Wednesday Night #1343 – Climate Change & Biodiversity

The eve of the UNFCCC COP13 in Bali, should serve as a fitting conclusion to the Unisfera Conference on Business & Sustainable Development. In light of Canada’s role in the outcome of the Commonwealth Conference (and the concurrent Australian election results), along with the release of Maude Barlow’s book “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Fight for the Right to Water“, there is much fodder for climate change discussion, but of course, we will not be limited to one topic.
Always lurking is the on-going fallout from the subprime fiasco and general global economic unrest – Henri-Paul Rousseau’s appearance before the government public finance committee to review the Caisse‘s holdings of asset-backed commercial-paper (ABCP), rumored to be as much as $14 billion, may provide some grist for our economists’ mills.
With the (successful) return of former PM Nawaz Sharif (whom the New York Times considers “represents the most formidable challenge to Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s bid to remain as president for another term”), the political scene in Pakistan shifts yet again. According to the BBC, “he is thought to have made a deal with Gen Musharraf to prevent former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto doing well in forthcoming parliamentary elections”, but AlJazeera’s reporting emphasizes that the opposition parties are agreed that the restoration of democracy is foremost, although whether they will agree to boycott the January elections is moot.
Russia votes in parliamentary elections next Sunday, and while there is little doubt that President Putin’s supporters will be victorious, there is increasing repression of opposition leaders including the jailing of Garry Kasparov and the arrest of Boris Nemtsov.
And for all you political junkies, there’s a referendum coming on December 2 in Venezuela. Mr. Chavez is seeking to extend his powers including allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely, extend presidential terms from six to seven years, and giving him authority over the Central Bank and letting his government detain citizens without charge during a state of emergency. What’s interesting is that polls show strong opposition to his proposals.
In many discussions of the Darfur crisis there has been a certain emphasis on the role that China could play in its resolution. It is therefore not encouraging (although understandable) to learn that rebels have demanded that peacekeepers from China pull out of the Sudanese region just hours after the arrival of 135 Chinese engineers and furthermore, that the Sudanese government has said it will only accept non-African troops from China and/or Pakistan, while the rebels say they will accept anyone but the Chinese.
We confess that we have paid little attention during the run-up to the Annapolis Conference on Middle East Peace, and even with the last-minute announcement that Syria will attend along with a dozen other Arab states, there appears to be little hope that much will be accomplished — “There’s never been less skepticism about the peaceful intentions of the leadership of the other side. But there’s never been more skepticism about their capabilities to deliver.”
The battle between Mr. Sarkozy and the unions continues to fascinate (we had an excellent discussion last week with Jean-Marie Bergman on this topic) and coincidentally Jaime was in Paris for the first week of the strike. CBC Radio caters to our fascination with Sarko and France with an excellent item on “Dispatches” on November 25.
The peripatetic president has whipped off to China where he is voicing his concerns that if China does not allow the yuan rise, currency imbalances could become so great that the world cannot cope with them. A high-level European Community delegation is expected to deliver the same message later this week.
Much closer to home, we are keen to hear what Wednesday Nighters have to say about the Griffintown renewal project and there will no doubt be new developments in the Mulroney-Schreiber dossier. We also call your attention to Sean Silcoff’s great profile of Tullio Cedraschi in Saturday’s Financial Post.

The Report

The evening’s discussion was enhanced by the presence and views of two exceptional journalists who practice the profession in very different areas – war correspondent and photojournalist, Robert Galbraith, just returned from two months in Afghanistan and Alex Shoumatoff, whose body of work includes many long fact pieces for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair on a range of subjects. Among his more notable writings, a profile of Dian Fossey which became the movie, “Gorillas in the Mist”, and a piece about Chico Mendes, the murdered leader of the Amazon’s rubber tappers, which was expanded into “The World is Burning”. The title of Alex’s website Dispatches from the Vanishing World indicates the focus of his interests, but not the multiplicity of his talents.

Scribe’s Prologue

Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28

Whatever the origin of the universe, unicellular microorganisms serve as food for other microscopic organisms to be filtered out of the water as food by sedentary plant and animal life, each providing sustenance for what is considered by Man to be the next higher level. Whether religious or not, Man has always considered himself to be at the top of the pyramid. Standing on his own little plot of land, he proudly proclaims that this land belongs to him, oblivious of the fact that he is but part of a larger living, breathing, interdependent system and that, far from being at the top of the food chain, he will upon his death, become food for the lowest of unicellular microorganisms and undifferentiated animalculi and that another human will sooner or later, stand on the same plot of land, making the same proclamation.
To further complicate the situation, nature has its own cycles of drought, floods, icecaps and disasters, some of which are inevitable, others exacerbated by Man, more especially the depletion of non-renewable resources and Man’s attempt to remedy the situation without taking into account the delicate balance that nature has achieved over the millennia without his interference, making Earth the only place in the universe, to our knowledge, that has been able to develop and support intelligent life.


The most important factors in consumption of nature’s goods and services are population size and affluence (bringing education of women and improved healthcare), with population size being affected by both, as well as by religious belief. The birthrate per couple is 1.3 in Italy, 1.5 in Canada and 2.5 in the United States. In Muslim countries there is an average of 5 children per couple; this is also true of Africa, however, the infant mortality rate is very high in most African countries.
China’s one-child policy, while curtailing population growth and thus achieving greater affluence, is expected to lead to great problems within a generation because of the resulting gender imbalance unplanned for by nature.
While affluent and less affluent nations accuse each other of high birthrates and/or high consumption, the debate is sterile as poorer nations with little or no respect for conservation accuse the more affluent nations of damaging the delicate balance of nature by over consumption, although they are less densely populated.

Biodiversity & Climate Change
The world is in constant evolution and accordingly has passed through a number of phases, at times covered with ice, at others, enjoying temperate and even tropical warmth with lush vegetation; species have come and gone. Continents have subdivided and drifted apart, great seas have opened, islands have emerged and mountains have sunk into the ocean’s depths. But over the last 10,000 years a new and destructive component has been added – us.
The state of biodiversity is the bellwether of the health and climate of the planet, whether the bleaching of the coral reefs off the coast of Kenya, to the dehydration of the Amazon which by 2050 may be ‘savannafied’ (losing 15% of the world’s biodiversity). However, it would be folly to concentrate on these symptoms, while neglecting the root cause – climate change. For instance, displacement and possible end of the Monarch butterfly as a species is considered to be the direct result of the man-made problem of illegal deforestation in Mexico.
It is to be hoped that the current world discussions on biodiversity recognize the fragility and interdependence of ecological, industrial, human, animal and plant life and the precious legacy of our place in the universe.
It is essential that the Convention on Biodiversity succeed. While not attempting to freeze-frame the biodiversity that we now have or to stop the natural evolution of species, the Convention’s goal is to slow down the disappearance of species (today, we are losing species at 1000 times the background rate established by fossil records) and perhaps, witness the emergence of new species. There is no suggestion that we can stop the loss of species, the goal is to reduce the rate of loss. Canada should become a role model in this initiative but may not if it continues to follow the path of the U.S. rather than that of the Europeans.
SciDev.Net maintains a highly informative dossier on Biodiversity & Climate Change. We recommend it to all.

The Climate Change meeting in Bali
The first aim of the Conference is to arrive at a post-2012 (“post-Kyoto”) agreement that will offer developing countries a realistic opportunity to invest in the reduction of carbon emissions. Stephen Harper’s position as expressed at the Commonwealth Conference in Kampala is that unless the developing nations that are major emitters (China, India) sign on to the same conditions as those imposed on the developed nations, Canada will not sign any agreement. This is self-defeating. With the outcome of the Australian elections, Canada is increasingly isolated. Even the U.S. is moving into a role of ‘difficult partner that needs to be convinced’ as opposed to the adversarial role that Canada is perceived to have adopted.
The second issue on the Bali agenda is adaptation – just as we now have early-warning systems for natural disasters, we need planning to adapt to infestations, viruses, economic fallout from loss of coral reefs, fisheries and tourism in coastal and island areas. In connection with this topic, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is launching at Bali a website dedicated to planning and practices for adaptation to climate change.
The third major issue to be dealt with at the Bali meeting is how to deal with carbon emissions resulting from deforestation in developing nations, which generate some 20-25% of greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to negotiate a system of positive incentives which will attempt to redress the balance, by paying countries to deforest less. Nations that do will get rewarded with tradable carbon credits that could be worth billions. Great news for climate, trees and 1.4 billion of the poor, who depend on these forests for their livelihoods. More
The first mechanism for payment has been put in place by the World Bank with a combination of donor money and private investments.

Canadians see their young men and women risking their lives in Afghanistan without their presence as yet having been justified to the Canadian public. The Afghani have endured nearly half a century of war with little hope for the future. With the exception of Canada, Britain and Holland, the NATO initiative has consisted largely of reconstruction and policing while our youth appear to be taking the risks and the hits. The Russians invested a great deal in construction, but appear to have been too doctrinaire in their approach to have been welcomed by the population. (Today, the Chinese are investing in Afghanistan’s wealth of natural resources and also in restoration of cultural monuments.)
Canada may very well be there for the long haul and it is to be hoped that other NATO countries will pull their weight and join Canada in the role that it is now playing because
-The Afghani people want us there because the coalition’s presence lets them conduct their lives more normally.
– If we were not there (especially in the south) we would leave a vacuum to be filled by the terrorists, especially from Pakistan. Prior to 9-11, Osama Bin Laden was based near Kandahar, but retreated to Pakistan largely because of the Canadian presence. The Taliban effort has been reduced to engaging in the occasional raid, admittedly sometimes fatal, which affords them great headlines. Having failed on the battlefield, the Taliban have been more successful with the media. The Coalition must remain there to stop their flow from Pakistan. One appears to forget that the terrorist disasters have been few in number in the world since the twin tower bombing. Some draw the very plausible connection between that non-event and our waning support for the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a connection that warrants consideration.
– The Afghan people have never given up and maintain an incredible outlook on life even after forty years of war and their determination to regain their freedom remains strong.
As for the opium poppy crop, while the problem is not unique to Afghanistan, today some 90% of the world’s heroin supply comes from that country. As long as the demand is there, illegal drugs will be available and the poppies will be grown somewhere. The illegal narcotic trade must not be trivialized but according it prime importance in Afghanistan at this stage, in the opinion of some Wednesday Nighters, would be counterproductive. Nonetheless, there are credible options to turn the trade from illegal to pharmaceutical [see: the Poppy for Medicine initiative for Afghanistan]

U.S. politics
Oprah, influential and powerful, has stated her support for Barack Obama in next year’s U.S. presidential election. It appears to be the consensus of those Wednesday Nighters present that she will not succeed, a rare occurrence for Oprah Winfrey. Some opine that the democratic race is still a horse race, as Hillary is disliked and distrusted by many voters.

2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1343 – Climate Change & Biodiversity"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 30, 2007 at 7:52 am ·

    30 November 2007
    Scottish council says no to Trump’s £1bn golf resort
    By James Macintyre, The Independent
    Donald Trump’s plan to build a £1bn golf resort on Aberdeenshire sand dunes was thrown out at the eleventh hour by councillors who rejected it as ” moral blackmail”.
    The dramatic twist came only days after the project– dubbed a ruinous ” Disneyland” for Scotland – was approved by the authority’s area committee.
    But yesterday, the council’s infrastructure committee overruled the decision ….
    The planning application on behalf of Trump International Golf Links Scotland proposed two championship golf courses, a five-star hotel, a golf academy, nearly 1,000 holiday homes and 500 private houses, providing what the Trump team portrayed as a huge economic boost to the north-east of Scotland. But the plans proved highly controversial as it emerged that part of the resort would be built on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) containing the sensitive sand dunes. More

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 30, 2007 at 4:29 pm ·

    November 7, Foreign Affairs
    Despite soaring oil prices, Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela appears to be encountering some turbulence. Oil production is declining and crime, corruption, and inflation are on the rise. Michael Shifter’s article “In Search of Hugo Chávez” (May/June 2006) offered a critical appraisal of Chávez’s reforms. In this web-exclusive essay, Shifter argues that Chávez may be overreaching by seeking constitutional amendments that would consolidate his power and allow him to be president for life.

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