It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.
A powerful storm that ripped across four Pacific Island nations this week raises an uncomfortable question for humanitarians on coronavirus lockdown: how do you respond to a disaster during a global pandemic? Cyclone Harold—the first Category-5 storm to make landfall in the Pacific since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in March—tore through parts of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga. The storm swept 27 people on a ferry overboard in the Solomon Islands; parts of Vanuatu's northern islands saw extensive damage; some 6,000 people were evacuated in parts of Fiji; and Tonga's 'Eua Island was "devastated," the government said.
Nearly half a million demonstrators gathered in Madrid as the UN Climate Change Conference (officially COP25) opened in the Spanish city more than two weeks ago, with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg the star of the show at a Dec. 6 mass rally. But despite being the longest climate summit yet, ending Dec. 15 after being extended two days, the affair ultimately amounted to little. Nearly 27,000 delegates came together with the supposed aim of finalizing the "rulebook" of the Paris Agreement, which is to officially take effect in 2020—settling rules for carbon markets and other mechanisms for international cooperation under Article 6 of the deal. But, unable to agree on terms for Article 6, delegates finally invoked "Rule 16" of the UN climate process—allowing them to put off the critical decisions for another year. This means there will have been no progress when COP26 is convened in Glasgow in November 2020. UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that he was "disappointed" with the results of COP25, and that "the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis." (CarbonBrief, BBC News, BBC News)
The 18 member states of the Pacific Islands Forum held their 49th summit in Nauru, issuing a statement (PDFi) Sept. 6 asserting that "climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people." The leaders "reaffirmed the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change" and committed "to ensure effective progress on Pacific priorities with regards to the Paris Agreement" through the development of a guide. Leaders at the Forum also urged all countries to comply fully with their commitments to mitigate emissions, "including through the development and transfer of renewable energy," within their committed timeframes. The leaders also "called on the United States to return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change."
Indigenous groups claimed a victory at the UN climate talks in Bonn on Nov. 15 as governments acknowledged for the first time that they can play a leadership role in protecting forests and keeping global temperatures within safe levels. Participating governments ("Parties") agreed to create a platform to promote the voices and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the UN climate process, formally known as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The "Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform" (PDF) states that "Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities," while "Emphasizing the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in achieving the targets and goals set in the Convention, the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizing their vulnerability to climate change."
Authorities in Fiji are assessing the extent of the damage after Cyclone Winston brought winds of over 200 miles per hour, torrential rains and waves of up to 40 feet (12 meters). The storm—said to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere—destroyed hundreds of homes and cut electricity lines. There are reports of entire villages flattened. At least five people are dead by initial counts. The government has imposed a nationwide curfew and 30-day "state of national disaster," giving expanded powers to police to arrest people without a warrant. The storm moved westward after making landfall Feb. 20 in the north of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. It changed direction at the last minute, sparing the capital Suva the full force of its winds. (BBC News, Slate, Feb. 20)
In what UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon hailed as a "truly a historic moment," world leaders gathering in Paris for the COP 21 climate summit on Dec. 12 approved an accord aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 C—an improvement over the current national committments (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in technocratic jargon) which only mandate a limit of 3 C. Some international campaigners are claiming victory. "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "This deal puts the fossil-fuel industry on the wrong side of history... That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states." (AFP, NYT)
Negotiators at the UN Doha Climate Change Conference managed to win an 11th-hour pact that kept the Kyoto Protocol alive but put off anything more. Naderev Saño, the Philippines’ chief negotiator, broke down in tears, beseeching action as his homeland was being devastated by a Typhoon Bopha: "I appeal to leaders from all over the world to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face." Typhoon Bopha, classified as a Category 5 supertyphoon, is believed to have left nearly 1,000 dead as it tore through the southern island of Mindanao—making it more than five times as catastrophic than Hurricane Sandy. Floods and landslides caused major damage in nearly 2,000 villages on Dec. 4, and more than 300 fishermen are still believed to be lost at sea. (FT, Dec. 12; PTI, Dec. 9) On Dec. 16, Cyclone Evan caused widespread damage in Samoa, with 4,500 left homeless, plantations destroyed and at least four dead. (Australia Network News, Dec. 16) Evacuations are now underway in Fiji, the next island nation in the storm's path. (AP, Dec. 15)