Mid-East WMD Talks Cancelled

Three big powers—the US, Russia, and Britain—joined forces at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference in sponsoring a proposal for a conference to ban weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The adoption of this proposal by the 189 member states of the NPT was the chief success of the review conference. The key sponsors had warned, however, that such a meeting could only take place if all countries in the region (obviously including Israel) attended. Confidently expecting them to participate, Finland had offered to host the meeting in Helsinki before the end of 2012.

In early November Israel, Iran, and the other Arab states were represented at a seminar in Brussels on a Mideast nuclear weapon free zone. There Iran announced that it would indeed attend the Helsinki conference, whereupon other diplomats who were present disclosed anonymously that no such meeting would take place, for Israel had already decided against attending.

The official excuse for canceling the conference was that tensions in the region—especially the civil war in Syria—make the “time not opportune” for any progress to occur. Israel had insisted all along that a complete Arab-Israeli peace plan must be accepted before it would agree to create any WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Since no such agreement is envisioned soon, Israel has blamed the collapse of the talks on Islamic states, especially Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons technology.

Of course, others disagree. The Islamic states are not alone in replying that the main source of danger in the region is Israel’s own undeclared nuclear arsenal.

In any case, the US State Department announced on November 23, 2012 that the Helsinki meeting had been postponed indefinitely.

As the Pugwash Conferences lamented over the cancellation: “The ominous message that comes across the Middle East region is that the possession of WMD is legitimate and even perhaps useful in the defence of certain states. The future viability of the NPT and possible progress toward peace in the Middle East has been seriously jeopardized.”

Sources: George Jahn for AP and Sandra Ionno Butcher, for Pugwash Conferences.

Parliamentarians Meet in Quebec City

Members of about 150 parliaments gathered in Quebec City for the 127th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly from October 21-26th 2012. There they showed their new publication, a Parliamentary Handbook on Supporting Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. The Handbook has been prepared to assist parliaments and parliamentarians to implement the resolution that the IPU adopted by consensus in 2009.

The authors, Rob van Riet and Alyn Ware, consulted with prominent parliamentarians, experts, and institutions, including the United Nations, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The publication was funded by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs.

Basel is Peace HQ

On November 16 the Basel Peace Office opened in Switzerland. Like the hub of a big wheel, it brings together eight organizations: the Canton of Basel-Stadt, the University of Basel Sociology Seminary, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, the Global Security Institute, the Middle Powers Initiative, the World Future Council, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Switzerland, and the Swiss Peace Foundation.

The close proximity of all these active groups will bring new energy to European activists working to abolish nuclear weapons. Its director, Alyn Ware (see the interview with him in the Oct-Dec issue of Peace), is immensely energetic—a marathon runner who likes to bring sports and peace projects together. Find him at: Seminar fuer Soziologie, Petersgraben 27, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland. Or go to:

The good citizens of Basel must be remarkably peaceable, for they also are now hosting an additional organization, the World Peace Academy, which too is affiliated with the University of Basel. Students can study in English there and obtain MA degrees in peace. The director is Professor Dietrich Fischer. Their web page is: www. lang=en&pid=91 and you can see some of the lectures there:

Hooray for Ray

A young Toronto woman, Ray Acheson, received the “Spirit of the UN” award in October for her work as editor of Reaching Critical Will, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s newsletter.

After graduating from the University of Toronto’s program in peace and conflict studies, Ray went to work at WILPF’s office at the UN in New York, where she edits publications dealing with disarmament issues.

Beware Frozen Methane

An enormous amount of methane (CH4) exists in a type of ice called methane hydrate. Most of it is in sediments of the ocean, but some is in permafrost soils. Natalia Shakhova is a biogeochemist at the University of Alaska who has studied the increasing emission of methane from the shallow Siberian Shelf of the Arctic Ocean. She explains, “The Siberian Shelf alone harbors an estimated 1,400 billion tonnes of methane in gas hydrates, about twice as much carbon as is contained in all the trees, grasses, and flowers on the planet. If just one percent of this escaped into the atmosphere within a few decades, it would be enough to cause abrupt climate change. When hydrates are destabilized, gas is released under very high pressure. So emissions could be massive and non-gradual.”

Subsea permafrost is like a rock. It functions as a lid to prevent escape of any gas. However, Shakhova and her colleagues believe that the permafrost cap is beginning to destabilize, allowing methane to escape. A temperature rise of as little as 1 degree C at the sea floor could dissolve shallow subsea hydrates. Those under the deep oceans, on the other hand, would require a temperature rise of about 3 degrees C to be released. Expeditions through the Siberian Shelf area reveal thousands of seeping plumes of methane, some more than 1,000 meters in diameter.

The research team has received funding for a 90-day expedition to the East Siberian Arctic Ocean on the icebreaker Oden in 2014. They will be part of the Swedish-Russian-US investigation of the Arctic Ocean. Their special concern is to study the carbon release processes from coastal and subsea permafrost and from methane hydrates in the sediments.


What about an oil spill?

Representatives of the Arctic completed the fifth round of negotiations in Reykjavik, Iceland in November on a legally binding agreement on preparedness and responses in the event of an oil spill in Arctic waters.

The three-day meeting was chaired by a Russian, Ambassador Anton Vasiliev, who expects that the final agreement will be finished in time to be signed at an Arctic Council meeting in May in Sweden.

There are eight Council member states—Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, with permanent participation by representatives of Arctic Indigenous People’s organizations.

Fighting oil spills in the Arctic will be more difficult than elsewhere. Vasiliev said, “Recent catastrophes in the Mexican Gulf were a grim reminder of the dangers that await those who want to extract hydrocarbons in the Arctic.” Should a spill take place, the country in whose waters it occurred would request assistance from other signatories to the agreement. Those countries would then do what they could to help. Everyone will know whom to contact 24 hours a day.


Should Arctic be a No-Fly Zone?

Mark Jacobson, a climatologist at Stanford University, suggests that the Arctic Circle should be a no-fly zone for major commercial flights because they may be a cause of Arctic melting. More than 50,000 planes fly through the Arctic every year.

He said, “One of the effects of the aircraft is they emit a lot of soot into the upper atmosphere and the sunlight is absorbed by that soot, and the air heats up, so you get this kind of elevated, heated air layer where the aircraft fly.”

If large planes flew outside of the Arctic Circle, they would burn more fuel. However, Jacobson argues the warming effect would not be as great.

The professor says he does not expect airlines to start rerouting flights around the Arctic Circle soon; airlines save more than $100 million a year in fuel costs by using the Arctic Circle as a shortcut.

Source: CBC News.

Antarctic ice increasing

Although the ice is melting around the North Pole, it has been increasing in the Antarctic. Scientists have mapped the changes and the British Antarctic Survey and NASA believe that wind is the explanation.

Their maps show the long-term changes in sea ice drifting in Antarctica. They report that some regions are gaining while others lose. It is important to distinguish between the Antarctic Ice Sheet (glacial ice) which is losing volume, and Antarctic sea ice (frozen sea water) which is expanding. Antarctic sea ice expands northward during the winter to an area roughly twice the size of Europe.

The Arctic Ocean, on the other hand, is surrounded by land, so changed winds cannot cause ice there to expand in the same way.


Peace Magazine January-March 2013

Peace Magazine January-March 2013, page 2. Some rights reserved.

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