Posts Tagged ‘united nations’

Photo: Wikimedia.
Devastation on the island nation Vanuatu (near Australia) after Cyclone Pam in March 2015. Vanuatu is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Already this year it was hit by two Category 4 cyclones, blamed on global warming.

Today’s story by Michael Birnbaum at the Washington Post could be subtitled The Mouse That Roared. That’s because a tiny nation vulnerable to climate change is pushing the world’s highest court to take a stand.

“The small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu won a major victory to advance international climate law [in March] after it persuaded the U.N. General Assembly to ask the world’s highest international court to rule on the obligations of countries to address climate change.

“The request for an advisory ruling from the International Court of Justice is expected to clarify the legal obligations of countries to address climate change — and to create a path for them to be sued if they fail to do so. The U.N. effort was a significant outcome for Vanuatu, an archipelago nation of 320,000 people that is suffering from climate-change-driven natural disasters. In recent weeks, it was hit by two Category 4 cyclones, the severity of which its leaders blamed on global warming. Thousands of people are still living in shelters.

“The country has used its moral authority and ability to stage action at the United Nations to achieve outsize results on climate issues. The U.N. General Assembly approved the measure by acclamation, with neither the United States nor China standing in the way of the effort despite uncertainty in advance whether they would seek a formal up-or-down vote.

“[The] decision was also a measure of how much global attitudes about the urgency of addressing climate change have shifted in recent years. A similar effort in 2011 by two other island nations, Palau and the Marshall Islands, failed at the United Nations. This time, Vanuatu obtained co-sponsorship from more than 120 countries, including Britain, France, Germany and other industrialized nations with a long history of high emissions.

“ ‘It is a matter of basic survival for us,’ Vanuatu Climate Change Minister Ralph Regenvanu said in an interview.

‘We can’t do anything economically and politically because we don’t have any power. What we can use is our sovereignty as a United Nations member state.’ …

“Having the International Court of Justice weigh in creates a ‘pretty clear pathway to recognizing that states have a duty not only not to violate fundamental human rights, but states have a duty to avoid transboundary harm through activities under their control,’ said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a D.C.-based nonprofit that works to use international law to address ecological issues.

“He compared an advisory ruling to consulting a lawyer while being engaged in behavior that falls in a legal gray zone.

“ ‘It’s like when you send a note to your lawyer, and you get a lawyer’s note back saying what you’re doing is illegal,’ he said. ‘It puts you on notice that you could be held accountable for your actions.’ …

“As Vanuatu gained support for the U.N. action, it was careful to try to build consensus, with its leaders saying they are not suing anyone nor seeking to create new international obligations. Instead, they say, they are seeking to clarify how preexisting international agreements apply to climate change. …

“Neither the United States, which is the world’s largest historical emitter, nor China — which is soon poised to overtake the United States on that count — opposed the measure. The two superpowers have been competing for influence among Pacific island nations as they seek to project power across that ocean, giving the small countries outsize leverage despite their minuscule economies and populations.

“But even as the United States stood aside and allowed the referral to be approved without objection, a U.S. diplomat also said the Biden administration believes diplomacy is a better way to achieve action on climate issues than inside a courtroom.

” ‘Launching a judicial process, especially given the broad scope of the questions, will likely accentuate disagreements and not be conducive to advancing our ongoing diplomatic and other processes. In light of these concerns, the United States disagrees that this initiative is the best approach for achieving our shared goals,’ diplomat Nicholas Hill told the General Assembly after the measure was approved, speaking on behalf of the State Department.

“Vanuatu’s policymakers said they had tried to craft their work in a way that would win broad acceptance.

“ ‘We have deliberately tried to make this as noncontentious as possible,’ Regenvanu said. ‘Once we get the question before the court, then the process of submissions begins, and there might be a slight change of tactic there. Because obviously we want the highest level ambition in that opinion.’

“The effort began four years ago in a classroom at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Law students there decided that an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice could be an effective tool to advance climate justice. They worked to convince their governments to follow suit.

“Vanuatu has also promoted a global fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, advocating a total phaseout of oil, coal and gas as quickly as possible. And it has been a leader on international efforts to create a system to compensate the worst-hit countries for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change.”

More at the Post, here.

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Today I read an article at Miller-McCune on an astronomer and an economist who want to dump the calendar we all use (Gregorian) in favor of something completely new.

It reminded me of my late friend Doc Howe, who was commissioner of education under Lyndon Johnson and who often spoke of an idea for a calendar that he learned about in his Ford Foundation days. (It might have been the World Calendar seen here, but I’m not sure. Like invented languages, new calendar systems keep popping up.)

Writes Emily Badger at Miller-McCune, “The ever-changing calendar, with its periodic leap years and mouthful of monthly mnemonic devices, has irked timekeepers almost since the system was introduced in the 1500s.

“ ‘It’s a very accurate calendar,’ says Richard Conn Henry, a professor of astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. …

“That said, he wants to get rid of the thing. He and Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke are now lobbying to replace it with their invention, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar. In the long tradition of calendar reformers, they believe they’ve settled on the elusive solution to the Gregorian calendar’s floating days of the week: one calendar that remains constant every year, where New Year’s Day falls without fail on, say, Sunday every single time.

“The big advantage to such a system is that nobody — businesses, the NFL, universities, beleaguered governments — would have to go through the exercise every year of rewriting holiday schedules, course calendars or sports seasons.”

Henry and Hanke believe it preferable to insert “an entire extra week onto the end of December every five or six years. … The rest of the calendar would remain constant with four equal quarters of 91 days each, with two months of 30 days and a third month of 31.”

Does this solution speak to you?

Read more on the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar here.

(Read more about Doc Howe in the Cincinnati Enquirer obit.)

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Happy International Peace Day!

A woman from the public works department placed flags of all nations in special sidewalk holes in Concord at 5:30 this morning and will take them down tomorrow. I told her I always liked seeing them, and she agreed they are “festive.”

According to the International Day of Peace website, Peace Day “provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date. It was established by a United Nations resolution in 1981 to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly. The first Peace Day was celebrated in September 1982.”

There is also a United Nations Day, in October, and Concord’s collection of flags will come back for that.

During her years heading up a local group of U.N. supporters, Charmaine’s mother made sure that Concord had flags. But the town seems to have fully embraced the idea of displaying them, so up they go and down they come two times a year. I often wonder if they get updated, given that nations reinvent themselves so often these days.

Here’s a word from Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations.

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Some mornings when I take my walk, it is still dark out. There is not much going on. Few cars — maybe just the newspaper delivery van, the bakery truck, or town employees flushing out the holes in the sidewalk where the flags go for special events like Earth Day or United Nations Day.

Most often, the other walkers are three elderly gentleman. One walks a King Charles Spaniel. One used to check all the bins for recyclable cans and bottles but has retired from that pursuit. One was a slow jogger a couple years ago but is now just a fast walker.

Then there is the lady on the bicycle. The lady on bicycle has a helmet, a bell, and a bicycle light. Also, she bikes on the sidewalk.

One dark morning I was walking along when I heard the screech of bicycle brakes behind me and turned to find the lady on the bicycle glowering. “I nearly ran into you!” she exclaimed indignantly. “You should wear a reflector vest when you go out in the dark!”

Now I take my walk in the street. There are no bicycles in the street at 5:30 a.m.


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