The Future of an Entire Generation Hangs in the Balance

By Yasmine Sherif and Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly
Dec 17 2021 (IPS-Partners)

COVID-19 has upended our world, threatening our health, destroying economies and livelihoods, and deepening poverty and inequalities. It also created the single largest disruption to education systems that the world has ever seen.

Schools also play a critical role in ensuring the delivery of essential health services and nutritious meals, protection, and psycho-social support, which means that their closure has imperiled children’s overall wellbeing and development, not just their learning. At the same time, conflicts continue to rage and the disastrous effects of a changing climate threaten our very existence and are driving record levels of displacement.

Crisis upon crisis

128 million children and youth people whose education was already disrupted by conflict and crises have been doubly hit by COVID-19, with the pandemic creating a ‘crisis upon a crisis’. The length and extent of disruption to education systems around the world due to the pandemic has tested the very concept of education in the context of humanitarian crises.

What does it mean to be dedicated to ‘education in emergencies’ in a world in which 90% of schools were shut due to a global pandemic?

How do we support children get an education in countries affected by conflict and fragility when in peaceful and stable countries millions of children are at risk of never returning to school?

Will the push to deliver remedial education for the millions of children who have lost learning over the last two years stretch to helping the three million refugee children who were out of school before the pandemic?

Breakthrough or breakdown?

These questions underscore a stark and urgent choice. Do we push for an ambitious and inclusive breakthrough or accept that the pandemic has led to an irreversible breakdown in educational progress and will permanently deny millions of children the opportunity to go to school?

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe conflicts, forced displacement, famines, and climate-change-induced floods, fires, and extreme heat, together with COVID-19 have combined to form a fatal cocktail that is robbing children of their education.

Last week on a visit to Cameroon, Education Cannot Wait met some of the 700,000 children there who are impacted by school closures due to violence. If this alone were not bad enough, just a few days before the visit, four students and a teacher were killed in a targeted attack, and, in a separate heinous incident, a young girl had her fingers viciously chopped off just for trying to go to school.

Education is a priority for communities caught up in crises

The bravery and determination of the children of Cameroon is a testament to the priority that crisis-affected communities all across the world place on education. They know that education transforms lives, paving the way to better work, health, and livelihoods. They know that continuing education in a safe place provides a sense of normality, safety, and routine for children and young people whilst building the foundations for peace, recovery, and long-term development among future generations.

They tell us their education cannot wait. But delivering that quality education to these children remains a persistent challenge.


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The Global Assault on Human Rights

Young people take part in a pro-democracy demonstration in Myanmar. Credit: Unsplash/Pyae Sone Htun via United Nations

By Ben Phillips
ROME, Dec 17 2021 – Human rights are under global assault. In 2021, the escalation of the worldwide siege on human rights included clampdowns on civil society organisations, attacks on minorities, the undermining of democratic institutions, and violence against journalists.

Human rights came under attack not only from coups, from Myanmar to Sudan, but also from strong men in democracies, from Brazil to the Philippines. The January 6th attack on the Capitol in the US exemplified the fragility of human rights worldwide.

2021 saw the conservative think tank Freedom House raise the alarm about what it calls one of the biggest worldwide declines in democracy “we’ve ever recorded”. But to protect human rights, it is vital to understand why they are under threat.

Crucially, it is not a coincidence that humanity has been simultaneously hit by a crushing of human rights and ever-increasing inequality; they are mutually causal. There is no winning strategy to be found in the approach followed by institutions like Freedom House which cleaves civil and political rights from economic and social rights, and has no answer to the inequality crisis.

Organisations rooted in civil society organising have set out powerfully the interconnectedness of the human rights crisis and the inequality crisis.

Civicus’s 2021 State of Civil Society report notes how “economic inequality has become ever more marked, precarious employment is being normalized [and] big business is a key source of attacks on civic space and human rights violations.”

So too, Global Witness’s 2021 Last Line of Defence report notes that “unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force which has continued to perpetuate the killing of [land and environmental] defenders.”

As human rights scholars Radhika Balakrishnan and James Heintz have noted, “when the political power of the elites expands as the income and wealth distribution becomes more polarized, this compromises the entire range of human rights.” Civicus terms the assault on human rights as one of “ultra-capitalism’s impacts”.

The World Inequality Report records how “in 2021, after three decades of trade and financial globalization, global inequalities are about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century.

The Covid pandemic exacerbated even more global inequalities. The top 1% took 38% of all additional wealth accumulated since the mid-1990s, with an acceleration since 2020.”

Societies that are more unequal are more violent. As collective institutions like trade unions are weakened, ordinary people become increasingly atomized. As social cohesiveness is pulled apart by inequality, tensions rise.

It is in such contexts that far right movements thrive, and whilst such movements claim to be anti-elite, they soon find common cause with plutocrats in directing anger away from those who have taken away the most and onto those who can be targetted for the difference in how they look, speak, pray or love.

Yet, as writer Michael Massing put it, “many members of the liberal establishment dismiss populism as a sort of exogenous disease to be cured by appeals to reason and facts rather than recognize it as a darkly symptomatic response to a system that has failed so spectacularly to meet the basic needs of so many.”

Human rights can only be protected in their fullness – civil, political, economic and social. As Lena Simet, Komala Ramachandra and Sarah Saadoun note in Human Rights Watch’s 2021 World Report: “A rights-based recovery means governments provide access to healthcare, [and] protect labor rights, gender equality, and everyone’s access to housing, water and sanitation.

It means investing in public services and social protection, and strengthening progressive fiscal policies to fund programs so everyone can fulfill their right to a decent standard of living. It means investing in neglected communities and avoiding harmful fiscal austerity, like cutting social protection programs.”

Only determined organising connecting the inseparable struggles for human rights and a more equal society will be powerful enough to win.

Ben Phillips is the author of How to Fight Inequality and an advisor to the UN, governments and civil society organisations.


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Meanwhile, more than 10 months since Myanmar’s military seized power, the country’s human rights situation is deepening on an unprecedented scale, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), warned December 10.

Trafficked and Trapped in Libya: A Nigerian Woman’s Story

By Sam Olukoya
BENIN CITY, Nigeria, Dec 17 2021 – Miriam* hoped for a better life in Europe. Instead, her journey ended in Libya, where, double-crossed by traffickers she was raped and abused.  She has returned to Nigeria and shared her experiences with Sam Olukoya.

Miriam fell pregnant and gave birth to a son. In this short documentary, she tells of the growing love for her child, whom she describes as “a very cool guy”.
(*Not her real name)

This is part of a series of features from across the globe on human trafficking. IPS coverage is supported by the Airways Aviation Group.

The Global Sustainability Network ( GSN ) is pursuing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 with a special emphasis on Goal 8.7 which “takes immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.

GSN originated in the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders signed on December 2, 2014. Religious leaders of various faiths gathered to work together “to defend the dignity and freedom of the human being against the extreme forms of the globalization of indifference, such as exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking”.


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Nature-Based Solutions for Enhancing Coordinated Action Around Climate Change, Land and Biodiversity

Nature-based solutions for climate change was a major outcome of the COP26 summit. These include people working with nature to manage forests, mangroves and farm sustainably. Credit: Yoel Kahssay – Unsplash

By Ruth Kattumuri
London, Dec 17 2021 – A key outcome of COP26 climate summit is the enhanced focus on “nature-based solutions” – the plans for people to work closely alongside nature to avert a planetary catastrophe.

While there is emerging consensus around nature-based solutions (NbS), the overarching concept encompasses a wide range of approaches and actions that involve the ecosystem, which address societal and biodiversity challenges while also benefitting human well-being and nature.

In terms of climate change, it implies working with nature’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases that cause global warming. This includes sustainable land-use practices and management of forests that can remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it for millions of years. It can also entail transformations in major sectors such as agriculture, livestock, land, water and waste management to ensure the protection of our planet.

Nature-based solutions not only help to mitigate climate change by expanding natural carbon sinks, they enhance biodiversity, provide food and water, help clean the air and sustain other resources, as well as provide job opportunities, whilst also protecting communities against flooding and landslides. Some estimates state that NbS have the potential to supply up to 37 percent of our climate change mitigation needs.

Dr Ruth Kattumuri is Senior Director, Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Importantly, NbS meet the cross-cutting goals of the three key United Nations treaties on the environment – also known as the Rio Conventions, on climate change, biodiversity and desertification.

Across the 54 countries of the Commonwealth, governments, communities and the private sector are keenly adopting NbS approaches, with most countries incorporating NbS actions in their national climate plans. Some examples of NbS include Pakistan’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami programme, which aims to restore about 600,000 hectares of forest and create thousands of jobs; Sri Lanka’s response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by rehabilitating vast areas of mangrove swamps; and the “We Plantin’” campaign of Barbados to plant one million trees.

To make natural climate solutions truly effective, there are several issues that we must address. One key challenge is the lack so far of an agreed framework or standard as to what constitutes an effective NbS. As IUCN points out, “misunderstanding and misuse of NbS have led to applications that cause harm to biodiversity and communities and threaten to erode stakeholders’ trust in the approach.” Examples include mass reforestation of single-species or non-native species, land grabbing for reforestation, and curtailing of rights of Indigenous peoples through conservation projects.

Further, NbS should not support or encourage carbon offsetting by polluting industries, as a way to justify their continued or growing emissions. A strong framework and standards have to be developed to guard against the misuse of “nature-based” to ensure effective climate action.

There is also a need to enhance awareness and knowledge about the different ways to include NbS in national climate plans. A recent study suggests that though large-scale tree planting and reforestation have become the most popular route for many governments, other solutions such as sustainable farming and animal-rearing practices, sustainable land and water conservation and management, reducing food waste and engaging indigenous communities in NbS would be more beneficial. The conservation of high-carbon ecosystems – such as peatlands, wetlands, rangelands, mangroves and forests – also deliver the largest and most timely climate benefits.

Finally, there is a massive financing gap to be filled, for, despite our significant dependence on nature, the sector receives very little investment. Estimates by UN environment shows that if our world is to meet targets for climate change, biodiversity and land degradation, it needs to close a US$4.1 trillion financing gap, requiring tripling investments in NbS over the next 10 years and quadrupling them by 2050. This amounts to an estimated US$536 billion worth of funding required every year.

There were some promising announcements at COP26, including a US$12 billion pledge in public financing for ending deforestation, however, we are far short of the required target. At the moment, the total falls significantly short, and private sector funding, in particular, needs to be scaled up.

Former CYEN Special Envoy for Climate Change Jevanic Henry with fellow delegates at the Youth4Climate Summit 2021. Involving people in finding solutions for climate change is at the heart of Nature-based Solutions adopted during COP26 climate summit. Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

Of the estimated US$133 billion per year directed towards NbS globally, only 14 percent is private sector finance, compared to 86 percent from public funds and subsidies. Lack of private sector funding is partly related to the complex nature of NbS projects and financial instruments and the long-time frame for returns on investments. The public sector thus has a crucial role to play in leveraging increased private sector funding by de-risking investments in NbS.

Innovative financing mechanisms such as green bonds, credit swaps for climate, debt-for-nature swaps, and carbon markets are also being actively explored in Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth through its ‘Call to Action on Living Lands’ is leading on tackling the climate change challenges. Addressing the issues in the context of meeting the targets of the three Rio conventions, leaders from member countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific expressed their support during the COP26 summit for a proposed Commonwealth Living Lands Charter.

The proposed Charter is a progression of the on-going programme on land, biodiversity and climate change of the Secretariat since 2017. The Charter will be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda in 2022, with a potential to spur cooperation among all 54 Commonwealth nations to manage land use sustainably, protect the natural world and fight climate change. Focus areas being explored include climate resilient agriculture, soil and water conservation and management, sustainable green cover and biodiversity, low carbon livestock management and active engagement of indigenous people.

Nature-based solutions for acceleration of action around land, climate change and biodiversity need judicial attention and support, not least in terms of finance. NbS do not offer a silver bullet to resolve the climate crisis, but they are extremely vital to drastically curtail greenhouse gas emissions and meet the Nationally Determined Contributions to 2030.

Dr Ruth Kattumuri is Senior Director, Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat.


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