Archive for the GVI News Category

Mona Khalil on Guest Blogger Series “Where is the UN now ?”

Mona Khalil : “I have been examining Global Vision’s questions about the status and stature of the UN with a measure of sadness. Yet the fact that the answers still matter enough that it is necessary to pose these questions gives me some hope and inspiration.”

How close are we to a successful UN ?

It seems these days that failure rather than success – scandal rather than serviceMAK-Image-III-300x245 — define the UN’s  news stories  — from the cholera and sexual exploitation in Haiti to the failure to protect civilians in Syria — from the unresolved conflicts lingering on the Security Council’s agenda to the latter’s failure to hold the worst perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable.

The few successes the UN has had under Ban Ki-Moon’s unfortunate tenure—namely the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement–  are at risk of being lost due to the shrinking budgets and crippling postures of an inward-turning United States.

The appointment of a new Secretary-General by a seemingly revitalized General Assembly has yet to bring forth any tangible improvement. Time is not on our side as conflicts are escalating, tides are rising and the numbers of refugees and migrants are growing exponentially.

What does an effective UN look like?  What needs to change for an effective UN?

An effective UN is a Security Council that stands up to aggression, occupation and genocide with the same tenacity and persistence as it does to terrorism, nuclear proliferation and piracy. 

An effective UN is one that works proactively to prevent and resolve conflicts and is not satisfied with passive approvals of cyclical mandate renewals without measuring concrete progress or having tangible consequence.

Tragically, the two superpowers of the end of the last century shattered the post-WWII legal order at the start of this one. Sadly, the greatest casualty of the erosion of the international legal framework is the principle of distinction between civilian and military targets as evidenced by the millions of civilian lives lost — whether as a result of the intentional barbarity of terrorists or by the often callous disregard for proportionality by regular and irregular armed forces.  An effective UN is therefore one that puts the sanctity of human life at the center of every decision it makes and every action it takes — regardless of the source of the threat.

Above all, an effective UN is one that hears from and answers to “WE THE PEOPLES” in whose name the UN Charter was adopted.

Which group is most strategic for effecting change in the UN? What can people in the international system do to make the system live up to its purpose?

For the UN to be effective, all of us have to do our part. The intergovernmental organs have to meaningfully fulfill their respective constitutional roles. Most importantly, the UN Security Council must act quickly and decisively to prevent and stop wars, to protect civilians and to end impunity.

The General Assembly — with the UN Human Rights Council – must fulfill the promise of self-determination to all recognized peoples and hold Member States equally accountable for their violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Member States in turn have to fulfill their Charter obligations and respect each other’s rights and above all each State must fulfill its solemn duty to protect its population from physical harm and to preserve its citizens’ human rights and socio-economic well-being regardless of their ethnicity or faith.

The UN Secretariat must fulfill its mandated activities with competence, impartiality and integrity – and must dedicate its efforts and reports to speaking truth to power and exposing the UN’s own shortcomings and Member States’ violations with transparency and meaningful accountability.

Regional arrangements and other intergovernmental organizations must act in accordance with UN values and in support of UN efforts to promote sustainable development, uphold human rights and preserve peace and security. Non-governmental organizations and civil society at large must help the UN on the ground and must bring to the UN’s attention all gaps and failures in the UN system and call for action if and when the UN fails to address them.

Each individual with the means and the reach must raise awareness of human rights violations and developmental deprivations and do whatever he or she can to contribute to a better and safer life for him or herself, for  his or her family, for his or her nation and above all for his or her share of our shared planet.

What actions are most strategic for effecting transformation in the UN?

In the name of preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States – individual States and intergovernmental organizations have mooted the voices of the peoples most affected by internal conflicts and international crises. They have done so at their own risk and to their own detriment.

The one most important change is therefore to open the UN’s meetings and minds to those most affected by the conflicts and crises on the various organs’ respective agendas. When the UN talks about peace and security, it must hear from  the state and non-state parties alike.  When the UN resolves to end decolonization and promote self-determination, it must let those whose rights are denied daily on the ground the fundamental right to be heard at least once a year in its halls. When the UN says it strives to improve the human rights and standards of living of all peoples, it must include the voices of indigenous peoples, youth and ethnic minorities in its deliberations.

This is not just the just thing to do – it is also the most practical thing to do — for who better than those most involved and most affected to help the UN understand and resolve these conflicts and crises.

 

Mona Ali Khalil is a Legal Advisor at Independent Diplomat (ID). She is also a Fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict. Prior to joining ID, Ms. Khalil served with the UN for 22 years including as a Senior Legal Officer in the UN Office of the Legal Counsel (2009-2015) and in the IAEA Office of Legal Affairs (2005-2009). She has a B.A. and M.A. in Middle East Studies from Harvard University and an M.S. in Foreign Service and Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University

GVI Guest Blogger Series on “Where is the UN now?”

The United Nations: a place for sustainable change only if we dare to challenge its ways

by Khadija T. Moalla, PhD, Senior Human Rights and Development Consultant

 “You can’t change what you are not aware of[1]”. imagesIs the United Nations (UN) aware of the many dysfunctionalities it suffers from? Can the UN afford not to change its Modus Operandi? With the increase in the development and political challenges the world is facing, on one hand, and the numerous cuts in funding from most donors, it becomes imperative for the UN to introduce real change, in the way it operates. Development as freedom is the core of what the UN can do and was created to do. The UN should be a platform that allows people, particularly in leadership positions, to ‘shift the middle ground’ towards new ground and new worldviews. More than ever, the current political international context calls urgently for such paradigm shift.

In order to achieve that, the UN should take its Charter to a new level. This needs to be done with the people by the people and for the people and not with the Governments, by quasi parliaments and for the lobbies. The UN Charter was initially adopted by few powerful States and then disseminated to the whole world through other States that were many times ruled by undemocratic regimes. The evolving new Charter based on the “Earth Charter” should be endorsed by real people from all Nations to voice a global consensus. This may bring back the true meaning of what the “United Nations” was created for. True participatory mechanisms involving broad sections in every nation should be developed in the process that will, hopefully, culminate in referenda that would serve as the political expression of a community consensus.

“The UN needs the mechanisms, policies and relationships reflective of principled leadership. Guarantees of effectiveness should be based upon an intrinsic sense of stewardship and a work environment that fosters creativity and initiative rather than compliance to rules and regulations.”

The UN universal core values can be summarized around: ‘Service to All People’, not governments, businesses, civil society or lobbies. This implies a commitment to radical transformation, while respecting people’s culture without compromising on Human Rights. However, respecting people’s culture does not mean condoning harmful practices or false interpretations of religious texts. On the contrary, it naturally should put a decisive wedge in the vicious circuit of rights violations based on culture and allow true access to the common human core, promoting dignity and equality. One battle worth engaging in, is the laicity imperative in order to guarantee Freedom of Religion and Consciousness, on one hand, and peace and development, on the other hand.

The UN needs the mechanisms, policies and relationships reflective of principled leadership. Guarantees of effectiveness should be based upon an intrinsic sense of stewardship and a work environment that fosters creativity and initiative rather than compliance to rules and regulations.

This goes beyond accountability and has to do with serving the people, on a responsibility and not accountability basis. However, the UN does not require programming that listens to and is genuinely responsive to real people with real needs and real aspirations. In addition, most UN agencies that went through a restructuring process, didn’t enhance their performance, rather added more bureaucratic administrative layers along with losing many competent staff. What the UN system needs most now, is to treat issues in the most holistic manner and encourage a group milieu that values responsible integrity more than bureaucratic rules and regulations.

Only secure leaders with the highest level of emotional intelligence are able to create a positive emotional climate that encourages motivation and extra effort, and they are the ones with good emotional self-awareness. This, in turn, let them make frequent use of positive leadership styles, which results in the best working climate for their teams. This is why, it is important to make sure that the most competent people, women and men are the ones that are in charge of all the developmental challenges the world has been facing for the last 70 years. Competent women don’t have the same opportunities, as men, to be in leadership positions especially as Resident Coordinator, Special Representative and Envoys[2]. When chosen to be in leadership positions, the majority did a great job. However, let’s note that some women didn’t prove to be the most competent, or made a real difference in bringing tangible results and ensuring peace and prosperity. Some unsecure ones made even sure to keep competent women away from leadership positions fearing a potential competition with them, in the future. None of them has been held accountable for such unprofessional behavior.

In this context, the increased understanding of the process of gender construction should aim primarily at dismantling the unequal relationships between women and men. Actions that aim at redressing and redefining the unequal power relationship between women and men, must be the cornerstone of any UN gender strategy. It must be implemented by both men and women who embody women rights and are totally engaged in ensuring gender equality. Any UN reform should aim at strengthening the strategic choice of hiring the right people engaged towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goal number 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. All the other 16 goals will not be achievable if girls and women are not equal partners to boys and men. It’s time to translate strategies and campaigns into actions based on the perfect synergy between all goals.

To conclude, it might be the right time to ask the question: Does the UN have a legal and moral obligation of means or an obligation of results? The answer might inform the future of the relevance of this organization.

 

About the author:

With 25 years of experience in Development, including 10 years in Senior Leadership positions in the United Nations, Dr. Khadija Moalla’s repertoire includes extensive expertise in International Law & Human Rights, Gender Equality & women empowerment, Governance & rule of law, Civil Society Organizations & the SDGs. Dr. Moalla is also a recognized global expert in the Transformational Leadership Development Methodology and provided trainings and lecturer in more than 60 countries in the five continents.

As UNDP Practice Team Leader in the Arab States, Dr. Moalla coordinated initiatives to sensitize and mobilize Religious Leaders, political leadership, art & media leaders, NGOs, legislators and private sector leaders, for ten years. Previously, Dr. Moalla taught international law at the University of Law of Tunis & the Diplomatic Institute and was a practicing Lawyer for ten years.

Dr. Moalla has provided advice and shared in constructing policies of the League of Arab States and the Arab Parliament, she is also one of the Founding members of the New Middle East Gender Parity at the World Economic Forum and a Founding Member of the Global Legal Network. Dr. Moalla received the Leadership Award from the United Nations General Assembly President for her work with Religious Leaders through the establishment of the Multi-Faith Network CHAHAMA and received the Excellency Award of the 2010 South-South Global Expo for successful innovative Solutions. Dr. Moalla was chosen as one of the most influential 500 personalities of the Arab region, in 2011.

 

[1] Deepak Chopra.

[2] The new UNSG promised to guarantee a total gender parity by the end of his mandate: “We should reach full gender parity at the Under-Secretary General and Assistant Secretary-General levels, including Special Representatives and Special Envoys”.

 

All opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Global Vision Institute.

Where is the UN now?

Global Vision Institute has one important question to ask “Where is the UN now?”. In order to answer this question GVI has  conducted a survey, the results of which are being posted on our platforms including Linkedln, Facebook and Twitter. Today we cover the questions asked as well as responses from our network that suggest appropriate strategies and actions that can be taken for further progress.

1. We first ask the counterquestion “How close are we to a successful UN?” The results demonstrated the perception that the UN still needs to achieve more. 60 % responded that we have some way to go before being successful, 16 % showed that we are not successful at all, 12 % believes that we are well on the way of being successful, 12 % answered under “others”.

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2. The second question sought to assess “What does an effective UN look like?” Most people answered empowered active citizens globally (84%), conflict resolution mechanisms that consistently engage concerned parties (80%),  as well as justice and accountability mechanisms accessible to everyone globally (72%). Approximately half of them agreed that community, individual well being (40%) , everything in the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) achieved (44%), climate security (44%) and a place where everyone has a say (40%) are also to be considered.

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3.The following question aimed to identify the target. To the question “Addressing what group of people is most strategic for effecting change in the UN?” 45.83% of people favored NGOs, 41.67% – UN leaders, 33.33% – youth, 29.17% – UN change agents and innovators, 29.17% – mass media curators, bloggers, artists, UN stuff , 20.83% – regional groups and diplomats, 12.5 % – private entrepreneurs and foundations.

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4. We next asked “What most needs to change for the UN to be effective ?” 68.18% voted to reform the Security Council, 50 % for the internal collaboration , 40.91 % for the more actions, 31.82% voted for more funding, to remove bureaucracy, flatten the hierarchy, remove diplomatic immunity for the UN officials to prosecute corruption/criminality and limit the power of member states and make it truly more representative of citizens, .

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5. On the best support that can be offered to make the UN more effective, the survey demonstrated that the most powerful support might come from clearer accountability guidance (44%) , leadership development (36%), training in partnership building (36%), training in systems thinking and collaboration (32%) and coaching for stronger alignment to UN values (32%).

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6. With respect to “What can people in the international system do to make the system live up to its purpose?” most (64%) responded to be more concerned with impact than promotions, 56 % ensuring personal and organizational accountability, 44% voted to be more efficient and be better at connecting the dots between different sectors, and 36 %  for being ethically aware, more dedicated and being greater risk takers.

7. The question “What actions are most strategic for effecting transformation in the UN ?” elicited support for systematized input of ideas and feedback from citizens globally (37.5%), systematized learning and sharing across the system (12.5%), supporting innovation and risk taking across the system (12.5%), partnership with key international actors while maintaining UN principles (12.5%), being independent of powerful nations, organizational structure (16.67%) and focusing on comparative advantage (8.33%).

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What do YOU think we can do to make the UN the best vehicle to realize the world’s aspirations now?

 

 

 

 

Author : Karina Nguyen

Control the Unavoidable

Control the Unavoidable

The neo-conservative Tea Party and new President-elect Donald Trump regard climate change as a myth. However, well-established scientific evidence proves them wrong. The consequences of the changing climate are unpredictable; millions of people will certainly be displaced. Climate action is expensive but there is no alternative.

Climate change is happening even faster than the predictions would have told us five years ago or ten years ago.“ President Obama stated at the SXSL Discussion in the White House this October. Climate change is the major challenge of our time. More than 95 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is the result of human activity. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the globally biggest knowledge society, rang the alarm bells in its 2014 study and warned against unrestricted greenhouse-emissions. “A given amount of emissions will lead to a given amount of temperature increase that will lead to a given amount of smooth incremental sea level rise“, and the report concludes that “pushing global temperatures past certain thresholds could trigger abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts“. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which serves as reference in the negotiations taking place within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) assumes a highly-probable forecast traced to an increased amount of carbon dioxide particles in the atmosphere in its assessment from 2007: tropical storms and hurricanes will intensify, heavy rainfalls and floods are becoming an ever more frequent occurrence, rising temperatures will lead to droughts and crop failures, sea-level rise will be due to rainfalls and melting glaciers.

Freshwater availability in Central South, East and Southeast Asia particularly in large river basins is projected to decrease due to climate change which, along with population growth and increasing demand arising from higher standards of living, could aversely affect more than a billion people by the 2050s“, the IPCC-scientists write in their 2007 report. The global population has tripled since 1950, about 3,3 billion people suffer from freshwater scarcity, one billion of them is forced to consume polluted water. Persistent droughts and further rising sea-levels will worsen the already existing problem in the near future.

img_8242Back in 2006, the 700 pages Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, authored by the London macroeconomist Nicholas Stern, and published for the British government, attracted attention beyond the academic world. His study examined the economic implications of climate change and the closely related consequences for modern societies. Preventing the excess of 550 parts per million, carbon dioxide particles in the atmosphere, costs about one percent of the world’s GDP, Stern calculated. The global economy will have to bear the ultimate costs of reducing CO2 emissions. That can be one explanation why there has not been much of political will shown in protecting vulnerable communities.

Migration patterns and sources of displacement have changed. Many experts argue that the migrant/refugee dichotomy disregards the very complex reasons of people who have to flee but are not considered as refugees according to the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The deterioration of the environment and the impacts of climate change will trigger large population movements. As the IPCC illustrated in its first report in 1990, “the gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration“. According to figures of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), an overall of approximately 1,6 billion people have been affected by droughts over the last 30 years; hurricanes, cyclones and other types of storms made a severe impact on 718 million people during the same period. The United Nations estimate that about 350 Million people can be displaced due to the adverse effects of climate change. In international refugee law, however, destructive environmental conditions are not sufficient to claim protection. Stern declared that “the exact number who will actually be displaced or forced to migrate will depend on the level of investment, planning and resources“. Contracting parties of the 2015 Paris Agreement recognize that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies. However, necessary measures remain to be addressed.

The article on ‘Loss & Damage’ in the PA suggests solutions in supporting people affected by environmental disasters. In paragraph 50 signatory states of the PA call on the Executive Committee of the Warsaw Interantional Mechanism to establish a Task Force to develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change. Sea-level rise and groundwater salinization which have already damaged common agricultural land on islands and coastal regions prevail the central inescapable causes of action to be claimed in a long-term perspective. The most affected countries are the least responsible. The article will be characterized by the hostility of industrialised countries to pay for compensations. For comparison: measured in absolute numbers, China is the biggest polluter with 9.019,518 kilotons (kt) followed by the United States (5.305,570 kt) and India (2.074,345 kt). Bangladesh, a country expected to be hit hard by climate change impacts, emitted only 57,069 kt CO2 in 2011 according to World Bank figures.

The goal is to avoid the uncontrollable and control the unavoidable, said Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a statement to the German weekly “Der Spiegel“ ten years ago. The 2030 agenda of the international community and the Paris Agreement which are the blueprint of political policy on a world stage will require action from every single country and its citizens, from the private sector, non-profit organizations and the academia. Author Naomi Klein summarizes as she pleads for an “act on climate“ in her book ‘This Changes Everything’:The longer we wait, the more it builds up, the more dramatically we must change to reduce the risks of catastrophic warming.

Thilo Kuehne

Global Vision Institute

The text has been sent to the subscribers of GVI’s November newsletter. More articles from international experts will be published the coming weeks. If you wish to sign up for our newsletter, put your name and email on the right of this page.

GVI Projects: Training the Future Leaders

GVI is developing a pilot accreditation programme for universities where students in the field of International Affairs will be trained to become the next generation of values-driven international leaders.

Through periodic assessments of values, supportive workshops and a UN mentoring programme, students will be able to develop a more in-depth understanding of the UN values and how to apply them in a real world context. This will set students on a value-based track allowing them to inject passion and purpose into their future career as scholars, practitioners or policy-makers and develop a range of skills valued by employers, including competencies  for collaborative leadership, enhanced innovation, accountability and a greater sensitivity to human rights.

The outcomes of the programme are that students will have a better understanding of the UN system and its values, better career opportunities in international organizations and a higher level of commitment to UN values and how to become an influencer within the international system.

GVI depends on donations from supports like you. To donate to GVI and the work conducted, please click here.

GVI Interview: Merlyn Ooms, Board of Directors GVI

MErlynMs. Merlyn Ooms is a member of GVI’s Board of Directors. A specialist in diplomacy and security, she has been working at The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in London, United Kingdom for the past three years. As a new Board Member, GVI interviews Ms. Ooms for her take on GVI’s mission in the current international system.

 

 

 

What about GVI’s mission makes it relevant today for the international system?

Today’s world sees increasing complexities of international relations and systems, where UN values are continuously under pressure. It is vital for these values to be upheld.This is where staff of international organisations (IO)play an instrumental role in managing and defending these principles.

From a functionalist perspective, international organisations are here to serve altruistic ends, assuming that we are a homogeneous international community. However, even if built upon the broad principles stated in the UN Charter, relative heterogeneity in terms of values continues to characterise the environment in which we operate.

In our daily jobs most of us work to strengthen human rights and improve social justice. This however won’t be realisable without leading by example and adopting values that will drive global vision and citizenship.GVI provides the necessary knowledge and training for IO staff to support the personal, organisational and social transformation needed to align policy and practice with the UN values for peace, justice, equality, human dignity, and environmental sustainability.

 

2) What do you love about GVI?

I love the passion and personal commitment of GVI’s members and its board of directors to be an influencer in the international system by promoting crucial values that will strengthen transparent and accountable management and leadership.

 

3) What do you hope to achieve in your role on Board of Directors?

In my role, I hope to be able to add new ideas for expanding GVI’s mission across the next generation of players in the international system.

We are currently working on an accreditation programme for universities where through periodic assessments of values, supportive workshops and a mentoring programme, students in the field of International Relations will be able to develop a more thorough understanding of the UN values and how to apply them in their future careers. This will set students on a value-based track allowing them to inject passion and purpose into their future career as scholars, practitioners or policy-makers.

The Promise of Well-Being: An Article by GVI President Alisa Clarke

In her role as President of Global Vision Institute, Alisa Clarke discusses about the case for human rights in the newly developed Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Ms. Clarke explores how the SDG’s are tackling human right issues such as inequality in efforts to promote an overall well-being for all and lead to global fulfillment. We invite you to read the full article on this compelling argument by clicking on the following link: Clarke from 978-1-63484-709-4

The Importance of Equity at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris

Social equity plays an important role in the solution to environmental sustainability. This is one of the core missions for Friends of the Earth, an environmental network campaigning on the most urgent and environmental issues. Cam Walker, the Campaigns Coordinator at Friends of the Earth Australia, talks about the social equity being part of the solution…

Friends of the Earth (FoE) describe themselves as the worlds largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 76 national member groups and some 5,000 local activist groups on every continent. Based on this, will any members of your group be attending the Paris Climate Conference?  

There will be a huge number of people, at least several hundred. At events like this, we try to have a number of delegates from the global south and locals. We tend to have most of the delegates from the local area. As this will be held in Europe, they will mostly be from there.

Ideally, what are the changes FoE want to see at the summit? Why are these changes so important?

In tracking the debate over the last 20 years, it is clear that the issue of equity has come and gone. The Kyoto Protocol was was based on the notion of equity, yet this was lost in the 2000s as the US and its allies dominated the debate, which lead to a rise in particular voices, who were not open to there being any limits on overall carbon use. We want the concept of ‘fair shares’ at the core of any agreement in Paris. This will mean commitments for meaningful money on the table from the global north to the south and agreements to limit carbon production and hence limit warming. Within the UN, we want to see a binding treaty to control the behaviour of transnational corporations.

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How will the decisions at the conference affect Australia and the wider community?

 If we look globally, Australia has been a real climate change villain for most of the past 15 years. We are one of the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters, and we need to reduce emissions here. We must stop exporting coal. We must listen to our regional neighbours, especially those in the Pacific. We want to encourage our government to play a key role in reaching an agreement which will hold overall warming to a maximum of 2°C.

In a news report on your website, an article you posted said that that the final preparation sessions for the Paris global climate summit in Bonn, Germany last month were disappointing. It talks about a weak negotiation text favouring developed countries. Can you talk more about this please? 

 We need to have a conversation about the loss and damage mechanism. The crux of climate change is two things. 1. The need to understand there are ecological limits. This means there are limits on allowable carbon pollution, with implication for how economies can develop. This awareness is lacking in the negotiations. 2. The right to develop conversation. The global north has used a lot of the available carbon budget to develop their economies. The south must be allowed the same right. But as a global community we need to do this in a way that doesn’t burn us all off the planet.

What are the main issues you are facing with completing these objectives in Australia? 

 For international negotiations, there is a much higher target that we must commit to: to the order of 60-70% by 2030. It is ‘up to’ 30 per cent at present, which is less than half of what’s required. In Australia, we support and help implement a ‘loss and compensation’ mechanism at a global scale, which means direct financial payments and support with adaptation and mitigation in southern nations. On the domestic level, we need to transform away from coal and liquid and natural gas. This won’t happen at the climate summit but is a required step if we are to fulfill our global responsibilities.

What happens if these changes are not made?

 There will be continued incremental climate disruption. We’ve seen the changes – the shifts in cyclone activity, stronger el nino cycles, sea level rise, etc. We are heading towards an ecosystem collapse within conceivable time. Given this reality, failure is not a heartening option. Even with political will, (limiting temperature rises to) two degrees is going to be very hard.

How can the UN climate change summit help get FoEs voice heard in Australia?

 Fossil fuel projects are being resisted across the planet by communities and towns one by one. It is up to the leaders of the nations that will gather in Paris to listen to climate science and achieve a binding agreement to limit emissions. It’s an opportunity we can’t ignore. We have to work as strategically as possible. We are working with civil society organisations, lobbying nations from the global north, and also collaborating with important voices amongst the emerging nations to help ensure their voices are heard.

 

Pushing for a Zero Emissions goal

One of the major steps towards climate action is providing viable, sustainable solutions. This is the core mission for Beyond Zero Emissions, a not-for-profit organisation designing and implementing a zero emissions economy for Australia. Stephen Bygrave, the CEO of beyond Zero Emissions, talks about the solutions already being implemented in Australia…

Firstly, you mentioned you spoke with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) this afternoon about the upcoming climate change conference. Did you advise them on emission issues in Australia?

 I spoke with DFAT this afternoon as they were holding a briefing for civil society and business groups for the upcoming Paris climate conference and Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) will be going to that conference. BZE has done a range of research on climate solutions, which we will be presenting to governments, business and NGOs at the Paris conference.

There are obviously many things on the agenda at the Paris conference but, ideally, what are the changes you want to see at the summit? And why are these changes so important?

 We are pushing for a zero-emissions goal – 2 degrees and below means transitioning to zero emissions in the second half of this century. We will be sharing research and reports on zero emissions energy, buildings, transport, land use etc. which show how it is possible to make this transition. We are working with other NGOs like Zero Carbon Britain, Track Zero, the World Resources Institute and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), to try and get the zero emissions goal into the Paris text agreement. We are showcasing the Zero Emissions Byron project where the Byron Shire community is taking the Beyond Zero Emissions plans and implementing them on the ground. This will be Australia’s first regional area to go to zero emissions in ten years. There are a number of other cities and towns interested in zero emissions – Copenhagen and Adelaide are racing each other to be the first zero emissions city. Copenhagen, Melbourne and Vancouver are also interested. This amazing array of projects show that the transition to zero emissions is already happening.

How will the decisions the Paris conference affect Australia and the wider community?

 Even a 2 degree target means zero emissions. However the post 2020 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) means the world is on track for 2.7 degrees warming by 2100. If we hit

2.7°C it means catastrophic climate change. Even the consequences of  2°C warming is scary. This is why we are aiming for 0 degrees warming. We have already seen the impacts from 1 degree Celsius with ice sheets and glaciers melting, floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires etc.

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In the statement on your website, you have created a transition plan for Australia to be at zero emissions in ten years using commercially available technology. What kind of commercial technology do you mean?

 Our approach is to look at existing technology to implement right now – we don’t have time to wait. The window is closing to stop runaway climate change. For example, reports show that new wind and solar technology is cheaper than coal. Energy efficient buildings will have enormous savings for the Australian economy. Moving to zero emissions transport such as high speed rail and electric vehicles will have huge improvements in economic productivity. New investments are required in energy systems, buildings, agriculture, transport etc regardless of climate action, so let’s make them efficient and low emissions now.

What are the main issues you are facing with this transition in Australia?

 Political will and the guts to do this. Another issue is standing up to the vested interests, as there are many existing companies whose interest is to keep the status quo as that is where they profit. Some businesses are seeing the need to change their business model as times change, others are not – they will eventually suffer if they don’t change quickly and address the innovation challenges we currently face.”

How can the UN climate change summit help get BZEs voice heard in Australia?

 The UN climate change summit will help to apply pressure back on Australia for more ambitious action and not just talk. At Paris there will be a realisation that we’ve been talking about climate action for the past three decades with little result. There is a need for increased pressure and increased action. There is also increased recognition that people just want to get on with climate action. We are seeing a number of local communities and state governments who are keen to implement zero emissions solutions on the ground. The UN summit will highlight these actions and show that disruption is already upon us.

How Behaviours Impact environmental sustainability

 

An important part of climate action is understanding how everyone can help to reduce their carbon footprint. Suzanne Harter, a Climate Change Campaigner at Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) talks with GVI about the important changes everyone can take to help work towards a more environmentally sustainable world…

Firstly, is any part of your organisation going to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris?

 Yes, ACF’s CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy, and our climate change campaigns manager, Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, are both going.

According to your website, The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) wants to “get to the heart of environmental problems by tackling the underlying social and economic causes.” On this understanding, ideally, what are the changes you want to see at the summit? Why are these changes so important?

 We are hoping to see increased commitment to climate action at the negotiations. Current emissions reductions commitments still have global warming increasing to 2.7°C which is much too high. We would like to see international governments collectively committing to targets and a review process that will keep global warming at much less than 2°C. We are pushing for 1.5°C, which is a much safer limit. Also we are hoping to see greater assistance to developing nations that need help both mitigating and adapting to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Climate finance and pushing for a 1.5°C ceiling will be important topics especially for many of our low-lying neighbours who are facing some of the most difficult impacts of climate change. (Kiribati’s) President, Anote Tong, has made it clear they are going to be under water if we don’t get climate change under control.

How will the decisions at the Climate Change conference affect Australia and the wider community?

 There are two things happening in Paris: There are the negotiations, but there are also communities, businesses and non-state actors mobilizing, raising ambition and broadening the field of actors and actions. These broader actions and commitments are an important part of the Paris COP. The conference is also helping to shine a light on issues of concern such as the impact of coal and fossil fuels on our future. ACF is working to stop new coal mines being built in Australia, and that includes taking action to stop the Carmichael mine, which has recently been approved in the Galilee Basin. There will be many people in Paris that share our concern about such a massive new mine, which if developed would be one of the biggest in the world, responsible for billions of tons of carbon pollution and endangering the Great Barrier Reef.

What are the main issues you are facing with climate change in Australia?

 Fossil fuels are at the heart of our energy sector and this need to change. The government needs to shift its allegiance and support clean energy rather than subsidising fossil fuels and acting as a barrier to a clean future. The current government removed the carbon price scheme, which was having a positive impact. It has now been dismantled and replaced by the ineffective direct action plan, which is not working. There has been no strong commitment to climate action by the current government.

Suzanne Harter

How can the UN Climate Change Conference help ACF’s voice be heard?

 It can help get the government to take stronger action. It can also help build a stronger movement. Because of the added focus on climate change, we are seeing a range of sectors– unions, health and medical, youth and aboriginal sectors—getting involved in the broader movement and raising their voice because they understand how climate change is affecting their communities. This big voice is being transferred to Paris. It shows our government and other governments around the world how strong, broad and committed the climate movement has become. For example, the People’s Climate March wouldn’t have occurred without the conference. People are mobilising and sending a message about stronger action on climate change. The conference is also putting pressure on big polluting companies and mobilizing more responsible companies. We have seen some positive actions from big business globally, including those that have signed on to “We Mean Business” commitments. Recently 12 businesses in Australia signed on to a range of commitments sending a positive message about businesses that understand the need to take action.

Now I just wanted to talk to you about your view on environmental sustainability. How can individual behaviour demonstrate environmental sustainability values?

 In a whole lot of ways. There are simple things that people can do every single day. For example, by choosing products produced sustainably, the heating and cooling of homes, light and energy use, investment in solar power. Individuals can also support sustainability by pushing governments for more public transport or by walking or cycling. It can also be through the way we eat. For example, eating meat is a high carbon food so it’s not the best from a sustainability perspective. We need to think about sustainable food and patterns – what we eat, wear what transport we use and what we advocate from government.

What about at the organisational level?

I’ve seen several different organisations implementing green initiatives including simple things like reducing what is printed and not printing in colour; creating practices related to the kitchen like composting and recycling; and increasing the sustainability or their buildings. For example, the building I’m in now has an efficient way of heating and cooling with air flow, efficient water and light usage. Decisions about how to be green through our built environment are important but so is building a culture around it.

What about the system or governmental level?

The government itself is a big purchaser so governments can support sustainability through their purchasing decisions.  Government operations also need to be as low emissions as possible. Finally, the policies implemented by government need to have long-term, positive environmental impacts.  In general, governments should have sustainability goals and pathways to achieve them, including transparent, credible and just policies and purchasing agreements.

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