World Review: COP26, sleaze, Africa at war and Covid

COP26 negotiators have as of this writing (Friday) entered the final stages of a draft agreement. It’s not great news for Planet Earth. So far, the gathered pledges will reduce temperature rises from the current 2.5 degree level to 2.4 degrees centigrade—well short of the 1.5 degree limit which climatologists say is the maximum the planet can bear to avoid worldwide environmental disaster. There are, however, some streaks of silver in this dark cloud. One is that the negotiators have agreed to meet in Egypt next year in a bid to make further progress. Originally it was going be another five year gap. There has also been agreement to stop deforestation. Coal has for the first time been singled for as a main polluter and many countries have promised to end its production and use. Although the US and China, the two biggest users, are dragging their feet.

There has also been a greater recognition from developed countries that they have to further increase their aid to the developing world to finance green technology and deal with the impact of climate change. As part of this financial help, the developed world’s private sector is becoming more involved as is the World Bank. Also interesting is a bilateral agreement between the two biggest carbon emission emitters—China and the US—to work together on climate problems. This was a win for the Biden Administration which was keen to separate the climate issue from wider Sino-American relations. Not such good news is that the agreement (as of this writing) is long on promises and short on any mechanisms to enforce them. Also worrying is the fact the oil producing countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Russia, have managed to keep oil and natural gas out of the communique. But most worrying part of the final document is the get-out phrase that all pledges will “take into account different national circumstances.”

Britain’s Boris Johnson is doing his level best to move the UK as quickly as possible to a de facto presidential system of government.  He is not the first to do so, the shift started in earnest with Margaret Thatcher and has been pursued in different degrees by each of her successors. But Boris has lifted the aspiration to new heights. Since 1689 Parliament—not the monarch and not any minister—has been the ultimate political power. The Prime Minister derives his power from the support of the majority of parliament.  Johnson has repeatedly shown nothing but contempt for parliament, its rules, regulations and traditions. He attempted and failed to pro-rogue the legislature in an attempt to push through his Brexit deal. He effectively dismissed 21 Tory anti-Brexit MPs. After the 2019 election he refused to accept report of the Cabinet Office that Home Secretary and close ally Priti Patel was guilty of bullying officials in three government departments in which she served and faced down parliamentary outrage after his chief adviser Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules (he sacked him later over other issues). But the latest issue has opened a can of worms of general sleaze and corruption in Conservative Party ranks.

Conservative Brexiteer MP and former minister Owen Paterson was found by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have breached lobbying rules. He was due to be suspended by a vote in the House of Commons when Boris attempted to at the last minute change the rules to protect his friend and supporter. An outraged parliament forced a U-turn but Johnson again showed his contempt for the chamber by failing to turn up for the emergency debate that followed. The Paterson case has morphed into charges of general corruption and sleaze in Conservative Party ranks which, so far, Johnson has simply ignored. The Prime Minister’s contempt is not limited to parliament. His disdain for international law is clearly demonstrated by his attempt to jettison the Northern Ireland Protocol which he negotiated. British domestic law is also under attack. In the Downing Street pipeline are plans to strip the Electoral Commission of some of its powers; change court rulings which the government thinks wrong and tighten rules governing judicial review of public bodies. In the nineteenth century Britain led the world in fighting corruption. In 1883 it passed the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act and in 1889 the Corrupt Practices Act. But in recent years it has been slipping down Transparency International’s global corruption index.

The war in Ethiopia is spreading to the rest of the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia comprises a key element of the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. Known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It keeps Islamic Jihadist group Al Shabaab at bay and the airport and seaports open. Recently Ethiopian peacekeepers from rival ethnic groups attacked each other. While that was happening the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front started its march on Addis Ababa. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed withdrew thousands of peacekeepers in Somalia to protect the capital, adding to the thousands he withdrew at the start of the conflict a year ago. He has also started rounding up ethnic Tigrayans outside the province; arrested UN aid workers and tightened the blockade around Tigray, thus reducing the flow of medicines and food into the embattled province and insuring a horrific famine. As for Somalia, Al Shabaab, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is expected to use the departure of Ethiopian troops to revive and extend its operations throughout the strategic Horn of Africa.

Europe, according to the WHO, is again at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the World Health Organisation, is predicting another 500,000 deaths by February. The cause is that too many thought that the introduction of the vaccines spelled the end of Covid-19. They reopened the economy, filled football stadiums, returned to the office, threw away their masks and stopped social distancing. The problem is that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective and too many are refusing to take it. The result is that Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia and Albania have reported over 9,000 new cases per million in a fortnight. Not far behind with 6,000 cases per million are Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Russia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro. Germany and Poland have reported 4,500 new cases per million in a fortnight while France, Spain, Italy and Sweden are managing to keep under 3,000 new cases but will probably catch up. The US is not doing much better. Covid deaths have smashed through the 675,000 deaths record set by the 1918 Spanish flu to reach 760,000. Worldwide, more than five million have died. With Covid, diminishing energy supplies, worldwide transport bottlenecks, it looks like another tough Christmas.

* Tom Arms is the Foreign Editor of Liberal Democratic Voice. His book “America Made in Britain” has recently been published by Amberley Books. He is also the author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War.”