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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Philippines and Climate Change

As his country reels from Typhoon Haiyan, the head of the Philippines delegation at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has gone on a hunger strike until “a meaningful outcome is in sight.” While his speech was met with a standing ovation, the likelihood of a meaningful outcome being reached is slim, especially because nearly 3 in 10 countries have not sent ministers to the convention – an indication that they do not consider it very important. Climate change-denying Prime Minister Tony Abbott, for example, refused to send either Australia’s environmental minister or its foreign minister. Australia recently repealed its carbon tax while Canada dropped any pretext of supporting global action on climate change by encouraging other countries to do the same. In a more optimistic development, however, new research released today shows that the vast majority of red-state Americans believe climate change is real, and two-thirds want the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions, so perhaps their political representatives will follow suit.

In the meantime, humanitarian aid remains gridlocked; the best advice the mayor could give survivors in hard-hit Tacloban was to flee.

Syria’s Kurds Announce Autonomous Region

A top Kurdish leader announced that, after months of fighting, Islamist groups in northern Syria were weakening. Kurdish militias seized seven villages in northeastern Syria today, after the fighters’ political wing announced their intention to carve out an autonomous Syrian Kurdish region, emphasizing that it was seen as a temporary move until there is a solution to the civil war. These gains indirectly help the Assad regime by taking more territory away from the Sunni Muslim rebels.

Assad’s forces continue to gain ground, capturing another major suburb of Damascus today; Islamist forces in Aleppo have declared an emergency summoning all fighters to attack Assad’s forces in the area. The divisions between rebel groups continue to grow, exacerbated by the amount of private funding that primarily responsible for sustaining them.

Alleged Sri Lankan War Crimes Overshadow Commonwealth Summit

The 53-nation Commonwealth, comprised of Britain and its former colonies, will begin its heads of government meeting this Friday, amid a sustained international outcry against the choice of Sri Lanka as the host country given its past three decades of civil war and massive civilian deaths. A recent UN report has suggested that Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated armed forces may have killed up to 40,000 ethnic Tamils. Sri Lanka denies that any such atrocities occurred. Hundreds of Tamils whose family members disappeared during the civil war have been prevented from traveling to Colombo before the summit while journalists have been blocked from visiting the former war zone. The leaders of India and Canada are both boycotting the summit, since the Commonwealth espouses human rights and democracy as its core values, and Sri Lanka embodies neither (President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family has been in power since 2005).

Afghanistan Opium Production at Record High

The UN’s Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2013 has reported that the amount of land used to grow opium has increased by 36% and overall production was up 49% since last year. This, despite over a decade of international programs aimed at reducing the number of poppies; the US alone has spent $6 billion. Afghanistan produces 90% of the world’s opium and has a burgeoning addiction problem of its own, as farmers increasingly see poppies as the only way to support their families. The biggest benefiter of Afghan opium production is, without a doubt, the Taliban, who take a “religious tax” for each kilogram produced and the provinces that produce the most opium tend to be Taliban strongholds. It doesn’t help that the US continues to hire contractors with ties to both the Taliban and the drug trade.

As one Western diplomat put it, “We have failed, we have lost — that’s all there is to it.”

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