‘No war, no warming’: slogans on placards at COP26. But what has the peace movement to do with climate change? Judging by states’ final commitments in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ nothing at all.
Yet, worldwide the military carbon foot-print amounts annually to around 5% of all global carbon emissions. This figure includes military bases, land, use of equipment, as well as the military production. Add the impact of contemporary wars and the total could be 6% - one of several estimates from Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), an organisation formed in 1992, led by distinguished scientists from different disciplines working to end “the misuse of science and technology in threatening human life and the wider environment”.
But among Heads of State closeted in the Glasgow ‘blue zone’ military spending was the dog that didn’t bark. Thanks to SGR and the peace movement amongst the People’s Summit for Climate Justice – a broad coalition of NGOs and climate activists assembled to strategize and plan action - it barked after all.
The USA spends $778 billion on defence annually, China around $250 billion, India $75 billion. According to SGR the USA’s annual military emissions are 205 million tonnes, the UK’s around 11 million - the highest in Europe - with France next at 8 million. Just moving military personnel and equipment around by air, sea and land burns a prodigious amount of fossil fuels; a Humvee, and America has 60,000, consumes a gallon of diesel every 4-6 miles. There are no accurate figures for China though total carbon emissions are believed to be 10.2 billion metric tonnes.
The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into effect in 1994. It required signatory nations to provide a regular inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions and negotiate further treaties to control emissions. The 1997 Kyoto protocol set legally binding emissions reduction targets for wealthier nations. But the US negotiated an opt-out for military emissions both from reporting and reduction targets. Kyoto was followed in 2015 by another international treaty, the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump withdrew the US from it, but Biden re-joined this year.
Faced with reporting demands, the most militarised nations have adopted a dual strategy: avoiding systematic reporting or, failing that, burying military emissions under wider anodyne headings. For example, energy use in Canada’s military bases falls under ‘commercial and institutional emissions’ and military flights hide beneath ‘general transport’. After the Paris Agreement, under Obama and Biden, the US Department of Defence did begin reporting, but their published figures need to be scaled up significantly to obtain a more accurate picture of total military carbon emissions. Some data points to the supply-side of the military-industrial complex being over five times more polluting than … direct energy consumption by armed forces. Then there are emissions from bombed fuel depots and the reconstruction of buildings following ceasefires. Saddam Hussein setting fire to Kuwaiti oil fields offers a striking illustration.
With COP26 approaching, at the end of March 2021 the UK Ministry of Defence bestirred itself and produced a slim and optimistic volume and a fine piece of climate virtue signalling. The green transition could even add to the UK’s military capabilities. Energy-saving drones and new technology were anticipated. There would be lots of carbon offsetting. The behemoths of modern warfare would in future feed on bio-fuels and nuclear power. Though it was expected that actual combat in climate-changed, ravaged environments would become more difficult. The impact on food production, were British planes and missiles to be fuelled as proposed by ‘algae and alcohol’, was not discussed.
The poorer nations most immediately affected, or threatened by climate change, left Glasgow disillusioned. Substantial funding needed to mitigate impending climate-induced catastrophe was still not forthcoming. The British Government’s priorities are clear from its plans and actions. By 2025 the UK’s military budget will be increased by over 10% above inflation, but from 2021 the International Aid budget will be reduced by 30%. Until at least 2030, the rich industrialised world, or some 1% of the global population, will be generating 16% of global carbon emissions. Emissions attributable to the Pentagon are larger than those from the 140 poorest countries combined. Not for nothing did the NGOs entitle their meeting during COP26 “The People’s Summit for Climate Justice”.
Have the NGOs’ efforts to highlight the impact on climate of world expenditure on the military, some $2 trillion globally last year, been successful? On 1 January 2021, the US National Defence Authorisation Act became law after Congress overrode a Trump veto. It requires the Secretary of Defence to produce a detailed report on the Pentagon's greenhouse gas emissions for each of the last 10 years. In addition the Pentagon must have clear emissions reduction targets and commit to “monitor, track, and report greenhouse gas emissions from all its operations, including combat operations, deployments, drone attacks, weapons production and testing, and base construction and functions”. In June NATO set a target to “contribute to” achieving net zero by 2050. At COP26 itself, the Conflict and Environment Observatory, working with Durham and Lancaster Universities, launched a website, www.militaryemissions.com, monitoring and tracking reporting from the 60 countries with the highest military expenditures. Amongst western nations, to some degree, the NGO campaigns have been successful.
Perhaps the most significant breakthrough to date is a radical Resolution on climate and military emissions being put to the US Congress by Barbara Lee, a Democrat Congresswoman for California’s 13th District (Oakland), with the support of 100 NGOs, many well-known names. The only person in Congress to vote against the Iraq war, Barbara Lee is hardly mainstream Democrat. In her mid-70s, raised a Catholic, her track record of opposition to militarism and war has been, like that of Bruce Kent in UK, courageous and consistent.
In his first week in office President Biden issued an Executive Order requiring a climate risk assessment from the Pentagon. Described by Lee as the “single largest institutional source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet”, the Pentagon dragged its feet. Its analysis published in late October only just scraped into print before COP26. While recognising Climate Change as a major National Security issue, it lacked the concrete action Lee is seeking in her Resolution.
The combined peace and climate movements get another opportunity to tackle military emissions when COP reconvenes in Cairo next year. But they will be operating in a regime led by, President Sisi, a ruthless politician who swapped his military uniform for a suit. The Egyptian army remains politically powerful. Then again the Nile provides 97% of the country’s water source. Egypt knows it will be one of the first countries to run dry.
The anti-war and environmental movements with their focus on military emissions have highlighted a fundamental truth. Our acceptance of globalised competition for military ascendancy is incompatible with our quest for a secure future and mitigation of runaway global warming. Negotiations for disarmament must urgently return to the agenda of international diplomacy. And for that we need Statesmen for Global Responsibility - not just scientists and religious leaders.
See ThArticle 19/11/2021
Bosnia is heading for conflict that could draw in NATO, the EU and the UK. Two weeks ago Christian Schmidt, the specially appointed High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-i-H) who has very considerable powers, described the small Balkans country as facing the biggest existential threat since the ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica during the early 1990s. “The prospects of further division and conflict are very real”, Schmidt reported to the UN Security Council.
The US-brokered peace accords, the 1995 Dayton Agreement, created the present State known for short as Bosnia or B-i-H. Its constitutional arrangements are complex. The Dayton negotiators brokered a power-sharing arrangement. The State has three presidents representing its three principal ethnic groups, (Orthodox) Serbs, (Catholic) Croats and the (Muslim) Bosniak majority, and is made up of two semi-autonomous entities: the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serbian Republika Srpska. Not surprisingly the convoluted governance has been unable to resolve tensions between Bosnia’s constituent parts.
The Republika Srpska and Bosnia’s chimaera of a presidency were designed to counter Serbian separatism - and failed. The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, supported by the West and twice President of Republika Srpska, rose to prominence as a moderating counter-weight to Bosnian Serb nationalists who were seeking complete independence. Once in power Dodik soon adopted their populist, nationalist stance even threatening secession. His most recent démarche is to announce his intention to pass ‘divorce’ legislation to create – in order of gravity – a separate armed force and judiciary, and direct Republika Srpska taxation.
These threats seems to have been a riposte to the departing High Representative, Valentin Inzko, who in July 2021 pushed through a new law criminalising genocide denial in the face of adamant Serbian assertions that Srebrenica amounted to no such thing. Inzko’s departing shot resulted in a temporary Serbian withdrawal from the Presidency, Government and Parliament. The once moderate Dodik called the new law ‘a nail in Bosnia’s coffin’.
The past remains a dead weight on Bosnia’s future. Whether or not Dodik’s threat of what amounted to secession was a bluff simply directed at Bosnian Serb voters, it produced a flurry of international activity including a visit, on 6 November, by the hard-Right nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, and, a day later, US Assistant Secretary of State, Gabriel Escobar. A ‘leak’ had Dodik telling Escobar that he couldn’t care less if his actions resulted in US sanctions. Dodik was apparently ‘open to discussing’ his separatist legislation but was not about to stop preparing it. No sooner had Escobar departed than on 9 November Dodik went off to meet with the Turkey’s authoritarian President Erdogan in Ankara. Bosnia’s future, an important element in the stability and peace of the Balkans, was only briefly a news item.
My own first introduction to Bosnia in 2016 left me in no doubt that the 1992-1995 war cast a long shadow over the country. I was there to collaborate with the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM). We were working with 18-25 year olds in a programme directed at increasing social integration amongst youth, the first post-war generation. First thing, straight off the plane, was a programme in Prijedor in Republika Srpska close to where a mass grave of Bosnian Muslims had recently been discovered. Would we like to visit the site? I explained that while we would, of course, wish to pay our respects , we could not risk being perceived as partisan of any ethnic group if our work was to be credible. Visiting the site of an atrocity by Serb military would not have been a good start.
Once we began the programme, we discovered that the ethnically diverse young people in our programme did not want to talk about the past. Their anger was directed against all of the ethnic political elites whose corruption and self-interest were served by sustaining the ethnic divisions and which they saw as taking away their future and prospects. This was not because the past had had no impact on them personally. One young man told me about his father, still suffering from post-traumatic symptoms, waking up screaming at night. We discovered that hostility to politicians and their clients was just as common in other parts of the country. For the young emigration was the key issue: should they stay or should they leave?
After Prijedor, Sarajevo - where we stayed in remarkably cheap but excellent university accommodation and worked with a new group of young people at the IOM offices. Sarajevo like an elongate City of Bath sits in a valley between mountains. You follow the river and main road into the centre to find the actual corner of a non-descript little street near the Latin Bridge where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 by a Bosnian Serb nationalist. The route inevitably evoked memories of old 1990s TV footage. I tried not to imagine women out buying bread shot down by snipers positioned in the mountain beyond the river above the city. Tourist souvenirs included biros made from rifle shells, a hopeful Bosnian variation of the biblical swords into plough shares.
600 troops in EUFOR, a small European multinational force, still provide a token peace-keeping force. In 2016 Bosnia applied to become a member of the EU but disagreements within the EU itself about future membership of Balkans States have meant negligible progress towards accession and a growing reciprocal lack of interest, despite the stability and prosperity derived from Croatia’s Accession in 2013. The UK has pledged to work for peace in Bosnia but where is Bosnia heading and what will be its significance for the UK?
The danger is that an emboldened Putin ever probing, seeking opportunities and assessing the resolve of his opponents, will see Bosnia as his next stress-test for the West. Time has elapsed since Russian military interventions in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine improved his ratings and popular appeal. For Putin the attraction of Bosnia is that his KGB State can create mischief there through an established intermediary, Serbia. An outbreak of hostilities would, by humiliating EUFOR, be mud kicked in the eye of the European Union. Russian covert support for BREXIT clearly revealed that weakening the EU is one of Putin’s goals. And Bosnia is one of NATO’s Partners for Peace. A violent political implosion in Bosnia would also be a move against NATO which has a military headquarters in Sarajevo, showing it up as a paper tiger. The pot is bubbling. It would need little stirring by Moscow.
A feint away from Ukraine would come naturally to Russia with its sense of grievance that its proprietary rights in the Balkans - and Eastern Europe - have been abused. The British Foreign Office has recently warned of Putin’s hidden hand in the current crisis. The question is what are they and the EU going to do about it? Putin may well be calculating – nothing.
See TheArticle 15/11/2021
President Biden has led in Glasgow with his outreach to Beijing and an announcement on cooperation on Climate Change. But recent US Gallup polls put his positive ratings at 42%, the second lowest yet at this point in any previous presidency. Trump dropped to 37%. Psephological wisdom has it that going below 50% in the ratings means losing 37 Congressional seats. Though Biden’s immediate problem is two maverick Democrat Senators, Joe Manchin, senior Senator for West Virginia (the second poorest State in the USA) and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (where Sinema is the first Democrat Senator for twenty years and where in 2020 Biden narrowly won the State’s delegation to the National Electoral College).
Each individual Senator matters. The Democrats in the Senate are working with a 50-50 split with the Vice-President, Kamala Harris as president of the Senate, presiding over its proceedings and currently holding a tie-breaking vote. Manchin who has considerable political funding from oil and gas companies is delaying Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better social spending and climate change bill, known as the Reconciliation Bill – whittled down in negotiations with the Republicans from $3.5 trillion and to be spent over ten years. Sinema won’t support getting rid of the filibuster a key weapon in the hands of the Republicans who are determined to block Biden’s social and climate plans. The Democrats have got a bi-partisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill through Senate, but Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has been traded its progress in Congress against the Republicans unblocking Biden’s Reconciliation Bill for a while. The infrastructure bill was finally passed on 5 November. But with the US economy not rebounding fast enough, Biden is still under enormous pressure.
A core plank within traditional Republican ideology, like that of the old-style Conservative Party here in the UK, is small State good, big State bad. But the 2008 financial crisis and the 2019-2021 COVID pandemic proved that major government intervention in times of crisis is essential. The same is true of Climate Change if we are to contain global temperature rise at liveable levels and avoid catastrophe. This is the context in which Brandeis University Professor Robert Kuttner asks in the New York Review of Books (18 November 2021) if Biden is “ready to insist that full-on planning and explicit targeting of vital industries” is urgently needed. Indications are that he is.
In February, with his feet barely under his desk in the Oval Office, Biden issued Executive Order 14017 tasking the National Security Council and National Economic Council to undertake reviews of the vulnerability of the USA’s supply chains for, amongst others, semi-conductors and electric car batteries. What he received in June was a far ranging Keynesian recipe for a replay of Roosevelt’s New Deal coupled with a vision of ‘government led scientific advances as the main engine of growth’ following the prescription of the former Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950). The implications of such an approach to Climate Change is not difficult to discern. Biden is trying to marshal substantial government financial support to realise economic change in pursuit of this vision. This is not some minor battle in the culture wars but a well-defended front manned by die-hard Republicans, a potential Stalingrad for Biden.
You could argue that getting to net-zero by 2050 will need the sort of command economy created during the Second World War. Think of the production of Spitfires in Britain, recently celebrated in BBC documentaries. Think of the female labour drafted onto the land and into munitions factories. In the USA no cars for civilian use were produced between February 1942 and October 1945. Fordist production lines were all converted to war production. For military vehicles and aircraft then read electric cars, wind turbines, solar cells, and carbon capture technologies now.
But the thought of Boris Johnson and his clique directing a command economy doesn’t bear thinking about. In a future planet-saving economy the alternative to a full-blown command economy could be substantial sector-specific government investment in key technologies – a route taken by several East Asian economies in the 1990s and substantial financial support for transformations in the life of the poor – taken because of the pandemic between 2019-2021 in the USA with a significant and remarkable decrease in poverty. But the old taboos are again reasserting themselves.
Decisive action by government itself to shape their national future economic activity seemed to take second place in Glasgow. Instead we have the impressive pledges by corporations and financial services to invest in climate friendly production aimed at reaching net-zero. Recognition of their power and potential for good is welcome. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England until 2020, recognises that it is not enough and government has to take a firm steer. But he has done an outstanding job in putting a case that Supply and Demand, the market, will direct the money where the action needs to be. Let’s hope so. Let’s hope against hope so. But Adam Smith was not facing runaway climate warming.
If ever there was an issue of national security, as Biden recognised by involving his National Security Agency in his economic reviews (they are moving on to energy in 2022), it is Climate Change. And national security, in Republican terms a good thing, requires national planning and targeting of substantial amounts of public money to mitigate Climate Change, in Republican terms a bad thing. Ideology is doing more than getting in the way of a bi-partisan solution. It threatens national and global security.
Can Biden convince American voters and both Houses of Congress that half-measures are not enough, that a Republican victory, with or without Trump, spells a terrible setback that will cost lives in the USA and around the world? Can he make a divided society understand the really important choices? Some journalists have taken to calling him ‘Poor Old Joe’. It’s poor old us if he doesn’t succeed.
Turning to the UK with Biden’s dilemma in mind, can the British government turn rhetoric into concrete national plans commensurate with the threat of global warming? Can it take the public with it during such a radical transformation? These are the choices that will profoundly alter the lives of the next generation. . It is time to finally drop longstanding economic taboos.
See TheArticle 06/11/2021
The Budget has come and gone. The British government is still determined to plunder our international aid budget to demonstrate their financial probity. At least until 2024. Ever ready for a U-turn when public opinion swings, the Cabinet must have calculated there are few voters who will desert them as a result of these cuts and, indeed, some who may be won over.
But what do the public really think about aid? The damage caused by the nationalist and popular binary opposition between ‘home’ or ‘domestic’ and ‘overseas’ or ‘foreign’ intensifies as the threats from COVID mutants and carbon emissions grow. But polls suggest a majority support the cuts. ‘Charity begins at home’ – and ends there - is strengthened as default position at times of uncertainty. There are bigger things to worry about. It’s money down the drain thanks to the corruption of recipients or, straight out of the Daily Mail playbook, taxpayers’ money wasted on ‘nonsensical programmes’.
There is another explanation why the argument that it is a bad idea to reduce international aid by more than 0.2% of GDP fails to win the day. Most people have little idea what a good developmental project or programme looks like beyond what they might see watching Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. How could they? Nor do they hear any explanations why ‘odd’ sounding FCDO (old DfID) programmes make a difference.
Public generosity is impressive in emergencies and for humanitarian aid. But people are distrustful of spending on abstract nouns such as ‘international development’. What exactly does it mean? They are sceptical about things they cannot see or verify themselves. Corruption causes distrust particularly of government to government aid. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), of course, provides an alternative. Yes, NGOs can have their blind-spots failings and flaws. I should know having worked in them for thirty years. But despite recent sex scandals they retain public confidence.
In 2009 when I was working on malaria prevention in West Africa, I met a young American Orthodox Jewish medical student who had been living on the outskirts of Mali’s capital, Bamako, amongst impoverished migrants from the rural areas. He had spent time with families whose children had died because the mother had no money to pay for medical treatment. As a pious Jew, soon to be a doctor, he found himself thinking of collapsed health systems in Africa in the light of passages in the Babylonian Talmud discussing to whom the moral imperative to rescue people from under a collapsed building should apply. He began to see the responsibility to rescue the many deprived of health care as a question of justice. The glaring injustice of thousands dying from treatable disease for lack of money, inspired a small group of Malians and Americans to devise a pro-active, community-led, but scalable and data-driven, primary health care programme which they called Project Muso (Muso means ‘woman’ in Bambara, and true to the name 80% of the workers in it today are women). This took them on a path that led to a partnership with the Ministry of Health and international aid from a variety of sources.
The scalability of the programme depended on its simplicity. The mortality rate in Mali amongst children under five was more than one in ten because parents were not able to get their children to a health centre for medical treatment. So the key feature of the programme would be to bring health care to the patient. Community health workers (CHWs) who visited homes in their local area, would be trained to diagnose some dozen prevalent and potentially lethal diseases. They would be paid for each patient they got to a clinic by whatever transport available.
A single CHW can now be responsible for 1,000 of her own neighbours. They make home visits carrying basic medical equipment in backpacks, often with their own baby bound to their front. These women are known and trusted. 97% of project staff are Malians. By 2016, 82% of sick children covered by MUSO reached a clinic within 24 hours. The drop in under-five mortality was spectacular. The additional cost – beyond what the Ministry of Health was spending - from getting each patient into treatment at a health centre was estimated at $6-13 dollars.
The beauty of the training – which I was allowed to observe – is the demanding and sensitive supervision by a nurse and doctor, the respect for the women, some of whom were illiterate. Drawings are used to illustrate a range of common symptoms. Role plays allow experienced CHWs to correct faux pas such as sitting down on the mat with the training doll without asking permission, or errors like prodding the wrong side of the abdomen to detect appendicitis. The nurse and doctor only intervene if the peer review CHWs can’t answer a question.
By 2019 Project Muso had forged a strong partnership with a dynamic Malian Minister of Health who was rebooting the health care system with a focus on pregnant women, under-fives and the elderly and providing more public money to enable free treatment. The rate of child death was now lower than in any country in sub-Saharan Africa. By this time, true to its aim of scalability, the Project was also supplying technical assistance to the Health Ministries in Togo and Côte d’Ivoire, and from its Bamako programme had budded off eight centres in rural areas and serving 350,000 patients. Despite military coups, an outbreak of Ebola, terrorist attacks murdering Muso’s patients and a refugee crisis, expansion continues. As COVID infections increased Project Muso designed, trained and supported the Health Ministry’s contact tracing programme, promoted vaccination, produced COVID teaching material and marshalled PPE for its CHWs as well as oxygen cylinders for hospitals. As Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.
Because of Mali’s desert-edge poverty, life-saving measures will continue to depend on external money, money which the UK is removing from its budget. The Project has a number of donors - fortunately not the UK government - and recently landed an unprecedented $15 million three year grant from a single donor, some indication of its effectiveness.
Project Muso as it evolved demonstrated many features of good development not least the importance of women’s agency, effective partnerships, government-NGO cooperation, scalability, sharing expertise in a well thought out strategy. When I hear international aid being dismissed as some kind of foible of soft-headed liberal internationalists I think of healthy Muslim Malian children rushing out, calling ‘Ari, Ari’, to embrace my Orthodox Jewish friend, kippah in place, doing one of his rounds. Perhaps he should invite Mr. Sunak to spend a few days with him in peri-urban Bamako.
See TheArticle 29/10/2021