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On April 20, the UN General Assembly held an interactive dialogue on the theme “Harmony with Nature”. April 22 is now celebrated as International Mother Earth Day, following a resolution adopted by the UN in 2009. The celebration invites us to intentionally focus on respect for the earth, our mother, who sustains us.
Ambassador Pablo Solon of Bolivia opened the debate by quoting Victor Hugo: “It is a huge sadness that nature speaks and humans do not listen.” He asked three basic questions:
- What is nature? Is it a thing, a source of resources, a system, a home, a community of living and interdependent beings?
- Are there rules in nature, laws that govern its integrity, relationships, reproduction and transformation?
- Are we, as states and as a society, recognizing and respecting these rules of nature?
Mr. Solon said nature cannot be submitted to the wills of the laboratory; science and technology are capable of everything, including destroying the world itself; “all technologies should be evaluated on their environmental, social, and economic impacts.” The future lies not in scientific inventions but in our capacity to listen to nature which is ruthless when it is goes ignored.” He concluded with Albert Einstein’s words: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Solon’s response: “We have not come here to watch a funeral!”
The theme: ‘Ways of promoting a holistic approach to sustainable development in harmony with nature.” was developed by four excellent presentations. Here are a few thought from each.
Ms. Vandana Shiva, Quantum Physicist and Philosopher, India
Laws of the market are in direct collision with the laws of nature; harmony with nature is an imperative not a luxury; earth rights are human rights—protecting the earth also protects the rights of people to food and water and all that is necessary for our survival; limitless resource exploitation leads to resources grab; around the world today, people are rising up to keep capitalism from grabbing resources; extreme consumption by humans leads to extreme response from nature. Recommended book: “The Death of Nature” by Carolyn Merchant.
Peter Brown, Professor, McGill University, Canada
We must take holism seriously; the current neo-classical framework is failing because (1) it is a-scientific, based in 17th century science and 18th-century theology; (2) it seeks more growth when growth is already too much (de-growth is essential); (3) it is grotesquely unfair to the poor, to future generations and other species; (4) it measures the wrong things; (5) it is unsustainable financially, socially and ecologically; we should act on the principles of the Earth Charter. He ended by quoting Thomas Berry on the interdependence of all beings within the community of life.
Cormac Cullinan, Environmental Lawyer, South Africa
We are living on borrowed time; humanity has reached the point where our modifications of earth’s resources mean our offspring are likely not to survive in the future; our change of thought and actions must be in terms of millions of years, not just a year or decade; the current transition we are experiencing is unparalleled in the history of our species; we need a major shift in world view—at present everything revolves around humans; humans need to see that the earth is the centre; global legal instruments are not supporting real change, only supporting political positioning; governance systems are not fit for the purpose any longer; Rights of Nature movement calls for respect of the rights of all people to live and participate with nature.
Ms. Riane Eisler, Author, USA
The earth is calling us to new thinking. “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them” (Einstein); In this time of dislocation we must challenge the economics of domination/exploitation of people and nature which cannot be sustained and will lead to an evolutionary dead end; ‘trickle down’ does not work—akin to paupers eating crumbs from the plate of the rich and being told to be content; old ways of thinking and current paradigms—especially economic policies, are ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’!
Statement by Fr. Kevin Dance, Chair NGO Committee on Financing for Development and Passionists International
Thank you Mr. President.
Even the most powerful governments failed to have the right policies in place to prevent excessive risks taken by the financial industry. The damage done has been contagious. We’ve all been affected though not equally. Let’s face it – our world has changed!
Many of the problems spoken of here are global, but policies to address them are national. There is still much disagreement on basic long-term issues such as trade, climate change or financial stability. We can’t continue to think exclusively in terms of national effort. We need to be working towards an overarching global structure that can help moderate the risks, balance the benefits and respect the right of every country to take an active role in shaping the policies that affect its citizens and its prosperity.
We hear over and over a call for coherence and an integrated approach to the global challenges we face. But we still want to operate in silos of self-contained units of influence. We need global governance, not global government. The expertise of such bodies as the Bank, the Fund, G20…continues to be relevant and needed. But they can no longer function with full autonomy and no accountability to the rest of the international community.
Every institution we create will be imperfect. But we badly need a mechanism that comes closer to embodying the principles of universality, inclusiveness, transparency and legitimacy.
As we face global challenges beyond the resources of any one country to meet, we need an overarching instrument that can help us look to longer term rather than just short term solutions; that can provide a second opinion to balance the decisions of more technical and less representative bodies; that can coordinate the development of policy and planning to minimize the variety of risks that will be a continuing part of our future and make it possible to share the benefits.
- Because of its universality and legitimacy, the United Nations must become the forum for policy creation on financing for development, with human rights as its foundation and framework.
- It is time to grow the FfD Office into a functional commission on Financing for Development.
- The Working Group of the General Assembly must be enabled to continue its unfinished work. We strongly support the position of the G77 and China is calling for this and for the prompt creation of a panel of experts. A Panel of Experts, representative and independent of politics or ideology, could become the source of a valuable “second opinion” in policy making. It could alert us to long-term global trends, how they are interconnected and what is their risk potential.
- Tax systems are vital to development, but there is an urgent need for greater cooperation between States, especially in combatting tax evasion. We support upgrading the UN Tax Committee to an intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder body to fully reflect the importance of inclusive international tax cooperation. This forum will enable all countries to make their voices heard in their own words. Such a strengthened tax body would complement not threaten the work of the OECD.
- We must move towards a Global Economic Council for Sustainable Development. We have long spoken of the triple bottom line – economic, social and environmental. We will make real progress when we do more consistently what we are doing here – trying to listen to one another. I was pleased to hear Mr. Priyadarshi call for not less but more meetings such as this one.
The time is past when we can effectively deal with economics, social reality and ecological necessity in separate places. We, with various skills and capacities, share a common humanity and a common future. There is an urgent need to rebuild the trust on which this institution was founded. Only by taking the risks to rebuild this mutual trust can we can find solutions to match the enormity of the global challenges that face us.
Thank you Mr. President.
March 11, 2011
- We Need a New Model of Development that Promotes Justice for All (passionistsinternational.wordpress.com)
- Girls as leaders for future youth revolutions to be trained in downtown Manhattan Sunday (thewgg.wordpress.com)
Lester Brown is expert in understanding the stresses placed on the earth and human life because of climate change: more mouths to feed and damage to the land and water resources of the world. His new book is World on the Edge: How to Prevent an Environmental and Economic Collapse
Some sobering facts:
- The U.N. FAO food price index for December 2010 reached an all-time high.
- The United States harvested 416 million tons of grain in 2009. 119 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars. This could feed 350 million people for a year.
- The world loses one third of its topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes. This seriously affects food production. Two huge dust bowls are forming, one across northwest China, west Mongolia and central Asia; the other in central Africa. Each of these dwarfs the U.S. ‘dust bowl’ of the 1930s.
World population peaked at 2 percent per year around 1970 and has now fallen below 1.2 percent per year in 2010. But we still add 80 million people each year. So tonight, there will be 219,000 extra mouths to feed at the dinner table, and the same tomorrow. Many of them will be greeted with empty plates. This will tax the skills of farmers and test the limits of the earth’s land and water resources.
Today it is not wars between superpowers that threaten our future. Now food shortages, speculation in grain commodities by greedy people eager to make a profit, rising food prices, and the political turmoil that hunger brings. Our governments must quickly shift priorities from investing in military to invest in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation. Or our future looks bleak.
Our governments must quickly hear and act on US President Dwight Eisenhower’s words in 1961:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies—in the final sense—a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Crop ecologists give us this formula: For each 1 degree Celsius temperature rise above the optimum during the growing season, we can expect 10 percent less in grain yields. As temperatures soared far above the norm in Russia during the summer of 2010, their harvest was decimated.
As people become more affluent they eat more meat; they drive cars that need fuel; grain is diverted to fuel cars and not people. It’s time to push for earth-care to turn back the damage done by soil erosion, depletion of water sources, croplands taken over for non-farm uses; crop-withering heat waves, melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets.
How will our governments hear? What does all this ask of us? It calls us to inform ourselves, to notice, to speak up and call the decision makers in our countries to account. To the disciples, Jesus said “Feed them yourselves” when they reported a food shortage to feed the multitude.
Kevin Dance, C.P.
“The longer we delay, the more we will pay – economically … environmentally … and in human lives,” So Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on government negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference in Cancún, Mexico. He challenged them in these words: “I am deeply concerned that our efforts have been insufficient … that despite the evidence … and many years of negotiation … we are still not rising to the challenge. The world, particularly the poor and vulnerable, cannot afford the luxury of waiting for the perfect agreement…Now, more than ever, we need to connect the dots between climate … poverty … energy … food … water”.
We cannot hope to meet the commitments our countries made in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to turn back the scourge of extreme poverty, without also addressing the wild weather events associated with climate change.
Time is running out if we are to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
Floods and mudslides strike all over the world – China, Haiti, Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, Madeira, Tajikistan……We must do more than offer our condolences. We must go to the root causes!
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that greenhouse gas emissions must peak within the next decade, then decrease substantially, if we are to limit the average temperature rise to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. This calls for positive action by every country.
Under the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), industrialized countries committed themselves to reduce greenhouse gases. The Protocol expires in 2012 and its replacement is under negotiation. We must all reach beyond selfishness in the service of the common good. The UN must work with the private sector, with civil society and NGOs and governments to make the changes in our lifestyles and levels of consumption to turn the tide.
It is time to stop pretending. We must look again at our God-given responsibility to care for, protect and nurture the gift of the earth. It is time for each of us to call our governments to make the hard decisions that will place the good of our planet over profit and uncontrolled consumption.
Kevin Dance, C.P. December 8th.
A new UNICEF study comparing the effectiveness of different strategies for delivering critical health interventions to those in greatest need, found that targeting the poorest and most disadvantaged children could save more lives per US $1 million spent than the current path.
The new findings are presented in two publications: Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals and Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity, UNICEF’s signature data compendium.
“Our findings challenge the traditional thinking that focusing on the poorest and most disadvantaged children is not cost-effective,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “An equity-focused strategy will yield not only a moral victory – right in principle – but an even more exciting one: right in practice.”
The study was undertaken in consultation with a range of outside experts, who described the main findings as both surprising and significant.
There are people in both camps – those who believe that we will not achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) by the set target of 2015, and those who believe we can. But overwhelming was the commitment by the individuals and the NGOs (Non Government Organisations) at this conference, that whether we meet these goals or not, we should not give up trying.
I learned much from my two days at this United Nations conference. I experienced both worry and hope – worry that poverty and climate change are not being addressed enough by the governments of our world, and yet hope that we, as individuals and as part of NGOs, can indeed make a difference. It is so important that we hang on to that hope and continue to work and move forward.
There were two sorts of sessions that ran at the conference. The first was a ‘round table’ – a panel of experts on a particular topic of discussion who addressed the conference en masse and responded to questions from the floor. The second type of session was the workshops. These took place in the smaller rooms of the Melbourne Convention Centre and you could attend the ones whose topic of discussion interested you most, again hearing from a panel and having the opportunity to ask questions.
One round table talked of the collection and use of data – how is it best gathered and how can it be used most effectively. Whilst the data was usually collected with the cooperation of the communities that require the study and the aid, these communities were growing tired of data being collected and then not acted upon, or for it to be acted upon without their consultation. Many speakers at the conference said that the data is useful, but unless a plan of action is developed in conjunction with the local community and its leaders, then the research can be poorly interpreted and the aid misdirected. Working with the people and empowering them to make the change was a message that came through loud and clear during this conference.
Most governments the world over committed to seeing the MDGs achieved and yet not all have followed up on their commitment; not all government aid has gone through, and the international community is not insisting on this or the correct distribution of aid to the people living under corrupt governments. This is a real concern and is why the NGOs play such a pivotal role. They are the people on the ground working with communities in need, to ensure that aid and support are getting through. Government aid is essential. NGOs carrying out this work (installing fresh water sources, building schools, educating the communities on good health and hygiene) are essential and need our ongoing support.
One workshop I attended looked at youth engagement and involvement. A panel of young people spoke about their own experience in NGOs, how young people can be effectively involved, and why it is so important for young people to be part of this work and these organisations. Nick, representing the Oaktree Foundation, spoke about ‘youth-led action’ and how young people need to be equipped to be successful in this field; young people need to be given the skills to do this work – how to coordinate a campaign, how to fundraise, manage funds, etc. – and that this needs to be deliberate and will require some time investment. He discussed the benefits for the organisation of having young people on board. Nick spoke about the passion and ambition young people bring to a campaign. Their big dreams and their willingness to take risks can truly bring about great change in our world. Nick described it as ‘Passion, anger and urgency’ that fuel young people in such work, and all of these things can be wonderful assets to an organisation if they are utilised and directed. Young people are responsible for developing and continuing work of the Oaktree Foundation, the Make Poverty History campaign and Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS (Y.E.A.H), They can also be valuable in established organisations run by older people. The panel stressed that the role of a young person in an NGO must not be token but valued and utilised if that young person is to be engaged committed for a period of time. The importance of young people in NGOs is apparent for the present and the future.
Attending this conference increased my awareness of the inequity in our world. It astounds me that global spending on warfare is $1.46 trillion annually, whilst the cost to achieve the MDGs is $135 billion. It is shocking that children continue to die from easily treatable illnesses like diarrhoea because their community has no access to hospital. And the horrifying fact that every minute, 6 more young people will become infected with HIV because the education needed for individuals and communities to prevent spread of this disease is not available More funding and advocacy are needed if such statistics are to be decreased. How can we make a difference? Firstly, we need to be aware. Then we can petition our governments, donate to NGOs and volunteer with them. With everyone making even a small difference, together we can move closer to achieving those important goals.
Marita Stretch is a member of the Passionist Youth Team, Melbourne
The annual high-level segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) opened today with speakers calling for women and girls to be placed at the centre of the global struggle to achieve the social and economic targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This year’s focus “allows us to strengthen the linkages between gender equality, women’s human rights and non-discrimination as a basis for progress in development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals,” said ECOSOC President Hamidon Ali, referring to the eight goals that world leaders have agreed to try to realize before their 2015 deadline.
In his opening address to the meeting, held at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Ali said that while the third goal relates directly to the empowerment of women, “all MDGs are dependant upon women having a greater say in their own development.”
He noted specifically the need for greater cooperation to end violence against women and girls, and the empowerment of rural women as a critical force in reducing poverty and hunger.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his opening remarks, told government ministers that “until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice, all our goals – peace, security, sustainable development – stand in jeopardy.”
Mr. Ban noted that this year is a “landmark year for gender issues” with the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – which remains the most comprehensive global policy framework to achieve the goals of gender equality, development and peace – and the 10th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security.
In addition to senior UN officials, the audience heard today from special speakers, including Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president.
Recalling her own election as the first female Chilean president and the increasing participation of women in the political sphere, Ms. Bachelet called on the international community “to move mountains” to end the persistent injustice the women faced.
Meanwhile, Frances Stewart, Professor of Development Economics and Director of the Centre for Research and Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity at Oxford University, warned that the progress made to date was being threatened by intersecting crises of food security, financial markets, human rights and security, and climate change.
She cautioned that the least progress was being made in the security domain, where despite a decline in wars and violent conflict over the past 15 years, general violence of which women were the prime victims remained unacceptably high.
In addition to the annual ministerial review, the high-level segment of the ECOSOC substantive session will include the Development Cooperation Forum, which aims to strengthen global partnerships for development.
The end result of this week’s discussions will be a “short and action-oriented” ministerial declaration that can be “understood by the man-in-the-street,” Mr. Ali said.
The declaration will serve as a component to this September’s high-level summit convened by Mr. Ban to try to urge world leaders to accelerate progress towards the MDGs ahead of 2015.
- Jodi Jacobson: MDGs: The Millenium Development…Guys? (huffingtonpost.com)