2019 was the year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and an uptick in climate action pledges by governments across the globe.
From Britain to Germany, Europe’s mainstream party leaders scrambled to respond to a surge in electoral support for Green parties — and to growing public anxiety about the possible impact of climate change.
During European Parliament elections in June, 48 percent of voters identified climate change as their top worry. Opinion polls in Germany for some weeks of 2019 put the Greens ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s storied Christian Democratic Party, which, along with its junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, has been racing to sharpen climate policies.
In Britain, the ruling Conservatives announced a hugely ambitious carbon reduction plan, enshrining into law a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so. Some smaller countries, including Finland and Norway, are earmarking dates earlier than 2050 to become net-zero greenhouse gas producers, but so far have not made their goals legally binding.
In America, an alliance of 24 states and Puerto Rico promised to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate action, despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the international pact.
Shouldn’t all these plans and pledges be music to ears of climate action activists and scientists?
Apparently not. On the eve of Christmas, Thunberg tweeted: “I hear many say 2019 was the year when the public woke up to the climate crisis. This is a misconception. A small but rapidly growing number of people have started to wake up to the climate crisis. This has only just begun. We’re still only scratching the surface.”
For Thunberg, her guardians and loyalists, change can’t come fast enough, however wrenching and dislocating it might be. Governments aren’t doing enough and are failing to count their emissions accurately, they complain, and corporations are dragging their feet.
For activists, December’s Madrid climate change conference epitomized the foot-dragging and a failure to be truly aspirational in cutting emissions. For Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion activists in Britain and Australia, the key task for the Madrid gathering was to unveil ambitious new goals — and fossil-fuel-dependent countries, notably Brazil and Australia, flunked it, they say.
Rich vs. poor
The rift between wealthy, developed nations and poorer, developing nations over who is going to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions also remained as wide as ever. And governments in Madrid stalled on agreeing on new regulations for carbon markets and the trading of carbon permits between countries for the offsetting of emissions, one of the most critical and contentious issues at the climate change conference.
“In Madrid, the key polluting countries responsible for 80 percent of the world’s climate-wrecking emissions stood mute, while smaller countries announced they’ll work to drive down harmful emissions in the coming year,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S.-based climate action advocacy group. “World leaders dithered instead of taking stronger, critical action soon to reduce the global climate threat. They ignored dire scientific reports, worsening evidence of climate destruction and demands from millions of young people to protect their future.”
For others, though, the Madrid conference symbolized how politically complicated it will be to deliver climate action — a complexity activists ignore and glide over, some analysts warn. The venue for the conference itself spoke to that. The meeting was scheduled to be held in Chile, but it had to be switched to Spain because of riots in the Latin American country over a “Green” hike in transit fares.
And it wasn’t only in Chile that protesters were taking to the streets to complain about expensive Green policies that could make living standards plunge. In France, the Yellow Vests, drawn mainly from small towns, persisted with their demonstrations against the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, an agitation triggered initially by the imposition of higher eco-taxes on fuel.
The year 2019 also saw strong resistance in Germany from motorists, as a well as automakers, to planned higher fuel prices and an abrupt shift to electric cars — yet another front in a political backlash to climate action.
For governments, even environmentally friendly ones, climate change poses a massive political dilemma, and 2019 brought that home. Impose the tax hikes and costly regulations scientists say are needed to lower emissions and move economies away from dependency on fossil fuels, and governments risk prompting a backlash, largely from lower-income workers and pensioners, who can ill afford to bear the expense.
The alternative is to move slowly and risk blowback from climate action activists and their supporters among largely middle class and higher-income groups able to adapt with less hardship. Squaring the circle between those who demand fast-track climate-friendly measures and those who want to slow down and mitigate the impact of moving toward a low-carbon future isn’t going to be easy, say analysts.
In Europe, Central European governments sense the acute political danger to them and have been resisting a European Union plan to join Britain in earmarking 2050 as the year the bloc has to be “net zero.”
Poland has been especially vociferous in opposition. The country is heavily dependent on coal for its energy needs and more than a quarter-million Polish jobs are tied to the fossil fuel industry. Without coal, many towns in Poland will have no economic raison d’être. “You can’t expect Poland to leap to zero carbon in 30 years,” according to Marchin Nowak, a coal industry executive.
While smaller developing countries fret that they will bear too much of the burden of climate action compared with richer nations, so, too, do those who already feel left behind in developed countries, fearing the costs and benefits of climate action will be unfairly placed on their shoulders. 2019 saw the opening salvos in this new political war over environmentalism.
The BJP's Flawed Blueprint for Resurrecting Kashmir's Politics – The Diplomat
After a gap of several months, political activity is beginning to sprout once again in the Kashmir Valley. Both old and fresh faces of Kashmir’s mainstream politics promise new political fronts and a fresh vision for yet another “Naya Kashmir.” Quite understandably, the political leadership in Delhi is trying to infuse vigor into this political activity, hoping it can help to address discontent following the August 2019 decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and transform the former state into a union territory. While the politics of alternatives isn’t new to Kashmir, the current atmosphere bears a stark resemblance to the 1960s, when the Indian National Congress tried to consolidate their control over the political and administrative affairs of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The installation of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad as prime minister of the state, following the dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, was the first move aimed at creating an alternative government, one acquiescent to Congress’ central leadership. His decade-long tenure removed apprehensions that Sheikh’s wavering loyalty had raised. However, it did not prevent the central leadership of the Congress from aspiring for a permanent alternative. Bakshi’s resignation under the Kamraj Plan opened up this possibility.
The Congress found Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq to be a perfect fit for its requirements. Sadiq, a National Conference dissident and founder of Democratic National Conference, won the 1967 election and led the first elected Congress government in the state. While this allowed the central leadership direct control, the move failed to achieve its aim of penetrating down to the masses – something the Congress has still not been able to do. Instead, the Sadiq government constantly depended on the central leadership for directions. This failure laid the ground for handing the reins back to Sheikh Abdullah in 1972.
In its pursuit of breaking the impasse and restoring political processes in Kashmir, the present government is perhaps seeking to create its own ruling class that will be dependent upon the center, both legally and politically. While they have chosen to avoid the older guard of Jammu and Kashmir’s political parties, the central leaders also do not seem to be interested in identifying and elevating the second-rung leadership. However, the continuous detention of these political figures keeps them relevant on both sides of the political discourse.
What is transpiring in the political circles of Kashmir is certainly not a new strategy. Armchair politicians and seasoned turncoats have traditionally been used to lay a fresh political ground in Kashmir, even though the practice is antithetical to restoration of democratic processes. This practice ignores the very fact that in a complex political environment where alienation is deep-rooted, alternatives cannot evolve in vacuum.
Any alternative to the older guard in Kashmir has to be broad-based. It has to have the patronage of the masses, a strong network of workers capable of mobilization and electoral experience. For now, the capacity to mobilize masses may be seen as a threat to public order, but it is precisely what is required to restore political processes.
Naveed Mehmood Ahmad is currently working as Legal Research Fellow in New Delhi. He has a Masters in Law from Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai.
Politics Briefing: Conservatives lead national poll – The Globe and Mail
Between the plane crash in Iran, the coronavirus and protests that are increasingly crippling rail lines around the country, it would be a trying time for any government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have been lauded for his handling of the aftermath of the plane crash last month, but Canadians are apparently souring on his leadership as the problems pile up.
The latest Nanos Research survey, released this morning, puts the Conservatives in the lead nationally at 36 per cent support among respondents. Nanos has the Liberals at 33 per cent, the NDP at 15 per cent, and the Bloc and Greens with 7 per cent each.
“Although the Liberals have enjoyed a marginal advantage over the Conservatives since mid-November there has been an decline in support over the last few weeks in the Nanos tracking,” founder Nik Nanos said. He noted the decline has happened at the same time as the controversies in the news.
The hybrid phone-online survey talked to 1,000 Canadian adults over four weeks. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The latest survey pegs support for the parties pretty close to what they were on the Oct. 21 election night. The Conservatives won the popular vote thanks to huge margins of victory in Western provinces, while the Liberals won a number of close contests in Central Canada that put them over the top in seat count. But with a minority government, technically the Liberal government could fall at any time.
Since the election, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer resigned. The party is due to pick a new leader on June 27.
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Teck chose to back out of the Frontier oil sands mine when it became clear that being at the centre of a national debate about energy and environmental policy was not going to be a boon to the company, sources tell The Globe and Mail. The business case for the major project was also troubled because of low oil prices. Teck said earlier this month it would be net-zero on emissions by 2050, and sources say it also wasn’t clear how the resources company would achieve that.
Protests in solidarity with some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs continue to target rail lines, a day after Ontario Provincial Police closed the main blockade at Tyendinaga. A new blockade was set up in Hamilton, at an important nexus for freight and commuter lines.
As if there wasn’t enough energy news, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled the federal carbon price was unconstitutional. That ruling followed those of the Ontario and Saskatchewan courts, which found the carbon price was constitutional. It’ll be up to the Supreme Court to sort it out when it hears the case next month.
The New Democrats have tabled a bill to establish universal pharmacare. The Liberals have not said if they will support the bill, though they are promising to move somewhat in that direction.
The Liberals did table a bill to slightly open up access to physician-assisted deaths, by allowing for advance waivers and removing the need for the deaths to be “reasonably foreseeable.”
The government’s long-delayed plan to buy new fighter jets is being delayed more.
And the Public Sector Pension Investment Board is getting into real estate. However, it’s not clear if the Toronto development that the pension plan envisions will get the rezoning required to actually build housing.
Adam Radwanski (The Globe and Mail) on the Teck oil sands mine’s sudden rise to national prominence: “It can’t be said often enough: Hardly anybody was talking about the Liberals’ looming decision on whether to approve the Frontier mine a few months ago, even in Alberta. It wasn’t a big topic last summer when the project received a rather tentative approval recommendation from a federal-provincial panel, nor in the fall election campaign.”
Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on the politics of the decision: “A big chunk of Canada’s population will cheer at the prospect that future oil sands projects will be stymied. Another big chunk will feel climate-change policies must be set aside to let projects go ahead. Those are now political forces beyond the full control of politicians.”
Kelly Cryderman (The Globe and Mail) on the need for federal and provincial governments to work together: “Yes, the United Conservative Party campaigned on scrapping the carbon tax and protecting provincial jurisdiction. But even Jason Kenney has to know there is value to a consumption tax, and there are much bigger fish to fry – including incentivizing its emissions-heavy oil sands industry to innovate itself greener.”
Jason Markusoff (Maclean’s) on Teck’s thinking in withdrawing the Frontier mine: “The company, as it saved face, also saw this as a good opportunity to demand governments have actual big-picture oil sands development policies, and not just leave each project, one by one, to the whims of the varying beliefs of cabinet ministers who think one more straw will break Canada’s carbon back, or that this one is climate-affordable and economically necessary.”
Doug Cuthand (Saskatoon StarPhoenix) on fair dealing: “Canada is a nation that is built on the rule of law and common sense. Before a railway could be built across the new nation, the government had to make treaty with the First Nations of the plains. This process stopped in the mountains because the American settlers in British Columbia refused to see the need to deal fairly with the First Nations. Today Canada is paying the price and the politicians and those in power know it.”
Brenda Cossman (The Globe and Mail) on the Weinstein verdict: “Measuring the relative success of #MeToo through the Weinstein trial might be a little too myopic, even in terms of the law. Law has already had a big role to play. Men such as Mr. Weinstein and broadcasters Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose were fired, and none of these once-powerful men brought successful wrongful dismissal suits. Nor did any of them bring successful defamation suits against the media who reported on their sexual misconduct. Well before the criminal law got involved, there were many #MeToo consequences meted out through the law.”
Mediating the Politics of Abortion – The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “How Abortion Warps Our Politics” (Op-Ed, Feb. 6):
Gracy Olmstead is certainly right to argue that the issue of abortion should not be avoided by either party in the next election.
Donald Trump is not a notably religious president, and it is easy to believe that his embrace of the issue is rooted in political advantage. But for many, and not only Catholics, the issue has a distinctly religious dimension, one that should be recognized generally, and so made a part of the Democratic platform as well as the Republican.
That platform should acknowledge the many disadvantages under which women labor, in the workplace and elsewhere. It should also support those women, half of whom live in poverty, who have an abortion for financial reasons, and many of whom would prefer not to.
Gender issues are complex, which is why they are often simplified in political discourse. But this one must not be conceded to Republican virtue, and should be attended to by both parties.
John C. Hirsh
The writer teaches medieval literature at Georgetown University.
To the Editor:
I certainly understand how some people view abortion as murder and sincerely want to protect the innocent, voiceless unborn. What I don’t understand or respect is how some of these very same people are also the ones looking to cut food stamps, attack the Children’s Health Insurance Program, welfare and other safety-net programs that would help children in need.
Aren’t these “born” children deserving of the protection that the unborn should have? What about separating children from their parents at the border? Aren’t these children also innocent and in need of protection?
The level of hypocrisy among many pro-life people is truly stunning.
To the Editor:
Gracy Olmstead doesn’t offer a reasonable alternative to the abortion dilemma. Here’s one: Support the option to choose life but oppose the effort to change policy. Support challenged young mothers but oppose a policy that forces them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
Abortion is not simply an issue of money; it is an issue of choice: who gets to make one. Such a personal, private choice should reside with the woman.
Any abortion policy in America must protect the most vulnerable women. The greatest protection they could receive is simply the freedom to make their own choices.
To the Editor:
I appreciate the nuanced stance that Gracy Olmstead takes. She is right that we need to provide better health care, better wages and so on. But I don’t believe that Ms. Olmstead or the pro-life Democrats fully understand what anti-abortion means to most people.
My husband has been an ob-gyn in practice for more than 40 years. He has happily delivered thousands of healthy babies. That said, he talks of the devastation to the family when a child is born with severe, untreatable abnormalities. He knows the difficulties women have when they have had an unplanned pregnancy and spouses separate, each blaming the other as the cause.
He has seen the severity to the family of an additional mouth to feed. He has helped counsel people with known genetic issues that would result in a short, painful life for the child.
Each person and couple must decide how to handle all these issues. It is incumbent that the decision be left to the pregnant woman, her partner and her health care provider, not legislators, courts or a president who will not have to deal with the consequences.
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