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ANALYSIS – Clinton takes bigger role in China ties


ANALYSIS – Clinton takes bigger role in China ties

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hired envoys to tackle most tough foreign policy issues, but one priority she kept is China as Washington seeks Beijing’s help on challenges from North Korea to Iran.

Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner co-host two days of “strategic and economic” talks with top Chinese officials this week — meetings traditionally handled by the Treasury under the former Bush administration.

Sidelined recently by an elbow injury, Clinton also wants to reassert herself as a key player amid reports she is playing a lesser role in crafting foreign policy for President Barack Obama, her rival in last year’s Democratic presidential race.

Officials say Clinton — whose first foreign trip was to China — wants improved relations with Beijing to be a signature issue, with plans to broaden the previous focus from largely economic ties to a more “comprehensive” relationship.

“Over the past few years, the dialogue tended to shift significantly towards the economic and financial side,” said Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley.

“I think it (Clinton’s new role) reflects a return to a really broad range of issues, rather than a fairly narrow set that might have been the focus of the agenda over the past couple of years.”

The goal of the talks on Monday and Tuesday in Washington is to set a framework for the Obama administration’s agenda with the Chinese government — which is sending nearly all of its key officials for sessions.

“When you look at the U.S.-China relationship, it is kind of overweight on economics and light on security and foreign policy cooperation,” said Drew Thompson, director of China Studies at the Nixon Center.

Aside from stabilizing the shaky global economy, another focus of this week’s talks will be climate change and clean energy, an area Clinton earmarked as a diplomatic priority with Beijing and where some experts expect the most movement.

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UN’s Ban seeks strong climate pact, fears sea rise


UN’s Ban seeks strong climate pact, fears sea rise

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GENEVA – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Thursday for swifter work on a climate treaty, saying inaction could spell economic disaster and a rise in sea levels of up to 2 metres (6.5 ft) by 2100.

Ban said greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, were still rising fast. “Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss,” he said.

“We cannot afford limited progress. We need rapid progress,” he told a 155-nation climate conference in Geneva of negotiations on a new United Nations deal to combat global warming that is due to be agreed in December in Copenhagen.

“Climate change could spell widespread economic disaster,” Ban said, urging action to promote greener growth.

“By the end of this century, sea levels may rise between half a metre and two metres,” he said. That would threaten small island states, river deltas and cities such as Tokyo, New Orleans or Shanghai, he said.

His sea level projection is above the range of 18 to 59 cms (7-24 inches) given in 2007 by the U.N.’s own panel of experts. Their estimates did not include the possibility of an accelerated melt of vast ice sheets in Antarctica or Greenland.

Just back from a trip to see thinning Arctic sea ice off Norway, Ban said he hoped a summit of world leaders he will host in New York on Sept. 22 would give a new push to Copenhagen.

“I am really trying to raise a sense of urgency,” he told a news conference after speaking to an audience including about 20 leaders, mostly of developing nations such as Tanzania, Bangladesh and Mozambique, and ministers from up to 80 nations.

He reiterated calls for developed nations to agree “more ambitious” targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 than promised so far and more aid. Rich nations want clearer pledges from the poor that they will slow rising emissions.

The head of the U.S. delegation, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Jane Lubchenco, highlighted the U.S. government’s commitment to the Copenhagen process.

“The United States is working actively towards a successful agreement, through both ambitious domestic actions and international cooperation,” she said in a speech.


“China faces enormous tasks in developing its economy, eradicating poverty and improving people’s livelihood, but it still attaches great importance to climate change,” Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu said in a speech.

The Geneva Aug. 31-Sept. 4 conference, gathering about 1,500 delegates, also formally approved a new system to improve monitoring and early warning systems about the climate to help everyone from farmers to investors in renewable energies.

Delegates said the “Global Framework for Climate Services” would mainly help developing nations adapt to changes such as more floods, wildfires, droughts, rising seas or more disease.

Many Asian farmers, for instance, want to know how a projected thaw of Himalayan glaciers will disrupt water flows in rivers. Investors in wind farms can benefit from information on future wind patterns, rather than historical data.

The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) would set up a “task force” of advisers within four months who would then have a year to report back with proposals about how it would work in sectors such as health, energy and agriculture.

Tanzania’s Vice President Ali Mohamed Shein said the impact of disasters, such as droughts or floods, could be averted with better information. He also said the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro would vanish in coming decades at current rates.

The Geneva talks are the third world climate conference. Meetings in 1979 and 1990 helped pave the way to a U.N. Climate Panel and a U.N. 1992 Climate Convention.

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‘Life of Pi’s’ Yann Martel blogs from Amazon Basin


‘Life of Pi’s’ Yann Martel blogs from Amazon Basin

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru — I am writing these words in Puerto Maldonado, a hot and bustling town in the south-east of Peru.

The town is bustling because its economic prospects look good. It lies near fields of oil and gas, gold mining has been going on in the nearby rivers for years, tourism brings in its share of revenue and — the final blessing — the paving of the Inter-Oceanic Highway is nearly complete.

This highway links Peru to South America’s economic superpower, Brazil, and will make commerce with Puerto Maldonado easier and more appealing. So the future looks bright, right?

Not quite. Why? Because Puerto Maldonado sits in the Amazonian basin. The town is surrounded by the greatest biodiversity this planet has to offer. The average hectare of North American forest contains five species of trees. The average hectare of forest in the Amazon boasts over two hundred. A single tree here may be home to over a hundred species of termites. Professor Yadvinder Malhi of Oxford University, an expert on ecology, told me that likely 80 percent of animal species in the Amazon rainforest are still unknown to science. Life here is so abundant it’s claustrophobic and overwhelming.

But it’s not indestructible. And that’s why I’m here, with others from the Cape Farewell project. Cape Farewell is a British NGO that brings together artists and climate change scientists. The scientists come to work, the artists come to watch, learn and, eventually, each in his or her own way, to react. The aim is to broaden the dialogue about climate change so that it becomes a broader cultural issue, involving each of us in a whole-person way beyond the narrower strictures of politics or science.

Cape Farewell has organized a number of expeditions to the Arctic, that canary in the coalmine when it comes to climate change. Witness of these expeditions can be found on the organization’s excellent Web site. This trip to Peru has been the first organized by Cape Farewell to look at the effects of climate change in the tropics.

It’s been a memorable trip. We started high and dry, at 14,000 feet to be exact, camping near some fast-disappearing Andean glaciers not far from Cusco, and we’ve been moving steadily downwards in the last three weeks to the low and the very wet.

On our way, we trekked the Trocha Union, a cloud forest trail that was so rich and dense with vegetation that we regularly stooped through tunnels of it, roots falling around us like static rain. We also traveled by boat down the Madre de Dios river, one of the many tributaries of the mighty Amazon, visiting a number of field stations where scientists from various universities are studying the stupendous wealth of the Amazonian ecosystem.

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