Saturday, April 21, 2007

Global warming meets diplomatic chill

Britain's effort to bring global warming before the UN is floundering because even when Blair does the right thing, no one believes him.
Guardian Comment is Free full version
Ian Williams

Tony Blair's reputation is all eaten up because he has cried wolf too often - while petting the biggest wolf around. Even when he tries to do the right thing, no one believes him.

This week at the Security Council the British convened a meeting on global warming. Blair is not always wrong, and it is no surprise that when he is right, it is on one of the few issues over which he disagrees with Bush. He has been consistently sounding the warning about global warming even when W found it inconvenient.

Sadly, however, the developing countries saw the Security Council debate as a power play, as an attempt by Britain as an American surrogate to introduce Neocon ideas of energy security and democratisation. It was sad to see how Britain's diplomatic stock has fallen in the world. The reception for the Global Warming debate showed the chilling effect of Blair's policies.

When Labour was elected, and Robin Cook was foreign secretary and Claire Short was development secretary, Britain could count on a hearing from the non-aligned, as well as the Arab and the Muslim countries. With a few ups and downs, Britain supported multilateral, United Nations initiatives and there was visible difference between Washington and London on key issues, even though the British had a widely-accepted role of trying to bridge the gap between Capitol Hill and the real world.

Indeed, even under Tory administrations, except over South Africa, Britain's policies have often paralleled Washington - but there was some distance.

Since the invasion of Iraq and, perhaps almost as importantly, Blair's acquiescence to the US and Israel stalling a ceasefire in Lebanon, there is little left of those warm feelings. This is sad, not least since climate change hits the poorest countries hardest.

The experts convened around the Security Council described in frightening detail the already almost certain consequences of climate change: dioxide drought in the global south and dioxide drowning in both developing and industrialized worlds. It was, in its way, even more chilling than descriptions of a nuclear winter, not least since we have lost many battles with the global environment, so at least some of the consequences are now inevitable. Several of them saw the conflict in Darfur as a reflection of climate change - the desertification of the region.

Margaret Becket, the former environment secretary and a true global warming believer, referred to "The consequences of flooding, disease and famine and from that migration on an unprecedented scale. The consequences of drought and crop-failure and from that intensified competition for food, water and energy. The consequences of economic disruption on the scale ...not seen since the end of world war two".

Which was all true, and even more so since, overwhelmingly, the causes for this are previous and present activities by the industrialized countries while the worst hit victims will be in the developing world.

However, somewhat churlishly, the non-aligned and developing country blocs argued that the issue was best dealt with in the Economic and Social Committee and the General Assembly, neither of which could be called "action-oriented" (in UN jargon), and thus missed a chance to extract some promises from the polluters.

They wanted to know what the purpose was of having a debate in the Security Council. And they do have a point. It's not as if the council were going to order blue-helmeted peacekeepers into Detroit to stop the production of SUVs. Perhaps inadvertently, the American ambassador's reference to his country's "long history of extending help so that people could live in democratic societies with robust economies and strong and stable Governments", may not have had the resonance in the UN that it would at a White House press conference.

Margaret Becket argued that the reason for a Security Council debate was to give full prominence to the issue - and she may have had a point, if it had been a heads of state event that drew out George Bush to say something committed and intelligent on the subject.

Doubtless the debate had the ancillary purpose of burnishing Blair's tarnished armour. But as long as Blair sticks with Bush, who has spent a term and half trying to sabotage the Kyoto protocols, his credibility will suffer.

The Security Council debate may have been a nice idea, but it shows how the last few years of Blair's slavish adherence to the Bush line has poisoned even his best-intentioned diplomatic efforts. We can only hope - without too much evidence - that Gordon Brown is different and he can rescue the country from his predecessor's diplomatic blight.

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