Thursday, September 22, 2016

Scaling Up

In his WPost column, E.J. Dionne said President Obama's address to the UN on Tuesday "may prove to be one of the most important of his presidency."  Dionne summarized the main themes of the global tension between "democracy,openness and religious tolerance" versus "tribalism, prejudice and authoritarianism."

Dionne related these themes to the upcoming US election and concluded "I know it asks a great deal of my conservative friends not only to oppose Trump but also to support Clinton. But she is the only person standing between us and a United States that abandons our shared commitment to the ideals of inclusion, toleration and, yes, democracy itself."

Application to the US election is an obvious subtext, but I don't agree with some coverage that made the address out to be a covert campaign speech.  In context it applies in various ways to many places in the world, and President Obama referenced some of those places.  It is important to understand that this is a global issue, and while it often is a set of national or regional fights, it has global implications.  That's the scope of this vision.

It is an integrated vision.  To my mind it has some missing pieces, but the vision as a whole is compelling and many aspects ring true.  However, I want to emphasize one important element here--the climate crisis.

Before addressing this directly, President Obama was talking about the relationship of rich and poor nations:

"And just as we benefit by combating inequality within our countries, I believe advanced economies still need to do more to close the gap between rich and poor nations around the globe. This is difficult politically. It's difficult to spend on foreign assistance. But I do not believe this is charity. For the small fraction of what we spent at war in Iraq we could support institutions so that fragile states don’t collapse in the first place, and invest in emerging economies that become markets for our goods. It's not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do."

And only then, to climate:

And that’s why we need to follow through on our efforts to combat climate change. If we don't act boldly, the bill that could come due will be mass migrations, and cities submerged and nations displaced, and food supplies decimated, and conflicts born of despair. The Paris Agreement gives us a framework to act, but only if we scale up our ambition. And there must be a sense of urgency about bringing the agreement into force, and helping poorer countries leapfrog destructive forms of energy.

So, for the wealthiest countries, a Green Climate Fund should only be the beginning. We need to invest in research and provide market incentives to develop new technologies, and then make these technologies accessible and affordable for poorer countries. And only then can we continue lifting all people up from poverty without condemning our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair."

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