Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
November 30, 2018
Mr. President: President Trump's abrupt cancellation of bilateral talks with Mr. Putin
at the G-20 meeting in Argentina -- following the seizure of Ukrainian ships by Russia
-- puts any rapprochement on the back burner, at least for the time being. As leaders
convene, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is flashing his wallet, his presence
awkward, trying to buy friends -- this time India with the promise of investments, where
tens of thousands of farmers are marching on Delhi to protest soaring production
costs while produce prices plunge, as Prime Minister Modi meets with the Crown
In Argentina also, Human Rights Watch has petitioned successfully for a court
prosecutor in the Jamal Khashoggi case putting the Crown Prince in peril of arrest.
Fortunately for him the wheels of justice turn slowly in Argentina as elsewhere
because its courts will first have to consider the issue of diplomatic immunity. He is
safe for the present but the question of an international arrest warrant looms and
could curtail future foreign trips.
The G-20 leaders will have their hands full with the U.S. and China trade war,
dreaded photo-ops with the Crown Prince, and any new bombshells from the
mercurial Donald Trump.
Doubtless more important for humankind is a second meeting: COP24, officially the
24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change, is scheduled for December 2-14 in Katowice, Poland. Its purpose ...
to develop an international agreement compelling all countries to implement the Paris
climate accord, which limits global mean temperature rise to 2 degrees C. But then
some time ago doubts arose about the 2C limit being enough.
So it was that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was charged
with comparing the 2C rise with a 1.5C rise, and the risks to the world of both. The
panel's 1.5C report unveiled to the world on October 8, 2018 was far from sanguine.
For limiting warming to 1.5C, it allowed only a 12-year window. Beyond that such a
rise will become a foregone conclusion "dicing with the planet's livability." There the
matter rests as we await the outcome of COP24. By the way, a somewhat scary
thought is the fact that when President Trump was asked about the 1.5C report, his
answer seemed to imply he had never heard of IPCC.
Meanwhile, the annual greenhouse gas bulletin issued by the World Meteorological
Organization (WMO) reported a new high in CO2 levels of 405.5 parts per million
reached in 2017, 41 percent higher than in 1990 and 46 percent higher than
preindustrial levels. Average global temperatures in 2018 are expected to be the
fourth highest on record and the last four years the four warmest. Calling it an
emergency, WMO has commenced the development of methods to guide and
observe emissions reduction procedures at emission sources. Particularly worrisome
also is the finding of a resurgence of CFC-11, an air-conditioning gas blamed for
depleting the ozone layer, and supposed to have been phased out under the 1987
Montreal Protocol. Adding to worries, the rising CO2 trend continues for on May 14,
2018 another high of 412.60 ppm was recorded.
Moreover, the new UN emissions gap report, an assessment of country performance
in meeting voluntary targets, also confirms CO2 levels are rising for the first time in
four years. The prior decline believed to have been caused by improved technology
turns out simply to have been a consequence of economic slow down. In a press
release, UN Environment notes only 57 countries, or less than a third of the total,
representing 60 percent of global emissions, are on target to start decreasing
emissions by 2030. It begs the question whether current voluntary targets should be
made mandatory, an issue clearly ripe for debate.
What can we expect from these meetings? The G-20 is a hodgepodge of advanced,
emerging and developing economies with varying vulnerabilities in financial systems
and institutional stability. Insofar as there is an asymmetry, it makes for different
priorities. Cross-border finance and transactions on capital account are dominated
by the advanced economies, and global liquidity is heavily dependent on the U.S.
dollar despite recent attempts to mitigate its influence, principally by China and
Russia. Unless there is a real crisis as in 2008, not much can be expected other than
the usual pablum. On the other hand, perhaps the Trump-Xi private meeting might
help alleviate the effects of the ongoing trade war that is disquieting markets.
COP24 is another matter for it has to address an existential issue, an issue that could
threaten the well-being and lives of our children and grandchildren. Is Donald
Trump's lacuna on global warming unique or shared conveniently by others? Will UN
Environment be given some muscle or will it simply continue to report the paltry efforts
of the members? We just have to wait and see how seriously the world's leaders view
an issue increasingly evident in the uncommon severity of weather events.