Republicans Likely to Nix Funding for UN Climate Agencies After Midterms

Nov. 4, 2014 – The $12 million that the United States Senate has allocated to UN climate agencies is expected to be among the first casualties if Republican take control of the chamber following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

The current Senate bill on funding for state and foreign operations includes $11,700,000 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The bill was approved by a current Democrat-controlled sub-committee in June but has yet to be put to a full vote.

However, the House version of the bill passed by a Republican-controlled sub-committee, also in June, states that “none of the funds in this Act may be made available for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

While the sum involved is miniscule compared to the overall $48 billion budget approved by both sub-committees, it represents a combined one-third of the $7 million IPCC and $26 million UNFCC budgets.

The pulling of this funding will be a big blow to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of next year’s climate talks in Paris. Ban has made climate change his signature issue and is hoping that a global pact can be agreed before he steps down in 2016.

A Republican-controlled Senate will also scupper what slim chances there already were that the US would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will also likely get nixed by a Republican-controlled Senate. The House bill denies any funding to the agency while the Senate version allocates $37.5 million to the UNFPA – the agency which promotes family planning and reproductive health. Under President George W. Bush, all funding for the agency was withheld. President Obama restored this funding after his election.

UNRWA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, could also see its funds cut under a Republican Senate. The US is the largest single donor to the agency.

In a further blow to the US relationship with the UN, under a Republican-controlled Senate, Rand Paul, who last year proposed an amendment calling for the US to stop providing funds to the United Nations, would take over as chair of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the United States participation in the United Nations system.

Among the new batch of Republican senators is Joni Ernst from Iowa who has stated that the UN wants to take Iowan farmers off their land and move them into cities.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Nominates Climate Skeptic as Representative to UNGA

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Sept. 12, 2014 – A Wisconsin senator who argues the evidence that human behavior causes climate change is not convincing and who has likened climate activism to “environmental jihad” has been nominated as a US representative to the 69th UN General Assembly.

The announcement comes days before President Obama participates in Ban Ki-moon’s Sept. 23rd Climate Summit.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2013 sent a fundraising email to supporters attacking the League of Conservation voters, calling the group “one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives.”

“They are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad,” he wrote, according to a Huffington Post report.

Earlier this year, he sparred with climatologist James Hansen at a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing over the Keystone Pipeline. “The science is far from settled,” he said about climate change at the hearing.

The General Assembly is the United Nations’ main deliberative, policy-making and representative organ, with five representatives and five alternates from each of the 193 member nations. It meets in regular session from September to December each year, and periodically thereafter.

Johnson will continue to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and will assume his new duties next week when the 69th General Assembly opens, pending his confirmation.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN: Drought An Underlooked Catalyst for Syria Revolt

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July 26, 2014 – A five-year drought that impoverished large parts of rural Syria led to anger and a growing sense of inequality that were catalysts for the March 2011 uprising, according to the recently released 2014 Human Development Report.

The ensuing civil-war has claimed more than 150,000 lives, including at least 1,700 in the past ten days. The UNDP report, released on Thursday, says the drought devastated millions of livelihoods in the agricultural sector, which was already suffering because of government neglect.

“The role of drought in contributing to the  Syrian crisis is less well known. From 2006 to 2010 the Syrian Arab Republic suffered an unprecedented drought, devastating much of its rural society. Impoverished farmers flooded into the slums of the cities,” the report states. “Observers estimate that 2–3  million of the country’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to extreme poverty. These deprivations, combined with a lack of jobs and an inadequate state and international response, contributed to a rapid buildup of resentment and an acute awareness of group inequality, fertile ground for the civil war that started in 2011.”

The theme of this year’s Human Development Report is resilience and looks at the effects on human security caused by climate change and economic crisis with a particular focus on groups that are vulnerable because of their history and unequal treatment by the rest of society – in Syria’s case, its rural population.

The report also says that humanitarian appeals, while providing necessary immediate aid, do not address climate change as an underlying driver in crises such as in the Sahel and in Syria.

It adds that the current system of global security governance, designed post-WWII to prevent conflict between the great powers, is inadequate in dealing with today’s crises.

“The turn from interstate conflict to internal conflict has changed the focus of conflict prevention and recovery,” the report says. “The resulting governance gap limits international capacity to address pressing security issues, passing the burden to the population in conflict settings.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz


China, US Tops for Renewable Energy But LatAm, Africa Making Strides

June 3, 2014 – Renewable sources account for 19 percent of global energy output with worldwide investment topping $200 billion last year.

China, the US, Brazil, Germany and Canada are the top five countries for total installed renewable power capacity with China and the US also investing the most in clean energy last year followed by Japan, UK and Germany, according to a new report by the Renewable Energy Network in collaboration with the UN Environmental Program.

However, as a percentage of GDP invested in renewable sources, Uruguay, Mauritius, Costa Rica, South Africa and Nicaragua were the top five in 2013.

China produces more than 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources while the figures for the EU28 and United States are 14.1 percent and 12.9 percent respectively.

Energy produced from coal declined by 19 percent in the US from 2008 to 2013 while Spain became the first country to produce more electricity from wind, 20.9 percent, than any other source, the report says. Denmark, Kenya and El Salvador also produce more than 20 percent of electricity from wind.

The report also says that in China, new renewable power capacity surpassed new capacity from fossil fuel and nuclear capacity for the first time.

Worldwide, nuclear power accounts for 2.6 percent of total energy produced.

The number of developing countries with policies supporting renewable energy has increased six-fold in the past eight years from 15 in 2005 to 95 this year, according to the report which will be launched at UN headquarters on Wednesday.

Despite increasing use of alternative sources, the use of fossil fuels for energy has not declined as demand for energy outpaces growth in renewable energy.

There are still some 1.2 billion people, one-fifth of the world’s population, without electricity, according to the World Bank, including about 550 million in Africa and 400 million in India.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz


UN Climate Chief Urges Universities to Divest from Fossil Fuel Industry

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April 22, 2014 – UN climate chief Christina Figueres wants universities to divest from fossil fuel companies.

In a statement delivered at Brown University last week, the Costa Rican diplomat warned that it was harmful to argue that one institution divesting from the fossil fuel industry won’t make a difference.

“The thought that removing investment from coal on the part of one small institution is inconsequential and therefore not to be pursued, is analogous to the dangerous sentiment that in the context of a democratic system one vote is irrelevant because it does not constitute the majority,” she said.

“Or, in the context of an academic institution such as this distinguished one, it is analogous to the unacceptable belief that the education of one student is unimportant because a single student does not effect change,” Figueres added.

There is a growing movement on university campuses demanding endowments divest from the fossil fuel industry including a petition from faculty at Harvard calling on the Ivy League school to re-allocate its almost $33 billion holdings in the the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies to socially-responsible funds.

The latest IPCC report says that the planet is warming even faster than predicted in its previous report and that sea-levels could rise three feet at current rate by century’s end.

The report says increasing emissions, 80 percent of them caused by fossil fuels, are already melting the Arctic, acidifying oceans and harming crops.

Global greenhouse gas emissions—mostly a result of burning coal, oil and natural gas—need to be cut 40 to 70 percent by 2050, the report says, for humankind to face better than 50-50 odds of avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

The World Health Organization predicts that the effects of climate change on health will cost $2-4 billion per year by 2030 with major killers such as diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, malaria and dengue expected to worsen as the climate changes.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Sarah Fretwell

Guest Post: The NGO known as Norway

March 4, 2014 – This weekend, news broke that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, a Smaug-sized hoard of $840 billion, has started cutting its investments in mining due to environmental concerns.

Reuters has the story.

“There is environmental damage by definition,” Chief Executive Yngve Slyngstad told the news agency. “It does not mean that we are selling out of the sector. We are concentrating our investments on the companies that we think are continuing this activity in a more sustainable way.”

Very nice. Except for one thing: Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund is in fact Norway’s oil fund, made of earnings from the oil industry, not known for its “environmental sustainability.” So what’s going on here? Is this the nation-state equivalent of spraying pesticides on crops you sell to others, and then appearing environmentally friendly because you serve organic lettuce to your dinner guests? Kind of, except that nobody would be fooled by a bunch of kale, whereas Norway has been extremely successful in becoming “The NGO known as Norway” rather than “Kuwait on the North Sea.”

Say “Norway” to any diplomat, and the association will most likely be recycling, foreign aid, and climate change mitigation. But what’s paying for all those nice things? Oil is. Normally, that paradox doesn’t get too much attention. But when Norway’s Oil Fund announces it’s getting out of certain fossil fuel industries because they’re “bad for the environment,” the inherent contradiction can’t be ignored, making the effect of the statement not quite the intended gilding of Norway’s NGO status. Rather, this announcement makes Norway look hypocritical, like a country telling the world to do as they say, not as they do. Too many of these and that NGO status could come up for review, Norway.

– Julia Grønnevet is a freelance reporter based in Oslo.