arctic

Obama's final year: a CounterVortex scorecard

Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained  only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."

Paris Agreement on climate change takes effect

For the first time in history, governments around the world have agreed to legally binding limits on global temperature rises as the Paris Agreement (PDF)  on climate change became effective on Nov. 4. All governments that have ratified the accord are now legally obligated to cap global warming levels at 2 C above pre-industrial levels—regarded as a limit of safety by scientists. But environmentalists and other groups have said the agreement may not be enough. According to Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth: "The Paris agreement is a major step in the right direction, but it falls a long way short of the giant leap needed to tackle climate change. Far tougher action is needed to rapidly slash emissions." Greenpeace also agreed that while the agreement is a major step forward, it needs stronger force. Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, further pointed out that governments would need to take measures to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable countries get adequate financing to tackle climate change problems..

Canada high court to hear prior consultation case

The Supreme Court of Canada announced March 10 will review two decisions of the National Energy Board related to aboriginal consultation. One case challenges a board decision to allow seismic testing in the waters off the east coast of Baffin Island, which is opposed by the Inuit village of Clyde River, Nunavut. The other is an appeal by the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation in southern Ontario of a ruling that approved the expansion of Enbridge corporation's Line 9 pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to a Montreal refinery. Both Clyde River and the Thames First Nation say they were not adequately consulted on the respective projects. Under Canada's Constitution, the Crown has a "duty to consult" and accommodate, wherever possible, indigenous peoples on any actions that may adversely affect their aboriginal and treaty rights. (Al Jazeera, March 20; CTV, March 10)

Activists divided on Paris climate accord

In what UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon hailed as a "truly a historic moment," world leaders gathering in Paris for the COP 21 climate summit on Dec. 12 approved an accord aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 C—an improvement over the current national committments (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in technocratic jargon) which only mandate a limit of 3 C. Some international campaigners are claiming victory. "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "This deal puts the fossil-fuel industry on the wrong side of history... That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states." (AFP, NYT

Paris: police suppress climate protests

Several thousand gathered for the planned march on the eve of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP 21) that opened in Paris Nov. 30. But the march was banned under the State of Emergency declared following the Nov. 13 terror attacks. Defying the ban on public gatherings, some 10,000 Parisians and international activists joined hands to form a human chain along Boulevard Voltaire. When they later attempted to march on Place de la République, police deployed concussion grenades, tear-gas, pepper spray and baton charges. Some 150 who made it to Place de la République were detained for hours as police surrounded and sealed off the square. At least 174 were arrested. (Revolution News)

Retreat on Arctic drilling —push to open ANWR

This year has seen the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. Now, the Interior Department has announced the cancellation of two pending Arctic offshore lease sales that were scheduled under the current five-year offshore leasing program for 2012-2017—Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242. Additionally, the Department announced denial or requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions that would have allowed for retention of their leases beyond their primary terms of 10 years. DoI stated that "the companies did not demonstrate a reasonable schedule of work for exploration and development under the leases, a regulatory requirement necessary for BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] to grant a suspension." But in justifying the decisions, Secretary Sally Jewell openly stated that in light of "current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half." (Alaska Native News, Oct. 16) This amounts to a virtual admission that the idea here is "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again.

Syria war prompts 'doomsday' seed bank withdrawal

A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.

Russia files revised bid for arctic territory

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 4 announced they have submitted a revised bid claiming over 350 nautical miles of Arctic sea shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The country's previous bids in 2001 were rejected for lack of evidence. Under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF), Russia now argues it has a right to extend its control up to 350 nautical miles. Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US are also attempting to claim territories in the Arctic. The sea shelf is believed to hold a large amount of oil and gas which Russia estimates could be worth up to $30 trillion.

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