Latest Developments, June 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Bleak outlook
The World Bank has published a new climate change report exploring what “temperature increases will look like, degree-by-degree” for some of the world’s poorest people over the next century:

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers found food security will be the overarching challenge, with dangers from droughts, flooding, and shifts in rainfall.
Between 1.5°C-2°C warming, drought and aridity, will contribute to farmers losing 40-80 percent of cropland conducive to growing maize, millet, and sorghum by the 2030s-2040s, the researchers found.

Loss of snow melt from the Himalayas will reduce the flow of water into the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins. Together, they threaten to leave hundreds of millions of people without enough water, food, or access to reliable energy.”

US troops in Mali
Sahara Media reports that American soldiers have arrived at the Amchach military base near Tessalit in northern Mali:

“According to sources contacted by Sahara Media, the soldiers’ arrival at this strategic base, which took place over the past two days, has the support of the French military.
These same sources say the US troops will be deployed to various points in northern Mali by month’s end.
According to Sahel watchers, this base had been a point of contention between Paris and Washington, both of whom wanted to set up a military base, though Algeria and Libya objected to foreign troops being stationed near their borders.” [Translated from the French.]

Partial transparency
The Center for Global Development’s Alex Cobham and Owen Barder have mixed feelings about this week’s G8 statement on “tackling financial secrecy”:

“It is disappointing that the G-8 did not agree to compile registries of beneficial ownership of companies and trusts, let alone to make them public. If individuals can own companies anonymously, it is too easy for them to set up shell companies and shelter their income from tax within them. We are confident it will eventually dawn on everyone that the only workable solution is registries of beneficial ownership, and that there is no reason that these should not be public.”

Going beyond aid
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s Fraser Reilly-King argues that while “aid alone” will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals or their post-2015 successors, strategies based on leveraging private capital should be viewed with caution :

“With the obsession around growth and the private sector, has come a strong focus on creating an enabling environment for private sector development. The World Bank’s (much criticized) flagship Doing Business Report ranks countries according to the ease of doing business. In practice, while it may encourage countries to streamline heavy bureaucratic processes that choke innovation, this has also led to excessive deregulation, flexibilization of work forces, and attacks on labour rights. For me, it is not about creating an enabling environment to develop the private sector (and stimulate investment), but rather creating an environment that enables the private sector (and investment and civil society and citizens) to contribute to development and poverty eradication. It’s a subtle, but extremely important, difference.”

Truth to power
Humanosphere reports that former Costa Rican president and Nobel laureate Oscar Arias told a US audience “your government is the most dangerous government on Earth”:

“Arias — in town to do a commencement speech for [the University of Washington Bothell], among other speaking events — had plenty of praise for the United States, for the generous and enterprising spirit of Americans.
But he also couldn’t help noting our country’s history of ‘supporting military dictatorships,’ of only doing foreign aid when we can see how it helps us and, as the world’s leading arms dealer and military power, of exporting violence.”

Green façade
The Dominion raises questions about Canadian-based Goldcorp’s attempts to “re-brand” its San Martin mine, which ceased production in 2008, as a Honduran ecotourism site:

“But the reality on the ground is a long way from the stories told in company documents and press releases.
A visit to the site in early 2013 revealed no evidence of a thriving hotel or ecotourism project. Instead, tall fences with barbed wire surrounded a space of land on the hill down from the mine. It cost $20 to enter the area and there were security forces guarding the site.

Residents claim that Goldcorp’s San Martin Foundation should not fall under the definition of ecotourism. Members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee fear that the site is acting as a placeholder for the mine to re-open in the future once new mining regulations come into place.

Health equality
Durham University’s Clare Bambra makes the case for taking on economic inequality as a way to improve public health:

“Ultimately, more equal societies have better health outcomes. While even the most egalitarian developed countries have health inequalities, all of their citizens are better off and live longer. The poorest and most vulnerable groups in social-democratic countries like Sweden and Norway are far healthier and live longer than their counterparts in neo-liberal countries such as the UK or the US.”

Dodgy accounting
Freedom from Want author Ian Smillie argues that current statistics on extreme poverty do not reflect improving global conditions since the 1980s so much as a big change in the World Bank’s math:

“The problem is that the figures used a decade or so afterwards for 1980, 1985 and 1990 are not the same figures the Bank was using at the time. In its 1980 World Development Report (WDR)—still available on line—the World Bank said that ‘The number of people living in absolute poverty in developing countries (excluding China and other centrally planned economies) is estimated at around 780 million.’ At the time, China had an estimated 360 million destitute people, so the global total was probably about 1.1 billion—the same as today.

Over the past decade, however, the Bank began to tinker with the 1980-1 base. For example, ‘The Bank’s annual statistical report, World Development Indicators 2004 (WDI)… shows a drop in the absolute number of people living on less than $1 a day in all developing countries from 1.5 billion in 1981, to 1.1 billion in 2001.’
Are you following the numbers? The 1981 base had increased to 1.5 billion. And it kept rising thereafter to its current level of 1.9 billion. What remains constant is the 1.1 or 1.2 billion people living in poverty ‘today’ (whether that ‘today’ is 2013, 2004, 2000, 1985 or 1980).”

Latest Developments, April 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Looking beyond aid
The Guardian reports that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has urged the EU to do more to ensure its trade, immigration and food policies do not harm poor countries.
“Between 2009 and 2011, only seven out of 164 impact assessments looked at the impact on developing countries even though 77 were potentially relevant to them, the [OECD’s development assistance committee] said. In the case of fisheries policy, the impact assessment restricted its analysis to public agreements, excluding the majority of EU vessels that fish outside EU waters under private agreements or joint venture, the review noted.”

Commodity pains
The UN News Centre reports on new findings that suggest high commodity prices are doing more harm than good to poor countries, despite higher export revenues.
“What should be a boon for poor nations, especially the globe’s 48 least developed countries – whose economies often depend heavily on commodity exports – is on balance a negative development because many of these countries are net importers of oil and staple foods.
Since the food crisis of 2008, prices for basic nourishment have been both volatile and high, the report notes – and poor families are acutely vulnerable, as they typically spend 50 per cent or more of their incomes on food.”

Five-star apology
Postmedia News reports that Canada’s international development minister has apologized for upgrading from “a five-star hotel to a swankier hotel” at the taxpayers’ expense while attending a conference in London last year.
“The government announced Monday [International Development Minister Bev Oda] was reimbursing some of the additional costs from the June 2011 international conference — held to discuss vaccines and immunization for children in developing countries — after they were uncovered in a media report.
Those reimbursed costs included the $16 glass of orange juice.
In her apology, Oda made no mention of repaying the money she spent hiring a chauffeured limousine during her trip — costs that may not have been incurred had she stayed in the hotel where the conference was held.”

Museum greenwash
The CBC reports that environmental groups are protesting the decision to name a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature after mining giant Barrick Gold.
“Barrick Gold Corp., based out of Toronto, purchased the room’s naming rights for about $1 million. The new ‘Barrick Salon’ is the museum’s premier rental space featuring a circular room with glass windows from floor to ceiling.
The decision has activists planning a demonstration at the museum this afternoon, a few hours before the official naming reception that includes Barrick Gold executives.
They believe mining companies do not put nature before their own business practice.”

Vale under fire
Inter Press Service reports that 30 groups from around the world have come together to condemn Brazilian mining giant Vale for allegedly committing serious environmental and human rights abuses while posting earnings in excess of $20 billion in each of the last two years.
“Vale is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, the International Council on Mining and Metals ICMM), and the São Paulo Stock Exchange Corporate Sustainability Index (ISE), all of which establish corporate social and environmental responsibility principles.
But in January 2012 it was named the “Worst Company in the World” by the Public Eye Awards, which every year name and shame the companies that have shown the worst social or environmental irresponsibility.
Vale even beat out Japan’s Tepco, the firm that operates the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, which melted down after the March 2011 tsunami.”

Duty to cooperate
The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, argues that the current debate on climate change lacks “an honest starting point,” which he believes should be human rights.
“Climate change represents an enormous threat to a whole host of human rights: the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to development. There is therefore huge scope for human rights courts and non-judicial human rights bodies to treat climate change as the immediate threat to human rights that it is. Such bodies could therefore take government policy to task when it is too short-sighted, too unambitious, or too narrowly focused on its own constituents at the expense of those elsewhere. Fossil fuel mining, deforestation, the disturbance of carbon sinks, and the degradation of the oceans are developments that can be blocked on human rights grounds.”

Africa’s image
Author Binyavanga Wainaina takes issue with international media portrayals of Africa.
“The truth is, with the rise of China, we do not have to take any deal Europe throws at us that comes packaged with permanent poverty, incompetent volunteers and the occasional Nato bomb.
As the West flounders, there is a real sense that we have some leverage.
The truth is, we will never look like what CNN wants us to look like.
But that’s fine – we can get online now and completely bypass their nonsense.”

Privatizing Rivera
Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi reflects on the irony of having to pay $25 to see the revolutionary public art of Diego Rivera inside New York’s private Museum of Modern Art.
“The spirit of Diego Rivera has long since abandoned MoMA and is now hovering somewhere between Zuccotti Park in New York and Tahrir Square in Cairo – hovering over the Syntagma Square in Athens, Azadi Square in Tehran, the Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid, and the remnants of the Pearl Square in Bahrain – where young artists are plotting the proportions of their organic tenacity between the beautiful and the just. ”

Global economic governance
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Deborah James argues the UN Conference on Trade and Development is “seriously threatening” to those who caused the global financial crisis.
“The role of UNCTAD as an alternative voice to the ‘Washington Consensus’ paradigm – being the only multilateral economic institution focused on development – must be strengthened vis-a-vis the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the G20 in global economic governance decision-making. In the coming week, it will be important to choose sides in the ‘Battle of UNCTAD’s Future Mandate.’ A lot depends on it.”

Latest Developments, March 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian math
Embassy Magazine’s Scott Taylor compares fatalities in Arab-Spring Syria and US-occupied Iraq.
“According to the US State Department, approximately 10,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting over the past 12 months (this figure includes both pro-regime security forces and rebel fighters).
As a counterweight to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s moral outrage at the Syrian violence, one need only look at the previous nine years, during which America occupied Syria’s neighbour.
In the US response to armed uprisings and inter-ethnic violence in Iraq, the lowest official estimate of casualties published by the Iraqi Body Count Project puts the death toll as of January 2012 at over 272,000.
While the death toll fluctuated during those years, the rough math brings us to an annual loss of 30,000 Iraqi lives per year—three times that of the current ‘unacceptable’ level of civil war violence in Syria.”

Pakistan’s drone opposition
The Associated Press reports Pakistan recently rejected concessions offered by US officials scrambling to save their drone campaign after “a series of incidents throughout 2011” damaged the two countries’ relationship.
“CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with Pakistan’s then-spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha at a meeting in London in January, offered to give Pakistan advance notice of future CIA drone strikes against targets on its territory in a bid to keep Pakistan from blocking the strikes — arguably one of the most potent U.S. tools against al-Qaida.
The CIA chief also offered to apply new limits on the types of targets hit, said a senior U.S. intelligence official briefed on the meetings. No longer would large groups of armed men rate near-automatic action, as they had in the past — one of the so-called ‘signature’ strikes, where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.”

Global Compact housecleaning
The Guardian reports that the UN Global Compact – “the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative” – is set to kick out more than 750 businesses over the next six months.
“Non-governmental organisations have long criticised the Global Compact, which promotes 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, because it has no effective monitoring and enforcement provisions.
They also accuse businesses of using it to oppose any binding international regulation on corporate accountability and for benefitting from the Global Compact’s logo, a blue globe and a laurel wreath, which is very similar to the UN logo, while continuing to perpetrate human rights and environmental abuses.”

Climate change ruling
Reuters reports that an Australian court has ruled Swiss mining giant Xstrata can proceed with developing a massive coal mine despite arguments that it will contribute to climate change.
“The case against the 22 million metric tons (24.2 million tons) per year open-cut Wandoan coal mine is the first to use climate change as the primary argument against the development of a mine, according to Friends of the Earth.
Xstrata argued in the case that stopping the Wandoan coal project would not affect the total amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, since the coal that it would have produced by Wandoan would be replaced by coal produced elsewhere.
The Land Court agreed, saying in its ruling, ‘It is difficult to see from the evidence that this project will cause any relevant impact on the environment.’ ”

ICC’s Africa problem
Harvard Law School graduate student Nanjala Nyabola argues that the International Criminal Court has yet to earn the confidence of Africans, a problem that is especially troubling because all 28 people indicted by the court so far come from Africa.
“The answer may lie in investing universal jurisdiction in various African supreme or high courts, simply by passing statutes that give these courts authority to try cases related to the most egregious violations of human rights on the continent.
Using the judiciaries of smaller states in Africa that have succeeded in earning the confidence of their people provides an alternative that takes alleged offenders out of the immediate context of the crimes but still respects the idea of ‘African solutions for African problems’. Mauritius, Namibia, Botswana, Ghana – these are all nations with the capacity (albeit with significant assistance) to set up special chambers akin to those in Cambodia to try such cases.”

Misguided Principles
The University of Ottawa’s Penelope Simons argues that the UN’s current framework on addressing corporate human rights impunity is “misconceived.”
“[This article] seeks to demonstrate the problems with the [UN secretary-general’s special representative for business and human rights (SRSG)]’s approach by arguing that, along with the interventions of international financial institutions in the economies of developing states, one of the most significant impediments to corporate human rights accountability is the structure of the international legal system itself… It is argued that powerful states have used international law and international institutions to create a globalised legal environment which protects and facilitates corporate activity and, although the SRSG identified symptoms of this reality during his tenure, he did not examine the deep structural aspects of this problem. This article demonstrates that such an examination would have revealed the crucial need for binding international human rights obligations for business entities in any adequate strategy aimed at addressing corporate impunity.”

Third British Empire
Author Dan Hind argues that although its days of colonization and slave trading are over, Britain is now at the centre of a new imperial enterprise whose “signature crime is tax evasion.”
“Nowadays, if you believe what you’re told by respectable historians and broadcasters, Britain has turned its back on its imperial past and is trying as best it can to make its way as an ordinary nation. The reality is somewhat more complicated. One day, perhaps history will describe a third British Empire, organised around the country’s offshore financial infrastructure and its substantial diplomatic, intelligence and communications resources. Having given up the appearance of empire, the British have sought to reclaim its substance.”

Symmetry of slaughter
Syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer contrasts the public discourse surrounding recent mass murders committed by a Muslim man in France and an American soldier in Afghanistan.
“Predictably, Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front, called on French voters to ‘fight…against these politico-religious fundamentalists who are killing our Christian children, our Christian young men.’
The incumbent right-wing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, says much the same thing, but less bluntly.

As for the Bales atrocity, it is already being written off by the American media and public as a meaningless aberration that tells us nothing about US foreign policy or national character.”