17 Dec 2014

Climate talks suffer a setback, chances of strong deal in Paris a longshot

With yet another United Nations high level conference making very little, if any, real progress on slowing climate change, a near miracle will be required if countries are to reach a meaningful and binding global agreement on carbon emissions in Paris next December.

10,000 march in Lima in support of a strong agreement they never got.

The "Lima Call for Climate Action" document, agreed to on Sunday by 194 countries, is not a new “deal” for the climate, as conference observer Green Party Leader Elizabeth May pointed out. It is a 12-month work plan leading to the final meeting in Paris.

One major change – a setback for some developing countries – expects nations with ‘riding economies’, such as China, Brazil and India, to begin taking action on climate change in much the same way rich countries are expected to contribute.

In what appears to be another setback for the South, the North started to squirm and wriggle its way out of a 20-year hotly disputed demand by Southern countries that northern nations must bear the cost of cleaning up the environment in Southern regions damaged by Northern industrial development.

One of the few positive advances was a promise that countries already seriously threatened by exceptional climate change, such as small islands being swallowed up by rising seas, will receive special compensation for their losses.

Deadlocked and unable to agree on details, negotiators pushed decisions on many crucial issues forward into 2015.

Even so, following the meetings, which were extended by two days in an effort to reach any kind of an agreement, a spokesman for the European Union said “we are on track to agree to a global deal” at the Paris summit.

Nearly every NGO disagreed. A frustrated Sam Smith of the World Wildlife Fund said “the text went from weak to weaker to weakest, and it’s very weak indeed.”

2C in danger under this plan

Non-governmental organizations warned the plan was not nearly strong enough to limit climate warming to the internationally agreed limit of two degrees Celsius. Even at current levels, more than seven million people, mostly in developing countries, are already dying  yearly from air pollution.

Canada, represented by a delegation that included Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, once again failed to speak out in favour of steps that would reduce carbon emissions. Because it plans to make use of its huge coal reserves, Australia was the other outcast at the conference.

Meanwhile, an Environics survey of 2,020 Canadians last week revealed that the public is concerned about climate change, apparently more than the federal government. Fifty per cent of respondents were "extremely" or "definitely" concerned about a changing climate, and 78 per cent of those fear the kind of legacy it will leave for future generations.

It is clear that if the world is to have a meaningful climate change agreement 12 months from now, countries need to overcome enormous challenges.

To begin with, whether the UN-led process itself will produce a meaningful agreement is in great doubt. The UN has been hosting these meetings for 20 years, and the results have been dismal. The UN is only a facilitator in the process and has absolutely no power – other than persuasion – to force an agreement.

In the North, governments protect their economies and their relationship with wealthy donors before they consider the dangers of climate change. And developing countries relying on dirty energy such as coal need to generate energy to help their huge populations survive.

The new Peru document is extremely vague in that says wealthy nations will help developing countries fight climate change by investing in energy technology or offering climate aid. It’s impossible to see how southern countries can deal with their massive environmental issues.  Earlier, the North was expected to provide $10 billion a year.

In addition, northern countries reiterated they expect the more industrialized developing countries to cut back on carbon emissions. But this is unlikely to happen any time soon. China and India, the two biggest developing country polluters, say they need to burn millions of tonnes of coal so they can develop their economies.

Corporate lobby dictating to North

The public interest group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says that lobbying  by powerful multinational corporations is preventing developed countries from making a stronger commitment to the climate change fight. They say that companies and their lobbying organizations claim that stronger emission controls would result in the loss of many thousands of jobs.

The corporate sector was out in full force in Lima. Shell Oil was permitted to speak at the main session about its preferred way of fighting carbon emissions -- carbon capture and storage (CCS), a still unproven technology. Another oil giant, Chevron, was permitted to sponsor side events inside the negotiations.

Meanwhile, 82 NGOs and one international NGO were unable to participate in any meaningful way because they had only observer status. The various drafts of the agreement were negotiated in secret, and anyone making a statement was kept to three minutes. No Canadian NGO participated at the conference.

NGOs had so little status in Lima that they needed approval from the UN concerning what slogans could be placed on their protest banners. Neither countries nor corporations were allowed to be named on the banners. A march by 10,000 protesters had no impact on the proceedings.

NGOs plan to be more powerful

NGOs are upset over the limited role they are permitted to play in UN climate talks, as well as the lack of impact they are having around the globe. As a result, the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory released a 118-page document  outlining plans to strengthen and radicalize the movement leading up to and during the Paris conference.

Looking ahead to next year, the Peru agreement calls on countries to show by March how they will cut carbon emissions, but there’s no penalty if they fail to do so. The UN will then see if the pledges will be enough to limit climate warming to two degrees Celsius.

Given the track record of most countries of holding back on climate change commitments, it’s likely the UN and all 194 countries will be operating in crisis mode again next year.

For now, delegates are returning home to get some well-deserved rest. But they can be expected to be back working hard right after the New Year, working toward pulling off a miracle in Paris.

If you haven't already, please subscribe to my blog 

2 Dec 2014

What needs to happen to
save and rebuild the CBC

The CBC, and particularly CBC Radio, is easily Canada’s most important cultural and public interest institution.

I say this not so much as someone who worked at the Corporation during the glory days of the 1970s and '80s but, like so many other people, a kid who was brought up in a home that was always watching and listening to the CBC.

Residing in a small village in Nova Scotia, we greatly appreciated the voices and images, ranging from Clyde Gilmour’s 40-year run of Gilmour’s Albums  on radio to the hard-nosed journalism of Norman DePoe on TV.

But after decades of serving and educating Canadians, Stephen Harper’s vicious cuts have brought the organization to its knees.

Can the CBC be saved and restored? Probably. But it will take some time and some good luck, as well as some heavy duty political lobbying.

 It is important that CBC supporters, including those who have fallen by the wayside during the destructive Harper years, unite behind some common goals and pressure the two opposition leaders to commit themselves to restoring the Corporation to its proper role in the country.

There has been much discussion about the kind of content the CBC should carry in the future. I believe that Radio should be more or less similar to what it was like 10 or 20 years ago. However, TV should be changed dramatically. Instead of copying private broadcasters, such as CTV, CBC TV should move toward the European broadcasting model, focusing more than it currently does on the cultural, public interest, and social needs of Canadians, as well as guaranteeing media pluralism.

Audience ratings, which would not match private Canadian network ratings, should not be the major factor when determining the level of CBC funding.

What will NDP, Liberals promise? 

More important for now, with an election coming in less than a year, we have to find out what the NDP and the Liberals would do with the CBC if elected.

If either the NDP or Liberals win, rebuilding Mother Corp. would require a lot of work.

Internally, there would be a number of to-do items. First, a new government would have to get rid of the Tory boosters on the CBC Board of Directors – 10 of 12 have donated to the Conservative Party. Board President Herbert Lacroix, also a Conservative donor, has done the most to damage the CBC. In his new book, Here Was Radio-Canada, Alain Saulnier, who was head of French language news at Radio Canada for many years, documents several occasions when Lacroix pushed hard to make CBC journalism favourable to the government.

Lacroix’s term expires at the end of 2017. Perhaps a new government could pressure him to resign sooner or simply “put him on ice.”

Terms of the majority of Board members also expire by the end of 2017, so it wouldn’t be long before a new Board could be in place.

The government would need to create a new process for selecting CBC Board members so that future governments will not be able to influence the body for its own gain. A new model could have Members of Parliament appoint half the Board members while the other half would be appointed, one each, by leading groups from the cultural and private sectors.

Once in place, a new Board would return the CBC to its rightful role of public service, not chasing ratings.

Finding right people crucial 

A new government would need to find people who know how to return the CBC to its rightful role of serving the public interest. I’m thinking of someone like Peter Herrndorf,  the best boss the CBC never had. Herrndorf, a long-time CBC executive, was denied the opportunity to run the Corporation, but instead did a marvelous job first heading up TV Ontario and then revitalizing The National Arts Centre. This could be accomplished within a couple of years.

Then they would have to see whether Heather Conway, who has been executive vice-president of English services for 14 months, can get it right with the wind blowing in a different direction. Hopefully, even though she has no experience in truly public interest broadcasting -- she is a former marketing executive -- she would possess the skills and instincts to fit into a new mold.

Once the CBC is in competent hands, Lacroix’s five-year plan to expand service on the Internet will have to be evaluated. In view of the fact that many young people have turned away from radio and TV, the Corporation does have to change. But given Lacroix’s allegiances to a government that would like to destroy the CBC, I’m doubtful that he has done the right thing.

The day after Lacroix announced the new plan – along with dropping a few hundred more job cuts on the CBC – the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting demanded Lacroix’s resignation.

“CBC’s plan to privilege digital and mobile delivery over its radio and television broadcast platforms is a retreat driven by the federal government’s deep budget cuts that will leave the national public broadcaster smaller and weaker,” said Friends.

Policies must be specific and detailed 

Now, the external politics: Both the NDP and Liberals have to be pushed to spell out their specific plans for the CBC.

The NDP has made its position somewhat clear. In April, responding to the Conservatives’ $130-million budget cut to the CBC, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said in an email: “I assure you that an NDP-led government will support the CBC with stable and secure funding. We believe in CBC’s unifying role in a country as vast as Canada; especially in rural areas and minority-language communities.”

The party circulated a petition  opposing the CBC cuts.

That’s pretty good, but too general.

19 Nov 2014

How will radical change occur,
and what will it look like?

Journalist Chris Hedges is one of my favourite rabble-rousers. This article is re-printed from Truthdig.

By Chris Hedges
TORONTO—I met with Sheldon S. Wolin in Salem, Ore., and John Ralston Saul in Toronto and asked the two political philosophers the same question. If, as Saul has written, we have undergone a corporate coup d’├ętat and now live under a species of corporate dictatorship that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” if the internal mechanisms that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible remain ineffective, if corporate power retains its chokehold on our economy and governance, including our legislative bodies, judiciary and systems of information, and if these corporate forces are able to use the security and surveillance apparatus and militarized police forces to criminalize dissent, how will change occur and what will it look like?

Wolin, who wrote the books “Politics and Vision” and “Democracy Incorporated,” and Saul, who wrote “Voltaire’s Bastards” and “The Unconscious Civilization,” see democratic rituals and institutions, especially in the United States, as largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power. Wolin and Saul excoriate academics, intellectuals and journalists, charging they have abrogated their calling to expose abuses of power and give voice to social criticism; they instead function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers.

Neither believes the current economic system is sustainable. And each calls for mass movements willing to carry out repeated acts of civil disobedience to disrupt and delegitimize corporate power.
“If you continue to go down the wrong road, at a certain point something happens,” Saul said during our meeting Wednesday in Toronto, where he lives. “At a certain point when the financial system is wrong it falls apart. And it did. And it will fall apart again.”