Tag Archives: Poland

The Global Politics of Science: Climate Change Edition

CC-iceburgThe Atlantic ran a story this morning entitled, “We’re Screwed: 11,000 Years’ Worth of Climate Data Prove It.” The story, complete with accompanying grasp, see below, was based on a study published in Science earlier this week. The author of the that study, climate scientist Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University, stated, “What we found is that temperatures increased in the last hundred years as much as they had cooled in the last six or seven thousand. In other words, the rate of change is much greater than anything we’ve seen in the whole Holocene” (the last 11,500 years).

Climate Change Estimates constructed for a new study in Science.

Climate Change Estimates constructed for a new study in Science.

The Atlantic then concludes that, “Today’s study should help debunk the common climate change denial argument that recent warming is simply part of a long-term natural trend.” Such a conclusion is, of course, based on the assumption that what we need to address climate change is simply greater clarity or more data. But it misses the point that convincing data already exist. Very few scientists who seriously study the environment believe that climate change is not taking place. Sure, there is debate over the degree and pace of climate change, but there is little scientific debate over the big picture. So more data is unlikely to change many minds. Those who are convinced that human activity is resulting in broad changes to the global climate will continue to believe. And new data is unlikely to change the minds of those who do not believe anthropocentric climate change is taking place.

In the case of climate change, the primary questions are political and economic, not scientific. Just this week, the government of Poland sued the European Union over restrictions imposed on Polish coal power plants by the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The Polish government was concerned that the ETS would undermine the Polish economy. The United States has similarly resisted efforts to trim global greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that such efforts would prove too costly and would undermine economic growth.

Game theory provides a powerful tool to make sense of these questions. For any given country, the cost of mitigation (reducing climate change) and adaption (changing our activities to take count of the impact of climate change) are high. And the ability of any individual state to have a real impact on climate change is small. Further, the costs of climate change are distributed (unevenly) around the world, while the benefits of economic activity are concentrated in a single economy. Under this situation, a tragedy of the commons emerges, where every individual actor (in this case, states), behaving rationally, will attempt to free ride on the efforts of the others. If climate change is averted, then everyone benefits regardless of who paid to prevent it. If it is not averted, everyone pays the costs. The tragedy of the commons thus suggests that individual states making decisions based on their own rational self-interest will be unable to address collective problems like climate change.

And yet we get treaties like the Kyoto Protocol, which attempts to limit the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was signed by almost every developed country in the world, despite the fact that their individual interests would be better served by not signing the treaty and letting other states worry about climate change. How can we make sense of the apparent selflessness of states in the context of the Kyoto Protocol?

Liberal internationalism argues, unlike realism, that the international system makes reliance on the use of force an ineffective (or at least an inefficient) foreign policy tool. International cooperation emerges even in a state of anarchy, as Hedley Bull famously argued in The Anarchical Society, when “a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions.” Cooperation rather than conflict, in other words, can become the default position in international relations.

Yet even when cooperation is possible, states have competing domestic interests. And achieving cooperation to address climate change is one of the most complex problems we face. Elected officials have a very short decision making horizon. They are concerned with the next election, and are thus often hesitant to adopt policies which might undermine economic growth (and with it, their chances of victory). No amount of additional scientific data will change that. What we need, therefore, is not more climate change data but a better understanding of the political and economic factors that shape our public policy decisions in the first place.

What do you think? Will the new study change critics’ minds about climate change? What is needed to bring about a coherent environmental policy, both in the United States and in the international community? And how do we balance economic and environmental concerns? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Advertisements

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The Nobel Prize Committee sparked considerable debate on Friday when they named President Barack Obama the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. According to the committee, Obama received the award for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples,” citing in particular his effort to reach out to the Muslim world and his push for nuclear disarmament. FT blogger Gideon Rachman commented, “while it is OK to give school children prizes for “effort” – my kids get them all the time – I think international statesmen should probably be held to a higher standard.” Qari Mohammad Yousof Ahmadi, a senior spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban movement said of the award, “Obama should be awarded the war prize, rather than the peace prize.” Daniel Drezner said the decision “cheapens an already devalued prize.” At Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf decried the decision as “the most ludicrous choice in the history of an award that has a pretty dubious history… It’s as if a freshman tailback were handed the Heisman Trophy as he ran onto the playing field along with a hearty pat on the back and the explanation that he’d been selected to encourage him to have a great year to come.”

But most of the criticism of the award seems to be reserved for the Nobel Peace Prize Committee rather than for President Obama. Indeed, while calling the decision a “ludicrous choice,” Rothkoph also praised Obama’s speech regarding the award. He wrote,

Short of deferring his acceptance of the Nobel Prize, President Obama could not have struck a better tone in his remarks this morning accepting the award. From saying he did not deserve it to framing the award as a “call to action” to citing others who merited such an award, he was pitch-perfect. And in reciting some of his key goals — from the elimination of nuclear weapons to combating climate change to bringing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine — he raised hope that the award might be even further motivation to advance to what are, as noted above, worthy objectives.

In news from outside the Nobel Prize awards:

1. The security situation in Pakistan appears to be in serious decline. Over the weekend, a group of militants stormed the headquarters of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi, taking hostages and creating a standoff situation. The Pakistani military was able to retake the compound early Sunday, rescuing 42 hostages and killing most of the militants. On Friday, a car bomb exploded near a shopping mall in Peshawar, a city in the northern part of the country. The attack, described by Pakistani security officials as “one of the most daring attacks ever carried out by the Taliban,” killed 49 people and injuring nearly 100. The attack came just one day after a similar bombing outside the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, and may constitute part of a renewed offensive by Taliban elements operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Last week, the Pakistani government launched a renewed offensive against the Taliban in the Waziristan region of the country. But so far, the campaign has had few successes, and the increase in recent attacks, particularly the brazen attack against Pakistani military headquarters, cast doubt on the ability of the Pakistani military to effectively address the Taliban threat.

2. Despite reservations that the treaty would erode national sovereignty and transfer too much power to Germany, Lech Kaczynski, the President of Poland, signed the Lisbon Treaty on Saturday. Poland’s accession make the Czech Republic the lone European Union member that has not approved the Lisbon Treaty. Despite Czech resistance, the treaty appears to be headed for adoption and thus a radical restructuring of the European Union. The treaty would make EU decision making more efficient, streamlining the current voting system in the European Council and strengthening the role of the European Parliament.

3. A number of trade disputes intensified last week. On Thursday, the United States announced an investigation into Chinese steel pipes, the culmination of which could result in a 98.7 percent duty on steel pine imports from China. The announcement follows the imposition of a 35 percent duty on Chinese tire imports last month and a longstanding dispute over Chinese currency values.  Meanwhile, the United States filed a complaint against the European Union with the World Trade Organization on Thursday. The complaint alleges that EU restrictions on the importation of chicken meat washed with chlorine and other chemicals constitutes an unfair trade barrier. Canada last week filed a complaint with the WTO alleging US country-of-origin labeling requirements in cattle and hog exports also constitute an unfair trade barrier.

4. Intervention by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was able to help overcome last minute setbacks to the Armenian-Turkish peace treaty on Saturday. The agreement, which must still be approved by both country’s parliaments, sets out a timeline to restore diplomatic relations and open the border between Amenia and Turkey. While the agreement was difficult to reach, both sides stand to gain. For Turkey, resolving the longstanding dispute could smooth its path to membership in the European Union and increase its influence in the Caucasus. Armenia could see its economy improve access to European Union market. Despite the potential benefits, the agreement could still be derailed due to longstanding tensions between the two countries, which date back to 1915 murder of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, often referred to as the world’s first genocide.

5. On Tuesday, Idelphonse Nizeyimana, a key player in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, was arrested in Uganda. Nizeyimana was responsible for the organization of the genocide in Butare, a southern province in Rwanda. The arrest was the second high profile detention in a month, following the arrest of Gregoire Ndahimana in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the arrests highlight tensions between Rwanda and the United Nations over the handling of charges related to the genocide, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus will killed. Both Nizeyimana and Ndahimana have been transferred to Tanzania to stand trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, despite efforts by the Rwandan government to have them tried by the Rwandan government in Kigali.

Russian Missiles and the Obama Doctrine

In a development that some are viewing as Obama’s first foreign policy test, Russia has announced its intention to develop a new missile base along the Polish border.  Financial Times blogger Gideon Rachman has termed it the “Polish Missile Crisis.”  Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the move in response to the decision of the United States to deploy its missile defense system into Poland and the Czech Republic.

The current crisis is a classic illustration of the security dilemma, in which an action intended to improve the security of one state cause another state to fear for their own security and therefore respond in way that undermines the security of both states.  In other words, states behaving rationally in the pursuit of their own interests can produce irrational outcomes.  In this case, the decision of the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system, intended to improve its own security, causes Russia to expand its deployment of missile systems along the Polish border to offset U.S. gains.  As a result, both countries feel less secure. 

According to liberal international relations scholars, the security dilemma can be overcome through closer economic, cultural, and political interactions which, over time, create a shared sense of empathy.  But will this be the case here?  After years of improving relations between Russia and the United States following the end of the Cold War, relations between the two countries have fallen sharply—remember Georgia?  Nevertheless, the FT’s editorial pages are hopeful, noting that  

even in difficult times in east-west relations, agreements can be struck on matters of mutual interest, as happened even in the cold war. There is much that binds Russia and the west, including energy and trade, and concerns about Iran, global terrorism and, most recently, financial stability. Reducing tensions over missile bases should be high on this list.

Sounds like a test for the Obama Doctrine.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The closing of the Beijing Olympics and Barack Obama’s announcement of his Vice-Presidential candidate have been the two most widely covered stories over the past few days.  Here are a few other important stories from the past week:

1.  Growing instability in Afghanistan: A Taliban attack outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, resulted in the deaths of ten French soldiers.  The attack appeared to be part of a coordinated effort by the Taliban against Nato forces in the country, coinciding with another attack against US forces in the southwestern part of the country.  The attacks highlight the shortage of material and soldiers  in the country.  Attending a memorial service for the soldiers, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted that he would continue French involvement in Afghanistan, asserting that it was “essential to the freedom of the world.”  Reflecting growing tensions in the country, the government of Afghanistan on Friday accused Nato of killing 76 civilians, mostly children, during operations against Taliban insurgents.

2. The Crisis in South Ossetia: After negotiating a ceasefire, Russia and the west once again appear unable to resolve their differences over Russian withdrawal.  Russia has rejected Nato’s call for a total withdrawal to pre-crisis positions.  Nato has moved to isolate Russia, and in return Russia has cancelled joint military operations with Nato countries.  The crisis gave new impetus to the United States and Poland to sign a missile defense shield.  Demonstrating the link between international security and global political economy, the crisis also helped to push oil prices higher and marked the beginning of a trend of western investors pulling their money from Russia at a rate not seen since the Russian Ruble crisis of 1998.

3. The Rise of Food Neo-Colonialism: In a report issued on Tuesday, Jacques Dious, director general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, warned that the drive for farmland could result in the development of a neo-colonial system for agriculture.  Driven by record high commodity prices, foreign direct investment in farms and agricultural production has grown dramatically over the last couple of years.

4. The Pakistani Presidential Race: After the departure of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last week, the struggle to find a new president has begun.  Mohammad Mian Soomro, chair of Pakistan’s Senate, has been named acting President and is heading the search for a new leader.  Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has emerged as the leading candidate from the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest party in the parliament.  

5. Unified European Parliament: After part of the ceiling of the European Parliament in Strasbourg collapsed last week, the Parliament was forced to cancel its monthly trek from Brussels to Strasbourg.  The Parliament traditionally moved to the French city of Strasbourg from Brussels for its monthly meetings, despite the fact that the majority of the Union’s administrative and bureaucratic support—not to mention its most important institutions—are based in Brussels, Belgium.  The move, widely denounced by both the EU’s proponents and opponents—costs an estimated €200 million (($350 million) per year.  It is hoped that the forced relocation of the Parliament may encourage a reconsideration of the monthly move, although French opposition may be hard to overcome.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Headlines this week have been dominated by two stories: Michael Phelps’ success at the Olympic Games and the Russia-Georgia War.  With all the attention paid to these two stories, here are five other developments you might have missed.

1.  Russia’s Poland Threat:  After Russia’s move into Georgia last week, Poland decided to permit U.S. interceptor missile bases to be housed there.  The bases, part of the Bush Administration’s strategic defense initiative program, had been frozen due to American resistance to Polish demands that a Patriot missiles battery be stationed in the country as part of the deal.  After the Georgian conflict, the United States appeared willing to give in to the Polish demand.  In response, Russia warned Poland that it was now a target for their nuclear arsenal.

2.  Musharraf’s (Possible) Resignation:  Facing possible impeachment, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf indicated on Thursday that he will be stepping down.  Impeachment proceedings had been set to start early next week.  Musharraf’s resignation was likely intended to avoid that spectacle.  As part of the agreement, Musharraf will avoid prosecution and will be permitted to remain in Pakistan.  His departure, however, signals an important shift in Pakistani politics, a key country in the war on terror.

3.  No Diplomatic Solution in Zimbabwe:  Negotiations intended to resolve Zimbabwe’s longstanding crisis have so far failed to reach a peaceful settlement.  At issue is who will lead Zimbabwe.  Robert Mugabe, the current president, has been in office since 1980 and has increasingly relied on force to maintain his rule.  Morgan Tsvangarai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, won the first round of presidential elections last March before being forced to cancel his campaign in the second round of voting due to political violence.  Despite extensive pressure being placed on the country by South Africa, Mugabe appears so far to be unwilling to share power.  Negations continue, but few are hopeful that a settlement will be reached.

4.  Lugo Wins Paraguay Election:  Continuing a leftward shift in many Latin American countries, Fernando Lugo won the election in Paraguay, marking the end of 61 years of one-party rule by the Colorado Party.  One of Lugo’s first acts as President was to decline his monthly salary of approximately $4000, declaring that “the money belongs to the poorest.”  Evo Morales, the leftist President of Bolivia, said that Lugo’s victory would “deepen democracy” in the region.

5.  Syrian-Lebanese Meeting:  In the face of a declining security situation in Lebanon, the country’s President, Michel Suleiman, agreed to re-establish full diplomatic relations with neighboring Syria.  The agreement, part of a package that seeks to normalize relations between the two countries, marks the first time the countries would exchange ambassadors since both achieved independence in the 1940s.