Among the major global events that occupied attention in recent times are International Human Rights Day (December 10) and the virtual Climate Ambition Summit (December 12). Their respective themes “Stand up for Human Rights” and “Sprint to Glasgow” where the substantive meeting, COP-26 will be held in December 2021, were influenced by the intervention of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was recognized that human rights must be at the centre of the post COVID-19 world, and ambitious Climate Commitments must embrace the three pillars of the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance that will help to build towards a green and resilient recovery from COVID-19.
Human Rights must be at the Centre of the post COVID-19 world
The major takeaways from this year’s Human Rights agenda fall under the UN Human Rights generic call to action, “Stand up for Human Rights. They require: (a) ensuring that Human Rights are central to the recovery efforts; (b) reaching common global goals by creating equal opportunities for all; (c) re-building the world we want through global solidarity as well as interconnectedness and shared humanity; and (d) fostering more resilient and just societies by applying human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.
The COVID-19 crisis has been fueled by deepening poverty, rising inequalities, structural and entrenched discrimination and other gaps in human rights protection. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is convinced that "only measures to close these gaps and advance human rights can ensure we fully recover and build back a world that is better, more resilient, just, and sustainable".
The Climate Ambitious Summit and the Global Surge Driven by COVID-19
What emerged out of virtual event was encouraging for those of us who participated. The Summit, co- hosted by UK, France and the UN attracted 70 Heads of State, along with regional and city leaders, and heads of major businesses. They delivered a raft of new measures, policies and plans, aimed at making a big dent in greenhouse gas emissions, and ensuring that the warming of the planet is limited to 1.5c. The commitments to strengthen national climate plans (NCPs) grew significantly and came from of the world's biggest emitters. The UK, which is hosting next year’s UN Climate Conference in Scotland, announced that it will cut emissions by 68 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, the European Union bloc committed to a 55 per cent cut over the same time period. At least 24 countries announced new commitments, strategies or plans to reach carbon neutrality, and a number of states set out how they are going even further, with ambitious dates to reach net zero: Finland by 2035, Austria by 2040 and Sweden by 2045. Pakistan announced that it is scrapping plans for new coal power plants; India will soon more than double its renewable energy target, and China committed to increasing the share of non-fossil fuel in primary energy consumption to around 25% by 2030.
In addition, The UN Global Compact continues to support companies around the world to operate in a socially and environmentally responsible way and that includes coming up with innovative solutions to build prosperity without harming the planet. While the coronavirus wrought economic havoc on the world, with the release of COVID-19vaccines already being rolled out, economies are expected to begin opening up, and the UN is spearheading attempts to ensure that the world will “build back better”, rather than returning to a fossil-fuel dependent business as usual.
The innovative video interactions involving a wide range of stakeholders, revealed real momentum towards the next big step on the road to carbon neutrality at the COP-26 UN Climate Conference, in November 2021. Some of the UN features on the fight against the climate crisis through news stories, interviews and more, you will find here.
The Prospects for a Worthwhile Intervention by Latin America and the Caribbean(LAC)
One issue that emerged that may yet introduce an important development to be considered in Glasgow in 2021 is the Escazú Treaty by LAC designed to ensure rights to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. It is the first such legally binding regional environmental and human rights agreement to a healthy environment. It addresses impunity of environmental human rights defenders and advocates for timely delivery of information to the public on environmental matters. This historic treaty on environmental rights from 22 LAC countries has so far been ratified by eleven: Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Uruguay. The implications of this LAC Initiative will be explored in greater detail, subsequently.
Let Voices Propel the Convergence of Human Rights and Climate justice
Access to Justice in environmental matters is supported by the "UN Elders". But more and more civil society activists are lending their voices to the cause as are angry youth. At the Ambition Climate Summit, youth leader, Ms. Selina Neirok Leem, described as a climate warrior, noted that the very survival of her home in The Marshall Islands is threatened by climate change and that, since Paris, temperatures have continued to rise, forest fires have continued to rage, and glaciers are still melting. Ms. Leem said that, even though she successfully fought for the 1.5c “lifeline” to be included in the Paris Agreement, she like Greta Thunberg remains angry and disappointed at the slow pace of change. While I do not have access to Ms. Leem's verbatim statement , the stern rebuke by Greta Thunberg at the UN General Assembly in November 2019 says it all.
CLIP - Climate activist Greta Thunberg's remarks at the Climate Action Summit at UN HQ in NY
Tags: The Climate Ambitious Summit and the Global Surge Driven by COVID 19
Human Rights the centre of the post COVID-19 world
Prospects of worthwhile intervention by LAC
Civil Society Advocates and Angry Youth Propel the Convergence of Human Rights Climate justice
Perhaps it went unnoticed by many, but this month Asia broke into the commercial world: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Association (RCEP) was signed, a trading bloc formed by China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and all Southeast Asian countries. It is a milestone. Together, they are a market of 2.2 billion people (30 percent of the world's population) and a GDP of just over $ 26 trillion (about 30 percent of world output).
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, while tensions between the United States and China rise, while the European Union still has not managed to resolve Brexit, the message sent by the RCEP is strong and clear: in Asia, no time is wasted. It is a message that Latin America seems neither to hear nor to heed.
In Asia they understand, for example, that the protectionism that shakes the North Atlantic countries is not the best way to go. They have understood that geopolitical differences, such as those between China and Japan and South Korea, or between Australia and China itself, should not stand in the way of more open trade flows.
What does the RCEP mean for Latin America? On the one hand, it indicates that Asia, the main market for a good part of the South American countries, will continue to grow in importance and make up an ever greater part of the world economy. On the other hand, as Latin America is not part of the agreement, it reflects the marginalization of the region from these plurilateral treaties that arise from the stalemate in the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The sad reality is that the region's fragmentation and its inability for collective action at the multilateral level condemns it to an increasingly secondary role in the global political economy, with dire consequences for its development. The contrast to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - promoters of the RCEP - couldn't be greater.
In addition to the RCEP, these agreements include the Trans-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (CPTPP), made up of, among others, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru and Mexico; the attempt for a Transatlantic Agreement on Trade and Investment (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union; the Agreement on Trade in Services (ACS) —which accounts for 70 percent of world trade in the sector— and others. These treaties tell us that countries committed to trade liberalization seek “safe havens of consensus” in the face of stagnation in multilateral negotiations.
The signing of these international "mega-treaties" could have a strong impact on the world economy. Not only because of the dimensions of the two recent mega-treaties (the RCEP and the CPTPP), but also because the RCEP, for example, covers areas as diverse as the regulation of emissions, agricultural subsidies, intellectual property, communications and services. And emerging economies like those of Latin America should see how to adapt to the new regulations that this type of negotiations can promote.
On the other hand, the US elections, and the possibility of seeing a more proactive United States in reestablishing its commercial ties with the world, were key for the RCEP members (China especially) to continue the negotiations and sign a pact that will greatly facilitate the trade between their countries. This makes it possible that the United States, led by Biden, does not want to be left out of the mega-treaties and reactivates its ties with the CPTPP.
The bad news is that this will make up a bipolar commercial world made up of two large trading blocs in which much of Latin America does not participate.
Specifically in the RCEP, Latin America has no art or part (although Chile took steps to join it at the time), and it is largely emblematic of the isolation that the region suffers from the great processes of change that occur in the world from today. The international insertion of the region, very distant from the global value chains on which production is currently based, contrasts with the situation of the countries of Southeast Asia, which have known how to link themselves to these value chains, something that they strengthen with this treaty.
The ideal would be to advance these issues of trade liberalization and other items in universal multilateral negotiations. However, we live in an imperfect world, with suboptimal solutions. The central point for Latin America is to understand that the countries that make up these mega-treaties will continue to advance to promote greater diversification of their markets. And the countries of the region are increasingly removed from those talks. It is an unfavorable scenario: from these mega-treaties the rules of the 21st century trade are being written.
Those who are not part of the large agreements will be at a disadvantage, not only commercially, but also for not having participated in the design of new regulations that will emerge. It is possible that, in a few years, these countries that today advance in the most ambitious treaties will say: “We have already concluded the new rules for our trade. Take them or leave them ”.
So, what to do?
It is crucial that Latin American countries that are not party to these agreements react and join them. It is there that the world to come is being forged.
It would be best for these discussions to take place within the WTO, but today it is increasingly difficult to reach a global consensus on these matters. For Latin American countries, this means not just associating themselves with these agreements, but also taking the initiative for the creation of new ones.
If ASEAN has done it, there is no reason why Latin America shouldn´t be able to do so. The great powers do not have a monopoly on this matter. The time to act is now.
November 30, 2020 at 05:00 ET
Nicolás Albertoni is professor of International Relations at the Catholic University of Uruguay.
Jorge Heine is Professor of International Relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. He was Chile's ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017.
I combed the literature released by academics and journalists, discussed with my friends and colleagues, listened to endless talk shows, visited websites, and social media for answers to the question. Christine Amanpour summarizes my confusion adequately — “At the end of Trump’s term, what I’ve learned is that I really don’t understand America well at all.”
Let us face the reality of the elections results. Joe Biden received 81,012,489 poplar votes (52.3%) and Donald Trump, 74,113,538 (47%). President Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic probably cost him re-election. Yet it seems mind-boggling that he still won more votes than any incumbent President in American history. Will Wilkinson, the notable investigative journalist offers an explanation for understanding America. He highlights that to the dismay of Democrats, Trump's strategy of ignoring the pandemic mostly worked for Republicans. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/trump-democrats-coronavirus.html.
Given these contending views, I present a collage of opinion on this matter for your consideration of possible answers.
Resentment trumps Reality
In Barack Obama’s recently released biography, A Promise Land he hinted to “resentment” flowing from his 8 years as a major reason for the virulence of Trumpism. Nate Silver the renowned US pollster in a post mortem four years ago confirmed this view noting that Donald Trump won in 2016, partly by tapping into this resentment, of rural people and white nationalists and tapped into anti-establishment sentiments. Although Biden won 6 Million more of the popular vote than Trump, Democrats' majority in the House dropped by 9 seats in a 222-209 split and could at best achieve a 50-50 composition in the Senate, depending on the results of the January runoff of 2 seats in Georgia.
White Nationalism prevails despite Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the summer demonstrated that institutionalized racism through violent dehumanization of Black people cannot be ignored in this country. While it triggered multiracial support both in the USA and globally, the counter narrative promoted by Trump highlighted riots and looting that became associated with the protests. By promoting law and order and protection of property rather than defunding of the police attached to the demands of BLM movement, he stigmatized Democratic “radicals’ among his supporters. These tendencies were further inflamed by blaming everything related to bad economic times on immigrants and foreigners that rolled into Trump's promise of restoring greatness. These factors according to interpretations in post electoral surveys, appealed to white nationalist sentiments and attracted sizeable support of white women, even among those who voted for Hilary Clinton in 2020.
Racism associated with Trumpism: a revival of an Old time reality
When Trump entered office in 2016, the nation knowingly or not elected to return to the struggles of the 1980s. An elaboration of the revival of racism deeply rooted in Trump’s psyche is illustrated by his stand in the New York culture of white urban racial violence, racialized assumptions about crime, widespread homelessness and decaying infrastructure. Crimes were committed by young white men who thought black people didn’t deserve to be in “white spaces.” Meanwhile, Trump was silent on these crimes, but took out a full-page ad demanding the execution of The Central Park Five — black youth who were proven to be innocent. The spill over of race and politics dates to over 200 years, but the contemporary version according to Obama's interpretation, started with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by President L.B. Johnson that led to the South abandoning the Democratic Party and political gerrymandering, which fortified the playbook adopted by Nixon and Regan and more glaringly dramatized by Trump. Efforts at voter suppression and the blatant attempts through legal challenges to disenfranchise black voters are among the crass and blatant manifestations of racism associated with Trumpism.
The Trump Alternative Reality bolstered by complicit Republican leadership
It is with alarm that most self-respecting citizens would have witnessed how Trump's alternative reality could not have been sustained without the collaboration of other Republican Party leaders, especially in the Senate. This resulted in failure to check his abuses of the Constitution resulting in his impeachment and dangerous post-election behaviour. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who in 2016 described Trump as a “xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigot,” recently lobbied Republican Secretaries of State in Georgia and Arizona to see whether they might be able to disqualify any votes cast in Democratic areas. Chris Patton, Chancellor, Oxford University writing in Project syndicate (November 25, 2020) best illustrates this complicit behaviour as "the fifth column" under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as its commander, determined that the Republicans retain control of the Senate, following two run-off elections in Georgia in early January. Hence he does not want to do anything that may deter Trump supporters there from turning out to vote.
Truth trumped by Lies, Propelled by Social Media - Lethal
The digital marketplace of ideas where most people now get our news, is pervasive, subject to infiltration by sources intent on interfering with the electoral process and purveyor of falsehoods that go viral while facts go begging. An extensive MIT study of Twitter posts, published in Science in 2018, found that fake or otherwise misleading news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than truthful ones. Accordingly, in the 20th century, propaganda came from the top down. Tyrants would seize control of radio, TV and other mass media to broadcast their poison to the public. In the 21st century, propaganda is a bottom-up phenomenon. Trump fully understands that falsehoods seeded from the White House tweets circulate through the public’s own posts and tweets. Without far-reaching institutional, educational and legal remedies, lies will continue to trump truth.
The Push for Equity and the Contortion with Socialism
It is almost a consensus by creditable sources that Trump’s GOP tax cuts benefited only the wealthiest, leaving the middle and working classes behind. This justifiably prompted the push by the so called ‘radical left' of the Democratic Party for equity. Its platform is no different from that of the Obama's in 2008-2009 that pivoted around a crumbling infrastructure exacerbated by climate change; and an ever-widening gap between those with stable access to a living wage, education for their children, and proper nutrition and health care. Both now, as it was then, the call for greater equity is erroneously promoted as an attempt to erode the economic gains.
Most commentators are of the view that the populist and anti-establishment of Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency exposed a rift between partisanship and patriotism. They also increased the toxic polarization and exploited racism for political advantage. They demonstrate that nothing is inviolable.
As I examined the collage of opinion by a cross section of respected analysts, recently released polls, show that approximately 75 percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the 2020 elections. Trump's alternative reality prevails. I am regrettably back to square one. Like Christine Amanpour, "I really don’t understand America well at all.”
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.