May 27, 2010

Forget Genocide & Malnutrition - Sudan Fights Climate Change for the IPCC

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) currently has three vice-chairs. One is from Belgium, one is from South Korea, and the third is from Sudan.

Yes, Sudan. You know the country whose president (after seizing power via a military coup) has been indicted for alleged Darfur war crimes. The country whose government is accused of tampering with the election held just last month.

Here's what the
April 27, 2010 issue of The Economist had to say:

[President] Bashir’s henchmen rigged the election to favour their man long in advance of the polls themselves. Both of the main Western election-observer missions...have said that the elections did not meet “international standards”, citing widespread irregularities on top of the usual logistical problems in a country as poor as Sudan.

As well as the rigging itself, several opposition parties pulled out of the election just days before the polls opened in protest against the unfairness of the contest...Just to make sure of their win, party thugs indulged in a spot of intimidation at some of the polling centres.

Last November the United Nations issued a report accusing Sudan of violating an agreement on the deployment of peacekeepers in that country. According to a news account, after "the International Criminal Court indicted Bashir, Khartoum expelled 13 foreign aid organizations, which has made it extremely difficult for the United Nations and other agencies to provide humanitarian aid in Darfur." Millions of people in the region are thought to be dependent on foreign aid for survival.

Perhaps it's fitting that such a nation is now associated with the IPCC at its highest levels. It lends just the right aura of respectability, don't you think? And just so there's no confusion,
Ismail A.R. El Gizouli isn't acting as a private citizen. As a letter sent this week to prospective IPPC authors makes clear, only governments can belong to the IPCC.

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Let us understand a few facts. Sudan's per capita GDP is $2,300. That's compared to $7,100 in El Salvador, $13,100 in Botswana, and $46,500 in the US. Life expectancy is 53 years.

This is a desperately poor country cursed with abominable leadership. This is a government accused of practicing genocide and crimes against humanity. In the words of
Amnesty International, Sudan's president "allegedly ordered attacks on villages and camps, targeting groups on account of their ethnicity, while using rape, hunger and fear to create conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction."

Sudan is a nation, therefore, with more than its share of problems. Is it not bizarre that a country this poor and this troubled can nevertheless spare educated men such as El Gizouli to play key leadership roles in the IPCC? As the IPCC likes to remind us, those involved in its work receive no pay for their efforts. It's a voluntary gig.

Is it not also curious that a country in which children routinely die of infectious diseases associated with contaminated drinking water nonetheless has time and attention enough to become a signatory to
international environmental agreements involving biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, the ozone layer, and the protection of wetlands?

In September 2008, when the United Nations Human Rights Council sponsored a
three-day conference, other speakers addressed immediate concerns such as extreme poverty, the importance of good governance, the problem of corruption, and the need for health care.

Sudan's Ismail Elgizouli (different spelling, but same man) talked instead about climate change. His PowerPoint
presentation included a graph projecting agricultural yields 50 years hence (worrying about problems that might occur in half a century sounds like a priority to me), claimed malaria would increase due to climate change (this is vigorously disputed by malaria experts), and spent several slides attempting to link the conflict in Darfur to climate change.

Am I the only one who thinks it's twisted that a country in which half of females aged 15 and older can't read or write is devoting scarce resources to producing an 111-page report (
PDF here) titled "Sudan's First National Communications under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change"?

Every nation has limited money and attention. Government bureaucrats can only accomplish so many tasks in a given time frame. Does it make sense, in a country as afflicted as Sudan, that the minister of the environment provides "unceasing interest," that the minister of roads and bridges offers "valuable assistance" over an 18-month period, and that numerous other government ministries and bodies contribute personnel and assistance (p. 3) so that a lengthy report about climate change can get written?

El Gizouli was the project coordinator for that report. So this gentleman knows full well (because it says so on p. 25 of the PDF) that 71 percent of Sudan's population lives rurally and that only 10 percent of those people currently has access to safe drinking water.

He knows (because it says so on p. 26), that malnutrition is a serious problem in his country and that many of his fellow citizens are dying right now from preventable diseases. He also knows perfectly well that in order for this report - which discusses fanciful IPCC computer model projections for the year 2060 (p. 52 onward) - to get written, dozens of Sudan's best educated individuals had their attention distracted from real problems. The report's list of direct contributors is, after all, two full pages in length (p. 6-8).

It is often said that foreign aid frequently doesn't end up helping the most needy. It's said that corrupt elites within Third World countries find ways to divert those funds, that such money gets frittered away on pointless projects that make certain people feel important - while human misery remains unabated.

Does the global IPCC infrastructure encourage self-absorbed behaviour among these same elites?

Here's another thought. In early 2008 filmmaker Steven Spielberg resigned his post as an artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics because activists felt China wasn't protesting the behaviour of the Sudan government in Darfur loudly enough.

Two years later, where are those activists? Are they OK with the fight against climate change being spearheaded by the violent and unsavoury?


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