experience:
“Every two minutes, a picture of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens, appeared in the spacecraft window as I looked. And from my training in astronomy at Harvard and MIT, I realized that the matter in our universe was created in star systems, and thus the molecules in my body, and in the spacecraft, and in my partners’ bodies were prototyped or manufacted in some ancient generation of stars. And I had the recognition that we’re all part of the same stuff, we’re all one. Now in modern quantum physics you’d call that interconnectedness. It triggered this experience of saying wow, those are my stars, my body is connected to those stars. And it was accompanied by a deep ecstatic experience, which continued every time I looked out of the window, all the way home.”
Nor was he the only astronaut to have an experience of this kind:
Other astronauts have had comparable experiences – a ‘wow’ at seeing Earth in the larger scheme of things. We have talked about it over the years, and there’s even been a book written about it by Frank White, called The Overview Effect, which describes all our experiences. We have all said over the years, if we could get our political leaders to have a summit meeting in space, life on Earth would be markedly different, because you can’t continue living that way once you have seen the bigger picture.
I read this during a break in an all-day meeting of senior policymakers at the United Nations, on the subject of ’global sustainability’. Know what? The room had no windows.September 20, 2011 at 12:53 am | More on Cooperation and coherence, Global system, Influence and networks | 2 Comments
To: H. R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire
In the event of moon disaster
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
Prior to the President’s Statement:
The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.
After the President’s Statement, at the point when NASA ends communications with the men:
A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.
An extract from an actual memo from William Safire, then one of Richard Nixon’s speechwriters, setting out remarks to be read by the President if the Apollo 11 astronauts got stuck on the moon. Via the excellent Lapham’s Quarterly.September 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm | More on Off topic |
China is not Egypt, Libya or Tunisia. As the Pew Global Attitudes project noted in March this year, only 28% of Egyptians were then ‘satisfied’ with their country’s direction, down from 47% a few years earlier; whereas in China the figure was 87% in March, up from 83%.
So why, asks James Fallows in last month’s The Atlantic, is the Chinese government so clearly freaking out about protests this year and the risk of a “Jasmine Revolution” – when the protests clearly don’t add up to a national movement? As he puts it,
Why … has the government reacted as if the country were on the brink of revolt? Do the Chinese authorities know something about their country’s realities that groups like Pew have missed, and therefore understand that they are hanging by a thread? Or, out of reflex and paranoia, are they responding far more harshly than circumstances really require, in ways that could backfire in the long run?
Fallows sets out the pros and cons for each view. Here are some snippets to set out the first camp’s rationale:
Those who think the government has good reason to be worried say that the accumulated tensions—political, economic, environmental, and social—of China’s all-out growth have reached an unbearable extreme. By this interpretation, the seeming satisfaction of the Chinese public is a veneer that could easily crack. “If one were to read only the Party-controlled media, one might get the impression that China is prosperous, stable, and headed for an age of ‘great peace and prosperity,’” Liu Xiaobo himself wrote, in an essay shortly before he was arrested. (The English version, translated by Perry Link of Princeton, will appear this fall in a collection of Liu’s essays and poems, No Enemies, No Hatred.) He continued:
Not only from the Internet, but from foreign news sources as well as the internal documents of the regime itself—its ‘crisis reports’—we know that more and more major conflicts, often involving violence and bloodshed, have been breaking out between citizens and officials all across China. The country rests at the brink of a volcano.
By June of this year, a wave of bombings, riots, and violent protests at widely dispersed sites across the country illustrated what Liu was warning about. The trigger of the uprisings varied city by city—ethnic tensions in some areas, beatings by police or chengguan in others—but they added to a mood of nationwide tension. “With rampant official corruption, inflation, economic disparity, and all sorts of social injustice and political tensions, the threat to the CCP rule is very much real,” Cheng Li, who grew up in Shanghai and is now a specialist in Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, told me this summer.
The second camp’s rationale, on the other hand, which Fallows tends towards himself:
…that the situation in China is indeed tense—but that it has always been tense, and that so many people have so much to lose from any radical change, that the country’s own buffering forces would contain a disruption even if the government weren’t cracking down so hard. The main reason is that for all the complaints and dissatisfactions with today’s Communist rule, there is no visible alternative—in part, of course, because the government has worked so hard to keep such alternatives from emerging. This is a less satisfying side of the argument to advance. You look worse if you turn out to be wrong, and it seems unimaginative to say that an uneasy status quo might go on indefinitely. Still, it is what I would guess if forced to choose.
I asked Chas Freeman what he made of China’s current turmoil. He is a former diplomat who served as Richard Nixon’s interpreter during his visit to China in 1972 … Freeman said that he takes seriously the complaints about economic inequality, ethnic tension, and other potential sources of instability. But, he said, they remind him of conversations he had when living in Taiwan in the 1970s, before Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang party had moved from quasi-military rule to open elections. “People would say they are corrupt, they have no vision, they have a ridiculous ideology we have to kowtow to, but that no one believes in practice,” he told me. “And I would say, ‘If they’re so bad, why don’t you get rid of them?’ That would be greeted with absolute incredulity.” Taiwanese of that era would tell him that, corrupt or not, the party was steadily bringing prosperity. Or that there was no point in complaining, since the party would eliminate anyone who challenged its rule. The parallel with mainland China was obvious. A generation later, Taiwan had become democratized.
Of course, Freeman’s analogy only holds up if you think that China will indeed manage to follow Taiwan’s record of “steadily bringing prosperity”. And that’s why, unlike Fallows, I tend towards the first camp. I noted last month that there are already weak signals of the arrival of “jobless growth” in China. And more broadly, I think China looks in bad shape to manage a whole range of global threats that will shape its outlook – just like the United States.
I’m not an expert on Chinese internal politics, so I won’t attempt to guess how all this will play out domestically. But I do see good reasons to question the wisdom of relying on steadily increasing prosperity. As for the lack of a “visible alternative” - surely we’re not going to assume that as a guarantee of stability after the year so far in the Middle East?September 18, 2011 at 10:37 am | More on East Asia and Pacific |
Our unspoken bet on climate change: we’re going to wing it, and to hell with the poor (and our kids) Alex Evans
Simon Kuper in this weekend’s FT Magazine about where the state of the climate change debate now stands:
When someone offered me a trip to India, I said, “Definitely.” A couple of years ago I’d have fretted about the carbon emissions. But like almost everyone else, I have given up trying to prevent climate change. We in the west have recently made an unspoken bet: we’re going to wing it, run the risk of climatic catastrophe, and hope that it is mostly faraway people in poor countries who will suffer …
Rich countries now have a semi-conscious plan: whatever happens, we’ll have the money to cope. We’ll build dikes, or pipe in more water from somewhere else, or turn up the aircon if it gets too hot. Our model is the Netherlands: the country below sea level protects itself against flooding through a network of dams, sluices and barriers. This costs about €45 per Dutch person per year. The Dutch think that even as climate change raises sea levels, their defences can cope for another four centuries. By then there’ll be new technologies.
In short, rich countries will buy protection. If they need to abandon vulnerable cities like New Orleans or Venice, they will. The bigger problem is for poor countries. If Bangladesh floods or Nigeria dries up, they probably won’t cope well. But then our mental health in the west is built on not worrying too much about what happens to Bangladeshis or Nigerians.
Pretty much the long and the short of it – except that he should have added that we’ve decided to screw our children as well as the poor.September 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm | More on Climate and resource scarcity | 2 Comments
Just before I went off on my long summer break (very nice thank you), I did a podcast on the Guardian website about population. It’s well worth listening to – there’s more than just me on there, including some clips from a family in Uganda which set out very clearly the pros and cons of having lots of children from the individuals’ point of view. But these were my main points for the discussion:
- Even if you do think that population growth is a problem (which I don’t necessarily), then it’s one that is quietly solving itself. In 1960 the average woman had about 5 children, while in 2005 she had less than 3 (data from UN). Nearly half the world’s population now live in countries where the population is steady.
- There’s absolutely no evidence that future population growth will be a problem for humanity as a whole. Of course collecting evidence about things that haven’t happened yet is problematic. to say the least. But, unusually, history is on the side of the optimists here. People have been regularly predicting doom and gloom from population growth since Thomas Malthus first wrote about it in 1798. They have all been proved conclusively wrong. People today are healthier, happier and longer lived than Malthus could possibly have imagined. There is no reason to think that today’s doom-mongers on population will fare any better.
- Climate change is not a population problem. It’s a consumption problem. People in rich countries, where population is static or falling, consume many hundreds of times more carbon than people in the poor countries where population is still rising. Let’s start with the problem we have now – consumption in rich countries - rather than worrying about some hypothetical future when everyone in Mali has a washing machine and two cars. I can’t wait for that day. But I am also sure by then that the technological landscape will look quite different (driven partly by changing market incentives resulting from high oil prices). Really, if you’re worried about climate change there’s quite enough real problems to tackle now rather than agonising about hypotheticals long into the future.
- Population growth doesn’t cause famines. Lack of food is a political problem – it’s not too many people in Somalia that’s causing the famine, it’s apalling government, violence and corruption. In fact, globally per capita food production has been rising steadily since the 1960s, and in Africa since the 1980s (according to the FAO’s data). It’s true that sometimes individual regions become unable to support their populations – because of drought or even, sometimes, local population pressures. But then people up sticks and move, as they have always done through many centuries. Global population policies really aren’t the point here.
- Population growth doesn’t cause poverty. All the talk about rapid population growth in poor countries might make you think that they are more populated than rich countries. In fact, most poorer countries have much lower population densities than rich ones (World Bank data), even if their population might be growing more rapidly. And it’s when people move to cities, to areas of high population density, that development really takes off. Changing demographics do affect development – but not necessarily negatively. In some countries falling fertility rates are potentially allowing for a boost in growth as there’s a large number of young adults without too many dependent children to care for, while in others falling population is a problem, leaving large numbers of old people with too few younger relatives to care for them. It all depends.
This debate makes me pretty angry. Arguments that go on and on in the complete absence of any evidence or data have that effect. And sometimes there’s a nasty tinge of blaming people for their own poverty. But – there is a huge problem with population growth, and that’s if it’s not wanted by the people who are actually having the children. Population is a women’s rights issue. If women don’t have access to contraception and abortion to control their fertility then individual lives can be limited and blighted by unwanted and dangerous pregancies and by the financial and practical difficulties of caring for a big family. So there are some very good reasons to worry about population, and to scale up aid for family planning – but, really, a coming population apocalypse is not one of them.September 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm | More on Climate and resource scarcity, Economics and development | 20 Comments
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the UN Poverty Targets – are just a few years away from judgment day – 2015 – so it’s a pretty good time to ask how are they doing – especially as people start to think about a new generation of MDGs or MDGs 2.0. In fact how the world fares on the current MDGs may well determine if there is even a second set.
A new report out this week from Ben Leo and Ross Thuotte using the latest available data (see interactive maps here and data excel here and paper here and country-by-country graphs here) outlines where countries are. The key findings this year are:
- Overall, low-income countries’ progress toward the highly ambitious MDGs improved modestly this year while middle-income countries’ performance declined slightly because of a deterioration in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Low-income countries improved this year, on average, on four core MDG target indicators: extreme poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDs, and water. Performance declined modestly for three core MDG indicators: education, gender equality, and child mortality.
- Among low-income countries, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Niger produced the most dramatic improvements this year. For middle-income countries, Mexico and Uruguay exhibited the most dramatic improvements. Honduras and Ecuador remain tied for the best performing countries. Others in the top 10 achievers include – not surprisingly - Brazil, China, and Vietnam and surprisingly (perhaps?) are - Cambodia, Egypt (erm… and Tunisia did well last year on the MDGs), El Salvador and Sri Lanka.
However, the authors note that:
- Widespread data revisions or retractions affected a number of countries’ MDG Progress Index scores, particularly in relation to the education indicator. This effect highlights the practical limitations of attempting to track annual MDG progress and the sensitivity of performance trends to often poor, non-static data sources.
Erm… oh dear – just a few years away from judgment day (2015) and the data is subject to ‘widespread revisions’ ? eg 31 of 67 countries with data revised their data for the education MDG.
And about a quarter of countries countries don’t have a baseline to judge if specific MDGs are met.
As debates on MDGs 2.0 begin what are the implications of the above? Maybe chose targets for data that exists at the outset (ie the baseline) so one can judge if the targets are met?
All of this is a bit worrying of course because data matters not only to wonky geeks – but how can one judge any kind of results without a full set of data? (and one that isn’t subject to substantial revisions year-to-year…).September 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm | More on Africa, Economics and development, Global system | 3 Comments
With Obama about to attempt to get back on the front foot with a major speech on jobs to both houses of Congress on Thursday, it’s dispiriting to see the headwinds faced by the ‘green jobs’ agenda.
Back at the time of the US stimulus package, the argument was that investing in clean technology and infrastructure renewal for sustainability would deliver a big dividend in employment creation – a win/win for economy and environment. But a look at today’s opinion page in the US tells a different story. Here’s US political analyst Charlie Cook, quoted in the FT this morning:
“The administration got too enamoured of the concept of green jobs and politically correct jobs [in the previous stimulus package], but this time we need boots, jeans and helmets. That is what you are looking for,” Mr Cook says.
Not the sort of language you want to be hearing from agenda-setting opinion formers. Or how about this from David Brooks in the NYT two days ago:
The gigantic public investments in green energy may be stimulating innovation and helping the environment. But they are not evidence that the government knows how to create private-sector jobs…
…The problem is the results are indirect, the jobs take a long time to emerge and the market may end up favoring old-energy sources instead of shiny new ones. So politicians invariably go for the instant rush. They try to use taxpayer money to create private jobs now. But they end up wasting billions.
We should pursue green innovation. We just shouldn’t imagine these efforts will create the jobs we need.
Brooks quotes a range of on-the ground stories and experience to back his point, like this from Aaron Glantz on solar in the Bay Insider a month ago:
Flanked by a cadre of local political leaders, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose used a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar power company last week to talk up the promise of the green economy. Reed called the opening of the new headquarters of SolFocus, which produces large, free-standing solar panels, an “enormously important” development for the city’s economy.
“Clean technology is the next wave of innovation that Silicon Valley needs to capture,” the mayor said, noting that the San Jose City Council had committed to increasing the number of “green jobs” in the city to 25,000 by 2022. San Jose currently has 4,350 such jobs, according to city officials. But SolFocus assembles its solar panels in China, and the new San Jose headquarters employs just 90 people. In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned.
Or this by Sunil Sharan on smart meters in the Washington Post last year:
It typically takes a team of two certified electricians half an hour to replace the old, spinning meter. In one day, two people can install about 15 new meters, or about 5,000 in a year. Were a million smart meters to be installed in a year, 400 installation jobs would be created. It follows that the planned U.S. deployment of 20 million smart meters over five years, or 4 million per year, should create 1,600 installation jobs. Unless more meters are added to the annual deployment schedule, this workforce of 1,600 should cover installation needs for the next five years.
But the manufacturing jobs will be overseas, he adds, echoing Glantz; and as for R&D or IT services, again, you’re talking about hundreds, not hundreds of thousands, of jobs. And, he goes on:
Now let’s consider job losses. It takes one worker today roughly 15 minutes to read a single meter. So in a day, a meter reader can scan about 30 meters, or about 700 meters a month. Meters are typically read once a month, making it the base period to calculate meter-reading jobs. Reading a million meters every month engages about 1,400 personnel. In five years, 20 million manually read meters are expected to disappear, taking with them some 28,000 meter-reading jobs.
In other words, instead of creating jobs, smart metering will probably result in net job destruction. This should not be surprising because the main method of making the electrical grid “smart” is by automating its functions. Automation by definition obviates the need for people.
Or for yet another example, have a look at this for a case study from the UK. As I say, it’s dispiriting stuff. But to put cards on the table, I never did buy the full extent of the green jobs argument. Here’s an extract from a post I did in June 2010:
Sure, there’ll be some new jobs putting up windmills, insulating attics and making fuel cells. There’ll also be lots of jobs lost in (where to start?) coal mining, aviation, oil exploration and refining, long haul tourism, shipping, ports, energy intensive industries… and so on.
Now we can have an argument about whether we’re looking at a net gain or a net loss in employment terms. But let’s be clear that while we’re having it, everyone who works in the above sectors will be mobilising like hell to oppose anything that threatens their interests (anything effective, in other words). As David Steven and I observed a while back, the problem with climate action is that it has the opposite dynamic to chess:
With every step that is taken towards an endgame, the number of pieces on the board will grow, not shrink. Swarming behaviour will become increasingly evident, as factions of all kinds are suddenly, and with unpredictable effect, galvanised into a passionate attempt to protect their interests.
My problem with the ‘all must win prizes’ narrative of Green New Deals, then, is that it’s disingenuous in its Pollyanna-like optimism. It overlooks that doing anything effective on climate will create both winners and losers – and that the losers will tend to be noisier and more visible.
I know everyone’s desperately keen to have sunny, shiny stories to tell about the ‘green economy’, but in reality political economy transitions like the one ahead of us to a low carbon economy always involve winners and losers – and the wins tend to be long term, while the losers are here, now and noisy. Wondering by now what I’d do instead? That’s covered in the remainder of the post quoted from above – read the whole thing.September 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm | More on Climate and resource scarcity, Economics and development | 1 Comment
From MDGs to… SDGs? That’s one of the ideas swirling around in discussions ahead of the Rio 2012 sustainable development summit next year, anyway.
You can see the attraction. With less than a year to go, there are precious few concrete ideas on the table for what the summit might produce, especially in the area of “institutional framework for sustainable development”, one of two key themes for the event (sure, there’s much talk of a new World Environment Organisation, but colour me very unconvinced of the case for that). So might SDGs help to fill the gap?
Well, that would depend on what they cover. The government of Colombia has set out a proposal for SDGs that would cover various sectors – atmosphere, climate resilience, land degradation, sustainable agriculture, biotech, waste and so forth. This would mainly be about ‘reaffirming’ (that awful word – who, other than diplomats, ever ‘reaffirms’ anything?) commitments made at Rio 1992. But you have to wonder: important though delivery of existing commitments undoubtedly is, is ‘reaffirmation’ of stuff agreed 20 years ago really going to set any pluses racing outside the sustainable development priesthood?
Much more interesting, on the other hand, is the idea that SDGs could provide an institutional foundation for the nine planetary boundaries identified – and quantified – by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (see also this previous GD post). The core idea in the boundaries approach is to define a ‘safe operating space for humanity’ – and, of course, the global economy. So if you’re looking for a serious synthesis of environment and economic development, this is ground zero.
Of course, a host of questions would still need to be answered. One would be about what timeline the SDGs would span: 25 years, like the MDGs’ 1990-2015 timescale, or much longer than that?
There’s also the small question of which countries would be covered, and how. The MDGs were basically about developing countries (Goal 8 notwithstanding) – an approach that clearly wouldn’t be possible with SDGs, given the huge sustainability impact of consumptions levels in rich countries. So would the SDGs apply globally, but not to specific countries – leaving them open to the charge that they’re rhetorical aspirations, not serious engines of change? Or would they apply to individual states – opening up the issue of how to differentiate countries’ commitments?
Then, of course, we’d need to know how the SDGs would relate to the MDGs. Some (greens, especially) would like to see SDGs replace MDGs beyond 2015. But lots of developing countries would be deeply suspicious of any perceived dilution of focus on poverty reduction, or anything that looked like it might ‘pull the ladder up after developed countries’ by denying them space to develop – and large and influential aid donors might well agree.
And we’d need to figure out an institutional home for the Goals, too. It would be crucial for them not to be ‘owned’ by the environment priesthood – if SDGs became seen as UNEP’s baby, they’d be stillborn at birth. Instead, it might be interesting to set up a new, independent, scientifically based international institution to monitor planetary boundaries – kind of like a global Congressional Budget Office for planetary boundaries. (Normally, I’m adamantly opposed to creating new international institutions, given how many we have already – but here, I think there’s a compelling case.)
Finally, there’s the question of process. It’s almost certainly too late to define any set of SDGs in time for Rio. Instead, the best option now would be for Rio to provide a launch pad for a process to define a set of SDGs – perhaps leaving open, for now, how they might relate to post-2015 MDGs further down the line. This would create valuable time for some serious outreach, above all to developing countries – though not too much time, given that you’d want to have the SDGs finalised before the US slides back into Presidential election mode from 2015 onwards. 12-18 months would probably be about right – with the Goals signed off at a UN summit in, say, spring 2014.September 6, 2011 at 9:59 am | More on Climate and resource scarcity, Economics and development, Global system, Key Posts | 7 Comments
What on earth was with this painfully cringeworthy waving at the Seoul G20? Heavens above – this is supposed to be a summit, not a school outing. If you look closely at the big version (click on photo), you can see that the world’s leaders fall into 4 categories:
1) Those who are waving and – horror of horrors – think that the whole thing is not only acceptable, but great fun. Ban Ki-moon, Silvio Berlusconi, Herman Van Rompuy – fire your PR advisers and get new ones immediately. (Especially you, Van Rompuy – I just had to look you up on Wikipedia to confirm your first name. That’s how much impact you’ve had, that is.)
2) Those who are waving, but dying inside as they do so. Look at Hu Jintao or Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Fellas - we feel your pain, but we’re a bit alarmed that you felt the need to go with the crowd and wave anyway. Your citizens pay you to lead.
3) Those who refuse to wave, but give embarrassed rictus smiles instead. David Cameron and Jose Barroso, you get modest props for not going with the crowd. But those sheepish looks tell a different tale. You pass, but without distinction.
4) Those who not only refuse to wave, but make no secret of their amused contempt for everyone else for going along with what some duff photographer is demanding of them. Meles Zenawi, Angela Merkel, Lula da Silva, Nicolas Sarkozy – we salute you. Go set up a G4 together. You have my vote.August 31, 2011 at 3:58 pm | More on Global system, Off topic | 4 Comments
Last Thursday, I published a grumpy post over on the blog of the Takshashila Institution, an excellent Indian think-tank. Why was I in a bad mood?
On Friday, India will use its month-long presidency of the United Nations Security Council to convene a discussion on the state of peacekeeping. This is timely, as UN operations have been through a turbulent year, navigating crises in Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan. There is talk of a new mission in Libya. But this meeting is likely to be a bore.
And why did I think that the debate would be a snooze-fest? Demonstrating a remarkable degree of foresight, I guessed that “Security Council diplomats will be thinking of how to beat the traffic from New York to Long Island’s beach resorts once the debate is finished.” Er, no. With Hurricane Irene almost literally on the horizon, everyone was probably wondering when they could go and stock up on bottled water and black truffles, or whatever ambassadors consume during hurricanes.
The debate was also overshadowed by the tragic attack on the UN offices in Nigeria. Nonetheless, a quick read of the summary of the discussions suggests that they were every bit as tedious as I had predicted. Let’s get a quick taster:
Most speakers in the ensuing discussion stressed the continuing importance of United Nations peacekeeping and the need for increased engagement by the partners involved. In that context, many welcomed more regularized consultations with troop- and police-contributing countries and urged continuous improvement in cooperation among all stakeholders. Many also called for innovative thinking in closing resource gaps, particularly in supplying such enablers as helicopters, and in implementing the recommendations of previous peacekeeping reviews.
Enough already! When multiple speakers are highlighting the importance of “implementing the recommendations of previous peacekeeping reviews”, you know that “innovative thinking” is probably in short supply. I’m afraid that I fault the Indian conveners for not shaking up the discussions:
A background paper prepared for the Security Council’s meeting contains a solid but all-too-familiar litany of diplomatic statements about how peace operations are resourced and managed. It fails to grapple seriously with the hardest cases facing the UN or offer a serious framework for resolving them.
As I’ve argued before, peacekeeping is an issue on which New Delhi can show global leadership, but holding debates in New York in which everyone says more or less exactly what they’ve always said isn’t the way to achieve that.August 29, 2011 at 1:13 am | More on Africa, Conflict and security, Cooperation and coherence, Global system, South Asia |
Foreign aid from ‘new donors’ (aka emerging economies) now makes up around $10bn/year.
And this has doubled in the last five years as the Economist noted last week in a piece on ‘aid 2.0′ triggered by the news that India is to set up its own aid agency with a budget of at least US$1.5-$2bn/year (or triple the annual value of UK aid to India leading to the appearance UK aid is being subcontracted).
One might well ask what if most of the world’s poor live in new donor countries – does it suggest the poor overseas are more deserving than the poor at home?
So, what might aid 2.0 looks like?
One way to take a look is with Chinese foreign aid now that there’s a fascinating dataset on Chinese aid projects (here) that has been painstakingly put together by the Aid Data guys. (By the way a health warning: I am not a Chinese aid expert – read a good read here or the new Chinese government aid white paper here or search Duncan Green’s blog for various China pieces).
The Aid Data dataset of Chinese aid projects covers some 500 Chinese foreign aid projects from 1990-2005 by the year, project description and country recipient and in a very few cases the financial value. For example, in 1991 Chinese aid funded a duck breeding farm in Ecuador breeding 70,000 ducklings a year (wonder if it’s had a Randomised Evaluation yet?).
Of course this is just the project aid declared by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and data only runs up to 2005 but it makes fascinating reading if you’ve ever wondered what ‘new’ donor’s aid looks like and how different or not it is from ‘traditional’ donors aid (meaning the OECD countries).
So what does Chinese project aid look like based on the Aid Data dataset?
A quick scan suggests: (i) About a half of the projects listed have a direct relation to standards of living via social investments in health equipment or education facilities or via economic growth and production or income generation; (ii) As is well known there’s lots of infrastructure spending (aka aid as concrete) – about a quarter of the projects listed relate to infrastructure – water and power infrastructure in particular; and (iii) Perhaps surprisingly, a quarter or so of all the projects listed relate to leisure and sport – there are numerous new or renovated gymnasiums in Africa (eg Niger, Rwanda and Benin to name a few) and new sports stadiums – one of the biggest being a 30,000 seater stadium in Togo ‘covering an area of 36,000 square metres and including, one Olympic track, an electronic scoreboard, quality pitches and a giant screen’.
So, how different is all this from ‘traditional’ aid or aid 1.0? Much bilateral aid in recent years might well fit into the first grouping of social investments and income generation; some would fit into infrastructure but perhaps less so and probably little ‘traditional’ aid would be leisure or sport related I’m guessing…
And, more importantly perhaps is all of this is probably not where the big money is given the package aid deals of trade and investment from China, the real value probably lies in those non-aid, trade and investment aspects of the deal than in gyms and duck farms (even if they do breed 70,000 ducklings a year which sounds pretty impressive to me).
August 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm | More on Cooperation and coherence, Economics and development, Global system |
I am an exceptionally excited man. Next week brings the publishing event of 2011: the appearance of Dick Cheney’s memoirs. The NYT has seen an advance copy, and highlights the former Veep’s claim that he advised President Bush to bomb Syria in 2007. Prescient, huh? But it looks like In My Time: a Personal and Political Memoir is going to be utterly jam-packed with enjoyable nuggets:
He [writes] that George J. Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, resigned in 2004 just “when the going got tough,” a decision he calls “unfair to the president.” He wrote that he believes that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell tried to undermine President Bush by privately expressing doubts about the Iraq war, and he confirms that he pushed to have Mr. Powell removed from the cabinet after the 2004 election. “It was as though he thought the proper way to express his views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside the government,” Mr. Cheney writes. His resignation “was for the best.”
I literally don’t know what I’m going to do with myself until I get my hands on a copy of this tome. Cheney has predicted that there “will be heads exploding all over Washington” when it comes out. The book is #3 on the Amazon best-sellers list. I only wish that the publishers had picked a more suitable cover design, like this:
August 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm | More on Conflict and security, Influence and networks, North America, Off topic | 1 Comment August 25, 2011 at 8:19 am | More on Economics and development, Global system, Influence and networks | 1 Comment