Noted: Climate Change, Global Politics, and International Law

Earth Day is this Sunday and in both of my classes we are discussing the politics and international law of climate change this week and next. So I thought it might be a good opportunity to examine the recent news.

Fragmented Global Governance and Climate Change
A quick look at Reuter’s Diary on the Global Environment helps illustrate the continued fragmentary approach to these issues at the global level. Just in the next 7 days:

Regional Efforts
On a regional basis there is the Africa Carbon Forum, meeting in Addis Ababa; a “Public Forum on North America’s energy future” meeting in Canada; an “EU energy and the environment Minister’s meeting”.

Issue based efforts
Sweden’s “Stockholm+40” conference on sustainable development; The Fifth Annual Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference in Washington, DC

And if we look beyond the coming week, more of the same is happening in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, looking at linkages between climate and water, climate and birds, the use of solar energy, and desertification. The meetings are hosted by governments, UN agencies, and regional organizations. On the one hand, we might like the fact that so much attention is being paid to these issues. On the other hand, how do we organize a response to climate change in light of such institutional complexity?

Individual state efforts to combat climate change may create problems for global talks
In Europe
While we wait on a global solution, individual countries are creating and implementing their own approaches to the issues. One example of this is a European Union law to charge airlines for their carbon emissions (Reuters). Reportedly, US airlines will comply, but China and India want nothing to do with this. Says India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan:

For the environment ministry, for me, it is a deal-breaker because you simply cannot bring this into climate change discourse and disguise unilateral trade measures under climate change…
I strongly believe that as far as climate change discussions are concerned, this is unacceptable.

Apparently, India is suggesting that this culd be a reason for them to boycott all future climate-change talks.

In the United States
Recently, in the US there was a suggestion that the Endangered Species Act could be used to require the US to control greenhouse emissions. Since those emissions create conditions that make polar bear’s habitats less habitable, there was arguably potential scope for regulation. While this has so far been used to target domestic emissions, one can wonder whether a success in using the Act this way could also lead to pressures to regulate the actions of foreign actors whose emissions can be said to have direct effect on our polar bears’ habitats. My guess: highly improbable. But it is interesting.

Issue Linkage: Climate Change and Conservation

Finally, there is an interesting piece by Elias Ngalame at AlertNet on how Cameroon is trying to get support for climate adaptation projects in order to protect its elephants from poaching. The claim is that elephants are wandering out of the protected parks due to drought and desertification brought on by climate change, leaving them more susceptible to poaching.

Ghana: Waste, lagoons, and deserts

Besides some concerns about oil’s impact on the environment in Ghana, there have been a number of other recent stories that remind us that Ghana’s environmental problems are far more widespread and diversified.

Waste Disposal

One of the biggest issues is the problem of waste disposal (or the lack thereof).As Fiona Leonard mentions in her blog, “A Fork in the Road”,Ghana’s beaches occasionally look pretty bad because of this. The Korle Lagoon in Ghana is particularly bad (a number of observers have called it one of the most polluted waters on the planet but I’m not sure whether there is an official measure of this). It is even called “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Nevertheless, there have been efforts to change the situation. Ghana’s Ministry of Housing and Works has contracted with International Marine and Dredging Consultants to do work to reduce pollution in the lagoon. However, some efforts (I’m not sure exactly who is behind these) have also created important social problems, including the eviction of squatters.

Fiona also mentions a great advertising campaign designed to bring attention to the issue (“The Picture the Ghana Tourist Board Doesn’t Want You to See”).

However, don’t take all of this as a sign that there aren’t good beaches in Ghana. Esi’s “What Yo’ Mama Never Told You About Ghana” blog has a nice rundown of great Ghanaian beaches that are worth visiting.

Desertification

More pleasant, perhaps, is the news about a new grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and World Bank to combat desertification and drought in Ghana.

In case you missed it, last friday, June 17th, was World Desertification Day. Sponsored by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) the focus this year was on supporting the UN’s International Year of the Forests. In Ghana, the MTN Group sponsored at least a couple events.