House members warn administration on Arms Trade Treaty

To the dismay of some on Capitol Hill, the push for a global arms trade treaty—which would provide basic standards for internationals arms transfers—still has momentum. In part because of a U.S. desire to avoid an election-season fight, this summer's negotiations broke down. But UN members have decided to convene a new conference, which is scheduled for March, and it seems likely that the treaty will be adopted.

Some members of Congress aren't taking that news lying down. Almost a hundred House members, all but four Republican, have introduced a resolution urging the Obama administration to oppose the treaty. The bill warns that the draft "poses significant risks to the national security, foreign policy, and economic interests of the United States as well as to the constitutional rights of United States citizens and United States sovereignty." The sponsors also express concern that the treaty will interfere with the ability of the United States to provide weapons to allies, including Taiwan and Israel.

As they did during the summer, treaty supporters have quickly dismissed these concerns as little more than paranoia. Oxfam America, a key NGO supporter of the treaty, issued a statement today emphasizing that the proposed treaty will have no impact on U.S. gun ownership rights: 

The Obama administration has publicly stated numerous times that it will not support a treaty that infringes on Second Amendment rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There is also language in the treaty text acknowledging that the trade of weapons for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities and lawful ownership is legitimate and will remain to be determined by a country's national laws. Members of the House of Representatives need to separate fact from fiction and stop fueling the paranoia special interest groups are using for fundraising purposes.

The Multilateralist

The World Bank's shock therapy on climate change

The World Bank has just released a major new report on climate change, and it's designed to be startling. The report tries to understand what a world that is 4 degrees Celsius warmer would look like, and it sketches a grim picture:

Without further commitments and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world is likely to warm by more than 3°C above the preindustrial climate. Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 percent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100....

A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today.

In his introduction to the report, Bank president Jim Kim writes, "[i]t is my hope that this report shocks us into action." It's well timed in that respect. The Bank report (which was mostly researched and written by the Potsdam Institute) comes at a moment when climate change has new momentum in the United States and just days before the next session of the UN-sponsored climate change negotiations.

This latest iteration of that long-running process takes place in Doha and will focus on streamlining what has become a byzantine negotiating process and pushing states to comply with committments already made. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN body overseeing the negotiations, described the broad challenge to me recently this way:

A lot of the work of Doha is to take the issues that have been under design or negotiation and put them into implementation. Governments are completely aware of the fact that they are behind schedule, that science demands speedy and scaled-up action and not what we have right now.

The Bank report appears to be a very deliberate attempt to infuse those sluggish negotiations with a greater sense of urgency.