How you can play a part in tackling climate change – long after the Paris hype is over

By Stuart Capstick, Cardiff University and Adam Corner, Cardiff University

There’s a curious paradox at the heart of climate change. Despite scientists asserting the need for urgent action and the widespread acceptance of the reality of climate change by people worldwide, it is a subject that we tend not to talk about with friends, family or colleagues. Just 6% of the British public say they discuss climate change often, whereas approaching half (44%) do so at most rarely. Likewise, two-thirds of Americans rarely or never discuss the subject.

Perhaps we are too fearful of appearing worthy or hectoring to express our concerns, or maybe the issues seem too complex and overwhelming. Or we have grown tired of seeing polar bears floating on melting icebergs. Whatever the reasons for our reticence, however, it is hard to see how a global impetus for public engagement and action can be realised if it remains out of bounds for discussion by all but an interested few.

The Paris summit meant climate change was headline news for a week or two. Perhaps you did find yourself reflecting on the unusual weather or the fate of low-lying Pacific nations. But now that Christmas has come and gone, are you still worrying about these things? The discussion can’t tail off from here – after Paris, we need public conversation about climate change more than ever before. Whether you think the agreement was a resounding success or are troubled by its limitations, it is clear that the hard work still lies ahead.

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Syria agrees to food aid for starving rebel-held town, UN says

The New York Times reports: Amid mounting international dismay over reports of starvation deaths and images of skeletally thin children in the besieged, rebel-held Syrian town of Madaya, the Syrian government agreed Thursday to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

But no firm date was set, and senior United Nations officials said that while they welcomed the government’s decision to allow the aid to enter, 42,000 people in Madaya remained “at risk of further hunger and starvation, citing “credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave.”

The announcement came after Syrian opposition leaders issued a blistering statement declaring that silence and inaction from powerful nations and international organizations made them “complicit in starving civilians.” In recent days, Syrians had mounted a social media campaign sharing painful photos and videos: an 8-year-old boy who said he had not eaten for 10 days and longed for sweets; the shriveled body of a man who starved to death, his rib cage jutting out over a caved-in stomach.

Numerous residents of Madaya interviewed in recent days described living on grass and leaves, and seeing family members dying of hunger or killed by snipers as they tried to escape the town, which is surrounded by pro-government forces, primarily from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group that is allied with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. expects Assad to remain in power longer than Obama

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The Associated Press reports: The Obama administration’s best-case scenario for political transition in Syria does not foresee Bashar Assad stepping down as the country’s leader before March 2017, outlasting Barack Obama’s presidency by at least two months, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

An internal timeline prepared for U.S. officials dealing with the Syria crisis sets an unspecified date in March 2017 for Assad to “relinquish” his position as president and for his “inner circle” to depart. That would be more than five years after Obama first called for Assad to leave.

The timeline is based on a broad U.N.-endorsed plan that was initially laid out at an international conference in Vienna in November. Syria, according to that strategy, would hold elections for a new president and parliament in August 2017 — some 19 months from now. In the interim, Syria would be run by a transitional governing body. [Continue reading…]

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The ten most important developments in Syria in 2015

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Aron Lund writes at length on each of these developments:

10. The Death of Zahran Alloush.
9. The Failure of the Southern Storm Offensive.
8. Operation Decisive Quagmire.
7. Europe’s Syria Fatigue vs. Assad’s Viability
6. The Vienna Meeting, the ISSG, and Geneva III.
5. The Donald.
4. The Iran Deal.
3. The Continuing Structural Decay of the Syrian Government.
2. The American-Kurdish Alliance.
1. The Russian Intervention. [Continue reading…]

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Why Paris worked: A different approach to climate diplomacy

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David Victor writes: Why did Paris work when almost everything before it failed? The central answer lies in a new style of international cooperation, one that has enabled 195 countries to formally adopt an agreement that is likely to have a real impact on the emissions that cause climate change, as well as on how societies adapt to the big shifts in climate that are coming.

The contrast of Paris with the past could not be starker. The 1992 Rio framework to get serious climate diplomacy going was the right approach, but diplomats and climate activists steered that framework off the rails, and for 23 years — until now — they achieved very little. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was so riddled with flaws that it had essentially no impact on emissions. The 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen ended in acrimony and recriminations.

Now, instead of setting commitments through centralized bargaining, the Paris approach sets countries free to make their own commitments. These “nationally determined contributions” are a starting point for deeper cooperation that will unfold over time. Once the Paris agreement enters into force and is fully in motion, around the year 2020, each nation will be expected to adopt a new pledge every five years in tandem with periodic overall efforts to take stock of how the group of nations is doing. [Continue reading…]

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Could an end to Syria’s civil war be in sight?

By James L Gelvin, University of California, Los Angeles

If, as cliché has it, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, isn’t the recent flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at bringing about a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war insane?

None of the previous attempts to resolve the conflict among the warring parties through negotiations, such as the Geneva II talks in the beginning of 2014, has had a happy ending. And, in retrospect most observers would go so far as to say that they were doomed to failure.

But if, until now, there was zero chance for all principals, both external and internal, to work out a settlement, there currently exists a slender – a very slender – chance for success.

This is the straw at which Secretary of State John Kerry is grasping on the eve of talks in New York.

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New Jaish al-Islam chief says group will not pull out of peace talks

Middle East Eye reports: The new head of a key rebel group in Syria has denied that it is pulling out of peace talks after its previous leader was killed in an airstrike last week.

Zahran Alloush was head of Jaish al-Islam, and was killed in a strike east of Damascus that was launched on Friday by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, with conflicting reports indicating that the plane might have been Russian or Syrian.

Immediately after the killing the group announced that it would be pulling out of a negotiations council formed during an opposition conference in Riyadh earlier this month.

However, in his first public statements since taking over leadership of the group, Abu Hammam al-Buyedhani said Jaish al-Islam’s stance on negotiations “has not changed”.

“We will not adopt a position on our own without discussing it with our partners.”

The United Nations has set 25 January as a target date to begin peace talks on Syria. [Continue reading…]

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What’s the biggest reason to be hopeful about the climate at the end of 2015?

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Climate Central got answers from the following climate experts:
David Titley, director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk: Paris, of course, but more substantively for the U.S. domestic movement is the sense more and more different groups are seeing climate change as an issue within their domain: big business, insurance and finance, multiple major religions, the divestment movement, health, national security, movies, and the media, as well as the traditional science and environmental communities. Ultimately, we have to have enough people care enough to get Congress to engage constructively and move both policies and money to transition our energy systems to non-carbon based forms as quickly as possible. Huge task, but if we’re focused we can do this.

Richard Somerville, professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography: The biggest reason to be hopeful about the climate at the end of 2015 is the Paris Agreement reached in December 2015 at the COP21 negotiations in Paris. This agreement provides a roadmap to reducing the risk of dangerous climate change. However, when all is said and done, sometimes more is said than done, and the future of the climate system depends on the degree to which nations obey the letter and spirit of this roadmap and work to improve it.

Marshall Shepherd, director of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia: I am encouraged that the notion that climate change is a political issue is starting to erode. Key conservatives, major corporations, the military and faith communities recognize the challenges and opportunities. The recent Paris agreement is a bold step. It isn’t perfect, but it is an important signal.

Simon Donner, climate scientist at the University of British Columbia: We’ve thrown down the gauntlet. In Paris, the world agreed that greenhouse gas emissions must reach net zero during the second half of the century to avoid dangerous impacts from climate change. With global emissions peaking this year, and wind and solar prices at all time lows, there’s hope we can meet the ambition of Paris with action. [Continue reading…]

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Syria: Steps toward peace or deepening intractability?

The Brookings Doha Center (BDC) hosted a panel discussion on December 8, 2015, about the status of the Syrian conflict and the possibility of negotiating peace in Vienna next year.

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Russia endorsed and then immediately violated the UN resolution on Syria

An editorial in the Washington Post begins: The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Friday demanding that “all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects” as well as “any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.” Less than 48 hours later, Russian planes carried out at least six airstrikes on civilian targets in the northern Syrian provincial capital of Idlib, killing scores of people. It was a blatant violation of the resolution Russia had just voted for — and an indication of how Vladimir Putin actually regards the diplomatic deals on Syria the Obama administration has been pushing.

According to local sources cited by Reuters and The Post’s Hugh Naylor, the Russian bombing struck a marketplace in the heart of Idlib as well as a courthouse. Rescue workers told Reuters they had confirmed 43 dead and that dozens more bodies had yet to be identified or pulled from the rubble. While the town is controlled by a rebel alliance composed mostly of Islamist factions, it is nowhere near territory held by the Islamic State. And few would argue that a souq was not a civilian target.

Not just the Security Council’s ambassadors should be embarrassed by this outrage. There is also Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who just last Tuesday emerged from a meeting with Mr. Putin saying that the Russian ruler would “take on board” Mr. Kerry’s objections to airstrikes on Syrian targets outside Islamic State-held land. Perhaps Mr. Putin tossed the U.S. concerns back overboard once Mr. Kerry had left Moscow. More likely, he never had any intention of altering Russia’s policy of proclaiming war against the Islamic State while focusing its fire on the forces opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-ambassador: Syria negotiations going to go ‘nowhere’

The Hill reports: A respected former career diplomat who served under the Obama administration doubts the U.S. can achieve a political resolution of the war in Syria without taking more dramatic measures — particularly imposing no-fly zones.

Retired Amb. Ryan Crocker, who President Obama picked as ambassador to Afghanistan in 2011, predicts the negotiations will go “nowhere” as long as Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Russia, believes he will prevail in the five-year civil war.

“I have the highest regard for Secretary Kerry, but this effort at a political negotiation is going to go nowhere because the Russians, the Iranians and Bashar Al-Assad think they’re on a roll — why should they negotiate?” Crocker said earlier this week at a breakfast in Washington.
The Obama administration has long insisted that Assad must leave in order for there to be peace in Syria, but the president seemed to soften his tone Friday during his last press conference of the year.

In contrast to his 2011 declaration that “Assad must go,” the president said Friday that “I think that Assad is going to have to leave.” [Continue reading…]

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Optimism on Syria is misplaced. Here’s why

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Hassan Hassan writes: One of the common sentences repeatedly said by Syrians from the two main warring sides is that the solution to the conflict is attainable when the “big guys” decide to end it. Those big guys – at the UN Security Council – passed a unanimous decision on Friday calling for peace negotiations and a ceasefire to steer the country towards a political settlement.

“This council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support,” the US secretary of state, John Kerry, proclaimed after the successful vote.

Both inside and outside Syria, the resolution has raised hopes that this may indeed mark the start of a serious process to find a solution. And much can be achieved, at least in preventing the conflict from spiralling further out of control.

But the optimism seems to be misplaced, mostly because it is not based on any progress or attainable objectives in the foreseeable future. Instead of the usual focus on the difficulty of rallying the opposition around one vision to end the conflict, one aspect related to the regime can help illuminate the intractability of the process: the fate of Bashar Al Assad. [Continue reading…]

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The right path to a Syrian accord

Kenneth Roth writes: As Syrian civilians suffer ceaseless indiscriminate attacks, millions of their compatriots flee their homes, and the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) extends its killing beyond Syria and Iraq, the only good news coming out of the Middle East’s most violent conflict is that the contours of a deal to end it have become clearer. After talks in Vienna in late October, the main foreign actors in Syria’s civil war issued a declaration outlining the principles that could guide some of the conflict’s combatants toward a political settlement. The Vienna declaration calls for secular governance, the eventual defeat of ISIS “and other terrorist groups,” the maintenance of the country’s prewar borders, and the protection of minority groups and state institutions, among other provisions. Yet it fails to address a key issue: how the warring parties might build the trust needed to achieve such goals. As negotiators prepare for a new round of talks in New York in late December or early January, it is essential that they address trust building head-on, above all by demanding an end to the attacks on civilians that are driving Syrians apart and by sidelining the people who have been responsible for them. [Continue reading…]

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UN Security Council approves plan for Syrian peace process

The Washington Post reports: The U.N. ­Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process that is designed to end Syria’s civil war and to allow the international community to focus its attention more fully on defeating the Islamic State.

“This council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and to lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said of the initiative.

The resolution gave Security Council backing to a process that begins with negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents to establish a transitional government that will write a new constitution and hold elections, all within 18 months. It designated the United Nations to shepherd the process.

But the agreement made no mention of the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and it remains unclear to what extent the will of the international community can be imposed on him or rebel forces. [Continue reading…]

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What next after Paris? Time to listen to those most at risk from climate change

By James Dyke, University of Southampton

Pick any day over the past few weeks and the mainstream media would have told you that the COP21 Paris climate change negotiations were crucial and productive, an irrelevant sideshow, doomed to failure, or even humanity’s last ditch attempt to avoid climate catastrophe.

Dig a little deeper into the internet and you will discover that such United Nations events are in fact an attempt to establish a world government, replete with eye-watering taxes.

Conspiracy theories aside, what actually happened in Paris is that humans came up with an agreed plan to put a brake on climate change. We won’t reverse global warming but we should slow it down.

If we don’t come to our collective senses and rapidly reduce carbon emissions, then we will have to revert to drastic geoengineering to rein in further warming. There is no guarantee that such climate brakes will work. If they fail, our civilisation will be on a collision course with a hotter planet.

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