Monday, January 11, 2021

Global Conferences in 2021...retreading the past, or renewing our shared future?

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Council of Councils website, there is a list of 10 upcoming summits in 2021 that will require the undiluted attention of the new Biden administration. From the list which includes NATO Summit, The U.S.--EU Summit, the Summit for Democracy, The WTO, The UN General Assembly, the G20, there are two conferences that leap out for special attention.

The UN Convention of Biological Diversity COP15 will be hosted by the Chinese government. The conference is “billed as a New Deal for Nature and People, to guide their individual and collective efforts to protect biodiversity through 2030. A slew of alarming reports has documented a dramatic decline in species and ecosystem, thanks not only to climate change but also to the degradation of land-and seascapes, unsustainable exploitation, invasive species, and pollution. These assaults on nature undermine the planetary foundations of sustainable development and, indeed of, global capitalism itself. Biden can help bend the curve of biodiversity loss by endorsing the “30 by 30” campaign to protect 30% of Earth’s land and sea from human exploitation.”

The second conference on which we wish to shed light, is another form of alphabet soup: UNFCCC COP 26. This is the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties (COP26) on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (and) will be the most important summit of 2021. Leaders will meet in Scotland (Glasgow) to review progress in implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which commits parties to holding the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, including by ‘ratcheting up’ their initial, nationally determined contributions toward this goal. Unfortunately, reaching the Paris target will require reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7.2 percent per year through 2030, and the world—despite the pandemic-induced recession--is nowhere close to this trajectory….The credibility of (Biden’s) U.S. leadership…will depend on whether he can persuade Congress to fund deep decarbonization at home. (from the CFR/council of councils.org website)

All ten of the scheduled conferences/summits will obviously take place in a geopolitical ethos of considerable turbulence from the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuing attempts globally to vaccinate up to 70% of the world’s population, as well as the pressure of millions of individuals and businesses that have no or highly constricted incomes. Into that political-cultural blender, add the concept that billionaires like Jeff Bezos have topped earnings by billions just since the inception of the virus, underlining inequality, racial discrimination, and social unrest in many locations, likely including the United States.

Pouring the foundation of credibility with Congress, however, will be only a small part of the Biden administration’s agenda. It will also have to build even stronger foundations of credibility and trust among world leaders, their governments, their military leaders and their citizens. Back in 2015, in a report on international co-operation, the Council on Foreign Relations noted that ad-hoc agreements between and among businesses, municipal leadership, all of them seemingly under the radar, were eclipsing those headline-grabbers of national leaders appearing before the international press cameras to sign significant treaties. Former Mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, for example, poured millions into the implementation of the Paris climate Agreement, as surrogate for his defaulting, MIA homeland, the U.S.A.

The landscape of international relationships, co-operation, collaboration and the trust and security that would potentially emerge from such summits and their agreements, has been seriously and negatively eroded by the American trump administration. America’s ‘word’ is besmirched with the legacy of a lying autocrat whose need for enemies and the verbal missiles to attack them at home and abroad super-ceded his dedication to fulfilling his constitutional obligations. In short, the world is a far less safe, and a far less trusting place in 2021 than it was in 2016 when he took office.

In that four-year period, too, China has been virtually unfettered in its militarization of the South China sea, its detention of Uighers and the removal of their human rights, its aggressive alignment and marketing of Huawei, (although rebuffed by many developed nations, save and except Canada so far), and its two-year detention of two Canadians, allegedly in reprisal for the arrest in Canada of Huawei’s CFO, under the extradition treaty with the U.S. Tariffs imposed reciprocally by the U.S. and China also clouded the trading environment of international relations. The birth of the COVID-19 virus, allegedly in a fresh-meat market in Wuhan China, at the same time the U.S. had withdrawn observers to the bio-lab in that city, has also left lingering scepticism in some quarters about the trustworthiness of the Chinese government.

Cyber-theft, hacking, and the incursion of foreign agents into the cyber-security systems of the U.S. government and business behemoths, has and will continue to contribute to the process of inevitable erosion of international trust, and the needed stage for negotiations that could lead to enhanced co-operation in this field. The social media landscape now alleged to be filled with rampant evidence, for example, of the forecast violence at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday January 6th, evidence that was apparently either missed or ignored by those charged with protecting the building and the legislators and their staffs, offers little public confidence in the mammoth national security systems that have been constructed and enhanced following the terrorist attack of 9/11.

Ranking the threats to the survival and wellness of liberal democracy, nevertheless, now has to encompass the existential threat posed by our linked invasion of habitats of wild animals and our insouciant pollution of the atmosphere with toxic gas emissions. Millions have already contracted and thousands have died from COVID-19. And while there are some 24 COVID-19 vaccines in development, the persistent ravaging of habitats in favour of developmental projects like mining and resource extraction continues to pose a threat of additional viruses. The WHO for its part, too, has declared that the current pandemic is ‘not the big one’ that it is a warning flag for the “big one” which is still out there on the conceivable horizon. Also, even the current virus is witnessing mutations, (who knows how many?) and the evidence so far indicates that both the UK variant and the South African variant prove to be more infectious, more easily and readily spread, if they are not yet indicating they are more lethal. So far, preliminary evidence suggests that both Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine and Moderna’s vaccine are effective in combatting the variants. Will those conditions continue? No one is or can be certain. So, while the world combats the immediate threat to lives, livelihoods, health care systems including health care workers, as well as the growing concern for pockets of patients in long term care homes, and essential workers in transportation, food processing and harvesting, education and law enforcement and public safety, curfews are like rolling cheers in sports stadia, in both Europe and North America.

Shifting the human demand for meat-generated protein, while evidence of both plant-based substitutes and genetically produced replicas continues to grow, poses a considerable shift in the culture of both east and west. However, there is much to ponder in the insightful remark of a Korean dentist, an immigrant to Canada, who uttered words that warrant repeating: “It would seem that humans have progressed too far and much too quickly and mother nature is not pleased.” Our shared, as well as our individual, relationship to/with/beside/inside/in dominance of nature simply has to change. And while those words are plucked easily on a laptop keyboard, they are far less easily and far less feasibly accomplished in any country. This is a mountain all humans have to embrace as our responsibility to climb. And those blue and green boxes carted to the end of our driveways every week, to better manage our garbage (even though Canadians are told that a mere 10% of that recycled material is diverted from landfill sites, leaving 90% still ending up in those archaic environmental legacies), are but a band-aid in the much larger quest to impede our garbage production and its permanent residues like leeching, air pollution, and the obvious waste. Recent reports indicate that a full 50% of all food purchased in Canada is thrown into the garbage. The cliché “we are all in this together” has no more direct application than in the manner in which we source our food, use and prepare our food, and then discard far too much. And the goal of a “New Deal for people and for Nature” is not only urgent and complex; achieving such an arrangement holds the promise of secure food supplies, and limited virus explosions for future generations. We will be watching the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15, to usher in new and stringent, monitored, enforceable and tolerable changes to how each nation feeds its people, and how we reduce the human devastation of animal habitats globally.

Common to the biodiversity new deal is the notion of the human conception and perception and thereby the relationship we enact between ourselves as ‘nature’. That old testament concept of “dominion” over the earth simply has to give way to a very different frame. We have to see ourselves as grateful stewards of both flora and fauna… of oceans, seas, rivers, streams and ocean floors as well as forests, farms, factories and our shared oxygen resource. Following the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC COP 26 conference in Glasgow could prove to be as instrumental in signalling the future of the planet’s ecosystems as any previously held. All of the benefits and targets that have been reached by various countries will, undoubtedly be trumpeted. So too, one expects, will all of the missed deadlines and the relevant measures to encourage, nudge, incentivize, condition and to threaten with sanctions nations to commit not only to the continuing clean air and water and land for their own people, but, cumulatively and collaboratively, thereby to the continued preservation of the planet’s natural resources. The nay-sayers, those who continue to deny the participation of humans in the degradation of the environment, will hopefully be so reduced in numbers, and/or cast aside from the heart of the debate, that fighting that rear-guard flank will no longer plague the public debate. At this conference too, one hopes that international corporations, many of them complicit in generating much of the industrial effluent that contaminates rivers, oceans and urban smog, will come to their senses, not only as collaborative participants in our shared dilemma, but as leaders in shifting their operations from fossil-fuel-generation to renewable energy generation. This collaborative approach can also achieve the obviously growing need to put millions of people to work in decent, labour and environmentally-protected workplaces so that we stem the growth of the unemployed, the hopeless and the destitute.

In both of these conferences, however, the question of how to treat the non-compliant, the outliers, the iconoclasts and the rebellious. While we have a rule-based culture on both sides of the world, there are variations in how strict, hard-assed, conservative and militant and even lethal those sanctions are designed and implemented. We know that human nature responds more effectively to deadlines, and yet those already declared, in too many cases, have been either ignored or casually forgotten. So, while deadlines are necessary, and will undoubtedly be included in the final communiques from all conferences, they will not be adequate to accomplish the modest yet minimal targets demanded by people like Greta Thunburg. Policing, whether on the streets of urban centres, in order to secure racial equity and equality in America, for example, or among the world’s leaders in order to accomplish what have been seemingly ethereal and ephemeral targets, which, if missed, will continue to threaten our shared survival on the planet.

Carrots and sticks, those chestnut agents of classical conditioning, however, have proven to have some, if limited, success in achieving human ethical and moral goals. Carrots like the release of impounded cash resulting from sanctions, for example, was part of the successful motivation in bringing Iran to the table to slow it production of fissile nuclear material. The sanctions, themselves, were the sticks. And while it will appear naïve, innocent in the extreme, and potentially dangerous to ask, one is prompted to ask out loud if a Norwegian approach to law enforcement might not be included in the package of options put before these two conferences. With the lowest recidivism rate in the world, currently 20% within 2 years, and one of the lowest crime rates in the world, Norway is lauded, legitimately and universally, for its humane approach to this specific social issue of law enforcement.

What are the appropriate analogies to the limited and humane incarceration used in Norway, for defaulting and denying and ignoring global benchmarks, among global powers? Is there not a better, more effective, safe and feasibly monitored approach to bringing all nations on board at both of these conferences? Can we all look forward to a new and creative, yet more effective and credible, collaborative agreements that perhaps pair nations, like buddies, to encourage each other in the fulfilment of shared targets? Can we demonstrate, through a thorough detailed presentation of not only the threats, but also the significant advantages to accomplishing needed changes in political culture, as pro-active and co-operative agents of internationally shared goals? Can we, through creative planning and execution, recruit the best minds from all countries, to be featured at these conferences, while at the same time, dropping the inveterate and sabotaging self-serving aim of promoting the national experts of the convening nations, as a celebration of that nation’s prowess?

Can we begin to conceive these, and other conferences, from the perspective of “not knowing it all”…as a new approach, without holding the Damaclean Sword of superiority, certainty, dominance, and self-centred anxiety over the head, not only of the conferences, but also over the heads of those charged with convening them? Is the current posture of “humility” now dominant among Americans, one that begs adoption by all of the nations attending these two conferences? Is it possible, even conceivable, that from these two conferences, the people of the world might learn to begin to trust world leaders, that those leaders can hear and incarnate the basic needs of all of humanity, that those leaders can set aside their personal aspirations for glory, in favour of the accomplishment of goals that offer something far more important: a legacy in international relations that inches, like that tortoise, toward a new world order based not on military, economic, cyber or deceit-power, but on learning and championing shared facts, shared research, shared agencies and structures and shared and mutually beneficial outcomes….and what better legacy could any public figure either want or merit than that? 

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