Post #59 – What Works: Engaging Cuba

President Obama has finally reversed what he called the “failed policy” of isolating Cuba, announcing today (December 17) the start of normal relations.  “These 50 years [without official relations] have shown that isolation has not worked,” said Obama.  “It’s time for a new approach.”  Raul Castro, speaking at the same time as Obama, agreed, commending Obama for his “respect and acknowledgment of our people.”  Castro called for the removal of the embargo as the next step toward genuine reconciliation.

Obama’s courageous policy change is long overdue.  Blocking diplomatic relations, commerce, and travel with Cuba are based on events long ago, he said.  Left unsaid is that every US president since Eisenhower held secret talks with Cuban officials about resuming relations, to no avail.  When Obama’s turn came, he hinted at a change of course last year, telling dinner guests in Miami that “we have to continue to update our policies . . . in the age of the internet, Google and world travel, [the old approach] doesn’t make sense.”  In Havana, Raul Castro echoed that view and urged mutual respect.  Soon after, he and Obama shook hands at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa, raising hopes of an accord.  (On the long history of negotiations and the above information, see William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana [University of North Carolina Press, 2014].)

Thanks to the Canadian government and the Vatican, which provided support for secret talks that reportedly lasted 18 months, Cuba and the US have finally come together.  They were able to engineer a swap of prisoners and Cuba’s release of 53 people identified by the US as political prisoners, setting the stage for the reopening of the US embassy in Havana after over a half-century.

Obama said the agreement with Cuba reflects his “belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.”  But it also provides opportunities to work together on common interests, such as drug trafficking, disaster response, and terrorism.”  The administration also promises to review Cuba’s designated status as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”  The agreement will have immediate benefits in terms of travel, commerce (banking and investments), and information flow.  The major remaining roadblock is changes in the law governing the US embargo of Cuba; that will be up to Congress, which seems likely to give Obama a rough time.

In my post #54 that argued for responding to recent signs from North Korea that might reflect interest in engagement, I concluded: “Cuba is another opportunity for engagement, though there too anti-Castro forces in and outside Congress, and hardliners in Havana, will go to great lengths to undermine any prospective deal.  Fidel Castro’s unusual article in Granma, the official newspaper, responding to a New York Times editorial that proposed normalizing relations with Cuba, suggests avenues of cooperation worth talking about (www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/opinion/still-pondering-us-cuba-relations-fidel-castro-responds.html).”

Right on cue, Obama’s announcement drew anger and ridicule from the usual places.  Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, called it “another concession to a tyranny,” one that, far from bringing respect for human rights to Cuba, would strengthen Castro’s hold on power.  Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, that normalization “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”  And Jeb Bush weighed in with the original line that Obama was “rewarding dictators.”  Of course Obama’s action does no such things.  It is based on the entirely realistic as well as humanitarian assessment that permanent estrangement deepens enmity, isolates our two peoples and separates families, reduces opportunities for improvement in the quality of life in Cuba, inhibits the two-way flow of information, and prevents cooperation on common problems.  Rubio and Menendez are still fighting the Cold War; but the Bay of Pigs is over, and they need to come up for fresh air.

Let’s hope that Obama’s engagement theme is on a roll, and that Iran and North Korea are next.

Post #58 – The Abe-Xi Mini-Summit: A Positive Moment

The Chinese have a diplomatic tradition of “drawing from strength to offset weakness” (qu chang bu duan). The tradition was on display recently when China’s President Xi Jinping met with Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in Beijing. By all accounts it was a somewhat frosty meeting, lasting less than a half hour. Official photos showed two unsmiling leaders shaking hands while not looking at one another. Students of body language will have a field day with those photos. Yet the very fact that Abe and Xi met at all is news, since for some time China had rejected a high-level get-together until Japan changed its position on the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands by acknowledging that a dispute existed. Japan essentially did so in a roundabout way; and since Beijing was hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, it would have been unseemly for Xi not to greet Abe.

Quiet diplomacy between foreign ministries preceded the Abe-Xi encounter.The result was a four-point agreement that reflected “drawing from strength”—in that Chinese and Japanese leaders understand the economic and political importance of their relationship—and “offsetting weakness,” namely, Japan’s historical burden when dealing with China, and China’s very assertive actions in the East Sea and South China Sea that have harmed relations with its neighbors. The agreement said: (1) both countries will continue efforts at “mutually beneficial strategic relations,” with due regard for prior agreements; (2) both will seek to “overcome political obstacles” to their relations, relying on the spirit of “due regard for history, and looking to the future;” (3) both recognize that the East China Sea dispute resides in “different viewpoints,” and agree to consultations to establish a mechanism for avoiding worsening the situation; (4) both sides will use various channels of dialogue to promote mutual confidence (http://world.people.com.cn/n/2014/1107/c1002-25993302.html).

After the meeting, Abe was upbeat, characterizing the talks as a “big step forward” in their diplomacy. He pointed out that Japan and China “need each other” and are “inseparably bound together.” And he said a “maritime communication channel”—a hotline, in short—had been decided on to help prevent a clash in the East China Sea. The Chinese press and Chinese officials have been much less effusive about the new agreement or confident that Japan will fulfill it. As has happened in the aftermath of past tensions, Chinese sources have blamed Japan for them, reminded Japan of its wartime aggression, and said moving in a peaceful direction depended on Japan rectifying its behavior. For example, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that while China “respects” Japan’s desire for improved relations, China “hopes that Japan will seriously regard, fully respect, and faithfully implement” the four-point agreement (http://world.people.com.cn/n/2014/1108/c1002-25996194.html).

Likewise, when two of the countries’ top foreign-policy specialists—one from China’s state council, the other representing Japan’s national security council—met in Beijing, a Chinese report again put the burden on Japan to fulfill the terms of the four-point agreement. “It is well recognized that the four-point agreement all depends on the implementation,” said the news report (http://japan.people.com.cn/n/2014/1108/c35469-25994839.html).

In short, we shouldn’t be ready to celebrate just yet a new era in Sino-Japanese relations. Nevertheless, we should applaud the very fact that the two leaders finally met, that Japan acknowledged the existence of a territorial dispute, and that a confidence-building mechanism will be set up to avoid a clash at sea. This last item is particularly noteworthy in that President Barack Obama and President Xi also reached agreement during the APEC conference on creating a code of conduct to avoid a naval confrontation. At this stage of Northeast Asia international relations, with multiple sources of tension, any arrangements that promote dialogue are welcome.

(This post originally appeared in the Global Asia Forum, http://www.globalasia.org/Forum/Detail/58/the-abe-xi-mini-summit-a-positive-moment.html.)

Post #57 – The Torture Report

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are back in the news, defending all the true patriots who brought the United States into the “Global War on Terror” after 9/11.  Determined to attack Iraq after a brief detour in Afghanistan, they and others in the administration concocted a rationale—searching for weapons of mass destruction—persuaded a compliant Congress to authorize a “global war on terror,” and approved the use of torture and other internationally unlawful means to acquire information from prisoners.  Now that the US Senate Intelligence Committee has released a long-awaited 6,000-page report on use of torture techniques by the CIA after 9/11, Bush, Cheney, former CIA director George Tenet and other officials at that time, have circled the wagons in defense of their actions.

Their argument is that torture was legal (because the attorney-general approved it), was an essential and valuable part of US strategy, and was employed as the administration intended.  Contrary to the Senate report’s principal conclusion, the CIA did not mislead the administration about what it was doing at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. This is hardly the first time former US officials have leaped to defense of their own in a vain effort to legitimize terrible misdeeds.

Whether or not the CIA “misled” the administration on torture is a matter for lawyers.  “What did they know and when did they know it,” the main line of inquiry from Watergate and Iran-Contra days, may never be fully answered.  I’m inclined to believe Cheney when he said in an interview that to think the administration was misled is “just a crock.”  He says he knew about torture, supported it, and (as he said in the interview) would “do it over again” if he had to (www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/world/dismissing-senate-report-cheney-defends-cia-interrogations.html).  He and Bush may have been provided with “incomplete and inaccurate” information, as the Senate report says, but they knew the basics of the torture program.

But I don’t think the CIA’s role, though important, is the main issue, which I contend is the Bush administration’s use of internationally outlawed techniques in prosecution of a war it lied its way into.  In the course of the war, we know for a certainty that the CIA massaged intelligence to fit the facts to the Bush-Cheney war policies.  We know that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. insisted that the intelligence community support the view that Saddam Hussein harbored an active nuclear weapons program.  We know that US leaders were aware of brutal methods of interrogation and sought in-house legal advice that would legitimize it.

Those people in the CIA, the department of justice, and the Pentagon who knowingly contrived and abetted US policy deserve to be prosecuted.  But they are mere accomplices to the greatest offenders, the people at the top who gave the green light.  The President conducted an aggressive war and condoned torture.  He and his vice-president should be the chief subjects of inquiry.

President Obama has said the “enhanced interrogation methods” are “not only inconsistent with our values . . . they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.”  True enough, but not far enough.  These former US leaders are, in my view, criminally liable.  They deserve to be brought before the International Criminal Court.  They never will be, since the United States is not a party to the Rome Treaty that established the court.  Bush made sure of that, and Obama has followed his lead.  But being able to evade the law does not and never will exonerate commanders-in-chief.

Post #56 – What is to be Done? Six Paths to a New US Policy in the Middle East

If I am correct that the United States has once again fallen into a quagmire in the Middle East, one with some of the same features that marked the Vietnam War, then—just as in Vietnam—the appropriate next step is a strategy for extrication and new thinking.  I propose six paths to that strategy.

First, pursuing conditions for a just peace between Israel and Palestine.  At a minimum, a just peace should include an end to Israel’s building of settlements in disputed territory, a dramatic increase in international development aid to the Palestinian Authority, shared jurisdiction in Jerusalem with assured access to all religions, and exchanges of security assurances.

Second, putting Pakistan on notice that unless its intelligence apparatus ends its interference in Afghanistan, US military ties will terminate and diplomatic relations with Pakistan will be downgraded.

Third, setting an irreversible timetable for US withdrawal of all troops and advisers from Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-2015.

Fourth, settling the nuclear issue with Iran, normalizing US-Iran relations, and seeking Iran’s cooperation in the fight against ISIS.

Fifth, deciding that the primary role in dealing with ISIS should rest with the governments and peoples in the region.  Consequently, US ground and air operations against ISIS positions should be gradually reduced and should end by mid-2015.  The US should focus on urging and, where desired, brokering political settlements—between Turks and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, and even between the Assad regime and insurgents in Syria—as the best way to undermine the appeal of ISIS.

Sixth, making nonmilitary assistance the centerpiece of US Middle East policy.  US aid should focus on protecting and enhancing water supplies, education, job-producing projects, and refugee relief.

Will these six paths “resolve” the Middle East problems?  Of course not; any resolution depends on local actors.  Without their will to change, the US can do little of lasting value.  The purpose of my ideas is to remove the US from the central role in the region’s affairs.  No longer will any country—not Israel, not Pakistan, not Saudi Arabia—be allowed to veto US policies.  Local governments, armies, and militias will no longer be able to operate on the expectation that the US will bail them out of financial, political, or military trouble.  These new realities may well compel US allies to think seriously, and really for the first time, about new approaches to peace and security.  And if they don’t, they will suffer the consequences of their limited vision and incompetence.

Who will support these frankly audacious ideas?  To be honest, I think both the left and the right would have plenty of objections, and in the US Congress, I would be surprised if a single member would stand behind my agenda even if he or she agreed that US policy has failed.  Any politician who suggests a radical reappraisal of Middle East policy would risk being called an appeaser, or worse.  Thus, my hope lies with nongovernmental groups in each Middle East country as well as in the US—groups devoted to human rights, peace, engagement, environmental protection, the empowerment of women—to persist in promoting conflict prevention and social justice.  I can think of no more effective way to move the Middle East conflicts away from total destruction and endless violence.

Post #55 – Obama’s Wars: Deeper into the Quagmire

President Obama continues to do everything to fulfill his prediction of September 12 that the Middle East wars will long outlast his administration. At that time (see my post #47, “Mission Impossible”) both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the army chief of staff warned that US ground forces might eventually be needed to defeat ISIS. Now, according to news reports, Obama has buckled under to Pentagon pressure and changed the US military mission in Afghanistan to a direct combat role—just as Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam in 1965. The reasons are plain: the war against ISIS is going badly, Afghanistan’s ability to carry on with only US advisory and logistical support is in doubt, and US military leaders cannot accept having fought there for 13 years without victory. Coupled with Obama’s decision to double the number of US advisers in Iraq to 3,000, we now face indefinite fighting in two countries from which he had once pledged to withdraw. Endless war, just as George W. Bush was accused of prosecuting.

In the latest (November-December) issue of Foreign Affairs, Peter Tomsen, who was the US special envoy to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, addresses three persistent obstacles to success in Afghanistan. The first is US unwillingness to let the Afghans run any element of the war—not its own politics, its economy, or the conduct of the war itself. In these respects, he writes, the US is repeating the recipe for the Soviets’ failed intervention in Afghanistan. The second factor is corruption at every level of Afghanistan’s governing system. Third is Pakistan’s duplicitous role in the Afghan war—allowing US drone and other attacks on Pakistan’s territory, but also allowing the Inter Intelligence Service to protect and connive with the Taliban.

What is important about Tomsen’s account is that the first two of those three factors also apply to the war in Iraq. US control of the Iraq war hardly needs elaboration—from selection and removal of Iraq’s president on down to strategy and tactics. It has always been America’s war. As for corruption, the New York Times of November 24 reports on just one element of the rottenness that pervades Iraq society—the army. Numerous sources, including Iraqis, warn the US against distributing money and arms to the Iraqi army. But the Pentagon evidently isn’t listening, and thus well over $1 billion will flow to that army in 2015. Much of the cash will line the pockets of officers, while many of the weapons will find their way into the hands of ISIS. In short, the bad situation keeps getting worse, yet produces no change of course.

Don’t expect a peep from Congress in response to these latest US escalations of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. Conceivably, a few members might dare to raise objections on the basis of the War Powers Resolution, which not only requires notification to Congress of a direct commitment of US troops to combat, but also allows the President only 60 days to obtain Congressional authorization; otherwise, he must withdraw the troops. Of course the administration will insist, just as Bush did, that it already has all the authorization it needs, dating from 9/11, to prosecute war anywhere in the Middle East—not just in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Syria and ISIS-controlled territory. Republicans, despite their distaste for Obama’s domestic policies, will support his wars on the usual basis of “national security.”

Americans are expected to quietly acquiesce in another extension of the Bush-Obama wars. And to judge from the absence of public debate, they (we) are. No one is rising to challenge the military-industrial complex. Meantime, US allies in the Middle East hold back from supporting the US on the ground and Russia and China quietly draw confidence from watching the US expend enormous funds and prestige on unwinnable conflicts. What a shame that the lives of so many young people continue to be sacrificed, so many villages destroyed by bombing, and so many billions of dollars squandered abroad when so much remains to be accomplished at home for the betterment of millions in need. Happy Thanksgiving.

Post #54 – Is North Korea Having a Coming-Out Party?

Considering the overwhelming margin by which a UN General Assembly committee voted on November 18 to condemn North Korea for human-rights violations, one might think that establishing a stable relationship with that regime is a fruitless enterprise. The vote (111-19 with 55 abstentions) sends the resolution to the General Assembly as a whole and then, if approved, on to the UN Security Council.

But several recent developments raise the possibility that North Korea’s leaders are rethinking their international strategy—and providing an opportunity for engagement.  One is the release in two stages of three Americans held prisoner there. Kim Jong-un, according to North Korean sources, personally ordered the initial release, and no doubt also the second after James R. Clapper, Jr., President Obama’s director for national intelligence, traveled to Pyongyang.  Second, North Korea is talking with Japan about its abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, a very sensitive political issue in Japan whose resolution is central to resumption of Japanese aid.  Third is the unexpected visit of senior North Korean officials to the Asian Games held at Incheon, South Korea, which was clearly intended to signal a desire to revitalize North-South diplomacy.

Fourth is the DPRK regime’s openly defensive response to the debate at the UN over North Korea’s human-rights situation.  The basis for the debate was a report of the UN Commission of Inquiry last February that held the DPRK leadership responsible for a wide range of deplorable and systematic violations, including torture, forced labor, arbitrary arrests, and politically motivated arrests without trial (www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/Documents.aspx).

The highlight of the DPRK’s public defense against these charges was the unusual appearance of its UN ambassador, Jang Il-hun, at the Council of Foreign Relations on October 20.  In his response to questions, the ambassador, as expected, insisted that no political prisoner camps “of any kind” existed in the DPRK.  There are only ordinary prisons as in the US.  “In my country, we don’t even know the term political prisoners.”  He said the “hostile policy of the US” was responsible for lack of improvement in human rights, for efforts at the UN to bring DPRK leaders to justice on “fictitious” grounds, and for promoting regime change in the North.  However, Jang did say Pyongyang was willing to “have a human rights dialogue” with the European Union and “enter into technical cooperation with the UN Office for Human Rights Commission (transcript at www.cfr.org/north-korea/ambassador-jang-il-hun-human-rights-north-korea/p33642).  That prospect now seems dead in the water.

Besides these fairly high-profile actions, we should keep in mind more ordinary activities that belie the idea that North Korea is insulating itself.  It is no longer the “hermit kingdom.”  Increasing numbers of North Koreans are going abroad for training and touring. North Korean diplomats are active in Europe and Russia. Foreign educators are leading medical and science and technology training in the DPRK.  There is a sense among experts that the economic system is becoming more open and that the country’s economic performance, for example with respect to food production, is improving.

Before the General Assembly resolution came to a vote, a North Korean representative warned that if it passed, his country would have no choice but to conduct further nuclear-weapon tests.  China and Russia, which voted against the resolution, now face two unpleasant tasks: persuading the North not to incite new UN sanctions by conducting another nuclear test, and casting a veto to prevent the Security Council from referring the North Korea case to the International Criminal Court, which would consider prosecuting Kim Jong-un and colleagues for crimes against humanity.

Outsiders are right to demand that North Korean officials be called to account.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a dictatorship that runs a horrendous gulag. But the recent developments described above, though extremely modest, suggest that the DPRK may be testing the waters, and that engaging it in serious dialogue is worth trying notwithstanding its atrocious human-rights record.  The real problem is not North Korean unwillingness to talk; it has already indicated its preparedness to reenter the Six-Party Talks on its nuclear weapons, a position China strongly supports.  But the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be listening; it is sticking to the tired formula of “strategic patience” and no talks until the North agrees to verifiable nuclear disarmament.  Those are predictable nonstarters for Pyongyang.

Moreover, US officials continue to operate in the dark when it comes to North Korea. The administration does not allow them to visit the North—the Clapper assignment is a special case—nor does it allow North Korean officials outside a 25-mile perimeter from UN Headquarters in New York.  What this means is an analytical deficit and a gratuitous insult to North Korean sovereignty.  The analytical deficit must somehow be remedied by defectors’ and satellite observations—hardly the best sources for understanding North Korean political, economic, or social policy, as we saw most recently with all the wild speculation about the whereabouts of Kim Jong-un.  Limiting North Koreans’ travel not only deprives them of opportunities to interact with US audiences; it tells them that they are justified in their jaundiced view of the US government.

When Washington proposed to send a senior State Department official to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of two imprisoned Americans, is it any wonder that he was (twice) rejected?  The North Koreans want acknowledgment of their country’s legitimacy, not second-class treatment—hence, someone of the stature of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.  James Clapper evidently filled the bill because he was the President’s personal emissary.  Clapper brought the two Americans home, creating a potential opening for a US move.

Yet Obama dismissed the prisoner release as a “small gesture,” and gave no indication that he would make a small gesture in return.  Yet that is exactly what he should do.  Potential opportunities for a breakthrough with North Korea don’t come along very often, and the available evidence suggests that North Korea is sending a message, not reacting to foreign pressure.  (See Frank Jannuzi’s article at http://38north.org/2014/11/fjannuzi110914/.)  It’s time for the US to do the sensible thing, respond in a meaningful way to Pyongyang, and test whether or not the North Koreans are actually having a coming-out party.

Postscript on engagement:  The same goes for US relations with Iran and Cuba.  News reports indicate that the US and its negotiating partners are close to a nuclear agreement with Iran, but also that resistance is keen among right-wing members of Congress (and their Iranian counterparts). To his credit, President Obama reportedly has sent a letter to the Ayatollah Khamenei that proposes areas for future cooperation, starting with combating ISIS, once the nuclear issue is resolved.  (See Trita Parsi’s excellent analysis at www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/11/07/pen_palling_with_the_ayatollah_obama_letter_iran_khamenei?utm_content=bufferab8da&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.)  Cuba is another opportunity for engagement, though there too anti-Castro forces in and outside Congress, and hardliners in Havana, will go to great lengths to undermine any prospective deal.  Fidel Castro’s unusual article in Granma, the official newspaper, responding to a New York Times editorial that proposed normalizing relations with Cuba, suggests avenues of cooperation worth talking about (www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/opinion/still-pondering-us-cuba-relations-fidel-castro-responds.html).  The Times editorial board has added some positive ideas while chronicling a recent history of abject US failures at sabotage in Cuba in the name of improving conditions there (www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/opinion/in-cuba-misadventures-in-regime-change.html).

Post #53 – AR5: Another Urgent Report on Climate Change

When we consider benchmarks that will help explain why the world ignored dire warnings of climate change, we will want to dwell on AR5, the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (www.ipcc.ch).  The report, put together by some of the world’s most eminent climatologists, describes what can only be called the cataclysmic consequences of our unceasing pursuit of the hard-energy path to growth.  One sentence says it all: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.”

Only the most die-hard climate change deniers—and as we know, there are many, including more than half the Republicans in the US Congress—will turn their backs and close their ears to this report.  (Actually, they probably won’t read a word of it.)  As the deniers insist, “I’m not a scientist” (see my post #49).  But then they should listen to those who are. The so-called core writing group that prepared AR5 consisted of 49 scientists—31 from the major industrialized countries (including 7 Americans), 8 from middle-income countries such as China, and 10 from low-income countries such as Sudan.

Here are some key findings (with italics in the original) from the full-length report, which is available at http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_LONGERREPORT.pdf:

  • On atmospheric changes: “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The period from 1983 to 2012 was very likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 800 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible (high confidence) and likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence). . . . Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are at levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years.”
  • Temperature: “It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales, as global mean surface temperature increases. It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and longer duration. . . . Extreme precipitation events over most mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will very likely become more intense and more frequent as global mean surface temperature increases.”
  • Causation: “CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed about 78% to the total GHG emission increase between 1970 and 2010, with a contribution of similar percentage over the 2000–2010 period (high confidence). . . . The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to that of the previous three decades, while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence).”
  • Our role: “The evidence for human influence on the climate system has grown since AR4. Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, and in global mean sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
  • Consequences: “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence). Impacts of such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, human morbidity and mortality, and consequences for mental health and human well-being. For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors.”
  • Remedies: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”
  • Bottom line: “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). . . . Limiting warming to 2.5 °C or 3 °C . . . would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades, and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs [greenhouse gases] by the end of the century.”

The irresponsibility of the world’s governments when it comes to climate change will soon be on display in Lima, Peru, when leaders meet to consider a new agreement.  The meeting will (once again) be heavy on rhetoric and light on substance.  Some governments will agree to voluntarily curb greenhouse gas emissions, and a few of those will actually do so.  (Sweden is the lead country when it comes to “going green,” moving toward relying for less than 20 percent of its energy on fossil fuels.  See the global rankings at  http://earthtechling.com/2014/10/swedens-environmental-leadership/?google_editors_picks=true; and thanks to Glen Jackson for this item.)  But most countries will continue devoting far more resources (including subsidies) to fossil fuel extraction than to conservation and alternative energy.

What about the just-concluded verbal agreement on climate change between President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping?  Much ado about precious little, I’d say.  Obama promised that the US would emit 26 to 28 percent less carbon dioxide in 2025 than it did in 2005—an easy promise, since he won’t be around to carry it out, and still far short of the reductions that need to take place.  China’s promise was even less meaningful: allowing carbon dioxide emissions to peak “around 2030,” and by then to have renewable energy comprise 20 percent of China’s energy picture. Well, by 2030 (maybe), when Xi won’t be around either, China’s coal-driven economy will have further blackened the skies, and its consequent public health problems will have worsened considerably.  So where’s the sacrifice?

Future historians—I assume there will be some—will be bewildered by such willful shortsighted and political slights-of-hand.  As they peer out from their offices on the moon or some distant planet, they may wonder if the lesson of Earth’s failures at self-protection will be repeated.

 

 

Critical appraisals of foreign affairs from a global-citizen perspective.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers