What about the deserving rich?

In 1988, the majority of Britons couldn’t name their MP – but a staggering 92% of the population knew the name of an ANC leader imprisoned 6000 miles away in Robben Island. Fast forward to 2005 and more people wore white Make Poverty History wrist-bands than voted for the government. There’s a deep internationalist tradition on these islands, but in 2012 the 99% have shut the door.

One reason for that is obvious; when our homes, jobs and savings are threatened instincts of self-preservation will tend to crowd out the generosity of spirit on which all solidarity actions depend. It is no accident that both the international anti-globalisation movement and the Jubilee and Global Call to Action Against Poverty movements which succeeded it all experienced their peaks during the long boom.

Across the Western world insecurity is breeding insularity – but also exposing that progressives have a different account of fairness from the public whose interests we claim to champion.

One report from Oxfam – A Safe and Just Space for Humanity – argues that we must learn to live above a social floor but below a planetary ceiling, in a state of ‘justice’ where nobody has so little their life cannot be tolerably sustained, but nobody consumes so much that we are all endangered. It is informed by earlier work by Alex Evans of New York University’s Centre for International Cooperation in which he argues that climate constraints mean we need an account of how to allocate ‘fair shares’ of the resources and wealth which currently exist instead of assuming a long-term consensus on growth.

These interventions are highly provocative, intelligent and timely, but we need to recognise that justice and fairness are not technical variables to be measured but political concepts to be struggled over. They are the most fiercely disputed terms in politics precisely because most public policy debate boils down to justice as fairness versus justice as desert – is ‘justice’ secured when everybody has an equitable share, or when people get out roughly what they put in?

This is the tension which animates public policy debates from welfare reform in Britain to immigration in South Africa  and given the political brutality with which the definition of ‘fairness’ is contested inside nations we can hardly hope to define it away when it comes to relationships between them.

That means the thinkers and activists of the global justice movement need an answer for the American car worker who believes he has ‘earned’ more carbon space than the Bangladeshi villager by virtue of making goods the rest of the world wants to buy. We won’t find an answer which will satisfy him until we accept it’s neither a philosophical abstraction nor a question capable of being settled by development ‘science’. Instead this is politics in the raw; the struggle about who has what, how they got it, whether they should keep it and with what legitimacy it can be taken away.  The fight to frame justice – not just the campaign to secure it – is the battle we need to win now.

What’s left for the UN in Syria?

The Security Council decided today to close down the UN observer mission in Syria, which I once predicted would be a “heroic failure”.  But this isn’t quite the end of the UN political presence on the ground, as the BBC reports:

Although the 101 remaining military observers will leave Damascus over the next eight days, a civilian liaison office is due to remain and a new special envoy is expected to be appointed.

What can such a political mission achieve?  Here’s a few historical analogies from a paper I wrote for USIP last year:

What happens if preventive diplomacy fails and decision makers choose to cross the Rubicon and unleash full-scale war? Counterintuitively, political missions may still have a role to play in this scenario, urging the parties to at least limit the level of violence and maintain some channels of communication during the fighting. As noted earlier in this report, UN missions currently play a role in trying to mitigate a number of ongoing conflicts, including those in Somalia and Afghanistan. The United Nations also has a long-standing presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which has continued to operate during crises such as Israel’s 2008–09 incursion into Gaza (“Operation Cast Lead”). During that crisis, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) engaged in behind-the-scenes diplomacy with all sides—once Israel pulled back, UNSCO turned to facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. It is a conduit for communications with Hamas that other actors cannot undertake directly.

Political missions can thus play a useful functional role during active conflicts, although they are typically constrained by both security issues and a lack of political leverage.  . . .  A mission deployed during the early phase of a war can identify ways to mitigate the damage, but this ultimately depends on the combatants’ cooperation.

Syria’s combatants are unlikely to prove very cooperative.

Have you heard who will replace Annan? It’s Mr. Inaudible!

There’s mounting confusion at the UN about who will replace Kofi Annan as the envoy to Syria.  Everyone knows that it’s meant to be veteran UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.  But it’s widely rumored that Brahimi is holding up the announcement because he wants a clear vote of support from the Security Council, which is not so easy these days.

That’s all a bit sensitive.  Ban Ki-moon gave a press conference in Timor-Leste today, and some impertinent journalist brought the issue up (as well as raising concerns about Timor’s future).  Check out the subtle way that the UN transcript deals with the complex Brahimi issue:

Q: Are you confident the country will remain peaceful once the peacekeeepers [sic] leave? And the second question: Mr. [inaudible] …. is a strong candidate to replace Kofi Annan, are you going to announce officially here in East Timor?

SG: I didn’t clearly understand your first question, but for the second question: I am not in a position to inform on anything about the successor issue of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy for Syria. I am in the process of actively searching for a successor and when I am ready I will certainly announce this as soon as possible.

Now we don’t know if the questioner said “Brahimi”.  But it’s not a bad guess, and it wouldn’t be too hard to check.  But maybe there’s another mediator in the frame: Mr. Inaudible, a master of quiet diplomacy?

Beware September

This from an investor briefing sent out today by Nomura, the Japanese bank:

  • Even if the eurozone manages to get through August without the crisis taking a sharp turn for the worse, we believe that September could prove to be an even more challenging month for policymakers.
  • The next Troika report on Greece, due in early September, could prove to be the crossroads moment for Athens.
  • In Germany, we expect the constitutional court to approve ratification of ESM on 12 September, but the fiscal compact could prove more difficult, with yet more, and more difficult, cases set to follow.
  • The Netherlands, too, is set to grab headlines on 12 September, when the general election is expected to result in an inconclusive outcome and protracted coalition negotiations.
  • In Italy, parliamentary debates on electoral reform (ongoing) and the 2013 budget (forthcoming) threaten the stability of the Monti government as Silvio Berlusconi looks set to make a return to frontline politics.
  • Portugal is struggling with fiscal slippage and increasing political tensions, suggesting that an attempt to renegotiate its bail-out terms may be imminent.
  • In Spain, the government is struggling to maintain credibility with electors and markets alike. We believe a country bail-out package would be another serious blow.
  • Possible bail-outs for Cyprus and Slovenia would add to policymakers’ woes and market concerns.

We therefore conclude that September – with its plethora of potentially destabilising events – promises to be a particularly testing, not to say dangerous, month, irrespective of what the ECB comes up with on 2 August.

Greenpeace’s Executive Director replies (sort of) to my post on why they’re part of the problem on global climate policy

Last week, I published a post here arguing that Greenpeace is (and has been for a long time) part of the problem on global climate policy – in a nutshell, because the organisation has for years and years ducked the twin issues of a global carbon budget, and the need for fair shares within it.

Greenpeace International’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, has now come back to me on Twitter with a reply. He says,

@alexevansuk Incorrect that GP hasn’t promoted carbon budgets. See NGO Treaty from 2009.

Which kind of begs the rejoinder: If Greenpeace is such a big advocate for the idea of carbon budgets, how come it hasn’t mentioned carbon budgets since 2009 (and never, as far as I can tell, in any of its own reports)? How come the Greenpeace International web page on “Climate Solutions” makes no reference whatsoever to the idea of a global carbon budget? And does Kumi Naidoo’s reply mean that they’ll be correcting that small oversight forthwith – and if not, why not?

More fundamentally, why is it that the report that Kumi Naidoo linked to in his tweet says nothing about the idea of fair shares to a global carbon budget?

If that’s all Kumi Naidoo has to say in reply, then it just proves the point that Greenpeace doesn’t get it about equity and carbon budgets. When Greenpeace talks about a carbon budget, it doesn’t talk about fair shares to it. When it talks about equity, it doesn’t talk about carbon budgets. It either doesn’t understand or – I would argue – doesn’t want to face up to the fact that that talk of carbon budgets and equity is simply meaningless unless you connect the dots between the two.

A carbon budget is just a concept until you actually share it out between all of the word’s countries. And equity is just a nice idea unless you’re talking about what it means in the context of fair entitlements to the space within global environmental limits.

I’m still hoping for a serious reply from Kumi Naidoo, in particular to my argument that Greenpeace’s silence about the issue of fair shares to a global carbon budget amounts to complicity in a 21st century form of enclosure (see the end of my original post). This wasn’t it.

Page 40 of 490« First...102030...394041...506070...Last »