Climate and the UN, saving UNRWA, new Ukraine update
CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE UN
The website Media Lens has a devastating recent analysis of our collective failure to adequately respond to climate change. It is entitled Climate Collapse – The Grim Silence Of Our Leaders (medialens.org, 14 September 2023).
None of us has previously witnessed a barrage of extreme weather events of the kind that has been devastating lives across the globe this summer.
After recalling Canadian wildfires “the size of Austria,” biblical-sized floods in Europe and Africa, extraordinary heatwaves in Europe and “temperature, wind and rainfall records shattered the world over,” they observe:
Almost as astonishing has been the indifference of our leaders. The silence has been deafening.
See, for example, this article about gross inaction by the Ford government entitled A grim report about climate change in Ontario was kept quiet for 8 months (Mike Crawley, cbc.ca, 13 September 2023). The under banner reads:
Southern Ontario to see 60 days of temperatures over 30 degrees by 2080s: report
It is not just inaction we need to worry about, but efforts like those by Ontario Premier Ford to undermine climate action. See, for example, Ontario 2018 mandate letters told ministers to limit climate law impact on businesses (globalnews.ca, 15 September 2023).
In the same vein is the news that the Ontario government is
locking in long-term dependence on gas plants despite federal clean electricity timelines.
Compare this inaction and obfuscation to the dire warnings by experts:
I hope I am wrong and others may see things differently, but I am expecting effective societal collapse by mid-century, and planning – for my partner and I and our kids – accordingly.https://t.co/ZkZyaR9uBh
— Bill McGuire (@ProfBillMcGuire) September 13, 2023
Media Lens then goes on to provide an in-depth analysis of why the media so consistently under-reports the severity of the climate crisis, and why much of the public is only too willing to go along with it.
Climate Week at the United Nations
After that dismal assessment, we are relieved to advise that global leaders visiting New York this month will find a big focus on climate action. Climate Week NYC will take place from 17 to 24 September 2023 in partnership with the 78th UN General Assembly.
Events include the Climate Ambition Summit 2023, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in order to
accelerate action by governments, business, finance, local authorities and civil society.
It is hoped that the Summit will represent
a critical political milestone for demonstrating that there is collective global will to accelerate the pace and scale of a just transition to a more equitable renewable-energy based, climate-resilient global economy.
UN adopts ‘historic’ treaty to protect high seas
Another climate action highlight at UNGA 78 will be the 20 September opening for signature of the Treaty on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which was agreed in March and formally adopted in June, after a decade of multilateral negotiations.
As a Guardian article explained after the treaty text was finally agreed in March 2023:
The High Ambition Coalition — which includes the EU, US, UK and China — were key players in brokering the deal, building coalitions instead of sowing division and showing willingness to compromise in the final days of talks.
In addition, according to negotiators:
The Global South led the way in ensuring the treaty could be put into practice in a fair and equitable way.
This agreement is also a welcome addition to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides the legal framework under which all activities in the ocean take place.
In the words of the UN Secretary-General to the delegations participating in the successful negotiation:
You have pumped new life and hope to give the ocean a fighting chance….
The Treaty will enter into force when 60 parties ratify it. Its benefits include:
- A procedure to establish large-scale marine protected areas in the high seas. This facilitates the achievement of the target to effectively conserve and manage 30% of land and sea by 2030, which was agreed in December 2022 within the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
- The sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources and potential capacity building and the transfer of marine technology between the parties.
- The establishment of clear rules to conduct environmental impact assessments before running activities in the high seas.
For more on the treaty, see ‘Historic’ deal to protect high seas agreed by UN member states (aljazeera.com, 5 March 2023).
A related Al Jazeera article reminds us of the importance of the oceans:
which produce most of the oxygen we breathe, limit climate change by absorbing CO2, and host rich areas of biodiversity, often at the microscopic level.
International cooperation essential to ocean preservation
The article goes on:
But with so much of the world’s oceans lying outside individual countries’ exclusive economic zones, and thus the jurisdiction of any single state, providing protection for the so-called “high seas” requires international cooperation.
The UN Secretary-General also underscores the strength of multilateralism in his press release on the treaty’s adoption on 19 June, saying in part:
By acting to counter threats to our planet that go beyond national boundaries, you [UN member states] are demonstrating that global threats deserve global action and that countries can come together, in unity, for the common good.
The Rideau Institute comments:
This is but one of countless examples of the indispensable role that the UN and global multilateralism play in addressing global challenges.
It is also a striking — and shockingly under-reported — example of superb cooperation among the EU, the US, the UK and China and between the West and the Global South to effectively address impacts of climate change.
Should the climate crisis be framed in security terms?
For a timely exploration of the critical question – should the climate crisis be framed in security terms – see Climate Change and Global Security: Framing an Existential Threat by RI Senior Fellow Craig Martin. In the author’s words:
It may indeed be important to frame climate change in security terms, but as a matter of global security rather than national security.
We shall be returning to this important discussion in future posts.
The UN and peace and security challenges in 2023-24
For a good review of trends in UN diplomacy and crisis management in 2022-23 and a pragmatic discussion of steps the UN can take in 2023-24, even while “hamstrung by political divisions and resource gaps,” see the Crisis Group Special Briefing Ten Challenges for the UN in 2023-24 (No.11, 14 September 2023).
In their conclusion to the Special Report, Crisis Group writes:
The leaders that attend the annual General Assembly high-level week, which is itself an example of the UN’s convening power, should take the opportunity to signal their support for [the] world organisation’s continuing relevance in dealing with current conflicts and emerging threats.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE AND SAVING THE UN RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY (UNRWA)
In another new report, entitled UNRWA’s Reckoning: Preserving the UN Agency Serving Palestinian Refugees (No. 242, 15 Septeember 2023), Crisis Group explains:
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) serving some three million Palestinian refugees is running out of money — again.
This budget crisis reflects
both reduced funding for UN humanitarian operations generally and donor fatigue brought on by dwindling prospects for a lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Why does this matter?
Crisis Group responds to the question of why this matters by first focusing on the humanitarian consequences of inaction by the international donor community:
A significant reduction of UNRWA services, or the agency’s collapse, would deprive millions of Palestinian refugees of health services and education, as well as food aid.
The report also outlines possible broader consequences:
An upheaval in the Israeli-occupied territories, Jordan or Lebanon could follow, particularly if Palestinians perceive [rightly or wrongly] that cuts signal the loss of their refugee status.
What should be done?
Crisis Group is blunt in its assessment of what needs to be done:
The only workable solution to the dire financial straits of an agency whose existence remains indispensable — for Palestinian refugees, the region and the world — is sustained and predictable multi-year funding….
In their view, a mix of traditional donors (of which Canada is one) and new ones — including China and wealthy Gulf countries — should provide both long-term support and “an urgent injection of funds for 2023”.
Lest donors think the annual financial cost is too high, Crisis Group warns that UNRWA’s collapse, or even a drastic cut in services, could
foment new turmoil in the Israeli-occupied territories and destabilise Jordan and Lebanon.
In that case, they suggest,
$1.6 billion per year may start to look like nothing less than a bargain.
The report concludes with a plea to donors to make the right choice:
They should make the right one in this case, not just for the sake of Palestinians who feel abandoned after 75 years in the political wilderness, but also so as not to feed a refugee crisis that could in turn fuel yet another destabilising upheaval in the Middle East.
In June 2023 International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan announced the Government of Canada’s “continued support” for UNRWA.
As Crisis Group noted in its report, “traditional donors, mainly Germany, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Japan and Canada” had stepped up to cover the shortfall when the Trump administration cut UNRWA funding in 2018.
We call on the Government of Canada to act again to save UNRWA and, in particular, to take both steps urged by the Crisis Group:
- joining with other traditional donors in providing an emergency infusion of cash now; and
- leading the way for both traditional and potential new donors like China, by a commitment to “sustained and predictable multi-year funding” to UNRWA.
Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force
September 12 update: No significant territorial change…. Net territorial change in the past month: Russia +12.
In the “Ideas to Explore” section of the Belfer Centre analytical report, covering the period 5-11 Sept 2023, the first idea, from a Foreign Affairs commentary, is summarized as follows:
Russia’s military has proved to be “capable of learning and adapting” in Ukraine and these adjustments are “clearly hindering Ukrainian progress,” according to Margarita Konaev and Owen J. Daniels of Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
The second “Idea to Explore” is also problematic for the “forever war” adherents:
According to the Financial Times assessment of the outcome of the G-20 summit in India:
G-20 leaders have failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a joint statement after China and Russia rejected language that blamed Moscow for the conflict, highlighting the lack of global consensus in support of Kyiv.
The third “Idea to Explore” builds on Ukrainian corruption concerns canvassed in last week’s blog post.
According to the Washington Post’s editorial board:
“If corruption is left to fester” in Ukraine, it will also diminish this country’s chances of joining the EU and NATO.
The Belfer report also includes a caution from Mark Champion of Bloomberg that
[Ukrainian President] Zelensky’s current “focus on quick, draconian fixes to deal with corruption, rather than the deep institutional and judicial cleanup that’s required” merits concerns.
America pursuing track 1.5 diplomatic talks
For a very detailed review of efforts to date to launch peace talks to end the Ukraine war, see the “Stalled Diplomacy” section starting on page 9 of the NATOWATCH (NW) News Brief Update 50.
Interestingly, NW describes
regular lower-level meetings between U.S. foreign policy elites and Russian officials.
According to an anonymous ex-American official familiar with the talks, one goal of the meetings was to communicate that the US is
prepared to work constructively with Russian national security concerns.
In the view of NATOWATCH, these meetings between Russian leaders and former American officials suggest that
The United States is using secretive, less formal pathways to discuss and possibly end the conflict with Moscow.
Rate of battlefield casualties escalating in this phase of war
The NATOWATCH briefing, on pages 13-14, provides excruciating detail on the humanitarian consequences of the Ukraine war, with the number of battlefield casualties approaching nearly 500,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.
Even more worrying is the assessment that the casualty data suggests
the war has escalated dramatically over the past year, with the rate of combined casualties increasing from 20,000 per month to more than 33,000 per month in the war’s current phase.
Growing risk of Russia and US/NATO confrontation
Another alarming part of the NATOWATCH briefing is on the “steadily growing” risk of direct military confrontation between Russia and the United States/NATO.
One example cited is the call by the Polish chief of general staff on 5 September 2023 for NATO — in response to Putin’s nuclear threats — to
adopt a much more aggressive response, including flying more aircraft with nuclear weapons.
Divided assessments by experts on progress of Ukrainian counteroffensive
NW, on page 2 of their briefing, comments on the state of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, writing:
Despite the slow progress, the near universal enthusiasm for Ukraine’s battlefield prospects among Western policymakers, analysts and editorial writers in the mainstream media, retired generals, and other experts in the US and European foreign policy establishments has continued.
NW also observes, however, that “a few critical voices see the situation rather differently”. In their view, rather than “gathering pace,”
the likeliest ‘best case’ outcome of the counteroffensive is that Ukraine will only regain some limited amounts of occupied territory, but not enough to either threaten Russia with outright defeat or cause the collapse of Putin’s regime.
A ‘worst case’ scenario could see Ukraine weakened and vulnerable to a new Russian offensive next year.
With counteroffensive stalled, it is time for a renewed diplomatic offensive
For NATOWATCH, the need for a renewed diplomatic offensive is clear:
…with Ukraine unable to prevail on the battlefield, the prospects deepen for a bloody stalemate, or what Martin Stanton, a retired US army officer, describes as an eastern European Passchendaele — with drones.
[Stanton] adds that stalemates of this nature should (logically) produce negotiations, but like World War I, the Ukraine war has turned into a “grudge match”, with neither side inclined to compromise.
As if the comparison to World War One were not enough, NW identifies further ominous parallels:
During the wars in Vietnam (1955-75) and Afghanistan (2001-21), senior political and military leaders knew that the wars were unwinnable yet continued to mislead parliaments and the public into escalating stalemates that cost millions of lives.
The reality on the ground appears to not only suggest a battlefield stalemate, but also an escalation of the conflict into Russian territory and the potential risk of escalation into NATO territory, as well as the potential spectre of nuclear weapons use, a risk that rises inexorably as alternatives appear less attractive.
It is not too late to change course
NATOWATCH then makes the obvious point — that it is not too late to change course — adding:
A negotiated end to the conflict could and should have been pursued earlier, but to further delay diplomacy makes little sense.
Global governance challenges require global action, not stalemate and division
In addition to the horrific humanitarian consequences of the war, NW draws attention to the damage being done to the “collective capacity for global governance” at a time of “multiple rising threats”.
It is not just climate change negotiations that have been damaged by the strategic divisions between the great powers, but also the management of nuclear arsenals, efforts to address the loss of biodiversity, the risk of further pandemics and other challenges that will be on the agenda for next year’s Summit of the Future.
Diplomacy to end Ukraine war will require concessions on both sides
And now we come to the nub of the problem — that diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine will require Kyiv and the West, as well as Moscow, to make concessions.
But, in the view of NW:
there continues to be no diplomatic solution in sight, an attachment to a righteous binary struggle, and little political will among the protagonists or their backers to start negotiations.
Rand study in early 2023 is worth revisiting
In early 2023 Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe wrote a report for the Rand Corporation entitled Avoiding a Long War: U.S. Policy and the Trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict (Document Number: PE-A2510-1).
Its main conclusion was that
the consequences [to the US] of a long war—ranging from persistent elevated escalation risks to economic damage—far outweigh the possible benefits.
US should take steps to avoid a long war by spurring peace talks
The Rand study further concludes:
Since avoiding a long war is the highest priority after minimizing escalation risks, the United States should take steps that make an end to the conflict over the medium term more likely.
Acknowledging that Washington cannot, by itself, end the war, they reason:
But since the conflict will likely end with negotiations, avoiding a long war requires [US] efforts to spur talks [including] … steps to address key impediments to starting them.
The report then goes on to identify “impediments [to starting negotiations] that could plausibly be addressed by U.S. policy”.
The Rideau Institute comments:
The two warring sides have become significantly more entrenched in both their military and political positions in the several months since this study was released. At the same time its core message — the need for US diplomatic action to help avoid a long war — resonates even more strongly.
UPCOMING EVENTS: We highlight again two important upcoming conferences
Group of 78 Annual Policy Conference 2023
Entitled Preventing and Stopping Violence: Effective Actions to Curtail Conflict, the Group of 78’s annual policy conference will be held from 26 September to 2 October 2023.
The opening of the event on Tuesday, September 26, will feature three speakers in a hybrid virtual and in-person program:
Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford (UK), will lead off in the morning, followed in the afternoon by Kai Brand-Jacobsen, President, Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania, and Irvin Waller, Professor, Criminology, Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Ottawa.
The conference will continue with virtual sessions of panels and speakers until Monday, October 2, 2023.
For registration information, click HERE.
Institute for Peace and Diplomacy (IPD) to host Middle East Strategy Forum 2023
The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) is hosting the 3rd Annual Middle East Strategy Forum (MESF 2023) on September 26, 2023 at the Delta Hotel in downtown Ottawa. This year’s conference theme is The Middle East in a Multipolar World.
RI President Peggy Mason, a member of the IPD Board of Advisors, will moderate Panel 3, “The Future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime in the Middle East: Iran and Beyond,” from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. The panel will feature:
Chen Zak Kane, Middle East Nonproliferation Program Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute for International Studies; Founder, Middle East Next Generation Arms Control Network;
Farzan Sabet, Researcher, Middle East WMD-Free Zone Project, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research;
Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association; and
Henry Rome, Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
For the full conference program, click HERE.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (UNRWA Refugees)