One unadvertised consequence of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption will be a very slight delay in global climate change. The much bigger eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 threw up a cloud of ash that cut sunlight reaching the Earth by 1 per cent, produced half a decade of exceptionally cold winters worldwide and had a cooling effect on the oceans that was still apparent a century later.
All of which underlines that there are things other than reducing greenhouse gas emissions that we can do to combat the planet’s warming. Such techniques go under the collective name of geoengineering. Possibilities range from the uncontentious (growing more trees) through the implausibly difficult (painting the roofs of all buildings on the planet white or covering the deserts with aluminium foil) to the frankly futuristic (installing mirrors in space to reflect away sunlight).… Seguir leyendo »
Over breakfast yesterday the nation enjoyed the leaked memo from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that suggested that during his forthcoming visit to the UK the Pope might open an abortion clinic, bless a gay marriage or lend his name to a line of contraceptives. There has been outrage in the stuffier newspapers and a full apology to the Vatican. What is going on when even that chief priest of protocol and propriety, the FCO, can slip in this way?
Nothing new. There is a long and splendid tradition of Foreign Office humour. This is unsurprising in an institution full of bright and (at least when they start) irreverent young people, rigorously constrained in what they can do and say publicly, and in constant contact with those most marvellous subjects for satire and mockery — senior politicians.… Seguir leyendo »
Sometime towards the end of the Copenhagen climate conference, Michael Zammit Cutajar, a Maltese diplomat and conference chairman, will gather 20 or so people into a back room of the Bella Conference Centre for an all-night session (or two) to do the deal. All the noise and the posturing, the 20,000 delegates, the lobbyists, the dramatic green demonstrators, the 180-page legal negotiating text, will be shut outside.
Those 20 people — representatives of the world’s key climate-change governments — will have in front of them perhaps a ten-page text. They will agree, or not, on greenhouse gas emissions limits for developed countries, financial assistance for developing countries and emissions constraints that developing countries are willing to take on in exchange for that assistance.… Seguir leyendo »
In a few days time we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; the collapse of a system, communism, which enslaved and slaughtered millions; the launching point for a new era of democracy and prosperity; a moment for unambiguous celebration everywhere.
Except Russia. It was, of course, Russia that inaugurated this momentous transformation (Mikhail Gorbachev really earned his Nobel Peace Prize). But the outcome, for Russians, was not the “end of history” but a decade of economic chaos and political collapse.
The demise of the “outer empire” with the fall of the wall was swiftly followed by that of the “inner empire” with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.… Seguir leyendo »
The era of vigorous democracy promotion is apparently over. The “alliance of democracies” advocated by John McCain died with his bid for the US presidency. The “community of democracies” established at the UN by George Bush (with grudging EU support) is broken-backed. The problems we have run into fostering democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a vastly diminished appetite (and capacity) for similar exercises.
In Britain, Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy is a distant memory. And President Obama seems intent on doing pragmatic business with all nations — China, Russia and Iran included — quite independently of their domestic political arrangements.… Seguir leyendo »