Are international talks on global warming just hot air?

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Flickr/Khuroshvili Ilya

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale and Abi Simons.

Global Warming is a term rife throughout media – be it mainstream, counter-cultural or social. Coverage of issues surrounding climate change is as such that nigh on everyone has an opinion. Its ever-presence in the political world is seen, in one Guardian article, as a means of ‘fear mongering by governments’. Yet scientists have inarguably learned that there are several Greenhouse Gases responsible for warming on our planet.

Discussing the issue in detail would require conjecture of great depth. Regardless, attention seems to have turned to how best to respond. This article will focus instead on Climate Agreements and how they’re (mis)represented in many fields of media.

Political posturing in Paris

As it stands, extensive scientific observation and attention from political sects lead to a yearly convention that consider responses to the ongoing issue. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emerged in 1992, and each year the represented countries gather to evaluate and update development plans. The convention that took place in Paris in December 2015 was the 21st such meet and is referred to as COP21. It resulted in The Paris Agreement, the goals articulated in the Agreement are:

  • Limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius, with further hope of this number being 1.5 degrees
  • Achieving 0 net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by second half of 21st century
  • To increase the capability of countries to adapt to the effects of climate change
  • For developed nations providing $100bn annually to developing nations to help them combat climate change

The third objective there seems like a wholehearted, unoriginal, over zealous and over-hopeful generalisation of the previous two, when achieving them seems to be in question. The global temperature rise in relation to pre-industrial levels reached the 1 degree mark in 2015. Internationally, we have passed the half way mark for a goal set out by numerous COP agreements. Considering the delay on implementation of these deals, limiting the rise may be insurmountable by the time COP21 comes into action.

The Paris Agreement received widespread and largely favourable media attention following its announcement. The fact is that these are not a legally binding set of goals that the ‘World’, or at least the collective 196 countries that participated, are obligated to achieve by a certain time.

The Paris Agreement, as it is now, is little but a hollow threat of action; it’s little more than loosely pursued numbers and tasks. Until 55 countries that constitute 55% of the world’s emissions agree to ratify the agreement, there exists no strict control over their pursuit. For this to occur, as can be seen in the image below, the U.S and China’s ratification will be required. Although President Obama and General Secretary Xi Jinping ‘agreed’ to limit greenhouse emissions in 2014, the stark industrial re-shaping that this would require in the short term is scarce imaginable.

the top 40 CO2 emitting countries and related in the world in 1990 and 2012, including per capita figures. The data is taken from the EU Edgar database.

The top 40 CO2 emitting countries and related in the world in 1990 and 2012, including per capita figures. The data is taken from the EU Edgar database.

Each country that contributed to the agreement (if not its ratification) submitted a Nationally Determined Contribution: a voluntary climate plan specifying their own goals and targets. Once again, these are not binding and are likely that way to have ensured the participation of major emitting countries. As of February 2016, only Fiji has formally ratified the Agreement.

A history of inaction

It’s worth exploring briefly the results of previous Climate Committee meetings, and how they have developed into the most current set.

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed at COP3 in 1997, has to this date amassed 192 signatures of ratification. Actual implementation of the agreed changes did not occur until 2005. That’s 8 years of lag-time between promise pledge and firm framework. This has continued. China ratified and agreed to the protocol’s cuts. The U.S. however, did not.

It seems to corroborate comments that judge Kyoto as a failure, down primarily to “countries not actually living up to their commitments or staying with the Agreement”.

Revisions of the protocol and general Climate responses, in terms of application and monitoring at least, have been in a state of perpetual delay. This includes The Doha Amendment, which was similarly troublesome. The ratification of the Paris Agreement will occur from 2015-2020, and only in 2021 will it come into action. At the Doha conference (2012), executive director of the UNFCCC, Christina Figueres, noted the “ever increasing gap between the actions of countries and what the science tells us”. Her words mark the insignificant changes that occur – post UNFCCC’s pledge – to reduce and stabilise anthropogenic changes to the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gases, and limiting their effect, has been and continues to be a major aspect of geo-political relations ever since COP was established. Since then, despite each Conference being termed a ‘last hope’ of global response, the progress of the pursuit has shifted merely from unspecified desires to specified desires – without at any point implementing a plausible framework for completion. What we were subjected to in mainstream media was the crest of a powerful wave, a promise of imminently implemented change. The wave itself seems to be less assured.

As of now, we can only hope that the UN are right – they claim over 130 countries (including the U.S and China) are poised to sign in late April, thus ratifying and legally binding their involvement in the agreement. If this rings true then the perpetual delay regime of prior agreements may be overturned.

This post is written in collaboration with The Richardson Institute. 

Why does the West turn a blind eye to Eritrea?

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Flickr/Roberto Maldeno refugee camp at Tsorona Eritrea

 

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale and Abi Simons.

Eritrea is a country that seldom makes the headlines, indeed it is a state that most Europeans haven’t even heard of, but Eritrea currently has huge implications for the future of Europe. Amidst the migrant crisis that is bringing millions to the shores of the continent, it is often overlooked that a large proportion of the refugees are not fleeing form the more widely known crises in Syria, but from the incredibly oppressive and brutal regime that governs Eritrea – a state from which 5,000 of its citizens flee from each month.

Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea forms a long strip of coastal land bordering Ethiopia, a country which it was governed by for many decades. A 30 year long war of independence devastated the country until the final victory over Ethiopian forces in 1991. Independence was recognised by the international community in 1993, and the Eritrean struggle for freedom has been hailed as a “major feat of a people’s fight for self-determination.

But in the years since independence no national elections have been held. They are repeatedly postponed, and the country has fallen under the grip of an oppressive regime in which only one political party is allowed to function – the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice – and all independent private media was closed down.

This has meant that the rest of the world is subject to an information blackout about the country, and independent accounts of what is happening there are incredibly hard to come by. What little is known about the country’s internal affairs indicate the existence of what has been described as a ‘totalitarian state’ that carries out constant surveillance of its people, causing the population to live in constant fear.

Human Rights Watch reports that the abuses committed against the Eritrean people include; “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances. Other abuses include torture, degrading treatment in detention, restrictions on freedoms of expression and movement, and repression of religious freedom”.

There is no freedom of movement, and permits are required for people to move out of their communities. Religious persecution is also rife. The government officially recognises four religions; the Eritrean Orthodox church, the Catholic church, the Lutheran church and Sunni Islam. But followers of all other religious beliefs are subject to harassment by the state and can be subject to arbitrary arrest, which is not a pleasant fate especially considering the appalling conditions reported in Eritrean prisons.

But the main cause of the mass exodus of Eritreans is usually held to be its system of conscription. While many European nations still practice conscription, this is only a few years national service. But Eritrean conscription is in reality a form of slavery; most of the population spends their life on national service with no given end date. A scathing UN report on the subject stated that conscripted Eritreans are subject to “the systematic violation of an array of human rights on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere in the world.”

There seems to be little prospect of the situation in Eritrea changing, the President has explicitly denied democracy will be introduced and in 2014 he stated that “[I]f there is anyone who thinks there will be democracy or [a] multiparty system in this country … then that person can think of such things in another world.

International criticism of the Eritrean regime has not been especially forthcoming, if western nations think of the country at all they think in terms of the unwanted asylum seekers it brings to their borders. The European response so far has been to try and stem the flow of asylum seekers by preparing a large aid package to develop the country, and not to try and dismantle the repressive government which is causing the exodus. Meanwhile the tragedy that is the plight of the Eritrean people continues unabated.

This post is written in collaboration with The Richardson Institute. 

 

British arm sales and human rights abuses

Flickr/Defence Images

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale and Abi Simons.

British arm sales will be subject to an inquiry by a cross party committee, as well as a high court challenge by the European Union, to see whether UK sales break EU arms export laws. Of particular concern are British arm sales to Saudi Arabia, who is currently the UK’s largest weapons consumer, and their use against Yemen.

Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, in an attempt to push back rebels supported by Iran who have taken control of the capital, Sana’a. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says that bodies including the UN panel of experts, the European parliament and humanitarian NGOs, have all found that Saudi Arabia has failed to comply with international humanitarian law to take all precautions to prevent civilian harm.

Andrew Smith from CAAT has said: ​“It is totally inconsistent for the government to be talking about human rights and democracy at the same time as it is actively promoting arms sales to authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia.”

It seems that the British government is ignoring its strict criteria on arms sales in order to benefit from increasing profits. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of 2008, Britain became one of the world’s leading developers of arms through BAE Systems and in 2014 the UK ranked 3rd in the top 100 arms-producing and military services companies.

It isn’t just Britain’s sales to Saudi Arabia which has been criticised but data from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that in the first six months of 2014 the UK granted licences worth £63.2m of arms sales, to 18 of the 28 states on its official blacklist, including Israel, the Central African Republic, Sri Lanka and Russia. The UK has even granted six licenses worth £180,000 to sell teargas to Hong Kong which was used against civilians during pro-democracy protests in 2014.

The European Parliament recently voted in favour of an EU-wide ban on arms being sold to Saudi Arabia, because of its heavy aerial bombing of Yemen, which has been condemned by the UN. The vote does not force EU member states to comply but it increases pressure on national governments to re-examine their relationships with Saudi Arabia.

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s arms controls director, has said:

“Mr Cameron should stop acting as a cheerleader for BAE’s reckless arms sales and stop the flow of weapons to the Saudi war machine, pending the outcome of both a UN inquiry into the bloody conflict in Yemen and the UK’s own review of its arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”

There does not seem to be any sign of the government restricting its arm sales anytime soon however, especially with the upcoming Home Office-sponsored defence fair in Farnborough, which will be held behind closed doors and hidden from the public. The list, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that police and security personnel from 79 countries are expected to attend the event. They include delegations from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE, countries whose human rights records are controversial to say the least.

The big question is why the British government is supplying these weapons that are being used to bring chaos and destruction to innocent people’s lives and the only answer I can think of is because they can. Yemen is a forgotten war and fails to get the attention it deserves. This means the government can get away with supplying these weapons with very little press coverage or public criticism. It is also difficult for the public to know what really goes on behind closed doors, as events like Farnborough are so secretive.

Although the government continues to deny that they have breached any international law the evidence against this is slowly piling up. In an age of terrorism and extremism our government’s continued support of Saudi Arabia could be argued to be irresponsible, as Owen Jones stated:

“The assault on Yemen is not only killing, maiming and inflicting mass suffering. It is also building up bitterness. With our government fully behind its Saudi allies, resentment towards Britain is surely growing, resentment that can be all too easily manipulated by extremists.”

Hopefully this inquiry will result in continued pressure from international bodies and the public, in order to try and stop our government’s irresponsible arm sales and put human rights first.

This post was written in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.

What happened to the Ebola crisis?

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Flickr/Global Panorama

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale, Abi Simons.

What happened to the Ebola crisis?

In 2014 UK newspapers decided to designate many of their front covers to the prospect of Ebola coming to the UK. As time went on and this fear faded away so did the newspaper headlines and so to the news coverage of the crisis.

What is the Ebola Crisis?

By the end of July 2014, WHO statistics showed 1,603 cases and 887 deaths. By 3rd February 2016, the World Health Organization reported a total of 28,638 suspected cases and 11,315 deaths. The countries most affected were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola virus is devastating and people who contracted it often died in severe pain and in undignified way. The early symptoms included the sudden onset of fever, general weakness, muscle pain, chills, headaches and sore throat. And as the disease progressed, the symptoms worsened and included nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, bloodshot eyes, rash, chest pain, stomach pain, severe and rapid weight loss, bruising, bleeding from various orifices (most commonly the eyes), internal bleeding and impaired kidney and liver function.

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted between animals and humans. It’s introduced into the human population through contact with bodily fluids of infected animals. It has been reported that the origin of the Ebola crisis may have come from a tree in Guinea which children used to play on which was home to thousands of bats. The children used to cook and eat the bats and this is where the spread of the disease is likely to have begun.

The aftermath of the crisis

Although there finally appeared to be some good news on January 15th 2016 when West Africa was officially declared free of Ebola transmission. New cases were still discovered in Sierra Leone just hours after the World Health Organisation made this statement. They claim that it is likely that we will see continuous flare ups as the virus continues to remain present within survivors up to a year after contracting the disease.

Even though new cases of Ebola are now becoming increasingly rare, the aftermath of Ebola is also devastating. This includes the thousands of now orphaned children where one or both parents have died of the virus. UNICEF reported that over 22,000 children lost one or both parents in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. These children are traumatized and will continue to be stigmatized in their neighbourhoods. Furthermore, during the crisis millions of children had to go without education as schools refused to teach because of the risk of the disease spreading leading to a possible lost generation in Africa.

There is also the risk of what is known as the Post-Ebola syndrome which sees people who are reportedly cured of the disease still suffering from long term effects. These can include body aches, vision impairment and even blindness, headaches and extreme fatigue. These symptoms are so severe that it might mean that survivors of the disease may continue to need treatment for months or even years which raises questions of the long term effects of the aftermath of the crisis.

What can we learn from the Ebola crisis?

The World Health Organisation was criticised for not declaring the crisis earlier and not sending vaccines quicker. For example, according to the New York Times Scientists from the U.S. and Canada said in 2005 that they had developed a cure for Ebola which appeared to be 100% effective on monkeys. But the drug was not licensed for mass production as it was considered too expensive at a time when an Ebola outbreak seemed unlikely. Thousands of deaths could have been avoided if vaccines had been sent quicker, so this is an area which governments will be or should be focusing on in the future.

President Putin of Russia has now also claimed to have created a vaccine to cure Ebola.  Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, has said scientists have developed two vaccines to treat Ebola. “The first vaccine is unique and is not on the level of anything else in the world,” she said, explaining even a small dose of the vaccine provides “100 percent neutralization” of the virus. Although not everything Russia claims can be trusted.

A research by the Science and Technology Committee as explained by the BBC has unfortunately shown that the UK is vulnerable to epidemics such as Ebola because of a gaping hole in the country’s ability to manufacture vaccines. The research claimed that the UK lacks the capability to manufacture enough vaccines to vaccinate UK citizens in an emergency.

This is particularly worrying as the likelihood of another deadly virus is definitely expected, as there has already been another outbreak of a separate virus – Zika in Latin America. The virus is spread by mosquitos and is most dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause birth defects to their unborn children. Although the virus is not a threat to the UK because the mosquitos need hot temperatures to survive, warnings have already been announced that the Zika virus could be as disastrous as Ebola. There have also been reports that Zika can be sexually transmitted.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity, has said: “There is a long road ahead. As with Ebola, Zika has once again exposed the world’s vulnerability to emerging infectious diseases and the devastation they can unleash.”

So although the news stories on Ebola have begun to fade away from the media, the crisis still continues and the aftermath is being felt. As new viruses appear and begin to spread, we just hope the world has learnt the lessons of dealing with such a crisis so that hopefully less lives will have to be lost to infectious diseases in the future.
This article is in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.

The Remembrancer: How the ‘world’s oldest institutional lobbyist’ lurks in the shadows of Westminster

Research by: Abi Simons, Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale

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Flickr/Javier Díaz Barrera

Until recently, I, like most people, was not aware that the position of the Remembrancer even existed in the British Political system. You can imagine my shock when I found out that this role is perhaps one of the most aggressively direct forms of lobbying that the City of London has to offer.

Paul Double aka “The Remembrancer” has stood up for the interests of bankers in the City of London rather than the country as a whole, including recently playing a pivotal role in the UK-China Nuclear deal in October.

This is in fact what the Remembrancer was created to do, “to protect the interests of the city of London” – the 1.5 square mile patch of land that is the financial heartland of the country. As Nicholas Shaxson, author of ‘An Investigation into the City of London’, describes the Remembrancer is the “world’s oldest institutional lobbyist.”

Double has been The Remembrancer since 2003 and is one of the Key Officers of the City of London Corporation, a body which is elected by residents and businesses alike. Businesses get a vote due to the fact that the non-residential vote is still being used in the City, which was abolished everywhere else in 1969.

The Remembrancers resources

The Remembrancer has an annual budget of approx £5.3million with an additional £500,000 for staff wages – including a team of lawyers. This gives him the resources to effectively scrutinise pieces of legislation to see if it adheres to the interests of the City, and in turn, the banks.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is a special seat in the House of Commons in the “Under Gallery” for him, as well as a seat in the House of Lords – making him one of the only people able to sit in both Houses. This allows the Remembrancer to watch debates that could affect the City in one way or another and to express his opposition to pieces of legislation should the situation permit.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the Remembrancer is able to meet directly with legislators and key people in Government, such as organising state visits for the Queen.

Professor Jeffrey Henderson, of the University of Bristol, writing in reference to the recent UK- China Nuclear deal said the Remembrancer “seems recently to have been at work ensuring that Britain’s infrastructure is made accessible to Chinese state-owned companies”. The deal would be significant financial boost for the City of London due to a plan to link the UK and Chinese Stock markets unveiled by George Osborne in September.

Opposition to the role

The Remembrancers interference in British politics has not gone unnoticed. In 2013 Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow asking for the Remembrancer to be removed from the House of Commons, as well as getting his privilege of viewing legislation in the drafting process to be revoked.

Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett was quoted saying “The fact that the City Remembrancer is the only non-MP allowed on the floor of the House of Commons is an historical anachronism”, referring to how the role dates back to 1571.

Removing the positon of “The Remembrancer” was even a part of the Labour Party’s manifesto until 1997, this has since been removed.

Can the role be justified?

It is almost unbelievable how in the British Political system there are so many checks on the power of the Government (such as Prime Ministers Questions), yet there are none on a person that has as much power over legislation as a cabinet minister.

Additionally, the fact that this person (who arguably has a prolific impact on nation-wide pieces of legislation) is not elected on a nation wide level, can be considered a significant blow to our democracy.

Perhaps if the Remembrancer was regularly questioned by select committees, or even if he decides to do the occasional media interview (considering the fact he has never agreed to one) then maybe the fact that this person is in our parliament could be taken with a pinch of salt.

 This article is in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.