DESA News Vol. 13, No. 12 December 2009


It is time to seal the dealIt is time to seal the deal

The average temperature of the earth's surface has risen by 0.74 degrees C since the late 1800s. It is expected to increase by another 1.8° C to 4° C by the year 2100 – a rapid and profound change – if the necessary action is not taken. Even if the minimum predicted increase takes place, it will be larger than any century-long trend in the last 10,000 years.

Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – to begin to consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. More recently, a number of nations approved an addition to the treaty, called the Kyoto Protocol, which has more powerful (and legally binding) measures.

The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period will end in 2012. A strong multilateral framework needs to be in place as soon as possible to ensure that there is no gap between the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period in 2012 and the entry into force of a future regime. This can be possible if world leaders seal the deal at the COP15 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) that will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 7 to 18 December 2009.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who walked the Arctic ice rim in August and saw the impact of climate change on icebergs and glaciers first-hand, said that “we do not have any time to lose. The time is short. We must seal the deal in Copenhagen in December, a deal which will be comprehensive, equitable and balanced, so that both industrialized and developing countries, and all citizens of the world can live in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Global warming

The principal reason for the mounting thermometer is a century and a half of industrialization: the burning of ever-greater quantities of oil, gasoline, and coal, the cutting of forests, and the practice of certain farming methods.

These activities have increased the amount of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Such gases occur naturally, but in augmented and increasing quantities, they are pushing the global temperature to artificially high levels and altering the climate. Eleven of the last 12 years are the warmest on record -1998 was the warmest year so far.

The current warming trend is expected to be so severe that it will actually cause extinctions. Numerous plant and animal species, already weakened by pollution and loss of habitat, are not expected to survive the next 100 years. Human beings, while not threatened in this way, are likely to face mounting difficulties. Recent severe storms, floods and droughts, for example, appear to show that computer models predicting more frequent extreme weather events are on target.

The average sea level rose by 10 to 20 cm during the 20th century, and an additional increase of 18 to 59 cm is expected by the year 2100. If the higher end of that scale is reached, the sea could overflow the heavily populated coastlines of such countries as Bangladesh, causing the disappearance of some nations entirely (such as the island state of the Maldives), foul freshwater supplies for billions of people, and spur mass migrations.

Agricultural yields are expected to drop in most tropical and sub-tropical regions – and in temperate regions too – if the temperature increase is more than a few degrees C. Drying of continental interiors, such as central Asia, the African Sahel, and the Great Plains of the United States, is also on forecast. These changes could cause, at a minimum, disruptions in land use and food supply. And the range of diseases such as malaria may expand.

Some controversial points

The negotiations are in fact two parallel sets of talks. Those covering the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as set out in the Bali Action Plan occur in the Ad Hoc Working Group On Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). Negotiations under Kyoto Protocol take place in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties (AWG-KP).

Almost all developed countries want the two negotiations tracks to merge, leading to a single new agreement. Most developing countries favour a dual-track strategy that would both amend the Kyoto Protocol and create a new agreement resulting from the LCA track. They fear that a single agreement may result in some or all of the Kyoto Protocols features being dropped in an attempt to craft a weak deal appealing to the United States. There is a division between the 198 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which are negotiating the Protocol’s continuation, and the United States, which wants a quite different international framework.

There is another major battle between developed and developing countries. Developed nations have the greatest responsibility for causing climate change because of their combined current and historical greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries insist that they must deal with poverty reduction and social issues and should be assisted with mitigation actions, as they did not cause climate change and have fewer resources to deal with it.

Furthermore, there is no agreement yet on whether to use a limit based on the increase of temperature, a total level of emissions or an atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Many developed countries and major developing nations say the increase in global temperature should not exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. But close to 100 other nations, including the Least Developing Countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) argue for a more ambitious goal of no more than 1.5 °C of warming.

DESA and climate change

Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It also has serious economic and social implications. Climate change is, fundamentally, a sustainable development challenge, that should be linked more firmly to the broader development agenda, including to poverty reduction and other internationally agreed development goals.

DESA facilitates the negotiations of Member States in many intergovernmental bodies on joint courses of action to address the challenge. The Department gears the substantive support it extends to intergovernmental bodies and negotiations to furthering an integrated approach to the UN development agenda, and achieving a renewed focus on implementation, with climate change currently on top of the agenda.

The Department serves the Commission on Sustainable Development, the main United Nations forum bringing countries together to consider ways to integrate the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development.

Furthermore, through its research, publications and reports, the department seeks to serve all Member States as a global think tank on economic and social affairs. The goal of DESA is to deepen the understanding of sustainable development options that can be incorporated into the climate change discussion, becoming the analytical basis for agreement.

Addressing the COP15 challenges: focusing on technology

Recognizing the serious links between development and climate change and with the world poised for renewed action in the run-up to COP15 in Copenhagen, DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development is working to accelerate technology transfer in a way that advances both adaptation and sustainable development in all countries.

Progress in design and transfer of environmentally sound technologies, particularly cleaner energy technologies and technologies for adaptation, will be an essential component of a comprehensive global effort for combating climate change – and for meeting countries’ sustainable and millennium development goals.

With these important objects at stake, DSD is identifying mechanisms for overcoming barriers and obstacles to technology transfer, and improving international cooperation on this important solution. While the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreements contain many references to technology transfer to developing countries, the focus of implementation has generally been on creating conditions in developing countries conducive to foreign investment and building capabilities to absorb and utilize imported technologies.

DSD however, is emphasizing measures that Governmental technology suppliers can take to accelerate the distribution and adoption of technology in developing countries. The Division is also working to identify more effective methods of measuring and verifying the extent of environmentally sound technology transfer.

In the lead up to COP15, DSD has organized two key meetings where technology for adaptation is the focus: The Beijing High-Level Conference on Climate Change: Technology Development and Technology Transfer , which took place in November 2008, and its follow-up, the New Delhi High-level Conference, held in October 2009.

DESA’s Under- Secretary General Sha Zukang reiterated at the recent High-Level Conference in New Delhi that “climate change demands urgent action and rapid, wide diffusion. The world cannot afford to wait for these technologies to follow the usual path of gradual diffusion, from rich to middle-income to poor countries. Let me be blunt: global climate policy will succeed – or fail – depending on whether it brings low-emission technologies and technologies for adaptation within the reach of poor countries, and poor communities, without further delay”.

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How ICT can strengthen ParliamentsHow ICT can strengthen Parliaments

“For Parliaments, the benefits of ICT can be enormous. ICT can make the democratic process more transparent, accessible and accountable, by facilitating access of members of Parliaments, parliamentary administrations, media and citizens to information services,” said Mr. Sha Zukang, USG of DESA at the 2009 World e-Parliament Conference.

With information and communication technology (ICT) advancing more and more rapidly, today’s Parliaments face extraordinary opportunities and enormous challenges when interacting with their constituents. In many countries, legislators can now choose to email, blog, or twitter. They can use Flickr, YouTube, RSS feeds, and e-newsletters, engage in online discussions, hold phone-based town hall meetings, post online surveys, create a Facebook page and a web homepage, participate in television and radio shows or use mobile text messaging and more.

Citizens can also use technology to follow their Parliament and their representatives in an unprecedented way. They can choose to send an email, participate in an online discussion, respond to a blog posting, vote in a survey, sign an e-petition, and watch or listen to various media presentations, including web pages, videos, podcasts or photographs.

World e-Parliament Conference 2009

The World e-Parliament convenes to promote the use of these new ICTs in the parliamentary environment. Co-organized by DESA’s Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the U.S. House of Representatives, the World e-Parliament Conference 2009 took place in Washington D.C. on 3-5 November.

The 2009 Conference was built on the results of two previous conferences held respectively in Geneva in 2007 and Brussels in 2008, as well as on the findings of the World e-Parliament Report 2008, a joint product of DESA and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, prepared as part of the work of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

More than 400 participants, including speakers and members of parliaments, secretary-generals, parliamentary staff and officials, experts from international organizations and academics who work and deal with ICTs in legislatures had the opportunity to analyze good practices, exchange views on latest trends and institutional developments, learn from each other’s experiences, network with peers, and build partnerships in an international setting.

They addressed a wide range of policy issues including the use of new technologies such as social networking to connect parliaments and citizens, leveraging information technologies to strengthen parliaments in young and emerging democracies, fostering inter-parliamentary cooperation at the international and regional levels. They also covered more technical topics such as open standards and XML for parliamentary documentation, security and reliability of infrastructure, recording of parliamentary proceedings and library services.

Wide gap between developed and developing countries

During the World e-Parliament Conference 2009, the preliminary results of the just completed Global Survey on ICT in Parliament were also presented. The findings will be compiled in the World e-Parliament Report 2010, to be published next year. Despite showing some progress, the preliminary findings confirm that there remains a wide gap between legislatures of developed and developing countries.

“Considering the findings of last year’s World e-Parliament Report, produced by DESA, based on survey information from 105 parliaments, more than 90 percent of the Parliaments surveyed had basic ICT and internet access,” said Mr. Sha Zukang at his opening remarks of the Conference. A number of parliaments are among the early adaptors of web technology and many of these have made considerable progress in achieving high levels of openness and transparency.

Recent elections, particularly in the U.S., have further underscored the potential importance of technology in the political sphere. While not displacing more traditional methods, the innovative use of tools such as social media, text messaging, and targeted emails appear to have had a significant impact on electoral contests.

The Conference final conclusions

One of the main conclusions that emerged during the debate was that there is an opportunity for parliaments to engage a new generation of citizens for whom ICT is central to their way of life in political and parliamentary processes. In this way, their views could be heard and taken into account as parliaments debate and decide on major policies and legislations.

Delegates also concluded that the adoption of open standards will allow parliaments to be more transparent and accountable to citizens. They remarked that access to information underpins citizens’ involvement in political processes and indeed the work of members of parliament themselves. Members’ enormous information needs can best be met by effective and well-resourced parliamentary library and research services making full use of new technologies for collecting, managing and sharing information.

With information technology, parliaments will also be better equipped to facilitate regional and global cooperation and integration. Many issues requiring legislative action in today’s globalized world are in fact common problems that require concerted solutions. Mr. Sha called on parliaments that are more advanced in the use of new technologies to share their expertise with developing countries parliaments, and he encouraged the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament to facilitate such exchange by stepping up its efforts to coordinate technical assistance.

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Men leaders to combat violence against women

Men leaders to combat violence against women

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 24 November by launching a Network of Men Leaders, a major new initiative bringing together current and former politicians, activists, religious and community figures to combat the global pandemic. “These men will add their voices to the growing global chorus for action,” he said, noting that 70 per cent of women experience in their lifetime some form of physical or sexual violence from men, the majority from husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.

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