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Posts Tagged ‘US’

The Arctic Council: A Path Forward

ArcticCouncilThe Arctic Council held a landmark meeting this week, complete with notable attendees, major decisions, and significant agreements. The US sent Secretary of State John Kerry, demonstrating increased focus on Arctic issues even as they remain a non-signatory to the UNCLOS treaty. The group expanded its membership by granting 6 Permanent Observer positions to China, Japan, South Korea, India, Singapore, and Italy. The council of 8 Arctic nations (The A8) also signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, which commits countries to prepare for environmental protection and cooperation in emergency situations. This meeting, held in Kiruna Sweden, demonstrated the expanding interest from both Arctic and non-Arctic countries, but more importantly demonstrated success in international cooperation regarding geopolitical and environmental concerns.

The US, traditionally laggard in commitments and preparations for Arctic change, stepped up its presence and participation in two major ways. First, Secretary of State John Kerry attended the meeting, suggesting earnest engagement from the US. Second, the US released its National Arctic Strategy (pdf here) asserting national security, stewardship, and international cooperation as primary objectives. While a refreshing step forward for the US Arctic policy, its focus on security interests and associated economic interests has been heavily critiqued for lacking firm commitments or stated environmental goals.

During the meeting, the Council evaluated applications for Permanent Observer Status, and granted access to 6 new states, most notably China. China’s adamant pursuit of an Arctic foothold has been rebuffed by Norway and Iceland in recent years over economic and social issues, but their persistence has paid off. The European Union was not so successful as they have been granted a conditional appointment pending resolution of a seal products ban, opposed vigorously by Canada. These issues highlight the increasing weight of Arctic interests as they are now being used for geopolitical leverage.

My final note is one of actual impact, opposed to the political posturing mentioned above. The Council concluded with the signing of Spill Response Accord whereby the A8 nations commit resources and promise cooperation in responding to Arctic emergencies. The success of the Arctic Council in establishing a forum for transnational discussions stands as an exemplar of international negotiations and provides not only progress in dealing with global scale changes, but also hope that nation states are in fact capable of acting on global challenges.

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Categories: Climate, Policy Tags: , , ,

Apples & Oranges (A-holes & Boehners): The Debt Debate

In a time when the European Union is desperately trying to keep it’s own from defaulting on its debt, the US is willfully approaching a voluntary default.  This gambling with the world economy by the leaders of the free world is a  mockery of the earnest legislatures in the EU. Perhaps flaunting our wealth, then displaying ambivalence towards our most basic economic responsibility, is not the best path towards restoring America’s image.

Lets talk about misconstrued numbers that are in no one’s interest to clarifiy: The Republicans want to match debt ceiling increase with “cuts”.  However, the deficit is the long term accumulated debt consisting of the uneven remainders from the previous years’ budgets.  The republican plan to match deficit reductions with budget cut’s is mixing apples & oranges, without actually saying if all these cuts will indeed produce a balanced budget. If you’re risking putting the US into default, wouldn’t you want to discuss that your plan would keep us from getting back to this position in the future? Wouldn’t that be a big selling point? Only if it were true.

During all of these shannanigans what’s really troublesome to me, is that our leaders are so complacent to wait until we’re on the verge of a crisis to take action, so that they all have an alibi as to why they made such terrible decisions. This outward display of cowardice is undeserving of anyone’s vote.

And then, there’s the tea party. No one believes that a logical house of representives would force the US into default. But that’s the problem, the tea partiers have demonstrated an ideological emphasis over logic since the very conception of the party. In short, they’re crazy enough to do it! The tea-partiers demonstrated their sanity yesterday by not letting Speaker Boehner bring his plan to a vote, thus demonstrating that they are SO conservative that they are unwilling to vote for the most conservative fiscal reform in US history!

So where does this leave us? Well, the Debt ceiling is arbitrary. We could just absolve it, but political posturing is far more important to politicians than the economic validity of the US. So then, we’re stuck with the A-holes and Boehner saying that Obama’s very conservative deficit proposal is too liberal.  Well at least there’s always the Platinum Coin Option, which will be seen as a joke on the world economic stage, but then again, that might just befit the circus that is the US Government.

Oil: The Great Communicator

The worlds unyielding thirst for oil may just be the force needed to end the Cuban Embargo.  A new offshore oil endeavor is proceeding forward in Cuban waters, merely 60 miles of the Florida coast. 

Estimates of the oil reserves vary.  Cuba is claiming 20 billion barrels are held within its waters, while the US Geoglogical Survey suggests a more modest number of around 9 billion barrels.  Either way this is a significant number, making Cuba a legitimate player in the regional oil market. Another aspect of this find is that it’s mostly deepwater deposits around 5000 feet.  This would require similar technology as was deployed in BP’s Macando well.

This find comes with implications for the US. Currently, the US Cuban embargo restricts Cuban drilling operations to use a maximum of %10 US technology.  While the US has traditionally lead the world in terms of oil extraction research & development, the last decade has seen an exodus of US based oil companies, relocating their headquarters abroad to exploit tax loopholes.  These newly internationalized corporations will be allowed to operate in Cuban waters while US loyal companies are excluded.  However due to the proximity of this operation to the US coastline, it is likely that the US will invest significantly in collaborative spill response plans.

The 50 year old embargo is undoubtedly outdated. It should, at the very least, be reevaluated to come in line with the massive global reorganization that has taken place since it’s conception.  The fact that they are now in possession of a resource that we so devoutly covet should be just another fact on the long list of reasons to reevaluate, especially when a change in leadership is eminent.  However the possibility of ending the half century old embargo because we need oil sets a dangerous precedent by showing very clearly that oil is the Achilles Heal of the US and that nothing is off the table when it comes to petroleum considerations.  This also continues the precedent of the US protecting oil companies.  Not only does the US provide tax incentives and subsidies for the most profitable companies of all time, but the US is also willing to reexamine everything to make sure “their” multinational corporations have access to every global reserve.

Categories: Energy Tags: , ,