Initially, when it was first established in 1992, the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities played a vital role in determining how different countries would address climate change. The principle of the CBRD came from an idea of a ‘common heritage of mankind’, which describes a situation where all people across the world are equally responsible. However, although the principle acknowledges the equal responsibility that each country has in addressing climate change, it also acknowledges the differences that each country has in addressing these problems. Depending on economic and technical capabilities, each country may have different methods they might use to solve environmental issues. This principle is included in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), being first mentioned in the 1992 UNFCCC Treaty. The treaty was ratified by all countries involved in it, and they all acknowledged a shared responsibility in addressing climate change. However, in recent years, the role of the CBRD is evolving. Some have even argued that the CBRD doesn’t have the same level of relevance in contemporary times. Continue reading
The recent Paris Agreement, now entered into force, marks a significant step forward in cooperation to mitigate climate change and its effects. The Paris Agreement is finally a substantive treaty that delineates overarching targets and goals by which developed and developing countries can rally around. The US and China ratifying this agreement even signifies the pressing need for multilateralism to tackle the threat that global warming poses to all of humanity. Markedly significant to this agreement, is the aim to keep the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to actively pursue action to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While some say that Paris Agreement is not enough to solve global climate change, it’s the best that the world right now has to offer.
Compared to past negotiations for climate change, the Paris Agreement is decisively an improvement. In Rio 1992, The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized that there was a global concern for greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions. The overall mission of the UNFCCC was to halt GHG emissions levels, yet it failed to enumerate actions to be taken. Alongside the UNFCCC, developed and developing states also disagreed upon how their roles would play out in the pursuit of mitigating climate change, especially since most emissions have come from industrial countries and imposing emissions regulations which would be unfair to the development of developing countries.
These discussions would go onto to influence the creation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, where the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” model (CBDR) was a mechanism by which to operationalize the UNFCCC. This somewhat resolved the debates regarding the roles of developed and developing countries, but the CBDR within the protocol mandated emissions reductions to developed countries only. Bigger developing countries like China and Brazil were excluded from such commitments, to the chagrin of developed nations. Overall, however, the Kyoto Protocol, was largely ineffective because targets could not be met by countries who did sign on, and the US signed, but never ratified the protocol.
In 2009, the Copenhagen Conference reinforced the need to tackle climate change. This conference, however, finally saw developed states and developing states agreeing to towards setting limits on emissions. The Conference failed to produce a lasting treaty however, because targets and goals could not be agreed upon by all the states present at the summit. The current 1.5 degrees Celsius aim of the Paris Agreement was initiated at the Copenhagen Conference, but it was seen as a contentious definition as it was pulled from all resolution drafts, to the dismay of African and underdeveloped countries.
Coming back to present day, the fact that a global climate change treaty has finally been accepted by the international community is a tremendous feat for the Paris Agreement. The agreement is the result of overcoming and learning from the inadequacies of past negotiations and treaties. It is also the result of the surmounting pressure of states to create meaningful steps towards climate change, especially when each year is markedly becoming hotter and hotter. In respects to the role of developed and developing countries, the Paris Agreement makes no distinctions between the two, but encourages states to maximize the most they can to achieve the agreement’s aims as capable. Instead of mandating reductions to certain countries like through the CBRD, the Paris Agreement has implemented a framework to carry out it’s temperature aims: the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). These INDCs allows for states to voluntarily pledge their plans to implement the 1.5 degree aim, with a review process in place for states to strengthen these contributions.
Critics have noted, however, that these elements of the Paris Agreement leaves its effectiveness uncertain. Especially for the INDCs, since they have come under fire for depending too much on “the good will of world leaders.” Scientists have even contended that the temperature aims of the Paris Agreement are minimal at best, and will not prevent the world from warming nonetheless. Further, critics have brought up that the Paris Agreement lacks in specific numbers in regards to emissions reductions and financial investments. Yet above all these things, the Paris Agreement serves as a significant step in normalizing and creating a foundational step for climate policy in the international arena. People may have a bone to pick with technicalities of the Paris Agreement, but this has, so far been our best foot forward. Especially in a world with various interests, this is the best multilateral solution the world has yet to offer and it is better than having nothing at all.
Gaps remain in our knowledge about climate change, but the clear majority of scientists are currently convinced that the gradual rise of the Earth’s temperature has been especially evident since the late eighteenth century when the invention of power-driven machinery kick-started the Industrial Revolution and so caused an increase in the human-made gases that alter the atmospheres insulating effects. Gas molecules such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) create a greenhouse roof by trapping the heat remitted from the Earth which would otherwise escape into outer space. Since the 1950s, the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal in order to produce energy, have climbed steadily and risen fourfold. As of 2005, the energy sector accounted for 75 percent of the worlds atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (with 70 percent of the global emissions from fossil fuel combustion) and 96 percent of the worlds CO2 emissions. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) here in the United States, by 2010, fossil fuel combustion amounted to 79 percent of US GHG and 94 percent of US CO2 emissions with 5 percent of US GHG emissions coming from the methane released by coal mining and oil and gas systems. In addition, according to Michael Jenkins (2007), President and CEO of Forest Trends, deforestation has contributed to climate change as it has accounted for, “17 to 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions…second only to energy use”. Continue reading
When the first cases of Ebola was first documented in Yambuku, Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1976, the lack of technology and knowledge led the World Health Organization (WHO) to not take necessary actions as needed. As information was made readily available as to how to combat Ebola, the fight to end the epidemic became more strategic. 300 people died due to Ebola in this time, but with the help of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola had been eradicated for the time being.
With the second outbreak of Ebola to hit present-day DRC, many people became frustrated as to the lack of resources being readily available. Knowing what the disease entails, why wouldn’t a vaccine be prepared for when the next outbreak was surely going to hit the area? Many other outbreaks were noted by Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council of Foreign Relations, and others couldn’t understand why WHO still has not taken the initiative to step in and find preventable ways to treat this disease. When Ebola was first discovered in the United States, many people were quick to find a solution and prevent the disease from causing an outbreak. This has left people to wonder whether consideration is only given to developed countries who have the economic and sustainable means to combat such a disease.
The World Health Organization centers itself around being the globally known institution in which people can lean on in terms of national disasters, epidemics and other prominent health crises. Time and energy has been spent into reconfiguring WHO, but not as much resources have been poured into building up local and national health systems, primarily in developing countries. In Garrett’s article, “How the WHO Mishandled the Crisis,” detailed examples are given as to how the WHO failed with other grave outbreaks such as HIV and Swine Flu. WHO has portrayed themselves in an unfortunate light, with being too fixated on governance and politics and not giving much consideration to actual situations that need to be addressed.
With WHO having the governing power and authority that they possess, more efforts should be placed in elevating local and national health systems. When outbreaks are first beginning in an area, it is imperative that local physicians have the knowledge of what is going on and how to combat the outbreak before it becomes an epidemic. There is a level of frustration when consultation with WHO goes nowhere. By the time WHO effectively steps in (concerning developing countries), hundreds of people have died and there is still no solution to the actual disease itself. Coming from a place of understanding, WHO has been gridlocked into deciding between action or inaction. There has been a discussion surrounding when WHO should intervene and if it is too early to intervene within a country. Yet, WHO would not have to spend so much time deciding whether or not to intervene medically if local and national health systems were able to decipher for themselves what needs to be done.
When the WHO confirmed an Ebola outbreak in March 2014, it was not until five months later that WHO declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This goes back to the inefficiency in the WHO being able to detect outbreaks and effectively work alongside local health systems in order to contain the outbreak. It’s not possible to keep every person alive who comes into contact with the disease, but the high numbers of people dying because of ineffectiveness on the ends of local health systems and WHO is unacceptable.
The World Health Organization, along with other prominent institutions in the United Nations, are focused on their status among powerful countries. Especially with powerful countries who are often high-dollar donors to international institutions, keeping the donors happy is something many organizations face on a daily basis. Yet, as powerful as WHO and the UN are, there needs to be effective pushback towards these countries.
Yes, WHO was able to respond in a more timely manner to the outbreak of Zika (even though the outbreak was not nearly as large as Ebola), but this does not deter from their inefficiency as an international organization. This does not correlate to the WHO learning their lesson from the Ebola epidemic. Rather, they have overcompensated in terms of trying to stay ahead of outbreaks, which is admirable. But can we confidently believe that WHO has learned from the past? Does WHO only learn when outbreaks reach the Western world and/or donor countries? Hopefully, WHO will learn to work alongside local and national health systems in order to advance the health and protection of all people.
Much criticism has been levied against the WHO for the “egregious failure” that was their handling of the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Many experts have since claimed the WHO’s follow up response to Zika in Brazil represents the realization and swift change the WHO took to better handle international medical crises. However, both experiences demonstrate the same level of member state politics that cannot be allowed to determine international public safety. The WHO should not be considered the vanguard of public health, and more authority and funding should be placed in the hands of humanitarian NGOs on the ground, with the WHO acting as an international liaison and support structure.
To claim that the WHO has taken lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak and applied them to the Zika outbreak is misguided; the issues are so completely different it is wrong to compare them. Those affected with Ebola immediately begin experiencing violent flu like symptoms with a high mortality rate. Zika on the other hand, presents with relatively mild symptoms and has a very low mortality rate. In some ways, this makes Zika more insidious, as the infection can spread far and wide without raising any alarm. Ebola on the other hand, has a tendency to burn itself out historically, due to the rapid death toll decimating populations before it can spread far. Medically, they are two completely different monsters, and comparing them is fruitless.
The other issue, even if they were medically comparable, the autonomy granted to regional WHO offices means it is no surprise there was a very different response in Africa and South America. The way the local WHO offices operate is strikingly different, and is not representative of any major institutional changes to the WHO on global scale. Epidemics are not just medical events, but also political events. As an international organization made up of member states, the WHO is subject to politically based funding issues and organizational pressures. When an outbreak happens, the location (rural area in poor state vs. urban area in wealthy state) as well as the medical perception (violent symptoms killing young adults vs. quiet symptoms maiming the elderly) factor into the political response of the world community and member states. A political organization can not respond to a politicized event in an unbiased professional manner, expecting that is idealistic.
The fact that so many died in Africa until Ebola cropped up in western countries before a world response was initiated, but when a few died of Zika in Brazil where the wealthy of the world would soon gather for the Olympics garnered immediate international attention, demonstrates just how determined by politics any response by international organizations made up of member states is. Alternatively, Médecins Sans Frontières, a humanitarian NGO, responded to Ebola with immediate action and attempted to alert the international community long before the crisis reached its peak. Removing politics from world health emergencies allows for a much more level-headed response that isn’t bogged down by bureaucracy.
It is unlikely the WHO will be able to restructure itself in a manner that it can respond much more appropriately to medical emergencies any time soon. One of the biggest impediments to this is the “vicious cycle” the WHO is trapped within, where it receives very little funding due to a lack of confidence from member states, and it cannot regain the confidence of said states without a massive increase in funding and autonomy. Even if the WHO does manage to secure the necessary funding, restructure its organization and operational responses, and successfully respond apolitically to a future public health emergency, there is no guarantee it will continue to in the future. The nature of any international organization that is made up of member states that must continuously approve the budget, provide funding, and resist the temptation to interfere politically, will go through cycles of excellence and ineptitude. There have been many other successes and failures by the WHO in the past, the recent Ebola and Zika issues are nothing new.
Expecting a politicized international organization to be the vanguard of public health the world over is setting the international community up for disaster. Humanitarian organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières have shown that it is possible for an international organization to respond effectively and appropriately; their inability to combat Ebola was because they had to rely on the WHO to sound the alarm and secure international support. These humanitarian organization need to be given much more credence and authority, as well as secured more funding. The WHO can play an important role in coordinating different NGOs and acting as a liaison between them and the international community, providing resources, information, and funding. It is unwise to put all of humanities eggs in one basket, expecting the WHO to always be there to step in and save the day.
Does the WHO’s response to the Zika outbreak suggest it has learned from the Ebola pandemic?
In March 2014, Ebola epidemic struck West Africa, spilled over into the United States and Europe and led to more than 27,000 infections and more than 11,000 deaths. Five months later on 8 Augusts, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared West African Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The world Health Organization was criticized widely for the delays and mismanagement in its response to the Ebola crisis.
In 2016, two years later, there was a new public health crisis that emerged in the South American continent, the Zika virus. In contrast, the WHO declared Zika as PHEIC on 1 February 2016 much earlier than they did during the Ebola crisis, despite significantly fewer deaths. More precisely, the third Zika related death in Brazil was recorded ten days after the PHEIC announcement.
According to the WHO, four criteria must be met for a PHEIC to be declared. The outbreak must have a serious public heath impact; must be unexpected, must have the potential to spread and must have the potential that leads to travel and trade restrictions to and from the infected countries. The Zika and Ebola cases met all the above four criteria and hence were supposed to have same priorities under WHO.
According to experts, Ebola failure come because of the challenges that the WHO faced during the outbreak in West Africa such as:
- By the time Ebola outbreak began in March of 2014, the relationship between Geneva and the African office had broken down.
- The WHO was also dealing with three Grade 3 emergencies in Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan
- The WHO’s African Health Office (AFHO) was comparatively very ineffective in reporting Ebola. The AFHOs failures were some of the improvements made by the Pan-American Health Office (PAHO) which had the expertise and showed professionalism needed that led to the success of Zika- virus outbreak response in the South Americas.
World Health Organization’s (WHO) quick response to the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, is indicative of lessons learned from Ebola crisis in West Africa, in the wake of criticism.
Patterson argues that WHO officials blamed the slow Ebola response on budget cuts that did hit the programs on infectious disease control and poor communication between Ebola –affected countries and the WHO headquarters. This was improved by the WHO on how it responded to the Zika virus outbreak on the South American continent and also how it approached the funding.
Despite the ongoing budget pressure, at the beginning of the Zika outbreak in 2016, the need for a greater scientific knowledge on Zika virus drove its PHEIC announcement. And surely the WHO, after being accused of dragging its feet with Ebola, wanted to act quickly with the Zika virus.
WHO also care about its reputations as an organization with States, and by moving swiftly on Zika, the agency was trying to rebuild the reputation of efficiency and decisiveness that it lost during the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Learning from Ebola, the WHO learned how to convey the Zika virus outbreak message to became a global political priority that easily resonated with an audience of policy makers and the citizens. As pointed by Patterson in Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, the Zika outbreak was conveyed in a way that easily gained the global attention by stressing that the vulnerable and the innocent (pregnant women and newborns) were the victims, this easily swayed the policymakers into giving the outbreak a priority. Unlike the Ebola outbreak, which had a high mortality rate and caused intense suffering, was conveyed to affect a broad swath of society, making it harder to frame the need for action to a particular group and hence did not work out very well with the global political priority.
Lastly, according to time magazine, WHO required about 1 billion dollars to fight Ebola in West Africa, but less than one-fifth of the budget was funded. The longer WHO delayed to declare Ebola PHEIC led to the virus spreading a lot more, leading to more deaths and became complex in management is a mistake WHO did not want to repeat. The agency had to use the minimum budget available while lobbying for funding and also had to contain the Zika virus faster than Ebola to avoid the criticism of the Ebola slow response two years ago.
There could be other factors involve in Zika success like the fact that Brazil was hosting the soccer world cup, and it was easy to convince donors of the financial damages Zika outbreak could pose during that period pointing out the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak and its economic burden in the West African countries in 2014. This also led to the WHO, US congress, the Brazilian government and other donors working together to making sure Ebola mistakes are not repeated in the South American continent.
Should the WHO put scarce resources into building up national health systems or building up the organization’s own capacity to respond to public health emergencies?
Despite its reputation as a leading global health institution, the World Health Organization seems to be suffering from an identity crisis of sorts. The issue that the WHO faces is not whether it should act as either a technical agency or as a capacity-building one, but rather how to it can combine both objectives in aid of becoming a successful global health entity. In order to accomplish all of this, it is vital that the WHO creates and fosters a sense of unity among its main and regional offices, funds meaningful capacity-building programs in its member states and continues to deploy the technical expertise for which it is so well regarded.