Monday, 19 April 2010

What's Going on in Cancún?

Image by Tbass Effendi

Climate change conferences didn't end in Copenhagen, oh no! The filibustering roadshow continues in November in Cancún for the CoP16 conference and already the battle lines are being drawn between activists and organisers.

Klimaforum, the alternative forum on combating climate change, just released an email condemning the decision to host the summit in Cancún, warning that it's a deliberate attempt to exclude civil society groups.
"The fact has not yet officially announced but already known to many, that headquarters site, the Moon Palace Hotel, will be removed from the site (the Cancún Messe) in where they want to lock up the national and international groups they have much to contribute on Climate Change, shows so loud and clear that anyone not accredited by groups government will not be able to access the sites where negotiations would be plenary."

It's hard to make sense of what this means (it was translated from Spanish*) but the Cancún Messe is a convention centre, presumably where the conference will be hosted. What the Moon Palace Hotel refers to I have no idea, but at a guess they suggest that civil society groups will be kept separate from government officials for the duration of the event.

While evidence is lacking to suggest an unabashed segregation policy is the order of the day for CoP16, we needn't forget that the conference organisers have previous on this, having kicked out many NGOs for the final few days of the Copenhagen summit in December.

Klimaforum also lambasted in no uncertain terms the choice of Cancún with regards to its reputation for sustainability and social justice:
"The city of Cancún, a city with a single economic infrastructure with a society oppressed by the working conditions set by large transnational tourism companies, lacerated by the drug addiction, by the continuing occurrence of pederasty, with a deterioration their growing natural and other resources away from all sustainability schemes, has been chosen by the administration of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa as the venue for this important conference with the desire to eliminate any possible participation of groups civil society."

Maybe it's to provide a nice cosy base for government delegates to wallow in luxury at the expense of others while they thrash out yet another lax agreement? Who knows, but we'll be keeping an eye on the progression of arrangements for CoP16 to see what they have in store for those who care to dissent from authority's opinion on the climate. Just as soon as they make a website, that is...

*the original Spanish, if anybody can provide a more accurate translation:

"El hecho aún no anunciado oficialmente pero ya de muchos conocido, de que el sitio sede, el Hotel Moon Palace, estará alejado del sitio (el Cancún Messe) en donde pretenden recluir a los grupos nacionales e internacionales que tienen mucho que aportar sobre Cambio Climático, deja ver de manera clara y contundente que cualquier persona no acreditada por los grupos gubernamentales, no tendrá la posibilidad de acceso a los recintos donde habrían de darse las negociaciones plenarias."

Monday, 12 April 2010

Biofuels and women

Much of the discussion surrounding biofuels understandably focuses on their impact on food production. It's a simple, emotive viewpoint - in order to continue driving our cars as we please somebody on a different continent must starve as we turn their crops into 'environmentally friendly' fuel.

But nothing is ever that simple. In the case of biofuels, there's not just the impact on food prices, nor the negative effect biofuels have on climate change emissions but other social aspects, including the consequences for women.


Friday, 2 April 2010

Confidence and the Police

Photo by Iain Winfield

A year on from the G20 protests in London and still the police have yet to be held responsible for their appalling handling of the demonstrations in the City. Earlier this week, Delroy Smellie walked free from court despite video evidence clearly showing he assaulted Nicola Fisher close to the Bank of England. And, lest we forget, justice is still outstanding for the family of Ian Tomlinson.

Throughout much of the discussion I've seen online, both at the time and to this day, one word that crops up regularly is that of 'confidence': as in we no longer have a shred of it in the actions undertaken by the police. It makes sense at first - surely we should have confidence in the police to fulful their duties - but I fear using such a term blurs the issue somewhat.

Confidence implies trust, which in turn implies leaving the police to do their job and simply hoping they do it well. This doesn't go far enough though and simply upholds the current situation which is still open to abuse.

At the Blackheath Climate Camp we saw the police take a less offensive approach to protest in an effort to restore this confidence. For the overly trusting and easily placated it worked, but many activists, photographers and other members of the public are still badly treated.

As I said in a previous post about stop and search powers, even if the law were to change, belligerent attitudes that lead to power abuses are still rife within the police. Likewise, if the police were to begin behaving pleasantly again and win back our confidence the construction of the force and the framework in which they reside remains the same - ie, one in which we simply hope they don't do wrong.

The radical anti-authoritarian inside me says we should get rid of the police altogether but that would be ridiculous and clearly isn't going to happen. Instead, they should be transparent and accountable to us with more power in the hands of the citizenry to haul them across hot coals when they do wrong. The ridiculous concept of holding themselves to account through the IPCC should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Transparency is useless though while there are laws and regulations that place unnecessary, unjust or easily abused powers in their hands, such as anti-terror legislation. These too should be scrapped or amended. They should be the servants of the people not of the government or big business.

Likewise though, I struggle to see this happening anytime soon. As one Fitwatch blogger commented, it is up to us to hold the police to account. We need to be more vigilant, we need to turn the tables on them, keep up the hard work and investigation such as that which cleared Jake Smith's name. Partaking in Fitwatch activities and documenting abuses at protests is invaluable.

Regaining confidence is a half-hearted measure, rather it should be about doing the job properly, fairly and justly and rueing the consequences if they fail in their duty. We gave them the power, we should be able to take it back.

Digital Economy Bill: Letter to my MP

Anybody who follows me on twitter is probably aware of the utter ballache I've experienced trying to correspond with my MP, Patricia Hewitt. Seems her preferred manner of dealing with letters and emails that are, shall we say, not quite in line with her own principles, is to ignore them.

Nearly a month ago I wrote to her regarding the Digital Economy Bill. I never received a response and after calling her office a couple of days ago was told she never received it (lies, because I received an automated response saying she received my email).

Anyway, I've written again and have been promised by her office assistant that I'll get a response. Here's what I wrote to her, I'll publish her reply, if I get one, and we'll see if she's taken after many other MPs in completely ignoring the issues raised.

Dear Patricia Hewitt,

I write to you directly on the understanding that my correspondence via was lost in the ether. I hope you can therefore respond to this message swiftly, especially considering the pressing importance of the matter.

As I'm sure you are aware, the controversial Digital Economy Bill is due to go through 'wash-up' in Parliament on the 6th April, despite thousands of objections from people, many of whom are involved in the digital economy, including myself as both a student of and professional in new media.

There are numerous reasons to oppose the bill, including the draconian disconnection laws that bypass the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty and which also put at risk the open wifi networks used by countless universities, libraries and schools. As somebody who claims to be a supporter of civil liberties I trust you can see that such proposals are a grave concern.

Further, and perhaps more depressingly, is the manner in which the Bill is being ramrodded through Parliament without any proper debate, at the behest of the music industry. As this one particular blogger quite rightly identifies, many of the political faces behind the bill are unelected with links to industry. Now the bill looks likely to be rushed through Parliament in the wash-up, without any proper scrutiny.

The Bill has seen much public denouncement from many big businesses including all the major ISPs as well as other large internet organisations such as Google. The only people that stand to benefit from the bill are the music industry, who are failing to adapt to the changing environment, whilst many small businesses, educational institutions and normal people on the street will lose out. For a succinct yet detailed breakdown of why the bill is bad news may I suggest you read this blogpost by Paul Bradshaw.

In light of the depth of contempt held towards the bill in its current guise, the far reaching negative impacts it will have on civil liberties and the digital economy beyond the music industry and the undemocratic way in which it is being pursued, I urge you to stand up for democracy and prevent it being made law without any proper discussion. As a start, you may like to support Austin Mitchell MP's Early Day Motion that the bill not be taken any further in this Parliament.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Etc. etc.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Chevron win $700m damages

The Ecuadorian government will fight an arbitration ruling forcing them to pay Chevron $700 million in damages over trade disputes surrounding the company's past operations in the country.

The claim regards delays by Ecuador to settle contract disputes with Texaco in the '90s and is not to be confused with an ongoing arbitration case seeking to scupper a $27 billion lawsuit brought by the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 inheriting a legacy of widespread ecological devastation wrought by the oil giant, an act which is likely to wipe a fifth off its market value should an impending judgement rule in favour of the thousands of people affected by the toxic waste pits left in the rainforest around Lago Agrio.

Ecuador's attorney-general, Diego Garcia, said the arbitration case is: "a well orchestrated strategy by Chevron to evade its responsibilities ahead of the Ecuadorean courts’ eventual adverse decision for its possible responsibility in the destruction of the environment,”

There has been no statement yet from campaigners fighting the remediation lawsuit which Chevron recently gained permission to take to international arbitration in the Hague.

Yesterday's arbitration ruling demands Ecuador pay Chevron pay damages backdated to Dec 22, 2006 but this may be diminished by as much as 87%, according to Garcia, because of back taxes related to the contracts.