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.


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.


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.

GVI Twitter Chat on Wednesday 23 September

Are the new SDGs truly transformative, or “new wine in old bottles”?  

Join us for our Twitter chat on 23 September!  #GVIChat  #SDGs 
Many applaud the groundbreaking global consultations that have accompanied drafting the new SDGs.  But is the current international system capable of doing things differently? Do transformational SDGs require equally transformational institutions, processes, thinking and behaviors? Are we there yet? How do we get there?

Tell us on 23 Sept from 13:00-14:00 EST on Wednesday 23 September #GVIChat #SDGs 



”Poverty is a denial of human rights,” Jorge Romano

Ending poverty is a great step at improving human rights. This is  one of the missions of ActionAid, an organisation that is active in ending poverty and promoting human values. Jorge Romano, the Executive coordinator of ActionAid Brazil talks up the various approaches at improving on human rights as well as the challenges in demonstrating them. He equally talks up on human rights at the organisational as well as international system…..

ActionAid describes itself as “A global movement of people who work together to promote human rights and overcome poverty.” Can you explain what human rights means to you?

Along the past 4 decades, ActionAid has taken different approaches to tackle poverty. As we say in our Rights Based Approach manual: “the trajectory of change for ActionAid has been a move over time from a charity organization to an Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) approach to development. In developing its HRBA approach, ActionAid builds on the idea that human development is the central concern of development, and takes the lead of the famous economist Amartya Sen, who defines development as a process of expanding the freedoms people enjoy. So, our HRBA is an approach to development that centres on supporting rights holders to organize and claim their rights and to hold the duty bearers to account. We analyze and confront power imbalances that perpetuate poverty, and we take sides with the poor and excluded to overcome it”.

Who would you say is a leader in promoting human rights, and what makes her/him a leader?

People use to have the idea of big leaders that raise the issue of human rights in the international debate, and even manage to mobilize others to insert those rights to the public agenda. As a result we have a significant number of human rights recognized at international level but that are not implemented in the day-to-day basis.  For ActionAid the great example of leadership in human rights that we need are those people that in their own specific context of discrimination and violence are able to mobilize and articulate local populations and act in network even with other organizations to advocate for the implementation of those rights. In this sense, there are a significant number of social movements´ leaders across the world promoting human rights at a very concrete basis in the day-to-day life.  Most of them are unknown. I can give the example of Dona Dijé, a Brazilian rural woman worker, descendant of African slaves, and leader of a movement of rural women who make their living from collecting palm tree coconuts in Amazonian Brazil.  Following Brazilian Constitution that states the social function of the land, Dona Dijé – and 400,000 other so-called babassu nut breaker women – struggle for their rights to an ancestor sustainable practice that is to collect the natural resource even if it is in landlord’s private land who make no use of it.  There is thousands of Dona Dijé across the world today fighting injustice and not giving up in their struggle for their rights.

How do you see human rights manifest as behaviors or actions in the international system? e.g. an international NGO working with your stakeholders and partners globally?

I could share one example about it. ActionAid is engaged in a campaign called Safe Cities for Women. The campaign is active in 19 countries and focuses on the end of gender violence in public spaces. It is led by women living in poverty mostly claiming for a gender responsive urban planning and service provision.  In addition to the national actions ActionAid also teams up with urban grassroots movements under the Global Platform for the Right to the City to both add a women´s perspective in the advocacy agenda as well as influence the final declaration of UN Habitat 3 Conference to include safe cities for women as one dimension of human rights to the city. Our work involves various dimensions: from empowering poor people locally to understand and influence the institutional design of public policies and the mechanisms for its implementation until work with stakeholders and build platforms to influence the UN agenda.


How do you see human rights manifest as behaviors in your organization? Are there policies or procedures that demonstrate human rights principles? Which are these?

We have internal norms and procedures that translate our values centered in human rights. In this sense, ActionAid has developed a Human Rights Based Approach that is the basis for staff training and a tool for the work with our partners. Our understanding of poverty is a denial of human rights. Therefore our Global Monitoring Framework is centered in how the poor people lead the changes of this situation. Our theory of change makes us believe everyone has the power within them to create change for themselves, their families and communities. ActionAid is a catalyst for that change. We know we can only achieve our goals by working collaboratively, both locally, nationally and globally – with people in poverty, our supporters, partners and colleagues.

In your team, how do you see human rights values being played out? Is there a culture of human rights? If yes, why do you say that?  If no, how do you think it can be developed?

In our team we put in practice the HRBA through staff training and discussions, selection of staff, and in the daily relations among the people in the organization.  We try that all the people understand the situation of poverty as a situation of human rights which leads to the denial of human rights is present in our context analysis and in our action plans and in the direct work with partners and communities. We also try that the narrative of our communications and marketing strategies and images are in accordance with our commitment to put poor people as agency and not reproduce prejudices and stigma.

At an individual level, how do you recognize someone who is committed to human rights? How do they behave? Is this something other people can learn? Can ActionAid teach us some of these behaviors?

At individual level one committed to human rights shows respect to diversity and fights against the prejudices the majority of us were raised with. If this person is a man, he is aware of his patriarchalism privileges and fights against it. And that person eventually fails in doing that is able to recognize it and change his behavior. The introduction of human rights in our daily behavior is a challenge that we need to face all the time every day fighting against the cultural patterns that we were educated in. Therefore, when a person recognizes his/her mistake and makes a move to change his/her discriminatory behavior, this kind of attitude should be valued and stimulated. On the other side, it´s very important to promote one style of leadership that empower the staff and create opportunities for them to make decisions by themselves and innovate. This implies the recognition of the value of each of the members of the team and gives equal opportunities for all.

What are some of the challenges in demonstrating human rights at all these levels (system, organization, team, individual)? how can we overcome these challenges?

One of the main permanent challenges is to move from theory to practice. This move implies eventually on conflicts. We need to know how to manage such conflicts in a constructive fashion.

Another very important challenge is to deal with the growing intolerance of our current time. Despite that human rights have been progressing in the letter, some would say that the era of rights is coming to an end, and we are beginning to live under a time of fundamentalisms.  Intolerance is growing at international, national and local level. This feature that in the past remained hidden it is nowadays proudly present in the streets and in the media. How to face discrimination against migrants, religious fundamentalisms, reduction of the age of penalties, restrictions on women´s rights over the control of their bodies and sexuality, among others, would be perhaps the biggest challenges for civil society at all levels .

Finally also another challenge is the negative side of the new social media that promotes the tribal behavior, a style of narcissist endogenic sociability, and an unaccountable violent discourse against the different with violation of human rights.

Integrity: Wholeness is Essential

Kitty Arambula, Integrity Consultant of Anticorruption and Integrity Office (OAI) at Asian Development Bank

The word “integrity” derives from the Latin integritas or integer, which means intact or whole. Integrity is defined, in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, as follows:

– The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles

– The state of being whole and not divided

In current parlance, integrity, when applied to people, their attitude and behavior, has primarily come to be understood as only the first definition. However, I believe that it would serve humanity well, if we all remember and consider the second, and original, definition, as doing so may in fact help us to understand and act with more integrity in everyday life.

Sadly, in our age of unprecedented abundance and access to information, we are confronted with daily reports of dishonesty of varying forms and scale. The news media- on the internet, television or in the papers – increasingly appear to report cases of fraud and corruption across all sectors of society, from governments and intergovernmental institutions, to the corporate world and the non-governmental sector, and committed by a wide range of actors.

Corruption has been identified by some as the cause and result of poverty and an important element in perpetuating inequality. It disproportionally affects the poorest of the poor and the otherwise marginalized, and has been found to be an undermining factor in all aspects of society: economic, social, political, environmental and even cultural.

Two main underlying elements are drivers of corruption. For the haves, it is greed, an intense and selfish desire to amass or obtain something, either material goods, or immaterial things such as power. For the have-nots, it is a desperate tool to fulfill a legitimate need. Research has shown a positive correlation between the perception of systematic corruption on the one hand, and high poverty rate and low-income levels on the other, in many developing countries.

In industrialized countries, corruption appears to be more prevalent where people have access to considerable resources. In both situations, a sense of “not having”, whether driven by real or perceived need, lead to the act of trying to get what is not rightfully or lawfully theirs.

The corollary of this increased (visibility of) corruption is the upsurge of protests against corrupt acts and behavior, the adoption of systems to prevent or curb such acts and behavior. Systems of control and audits, measures of surveillance, checks and balances, as well as investigations processes, coupled with the increased use of concomitant jargon – such as compliance, ethics and integrity -, are on the rise in intergovernmental, government and private sectors alike, as a result.

However, the long-term solution to problem of corruption cannot only be a “stick”, such as external structures and systems, which force people to behave in certain ways, and hollow phrases. The human mind, the world’s most sophisticated computer, will find a way to circumvent boundaries and limits, much like guerrilla warfare. These measures have to be accompanied by acts that give back to the word integrity its true meaning.

Such strengthening of the internal framework can be encouraged in two ways: first, by offering an external carrot to reduce the incentive for dishonesty, which, for example, is what Singapore has done – its government officials are paid high wages for precisely that reason.

Second, efforts can be made to build and strengthen people’s internal normative and value framework, to ensure that the desire to act in a wrongful matter is strongly diminished or even completely suppressed within the individual.

This is where the original definition of integrity comes into play: an individual who is “whole”, i.e. in unison with her or himself – mind, head and body aligned-, is possibly in a better position to act with integrity than someone who is not.

Such wholeness is attained through various means, depending on factors, such as culture, religion, population group and country, but the ultimate goal is to attain a unity of person, which is invariably accompanied by inner peace, contentment,
a sense of well-being, and a disinclination to do bad things.

With such an attitude and outlook, an individual, be it on her or his own, or as part of a group, will be, more often than not, inclined to do the right thing. And the more one does a good thing, the more they will be disposed to do it again.

And, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in this world.” It is from the wholeness of the individual that real change can be made, through her or his own personal actions, through actions in groups, actions by organizations, and even nations.

Even though international systems are created with the best intentions, and generally equipped with principles, policies and procedures that are conducive to beneficial actions – like the United Nations, the integrity of these systems depends wholly on the actions of the individuals of which the system is composed. If each person working in an international organization behaves with complete integrity, the organization will naturally function likewise at all levels: with integrity.

And so the virtual circle goes: from whole individuals, to whole organization, to whole society, which in turn ensures whole individuals. Let us begin, shall we?


The Happiness Walk USA

The Happiness Walk USA

Global Vision Institute 2014 Photo Contest

Six-Month Report, May 2015

Gross National Happiness USA (GNHUSA) received a GVI UN Change Agent and Global Visionary award in the amount of $1,000 for a photo submission representing one of its projects,The Happiness Walk USA. This project is an innovative approach to building awareness on creating expanded measures of progressto increase community wellbeing, in keeping with the United Nations’ initiatives on happiness.

The Walk is a transcontinental journey on foot by GNHUSAco-founders, Paula Francis and Linda Wheatleymeant to inspire people into action aswe engage thousands of people in conversation, listening, analyzing and reporting on responses to “what really matters in life”. We seek to galvanize positive social change in a way that is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and GVI’s desire to strengthen universal values.

Outcomes and Impacts (since October 2014)

The Happiness Walkers have traveledan additional 836.5 miles from Fredericksburg, VA to Jacksonville, FL, for a total of 1,634 miles. In all, this walk has taken us from Montreal, Canada south through 12 states plus Washington, D.C.

Many more hundreds of meaningful conversations about what matters in lifehave been recorded. Education occurs with each interaction on the implicationsthese answers haveon our universal aspirations for happiness and on the need to create thoughtful public policies that support community happiness and wellbeing.

Conversations about what matters most in life were further encouraged to take place in people’s homes during the week of March 20th,International Day of Happiness. Photos,representing events in twelve states, are posted on www.happinesswalk.com while summaries of these conversations are being analyzed for common themes.

We are in the process of transcribing all the audiorecordings,which will be analyzed by two University of Vermont math professors and co-creators of the Hedonometer, a tool that offers real-time, online measurement of happiness by tracking Twitter feeds.

A movie traileron The Walk will be madein JunebyKingdom County Productions. The trailer will be used to raise funds for a feature-length documentary to spread the vision and mission of GNHUSA. The film will educate people on how expanded measures,when skillfully identified and nurtured, increase the root causes of happiness and provide a meaningful barometer of community success.

A new Happiness Charterhas been drafted. This document acknowledges our ethical responsibility to exercise our pursuit of happiness by behaving in ways that are aligned with our national valuesand our ability to reach our highest human potential whilehonoring the richness and diversity of our planet.

GNHUSA is in the process of expanding its board to include greater diversity and national representation. Our very first executive director has been identified and we are currently negotiating a contract and creating transition plans.

Linda Wheatley was an opening presenter at The Economics of Happiness conference on February 17 and The Happiness Walk was recentlyfeatured in media as follows:

Gathering Peace, WGDR in Vermont (monthly)

Radio Bahai, WLGI in South Carolina (Nov 2015)

Tidewater in Franklin, Virginia (11/29/15)

Channel 13 in Central North Carolina (Jan 2015)

Natural Awakenings, North Carolina (Jan 2015)

Natural Awakenings in Norfolk, Virginia (Jan 2015)

The Colletonian in Walterboro, South Carolina (Feb 2015)

South Strand News in Georgetown, South Carolina (2/6/15)

Live Happy Magazine(March 2015 edition)

The Times Argus, Vermont (4/5/15)

Some photos from the road:



Interview with H.E Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser , United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations

The basic question is what does peace and security look like in practice? How would you describe how peace is or should be manifested as behaviours and cultures in the international system, at the levels of the system (including stakeholders), organization, team and individual?

You see, there is the UN Security Council l which deals predominately with peace and security, responding to Chapter 7 of the UN mandate for the council. The other way is that there is the General Assembly which corresponds to Chapter VI,which states that any dispute that is likely to endanger peace and security should first be addressed through negotiation and mediation and states that the Council can call on parties to use such means to settle their dispute. When I was president of the 66th session of the General Assembly, I chose mediation as the main theme. The same session of the UN General Assembly passed resolution 66/291 on strengthening the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution. Currently I preside over another organization that deals with issues relevant to peace and security, the Untied Nations Alliance of Civilizations, which was established after 9/11 as an initiative of the UN Secretary General at the time, and was co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey.

There are three main tools for peace and security. The first is the Security Council, which is mandated for hard power, dealing with military and peace keepers, while the General Assembly uses soft power and mediation. Then there is the Alliance of Civilizations, which is a soft power tool to defuse tensions through bridging cultural gaps and fostering interfaith dialogue and understanding among diverse communities and nations.

HR Headshot-2                                       Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser

Since I took the position in leading the Alliance of the Civilizations, I can see that there is a challenge that is growing wherever we go,. The wave of extremism and radicalization is on the rise. Conflict stems from groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda who use religion to promote their own radical ideologies among young people. We are working on this as a mission for the Alliance, which is focused on four areas (youth, education, media, and migration). Lately and over the past few months, I presented an initiative to the Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly as I noticed that these problems are increasing with many young people being brain washed by radical and extremist groups who persuaded them to join these groups. To address this dangerous problem, military power can be one solution but it’s not enough. You need different tools I am convinced, that religious leaders have a vital role to play. In order to address such cases, we need their input. We also need the collective efforts of governments as well as civil society, academia, scholars, and private sector support.

I presented to the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, the initiative to convene a High Level Thematic Debate with religious leaders from all over the world, representing major faiths to meet at the UN and talk about the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation and combating extremism.

The meeting was held at the General Assembly and it was very interesting over all. I feel if we keep working with different ideas and new mechanisms with everyone, it will work out well, as to fight with these groups we have to work smart. And above all we must be positive about our capabilities to combat extremism. The world must have peace and stability. How can I live my life without that? We need a global commitment by all parties to get through this. The threat will be towards humanity, and we know that our world is getting smaller. And we’re dealing with smarter people to fight against so we must be smarter. And I feel religious leaders can really help in doing this.

There is also the role of the media that holds the perception that the UN is a giant dinosaur and a bureaucratic mess. I believe in the mission of UN. I’ve worked with it for 21 years. It’s not an alien as it’s driven by member states and the UN can be effective if there is consensus. Sometimes, when there is disagreement with the big five, nothing happens. We see this in Syria at present. If we have consensus, then we can do it. I believe in the mission of the UN.

Interview with Jonathan Granoff,President, Global Security Institute and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee

What does peace and security look like in practice?

Peace and security are founded on recognition of shared interest. Presently, there are a set of existential challenges that every nation and person in the world is impacted by. These challenges are, to some extent, existential to civilisation, including climate, the varied PH of the oceans, the sustainability of rain forests. They share certain characteristics. In order to protect these common goods, global regimes are required. No nation or group of nations is capable of meeting these challenges. For example, if one nation can dump pollution in the ocean, then other nations will be tempted to dump, using that nations flag. In addition to these, there are global, critically important issues that similarly cannot be ignored or marginalised. These include the stability of financial markets, ending poverty, ensuring potable water, and cyber-security. These again share the characteristic of requiring global cooperation. Very simply, the UN system is the institutional foundation structure, through which the world needs to work to achieve cooperation to meet these challenges.


The identification and advancement of our common goods and interests will enhance our ability to reach human security. Thus far, the debate on security has remained largely dominated by the military establishments of major states, based on the premise that secure states are preconditions for development and the improved quality of life of each state citizen. This preoccupation of one’s own nation is not morally wrong – nor entirely incorrect. It is just not sufficient to meet our shared interests. Also, there are better ways than military force, in many instances, to achieve sustainable security. It is simply inadequate to meet the tasks at hand if our national identities obscure our abilities to identify our current existential situation — which must focus on global shared interests. The Secretary-General has identified the elimination of nuclear weapons and the protection of the global climate as both moral and practical necessities. The UN is a necessary and institutional foundation to achieve this.


What about every child and every woman initiative of the UNSG? Can that factor into world peace?

Great moral thinkers of humanity have consistently identified as a standard for policy how the least amongst us (the weakest and most vulnerable) are threatened. That doesn’t simply mean people who are poor but also includes infants who can’t fend for themselves and must rely on, not just their parents, but the social fabrics of the society of which they are born in. By focusing on the needs of the weak,we are forced to think of the most vulnerable. Too often, planning focuses on financial aspects of human endeavors and overlooks quality of life issues, which directly impact the most vulnerable. By focusing policy on an issue that any sensitive heart can respond to, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has demonstrated not just intelligence but wisdom. I do not consider women to be, per se, amongst the most vulnerable and in fact I have observed the trajectory of women taking their rightful place in society as the full equals to men in most important aspects. The achievement of gender equity is a common good. But infants will always remain vulnerable and it is thus appropriate for all societies to focus on their well-being.


How would you describe how peace is or should be manifest as behaviours and cultures in the international system (including stakeholders), organisation, team and individual?

Moral incoherence breeds instability while moral coherence breeds stability. Nuclear weapons policies of dual standards demonstrate moral incoherence. Some countries say nuclear weapons are good for them but not rest of the world. This double standard breeds instability. Nuclear weapons are no good for anybody and only an insane person would say that nuclear weapons are good for everybody. Under the rule of law, there must be the equality of application of norms and standards. Thus the capacity of the International Court of Justice must be expanded and the International Criminal Court must be strengthened as well as its jurisdictions expanded. Law is an important aspect of peace but must be founded on justice. It isabsurd that under international humanitarian law, dum-dum bullets have been prohibited, but the most egregious weapons of war, nuclear weapons, the use of which cause unnecessary suffering and by their nature impact neutral third parties, remain deployed. Nuclear weapons do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, cause unnecessary and immeasurable suffering, and therefore should be prohibited.

                                          Johnathan Granoff

Jonathan Granoff

In a larger sense, we can learn from history about foundations for peace. An example is that after WWI, crushing reparations were put on the shoulder of Germany, the consequence of which was a totally disruptive society in which Nazism grew. After World War II, the Marshall Plan showed generosity and inclusiveness and the consequence was the spread of democracy, trade and partnerships. To some extent, the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 Development Agenda can serve as basis for a global Marshall Plan based on the same practical successes and insights.


There were great voices within the UN such as Dag Hammerskold and Sergio Vieira do Mello who believed in defending the UN Charter no matter the circumstance. Do you feel current leaders within the UN system can rise to defend the UN charter in the midst of current threats to peace and security?

Within the skeleton of any society can be found its economic system upon which social relations deepened. If the skeleton is weak, the body will suffer. The world spends in excess of 1.5 trillion in military expenditures, which arguably is not strengthening the skeleton of society. A better approach would be larger allocations for schools, roads, hospital, environmentally sustainable practices and other security-enhancing endeavours. A culture of violence breeds fear and insecurity, and insecurity brings more weapons. There are not military solutions to Syria, Ukraine, Kashmir, and Palestine. All of these areas can best be solved through identifying shared interests and diplomacy. This is not to say that there is no value at all of the use of force. But I wish to highlights its limitations and emphasize other routes available if we would but commit the resources. The resources of the UN need to be dramatically enhanced to help bring about transformation on how security is pursued. Militaries have a place but, presently, their place is too large. Many institutions within the UN system need to be substantially beefed up.


For example, the International Atomic Energy agency has never spent more than $150 million a year on its inspections, compared to the billions countries spend to produce nuclear arsenals. Inspections, verifications, and monitoring structures do far more to build confidence and trust then threatening each other with annihilation.


The spiritually wise, through human history, have consistently admonished us to see the human family as one. It is interesting that the business community has long ago transcended national and religious borders and treated the human family as one market. We need to see the human family not just as a market but, indeed, as one family.



“The thought of succeeding invariably brings to mind the existence of failure”

In a continent where development is most often threatened by the lack of adequate health security, it takes alot of determination to be fully involved. This week, we talk to Ngime Epie,  a Cameroonian  volunteer/health communicator, on the role courage in his passion for peace building. 

On a personal level, how have you experienced your courage?

For me, courage has been a permanent requirement for the completion of my everyday assignments, both professional and family related. In my neighborhood, where I grew up, courage is indispensable. From school fights, which I took part in, to crossing the road safely to trying to convince members of a community to take up a project, I have always needed courage. My first school fight taught me the greatest lesson in life. As a school boy, I was one of the favorite targets for bullies partly because I was always calm. Then one day when a guy about my age seized my pencil and asked me to write with my fingers, the whole class burst out laughing at me. My head swelled with shame but my heart also bit faster with anger. In that state of anger, I gave the guy a serious knock in the face and he fell. Every one stopped and looked at me in shock. The guy got up, rummaged his bag and found my pencil which he handed back to me. He never bothered me again. I realized from then that I could accomplish a lot if only I could summon the courage to do anything.
What does courage in the international system look like?

The international system is composed of many sub-systems and coordinating all the sub-systems to function as a unit is an uphill task. It involves some tasks like asking people to change their mentalities and habits and this will take a lot of courage on the part of the actors and stakeholders. The fear to fail at an international level that is always lurking behind and around any project to be undertaken commands courage from those who implement them or oversee their implementation.
What are the stumbling blocks you have ever encountered that could deter your courage?

I am my first stumbling block. Sometimes, I let fear get the better part of me and it stops me from accomplishing so many projects. Another factor that usually discourages me is the thought of lack of means and resources to complete an assignment or task. The dearth of financial and material resources is a constant challenge to my courage in carrying out some professional tasks.
What is the place of Courage in carrying out a successful project?

The thought of succeeding invariably brings to mind the existence of failure. At the start of every project, there is the fear of failure lodged deep in the hearts of conceivers and actors of the project. Therefore, courage is at the heart of every successful project because taking up a project means overcoming the fear to fail.

Part Two

Who are you?

My name is Ngime Epie. I am a language services provider I multi-task. First, I work with a Cameroon-based NGO, Global Health Dialogue (GHD) where I serve as Assistant Project Officer. I am also a freelance translator (Fre<>Eng) and a contributor to a number of blogs

Can you tell us more about your work?

As the Assistant Project Officer in an NGO, I take part in sensitization campaigns in local communities, training of leaders of other NGOs. I also help to design projects, attend meetings and make recommendations to local authorities through reports. Most importantly, I design health projects to impact the most remote regions in my country. I also try to seek immediate as well as long term solutions to serious health problems plaguing remote areas in Cameroon.

What are some results you’ve seen in your work?

Some of the sensitization campaigns I take part in have resulted in change of attitudes and habits. Also some of the recommendations have helped local authorities in taking decisions that have affected, positively, the lives of the local peoples. Tackling a recent cholera outbreak in 2011 was one of my satisfying results because I acted spontaneously through GHD to tackle an epidemic in a community which I have never been used to.

What are your favorite things about working for GHD?

The best thing about GHD is flexibility. At GHD, most projects are designed with a lot of flexibility to minimize the impact of its failure, just in case. Also, the professional working environment is convivial

What are the challenges of working and living in your duty station?

It is not easy to live in town like Buea where information does not circulate freely. Information is also poorly managed and not archived. This is one of the challenges of carrying out a project in Buea. Lastly, the cost of living in Buea is slightly higher than average.

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