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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 19th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

Instead of having a signed “deal” at Copenhagen, now it seems that the leaders will be happy with a compilation of National promises. By coincidence, the UN Think Tank of UNU hosted today a panel – “PUBLIC POLICY: FROM NATIONAL TO GLOBAL” – it could not have been at a better time – and trust me – it was excellent. For fun, an NGO called Sustainability had Shell Oil Company over to the UN for lunch.

Not all is useless at the UN – just see what thinking people can come up with.

The 150 minutes event, in the basement of the UN building, at the United Nation University – the New York Office – was the second session of a Global Public Policy Working Group that aims to explore how to make public policy become more of a reality at the global level. This second session tried to find philosophical answers to what it means to have public policy at a global level – what are the conceptual, methodological, intellectual, and political challenges to this concept in an institution that caters to sovereign Nations. How do these challenges play out in various areas, such as security, development, and environment? That is really fascinating – specially in these days when we see before our eyes how difficult it is to many National governments to see beyond the length of their noses when trying to tackle the climate change issue. I saw some UN officials, some members of country representations, many NGOs, many young students, and just one other journalist in the room.

The panel was chaired by Dr. Jean-Marc Coicaud, the Director of UNU – Office in New York, and included Professor Andrew Hurrell of the Oxford University, Professor Thomas Pogge of the Yale University, and Dr. Yomo Kwame Sundaram from Malaysia, who was on many faculties in the US and UK and is now UN Assistant SG for Economic Development at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and member of several panels that look at reforms. At the end there were quite a few questions from the floor.

Policy is what governments do – directly or through agents – this in order to benefit their own citizens. When talking at the global level we have to look at the word – agents – in order to find a way to go around the Sovereignty problem. The Public aspect must involve information, fairness and equality.
The domestic examples are the Public Goods – clean water, electricity, telephone service, education, basic medical care.

Dr. Sundaram reminded us that the San Francisco Conference in 1944, when it started, there was no international organization and Churchill would have preferred a set of bi-lateral agreements. It was Roosevelt who wanted something new and better then the League of Nations. In 1945 with the outcome, the league of Nation was declared dead and multilateralism was born. Then the Marshall plan and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development made allowance for the learning experience why the post WWI experience led to an immediate new resort to war. So – I guess – if you do not want troubles to hit your own citizens, you are wise to help the other side solve its problems also.

From here Dr. Sundaram moved to climate change and mentioned that there were two propositions – one that there be a market for carbon emissions but the Financial Times and the Economist saw immediately that it will not work, and the other – a Global Taxation – but that comes with a huge problem – the increase of the cost of energy. Both suggestions did not as such extend the solution to the need for development. His suggestion is “front loading” – that is pushing now for huge investments – expenditures. If poor countries cannot afford this it is also not good. What he sees is the creation of a Renewable Energy Infrastructure to be created by this Global Development effort.

He sees the current crisis as the chance to kill three birds in one. The current crisis was fueled with cheap credit and we have a tremendous overcapacity and thus no interest in private investment. This is the economic crisis. To get out of this through public spending, do it in one move by developing renewable energy and tackling thus all three problems in one move – the climate change issue – the development issue and the current economic problem.

When the Q&A time came I said that this panel was at the most opportune time as right these days, when the leaders of the UN recognized defeat of their attempt to bring to Copenhagen a Global agreement for all Nations to “seal,” now the talk is to save the event by creating simply a compilation of promises from the individual nations. Dr. Sundaram said that having such compilations is actually a positive element because this compilation can then be used to come up later with a clear agreement, but in this case he is not happy with the outcome – this because it will set a lower bar  to what we already had before. He elaborated about the 450 ppm and the 2 degree warming we had accepted  earlier, and that we know now that those figures are too high – we should go to 350 and 1.5 degrees instead – but we will not find these figures in the compilation and at best the older figures will be kept in the statements. Further, we have now positive changes in the governments of the US, Japan, and Australia, and it seemed possible to go for more then just this compilation. In fact, climate change in the US fell behind the attempt to have a health care program and will be delayed further because of the reorganization of financial regulation that will also get preference.

To another question – “who is the global public?” Prof. Hurrell said that there was the idea of G2 but it creates structural problems. He does not believe in top-down. he rather believes in changing elites among Nations and inside the Nations – with India, China, and Brazil, and their elites will be taken on board. If there is political redistribution it will be in the direction of the emerging powers and their elites. This might open up some normative goals in areas of change. First change will be in Western dominance. The political pressure will be of who speaks to the south? Intellectually, Institutionally, Economically – this is indeed a moment of change.

Asked about Human Rights, Prof. Pogge pointed at the fact that now the poor countries that gain from development polarize internally and this is not a solution for the population at large. The present crisis was for the rich – so there is a chance to create a more unified set of rules. The needs are a policy range of 25 years rather then the 2-3 years that politicians take now as the range of their personal goals.

He also said that Carbon Tax is more solid then the Tobin Tax. People will drive less and save energy – you can then put the money in climate change projects or help on imports. If it causes the poor to have to pay more for energy – let them pay the higher prices and return to them the money in a different way.

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As my reporting conveys, I was enthusiastic about above UNU event, but my daily amount of good feeling ended of sorts when I discovered in that UN basement that an event in the UN basement that was billed, by an entity that calls itself NGO Sustainability, as a meeting with the Ambassador from Kazakhstan, turned out to be actually an event with old Shell Oil Co.

The speaker was Elizabeth “Libby” Cheney, Vice President – Corporate Support of Shell Exploration & Production – to those that might be inclined to ask – she said that she is not related to that other Vice President Cheney.
The star was Ambassador Mrs. Byrganym Altimova who said a few good words about her country – focusing mainly on its natural resources – and left then in her seat another gentleman from her mission. Pity that the Ambassador, a woman, did not mention that, coincidentally, the same day, another Kazakhstan woman became chair for 3 years of the Asia-Pacific Environmental Journaists’ Association hedquartered in Colombo, Sri Lanka (see our posting).

The Shell Oil presentation was well garnished with flowers – oil, gas, LNG, H2 and other renewables. The list included Natural Gas and this was explained as the bridge fuel that emits less CO2. Nothing wrong with that we also contended years ago that NG should be allowed as a bridge fuel – but we said bridge from petroleum to renewable biogas. Those days Shell Oil like all other oil companies wanted no part of this – now they do – but I still did not hear the word biogas.

Further, I heard windmills – though we learned that after they connected 450,000 homes to Wind Mill Power, they stopped increasing the business and are rethinking the project – that is because they look for newer technology. Someone from the audience suggested that the subsidies ended and the effort was because of the harvesting of the subsidies. H2 is actually under study, but luckily nuclear is not. For reasons unclear neither geothermal nor wave power or any other ocean technology is under consideration – several people gasped and asked why does a company that is specialist in drilling holes under water not look into what would come natural to them?

We were shown that the company developed a 3A – AAA – triangle that stands for: AVAILABLE, ACCESSIBLE, ACCEPTABLE – this for its building-reserves system. The other stuff is for the development of an “alternative business.”

Biofuels – read ethanol – came in as a natural she said. But my memory tells me that just 25 years ago they did not want part of ethanol in their tank – this at the time that people were saying that ethanol was the best octane enhancer to unleaded gasoline. So, thanks to the public opinion in the UK,  the mother company did actually change religion and the US daughter company was clever at grabbing the local subsidies for US corn ethanol.
Today Shell Oil has relationships with universities and the IOGEN company, to study cellulose ethanol. That subject is under study for 30 years to my knowledge but nothing serious is yet on the market – just many PhDs were obtained working on this. We sure believe that it will be done someday – but we know it will be done by an IPO working on it in high secret – then sold to the Chinese for development.

The company has also some contacts of making oil from sea algae that grow very fast – they also know with catalysis to make gasoline-like liquids directly from cellulose.

The old rigs – that is also a treasure to be used environmentally – they are now the base for rebuilding coral reefs in areas destroyed by many causes – not just oil drilling.

To who cannot guess – actually we think that Shell and BP (the other oil company with strong US presence and that is UK headquartered) are our favorites among the oil companies – so we appreciate the fact that Roma Y. Stibravy saw to it that they get a UN hearing. In fact, it was a past CEO of Royal Dutch – Shell Oil Co. that was instrumental in organizing the UN Global Compact, that under UNSG Kofi Annan was formed to bring big corporations into social and environmental  workings of the UN. Our website did follow their activities with positive interest – we even found some genuine feelings on part of the Shell group even though the effort was clearly promoted by plain Public Relations goals.

After some softballs, came also good questions from the three journalists present. Matthew Russell Lee from Inner City Press had to know what Shell did in Nigeria and drove the lady to say that she did not do it. Others wanted to know about “Peak Oil” as she was all roses about production at least to the end of the century. I felt I had to remind her that King Hubbert was the science head of Shell Oil and he was the one to invent the Peak Oil concept. He was fired, and I wanted to know if today someone would say something different from what she presented – he would be fired also? The third journalist present was from the ABC network. Present was also a group of graduate students in International Affairs from Columbia Universlty – clad in black – like future US diplomats. They also asked questions.

OK, Shell has now “Sustainability Integrators” to learn from the Niger Delta experience. Aha! people in Niger are criminals & terrorists – People in Nigeria are family to us – those are the employees of Shell. We had to shut down production. Matthew wanted to know about local opposition and was told that if it is not Shell it is the government.

Next Question – What is Shell going to do in the Polar bears area of Alaska?

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