Every year is special, but 2016 has been extraordinary. We are, I think, witness to two global revolutions, occurring simultaneously. One is of a world uniting. The other is of a world fragmenting. This push-and-pull, yin and yang, will go on, possibly forever, since they evoke two instincts deep in the human psyche. But this year will be seen, in historical context, as seminal in respect of the twin revolutions.
My main portfolio is global affairs. We renamed it that from ‘foreign affairs’, in 2012, to make it clear that each country is now part of an emerging global community, and that we must tackle the global problems we now face from that perspective, not the 19th c. perspective of competing national interests.
In global affairs, the three biggest issues, each of overwhelming importance, are the threats of climate change, nuclear weapons, and the illegal use of force. In the course of this year, I have been involved, through parliamentary work, in each one.
With climate change, we started the year with the positive force of the Paris Agreement, from COP-21, and the fact that, at least diplomatically, the international community had finally, after 25 years, struck a universal agreement in which all 197 parties would take on ‘voluntary’ targets to curb, and then reduce emissions. The task in 2016 was to begin developing the ‘Paris rule-book’ that would provide a general manual for countries to implement, and allow the UN and observers to achieve ‘transparency’, and robust reporting and verification.
It’s a complicated task, and maybe it is no surprise that progress has been slow. I was part of the NZ delegation to this year’s COP-22 in Marrakesh, perceiving the strengths and shortcomings of the negotiations with a new insight. The highlight, if that is the word, was the defiant tone struck by the leaders of China, France and the US (outgoing — John Kerry) in response to the US election, that this is now a global movement for climate protection, and no single country can derail it. Of course, that is the politics. The science shows that time is running out on our ability to avoid dangerous, and perhaps even catastrophic, climate change. Just to put it in perspective, if we don’t, it’s pretty much ‘game over’, for everything else.
In New Zealand, James Shaw and I led the opposition in the Budget Debate on the strengthening of the ETS by the Government, on the grounds that the amendment was not sufficiently effective. And I established a cross-party group (GLOBE-NZ) that cooperates on acquiring information and insight on national climate policy. To that end, I’ve commissioned a UK consultancy firm to do a study of ‘transformational pathways to carbon-neutrality for New Zealand’, to be shared by all parties and with the public. It’s been a major highlight for me.
In nuclear disarmament, a diplomatic breakthrough occurred at the UN, comparable to the Paris breakthrough on climate. After a decade of effort by various smaller states, the General Assembly agreed to begin negotiations in 2017 for a complete nuclear weapons ban. This is different from the Non-Proliferation Treaty which acknowledged de facto possession of nuclear weapons by the five self-selected major powers. The NPT formally requires negotiations for their ‘ultimate elimination’ to be continued in good faith, something that the Five have failed to do, thereby violating the Treaty. The Marshall Islands took all nuclear powers to the World Court but the Court did not accept jurisdiction. Yet the UN resolution will change things. Although the major powers will not collaborate, it is nonetheless open to non-nuclear states to conclude a treaty making nuclear weapons illegal in international law. This follows the models of land-mines and cluster bombs. It’s a huge step forward. A personal highlight was my Notice of Motion through the NZ Parliament endorsing this development.
Finally, the International Criminal Court continues its life in agony and ecstasy. Coming into existence in 2002, the ICC is a major step forward in promoting peace because it imposes criminal liability under international law on individual leaders and soldiers not to commit the gravest crimes: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Court is meant to have a fourth leadership crime – committing aggression in violation of the UN Charter. The Kampala Amendment will make presidents or prime ministers criminally liable if they deploy their armed forces illegally. During 2016, the required number of ratifications (30) was achieved, and so in the course of 2017 there is a chance that this will become a crime under the Court’s jurisdiction. This is huge step forward.
Against this, however, some African states are incensed with what they see as the ICC’s bias against Africa. Three have recently withdrawn from the Court. I have just returned from a parliamentary conference in Dakar, Senegal, that focused on these developments. I appealed to African colleagues not to proceed with withdrawal, and I appealed to the NZ Government to ratify the Kampala Amendment.
These were the 2016 highlights for me, with the Global Affairs portfolio. There were no low moments.
It was the Year of the Pivot – three major events that will enable us, as a nascent global community, to move forward positively – or to regress. The choice is ours.
Now, home to Waiheke, where catching up with the whanau, swimming at dawn, communing with the tui, reading up on cosmology and quantum physics, and listening to Handel and Beethoven, will round off the year.
Best wishes to everyone for a great 2017, where we move forward positively.