Taking the Leap: who will jump first?

climate change, climate justice, ecology, international politics, multilateralism, Uncategorized

The heat is on now at the climate negotiations here in Paris. It has been an interesting two days. I arrived yesterday and was surprised to find everyone in good spirits.  After nearly two weeks of negotiations the mood was calm, almost buoyant. These negotiations can be depressing affairs but the French have done well to keep everyone in good spirits. Compared to other places, the working conditions (including comfy sofa beds!) are great.
The mood changed somewhat last night, however, when we received the draft agreement text. Even to the veteran COP goers like Professor John Sweeney,  the bewildering array of square brackets and options to agree was confusing.  It was hard to tell where things were at. “You need to be a lawyer to understand this” John told me. Things which we had imagined were put to bed by now – like whether we should aim for a ‘1.5 degree C’ or ‘2 degree C’ rise in global temperatures, whether the level of ambition should be towards a ‘net’ carbon free world or an actual ‘carbon free world’ and by when – all seem to be within square brackets. A square bracket means they are part of the final bargaining.
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A coalition of leading NGOS – the so called C8 (which includes Trócaire via CIDSE) concluded that the current draft is inadequate and lacks the ambition we need. Key safeguards to protect the most vulnerable countries and ensure the access of small farmers to livelihoods are all weak or undecided. The mechanisms for financing the key measures are unclear. Negotiations went on long into the night as governments tried to carve a deal. Every process has their villains, and everyone is pointing the finger at Saudi Arabia and Argentina for blocking or delaying progress.
Such concerns are predictable, but what is more concerning is the role the EU is playing in the negotiations and whether it is prepared to use some or indeed any of its political capital to help the poorest countries. The EU has traditionally been a vocal champion of human rights and food security – both of which protect the poorest – but has been eerily quiet on these issues. It has bigger interests to protect. If they don’t back them, it is doubtful they will be in the final agreement.
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The reality is, however, that nobody really knows what is happening and the final outcome hangs in the balance. It is a strange place to hang out with so much at stake. I met Professor van Ypersele,  vice – chair of the IPCC, one the world’s most eminent climate scientists in the corridor. He is a veteran of these processes. He told me that all the conditions are still here for agreement.  The science is accepted.  The spirit of collaboration in the negotiations is strong. Virtually nobody wants to leave without a deal. The question is who will jump first. Taking the necessary leap means everyone letting go of old positions. Everyone has to lose something. That letting go is costly, and the politics of transition are now staring governments in the face. How it happens, and at what speed, is the big question.
What is crystal clear to all is that what seem like the technical details are now decisions about real people and indeed entire nations, not to mention the world. There are entire nations here who will disappear if the level of ambition in the agreement is not high enough. Given the wild weather across the world in the past year, few are in denial that nature is rebelling. The momentum towards a final deal is strong and expectations are high. History will surely be on the side of those who take the first leap. Crunch time has finally arrived.

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Welcome to the end of poverty – sponsored by Gucci

foreign affairs, international development, international politics, Ireland, multilateralism, pope francis, sustainable development goals

There is something very strange going on. I’m not sure whether it has to do with the blood moon eclipse, the strange rainbows over Manhattan during the Pope’s visit, or something they put in the water, but my head has been scrambled.
I have just returned from the UN General Assembly where, amid much fanfare, the new Sustainable Development Goals were signed-off by 190 Heads of State. The week’s events were a non-stop caffeine fuelled tour-de-force involving side events, receptions, road blocks, concerts and papal masses. It was a veritable who’s who of global society – from nearly being run over by President Xi Jinping, to bumping into Christine Lagarde in a UN lift. Anyone who is anyone in the global elite and/or the global fight against poverty was in New York for this momentous occasion. The Taoiseach and the President were both in town, together with a large representation from civil society and entertainment world. Ed Sheerin was one of the headline acts at the massive launch party in Central Park.
So what’s not to love? Surely this veritable global gathering of the great and the good, endorsing the new Sustainable Development Goals agenda, will save the world? Maybe I should just stop moaning and ‘get behind the goals and tell the world about them’ as Project Everyone has been contracted by the UN to tell us to do. If only we could all declare the new world order – and it shall be done. But when Gucci, the world’s most luxury brand, worth €12.2 billion, is the lead sponsor for a launch party to celebrate the quest to end global poverty, as happened on Saturday night, you must admit – something very strange is happening.
There is much to love about the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Don’t get me wrong. When taken together, most of the goals are motherhood and apple pie. The new agenda could have been a lot less progressive had NGOs like Trócaire not applied significant pressure on the UN and governments. Arguably, the Irish co-facilitation role also played a key role in keeping more progressive elements on the table such as a human rights approach and gender equality. None of that can be taken for granted. These goals are potentially transformative. They represent a kind of re-interpretation of human rights for the modern era within the context of environmental sustainability. To say “no one should be left behind” in fact, is another way of saying “everyone has rights.”
And therein also lies the rub. Whilst the SDGs effectively re-interpret human rights for the modern era, they say virtually nothing about the primary duty of states to deliver human rights for their citizens. Taken in the context of the recent Financing for Development Summit, the SDGs, it seems, will not be delivered by empowering poorer states and citizens to claim their rights through progressive, corrective public policies including taxation and regulation. The sub-text is that they will be realised by a further deepening of the expanding network of transnational corporations, now in active partnership with global NGOs and international agencies. Public Private Partnerships, blending public and private finance initiatives and new forms of privatisation are central to the delivery of this new agenda. New contracts to deliver on these goals were most likely signed in New York over the weekend at one of the many lavish corporate lunches.
The first off-shoot of the SDGs, in fact, are the ‘Global Goals’, massive feel good global campaign funded by major corporations, and backed by many leading NGOs. These are global household names and a taste of things to come. Their mission is to use their brand power tell everyone about the global goals. Of course, in doing so, there is one thing they may wish to avoid at all costs– anything that could remotely challenge their brand power and their bottom line. In fact, to do so would contravene the licensing agreement of the Global Goals campaign. The public SDGs have already been co-opted into private hands.
The problem is, however, that the very economic model of affluence, waste and excess on which many of these brands such as Gucci rely, is actually at the heart of our current ‘socio-environmental crisis’ as Pope Francis calls it. The SDGs avoid asking the difficult questions around corporate tax avoidance, fossil fuel divestment, public finance for development, consumerism culture and so on. They are loaded with assumptions of unending economic growth and now can harness the poverty eradication agenda to fuel growth. If the corporations backing the global goals campaign were serious about their role in eradicating poverty they could start with paying their fair share of tax, doing human rights due diligence, and safeguarding the environment. Governments and NGOs would do well to support them in this quest!
There is a serious risk that many NGOs could be co-opted into this new agenda too, with a chilling effect on really important conversations on what really needs to change to tackle consumerism, inequality and climate change. Or they could become a massive administrative distraction, as Pope Francis has warned. The big funding in the future will lie in supporting the delivery of the SDGs – but most likely only in ways which do not challenge the power of global brands.

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After Addis: four steps to turn a 'failure' into success

current affairs, environment, ethics, finance, foreign affairs, integral ecology, international development, international politics, multilateralism, pope francis, spirituality

It has been a historic, ground breaking week in Addis Ababa. That is for sure. For those who believe in a debt-driven world where global private finance transfers risk to the public purse, and calls it development, it has been a huge success. The launch of the Redesigning Development Finance Initiative by Canada this morning is testament to this. The international community has finally thrown off the shackles of the messy, awkward business of substantive, detailed multilateral negotiations and cut to the chase. A new world order governed largely by public private blended finance, where issues of human rights and environmental sustainability are tangential (despite the rhetoric) is now here. As Helen Clarke, UNDP Administrator said at an OECD event on Tuesday, people are ‘voting with their feet’. Even the modalities of FFD negotiations testify to this shift. As veteran Chilean Negotiator Torres said at a CIDSE side event yesterday: ‘this was the strangest negotiation in my life’. The evangelism of this new approach is intoxicating, as the Canadian launch this morning, attended by five ministers, heads of state, heads of agencies, CEOs of multinationals demonstrated. The holy grail of development finance has been found. 
There should be a lot of head scratching and soul searching going on within the global CSO movement. What has been achieved by the 1000 strong CSO presence here? Did CSOs influence anything of substance in the process? Or has the horse bolted and left us all standing at the stable door? I am certainly asking myself these searching questions, having come to Addis hopeful that it would live up to the ambition of this momentous year. Maybe the fact you are reading this blog is my main contribution.  Thank you. How could so much effort result in so much disappointment? There is a very strange, confusing paradox playing out. CSO issues, such as tax cooperation certainly were centre stage in all the official discussions and negotiations, and the logic was compelling, as I wrote here. But ultimately, the forces at work simply circumvented and subverted the official processes. The real action happened behind closed doors and in the surrounding hotels. The rest was ultimately form, not substance. Sure, there are some good things in the outcome document which issue based NGOs will be delighted with – some small wins, but very little of substance in relation to systemic drivers of poverty.
The big issue now for CSOs who believe in global justice is one of political strategy. Given that we can pretty much accept that the brave new world of an international finance dominated development cooperation future has arrived, we need to regroup. This future is one which we in Trócaire predicted back in our Leading Edge futures project back in 2010, as have others in their own power analyses.
Here are my thoughts on what needs to happen now.
First, we need to accept we have lost this battle, if not the war. Accepting defeat is hard, but ‘the truth will set you free’ – let’s not try and claim success in changing this or that comma, sentence, word in the text to justify our existence. CSO presence here has been critical in terms of accountability, but we need to accept the scale of the challenge is perhaps even bigger than we thought. The tax debate is testament to this. 
Second, we need to step back and take stock of our influencing strategies and where we draw our power from. At our recent climate justice conference in June, Bill McKibben, in his speech, made a very good point that those in control today wield massive monopolistic economic power. This isn’t about the market really, but monopoly. We don’t have that and we can never match it. What we have is another currency – that of people, movement building. We need to understand deeply where we draw our power from, and what the blockages are in terms of harnessing it. We need to shift from “networking” to “movement building”.
Third, we need to join the dots. This is where I think Pope Francis in Laudato Sí, is so helpful. He helps us to look outside our silos and urgently get back to basics – to a different perspective founded on the idea of ‘integral ecology’. The crisis we are facing now is a ‘socio-environmental’ one which requires dialogue and collaboration. We need a common analysis which actively joins the dots in the many struggles faced by those who believe in a future based on shared humanity and environmental justice, and are resisting a shift to the kind of future we have seen in Addis this week. This is where I think the work of the likes of Naomi Klein, as someone who has done the thinking on the dots, needs to come in. Tax justice and climate justice are inextricably linked – we need to make those linkages explicit.
Fourth, we need to grow the alternatives and make them visible and viable. Just imagine if the FFD summit side events this week had been flooded with the hundreds, thousands of truly participatory, co-operative based, agro-ecological, social solidarity based initiatives that exist?  We need to build engagement strategies with the many enlightened business leaders out there too, such as the ones I met recently in Nairobi, so as to engage a broad coalition.
Doing all this requires a new clarity of vision and purpose, especially within the INGO sector. As Ben Phillips wrote after his trip to the Vatican, we need to take courage from what Pope Francis has said. We need to get our courage back – recognising that this will make us unpopular, sometimes with those who bankroll our organisations. In the face of Addis, we need to once again, go back to our roots in speaking truth to power.

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FFD: Outsourcing multilateralism?

business, climate change, finance, foreign affairs, multilateralism, sustainable development goals

At the start of this 2015 blog, I highlighted three major global events happening in 2015 which offer an exceptional opportunity to change course. The first of these, the Financing for Development Summit in Addis Ababa has finally arrived.
As I sit here in my comfortable hotel bedroom in Addis Ababa, listening to the police sirens outside as dignitaries from 193 countries arrive, I wonder about the week ahead – and what difference, if any, my being here makes. These big global summits are a circus. In fact, as I write, the negotiations may be over already. The EU unilaterally agreed to the final draft text overnight. They have given the other major block of countries, the G77, until 3pm today to accept this agreement. The G77 will have to decide whether this is a battle worth fighting.
The point is that delegates coming to Addis would prefer not to have to do any serious, messy negotiating – this would take away from the media razzmatazz of the non-negotiated announcements. The last thing they want is for the media to get distracted by any disagreements. Patch it up, cover up the cracks – agree something, anything. Let us all get on with the real business of interesting side events, state dinners, receptions, and the all-important branded global initiatives! Let the people back home know we are making a difference.
The fact is that the official outcome document is excruciatingly weak, despite Ban Ki Moon’s valiant attempt to talk it up to 1000 NGOs yesterday. The “Addis Action Agenda” is very short on concrete action, especially on the part of states. There is no new aid money, for example, on the table. The FfD summit is meant to come up with the additional finance – both the actual money and the structural changes required to generate future resources – to deliver on the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Finance for global goals can come from a range of sources but not all finance is equal. All of us know the difference between a grant and a high interest loan. To achieve the SDGs, especially for the poorest people on the planet, public finance is essential. Only public finance can provide the level of stability and the social contract needed to deliver essential services to the poorest. Without adequate public finance the whole enterprise of human development based on the idea of human rights – where duty bearers can be held to account – is put at serious risk.
What the run up to the negotiations in Addis confirms, yet again, is that a profound shift in global politics taking place right under the noses of our elected governments. This shift is really about a transferal of accountability in global politics away from democratic governance into the hands of powerful financiers and corporations. The only game in town this week is the unrelenting rise of private capital in the provision of the new development agenda, as I recently wrote about here. Public Private Partnerships and blended finance are the only show in town. Such PPPs come at a cost – a cost of democratic accountability, through transferring the responsibility for public services provision away from the state into large, international, unelected profit making entities. The risk burden, moreover, is transferred to the public purse creating the potential for new unsustainable debt crises. The decision on when the cost of an investment in essential, life saving services becomes too high essentially becomes a matter for the board room in New York rather than the cabinet table in Addis Ababa. Who, then, is accountable for ensuring the human rights of those at the receiving end of such essential services? 
Whilst the negotiations on agreeing the new goals (the what) have been relatively straight forward so far, the negotiations on the means to get there (the how) have been dogged with bad feeling from the start. It feels like the world was happy to come up with an ambitious wish list, but is hoping Santa Claus will come to deliver it. The atmosphere here could not be more different to the optimistic spirit experienced in the Vatican last week. That spirit, grounded in a realisation of the existential crisis facing humanity, unfortunately does not seem to have made it to Addis yet. The words of the Encyclical are still ringing in my ears “everything is connected”. The fight against climate change, in fact, is profoundly linked to the capacity for state action, which in turn relies on an ability to generate resources through taxation and limit illicit flows – which in turn, requires democratic governance and upholding of basic human rights of communities over corporations. In other words, people and planet before profits.  
At present, it would appear that the dominance of the private corporate sphere, with its unrelenting logic of profit seeking has the upper hand. That logic has come to set the rules of the game, even within the UN. The UN, as I wrote here, is not coca cola! Santa Claus, in his red Coca cola truck will not deliver the SDGs. Multilateralism itself it seems is now beholden to the markets. Such a form of multilateralism knows no forgiveness, as the unfolding Greek tragedy demonstrates.
The question is how can such influence be curtailed? How can we reclaim the democratic space, especially in a world where 90 states have introduced draconian measures to limit democratic freedoms? In many countries, including the one I am sitting in right now, public protest will now land you in prison or worse. Everything is connected.
As I said following the Vatican conference, and after the Trócaire conference, we need a new global movement – which is able to see the profound interconnections between the different struggles we are facing. At the heart of this, there is a profound need to reclaim the Greek philosophical basis of a good society – and adapt it to the world we live in today, constrained by climate change and other massive challenges. It seems to me that four burgeoning global movements need get out of their silos and come together: the movement for climate justice, the movement for tax justice, the global treaty alliance on business and human rights and the movement for transparency. Together, these peoples’ movements, grounded in a global “culture of care” based on the Encyclical, could make the difference. Without this kind of united struggle, the spectre of global plutocracy looms large.

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