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Environment and Security
Alex Steffen, 13 May 04

The Hague Conference on Environment, Security and Sustainable Development is just wrapping up, and it looks like it was pretty cool: conference papers had titles like Arguing the case for an Environmental Marshall Plan, Climate Change and Mounting Financial Risks: What are the Options? (PDF), Ecological Footprints: Can They Support Investment Decisions? (PDF), and "Nature in War: Biodiversity Conservation during Conflicts" (PDF). Very worldchanging stuff.

Not suprisingly, US foreign policy was a big issue at the conference. Geoffrey Dabelko has the scuttlebutt:

"To make progress on climate, clearly a top priority for the Europeans attending this conference, we should not talk about climate. Sounds silly, but perhaps an example debated today will make the logic clear. Whereas the Chinese government may have little interest in aggressive action on climate change, it shows great interest in energy-efficiency gains for its inefficient boilers, gains which can cut the horrible haze caused in large measure by the burning of dirty coal. Investment in the economic efficiency and respiratory health of the Chinese population is an issue that can gain traction in China. It just so happens, of course, that energy-efficiency gains in China have the potential to make real progress in lowering emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

"Also, Europe and the U.S. should stop focusing almost exclusively on differences over climate change and rally around development problems faced by residents of the global South. Dirty water, for example, is responsible for approximately 2 million deaths per year. Both the U.S. and particularly the European Union, with its Water for Life initiative, have made commitments in this area, but they have not been enough. Compared to the complexity and expense of coping with climate change, ramping up investment in providing safe water should be politically doable. Talk in the hallways here suggested that the G-8 meeting in the U.K. next year may provide an important political forum for such a ramping up of human-security support. Climate promises to be a priority at the G-8 meeting, but so does Africa and HIV/AIDS, the latter two leaving room for what is, from a Southern perspective, a more immediate human-security agenda.

"The war in Iraq did predictably rear its head during conference proceedings today. As an addendum to an otherwise practical plea for energy efficiency and green behavior, one director of a European environmental NGO suggested the Europeans should strike a bargain with the Americans. They should help bail the U.S. out of its quagmire in the Middle East, and in return the U.S. would have to ratify a raft of treaties that remain unsigned and/or unratified: the Biosafety Protocol, the International Criminal Court, and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, among others. The Europeans, in this view, have the U.S. over a barrel at the moment and now is the time to strike a hard bargain. Reactions ranged from enthusiasm for the sentiments to derisive dismissal. The suggestion produced some shaking of heads at the idea that the Europeans could rectify the mess in the Middle East even if they tried as well as the idea that the U.S. Senate would suddenly go on a treaty-ratification spree."

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