The Week in Multilateralism
Friday, November 5, 2021
Forests and Trees: Developments at the COP
The speeches from national leaders are done and the nitty gritty negotiations are underway at the international climate change conference. While the main task of negotiating new national emission reductions remains, some deliverables have already appeared. More than a hundred countries struck a deal to curb deforestation by 2030. And several dozen governments finalized a separate pledge aimed at phasing out coal use. The lead UK negotiator declared "[t]oday I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight," but several of the largest coal users declined to join the agreement. UN special envoy Mark Carney announced new commitments by major financial institutions to achieve “net-zero.” In other news, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, faced skepticism (and some laughter) when he tried to make the case for nuclear power as part of the climate solution.
Litigating Climate Change
While negotiators toil over the climate in Glasgow, there are signs that Hamburg, Germany, could have its own role to play. Hamburg is home to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and several small island nations want to use maritime law as a lever to tackle climate change. Specifically, the idea is to seek an advisory opinion from ITLOS on responsibility for climate change and resulting sea level rise. This week, Antigua and Barbuda joined with Tuvalu to seek a ruling from the tribunal. Via the New York Times account:
As a first step, the islands will ask the tribunal judges whether it is possible to claim damages from countries emitting greenhouse gases that warm and change the oceans. The islands hope that the judges will rule on whether excessive greenhouse gases are pollutants covered under the convention, a decision that could be groundbreaking because it could pave the way for lawsuits before the tribunal or other international courts.
Payam Akhavan, a lawyer representing both Antigua and Barbuda and Tuvalu, said such a ruling “could be a game-changer. The principle is that the polluter pays.”
For an earlier analysis of some of the complexities surrounding a possible tribunal role on climate change, see this post by Carlos A. Cruz Carrillo.
Akhavan, incidentally, is no stranger to pathbreaking work with international tribunals. He was involved when Uganda approached the International Criminal Court about investigating crimes on its territory, an idea that eventually produced the ICC’s first full investigation.
Open and Close: The ICC Prosecutor in South America
The new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, has wrapped up a consequential trip to South America. In Colombia, he announced the closure of the long-running “preliminary examination” of alleged crimes in that country. In neighboring Venezuela, however, Khan announced the opening of a new investigation into possible crimes, including many said to have been committed by the government of Nicolas Maduro. Notably, Khan met several times with Maduro during the trip and signed a memorandum enabling cooperation between the Venezuelan authorities and the prosecutor’s office. Via the Washington Post account:
Maduro said that he respected the prosector’s decision and would cooperate but that he disagreed with the prosecutor’s criteria for opening a probe. “Venezuelan doors are open because we want the truth, we want justice, and we want to get better,” he said.
The memorandum between the president and the prosecutor declared that Venezuela would cooperate with the prosecutor but emphasized the importance of national investigations. Under the “complementarity” doctrine, the ICC is supposed to stand aside if national courts are conducting legitimate investigations.
But past ICC experience suggests that the cooperation and cordiality may soon fade. In both Sudan and Kenya, there were early and often polite meetings between government and prosecution officials. But as the investigations moved forward, collaboration broke down. Sudan ultimately barred ICC officials from investigating on its territory, and Kenyan officials worked to undermine the court’s access to witnesses and other necessary evidence.
As political turmoil continues in Bosnia, the UN Security Council reauthorized a European Union-led mission in that country. Usually routine, the mandate extension became complicated as tensions ratcheted up between Russia and Western powers about international supervision of Bosnia. (Meanwhile, Bosnia’s foreign minister said that the country’s instability demands quick movement toward EU and NATO membership.)
New ratifications mean that the 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will enter into force in January. The trade deal includes China, Japan, and Korea, but not the United States.
Political turmoil is slowing up IMF consideration of new financing for Ethiopia and Sudan.
Cambodia takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN—and faces tough questions about Myanmar and the South China Sea.
Amidst calls for greater gender balance, the UN General Assembly and the Security Council are selecting new judges for the International Court of Justice.
In a tough interview, former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened up about her service in a Gambian government accused of severe human rights abuses.
“Like flying in heavy clouds:” the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the organization cannot effectively monitor nuclear activities in Iran.
Somalia has declared an official with the African Union to be persona non grata. In cooperation with the United Nations, the African Union has managed a peacekeeping operation in the country for more than a decade.
Mexico wants the UN Security Council to pay attention to the illicit traffic in small arms.
According to a former NATO chief, Vladimir Putin at one point wanted Russia to join the alliance, but he didn’t want to wait in line.
New and Notable:
Eugene Chen, a veteran of the United Nations bureaucracy, has authored a new paper on the financing of the United Nations peacebuilding operations:
[T]he Secretary-General called for a “quantum leap” in support of peacebuilding financing, and presented several proposals to increase the availability of predictable and sustainable funding, including through the Peacebuilding Fund, to support settings with multidimensional peacekeeping operations in anticipation of and during transition processes. However, this leap has yet to materialize.
In the paper, Chen reviews several options for making UN funding more consistent and sustainable.