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Upton-on-line - Diaspora Edition 7/7/2002

Upton-on-line - Diaspora Edition

[Special Reader Health Warnings Explained in this Issue]

7th July 2002

In this issue

Upton-on-line previews the road to the Johannesburg Summit on sustainable development (1993 words), offers some factoids on AIDS in Russia, the European Union’s grand translation squabbles and the future for France under global warming and introduces Diasporan of the Month, Richard Carey (1530 words). But first –

How (or whether) to read upton-on-line

From time to time upton-on-line has anguished conversations with readers about the length of this product. They are invariably with truly nice people who feel certain (probably with good reason) that they speak for many. “ It’s just too long,” they say with a look of desperation. Several times upton-on-line has been on the verge of responding but chickened out. His last encounter was however so heart-wrenching that he feels the need to offer some simple advice.

In the first place reading all or part of upton-on-line is not compulsory. (The contents are always summarised at the outset). Each week readers exit and readers join. The total readership fluctuates in a remarkably narrow band between about 975 and 1025 subscribers. (Many more people seem to get it by forwardings from the core subscribership but we have no idea how many). Every request to retire wounded is treated with respect. There is no dishonour. In turn, we are scrupulous about never soliciting subscriptions. They arrive through the ether in the same way that they depart.

Secondly, upton-on-line tries to post reader health warnings on items of potentially limited interest or inordinate length. These should be taken seriously.

Thirdly, upton-on-line has tried to break with the chatty factoid approach to presenting material. Upton-on-line was born of a sense of desperation that so much that is written is not only superficial but is written by people who take themselves very seriously. There are pockets of brilliance (upton-on-line applauds Jane Clifton’s recent elevation to the Pantheon), and little havens of civilised commentary (hence the last issue’s plug for NZ Books). But they are rare. And besides, some issues are complex. You either explain them or you don’t. The NZ Herald’s 600-word limit just won’t do.

Please read discriminatingly – and critically. All comments are personally replied to. But upton-on-line cannot take responsibility for any condition caused by reading this publication.

Johannesburg – in need of cosmetic surgeons, organ transplant experts or undertakers?

One of the remarkable things about France is that emergencies have been standardised. It doesn’t matter whether it’s cats up trees, children with raging temperatures or water cascading through your ceiling, your ring the pompiers. No such obvious rescue team stands by to save the UN from itself when it gets into a tangle – and that is what the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, this September, looks like being unless some jaws of life are rushed to the crash site immediately.

The road to Johannesburg has its origins in the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development. At that conference several major environmental treaties were launched and a billowing document, Agenda 21, plus a political declaration encompassing the so-called Rio Principles. The principles aren’t too bad – they take just three pages and are generally sensible. At nearly 300 pages, Agenda 21 was a little less digestible. The treaties – in particular the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Biodiversity Convention – were important, but very much first cuts at wildly complicated problems. For all that it was, by diplomatic standards, an immensely productive, if not euphoric conference.

People are still surviving the aftermath. The impact crater from the missile launched at Rio was far bigger than the fragile political consensus cobbled together to launch it. The stark truth is that Rio always represented a compromise. Developed countries were preoccupied with environmental disaster; developing countries were understandably determined not to surrender their right to development on the altar of western eco-pessimism. In short, if countries like New Zealand had climbed to affluence on the stumps of desecrated rain forests, they had no place to start dictating the development path for some of the poorest countries in the world. Hence the deal: a real commitment to development assistance and technical aid from developed countries in return for an engagement on the big global sustainability issues.

When in doubt set up a committee

The tale of post-Rio fractiousness at the inter-governmental level is well known. The fate of the Kyoto Protocol still hangs in the balance. For the first few years after Rio, development assistance actually declined (it has recently done a bit of a spurt back towards where it was). But like all good UN processes, once something is set in motion it is just about impossible to stop it. And a purpose-built committee was designed to preside over the morning after – the Commission on Sustainable Development.

So over the intervening decade, politicians and screeds of diplomats have trudged to New York for annual sessions of the CSD to monitor progress and further dialogue with the wide array of interest groups welcomed, for the first time ever, into the jealously guarded sanctum of global diplomacy. It fell (literally by the turn of the diplomatic wheel) to upton-on-line to chair the 7th session of the CSD in 1999. For that reason he is in a better position to pronounce on the worth of this particular body than many. In short, it is a huge disappointment, hi-jacked from the outset by the narrow negotiating mindset lovingly maintained by the New York diplomatic cadre. Never mind that the Commission has no powers other than the right to make recommendations (if it can ever agree); never mind that it was supposed to be a multi-stakeholder forum in which business people, NGOs and others explored issues alongside ministers and officials. Every meeting is treated as though countries were negotiating the conclusion of world war three.

South Africa’s poisoned chalice

Not content with annual meetings of the CSD, the UN decided to try to keep a focus on the key issue by holding periodic summits. The first, affectionately known as Rio+5, was a dismal failure. Few people can remember anything at all that happened there. All hopes were therefore pinned on the decadal review (Rio+10). And, to escape the New York hothouse environment, it was sensibly decided to hold the preparatory 10th session of the CSD far from Manhattan’s middle East Side – in Bali, Indonesia to be precise. And then follow that up with a summit to be attended by world leaders three months later in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Bali meeting was held just over 6 weeks ago. It was supposed to generate an implementation plan for Agenda 21’s second decade. No such thing emerged. You can change the setting but negotiators are mobile too. The same negotiating quagmire replicated itself. This is no reflection on Indonesia, the host country. It is, rather, a reflection on the failure of the CSD as a useful institution.

Upton-on-line cannot understand why you would ask one country’s diplomatic service to prepare for a World Summit that another country has been asked to host. It is unfair to both parties. Furthermore, not to settle on who was doing what until roughly a year before was an impossible ask. Whoever was going to host the Summit needed a dedicated team in place at least two years in advance, ideally three. Poor South Africa is undertaking to host a World Summit that is under-prepared and has less than three months to make sense of it all. A poisoned chalice if ever there was one.

When in doubt, invent some new jargon

One response to the failure of negotiators to agree on anything is to reach for new jargon. Suddenly we find ourselves in a world of ‘partnerships’. Not just any old partnerships but Type One and Type Two partnerships. Type one partnerships are supposed to be binding ones that, in effect, require inter-governmental agreement. Type two partnerships, on the other hand, are voluntary and express a willingness by the parties to do good deeds whatever the paralysis governments find themselves in. And there are some very impressive examples to hand involving business interests, local and central government agencies and voluntary groups lending their expertise and resources to tackling everything from alternative energy systems to disease eradication.

Which is great. And some countries have started to give Type Two partnerships pride of place as a way of pushing Type One engagements into the background. But there are some things that just won’t work unless governments provide the regulatory frameworks to back them up, particularly where the global commons is at stake – basically, the management of the atmosphere and the oceans (beyond territorial jurisdiction). Whether it’s toxic emissions, greenhouse gases or the destruction of fish-stocks (under handily chosen flags of convenience), there’s no shortage of issues that will ultimately come back to bite us in the absence of sensible governmental action. And we can’t hope for sensible government action within the present institutional framework.

A modest agenda

Upton-on-line has had cause to do some ruminating on what a modest agenda might look like. It ranges from things like improving the science on which many environmental initiatives are based, to removing barriers to development like the egregious market access barriers that the richest countries in the world maintain while pleading their concern for the world’s poor. Here are the concluding paragraphs from a short paper upton-on-line has written for a forthcoming meeting on where to from here:

What would a successful outcome for the Johannesburg Summit look like? It all depends on your standpoint. Answered in diplomatic terms, success is commonly judged to be the conclusion of a political declaration. Sometimes, the mere fact that a declaration is achieved is grounds for claiming success. The content is secondary.

From a political point of view – and even more so from the point of view of businesses and NGOs – the value of any political declaration depends very heavily on its content. If the process of negotiation yields up a consensus text that represents a lowest common denominator, there is likely to be a sense of futility…

The Johannesburg Summit will keep faith with the sustainable development agenda if it is able to confirm the crucial importance of market access and the vital role of development assistance in saving lives and building durable human resources and institutions in the world’s poorest countries. In parallel with that it must be able to give impetus to protecting the global commons on which all the world’s people rely.

Countries and stakeholders will almost certainly disagree on the best solutions in some cases. But there would be at least a focussed agenda to work on. Coupled with this is the need for a much better scientific under-pinning of the debate and credible indicators in which all countries have confidence.

A further modest, but important outcome, would be a commitment to commence a frank and open process to consider the sort of institutions of inter-national governance that are needed to match the sort of commercial and civil institutions that are rapidly emerging, in many cases spontaneously, at the global level. If Johannesburg could leave the negotiating mindset of the twentieth century firmly behind in the twentieth century by thinking laterally and flexibly about how global dialogue and rule-making should proceed, it would have done more than many dare to hope.

It goes without saying that to do that, countries would need to be prepared to challenge long-established reflexes that condition their approach to multi-lateral engagements. And that requires leadership by individuals who can engage others in their vision.

Whether we have that leadership remains to be seen. But the conditions for it may be more hopeful than many assume. In this regard, let me conclude with a personal anecdote. During my chairmanship of CSD 7, I travelled to Brasilia to meet Celso Laffer who was then Brazil’s trade minister. As someone whose career spanned the lead-up to the Rio and the summit itself, I was eager to learn from him how it was that the climate of optimism and hope that seemed to surround the Rio Summit had evaporated. His answer was magisterial: “ Rio was a Kantian moment” he noted. “ We live today with Hobbesian realities”.

It is a profoundly important observation that is even more relevant today than it was in 1999. I also think it should be a source of hope. Euphoric moments are few and far in international relations. They don’t necessarily make for far-reaching, durable policy decisions. We have had a decade to come to grips with what was realistic and what wasn’t at Rio. We are still coming to grips with a globalisation that is at once profound but far more complicated and dangerous than many had imagined. Hobbesian reality is an excellent starting point for cool-headed, far-sighted reasoning.

If leaders attending Johannesburg can demonstrate a grasp of the world as it has changed since Rio and talk candidly and frankly about things that have for too long been diplomatically removed from the agenda as being unmentionable or unresolveable they would make a breakthrough. Citizens are not expecting lofty promises (which they know to be unfulfillable) or fresh treaties (which they suspect will be unimplementable). They do not hold high hopes for the Summit.

It is an ideal climate in which to establish a new way of communicating, of establishing priorities on the basis of good analysis and supporting institutions that give the world community confidence to disagree where necessary rather than seek to paper over differences with words of consensus. It is time governmental processes matched the candour and flexibility that increasingly (but by no means universally) characterises dialogue between businesses and communities not just locally but regionally and even globally.

Success in Johannesburg requires, above all, an ability to carry forward whatever agenda is agreed upon. Without institutional reform that will be all but impossible.

Scarcely exciting stuff. (And in the wake of ever-more horrendous revelations of corporate mendacity, perhaps a bit overly optimistic about holding up the non-government sector as a model). But to appreciate that even this sort of cautious language is regarded as heresy in many quarters is to understand just how far removed from reality the esoteric dance of much international diplomacy has become.

Some factoids: #1 – AIDS in Russia

The dimensions of the AIDS pandemic are frequently reported but often hard to fathom given their sheer scale. The report of the Commission on Macroeconomics & Health commissioned by the WHO contains some sobering facts such as: 2.4 million of the 3 million who died of AIDS in 2000 lived in sub-Saharan Africa; 12 million children have already been orphaned by AIDS in Africa; with 25 million Africans already HIV-infected, the number of orphans could approach 40 million by the end of this decade unless hugely effective measures are put in place. This much is reasonably well known.

The extent of Russia’s problem has received less attention but is in its own way every bit as alarming. The pandemic there is in its infancy. Only 2000 Russians have died from AIDS since the first case was detected in 1987. But recent estimates suggest that as many as 1 million of the 144 million people in Russia may be infected. In Russia’s case the economic impact may be particularly stark. While the African pandemic has taken hold against a backdrop of still-rising population, low Russian fertility means the population is already in decline. Add AIDS mortality to that and the consequences are horrible. The World Bank has estimated that it will knock a full 1% point of GDP growth beyond 2010 when the consequences of current (and rising) infection rates really start to hit home.

# 2 - Organising Babel

Facing enlargement to the east, the European Union is about to buy into its biggest linguistic challenge yet: an increase in the number of official languages from 11 to 21. The 3500 translators already employed by the European Commission alone will be swelled by a further 400. For the mathematically minded, Le Monde reports that a 21 language EU will throw up 420 possible translation combinations which is judged to be an impossibility. But no-one seems particularly keen to yield any ground. The common enemy is English. A study reported by Le Monde (July 3) indicates that while English is the most commonly spoken language, its penetration varies widely. Sweden is the most anglophone country. But in France, allegedly, 58% would be excluded by resort to English. This comes as a surprise to upton-on-line who has great difficulty stopping French people from breaking into English to demonstrate their linguistic superiority.

#3 – Bad news for skiers

A recently prepared report for the French parliament draws together the variety of forecasts made about the likely impact of climate change assuming a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by 2060. A reduction in snowfall of between 20 and 40% is forecast for the Alps, and up to 45% for the Pyrénées. Everyone will be kept happy however because there’ll be lots more bread with an estimated increase in wheat yields of up to 25 million tonnes.

Diasporan of the month - Richard Carey

When upton-on-line set out for the OECD an alarming number of Wellingtonians said “you must make sure you make contact with Richard Carey” or, more confidently still, “you’ll run across Richard Carey”. Upton-on-line was duly run across.

Richard is Deputy Director of the Development Co-operation Directorate of the OECD and lives in a little re-locatable office building mouldering away in a corner of the park that surrounds the OECD chateau. As a result, Richard gets a nice view of the chateau without having inhabit it. Having lived happily in Paris since 1977, Richard looks cheerfully forwards to dying there (preferably on a golf course but, needless to say, is in no particular hurry to do so). His story is typical of many New Zealanders of his generation.

Born in Lower Hutt in 1945, his worldview was initially shaped at Naenae College. As is so often the case with people who go places, the point of ignition can be traced back to a single inspiring teacher – in this case, one Gordon Dempsey, a geography teacher and son of a famous Social Credit crusader. It comes as no surprise that the scion of a monetary crusader (though not himself a proselytiser) should have talked enthusiastically with his young charges about the 1956 Royal Commission on Money & Finance (commissioned by the Holland administration to head off Social Credit after the 1954 election). Richard read it! Upton-on-line’s eyebrows still rise in recounting this. A teenager at Naenae College curling up and reading a report on monetary policy with eyes glistening?

It simply shows what inspired teaching can do – and just how many opportunities to fire-up young people must be missed by indifferent teaching. Dempsey appears to have influenced others. Graeme Wheeler, now Vice President and Treasurer of the World Bank, is a near contemporary also from Naenae College. Dempsey must have been an exceptional character. He went on to become an Anglican minister ending up in Otaki – proof (if ever it was needed) of the redemptive power of Anglican pragmatism!

Carey’s conversion however was to economics, and led him to Victoria University in 1963 where he immersed himself in economics and public policy. (The other passion was music, also strong at Naenae College. A violinist from the age of 10, Richard ended up being leader of the Wellington Youth Orchestra and deputy leader of the National Youth orchestra – no mean feat).

It was during his year as a Masters student in 1967 that Richard encountered the second powerful teaching influence of his education – Frank Holmes (now Sir Frank). His honours class was an exceptional one and is still, it is alleged, remembered by Sir Frank. Among the trouble-makers were Robert Wade (now a professor at the London School of Economics), John Llewellyn (now chief economist at Lehmann Brothers) and Rob Laking (still around the traps). This sort of roll call is a testament to the fact that first class minds generate first class minds - something that must never be forgotten as governments push universities to emphasise throughput not output.

Fresh from Victoria, Richard wandered down the Terrace to don the grim mantle of investigating officer at the Treasury. His very first job was to write up a review of foreign direct investment. Being 1967, he was also part of the team who weighed in behind the notorious nil wage order. Co-accomplices at the time were Max Bradford and Irene Lake. The foreign investment job came at an interesting time for New Zealand as cracks started to appear in the fortress economy mentality. There was pressure for Japanese investment in New Zealand and as secretary of the Officials Economic Committee Richard saw first hand some of the political barriers. Jack Marshall, for instance, was very suspicious of opening up to a country with whom we had been at war only 22 years earlier.

As was the pattern at the time, the Treasury and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were the liberalisers, teaming up against the Industries & Commerce Department. (This work led to the 1973 NZIPA symposium on foreign investment referred to in the last issue of upton-on-line). Richard was also deeply involved in the other great liberal cause célèbre of the time – the elimination of quantitative import controls. He recalls the cabinet committee that took the decision to phase them out in November 1971 chaired by Robert Muldoon. Muldoon was one of the liberalisers (“it’s in our manifesto; we’re going to do it”). Henry Lang, not surprisingly, emerges as an inspiring figure. The first list of items to be removed from quota controls included toy umbrellas, swords and scabbards and nuclear reactors. Heady times!

All of this was occurring against the backdrop of British entry into the Common Market. Along with Roger Kerr (then in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Richard was heavily involved in briefing Jack Marshall on the side-deals that New Zealand was fighting to win. While it wasn’t done to lobby openly, Richard joined John Chetwynd on a number of technical missions to the UK where New Zealand’s case was being argued. It comes as no surprise to learn that these young technocratic Turks hoped and prayed for British entry on the basis that it would force New Zealand to diversify towards some form of economic independence.

Carey’s closest insight on politics came in 1972 when he was co-opted to work for Jack Marshall during his short-lived period as Prime Minister. With the election of Norman Kirk’s third labour administration it was back to the Treasury, by now a Senior Investigating Officer. The order of the day was to rescue the liberalisation drive from a Labour Government whose manifesto rather unpromisingly stated that “all foreign investors are monopolists”. As Carey tells the story, it was a cabinet that didn’t really know its mind on the issue and allowed itself to adopt a moderately revisionist line under cover of all sorts of stern things like ‘structural adjustment plans’ and new legislation on takeovers and foreign investment.

The last phase of Carey’s New Zealand career saw him working on transport de-licensing (something upton-on-line had a hand in a few years later). At that stage (1977) the blow for freedom was a relaxation of the 40-mile distance limit on road haulage (to which, Richard recalls, Bernie Galvin was, uncharacteristically, ferociously opposed. The final outcome was a 70-mile radius.

It was then that Carey set sail for Paris as the Treasury’s man at the OECD. Instead of returning to New Zealand in 1980, as planned, he was offered the job as Deputy Director of the Development Co-operation Directorate and has been there ever since although, as he points out, the debate has changed profoundly. Back then, the Cold War was still in full swing, the North/South debate was raging and the G77 was at the peak of its power. His work’s focus then was very much on international economic policy. In the last ten years it has been development assistance.

Why did someone who came for three years stay (like so many others)? The reasons will be familiar to some readers. The OECD was a much more interesting place to work. New Zealand was depressing. Carey was in part a casualty of the Muldoon’s last years. He experienced returning pangs in 1984 with the policy avalanche that was unleashed and almost returned to DPMC but it didn’t come to pass. Instead, he has put down ever deeper routes in what is one of the world’s more congenial large cities. His spouse, Prue, has become a French national, his children have been educated there.

Ever a New Zealander, Richard has clung to a distinctly suburban lifestyle in St Germain-en-Laye (bungalow, garage, lawn etc), and loves (in no particular order) the absence of wind, the music and the golf. It’s all a long way away from Naenae – but in another sense, not wholly unfamiliar either. Richard describes himself as an ‘internationalist’. Each time he goes back to New Zealand and looks at infrastructure that ties together a country the size of the UK financed by fewer than 4 million people he see a miracle. But it’s just not at the centre of things (although, as he remarks, the 747 changed New Zealand forever – both for those who stay and those who leave).

A final anecdote for the history books. New Zealand has, for thirty years now, bored anyone who will listen on the evils of agricultural trade barriers. And the OECD has become the forum where the scale and consequences of this particularly obscene activity is reported. What isn’t widely known is that it was Robert Muldoon’s intervention at the 1979 ministerial meeting that unleashed the work programme.

He arrived with a less than helpful speech. Richard and Judith Trotter (at the time posted to Paris by MFAT) persuaded him to insert some text on the problem of agricultural trade protectionism. As a result, the issue found its way into the Communiqué and led to the launch of a study on improving conditions for agricultural trade. Which just goes to show that even in the most inauspicious circumstances, good advisers can insert inspired ideas into unpromising larynxes!


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