Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: The End of Team America World Police Pt. 6; Towards A Global D.I.M.E. Framework

“Now, ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency, but American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be — a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters, where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice. And we cannot do that without you.” –Barack Obama, 2014 West Point Commencement Speech

Yesterday, President Obama delivered the commencement speech at West Pt. (full text). The President took the opportunity to lay out his vision for American foreign policy, hitting on many points discussed here at NN:

1) The Human Rights Roots of Terrorism and Conflict: Most conflicts are, at their root, related to human rights violations (Protracted Social Conflicts) . Over time, if unsupported, legitimate grievances can be overridden by opportunistic forces hoping to advance very different agendas. President Obama correctly hit on the important roles sustainable human development and democratic empowerment play in preventing future conflicts and creating new markets for shared prosperity. By recognizing the importance of human rights concerns in security matters, we can work towards preventing future conflicts.

2) The Cost of Traditional Warefare: The War on Terror has resulted in nearly 7,000 U.S. combat deaths, 50,000 wounded military personnel (not to mention hundreds of thousands of Veterans suffering with psychological ailments such as PTSD), and $8 trillion in spending and interest payments. Given these costs, its is imperative that unilateral military action be reserved as a last resort to direct threats to America’s National security.

3) A Global D.I.M.E. Foreign Policy Framework: Military intervention is only one of the tools available to influence international affairs, as part of a broader “D.I.M.E” (Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military, Economic) framework. The situation in Ukraine highlights how a strong network of institutions can use these tools to counter military threats: Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions. Europe and the G-7 joined with us to impose sanctions. NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies. The IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy. OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine. This mobilization of world opinion and institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda, Russian troops on the border, and armed militias.

4) Strengthening Multilateral Security Forces: Some threats require a military response–America cannot continue to shoulder such a disproportionate share of global security costs. I regularly echo the call for our NATO partners to more equitably share the costs of global security.

Another important multilateral security force are United Nations Peacekeepers. As certain countries (mainly the U.S.) work to reduce military expenditure, it is important to ensure U.N. Peacekeeping operations–which benefit from the technical knowledge and legitimacy of the U.N.–remain adequately funded to respond to conflicts around the world. UN Peacekeeping has 16 active missions, yet currently accounts for only 0.5% of global military expenditure; the global community must dedicate more resources to this increasingly important security force.

5) Capacity Building in [Potential] Conflict Regions: In response to the high cost of American “boots on the ground”, and in an effort to promote security partnerships globally, the U.S. military has renewed its focus on training local forces to deal with threats. Training local forces is cheaper, keeps American lives out of harms way, and avoids the anti-American sentiment often associated with direct intervention. Furthermore, local forces naturally have a better understanding of both their enemy and the terrain.

That is not to say training local forces always goes smoothly, there are often complications related to local allegiances and ancillary resources. However, this is all the more reason to have American’s involved in training local units. Many of the qualitative concerns regarding trust can only be addressed through prolonged relationship building. Training and oversight, alongside their primary function of developing more effective security forces, also provide an opportunity to establish these necessary relationships.

Furthermore, building local capacity goes beyond establishing military relationships. In order for the international community to successfully support human rights / democratic movements, we must establish reliable relationships across a range of actors. Leaving only a strong military, without supporting the institutions which champion human rights, is not likely to lead to sustainable democracy.

There will always be the need for both “soft” and “hard” power in international affairs–every type of response has its strengths and weaknesses, its costs and benefits. It is important to remember that “hard power” does not necessarily require unilateral military action. By more equally distributing the costs associated with global security, and building the capacity of trustworthy local partners in conflict regions, hard power can be utilized in a more sustainable and preventative fashion.

Since hard and soft power are complimentary, making these global security reforms is an essential component of the emerging global D.I.M.E. framework. Furthermore, to the extent that security is a necessary precondition for sustainable human development, the global D.I.M.E framework is an indispensable component of the broader global partnership for development.


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Green News: The Science, Technology, Economics And Geopolitics Of Climate Change Align

Sustainable development is arguably the most pressing challenge of the 21st century. The effort to reduce extreme poverty and modernize underdeveloped regions of the world is invariably linked to access to energy. The way the developing world fills its energy needs (traditional vs. “green” energy), alongside the energy consumption habits of the developed world, will have a great impact on the future of climate change (In the U.S., for example, the energy sector was responsible for 1/3 of GHG emissions in 2012).

A number of longstanding impediments still stand in the way of a meaningful global climate change policy. There is the issue of who will shoulder the majority of the costs of a shift towards sustainable energy sources, countries who have the longest history of emissions / highest per capita emissions rates (developed countries such as the U.S.), or those who currently emit the most GHGs (such as China and India, with their heavy reliance on coal based electricity)?

Unhealthy smog in China and India have put more pressure on politicians to address national climate change agenda’s, but to this point have done little in terms of bridging a global climate change agenda.

A related issue is that the countries that are most susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change are small island states, which have a negligible influence on global policy matters. Organizations such as the UN’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) attempt to overcome this issue by banding together to promote their mutual interests, but still face an uphill battle in compared to more influential global actors. Until the worlds most powerful nations start feeling strong adverse effects of climate change (which some would argue they already have), the needs of these smaller nations are likely to go unaddressed.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to global policy change is that the worlds most powerful nations house the most powerful energy companies, who have a vested interest in the status quo and hold immense political sway due to their roles as political donors and job providers.

When it comes to climate change, the burden of proof is on the “accuser”, a reality climate change deniers have used to their advantage; these companies have virtually limitless resources to challenge claims that climate change is a man made phenomenon, or that it is linked to their activities. To quote Nick Naylor in the satirical comedy “Thank You For Smoking”; “These guys realized quick if they were gonna claim cigarettes were not addictive they better have proof. This is the man they rely on, Erhardt Von Grupten Mundt. They found him in Germany. I won’t go into the details. He’s been testing the link between nicotine and lung cancer for thirty years, and hasn’t found any conclusive results. The man’s a genius, he could disprove gravity.” In other words, if you pay a scientist / economist / expert enough money, they can disprove / refute any claim. 

While the costs of addressing climate change are quantifiable (difference in costs between competing energy sources, jobs / economics output lost, etc.), the benefits tend to be more abstract (ex: the costs of addressing climate change will be “greater in the future”, we can stave off natural disasters with untold economics costs, the effects on global food security, etc.). In a world of budget constraints and high unemployment, the quantifiable and immediate costs of addressing climate change tend to overpower the necessary reforms. Factoring in power asymmetries (those arguing for action are much “weaker” than those arguing against it), and the future of global climate policy becomes even bleaker.

However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of global climate change initiatives. For one thing, denying climate change has become a fringe position; the latest IPCC’s report found with 95% certainty that climate change is a man made phenomenon, and a slight majority (53%) of young Republic voters (the political party in the U.S. typically associated with inaction against climate change) describe climate change deniers as ‘ignorant,’ ‘out of touch’ or ‘crazy.’

In the long run, the Post-2015 Development Agenda is being developed alongside Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seem poised to be agreed upon in a Global Climate Treaty in 2015.

There are also immediate economic and geopolitical reasons to be optimistic about the future of renewable energy proliferation:

Economic:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.

But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small. In fact, even under the most ambitious goals the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.

What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.

The climate change panel, in its usual deadpan prose, notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007. The Department of Energy is willing to display a bit more open enthusiasm; it titled a report on clean energy released last year “Revolution Now.” That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.

Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.

It’s even possible that decarbonizing will take place without special encouragement, but we can’t and shouldn’t count on that. The point, instead, is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.

So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong? Oh, wait.

Geopolitics:

SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe.Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.

“Clean energy is at an inflection point,” explains Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation. “The price reductions in the last five years have been nothing less than spectacular: Solar cells, for example, have dropped in cost by more than 80 percent in the last five years. This trend is underway, if a bit less dramatically, for wind, batteries, solid state lighting, new window technologies, vehicle drive trains, grid management, and more. What this means is that clean energy is moving from boutique to mainstream, and that opens up a wealth of opportunities.”

We are closer to both irreversible dangers on climate and scale solutions on clean tech than people realize. Just a little leadership now by America — or a little scare by Putin — would make a big difference.

To be sure, all of the impediments discussed in this article still remain; power asymmetries, a sluggish global economy, different views about who should pay the costs of “greening” the planet. However, no impediment can withstand a well informed and empowered public; the science, technology, economics and geopolitics of climate change have aligned, the time for change is now (I hate making blanket statements like this, but for the reasons discussed in this blog, I truly believe it in this instance).

All that remains is the political will to stand up to vested interests and the public support to finance the shrinking cost gap between traditional and renewable energy sources (which could be further closed with some form of carbon taxation–again an issue of political will).

When the issue at hand is the fate of our planets ecosystems, with costs that are both unpredictable and rising, how can we not rise to this challenge?


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Conflict Watch: Why Reducing Military Spending Is Not A “Slam Dunk” For Sustainable Human Development

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On The Global Day of Action On Military Spending (4/14), Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas Urged a reduction in military expenditure and greater investment in sustainable development programs (Original Article):

Marking the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, the United Nations independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order called on all governments to boost transparency and cuts in military expenditures, and increase investments in nutrition, health, environmental protection and other major sustainable development challenges.

“Every democracy must involve civil society in the process of establishing budgets, and all sectors of society must be consulted to determine what the real priorities of the population are,” Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas said in a statement. “Lobbies, including military contractors and other representatives of the military-industrial complex, must not be allowed to hijack these priorities to the detriment of the population’s real needs.”

“Tax revenue must be reoriented toward the promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, for research into sustainable sources of energy and for the promotion of sustainable development,” Mr. de Zayas stressed.

“In a world where millions of human beings live in extreme poverty, die of malnutrition and lack medical care, where pandemics continue to kill, it is imperative to pursue good faith disarmament negotiations and to shift budgets away from weapons production, war-mongering, and surveillance of private persons, and devote available resources to address global challenges including humanitarian relief, environmental protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation, prevention of pandemics, and the development of a green economy,” he said.

Mr. de Zayas highlighted that such a shift in States’ spending habits is key to achieving the UN post-2015 development agenda.

“I am surprised that in the current context of global socio-economic crisis, few have voiced indignation regarding the disproportionate levels of military spending. The place to exercise austerity is in wasteful military expenditures, not in social protection,” he insisted.

In theory, I wholeheartedly support Mr. de Zayas’ position. Every dollar of military expenditure is one dollar that cannot go towards public goods and services which are essential for sustainable human development. However, I would question Mr. de Zaya’s assertion that “…in the current context of global socio-economic crisis, few have voiced indignation regarding the disproportionate levels of military spending.” In America, at least, military spending is a very contentious issues.

Mr. de Zayas’ call for global demilitarization also glosses over two major issues that make slashing military spending much more difficult in reality than in theory:

1) Peace and Security Are Prerequisites For Sustainable Human Development:

If a government cannot defend it’s people from extremists and outside threats, how can people be expected to have the foresight to make investments in their future? Armed conflict can reverse decades of economic development, and results in human rights violations of its own. Insecurity cannot be a shield for military impunity (as it is in places like Egypt), but threats cannot simply be wished away either. Furthermore, the balance between security and freedom is not only a quantitative one, it also depends on the balance of power between peoples rights and the armed forces, which are generally enshrined in a country’s constitution.

The global economy runs on peace and stability; all countries have an obligation to contribute to the global security commons. Based on their current contributions, some countries (such as the U.S.) should reduce their military expenditures, while others (such as Germany and Japan) should increase their contributions. Furthermore, member states fund U.N. peacekeeping operations, which are, if anything, stretched too thin.

2) Not Everybody Believes in Human Rights:

Lets take stock of countries that generally support U.N. concepts of human rights, sustainable human development, and democratic governance, and those that do not. If “outlier countries” (notably Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt) are increasing their military investments, is it at all responsible for countries that champion U.N. concepts to reduce their military expenditure? (again, this is a country by country question, based partially on current levels of military expenditure)

Non-democratic states are naturally more insulated from public pressure, as their leaders do not rely on reelection to remain in power. While standards of living and are almost assuredly higher in effective democracies, undemocratic governments have greater discretion over military spending, as they can more freely disregard the needs of their citizens when a geopolitical opportunity presents itself.

Specifically, democratic revolutions could become even more vulnerable. “Outlier nations” would likely come to the aid of their autocratic allies, while “Western” countries would have less resources to offer (think Russia and Syria, or UAE / Saudi Arabia and Egypt). If a country’s civil society considering a democratic revolution knows that it will not receive much outside support, while the regime in power (which probably already has a military advantage) is poised to receive significant outside support, this may deter said revolution from taking place. Since democratic revolutions result from civil society initiatives, just this knowledge could slow the global democratization movement.

If every nation that cooperates with the U.N. cut military expenditures, and none of that outlier states did (which they wouldn’t, and would likely do the opposite), we could very well end up with a deterioration in the global democratic / human rights landscape.

I am by no means a “war hawk”. I dream of a utopian world where no military spending is necessary; this is not the world we currently live in. While social spending to fulfill domestic human rights obligations must not be compromised (and in many places should be increased), this cannot come at the cost of abandoning extraterritorial human rights concerns. Achieving these two goals may indeed require greater levels of taxation and public spending–sorry small government people.

Some re-balancing of global military expenditure certainly is in order; however, this cannot be a shift in spending from pro-human rights to anti-human rights countries (those are oversimplifications of countries human rights records–the world is not black and white–but certain countries openly oppose human rights rhetoric while others tend to support them).


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Economic Outlook: An Ounce Of Crisis Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure

So why do the international community and national governments under-fund crises prevention initiatives? (Especially given that there is no singular “cure” for various crises).

The rising scale of needs, a collective inability to resolve protracted crises, and the interplay of new factors such as climate change, are making it harder for Governments and aid workers to effectively respond to humanitarian challenges, the United Nations today reported, stressing that development aid must contribute to managing crisis risk.

The report, World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2013, authored by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), highlights major trends in the nature of humanitarian crises, the underlying causes and drivers, and the actors that participate in crises prevention, response and recovery.

“Climate change, population growth, rapid and unplanned urbanization, and food and water insecurity are leaving more and more people at risk of crisis,” write the report’s authors, listing some of the new factors facing the humanitarian community.

Among other trends, the report shows that today’s major humanitarian crises are protracted “with few signs of improvements over the long term.”

Of countries that had an inter-agency appeal in 2012, eight had an appeal in eight or more of the previous ten years, including in Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Somalia.

When not protracted, the crises are often recurrent, occurring as a result of shocks – climate, conflict, price – to chronically vulnerable people.

On these factors, the report concludes that humanitarian assistance is still overwhelmingly focused on response and development aid often fails to target the most vulnerable.

“Less than five per cent of humanitarian funding and less than one per cent of development funding is spent on crisis preparedness and prevention,” according to figures provided.

Just as one human rights violation enables others, one humanitarian crisis often leads to future manifestations of the same or related crises. The intractable / recurrent nature of humanitarian crises highlights the need to focus on a preventative approach to building resilience to humanitarian crises. Programs which build resilience to humanitarian crises are essentially poverty reduction / sustainable human development programs (think I am oversimplifying? The United Nations Development Programme’s motto is “empowered lives, resilient nations”).

Least developed countries (LDCs) do not have access to private sector credit (at affordable rates), particularly in times of great need (like after a major crisis). Therefore, an essential component of crisis preparedness are counter-cyclical fiscal policies. Many LDCs rely on natural resource rents for financing government programs. Counter-cyclical natural resource funds, such as the Nigeria’s Sovereign Investment Authority (which draws on excess oil rents), can be powerful tools for crisis preparedness.

Responsible use of ODA / natural resource rents relies on “good governance“. Corrupt leaders can easily embezzle ODA / public savings, and send that money offshore where it can never be recoveredFinding the right balance between prevention / preparedness and crisis response is a difficult task even for the most well intended governments / organizations.

However, it is obvious that spending only 1 % of official development assistance (ODA) on preventative / preparedness measures is a short-sighted strategy (although using a broader definition of “preventative action”, as I have, may encompass a larger portion of ODA). Further exacerbating the problem, there is a large gap in ODA commitments from the worlds wealthiest nations. Dedicating a bigger slice of a bigger pie to crisis prevention / preparedness is needed to strike a responsible balance

There are obvious reasons why the vast majority of ODA goes towards crisis response. Failure to respond to a humanitarian crisis can create breeding grounds for disease, human rights violations, violence/terrorism, and/or lost generations of economic growth. In addition, it is generally easier to mobilize resources in response to a specific incidence (which is seen as unavoidable), than it is for under-development / extreme poverty (which people often unmistakably attribute to laziness). However, it should be the job of development organizations to direct funding to the avenues which will have the greatest impact.

The democratic governance based approach to sustainable human development helps overcome common development issues. By emphasizing political rights and accountable governance, donors and citizens can be confident money is going (or in the case of preparedness, staying) where it is “supposed” to go. Farsighted “good” governments, whose capacities are fully developed with adequate resources (a combination of public savings / ODA), can achieve the simultaneous goals of economic development and resilience to crisis. By emphasizing human rights and environmental sustainability, humanitarian crises are addressed preventatively.

There is no one “road-map” for Sustainable Human Development. Every country is unique and has to build its own path–what Dr. Jeffrey Sachs refers to as “differential diagnosis“.

However, there are some common steps all LDCs should take if they wish to be on the path to sustainable human development: 

1) Draft Poverty Reduction Strategy Plans (PRSPs) that take into consideration the indispensable role of human rights and accountable governance; 

2) Legislate the human rights accountability from all relevant stakeholders (governments, civil society, NGOs, private sector, IGOs, etc.);

3) Mobilize a greater share of resources for sustainable human development programs to prevent / prepare for humanitarian crises.

Update: The UNDP-EU just released interactive maps detailing their joint projects over the last 10 years. One of these maps focuses on crisis prevention and recovery projects.


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Transparency Report: Anti-Corruption Movements and Populism

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim called corruption “Public Enemy Number One“:

“In the developing world, corruption is public enemy number one,” said Kim, speaking at an event hosted by the World Bank’s anti-corruption investigative arm, the Integrity Vice Presidency. “We will never tolerate corruption, and I pledge to do all in our power to build upon our strong fight against it.”

“Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity.”

An important step toward fighting corruption and helping more people lead better lives is to build institutions with greater integrity, Kim noted.  He described three key elements in the World Bank Group’s approach:

“First, we need to improve the way we share and apply knowledge about building institutions with greater integrity; second, we need to empower citizens with information and tools to make their governments more effective and accountable; and third, we need to build a global movement to prevail over corruption.”

In addition to governmental action in anti-corruption, Kim called on other partners to join the fight, including the private sector. 

“The private sector has to be part of the solution as well. Oil, gas, and mining firms are increasingly disclosing their contracts with governments. This gives everyone a chance to scrutinize the behavior of corporate and public officials.”

This transparency and accountability approach to development marks a stark contrast from the World Bank of 1990s. The IMF has recently also taken a more context-sensitive approach compared to “Washington Consensus” policies of the 1990s. This trend points to greater policy coherence between the World Bank, the IMF, and the U.N. as the Post-2015 development agenda is finalized.

These organizations have fully embraced the importance of the political economy of development. Without considering “good governance”, economic gains can be embezzled or misused. Corruption retards growth, increases inequalities, and causes grievances which can boil over civil if not regional conflicts. Economic growth and poverty reduction cannot be achieved on a large scale without considering political factors.

Ultimately, there are limits to even what global organizations can accomplish. To sustain social progress, people must be able to hold “duty bearers” (generally governments, but also private sector actors and social service providers) accountable for their human rights obligations. The role of international organizations and governments is mainly an empowering / enabling one–provide access to information, advocate for avenues / institutions to meaningfully voice grievances, and let people-power do the rest.

The anti-corruption push has recently taken hold in a number of countries. Below are a few notable examples:

India:

“Today, the common man has won,” Kejriwal said in a triumphant speech at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds, the very place were huge protests over corruption erupted in 2011, opening the way for the birth of the AAP.

“This truly feels like a miracle. Two years ago, we couldn’t have imagined such a revolution would happen in this country.”

In a December 4 election to the legislative assembly of Delhi, a city of 16 million people, no party won the majority of seats required to rule on its own.

Wearing a simple blue sweater and with a boat-shaped Gandhi cap on his head, Kejriwal pledged to set up an anti-bribery helpline.

“If anyone in the government asks you for a bribe, don’t say ‘no’,” he said. “You report it on the phone number and we’ll catch every bribe-taker red-handed.”

 Kejriwal, who has tapped into a vein of urban anger over the venality of the political class and the neglect of citizens’ rights in the world’s largest democracy, has promised to expand his movement across the country.

Along with a pledge to send Delhi’s corrupt lawmakers to jail, the AAP has also promised free water for every family in the capital and a sharp reduction in their electricity bills.

business lobby group said on Saturday the unorthodox ideology was not important as long as results were delivered.

“We feel that though the promises made by it may look tall, they can still make a good economic sense if the objective … is achieved by bringing in operational efficiencies,” Rana Kapoor, president the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, said in a statement.

Turkey:

The allegations of high-level corruption threaten to undo Mr. Erdogan’s accomplishment of wresting Turkish politics from the military and overseeing a long period of economic growth. Like a Moses in the wilderness, he has led his people from one sort of bondage but appears unable to deliver them to a promised land of transparent government where people are ruled through consensus rather than bullying and threats.

Mr. Erdogan does not know how to play defense. Last weekend, he addressed rally after rally and cursed the “international groups” and “dark alliances” trying to undermine Turkey’s prestige.

The government is treating the crisis as nothing short of a coup by those jealous of its success. This is nonsense.

The opposition it faces has emerged because of the A.K.P’s own lack of respect for the rule of law and a cynical disregard for public accountability. It can no longer hide behind conspiracy theories and bluster.

Indonesia:

Since its establishment in 2002, the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) has become, contrary to all expectations, a fiercely independent, resilient, popular and successful institution that is a constant thorn in the side of Indonesia’s establishment.

[In 2009] police arrested two KPK commissioners for extortion and bribery. The charges were dropped after nationwide street protests and a Facebook campaign that gathered one million supporters.

“The KPK’s only friend is the public,” says Dadang Trisasongko, secretary general of the Indonesian chapter of global corruption watchdog Transparency International.

The international business community is watching this tussle closely. Executives surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2011-12 said corruption remained “the most problematic factor for doing business” in Indonesia.

The World Bank has said corruption across the world costs $1 trillion. No one has done a thorough study of the costs in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country and one of the hottest emerging markets with an economic growth rate of 6 percent. The Anti-Corruption Studies Center at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta put the losses to the state at $1 billion over the past five years alone.

Thailand:

Thailand protests are different in the sense that the opposition is arguing for less democracy and less populist economic policies. Opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party cite corruption as their main grievance.

Populist economic policies, while generally beneficial in the long run, do have a common pitfall of corruption. Populist policies rely on the government signing many contracts for social goods and services. Without proper oversight, these contracts themselves present many opportunities for corruption / embezzlement of tax-payer money.

I do not know if this is what has happened in Thailand, or whether these claims are unfounded (it is worth noting that Thailand does not score well on Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index“. Regardless, the Pheu Thai party should consider setting up social accountability mechanisms to allay the fear of corruption.

Anti-corruption measures are themselves populist policies. Enabling people to hold corrupt government officials accountable realizes a key political right. Moving money from corrupt politicians pockets to social services helps fulfill economic and social rights. Therefore, the anti-corruption movement is an indispensable aspect of the human rights based approach to development.

The near universal embrace of anti-corruption measure–from the highest level of global governance to local politicians and their constituents on the ground–bodes well for the Post-2015 development agenda. While much work remains to be done, every anti-corruption / accountability / civilian empowerment policy is a step in the right direction.


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Green News: Access to Energy, Poverty Reduction, and a Reason to be Optimistic About Renewable Energy Use in the Developing World

The image shows projections for COemissions and global temperature changes based on different scenarios. Since we cannot know the future of environmental policies, technological advances, or economic growth, projections based on are the best way to hypothesize about these issues. One thing should become apparent after viewing these graphs–while the future is yet undetermined, failure to take action will have dire consequences.

Economic development is an essential component of poverty reduction in the worlds least developed countries (LDCs). However, economic development /poverty reduction are impossible without increased access to energy. Looking at the UN’s “My World 2015” survey, most of the 16 variables “for a better future” rely, to varying degrees, on energy access.

Original article:

In a speech on Monday in Warsaw, the United Nations’ top officer on climate change warned coal industry executives that much of the world’s coal will need to be left in the ground if international climate goals are to be met.

Godfrey G. Gomwe, chairman of the World Coal Association’s energy and climate committee, responded in a speech that, with “1.3 billion people in the world who live without access to electricity,” the questions of climate change and poverty reduction could not be separated.

“A life lived without access to modern energy is a life lived in poverty,” said Mr. Gomwe, who is also chief executive of the mining company Anglo American’s thermal coal business. “As much as some may wish it, coal is not going away.”

Todd Stern, the United States envoy on climate change, said at a news conference in Warsaw that the world’s reliance on coal is “not going to change overnight.” But, “high efficiency coal is certainly better than low efficiency coal,” he added, noting that carbon capture and storage technology was “the most important hope” for coal’s future.

Does this mean that the goals of (extreme) poverty reduction and environmental sustainability are incomparable? No, international efforts for poverty reduction have taken place in the context of “Sustainable Development“. While coal will not “go away”, the chief executive of a coal business is hardly an unbiased agent–he is likely to overstate coals importance in the global energy portfolio. In order to reconcile these two goals, LDCs must meet growing energy demands primarily with zero / low emissions renewable energy sources.

I, for one, am optimistic that LDCs will pursue sustainable development. This is not blind optimism, it is based on political and economic realities.

In the U.S., renewable energy industries face the impediment of strong, established “traditional” energy industries (such as coal power). These industries have billion dollar profit margins and employ large numbers of people. Furthermore, infrastructure or “energy grids” already exist which may not be able to distribute renewable energy, representing large “sunk costs” to switching to renewable energy. In sum, these factors lead to strong local level support and national lobbying efforts for traditional electric. The benefits of renewable energy are realized in the future, while the costs (higher energy prices) and resistance from special interests occur in the present.

In LDCs, where many people are “off the grid”, these “incumbency” obstacles do not exist. In LDCs, people rely primarily on the agrarian economy, and are therefore more likely to support environmentally sustainable energy sources. Furthermore, “off-the-grid-renewable energy” represents a way of bypassing the large fixed costs associated with building traditional energy grids–something that is extremely important in the context of the world’s poorest countries:

Sub-Saharan Africa is also seen as a promising context for renewables. An analogy with the region’s adoption of mobile phones suggests sub-Saharan Africa could dispense with polluting, grid-connected power plants – just as it skipped landline telephones — and move straight into distributed generation from renewables.

Yet a note of caution enters any forecast for any region that so consistently outwits the sharpest analysts. Bhattacharyya tallies up several points for optimism but, while sharing Cohen’s enthusiasm, expresses doubt about the scale of development.

‘The market-driven approach’ has started to ‘flourish’ in areas such as Kenya, he says. He also sees grounds for optimism in how global attention on the lack of access to clean energies by agencies such as the UN, IEA and World Bank has also raised local recognition and awareness of the issue.

In ‘an optimistic case’ he forecasts that sub-Saharan Africa could add a few gigawatts through off-grid technologies, bringing electricity to millions of its people.

‘There is surely huge potential for off-grid options but it is difficult to tell how much is really likely to materialise,’ he says.

The issue with financing renewable energy projects was supposed to be addressed by the UN Green Climate Fund; developed countries promised $100 billion a year to the developed world by 2020 to help cope with and reverse climate change. Issues over “common but differentiated responsibilities“, as well as austerity measures in response to the Great recession, call the availability of these resources into question.

One potential means of making up this funding gap is through a so-called “feed in tariff“:

The report by the World Future Council says providing feed-in tariffs for developing countries so that they can finance setting up large-scale renewable systems and feed electricity to their grids is the best way forward for the fund.

Feed-in tariffs provide the owners of small or large-scale wind and solar arrays with a guaranteed price for electricity over 20 years, so the investor is certain to get a return on their capital. The scheme has worked in developed countries like Germany and Italy to rapidly boost renewable output.

An added problem in developing countries is making sure that the national or local grid can take up and use the electricity generated. Some developed countries have already had difficulties with this, so sorting out the grid must be part of any financing package, the report says.

The report envisages 100 gigawatts of electricity being funded in this way by 2020 – the equivalent of the output of 100 large-scale coal-fired power plants. This would cost 1.3 billion euros a year to fund, sustained over two decades. 

Feed-in tariffs require energy grids to feed-into, and for that reason are not a viable option for the most impoverished / remote areas in the world which do not currently have traditional energy grids. For areas in the developing countries with traditional grids, this is a viable solution. For other areas, financing for off-the-grid renewable energy must be made available. The ability to reconcile economic development, environmental sustainability, and poverty reduction–sustainable development–depends on it.

Update: Alternatively, perhaps off the grid renewable energy can be stored in batteries and sold as part of a feed-in tariff. I know advances are being made in large scale renewable storage in large batteries, I wonder if there is a way to make this work on a small scale as well. Just a though…


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Green News: Competition in the Waste-to-Fuel / Energy Industry

(Everyone is sick of hearing about this government shutdown anyways right??)

The potential of the waste-to-energy industry is a recurring topic here at NN. To quote a NYT article on the subject, “THERE is an indisputable elegance to the idea of transforming garbage into fuel, of turning icky, smelly detritus into something valuable.” It seems that energy producers and waste management companies agree, as there has been a strong push in the past decades to turn energy based waste / fuel into commercially viable alternative power source. Most articles I have reviewed so far have referred to the gasification of garbage in specially designed power plants. A new concept proposes to capture the methane released from garbage already in landfills and turning it into energy/fuel:

Clean Energy Fuels will announce on Thursday that it has started selling a fuel made of methane from landfills and other waste sources at its more than 40 filling stations in California. The company, which is backed by T. Boone Pickens, is developing a nationwide network of natural gas pumps and plans to introduce the fuel elsewhere as well.

The company expects to sell 15 million gallons of the fuel in California this year, more than double the amount of similar fuels the Environmental Protection Agency projected would be produced nationwide.

To many in the industry, the pace of the fuel’s development has been something of a surprise.

“Though California and others have been investing in the development of this fuel, I don’t think people were expecting there to be a significant public supply or access this soon — maybe not even this decade,” said Tim Carmichael, who leads the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, a trade group.

A big factor in methane’s rise is the surge in natural gas production from shale drilling, which had already nudged the transportation industry to begin shifting to vehicles that can run on the cleaner-burning fuel, making it easier to meet emissions standards.

Another reason is powerful government incentives, especially in California, that have imposed strict regulations intended to help reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Under the program, suppliers that reduce emissions during the production, transportation and use of the fuel are awarded tradable credits.

These and similar federal incentives are allowing Clean Energy to sell the fuel, which is called Redeem, at the same price as its conventional natural gas fuel even though it is more expensive to produce.

But because of its source, the fuel counts as renewable and takes less energy to extract and process, making it more attractive to companies seeking to burnish their green credentials

The fuel’s environmental benefits also include capturing the methane before it is released into the atmosphere. When the methane-derived fuel is burned, it is far less harmful to the atmosphere than petroleum fuels. But the methane that escapes directly from decomposing waste is more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon.

For this reason, many large-scale farms, wastewater treatment companies and garbage companies have developed systems to capture escaping methane — known as biogas — for both transportation and electricity, and several start-up companies are working on systems of their own. There are projects in Europe as well, where biogas for transport is more common.

Beyond the bottom line, customers are increasingly interested in how clean the fuel is, said Andrew J. Littlefair, the chief executive of Clean Energy, adding that Redeem can burn 90 percent cleaner than diesel. “We’re seeing from these heavy-duty trucking fleets, and these shippers that hire these trucking fleets, they’re really interested in sustainability,” he said. “It’s gotten to be a very important part of the sale.”

John Simourian, chief executive of Lily Transportation, which uses a nationwide network of trucks to move a range of products, including construction materials and groceries, said that only a small portion of his fleet ran on natural gas but that the company was shifting over.

Not only is the fuel less expensive, but it gives the company a competitive advantage with customers on price and environmental concerns. “It’s just a win all around,” he said.

It is interesting to note all the different avenues being explored when it comes to turning waste into something valuable and environmentally friendly–and why not? According to Sharon E. Burke, the assistant secretary of defense for operational efficiency plans and programs “Waste is a problem, so if we could dispose of waste and create energy at the same time, that would be a silver bullet.” But you don’t need to be en expert to know that trash is a problem, especially in densely populated areas (such as major cities) which produce a lot of trash; it stinks, it takes up room, and it costs money to get rid of. It is safe to say that, with the current trash disposal system, we have a “surplus of trash”.

Now imagine a world where not only is trash not a liability, but there are actually companies biding for trash (both intra-industry and inter-industry; some want it for landfill methane extraction, others to gasify the garbage directly into energy)–a trash shortage! A stream of revenue could open up for large municipalities, instead of a large bill for waste management. It is true that eventually waste-to-trash will have to get off subsidies to become truly commercially viable. However, if as a society we are unwilling to reward waste-to-energy for it’s positive externalities (such as less emissions and less garbage around), we can still hold “dirty” energy producers accountable for their negative externalities via carbon tax / cap and trade. As waste-to-energy matures and becomes more efficient, and emissions prices stabilize due to a more complete global market, the industry should eventually be able to compete without subsidies. It would appear this world is not so unimaginable or far-off as one may think.

 

 


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Conflict Watch: Snapshot of Middle-Eastern Turmoil

Obama Military Spending

The NYT released an article today, highlighting the rare opportunities for diplomacy between the U.S. (presumably representing the interests of the international community) and various Middle-Eastern nations. First I will recap some highlights of the article, then I will give my input on the situations in Syria, Iran, and Egypt:

Only two weeks after Washington and the nation were debating a unilateral military strike on Syria that was also intended as a forceful warning to Iran about its nuclear program, President Obama finds himself at the opening stages of two unexpected diplomatic initiatives with America’s biggest adversaries in the Middle East, each fraught with opportunity and danger.

For Mr. Obama, it is a shift of fortunes that one senior American diplomat described this week as “head spinning.”

In their more honest moments, White House officials concede they got here the messiest way possible — with a mix of luck in the case of Syria, years of sanctions on Iran and then some unpredicted chess moves executed by three players Mr. Obama deeply distrusts: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Iran’s erratic mullahs. But, the officials say, these are the long-delayed fruits of the administration’s selective use of coercion in a part of the world where that is understood.

“The common thread is that you don’t achieve diplomatic progress in the Middle East without significant pressure,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said Thursday. “In Syria, it was the serious threat of a military strike; in Iran it was a sanctions regime built up over five years.”

Skeptics — and there are plenty in the National Security Council, the Pentagon, America’s intelligence agencies and Congress — are not so optimistic. They think Mr. Obama runs the risk of being dragged into long negotiations and constant games of hide-and-seek that, ultimately, will result in little change in the status quo. They argue that the president’s hesitance to pull the trigger on Tomahawk strikes on Syria nearly two weeks ago, and the public and Congressional rebellion at the idea of even limited military strikes, were unmistakable signals to the Syrian and Iranian elites that if diplomacy fails, the chances of military action ordered by the American president are slight.

All these possibilities could evaporate quickly; just ask the State Department diplomats who in the last years of the Bush administration thought they were on the way to keeping North Korea from adding to its nuclear arsenal, or the Clinton administration officials who thought they were on the verge of a Middle East peace deal.

Iranians are desperate for relief from sanctions that have cut their oil revenue by more than half, crashed their currency and made international banking all but impossible, but they may not understand the price of relief. “I suspect they are heading for sticker shock,” one official deeply involved in developing the American negotiating strategy said recently.

I am by no means a war-hawk; as a political / development economist, I understand that no MDG has ever been sustained in a conflict region. Peace and political stability are necessary preconditions for sustainable human development, which is the ultimate goal of development practitioners / human rights advocates around the world (it is also at the core of the UNDP’s strategic plan  for 2014-2017, which is where I was introduced to the term). Sustainable development requires development not be achieved at the expense of the environment / future generations. The human-rights-based-approach to development requires that development not be achieved by exploiting the worlds most impoverished / violating their human rights. Put together, these two concepts form the concept of sustainable human development; this is the only truly sustainable form of development as it reduces the probability that conflicts–which tend to have human rights violations at their core–will undo otherwise environmentally sustainable development gains.

But I am also a realist. I understand that sometimes revolutions are needed in order to overcome structural impediments to sustainable human development, such as an autocratic regime. Such regimes are not accountable to their people, and while there may be “benevolent dictators”, there is nothing sustainable about someones rights being granted by an individuals benevolence (he may change his mind, or be succeeded by a less progressive ruler). In this vein, effective democracy is the only means to sustainable human development. It is not some “western value” that drives my passion for democratic governance, it is my belief in the power of people, self-determination, and “development as freedom” which fuels this passion.

In the real world, concepts such as human rights and effective democracy are kept at bay by vested interest who would lose power if civil societies as a whole were empowered. These vested interests rely on collective action problems (I gain a lot as-is, by changing each person only gains a little) to maintain the status-quo. When collective action problems are overcome (a process which has been aided by innovations in social media / ICTs), vested interests often turn to military power to maintain their positions. I find this to be unconscionable, and therefore give some of my time to doing what little I can to try to shape the world as I believe it should be.

Diplomacy is a powerful preventative tool. However, I am less sold on diplomacy’s “soft-power” when the gloves come off and all-out war begins. Diplomacy is always more effective in democracies (where governments are accountable to the will of the people) than in autocracies (where the survival of the regime is the governments number one priority).

Syria: As you could probably tell, I am not sold on the “solution” to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. I think this is a stalling tactic, which will further entrench Assad’s grip on power and further marginalize the legitimate Syrian opposition. I hope I am proven wrong, but I am not optimistic.

The Syrians now face a series of deadlines. The first comes this weekend, when they must issue a declaration of their chemical stocks that “passes the laugh test,” as Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s former top adviser on unconventional weapons, put it earlier in the week.

It is also concerning that, so soon after a deal was reached and before any part of the deal has been carried out, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is already calling for Western Nations to “force” the Syrian opposition into peace talks with Assad. Mr. Lavrov does not seem to understand that democratic governments cannot “force” people to do things; furthermore, Western powers do not have that sort of leverage as they have till this point been largely absent in aiding the Syrian opposition. It is not surprising Mr. Lavrov had this misunderstanding, in Russia the government can indeed force people to do things.

Even more concerning is President Putin’s recent assertion that the UN chemical weapons report, which did not explicitly accuse Assad but does does implicitly suggest his regime was responsible for the August 21st chemical weapons attacks, is “biased”. He later goes on to say the Assad regime has evidence suggesting the rebels are responsible. So Putin would have us believe the UN is biased, but Assad is not? Sorry, but I’m not buying that and neither should you.

The French seem to finally be willing to arm the legitimate syrian opposition, the Free Syrian Army:

“On delivering weapons we have always said that we want to control these supplies so that they do indeed go to the Free Syrian Army … because they represent the Syrian National Coalition that we recognise as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and today they are caught between a hammer and an anvil,” Hollande said.

“The hammer is the air strikes and actions of the Syrian regime and the anvil is radical Islam,” he said.

If the U.S. also agrees to arm the FSA, and can garner international support to strike Assad in response to confirmed chemical weapons usage, the Syrian-stalemate can be overcome and the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people realized.

Egypt: With Chemical weapons use in Syria dominating news, unrest in Egypt has taken a back-seat on the international communities agenda. However, fighting between Islamic Militants and the Egyptian Army continues. It is the job of the Egyptian military to rid Egypt of these extremists and ensure stability. It is not the Egyptians army’s job to condemn all Muslim’s as terrorists (as it has in the aftermath of the Morsi ouster). The Egyptian military wishes to remain unaccountable to the Egyptian people–it is not committed to effective democratic rule–as expressed in a draft of the new Egyptian Constitutional Declaration.

(Original article):

The Islamist assembly pointedly excluded prominent feminist, activist and secularist voices. It’s unclear to whom the current committee — appointed by an interim president, backed by the army, packed with the heads of official institutions — is accountable beside the state itself. Organizations such as the Journalists’ Syndicate have already complained that their recommendations on press law and freedoms of speech have been overlooked.

And this assembly, just like the previous one, is rushing its work, and conducting it with little transparency. In fact, the Islamist assembly may have been better at sharing information about its progress: It maintained a Web site tracking the latest discussions and amendments. We learn of the workings of the current assembly only through sporadic interviews its members give to the press.

This issue could be addressed in the coming weeks. And there are many ways in which the current constitution could improve upon the last. Hoda Elsadda, a founding member of a prominent feminist research center who heads the freedoms and liberties subcommittee, says she want to include an article prohibiting discrimination and human rights violation by the security services. Several members of the assembly have voiced their opposition to military trials of civilians. The rights of religious minorities, women and children — given short shrift in the last document — will probably receive greater emphasis now.

But In a country  ruled by the military, and amid a declared war on terrorism, it seems very unlikely that the constitution’s biggest shortcomings will be addressed. The draft as it stands now subjects fundamental freedoms to vague qualifications that render them meaningless: These freedoms must be exercised “according to the law” or as long as they don’t hinder “national security.” The document places the army above oversight and accountability.

And it sets many Egyptians — not just supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood — on the sidelines of what should be a national conversation and a fresh start.

To be fair, Morsi’s constitutional drafting process was not exactly inclusive either. But Morsi’s regime was willing to work within the democratic process, while General Sisi is not. The democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people will likely come second to ensuring the military’s grip on power.

Iran: Iranian President Rouhani, a relative moderate, has been much more diplomatic towards the West than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian economy has been crippled by 5 years of economic sanctions, and in order to have those sanctions lifted, Iranian leaders appear willing to negotiate an agreement on ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program (which it denies having):

American officials say they understand that Iran will need some kind of enrichment ability to assure its own people that it has retained its “nuclear rights,” as its negotiators say. The question is how much. Unless a good deal of the current infrastructure is dismantled, Iran will be able to maintain a threshold nuclear capability — that is, it will be just a few weeks, and a few screwdriver turns, from building a weapon. It is unclear whether Mr. Obama can live with that; the Israelis say they cannot.

The NYT article talked about “sticker shock”, the price Iran will have to pay in order to keep its nuclear rights and have sanctions against it removed. In a previous post, I laid out conditions I thought Iran should have to agree to in order to have sanctions removed:

The issue comes down to transparency, accountability, and ultimately governance. Can countries without the traditional checks and balances present in Western democracies be credible partners? Can they actually uphold their promises, or are they merely trying to buy time / have sanctions eased until it is beneficial to renege on their commitments?

The burden of proof falls on Iran and North Korea on this one. If either country wishes to be allowed to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes without dealing with crippling international sanctions, certain conditions must be met. Most notably, independent international inspectors must be given unrestricted access to known / suspected uranium enrichment facilities; if either country can fulfill this condition, then it will have earned the right to enhance uranium for peaceful purposes.

I still believe these conditions should be part of any talk to ending sanctions against Iran.

Iraq: Sectarian violence has gripped Iraq since the U.S. pulled out, and is in some ways worse than before the Sadam Hussien ouster. Iraq is a case-n-point of the limits of armed intervention in other countries.

Diplomacy is a powerful tool, but it has it’s limits. Both diplomacy and military action, as well as economic leverage and intelligence sharing, combine to form the D.I.M.E foreign policy paradigm I believe the U.S. should pursue.

5 years of sanctions were needed to bring Iran to the bargaining table, and the threat of force was needed to get Assad to admit he had chemical weapons / agree to dismantle his arsenal. Only time will tell how / if these complex issues can be resolved thought diplomacy. One thing is certain; we cannot trust dictators or take them at their word, their commitments must be verifiable. In order to hold a dictator accountable for his concessions, international investigators must be given unfettered access to any point of interest. This requires relinquishing some “national sovereignty”, something no country–democratic or otherwise–likes to do.

The U.S. failed to drive a hard enough bargain (in my mind) on chemical weapons with the Syrian regime. At least as a starting point, Western powers should make their demands clear and strong heading into negotiations with otherwise unaccountable regimes.


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Green News: Who Is Cutting and Who is Increasing GHG Emissions? The Answer May Suprise You

I gotta say, it is nice to not be covering the Syrian civil war in this post. Events in Syria have dominated the news lately, but it seems that at least for the immediate future diplomatic exercises have stalled the prospect of outside military intervention.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight an interesting trend I have noticed lately, involving different countries efforts (or lack thereof) to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The trend is interesting because it involves major players from both extremes (both high emitting nations and sustainability champions) moving forward with policies that would seem to contradict their historical stances on climate change. In recent news, the U.S. and China are moving to curb GHG emissions , while Australia and Canada are moving towards less sustainable energy portfolios.

(For some background, please see interactive maps on: GHG emissions by country per capita, CO2 emissions by country, renewable / fossil fuel energy production and consumption by country)

Australia and Canada have, in recent history, been global champions of sustainable development. Both countries were original ratifying members of the Kyoto Protocol, and have signed the protocol into law (although it appears Canada will not make it’s emissions targets). Australia became one of the first countries to sign a carbon tax into law, and while Canada does not have a federal carbon tax, several Providences have their own regulations in place. Canada and Australia, with their natural beauty, seemed like global poster-children for sustainable development. However, recent developments show these two countries shifting in the other direction.

Economic downturns have pitted environmentalists vs. industry in a zero-sum and short-sighted game, in which advocacy for sustainable development could be political suicide. Of course, in the long run, we need a more sustainable global energy portfolio; but these are problems for future generations who do not have the unemployment problems of today’s world, opponents of carbon taxes argue (I am not considering the climate change skeptic as a legitimate opposition anymore).

Canada has seen rising GHG emissions in recent years, with no future decline in sight–if anything, increased production of oil sands forecasts emissions trending upwards in Canada. Politics have turned against environmentalists in Canada for reasons discussed above; anybody who thinks about environmental sustainability implicitly does not care about jobs / the economy / problems facing Canadians today (sound familiar? this is a common argument for putting off action on reducing emissions around the world).

Australia recently had elections, which were won by conservatives based partially on a promise to abolish the unpopular carbon tax:

The Australian mining industry welcomed Saturday’s election of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his coalition’s pledge to abolish the carbon tax on fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from coal mines and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax on coal and iron ore mining profits.

The coalition of Liberal and National parties campaigned on a platform to repeal the taxes within 100 days of taking the reins of government.

“On the first sitting day of Parliament under a coalition government, I will introduce legislation to repeal the Carbon Tax,” Abbott said on the Liberal party’s website that included policy documentation stating the party would also rescind the MRRT.

For some Australians, the free-rider issue seems to make being environmentally conscious not worth fronting the bill–literally:

The carbon tax is one reason Sydney resident Geoff Hamment, who normally votes for Labor, is supporting the conservatives this time around. Hamment said he’s seen his household electricity bills go “through the roof” since the tax was introduced.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “I think us paying so much is just pointless when you have countries like China churning it out.”

The tax is extremely unpopular, despite the fact that most Australians, but not the wealthy, get government compensation for higher electricity prices.

For all the well-founded China bashing on the environmental front–China has overtaken the U.S. as the global leader in terms of absolute GHG emissions (although the U.S., per capita, still emits more than China; this is arguably a better measure of a countries energy efficiency)–the Chinese government appears to be trending towards more sustainable environmental policies:

BEIJING — The Chinese government announced an ambitious plan on Thursday to curb air pollution across the nation, including setting some limits on burning coal and taking high-polluting vehicles off the roads to ensure a drop in the concentration of particulate matter in cities.

The plan, released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, filled in a broad outline that the government had issued this year. It represents the most concrete response yet by the Communist Party and the government to growing criticism over allowing the country’s air, soil and water to degrade to abysmal levels because of corruption and unchecked economic growth.

The criticism has been especially pronounced in some of China’s largest cities, where anxious residents grapple with choking smog that can persist for days and even weeks. In January, the concentration of fine particulate matter in Beijing reached 40 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

For years China has had an array of strict environmental standards on paper, and its leaders talk constantly about the need to improve the environment. But enforcement has been lax, and the environment has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate.

“The plan successfully identifies the root cause of air pollution in China: China’s industrial structure,” said Ma Jun, a prominent environmental advocate. “Industrialization determines the structure of energy consumption. If China does not upgrade its coal-dependent industries, coal consumption can never be curbed.” he said. “The key to preventing air pollution is to curb coal burning — China burns half of all the coal consumed in the world.”

In the United States, the world’s number two GHG emitter, the issue of emissions has been divided largely down partisan lines. Liberals, led by President Obama, believe in taxing carbon and subsidizing renewable energies as part of an “all of the above” energy portfolio to meet future demand and cut emissions. Conservatives tend to argue against the need to curb GHG emissions, largely for the same reasons mentioned above with respect to Canada and Australia. However, it seems Obama intends to bypass partisan gridlock by passing executive orders, carried out through the EPA, to curb emissions from fossil fuel power plants:

The Environmental Protection Agency is due to unveil next week the first batch of regulations under President Barack Obama’s new climate action plan – a carbon emissions-rate standard for new fossil fuel power plants.

If standards are as strict as the industry expects, it could be the death knell for new coal plant construction. The recent bankruptcy of Longview, a highly efficient West Virginia coal plant, is an example of the pressures already facing the industry.

The EPA is due to issue an emissions-rate standard for new fossil fuel power plants by September 20. Proposed standards on existing plants will follow in 2014.

Obama asked the EPA to re-propose a rule it introduced last year using a section of the federal Clean Air Act that required all new power plants, including those that use coal, to meet a standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour – the rate of an average gas-fired plant.

Sources that have met with the administration in recent weeks said the agency has likely revised its earlier proposal to provide separate standards for natural gas and coal plants, and also raised the emissions limits for coal plants.

The new rules, like those initially proposed in 2012, are also likely to include a requirement for new coal plants to use a form of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that captures carbon emissions and stores the carbon underground, that is years away from being available on a commercial scale.

Eugene Trisko, a lawyer who represents clients such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in energy and environmental matters, said CCS cannot be deployed if coal plants, such as Longview, are unable to run.

“If you really wanted to advance CCS, you really need to build new coal plants because those are the plants that one day or another would be the laboratories for CCS,” he said.

“Nobody is going to put CCS on plants that are 50 years old,” he added.

But some environmentalists argue that new EPA rules will only add another layer of financial risk around coal plant investment even in coal-reliant states like West Virginia.

Instead of investing in new coal plants, which will only become more costly, states should diversify their energy supply, said Cathy Kunkel, an energy research consultant and fellow at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

The concept behind taxing carbon emissions and subsidizing renewable energies is pretty straightforward. Emissions represent a negative externality, pollution, that is a detriment to society as a whole. A carbon tax or cap-and-trade system creates a cost for this negative externality, discouraging its use and potentially helping to fund R & D in renewables (and therefore encouraging competing cleaner energy sources). Renewable energy has positive externalities (energy with lower levels GHG emissions), subsidies compensate producers for these externalities. Furthermore, renewable energy is still a relatively infant industry, which combined with its inherent positive externalities and increasing global energy demand, make it a prime candidate for government subsidy.

Do not get me wrong, we are still a long way away from the point where China and America can lecture Australia and Canada about their emissions (especially considering that China and America represent large export markets for Australian and Canadian fossil fuels respectively). However, it is interesting to note the role reversal, which I believe at it’s root is a failure of the international community to embrace the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Previous environmental champions, discouraged by the lack of international commitment to emissions reductions, have created an environment where politicians can win elections by tapping into that frustration. “We have tried, now we are concerned with our own problems.” people in these countries may argue. Australia has taken this stance on step further, with respect to ODA:

The outgoing Labor government said in May that Australia’s long-standing pledge to increase its foreign aid spending to 0.5 percent of gross national income by 2015-16 would be postponed by two years.

The coalition said in a statement last week that it shared Labor’s commitment to reach the 0.5 percent target “over time, but cannot commit to a date given the current state of the federal budget.”

“I have to say, there are higher immediate priorities” than reaching the 0.5 percent target, Abbott told reporters last week. “The best thing we can do for our country and ultimately the best thing we can do for people around the world is to strengthen our economy.”

The plans have been condemned by opponents and aid groups, who dubbed it short-sighted and contrary to the nation’s image of global cooperation, particularly in light of Australia’s recent appointments to presidency of the U.N. Security Council and the G-20 in 2014.

While this stance on international relations is obviously flawed and short-sighted, it is understandable how Canada and Australia got to this point. The U.S. and China, on the other hand, are recognizing they must lead any global initiative to reign in GHG emissions, before the costs rise further and irreparable damage is done.  China has an even more pressing problem, with the deadly smog it’s unchecked emissions has produced. This is the natural ebb and flow of accountability without coordinated global policy. Those who are mostly responsible for GHG emissions, fearing future accountability, want to work together to make those future costs as low and evenly shared as possible. Those who have forgone some economic growth for sustainable development in the past feel they have already done their part, and are beginning to forsake what they see as failed international commitments for domestic goals.
This is a failure of global policy coordination, and one the world cannot afford. The G20 would be a natural place to come up with a global environmental commitment, based on the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (which is really only fair) as the worlds largest emitters are represented there. Furthermore, as a relatively new group (established in 1999, the first meeting of the G20 Leaders took place in Washington, D.C., on November 14-15, 2008)the G20 doesn’t have the history of failed negotiations that sometimes doom other global climate change efforts. Australia taking over the U.N.S.C. and G20 presidency in 2014 looked liked a “win” for sustainable development a few years back; now I am not so sure that is the case.


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Highlights From the St. Petersburg G20 Leaders Declaration

The G20 Leader’s summit was held in St. Petersburg, Russia over the past 2 days. While much has been made over the lack of an international consensus on Syria, less attention has been given to agreements made on global political economy decisions. Global leaders reinforced the importance of cooperation, transparency and trust on global issues such as renewable energy / climate change, sustainable economic development, financial regulation and tax avoidance.

Furthermore, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda, with a human rights based approach to sustainable human development at it’s core. It also reaffirmed the idea that certain issues (ex tax avoidance, financial regulation) require global policy coordination to be effective, and recognized the G20’s unique ability–by representing 2/3 of the worlds population and 90% of economic output–to hold countries accountable for “cheating” on international agreements.

The resolution reaffirmed the importance of rule of law, transparency, and judicial independence for fostering trust between civil society and governments, and conversely how corruption can undermine both this trust and the trust between governments in global governance mechanisms. In recognition of the destructive power of corruption, the resolution reaffirms a global effort to combat corruption through education campaigns and empowering civil society to practice “social accountability” via ombudsman’s offices / NHRIs.

Below are the highlights of the Saint Petersburg Declaration (as I see them, I realize the post is a bit lengthy, but I was able to capture the 27 page documents essence in about 5 pages–woohoo academic / knowledge management experience). Underneath certain resolutions I included (in parenthesis) how that resolution fits into a common NN theme. For those who wish to read more in depth on G20 resolutions, I suggest the Saint Petersburg Development Outlook, the FSB report on financial reforms, and the Tax Annex to the Saint Petersburg G20 Leaders Declaration.

(It should be noted that grandiose rhetoric is often used in global policy summits. There is a difference between resolutions and implementing / financing programmes to operationalize those resolutions. However, at least on the sustainable economic development and global policy coherence fronts, important groundwork was laid down at the summit)

G20 LEADERS’ DECLARATION
Saint Petersburg Summit
5-6 September 2013
Preamble 

5. We understand that sound and sustainable economic growth will be firmly based on increased and predictable investments, trust and transparency, as well as on effective regulation as part of the market policy and practice.

6. As Leaders of the world’s largest economies, we share responsibility for reinforcing the open and rules-based global economic system. We are committed to working cooperatively to address key global economic challenges:

  • Achieving a stronger recovery while ensuring fiscal sustainability. We have today agreed the St Petersburg Action Plan, which sets out our strategies to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth.
  •  Unemployment and underemployment, particularly among young people. We are united in the resolve to achieve better quality and more productive jobs. Coordinated and integrated public policies (macroeconomic, financial, fiscal, education, skills development, innovation, employment and social protection) are key to reach this goal. We today committed to continue our efforts to support inclusive labour markets, with the exchange of country-specific plans or sets of actions, developed as appropriate according to our different constitutional circumstances.

(In line with the principle of self-determination)

  • Free and rules-based trade fosters economic opportunities. We stress the crucial importance of strong multilateral trading system and call on all the WTO members to show the necessary flexibility and reach a successful outcome in this year’s multilateral trade negotiations. We extend our commitment to refrain from protectionist measures and aim at enhancing transparency in trade, including in regional trade agreements.
  • Cross-border tax evasion and avoidance undermine our public finances and our people’s trust in the fairness of the tax system. Today, we endorsed plans to address these problems and committed to take steps to change our rules to tackle tax avoidance, harmful practices, and aggressive tax planning.

We have agreed and are implementing a broad range of financial reforms to address the major fault lines that caused the crisis. We are building more resilient financial institutions, making substantial progress towards ending too-big-to-fail, increasing transparency and market integrity, filling regulatory gaps and addressing the risks from shadow banking. We will pursue our work to build a safe, reliable financial system responsive to the needs of our citizens.

 G20 countries have a responsibility to ensure that all people have an opportunity to gain from strong, sustainable and balanced growth. We endorse the St Petersburg Development Outlook to focus our efforts on concrete steps to improve food security, financial inclusion, infrastructure, human resource development and domestic resource mobilization.

(The universality of human rights based development)

Corruption impedes sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction, threatening financial stability and economy as a whole. We will hold ourselves to our commitment to implement the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan, combating domestic and foreign bribery, tackling corruption in high-risk sectors, strengthening international cooperation and promoting public integrity and transparency in the fight against corruption. Recognizing the need for sustained and concerted efforts we endorse the St Petersburg Strategic Framework.

We share a common interest in developing cleaner, more efficient and reliable energy supplies, as well as more transparent physical and financial commodity markets. We commit to enhance energy cooperation, to make energy market data more accurate and available and to take steps to support the development of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies to enhance the efficiency of markets and shift towards a more sustainable energy future. We underscore our commitment to work together to address climate change and environment protection, which is a global problem that requires a global solution.

We will continue to develop comprehensive growth strategies to achieve stronger, more sustainable and balanced growth in the context of fiscal sustainability.

7. Too many of our citizens have yet to participate in the economic global recovery that is underway. The G20 must strive not only for strong, sustainable and balanced growth but also for a more inclusive pattern of growth that will better mobilize the talents of our entire populations. 

(“no-person-left-behind” human rights based approach (HRBA) to development, inclusive growth to reduce inequalities of opportunity / break power asymmetries)

Global Economy and G20 Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth
10. We consider the main challenges to the global economy to be:

  •  Weak growth and persistently high unemployment, particularly among youth, and the need for more inclusive growth in many economies;
  •  Financial market fragmentation in Europe and the decisive implementation of banking union;
  •  Slower growth in some emerging market economies, reflecting in some cases the effect of volatile capital flows, tighter financial conditions and commodity price volatility, as well as domestic structural challenges;
  •  Insufficient levels of private investment in many countries, in part due to continuing market uncertainties, as well as internal rigidities;
  •  High public debt and its sustainability in some countries that need to be addressed while properly supporting the recovery in the near-term, especially in countries with the highest actual and projected debt to GDP levels;
  •  Volatility of capital flows as growth strengthens and there are expectations of eventual monetary policy recalibration in advanced economies;
  •  An incomplete rebalancing of global demand; and
  •  Continued uncertainties about fiscal policy deliberations.

15. We reiterate that excess volatility of financial flows and disorderly movements in exchange rates can have adverse implications for economic and financial stability, as observed recently in some emerging markets. Generally stronger policy frameworks in these countries allow them to better deal with these challenges. Sound macroeconomic policies, structural reforms and strong prudential frameworks will help address an increase in volatility. We will continue to monitor financial market conditions carefully.

16. We commit to cooperate to ensure that policies implemented to support domestic growth also support global growth and financial stability and to manage their spillovers on other countries.

(Accountability for extra-territorial human rights obligations)

Growth through Quality Jobs

26. Policy reforms to support higher employment and facilitate job creation and better matching of skills with job opportunities are central in our growth strategies. We commit to take a broad-ranged action, tailored to national circumstances, to promote more and better jobs:

  • Invest in our people’s skills, quality education and life-long learning programs to give them skill portability and better prospects, to facilitate mobility and enhance employability.

(Human capital investment for sustainable human development)

29. Promoting youth employment is a global priority. We are committed to quality apprenticeship and vocational training programmes, finding innovative ways to encourage firms to hire youth for example by, where appropriate, reducing non-wage labour costs, moving towards early intervention measures and effective job-search assistance for different groups of youth, and motivating youth entrepreneurship and business start-ups. Tailored strategies including youth guarantee approaches, developing school and university curricula that support entrepreneurship, and facilitating exchange of best practices among the G20 countries and the social partners are crucial in this respect.

(Recognizing youth as a critical stage of personal and professional development, and adequate investment reflecting this recognition)

Growth through Quality Jobs
81. Supporting strong, sustainable, inclusive and resilient growth and narrowing the development gap remain critical to our overall objective for jobs and growth. In this regard, we welcome the progress within the forum achieved this year, in particular on:

  • Food Security: Support to the Secure Nutrition Knowledge Platform, exchange of best practices through the seminar on “Food Security through Social Safety Nets and Risk Management”, and convening the second G20 Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists, along with its ongoing work to identify global research priorities and targets and support results-based agricultural research in 2014.
  • Infrastructure: Completion of the Assessment of Project Preparation Facilities (PPFs) for Infrastructure in Africa; a toolkit on Urban Mass Transportation Infrastructure Projects in Medium and Large Cities by the World Bank and the ADB; and a public-private partnerships (PPP) sourcebook by the World Bank, IDB and ADB, and progress in implementing the recommendations of the High Level Panel on Infrastructure.

(PPP for physical and human capital investments. Both governments and businesses rely on productive societies for growth.)

  • Financial Inclusion: Enhanced coherence with the G20 finance track through the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) to pursue efforts to strengthen financial inclusion including work to further reducing the global average cost of transferring remittances to 5% including through innovative result-based mechanisms, to enhance financial literacy and consumer protection for the poor and to foster access to finance for investment, for SMEs for growth, job creation and poverty reduction; and together with the IFC launching the Women Finance Hub.
  • Human Resource Development: Launch of a global public-private knowledge sharing platform on skills for employment and the development of national actions plans on skills for employment in LICs and of a database on skills indicators.
  •  Inclusive Green Growth: Further development, dissemination and implementation of the non-prescriptive, voluntary toolkit of policy options for inclusive green growth in the context of sustainable development, including a workshop with developing countries, and initiation of the G20 Dialogue Platform on Inclusive Green Investments for sustainable development and poverty eradication.
  • Domestic Resource Mobilization: Continued work on strengthening tax administrations in developing countries, particularly LIC’s, through both bilateral and multilateral programs, such as the work of the OECD and G20 members on BEPS, automatic exchange of information, the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes and “Tax Inspectors without Borders” and the expansion of the work of the World Bank Group and the IMF to support developing countries’ ability to raise domestic resources. 

83. We welcome the Saint Petersburg Accountability Report on G20 Development Commitments, which sets out the progress achieved since we adopted the 2010 Seoul Multi-Year Action Plan on Development (MYAP) (Annex). This report demonstrates that many of our development commitments have now been implemented and identifies lessons learned and it highlights the successes achieved. The Accountability Report underlines the importance of continued monitoring and identifies areas where we must continue to work and opportunities to strengthen and streamline the G20 development agenda.

84. In this spirit, we endorse the Saint Petersburg Development Outlook, which states our core priorities, new initiatives and ongoing commitments (Annex). Building on the foundation of the 2010 Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth, the Outlook frames the approach to our future work. We ask the Development Working Group to focus on concrete actions under the core priorities of food security, financial inclusion and remittances, infrastructure, human resource development and domestic resource mobilization, and to deliver specific outcomes at the Brisbane summit. We commit to improve working practices for more effective outcomes by:

  •  concentrating on fewer key areas where action and reform remain most critical to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth in developing countries;
  •  enhancing policy coordination across different G20 work streams in order to ensure greater impact on developing countries;
  •  implementing a forward accountability process to improve monitoring and coordination, and ensure greater transparency of our work;
  •  continuing to expand engagement and partnerships with stakeholders, including non-G20 countries (especially LICs), international organizations, the private sector    and civil society; ensuring flexible approaches to respond to new priorities and circumstances

(Post-2015 development agenda consultations—human rights (political and social empowerment) for inclusive global and national agenda setting)

85. We welcome the substantial progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000 and the success in galvanizing global action to reach specific targets globally, as well as in individual countries, particularly in eradicating extreme poverty and promoting development. However, the prospects for achieving all of the MDGs differ sharply across and within countries and regions. We remain committed to accelerating progress towards achieving the MDGs, particularly through the implementation of our development agenda and our focus on promoting strong, sustainable, inclusive and resilient growth.

86. We support the ongoing efforts in the UN for the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda. We commit to participate actively in this process and engage in the discussion on the direction of the new framework and its key principles and ideas and effectively contribute to the timely conclusion of the process. The final outcome will be determined through an intergovernmental process in which we will all participate, but much preparatory work is still underway. We welcome the contribution of the report prepared by the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which sets out some illustrative goals We also welcome the ongoing work of the UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing. We stress the crucial importance of collective action, including international development cooperation, based on the principles outlined in the Millennium Declaration, the 2012 Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want”, the Istanbul Declaration and Programme of Action of the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries and the outcomes of other relevant UN Conferences and Summits in the economic, social and environmental fields.

87. We call for an agreement on an integrated post-2015 development agenda with concise, implementable and measurable goals taking into account different national realities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities, focused both on the eradication of extreme poverty, promoting development and on balancing the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. We commit to ensure that G20 activities beyond 2015 are coherent with the new development framework. 

Sustainable Energy Policy and Resilience of Global Commodity Markets

95. Sizable investment, including from private sources, will be needed in the G20 and other economies in energy infrastructure in the years ahead to support global growth and development. It is our common interest to assess existing obstacles and identify opportunities to facilitate more investment into more smart and low-carbon energy infrastructure, particularly in clean and sustainable electricity infrastructure where feasible. In this regard we encourage a closer engagement of private sector and multilateral development banks with the G20 Energy Sustainability Working Group (ESWG) and call for a dialogue to be launched on its basis in 2014 that will bring interested public sector, market players and international organizations together to discuss the factors hindering energy investment, including in clean and energy efficient technologies and to scope possible measures needed to promote sustainable, affordable, efficient and secure energy supply.

Intensifying Fight Against Corruption

103. Corruption is a severe impediment to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction and can threaten financial stability and the economy as a whole. Corruption is corrosive, destroying public trust, distorting the allocation of resources and undermining the rule of law. To provide a better understanding of the factors constraining the economic potential of countries affected by corruption, we make available the Issues Paper on Anti-Corruption and Economic Growth and encourage the OECD, in collaboration with the World Bank to continue work in this area.

104. As a group of the world’s largest economies, the G20 has the potential to create unstoppable momentum towards a global culture of intolerance towards corruption. We will redouble our efforts to achieve this goal, in particular by enhancing transparency and closing implementation and enforcement gaps.

108. We renew our commitment to ensure the independence of the judiciary, as well as to share best practices and enforce legislation to protect whistleblowers, ensure the effectiveness of anti-corruption authorities free from any undue influence, and promote the integrity of public officials.

109. We also place a high value on implementing and raising awareness regarding effective anti-corruption education programs to build and reinforce a culture of intolerance towards corruption.

(The importance of “social accountability” and access to information in combating corruption, claiming human rights / holding violators accountable)

112. We recognize that a culture of intolerance towards corruption will only be achieved if we work in partnership with business and civil society. We commit to maintain and build on the enhanced dialogue between the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group and the B20 and C20, and have taken note of the recommendations of these two groups. In particular, we welcome the business community’s initiatives to enhance anti-corruption collective actions and to develop institutional arrangements to promote anti-corruption compliance in the private sector.

(Consultative policy setting agenda, PPPs for shared programme financing, accountability / oversight, and technical assistance in realization of different stakeholders comparative advantages and common goals)