Latest Developments, December 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada out of Kyoto
The New York Times reports that mere hours after the international community agreed at the Durban climate change conference to extend the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has become the first country to withdraw from the accord.
“‘Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,’ the environment minister, Peter Kent, told reporters shortly after returning from South Africa. He added that Canada would work toward developing an agreement that includes targets for developing nations, particularly China and India.
‘What we have to look at is all major emitters,’ Mr. Kent said.
Under the Kyoto Protocol’s rules, Canada must formally give notice of its intention to withdraw by the end of this year or else face penalties after 2012.
The extent of those penalties, as well as Canada’s ability to redress its inability to meet the treaty’s emission reduction targets, is a matter of some debate.”

Trade mispricing
Global Financial Integrity’s Sarah Freitas writes that the Philippines lost an estimated $142 billion due to illicit financial flows over the last decade, but that corruption and bribery accounted for a relatively small part of that amount .
“The study found that the majority of the illicit outflow, US$113.7 billion, is due to the mispricing of imported and exported goods. Trade mispricing is a phenomenon where individuals and corporations use fraudulent commercial invoices to smuggle money out of the country, usually in order to facilitate tax evasion. A large corporation or very wealthy individual in the Philippines will trade with a counterpart in another country, but will manipulate the price and quantity of exported goods to send more money offshore than represented by what they report to the government. The individual or corporation then collects the extra money later, usually in a bank account in a tax haven or secrecy jurisdiction.
This means that while the Philippines has seen significant outflows from corruption, bribery, and kickbacks, their biggest priority when addressing illicit capital flight should be to tackle trade-related tax evasion.”

Slow start
The Guardian reports that after 40 years of mining uranium in Niger, the French state-owned company Areva has agreed to begin monitoring the health of its employees.
“Deaths from respiratory infections occur at almost twice the national average in Arlit, according to Greenpeace. In a 2010 report, the organisation found water wells in Akokan contaminated with radiation levels up to 500 times higher than normal, and radioactive scrap metal for sale at local markets. Meanwhile, mining activity has drained almost 300bn litres of water from aquifers, key water sources in the desert.”

Biofuel crimes
A new report produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Transparency International suggests the troubles with the growing biofuel industry go beyond issues of food security.
“The drive to find alternative energy sources to mitigate climate change has resulted in a rush of money to related investments in countries. Yet many countries with governance and corruption challenges are considered among the most attractive destinations for biofuel investment.
In the case of Colombia, the rapid expansion of the cultivation of palm oil has been linked to reports of paramilitaries, hired by private interests, allegedly pushing poor communities off their land to increase the available area for planting.”

Boycott fever
Forbes blogger E.D. Kain writes about the Florida Family Association’s efforts to get companies to pull their advertising dollars from TLC’s reality TV show All-American Muslim, a campaign the group claims has succeeded with 65 of the 67 companies it pressured.
“The FFA’s statement on the matter reads: ‘‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law… The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.’”

Durban disappointment
Oxfam’s Tim Gore argues that the final deal that came out of the Durban climate summit prioritized legal obligations over ambition and equity.
“Many developing countries are concerned the terms of the new agreement will pressurise them to act in the same vein as developed countries. The impassioned appeals of India and others to keep fairness at the heart of the new regime are not reflected in the text of the final agreement, which makes no distinction between the relative effort required by large and small historic and per-capita polluters, or between the richest countries and those where millions of people still live in poverty and hunger.”

In a Q&A with People of Colour Organize!, British Green politician and activist Derek Wall discusses the concept of ecosocialism and answers whether “zero growth” is possible in a capitalist system.
“The short answer is no. Firms compete to make profit. Those who make the most profit can reinvest in capital and with more efficient machinery they out compete other firms.
Firms have to make profit to survive. It’s not a case of wicked capitalists but instead a system with a built in growth imperative.
The problem is, from declining oil to diminishing fish stocks, an environmental wipeout is occurring.”

Dangerous game
In an Al Jazeera interview, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs talks about the madness, as he sees it, of the American financial system.
“And the problem that the Occupy Wall Street and other protesters have is: you don’t deserve it, you nearly broke the system, you gamed the economy, you’re paying mega fines, yet you’re still in the White House you’re going to the state dinners, you’re paying yourself huge bonuses, what kind of system is this?
When I talk about this in the United States, I’m often attacked, ‘oh, you don’t believe in the free market economy’, I say, how much free market can there be? You say deregulate, the moment the banks get in trouble, you say bail them out, the moment you bail them out, you say go back to deregulation. That’s not a free market, that’s a game, and we have to get out of the game. We have to get back to grown-up behaviour.”

Latest Developments, December 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Better than nothing
Mother Jones reports on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” which prevented the COP 17 climate summit from going down as a total disaster but leaves much still to be negotiated and done.
“While it’s notable that the US, China, and India agreed to creating a legal pathway, there was still concern from developing countries that too much burden had been shifted to them. China expressed concern that the developed nations were not doing enough. ‘It is not what is said by countries it is what is done by countries, and many are not realizing their commitments,’ said Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead negotiators. ‘We’ve been talking about this for 20 years, they’re still not being acted upon … We want to see your real actions.’”

Enabling corruption
A new report by the Bond Anti-Corruption Group calls on the British government to do more in preventing UK banks and companies from “fuelling and facilitating” corruption in other countries.
“The failure to act here in the UK when it comes to enforcing bribery laws and tackling dirty money has devastating effects on developing countries, undermining good governance and exacerbating poverty,” according to the Bond Anti-Corruption Group’s Melissa Lawson.

Business & human rights
The Institute for Human Rights and Business has released its Top 10 list of emerging business and human rights issues for 2012, among which is “providing legal redress for business participation in human rights violations.”
“For over a decade victims of human rights abuses around the world have turned to the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) for redress in the form of monetary compensation. Of the over 100 cases filed (which include allegations of child abuse, providing support to or benefiting from security forces, and divulging the identity of Internet users), only a few have been admitted, and all have been dismissed or settled out of court.”

Not beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie writes a review of a recent speech given in London by economist Jeffrey Sachs whose thinking, it seems, has yet to move beyond aid.
“A notable omission from his hour-long speech was aid, traditionally a Sachs staple. The subject finally came up when a member of the audience asked him what he would tell western leaders to do to support development in Africa.
His answer focused entirely on aid: raise contributions to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria; find better ways to deliver aid to agriculture and education. These are important areas, but there is a long list of weightier issues – capital flight, tax regimes, climate change and improved global business regulation, to name but a few.
One understands why Sachs always returns to aid. It is the easiest thing for rich countries to deliver – everything else requires genuine change rather than just reaching into the wallet. But he could at least say: “In the absence of the real changes required, let’s at least give aid.” He didn’t, which brought his appearance to a disappointing conclusion.”

Poverty & human rights
The International Council on Human Rights Policy’s Vijay Nagaraj marks Human Rights Day by making the case for increased attention to socio-economic rights.
“Sixty years ago, the United Nations affirmed the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Now is the time to recall those unassailable rights and to act on them in good faith and with strong conviction. For a start, the human rights community must push to ensure discrimination on the grounds of poverty (or economic status) is prohibited in human rights law, alongside race, colour, sex, language, religion, etc. The continued failure to recognise discrimination on the grounds of poverty is not only a failure to account for the real-life experiences of millions of people who experience it every day, but also reinforces the secondary status of socio-economic rights in mainstream human rights practice.
On this 10th of December, let us call for a paradigm shift in how we see and address poverty. A human rights approach calls on us to view poverty not as unwelcome collateral, temporarily inevitable or even a result of faceless, unstoppable economic forces, but rather as the result of acts of commission and omission and bad policy choices by political and economic elites. It is a problem of justice.”

Blame the parents
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Nick Mathiason argues the necessity of “piercing the corporate veil” that allows large companies to use their complex corporate structure to avoid being held accountable for environmental and human rights abuses.
“Clearly, in financial reporting, a link between the parent and subsidiary is manifest. Yet company law treats every business entity as legally separate, even within the same ‘business family’. And this is where difficulties arise in seeking to hold a parent company accountable, even in instances where it knew of, or supported, the conduct of its subsidiary.
To remedy this, a corporate ‘duty of care’ principle needs to be established which states that, in the event of a parent financially benefitting from a subsidiary, it has a responsibility to ensure the subsidiary carries out duties in line with established laws. When the subsidiary fails to live up to required standards, the parent cannot hide behind a corporate veil but has to face legal liability.”

UN parliament
The World Federalist Movement’s Warren Allmand lays out his case for supporting the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
“The idea is to start with an advisory body at the UN that gradually transitions into a world parliament. Article 22 of the UN Charter allows for creation of ‘subsidiary bodies.’
National parliaments would second MPs to the UN parliamentary assembly in proportion to party standings. Unlike UN ambassadors, UN parliamentarians would not take instruction from national governments, but would be accountable to citizens, and mandated to act according to conscience and the common good.”