Latest Developments, November 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Energy governance
Former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics’ Ángel Saz-Carranza make the case for a system of global energy governance, arguing that neither an unregulated market nor current multilateral institutions are up to the task.
“Owing mainly to its environmentally negative externalities, an unregulated energy market is not a useful governing mechanism, because it is unable to internalize the environmental costs. It has been calculated that the most contaminating energy sources would have to pay a 70% tax to reflect their negative externalities.
A substantial lack of information in this field is another reason why the free market doesn’t work. Often, as with the properties of a gas reserve, for example, information is technically difficult to obtain. In addition, governments consider natural resources to be strategic and don’t release information about them. Finally, time frames related to energy are usually long: centuries for environmental effects or decades for investments to pay off. Thus, energy must be governed through a system of cooperation and regulation.”

Covert war
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Pratap Chatterjee argues the CIA must prove that two Pakistani boys, aged 12 and 16, who were killed last week in a drone strike posed an imminent threat to US security or else it is guilty of murder.
“Over 2,300 people in Pakistan have been killed by such missiles carried by drone aircraft such as the Predator and the Reaper, and launched by remote control from Langley, Virginia. Tariq and Waheed brought the known total of children killed in this way to 175, according to statistics maintained by the organisation I work for, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.”

First, do no harm
The University of London’s Donna Dickenson writes about the recent discovery that American researchers intentionally infected hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis in the 1940s, and she warns against ethical complacency today as more and more clinical drug trials are conducted in poor countries.
“In fact, one should view the Guatemalan study, with its incontrovertible horrors, as an extreme example of the biggest ethical problems in research today. Now, as then, richer developed countries are able to put pressure on weaker, poorer ones.
A report in 2010 revealed that foreign citizens made up more than three-quarters of all the subjects in clinical trials conducted by US firms and researchers. The US Food and Drug Administration inspected only 45 of these sites, about 0.7 per cent. There is no suggestion that Third World patients are deliberately being made ill when research is outsourced – unlike in the Guatemalan case – but that does not attenuate the inherent vulnerability of populations lacking basic medical care or experiencing epidemics.”

Investment agreements
The Guardian reports on bilateral investment treaties and how their investor-state dispute mechanism is a powerful and increasingly popular tool for transnational corporations to sue governments whose policies threaten their profits.
“There is growing concern among legal experts and the countries hit by these legal cases that the investment regime, made up of a patchwork of bilateral investment treaties and multilateral agreements, favours corporations over the public interest, puts sovereignty at stake, is chronically lacking in transparency and accountability and has been mis-sold to many developing countries that only realise exactly what they have signed up for when they get sued.

In the last 15 years multinational corporations have increasingly recognised the potential of the ISDM, and this area of law – in which lawyers and arbitrators can command fees of $500 an hour and more – has seen a rapid expansion. A UN report in 2010 noted that 57% of all known cases have been brought in the last five years, with growing numbers of law firms opening large, dedicated sections.”

Affordable medicine
Intellectual Property Watch reports the Medicines Patent Pool, whose goal is to improve access to effective HIV/AIDS treatments in poor countries, has responded to criticism of a deal it signed with a major pharmaceutical company earlier this year.
“The Pool said in its response that the Gilead deal is not a template for the future, and that it includes more countries in its scope than any other HIV licence to date. The response also details how the licence does not undermine flexibilities contained within the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It also seeks to address concerns related to production of generic products in India and elsewhere.”

Ethical oil
Nobel laureates Jody Williams and Desmond Tutu argue one of their own, US President Barack Obama, will take “one of the single most disastrous decisions of his presidency concerning climate change and the very future of our planet” if he approves construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s controversial “tar sands” to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The claim that Alberta’s fossil fuels are “ethical” because Canada is a friend is a specious ploy aimed at perpetuating the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. There is no such thing as ethical fossil fuel, regardless of geographical origin. The ethical choice is to move as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels, period.”

Roadmap for sustainable development
The UNDiplomatic Times’s Bhaskar Menon calls for a specific course of action to be mapped out at next year’s Rio+20 summit in order to actually undertake the radical changes needed to achieve sustainable development.
“The [UN] secretary-general’s report submitted earlier this year to the committee preparing for the [Rio+20] conference noted that to succeed in ‘fundamentally shifting consumption and production patterns onto a more sustainable path’, public policy would have to extend ‘well beyond “getting prices right”’.
However, it did not say what specific policy measures would be necessary. Indeed, nowhere in the massive body of documentation the United Nations has produced since it convened the first Environment Conference in 1972 can we find a single analysis of that issue.”

Latest Developments, October 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Happiness is a doughnut
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth makes the case for adding social boundaries to the nine so-called “planetary boundaries” in order to come up with comfort zones or “doughnuts” within which people can live both sustainably and decently.
“[N]on-monetary metrics must clearly be given more weight in policy making. Economic progress cannot be assessed only – or even primarily – in monetary terms (such as incomes per capita and GDP growth rates). Where the edges are, and whether or not we are hitting them, matters for stability and justice. Policymakers must take more notice of, and be more accountable for, the impact of economic activity on planetary and social boundaries, defined in ‘natural’ and ‘social’ metrics, such as species extinction rates, and unemployment rates.”

Inequality matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed says the Occupy movements have, if nothing else, dragged the issue of inequality into the spotlight and she presents five points to show why it matters.
“Policy change might be becoming more likely.  In sharp contrast to previous protests, the Occupy movement has got a very sympathetic hearing in the press, with even the Financial Times conceding that they have a point.  Could this be the moment that inequality becomes mainstream? ”

Corruption talks
A new World Bank and UN report calls on the world’s governments to do more about corruption and money laundering.
“The report, the Puppet Masters, examines how bribes, embezzled state assets and other criminal proceeds are being hidden via legal structures – shell companies, foundations, trusts and others. The study’s release coincided with a UN conference on corruption in Marrakesh, Morocco, bringing together anti-corruption advocates and representatives from 154 states.”

Mailbox companies
SOMO has released a new report on Dutch bilateral investment treaties alleging so-called “mailbox companies” are using these agreements to sue home countries for billions “for alleged damages to the profitability of their investments.”
“In addition, the majority of the companies availing themselves of the generous investment protections offered by Dutch BITs are so-called ‘mailbox companies,’ companies with no employees on their payroll and no real economic activity in the Netherlands.”

Walking the gender walk
Gender Action’s Elizabeth Arend argues there is an “alarming gap” between the World Bank’s rhetoric on gender equality and its actual investment policies.
“The World Bank’s gender-blind agriculture investments are even more appalling when they are offered in the form of loans, which increase poor countries’ debt burden and often compel governments to slash public spending on health and other social services to service debt. These cuts are devastating for poor women, who not only suffer directly from lack of access to healthcare, but are responsible for the health and welfare of their households.
Poor countries can appeal to the World Bank for debt relief, but only if they demonstrate a track record of adopting bank-imposed “free-market” policy reforms, including privatisation of state-owned enterprises and unilateral reduction of agricultural trade barriers while rich countries maintain theirs. Women inevitably bear the greatest burden when such policy reforms undermine poor countries’ investments in agriculture, health and education.”

Selling repression
In light of a recent Amnesty International report detailing the extent of arms sales to repressive Arab regimes over the last five years, Al-Jazeera asks if the proposed Arms Trade Treaty will really be able to rein in the global weapons trade.
“The human rights group reports that in the five years preceding the Arab spring $2.4bn worth of small arms, tear gas, armoured vehicles and other security equipment was sold to five specified countries that have faced or are facing popular uprisings – Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
And these sales were committed by at least 20 governments including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US.”

Blackwater and the US Supreme Court
The Leal Times reports former Blackwater security contractors charged with manslaughter over a shooting incident in Iraq that “left more than a dozen civilians either dead or injured” are trying to get the US Supreme Court to hear their case.
“At issue is whether the indictment is tainted from the prosecution’s use of statements the guards were compelled to make in the hours after the shooting in Baghdad in 2007.”

Happy Birthday to UN
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marked his organization’s 66th anniversary by calling for the 193 member states to display “unity of purpose.”
“Global problems demand global solutions,” he said. “They compel all nations to unite in action on an agenda for the world’s people.