Best teaching tool I have seen on climate change in a while… check it out.

I am going to Amazon to buy the book.

Hat Tip: Dot Earth

In case, you haven’t had a chance to watch this…

Understanding Big Numbers

April 29, 2009

Megan McArdle posted this great YouTube video, helping those of us with numerically challenged brains visualize some of these massive spending numbers we have been bombarded with of late.  Enjoy.

I was reminded of our many discussions about why it is in a state’s self interest to adhere to the human security road map when reading this blog post by Dan Drezner discussing the role of global governance in responding to the Swine Flu outbreak.  In it, he quotes John Ikenberry’s defense of the need for global collective action by states.

National governments need to strengthen their capacities to monitor and respond. International capacities – at least the sorts that I propose – are meant to reinforce and assist national governments. This international capacity is particularly important in cases where nations have weak capacities to respond on their own or where coordinated action is the only way to tackle the threat. When it comes to transnational threats like health pandemics, everyone everywhere is vulnerable to the weakest link (i.e. weakest nation) in the system, and so no nation can be left behind.

Human security calls upon states to recognize and act upon this need for global cooperative endeavors to protect and enhance individual security in our most vulnerable communities around the world.  Again, not simply because we should do the right thing by helping those in need, but also because it will serve to enhance our shared collective capacity and as Ikenberry emphasizes, “states need collective capacities so they can make good on their own national obligations to respond.”

That said, as one commenter to Dresner’s blog points out, in our current global community of nations states, this is easier said then done.

There’s a natural tension here between a caste of international mandarins, largely unaccountable, who are supposed to put global concerns over their individual national ones, and the basic accountability that comes from representative national governments.  In the first case, it’s questionable whether international mandarins would adhere to the rules during a true crisis if it meant sacrificing their nation’s vital interests. In the latter case, the accountability that comes from representative governments is supposed to insure that government puts the good of the individual nation’s people above others… and it becomes difficult for these governments to mandate sacrifices, because they can then be replaced through the ballot.

While I acknowledge these tensions, I don’t think they have proven or will prove to be insurmountable obstacles to effective global cooperation. Why?  Because publics around the world recognize their futures will be in part determined by the effectiveness of our global governance architecture — the failure of it in the case of the global financial crisis, the success of it (we like the WHO in HK) in grappling with health pandemics.   People will select their political leaders based on that leader’s abilities to effectively manage and respond to these global realities.  A recent example — the US public elected Obama, despite his clear message of shared sacrifice.


Dear Fellow Human Security Classmates —

I recently took advantaged of my Hong Kong address to jump on a plane and visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.  Our fellow Human Security student David Cafferty calls it -and not without reason- “the Disneyland of IR”. Indeed, I bought more souvenirs there than I’ve ever bought anywhere else and I found it to be a fascinating place. I have studied the DMZ in different classes, but the chance to visit really opened my eyes, especially with regard to the AP-Landmine treaty.

Being in South Korea is actually an amazing opportunity to talk to people. What struck me as intriguing was that everyone assumed that reunification will happen. It does not even seem to be an issue there. They consider themselves as one nation that ‘should’ be one country.  Of course, no South Korean I’ve met wanted the regime of Pyongyang to be in charge. Seoul is about 60 Km from the DMZ and every South Korean must spend two years in the army after high school, though they can postpone it until they finish college (which is a nice incentive to study!).  You can see a lot of soldiers around in the city. This increases one’s awareness of what the country goes through.

One of the many ironic parts about the DMZ is that South Koreans are not allowed to enter without a month-long background check. When talking to Mr L, among many other South Koreans, he gave me the standard answer to my question about visiting the DMZ — “I don’t want to go. There is nothing there for me. It’s an attraction for tourists.”   Maybe so, but even though they have every gift shop I can think of and even a roller coaster (no kidding!), it sure as hell doesn’t feel like a tourist attraction.

The Joint Security Area is where the UN building is located right on top of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which is the centre line of the DMZ, 2 Km from each side of the border. When you enter the DMZ you are escorted by two soldiers in a UN bus. This is after having signed an agreement stating that it is the ‘entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action’ is possible. Besides the legal mumbo jumbo that scares tourists in order to legally cover the UN’s back, it remains a serious threat and the 2 South Korean elite guards inside the joint conference room standing in a “relaxed” Taekwondo position are not there to amuse tourists. When talking to an American soldier, he explained that North Koreans don’t kid around and that some abuse often goes on when US or South Korean military hold a meeting in the room. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 17th of November 1954 over 50 Americans and over 500 South Koreans have died due to hostile North Korean action.

One of the main parts of the visit was going to what is called the 3rd tunnel. As it turns out, North Korea has tried to dig over 20 tunnels under the DMZ in order to enter South Korea. Sadly enough South Korea has only found 4 of them and mainly through the tips given by North Korean dissidents. It is suspected that this is how 31 elite soldiers from NK managed to get as far as the blue house [residence of the head of government] in the 90s in order to try to assassinate the president. [correction: even though I was told the tunnel was how these elite forces got in it appears a submarine might have been their way of entry].

When we talk about AP-landmines, we all think of some poor African kid who’s lost his leg. This is indeed a serious problem and no civilian should live under that fear. However, the DMZ is a 4 Km wide and is spread with 2 million landmines.  As it turns out the demilitarized zone is ironically the most militarized place on Earth and wisely so.  When one considers that North Korea has killed a couple of soldiers in the DMZ in the 1976 –the Panmunjom Axe Murder- and has tried to dig so many tunnels,  one is quite happy to know there are a couple million landmines between the two. The landmines have a function in this part of the world, they are not reminiscent from the Cold War left there by mistake.

It may not be surprising that countries like Canada and Sweden, that don’t need landmines, are quick to ban landmines from the face of the earth. However, when those landmines form a key barrier keeping at bay a totalitarian regime where each man spends about 10 years in the army and every women about 4, one is not so keen on wanting to ban them. Whether we like it or not those landmines have a role to play in that part of the world and they are not there out of a whim. If one thing has been made clear, it is that Kim Jong-il is not one for nuclear dissuasion and one can only wonder what he would have done if it were not for these landmines. For my part, I was quite happy to have them between me and them. Other parts of the world aside, on the Korean Peninsula, Landmines serve to protect real people from a real threat.

Paul-François Polidori

China & UN Peacekeeping

April 17, 2009

The International Crisis Group just published this report on China’s expanding role in UN peacekeeping operations.

Demand for blue helmets far outpaces supply, and shows no sign of abating. Concurrent to the sharp increase in peacekeeping missions since the end of the Cold War, Western countries have been withdrawing or reducing their commitments. While continuing to provide robust financial support to UN peacekeeping, they send far fewer personnel. Although China’s financial support for peacekeeping remains modest, it is now the second largest provider of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the UNSC. While it does not currently provide combat troops, its provision of civilian police, military observers, engineering battalions and medical units fills a key gap and is important to the viability and success of UN peacekeeping operations.

China’s growing peacekeeping role is not really news, but the ICG has provided balanced coverage of this role with this report.  Worth the read.


Global warming is mostly due to human-induced actions and it’s been going on for about 1300 years now. At this point, it’s more than the extinction of species and low quality crops, it’s accompanying national tension over water supply and serious health-related impacts. Are the words prevention or mitigation too late to be used at this stage of global warming?

To answer this question, it is interesting to look at how individual nations are coping. As examples, we wanted to look at the climate change situation in our own countries — Mexico and South Korea.

The impact of climate change on South Korea can be seen in a variety of ways. Chungcheong Province has suffered from red tides, exacerbated by climate change, which not only reduce the amount of freshwater, but also kills fish and harms beach-goers. Climate change is also contributing to increasing numbers of heat waves which are especially damaging to people with heart, respiratory disease, diabetes and high blood pressure and the number of malaria patients has increased 400 times within 3 years.

South Korea is also one of the biggest victims of the ‘Asian brown haze.’ It is mentioned as a semi-permanent feature in Dupont’s study on the strategic impact of climate change, but I can say for sure that it has become a permanent phenomenon. Dust from China flies over to Korea (usually Seoul) and flies around for 2~3 days, and within this period, cars are covered in dust as if they haven’t been used for 10 years, and if it were to rain, it would be more like raining mud.

Finally, Korea has been known for its 4 distinct seasons, but this has become an old story now. Spring and fall has vanished for about two years now. Temperature has risen from an average of -5~2 degrees to 18~20 degrees in just two days. Korean research reports have shown that even if countries fully engage in reducing greenhouse gas emission, temperature will continue to rise on an average of 2 degrees each year and that the only way to cope with the abnormal temperature change is to get used to it.

The South Korean government, in order to act against global warming, has created an environmental group call the ‘Korea Green Foundation.’ Yet, many in South Korea are still unaware of the seriousness of global warming and are blaming China for the yellow dust phenomenon.

In the case of Mexico, the most vulnerable regions are the Central and Lerma-Chapala-Santiago Basin because the predicted increase in temperature coupled with a decrease in rainfall could cause severe water supply shortages in those regions. Northern areas and regions with large populations are vulnerable to droughts and desertification, while the Tabasco State Coast is supposed to be the most vulnerable to sea level changes. Northern and Central regions are also vulnerable in agricultural sector because the different temperature and precipitation changes; and finally forests are the most vulnerable ecosystems throughout the country.

SEMARNAT (the Mexican government branch that is in charge of taking care of environmental and natural resources) will seek to promote President Felipe Calderon’s proposal to create a Green Fund to finance green-house gas reduction projects. Also, several movements by national organizations to control vehicle pollution by working to improve car maintenance have been launched. Like South Korea, Mexico has no mitigation targets under Kyoto, but has agreed to play a more active role in the post Kyoto world since it believes that “Latin America and the Caribbean have the resources and leadership to be part of the global solution required to lead the world towards development with low carbon emission”

Human security in both countries has been threatened by extreme weather events linked to climate change. In Mexico, Wilma (2005) wrecked havoc with more than 30 dead and with economic damages of 29 million dollars approximately. In South Korea, an East Asian heat wave in 1994 affected over 1000 people in the region. The Shanshan Typhoon (2006) had more than 100 mm of rain and knocked out electricity to about four thousand homes in southeastern of South Korea.

When we look at these two countries, both of whom rank high on the human development index, yet neither of whom have implemented any serious greenhouse gas mitigation programs to date, we wonder whether it is too late to use the term ‘prevention’? Is it even possible to clean up after this mess?

Patty (Mexico) and Jenna (South Korea)


“The Strategic Implications of Climate Change,” Alan Dupont News

“If we behave as if its too late, then our prophecy is bound to come true” George Monbiot
EPA. Climate change. Retrieved on April 2nd from:

Conde, Cecilia; Gay, Carlos. “Impacts of Climate Change and Climate Variability in Mexico” (September-October 1999) Retrieved on April 2nd, 2009 from:

Mexico’s Involvement in Efforts to Combat Climate Change (Monday, December 15, 2008) Retrieved on April 2nd from: and

Red tide spreads over west coast (July27, 2006) Retrieved on April 2nd from: