Tag Archives: United Nations

  • The Right Side of History: The Political Urgency Needed in Addressing Climate Change

    Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, written by Peter Stoett with Shane Mulligan, is a comprehensive and accessibly written introduction to the policymakers and the structuring bodies involved in creating global environmental policies. The book provides a panoramic view of the issues, agents, and structures that make up the fabric of global environmental governance.

    In this post, author Peter Stoett writes about his time spent at the Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands at the beginning of the year and why these conferences reflect the political urgency currently attached to climate change.


    Back in February, I attended the 4th Hague Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands, where over 350 international experts, practitioners, military and government representatives gathered to discuss the threats posed to the world by climate change and other threats to planetary ecology. Mixing all these people together would have been unthinkable a mere three decades ago; now it is commonly accepted that the only way we can promote resilience and adaptation to climate change is by inter-sectoral collaboration that includes some unlikely alliances.

    Representatives from the Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East all say the same thing: climate change is not only real and happening, but is exacerbating the threat of violence in these regions where mass migration and displacement, and civil conflict are already in strong motion. Water, in particular, comes up again and again as the resource scarcity issue of our time.

    In Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, I discuss water scarcity as not only a source of conflict, but of collaborative opportunity – most transborder water disputes have been dealt with diplomatically and many in fact have led to institutional developments. But there are clear indications that climate change-induced water scarcity is heightening extant tensions and it is fairly widely accepted that the horrible civil war in Syria was to some extent prompted by a severe drought that led to political instability. One theme that has emerged is that, despite the Security Council having dealt specifically with climate security, the UN needs to step up further and establish an early-warning system for climate-related conflict, so that we can see it coming and strive to take preventive measures.

    Effects of Hurricane Irma

    I was in the Netherlands to speak at an event focused on the question of moving to a post-carbon based energy infrastructure in the Caribbean region. The threats posed by climate change in the Caribbean are existential: this is life or death stuff. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coral reef bleaching, fisheries affected by temperature changes, freshwater scarcity; the list goes on for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). I cover SIDS at various points in the text, as well as the gradual (some would say painfully slow) transition toward renewable energy production and consumption. Clearly, it is the way forward.

    But the transition will not be painless, and as always it may leave some people behind. While we often think of the Caribbean region as a tourist destination or a hurricane zone, the reality is that most of the population and predominant industries are located near its beautiful coasts. In many ways Caribbean citizens are on the front-line of climate change threats, much like the Inuit in northern Canada and other circumpolar communities. These communities can benefit enormously from the adoption of renewable power sources that lessen dependence on the global oil economy, providing the technological capacity and public policy is conducive.

    The shift to renewable energy will certainly affect the geopolitical structure of global ecopolitics. China is emerging as a renewable energy superpower, and will have increasing influence in areas such as the Caribbean beyond its usual economic presence. Human security is again rising as a viable concept to deal with the ravages that natural disasters inflict on civilian populations. Responsible tourism has become a genuine national security issue in the region since long-term economic development is so dependent on this sector.

    We cannot base a global security strategy on constant disaster relief. Back in water-soaked Holland, there are famous stories about the futility of trying to stop floods with stopgap measures. One of the overarching questions of our time is how relatively impoverished and highly vulnerable regions can be integrated into global strategies. Conferences like this reflect the political urgency currently attached to the climate change-security nexus, despite its denial by a few powerful actors who are, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history.


    If you want to find out more about Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Peter J. Stoett is Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology.

  • Durban, Dread, and Promise

    This month UTP Higher Education celebrates the publication of Peter J. Stoett’s Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice. “Can we save this wonderful, green and blue, mountain high and ocean deep planet from further human abuse? Will it save itself without us?” begins Professor Stoett. The book explores these questions first through an introduction to major environmental challenges and then through a series of case studies exploring the limitations and possibilities of international governance—which involves not only governments but civil society and the private sector—to create effective solutions to these challenges.

    The deeper aim of the book is to encourage sustained, informed discussions of environmental policy and problem-solving. And, serving this purpose extends beyond the covers of the book. Read on for Professor Stoett’s reflections on the Durban climate change conference (held this past winter), and the role of conferences like this (including the upcoming Rio+20 this summer) in establishing effective policy that serves a principle of environmental justice by protecting the right to a safe environment as a human right.

    Durban, Dread, and Promise: Moving Beyond Our Age of Angst

    Two recent (2011), critically acclaimed films do a brilliant job of capturing one of our least-favoured emotions: dread. The fear of more severe emotions to come. The sinking realization that doom is not just a far-off threat but is lurking outside the door. Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia take the viewer on a cinematic journey through mental illness, societal expectations, and a gnawing sense of impending doom. They remind me of the climate change debate and the lack of enthusiasm most environmentalists feel for the international talks in Durban, South Africa, last November and December.

    Take Shelter explores this sense of dread from an individual’s point of view. Its main character (in a stunning performance by Michael Shannon) is increasingly obsessed with what he feels is the coming storm of storms. His neighbours and family think he is losing it, and he has reason to suspect this himself, but those dark clouds are coming nevertheless. The deftly directed Melancholia portrays varying responses to the arrival of a colliding planet and plays deftly with our senses of denial, optimism, panic, and gloom. One of the main characters, played by Kirsten Dunst, begins the film in a state of mental disarray but emerges as a calm witness to the apocalypse, while the supposedly stable people around her are unable to adapt.

    Both films provoke thoughts about the fragility and uncertainty of life, the human frame against environmental catastrophe, and our own sense of agency, which is rather apt material for our times when the specter of destruction and mayhem induced by climate change has replaced the fear of nuclear weapon strikes that plagued several generations during the Cold War. (There is a major difference, of course, between the two images. Climate change is indeed here, now, happening largely to people who have the least recourse to political power or the economic power of adaptation; whereas, with the calamitous exceptions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have not been used—directly, at any rate—on human communities.) But these films echo our environmental realities not only through their apocalyptic themes but also through the near-indifference to these eventualities exhibited by the majority of the characters. (Politicians, by the way, are noticeably absent from both films, which could be worrisome or refreshing, depending on your viewpoint.)

    Meanwhile, predictably, climate change talks sputtered in Durban, South Africa, as yet another United Nations conference disappointed those who believed Santa would deliver the present of political certainty this year. Stalemates ensued the usual debates: the split between Northern and Southern countries over who should pay for past mistakes, the short-term costs of serious action (which pale next to the long-term costs of inaction, but that is harder for politicians to conceptualize), the sheer suffocative weight of heavily subsidized fossil fuel development, and distrust and resentment, all within the context of yet another global economic crisis.

    As the talks circled the drain, it was hard was to escape the image of Nero fiddling away while Rome begins to burn; of the coming storm driving Shannon’s character bonkers; of the arriving planet the wealthy subjects of Melancholia choose to treat as an exotic postcard rather than as a threat to all life on earth. Surely, by now, and despite the best efforts of the relentless climate change “denial industry,” we are conscious of both realized and anticipated floods and droughts, new extinctions of species, invasions of alien species, melting ice and permafrost, and the drowning of shorelines and small islands. Angst, and the smell of despair, sets in, not because we are doing nothing, but because most people realize we could be doing much more.

    However, work is getting done, especially at the local level—survival remains the strongest of motivations. While global negotiations can appear frustratingly divisive, the vast majority of constructive dialogue on climate change and action is taking place at a more local level, where citizens’ groups, invested local companies, and conscientious individuals are taking steps to modify their daily behaviour, albeit in the often-mesmerizing uncertainty of the international context. Individual actions, as the films remind us, speak volumes and make big and little differences in human lives. Governments may be unable or unwilling to take firmer steps (or may even be openly hostile towards those taking them), but many citizens are stepping on regardless.

    We can also take some solace (while exercising healthy caution), in the fact that the level of diplomatic activity on environmental issues is unprecedented. In every sector, from ocean to forestry to biodiversity, we have tens of thousands of scientists, national and international civil servants, politicians, non-governmental organizations, progressive corporate leaders, journalists, and others working hard to make a difference. My book Global Ecopolitics is fairly comprehensive but only covers a fraction of all this activity. Of course diplomats, scientists, and policy wonks do not always agree on everything and have a limited impact given the size and scope of the problems. But, the evidence is, happily, overwhelming: never before have so many people, from so many geographic regions and cultures, been so engaged in environmental protection, biodiversity protection, oceans research and advocacy, and many other facets of the contemporary pursuit of sustainable development.

    There are ethical issues at stake here as well, and we need to keep these in mind if we seek legitimate solutions. Whether or not the Kyoto Protocol will survive as an architectural framework for what people are calling “climate governance,” it is clear we need to think beyond this in order to realize any sort of effective change. Another phrase made the rounds in Durban and beyond: climate justice. This is not, contrary to those eager to dismiss the entire project, just another way of reframing the old debate about colonial responsibility. It is rather a reflection of climate science meeting contemporary ethics, and it is the logical continuation of pursuing environmental justice, a term still in use in many contexts around the world.

    The Canadian and American governments are right about their insistence that  countries such as China, India, and Brazil need to play a proactive role in greenhouse emission reductions (though there is evidence they are indeed doing so already). But, it is ethically irresponsible to ignore the basic fact that the majority of people adversely affected by climate change are those who contributed the least to it. This won’t go away, and needs to be discussed openly in venues such as the Durban conference, even in an era of fiscal austerity. While we would be foolish to place all responsibility for implementing environmental solutions on the outcomes of international conferences, we must demand that this venue be used to deal with the adaptation question, since the misery inflicted by climate change will have to be partially mitigated by the wealthier countries, which can also help by spreading technological advances.

    At least on this front there was, in fact, some progress made at Durban. Government representatives furthered an earlier commitment to establishing an international Green Fund that will be used for climate change adaptation measures amongst other things; this is a continuation of the dialogue on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Adaptation Fund. Though even semi-knowledgeable people suppress a smirk when they are told the Fund’s ambitious goal is to provide $100 billion per year by 2020, we are at least headed in the direction of compensation related to the excesses of industrial and agricultural activity. How we actually raise this money, and how it is distributed, will be a major factor of public life in the next few years, and we should challenge ourselves to open and protracted discussions now, before time runs out and talks resort to the more usual habits of recrimination and evasion.

    These harsh challenges should be viewed as calls of duty. We need to take the best science we have—which, it is widely accepted, points to the very serious consequences of inaction—and strive for a common approach towards collective survival. Today’s complexity is no reason to sacrifice the ability of future generations to cope with the ecological reality they will inherit from us. Rather than succumb to the temptation to declare all efforts futile, people are responding to the challenge of sustainability in remarkable ways across the globe. Some, such as the Inuit of northern North America, have no choice. They are by default the first-responders to climate change, losing valuable hunting ranges due to sea-ice loss and the displacement of hunted species. Others, such as the inhabitants of small ocean islands, see a colliding planet on the horizon, realizing their living space could well be submerged in the decades to come. Others face less immediate challenges but are concerned about the impact all this will have on their children’s and grandchildren’s quality of life. We need to think about our motivations and come to reasonable conclusions about the contributions we can make. Then, we need to make them. The upcoming Rio+20 conference may not yield spectacular results either, but it is an opportunity to publicize the need for more hard work ahead.

    Take Shelter and Melancholia explore age-old themes, but they seem more pertinent with the shadow of ecological collapse looming over our thoughts. A touch of dread and a large dose of confusion are also poignant reminders of the fragile beauty of life and nature, urging each of us to consider how we can be part of an ethical solution, and perhaps, in the process, find a greater part of ourselves than we knew existed.

    - Peter J. Stoett

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

  • Thinking About International Women's Day

    Posted by Tracey Arndt, Acquisitions Editor for Women and Gender Studies in UTP's Higher Education Division.

    As of Wednesday morning, over 1,500 events celebrating International Women’s Day were officially linked with the IWD website, 75% of those events taking place in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Belize, and Australia. While surely many more events are taking place worldwide, with varying degrees of formal organization, 1,500 is a very small number for a day meant to draw attention to some complex issues and very grand goals.

    International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the early twentieth century in many countries, but in 1975, the United Nations established March 8 as the universal day, citing two primary purposes behind it:

    • To recognize the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality, and development of women, and
    • To acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.

    Each year, the UN suggests a theme for IWD events (in 2012 it is "Empower Rural Women — End Hunger and Poverty") and marks it with a message from the Secretary General.

    I applaud the aims of the day and every year it reminds me that I don’t pay enough attention to the status, rights, fights, and futures of women in my community, in this country, or globally. I’m reminded that the “status of women” means the status of me, but I’m stalled when it comes to taking action beyond this recognition. Where do I start? How do I join the conversation? Is the conversation even happening?

    Of course it’s happening. Sometimes the debates are front page news and sometimes we have to search harder for them. Sometimes events like International Women’s Day or GOP political races draw attention to them and sometimes peace and quiet leads us to mistakenly believe that rights gained can never be taken away.

    So, this International Women’s Day, I invite you to seek out the conversation. To get you started, a few links to recent news items follow below. Of course, I would be remiss not to share a link to UTP’s Gender Studies list or let you know that UTP Higher Education is actively acquiring course books in Women and Gender Studies. Please email me with editorial inquiries.

    Some links:

    International Women’s Day: We need a women’s rights reawakening (The Toronto Star)

    EU eyes forced quotas for women on corporate boards (The Globe and Mail)

    International Women’s Day: Why fight for equal rights is still relevant today (Metro, UK)

    The best and worst places in the world to be a woman (Belfast Telegraph)

    Dreaming of gender equality (Straight Goods News, Canada)

    Rwanda: Month-Long Campaign to Promote Women’s Emancipation (allAfrica)

  • Author Footnotes with David MacKenzie

    My intention with A World Beyond Borders: An Introduction to the History of International Organizations was to write an introductory history of international organizations (IOs) that emphasizes the historical and chronological development of IOs rather than the theoretical debates that are the focus of so much of the existing literature. The manuscript follows a rough chronological order and provides a succinct history of IOs, with chapters on the rise and fall of the League of Nations, wartime internationalism and the birth of the United Nations, the UN during and after the Cold War, the evolution of regional and cultural international organizations, and the emergence of NGOs. It is intended for use in courses in international relations – not only history courses but virtually any course that focuses on aspects of the development, role, and history of international organizations.

    My aim has been to establish a balance in the book by not trying to list every IO but to instead focus on discussions of the leading organizations, including the League and UN, the financial and technical specialized agencies (such as the IMF, UNESCO, ICAO, and UNRRA), the major regional organizations (including NATO, the EU, the OAS, ASEAN, and the African Union), and the cultural and former-imperial organizations (such as the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, and Lusophonia). I examine the work of international NGOs under four main categories: disarmament, development, environment, and human rights. Of particular interest is the growing relationship between the NGOs and the UN system as private organizations began to have greater influence on the actions of governments through institutions like ECOSOC and UNESCO and through the increasing number of global conferences (on the environment, land mines, women’s rights, human rights, etc.) beginning in the 1990s.

    Studying international organizations and their history is more relevant than ever before. At the beginning of the 20th century there were relatively few of them; today they are found everywhere within the international system. There are thousands of IOs and NGOs involved in all aspects of international relations, including peacekeeping, disarmament, peace resolution, human rights, diplomacy, voting supervision, etc., and they have expanded into areas that were previously the sole prerogative of the individual states, including environmental, health, and economic issues. From the travel advisories of the World Health Organization to the trade rules of the World Trade Organization, and from the involvement of the IMF in Ireland to Canada’s recent failure to win a seat on the Security Council, international organizations are in the news and in our lives. They have evolved into major legal, moral, and cultural forces within the international system and today it is hard to imagine any significant international issue unfolding without some contribution or involvement of international organizations.

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