Plastic Pollution Will Kill All of Us!

Karuta Yamamoto, Dalton Tokyo Junior High School, Tokyo, Japan: “I try to not to use a (disposable) plastic bowl when I order food such as ramen noodles. I also share information about the harmful effects of plastic with my classmates. Credit: Karuta Yamamoto/IPS

Karuta Yamamoto, Dalton Tokyo Junior High School, Tokyo, Japan: “I try to not to use a (disposable) plastic bowl when I order food such as ramen noodles. I also share information about the harmful effects of plastic with my classmates. Credit: Karuta Yamamoto/IPS

By Andrew Lee, Karuta Yamamoto, SooJung (Chrystal) Cho, and Warren Oh
Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Jun 20 2022 – Have you ever watched the movie “Free Willy”? A young boy, Jesse, had an Orca whale friend named Willy. Jesse freed Willy into the wild ocean believing that it was the best decision to make for his friend. Well, that was a long time ago.

If Free Willy was made in 2022, would we have the same ending?

With over 165 million tonnes of plastic waste found in the ocean these days, it makes us wonder if Willy would truly feel safe in our plastic-filled waters.

Considering that more than 100 million marine animals die every year due to plastic pollution, wouldn’t the aquarium be a safer habitat for Willy today?

Let’s explore what causes plastic waste in the ocean, how ocean ecosystems are impacted, and what actions we must take to reduce them to protect marine life and ultimately sustain our world’s biodiversity.

One day while I was watching TV, I became so disturbed by a campaign that showed images of fish suffering and sea turtles tangled up in plastic bags and fishnets.

About 8 million tonnes of plastic annually end up in the ocean, with about 5 trillion plastic pieces floating in the sea. It’s no wonder so many sea animals get entangled in them. It restricts their movements which leads to their premature death.

That is why I question if Willy would truly be free in our ocean today.

Furthermore, how do plastics end up there in the first place? Well, ALL of us human beings are the direct cause of it! The plastic trash we nonchalantly throw away flows into the rivers which carry it to the ocean – including discarded nets, lines, ropes, and abandoned boats by fishers.

Which countries are most responsible for it? According to the University of Georgia, countries like China and Indonesia top the list of countries causing plastic pollution, blocking the global sea.

However, we all know Willy is not the only marine animal affected by the plastic waste in the ocean – all marine life and ecosystems are affected by it, which directly affects our biodiversity negatively.

Why should we care? Because it affects ALL of humanity! We, too, are affected.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 12-14,000 tons of microplastics are ingested by North Pacific fish yearly because a lot of them mistake plastics for food.

These are the same fish that we humans consume! According to Luís Gabriel A Barboza and others, in the journal Science Direct, 49% of the fish they analyzed had microplastics inside the gastrointestinal tract, gills, and dorsal muscle.

Considering we are at the top of the food web for seafood, we eat an estimated 842 microplastic items per year from fish consumption. That’s horrific!

According to a study by Joana Correia Prata and others, microplastics may disrupt immune function and cause neurotoxicity in humans.

So, in short, we end up eating the plastic trash we throw in the ocean, from which we will inevitably get sick.

Just think about it: we eat over 40 pounds of plastic (18 kilograms) in our lifetime. That’s the size of a large bag of dog food! Even worse, that plastic might even contain harmful toxins!

Now, how does that make you feel?

Similarly, marine animals also get hurt by plastic litter. According to EcoWatch, one in three marine animal species get entangled in the trash.

Isn’t it sad that 86% of innocent sea turtles get suffocated, drowned, or entangled in plastic?

What about microplastics? When marine animals ingest plastic, they can die of starvation because their stomachs are filled with plastic debris and often cut by plastic and suffer internal injuries.

If we don’t stop the accumulation of plastic waste in the ocean, what will become of our marine animals and us?

According to Condor Ferries, by 2050, fish will be outnumbered by our dumped plastic. If you were to go snorkeling by then expecting to see beautiful sea life, you’d be shocked to discover dirty plastic swimming around you in its place.

Under these circumstances, how does plastic waste impact ocean water? According to Okunola A Alabi and others, plastics in the oceans do not degrade completely. During the plastic degradation process, toxic chemicals like polystyrene and BPA can be released into the water, causing water pollution.

In addition to water pollution, plastic waste also threatens marine animal habitats. The harsh conditions and constant motion in the ocean break down plastic into particles of less than 5mm in diameter, called microplastics which are dispersed even farther and deeper into the sea, where it contaminates more habitats.

If Jesse were to free Willy into the ocean now, how would Willy feel when he ingests microplastics with every breath he takes? Something needs to be done for other animals like Willy. What action can we take to solve this problem?

Soo Jung (Chrystal) Cho: Students at Seoul Foreign School, Korea, participating in and promoting a zero-waste lifestyle by using reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastic bottles. Credit: Soo Jung (Chrystal) Cho /IPS

Soo Jung (Chrystal) Cho: Students at Seoul Foreign School, Korea, participate in and promote a zero-waste lifestyle by using reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastic bottles. Credit: Soo Jung (Chrystal) Cho/IPS

Well, we don’t need to be great to do something grand.

Even a tiny seed of an idea can lead to a thoughtful solution.

Let us share what we do to reduce plastic waste in our daily lives.

As middle school students, we bring our reusable bottles to school and drink from the water fountain.

We use shampoo bars instead of shampoo from a plastic bottle.

Andrew Lee, Seoul Korea: Demonstrating how harmful liquid shampoos and soaps can be. This is in addition to the plastics used for their containers. Using natural soaps is environmentally friendly. Credit: Andrew Lee/IPS

Andrew Lee, Seoul Korea: Demonstrating how harmful liquid shampoos and soaps can be. This is in addition to the plastics used for their containers. Using natural soaps is environmentally friendly. Credit: Andrew Lee/IPS

In addition, instead of using plastic bags for our groceries, we carry our reusable shopping bags.

And when we go to a take-out place, we bring in our pots so that the restaurant does not need to use plastic containers. For example, when we go to a ramen noodle take-out place, we carry our pots and give them to the restaurant owner. Then he uses ours instead of disposable plastics (see main picture).

We also carry our slogans to public places such as schools and grocery stores as our campaign to educate people about reducing plastic waste and protecting ocean animals and the environment (See pictures 1~4).

These may be small actions, but they actively help reduce plastic waste. If you join us in our zero-waste lifestyle, we can make our community practice zero waste.

If our community goes zero waste, perhaps we can help our country practice zero waste. If our nation goes zero waste, our neighboring countries can join us, and eventually, we can make this whole world practice zero waste!

This type of chain reaction is not a far-fetched idea. We can make this happen!!

Warren Oh, Seoul Foreign School: “I created these slogans to use when participating in the Adidas Run for the Oceans: Help End Plastic Waste Challenge 2022. Locally, I support Zero waste in my community, encourage recycling and continue to shop with Eco-Bags in Seoul.” Credit: Warren Oh/IPS

Warren Oh, Seoul Foreign School: “I created these slogans to use when participating in the Adidas Run for the Oceans: Help End Plastic Waste Challenge 2022. Locally, I support zero waste in my community, encourage recycling and continue to shop with Eco-Bags in Seoul.” Credit: Warren Oh/IPS

One small step is all it takes to start changing INACTION into ACTION! Many parts of the world already practice zero waste, such as Japan, Costa Rica, Dominica, and Guatemala, where over 80 percent of their waste is reused and recycled.

It is our duty as global citizens to keep marine animals and their habitats safe from our plastic wastes. Aquatic animals do so much for us.

Not only do they provide us with food to eat, but they are a part of vital ecosystems on which our world’s biodiversity depends.

So, exercise your power by doing your part to keep the ocean clean and safe for them.

Those who are able and willing to practice the zero-waste movement – COME, I ask you to join us in our action!

Use your creative minds to envision a plastic-free ocean. Marine animals like Willy will never be free unless we, as citizens of the world, take action to clean up our trash in the sea.

For the love of marine life, as Mother Teresa said, let’s do small things with great love. How would YOU like to start contributing? Our oceans need to thrive for ALL of us to survive!

 

 

Andrew Lee, Karuta Yamamoto, SooJung (Chrystal) Cho, and Warren Oh are middle school learners living in the USA and Asia. They participated in a joint APDA and IPS training on developing opinion content. Hanna Yoon led the course and edited the opinion content. 

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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Citizenship by Investment programme becomes catalyst in development of St Kitts and Nevis

Basseterre, June 20, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Despite being the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere, the twin–island Federation of St Kitts and Nevis gave the world its first economic citizenship programme in 1984. It provides alternative citizenship in exchange for a financial contribution to the country's economy.

St Kitts and Nevis is well–known across the world for its pristine beaches and sheer blue waters; it is also among the most stable economies in the region, with tourism being the major source of income. The stability and tranquil environment of the country enable it as an ideal location for people seeking alternative citizenship. There is no denying that the CBI programme of the country offers a much–needed injection of foreign direct investment, often in a way that can make significant developmental differences.

The twin–island nation is indeed home to the world's longstanding economic citizenship programme and has been providing alternative citizenship for more than three decades. The Citizenship by Investment Programme of the country is the oldest programme across the globe. The CBI Programme guarantees platinum standards with increased mobility, sustainable investment opportunities and greater economic freedom for successful applicants.

For St Kitts and Nevis, the citizenship by investment programme has a vital role to play in its socio–economic development. The programme is crucial for funding many projects. As per the CBI experts, the alternative citizenship of St Kitts and Nevis country is the most powerful in the region and provides access to more than 75 percent of the world. Not only this, but the citizenship is granted for life to the applicants with the ability to add additional dependents.

The citizenship by investment programme has been lauded for its stringent, vigorous and robust due–diligence background checks. The multi–layered background checks are carried out internally by the citizenship by investment unit based on the original and certified supporting documents an agent submits with your application, as well as externally by the third–party firm. The government of St Kitts and Nevis has hired the world's top–tier independent third–party agencies to check the character, source of investment, and documents of applicants. The checks are not only limited to online information, but also does thorough on–ground examinations to ensure that a person of only the highest character is granted citizenship. The background checks help maintain the integrity of the programme and also ensure national and international security.

The CBI Programme has earned multiple awards and a reputation as the 'platinum standard' of CBI. The Financial Times' PWM magazine lauded Citizenship by Investment Programme of St Kitts and Nevis in the CBI Index. According to the nine pillars of the CBI Index of 2021, St Kitts and Nevis have been ranked first for “Citizenship Timeline”, “Due Diligence”, and “Family”.

Interested candidates may apply for alternative citizenship of the nation through the Sustainable Growth Fund (SGF), which is known as the Fund Option. It is considered the fastest investment option, launched in 2018 by Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris. Through SGF, an applicant may contribute to the growing economy of St Kitts and Nevis. St Kitts and Nevis CBI Programme create opportunities for investors and the local community to drive economic growth and build a sustainable future.

The applicant has to follow basic steps to apply for the alternative citizenship of the twin–island Federation –

Step 1: Choose an alternative agent across the globe

Step 2: Complete the applications and documentation

Step 3: Due Diligence

Step 4: If your application is selected, proceed to payment

Step 5: Certification

Located in the Caribbean region, St Kitts and Nevis is easily accessible by cruise ships and planes. The nation is known as the region's best–kept secret. The stunning beauty, rich history and friendly locals make the country a perfect must–visit travel destination. The nation has been regarded "splendid" due to the seven factors "" volcanoes, mountains, coral reefs, protected areas, coastlines, rainforests, and glaciers.

St Kitts is known to be party–friendly and Nevis is all about peace and nature. The Caribbean country will attract the tourists with fascinating activities, including bobbing yachts, swaying palm trees, and jaw–dropping sunset sights. The tourists may also enjoy the warm local feel, island's rich history or kick back at one of the many incredible resorts.

St Kitts and Nevis, two islands have been separated by a two–mile channel, which is popularly called "Narrows". The tourists may easily travel between both the nations through excellent ferry services which accommodates both persons and cars. Both are regarded as quaint in nature with cobbled sidewalks and a wealth of history on display. These islands offer magnificent historical sites and landmarks to explore, including the Circus Monument, which adorns Fort Street, the main thoroughfare in Basseterre and the Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown. The Brimstone Hill Fortress and National Park is acclaimed as the largest fortress in the Eastern Caribbean and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Iran’s Economy Hostage to its Foreign Policy

By Ghazal Vaisi
NEW YORK, Jun 20 2022 – The Islamic Republic of Iran faces widespread anti-government protests amid an economic crisis while doing little to ease tensions with the international community as it becomes a nuclear threshold state.

Iran’s continued lack of cooperation and transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) foreshadows the death of the Iran nuclear deal and poses a potential threat not only to Iran’s future but also to the international community.

Many Iranians fear Tehran’s current course of action exposes the country to a military conflict that would potentially destroy Iran and its economy as it is.

The negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal, which would curb Iran’s ability to build an atomic bomb, have floundered since the US refused Iran’s demand to delist the IRGC from the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations‘ list.

The Islamic Republic’s response to the IAEA’s resolution on Wednesday could deal a “fatal blow” to the stalled talks, according to Director-General of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi.

In response to the agency’s request for transparency about uranium traces found at three undeclared sites, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi rejected the resolution saying, “The Islamic Republic will not take even a single step backward from its positions.”

The regime removed 27 surveillance cameras used by the agency to monitor its nuclear facilities. The action breaks the IAEA’s “continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s nuclear facilities, inviting escalation of the case to the UN Security Council should Iran not cooperate by September.

Tehran’s lack of cooperation has already impacted Iran’s currency value and puts military confrontation on the table in September, possibly sooner, should the Islamic Republic’s leadership not change its course.

With the death of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran will face new economic challenges as it can no longer count on billions of dollars in sanctions relief, as it did in 2015.

The sanctions relief package would have included over $100 billion in oil revenues that are currently held as frozen assets in Chinese, South Korean, and Indian banks. Iran will also miss out on a flood of trade and investment opportunities and cannot count on oil exports as its primary source of income.

Additionally, over four decades of economic isolation, sanctions, and mismanagement have left Iran’s economy vulnerable to the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When the war broke out, Iran’s inflation stood unprecedented, at 43.3%.

Russia’s prolonged assault on Ukraine exacerbates Iran’s economic decline. Since the war started, 60% of Iran’s annual grain imports from Russia and Ukraine are now at risk. Many ships carrying millions of tons of grains remain stranded in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports by Russia’s blockade.

The war also jeopardizes Iran’s last economic lifeline, revenues from oil exports, which were already heavily sanctioned. Iran now competes with Russia, the world’s second-largest oil exporter, seeking other buyers for their discounted oil, as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have sanctioned Russian oil imports.

Before the war, China had been Iran’s top oil buyer. However, Iran’s crude oil exports to China have plummeted since Russia launched its offensive in February, along with increased Russian oil exports to China.

The Islamic Republic’s foreign policy and allocation of resources have only hurt Iran’s financial outlook and demonstrate their priorities. Instead of compromising for the betterment of their people, Iranian leaders have cut subsidies for flour-based products amid global wheat shortages to give the IRGC financial room to operate and fund their nuclear, drone, and missile program. The decision to cut subsidies has resulted in a 300% increase in bread prices.

Many Iranians struggled to keep up with soaring prices of essential foodstuffs like cooking oil, chicken, eggs, and rice, even before global food shortages. What frustrates Iranians is that even if Iran changes its foreign policy and gains access to its financial resources, there is still a great deal of doubt that it would improve Iranians’ lives.

The dire economic climate has triggered civil unrest across Iran. Economic protests quickly turned political. Chants like, “Our enemy is here. They are lying that it is the US,” and “clergy, get lost” can be heard amongst other anti-governmental chants.

While lacking the willingness to feed their people, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, and his network of IRGC generals have shown willingness and capability to crush mass protests using the IRGC security forces, police, and intelligence services.

Iranians’ lack of representation, political freedom, free elections, and media coverage of this failure to provide basic human necessities has forced virtually every corner of society, from students to retirees, to take to the streets, knowingly risking their lives. Sanctioned by the US, impacted by war, abandoned by Khamenei, and crushed by the IRGC, Iranians have nowhere to turn for help.

In addition to the economic woes Iranians face due to Tehran’s mismanagement, they now face a larger threat, a potential military conflict. On Thursday, after Iran rejected the IAEA’s resolution, the US proposed bipartisan legislation to help Israel and the GCC nations improve their air defense to prepare against an evolving Iranian threat. Israel is already conducting air force exercises over the Mediterranean Sea.

Tehran’s hardliner policies and lack of transparency with the IAEA jeopardize the livelihood of Iranians and the international security at large. Iran’s leadership now holds the future of not just their citizens but that of the entire Middle East and other parts of the world should Iran become a nuclear nation.

Suppose Iran fails to comply with the IAEA resolution in September, and Iran is considered a threat. In that case, Iran’s case might move to the UN Security Council, where harsher punishments, or worse, a military conflict, await Iranians.

Whether Iran remains a threshold nuclear state or decides to build atomic bombs, it will eventually invite military action against itself, which will devastate Iran’s economy beyond repair, and leave Iranians’ livelihoods as collateral damage yet again.

Ghazal Vaisi is an Iranian-born international affairs analyst focusing on the evolution of authoritarianism in the modern world. Her writings have appeared in the Middle East Institute, Independent Farsi, and Iran International.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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The Battle for Covid-19 Vaccines: the Rich Prevail Over the Poor

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2022 – The 164-member World Trade Organization (WTO) has implicitly rubber-stamped a widely-condemned policy of “vaccine apartheid” which has discriminated the world’s poorer nations, mostly in Africa and Asia, depriving them of any wide-ranging intellectual property rights.

As Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, said at the conclusion of the WTO’s ministerial meeting last week: “The conduct of rich countries at the WTO has been utterly shameful”.

“The European Union (EU) has blocked anything that resembles a meaningful intellectual property waiver. The UK and Switzerland have used negotiations to twist the knife and make any text even worse. And the US has sat silently in negotiations with red lines designed to limit the impact of any agreement.”

The Geneva-based WTO, whose members account for nearly 98 percent of world trade, takes decisions by consensus resulting in a rash of compromises on some of the disputed issues.

Lawson said: “This is absolutely not the broad intellectual property waiver the world desperately needs to ensure access to vaccines and treatments for everyone, everywhere. The EU, UK, US, and Switzerland blocked that text.”

This so-called compromise, he argued, largely reiterates developing countries’ existing rights to override patents in certain circumstances. And it tries to restrict even that limited right to countries which do not already have capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

“Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives”, he warned.

Summing up the conclusions of the meeting, the New York Times said last week that WTO members agreed to loosen intellectual property rights “to allow developing countries to manufacture patented Covid-19 vaccines under certain circumstances.”

”The issue of relaxing intellectual property rights for vaccines had become highly controversial. It pitted the pharmaceutical industry and developed countries that are home to their operations, particularly in Europe, against civil society organizations (CSOs) and delegates from India and South Africa.”

Oxfam’s Lawson said: “South Africa and India have led a 20-month fight for the rights of developing countries to manufacture and access vaccines, tests, and treatments. It is disgraceful that rich countries have prevented the WTO from delivering a meaningful agreement on vaccines and have dodged their responsibility to take action on treatments while people die without them.”

“There are some worrying new obligations in this text that could actually make it harder for countries to access vaccines in a pandemic. We hope that developing countries will now take bolder action to exercise their rights to override vaccine intellectual property rules and, if necessary, circumvent them to save lives.”

In a statement released last week, the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines have sparked worldwide debate, from Washington to Beijing and Davos to the World Trade Organization.

A group of Nobel laureates wrote to President Biden arguing that a temporary waiver of COVID-19 patent rights is essential to halting the global pandemic.

“Waiver advocates say that prioritizing the intellectual property rights of vaccine developers (many of whom have received governmental support) is making the vaccination rollout slow and unaffordable for billions of people in less-wealthy nations”.

Supporters of the status quo say a waiver would chill investment in the very pharmaceutical research that led to the vaccines’ creation, the Alliance said.

https://peoplesvaccinealliance.medium.com/open-letter-former-heads-of-state-and-nobel-laureates-call-on-president-biden-to-waive-e0589edd5704

The Alliance also pointed out that In October 2020, South Africa and India proposed a broad waiver of the Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement covering COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

The EU, UK, and Switzerland blocked that proposal. The US supported an IP waiver for only vaccines. The final text agreed is a watered-down waiver of one small clause of the TRIPS agreement relating to exports of vaccines. It also contains new barriers that are not in the original TRIPS agreement text.

Ben Phillips, author of ‘How to Fight Inequality’ told IPS that rich countries had acted to protect the monopolies of big pharmaceutical companies to determine production levels of pandemic-ending medicines.

In doing so, he said “they are not only causing deaths in developing countries, they are causing deaths in their own countries’ too. It’s not Northern interests vs Southern interests. It’s a handful of oligarchs who cannot share vs 8 billion people who want to be safe from pandemics.”

“Almost everyone in every country in the world”, he said, “would be better off if big pharmaceutical companies made slightly less obscene profits so that enough doses of pandemic-ending medicines could be made by multiple producers across the world to reach everyone who needs them on time.

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the rot of the system of monopolies over production of vital medicines. Everyone can see it, and it will fall. How quickly it falls is the only question left. People are organizing nationally and internationally and they won’t let this pass again,” Phillips declared.

Mandeep S. Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations (CSOs), told IPS “unequal access to vaccines is a global scandal that flies in the face of the economic, social and technological progress we claim to have made as humanity”.

He pointed out that CSOs around the world have long called for equity in health care and an end to excessive profiteering by the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of people’s well-being.

“We need to closely examine the reasons for the lack of political will to meaningfully address these issues.”

Meanwhile, in a statement last March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said more than 10.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, “enough to protect the entire world population from severe symptoms, hospitalization and death.”

But despite this achievement, Bachelet insisted that the “grim reality” was that only around 13 per cent of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated, compared with almost 70 per cent in high-income countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) ,has insisted that inaction risked penalizing the planet’s most vulnerable people and countries.

“We are at an inflection point in history”, he said. “We have the tools to end the acute phase of the pandemic, if we use them properly and share them fairly. But profound inequities are undermining that chance.

“Countries with high vaccination rates are reopening while others with low vaccination rates and low testing rates have been left behind. The result is more than 60,000 deaths per week, along with an increased risk of the emergence of new variants.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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Who Should Be the Next UN Climate Change Head?

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa addresses the Bonn Climate Change Conference. Her second, three-year term as head of UNFCCC ends in July.

By Felix Dodds and Chris Spence
NEW YORK, Jun 20 2022 – Patricia Espinosa’s six years as Executive Secretary of the UN’s climate change secretariat ends on July 15th. During her time in charge, she has led efforts to operationalize the 2015 Paris Agreement and inject greater urgency into the diplomatic process. Although progress has been difficult, COP26 in Glasgow added some momentum and arguably brought the UN process to the start of its next stage: implementation.

As thoughts turn to this next, critical phase, several names are already circulating for who the next leader should be. These include the UK’s Alok Sharma, who chaired COP26, former GEF head Naoko Ishii of Japan, and Egypt’s Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad, Sri Mulyani Indrawati of Indonesia Finance Minister and Ambassador Liz Thomson from Barbados among others.

So, who should step into Espinosa’s shoes? And what sort of qualities will they need to succeed?

 

Location, Location

Any leader who believes it is all about them, or that they can charm or compel governments to act, will be doomed to failure. This is a particular risk for candidates who have been senior politicians in the past. They would have to curb the instinct to garner headlines for themselves. In this role the ability to listen, not just talk, will be critical

For any senior UN job there is a geopolitical calculation in play. With more being asked from the Global South in combating climate change, there is an argument to be made that the next Executive Secretary should hail from a developing country. Some observers feel this would help build trust in the climate talks.

There is an equity argument in play here, too. Historically, the first three UNFCCC leaders were Europeans: Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta, then Joke Waller-Hunter and Yvo de Boer, both from the Netherlands. The next two came from the Americas: Christiana Figueres from Costa Rica, and Mexico’s Patricia Espinosa.

An argument could easily be made that the next leader should come from Asia-Pacific or Africa. Interestingly, the next two COPs will be in these regions: COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the United Arab Emirates.

But which should it be: Africa or Asia-Pacific? In this respect, it is worth noting that two Africans already lead the other so-called Rio Conventions: Ibrahim Thiaw is responsible for the UN’s efforts on desertification, while Elizabeth Mrema heads-up biodiversity. Based on this, there is a strong case for appointing a developing country person from Asia or the Pacific or perhaps from the Small Island Developing States as they are hit worst by the impacts of climate change.

 

Seeking courageous, ego-free networkers

Irrespective of geography, what sort of qualities would a future leader need? We believe someone with excellent networking skills is essential, especially as we move from negotiating into implementation mode.

A naturally-charismatic figure who can build trusting relationships and bring people together will be essential. These are qualities Christiana Figueres deployed to great effect to help birth the Paris Agreement.

Any future UN climate leader will also need to be aware of the need for subtlety. In fact, we would suggest the next leader will need to be almost “egoless” in their pursuit of progress. The best UN leaders know when to let their partners—the politicians holding the COP presidency, for instance, as well as other governments heads—take center stage.

They know not only when to step up, but also when to step back and share the limelight. In this respect, Michael Zammit Cutajar—who led the UN climate secretariat in its early years—was a master, as was deputy leader Richard Kinley (2006-2017).

There is an important lesson here: any leader who believes it is all about them, or that they can charm or compel governments to act, will be doomed to failure. This is a particular risk for candidates who have been senior politicians in the past. They would have to curb the instinct to garner headlines for themselves. In this role the ability to listen, not just talk, will be critical.

The next Executive Secretary should ideally have been active in the climate negotiations for some time. This is a complicated field and they will need to have a good understanding of not just the issues or political positions of various country groupings, but also the people who are doing the negotiating.

Diplomacy is always a complex web of geopolitical positions, but underneath this are individuals. An effective leader will get to know the people involved and seek to build personal trust. Having someone who already knows the key individuals involved will help them hit the ground running.

The role will also require both courage and persistence. These are qualities we believe are essential for any successful leader when it comes to multilateral environmental agreements. It is something we explore in-depth in our book, Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage. Yes, the science is telling us we must supercharge our efforts and sprint to the finish line. However, persistence and the knowledge that all diplomacy is a marathon will be needed by whoever takes on this important role.

Finally, this is such an important appointment that we would propose the hiring process be undertaken in the open. What we mean by this is that there could be “hustings” for member states and stakeholders to question the candidates, as there is for the UN Secretary General’s position. “Town hall” meetings with staff would also be useful so their input can be considered.

It is not hyperbole to suggest this appointment comes at a critical time for our planet. The need for inspired, courageous and exceptional leadership has never been greater.

We wish the selectors—and their choice—the best of luck.

 

Chris Spence and Felix Dodds are co-editors of Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge, 2022). Felix is also Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and an Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. Chris is an environmental consultant and award-winning writer. Both have been involved in the UN climate negotiations since the 1990s.

 

Excerpt:

With Patricia Espinosa due to step down in a few weeks’ time as head of the UN’s climate change efforts, who should take her place? Felix Dodds and Chris Spence review the options and assess what sort of leader should fill the gap

War in Ukraine Triggers New International Non-Alignment Trend

View of the United Nations General Assembly, which on three occasions this year has censured the invasion of Russian forces in Ukraine and where many countries have expressed non-alignment with the positions taken by the contenders. CREDIT: Manuel Elias/UN

View of the United Nations General Assembly, which on three occasions this year has censured the invasion of Russian forces in Ukraine and where many countries have expressed non-alignment with the positions taken by the contenders. CREDIT: Manuel Elias/UN

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jun 20 2022 – Numerous countries of the developing South are distancing themselves from the contenders in the war in Ukraine, using the debate on the conflict to underscore their independence and pave the way for a kind of new de facto non-alignment with regard to the main axes of world power.

Meetings and votes on the conflict at the United Nations and in other forums, the search for support or neutrality, and negotiations to cushion the impact of the economic crisis accentuated by the war are the spaces where the process of new alignment is taking place, according to analysts consulted by IPS.

Once Russian forces began their invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United States “activated and consolidated the transatlantic alliance with Europe to confront Moscow, and has been seeking to draw in allies in Asia, but the situation there is more complicated,” said Argentine expert in negotiation and geopolitics, Andrés Serbin, speaking from Buenos Aires.”But if the confrontation escalates and spreads beyond Europe, it will be difficult to stay non-aligned. Our countries will then have to learn to navigate in troubled waters.” — Andrés Serbin

Serbin, author of works such as “Eurasia and Latin America in a Multipolar World” and chair of the academic Regional Economic and Social Research Coordinator, believes that many Asian countries do not want any alignment that would compromise their relationship with that continent’s powerhouse, China.

The rivalry between the United States and China – a growing trading partner and investor in numerous developing nations – fuels the distancing demonstrated by countries of the so-called Global South in the face of the conflict in Ukraine, a priority for the entire West.

Doris Ramirez, professor of International Relations at the Javeriana University in Colombia, argues that “now countries are better prepared to take a position and vote in international forums according to their interests and not according to ideological alignments.

“Emblematic cases are India, which is not going to break its excellent relations with Russia, its arms supplier for decades, or Saudi Arabia, now more interested in its relationship with China as the United States withdraws from the Middle East,” Ramirez observed from Bogota.

The struggle between nations that were ideologically aligned – with the United States or the then Soviet Union – led in 1961 to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which sought to stay equally distant from the dominant blocs while promoting decolonization and the economic interests of the South.

Its promoters were prominent leaders of what was then called the Third World: Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Josip Broz “Tito” of Yugoslavia and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Over the years, the Non-Aligned Movement grew to 120 members, many of which were clearly aligned with one of the blocs and, although it still exists formally, its presence and relevance declined not only with the disappearance of its leaders, but also when the socialist bloc ceased to exist as such after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The display board of the votes at the UN General Assembly on the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council reflected the diversity of opinions, with more countries taking independent positions with respect to those of the Western powers. CREDIT: UN

The display board of the votes at the UN General Assembly on the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council reflected the diversity of opinions, with more countries taking independent positions with respect to those of the Western powers. CREDIT: UN

UN display board reflects new non-alignment

The invasion of Ukraine was quickly addressed by the 193-member UN General Assembly, which on Mar. 2 debated and approved a resolution condemning the invasion by Russian forces and demanding an immediate withdrawal of the troops, reiterating the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.

After 117 speeches, the vote – for, against, abstentions and absences – reflected on the display board at UN headquarters, became a first snapshot of the current “non-alignment” – the decision by many countries of the South not to subscribe to the positions of Moscow or its rivals in the West, led by the United States and the European Union.

The resolution received 141 votes in favor, five against (Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Russia and Syria), 35 abstentions and 12 absences.

“It is difficult for a country to support an invasion, it is not possible to find within the UN or international law a formula to justify it,” said former Venezuelan ambassador Oscar Hernández Bernalette, who has been a professor at the University of Cairo, in Egypt, and the Central University of Venezuela.

Therefore, “in order not to remain in the orbit of Moscow or Brussels or Washington, abstaining from voting is a way to demonstrate neutrality,” said Hernández Bernalette.

Russian anti-aircraft units during maneuvers in Egypt in 2019. Moscow's military cooperation partly explains the political position of African countries, distant from the stances taken by their former colonial rulers, and their growing ties with powers such as Russia and China. CREDIT: MinDefense Russia

Russian anti-aircraft units during maneuvers in Egypt in 2019. Moscow’s military cooperation partly explains the political position of African countries, distant from the stances taken by their former colonial rulers, and their growing ties with powers such as Russia and China. CREDIT: MinDefense Russia

Of the 35 countries that abstained, 25 were from Africa, four from Latin America (Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua; Venezuela was unable to vote because of unpaid dues) and 14 from Asia, including countries with a strong global presence such as China, India, Pakistan and Iran, and former Soviet or socialist republics such as Laos, Mongolia and Vietnam.

A second resolution was discussed and approved at the Assembly on Mar. 24, to demand that Russia, on humanitarian grounds in view of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of infrastructure, cease hostilities.

The vote was practically the same, with 140 votes in favor, the same five against, and 38 abstentions, which this time also included Brunei, Guinea-Bissau and Uzbekistan.

A third confrontation took place on Apr. 7, to decide on the suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, made up of 47 states chosen by the General Assembly, which meets several times a year in Geneva, Switzerland.

Moscow’s critics then drummed up 93 votes in the Assembly, but there were 24 against and 58 abstentions – evidence of independence and criticism of the web of alliances and institutions that guide international relations.

This time, countries that previously abstained, such as Russia’s neighbors in Central Asia, and Algeria, Bolivia, China, Cuba and Iran, voted against the proposal, and many of those who previously supported it, such as Barbados, Brazil, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, abstained.

The Summit of the Americas this June in Los Angeles, California served as an opportunity for a group of heads of state in the hemisphere to distance themselves from Washington by boycotting the meeting in protest against the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. CREDIT: US State Department

The Summit of the Americas this June in Los Angeles, California served as an opportunity for a group of heads of state in the hemisphere to distance themselves from Washington by boycotting the meeting in protest against the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. CREDIT: US State Department

Grouping together, but in a different way

Bilateral and group forums and negotiations are being put on new tracks as the conflict in Ukraine drags on, with new proposals for understandings and alliances, and also new fears.

The impact of the war on the energy markets – as well as on food and finance – was immediate and created room for new realignments. Thus, the United States, as it watched the price of fuel rise at its gas stations, went in search of more oil supplies, from the Middle East to Venezuela.

Washington held two significant summits in recent weeks: one in Jakarta, with 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) interested in sustaining their relationship with the US while maintaining the ties woven with China, and another in Los Angeles, California: the ninth Summit of the Americas.

This triennial meeting served as an opportunity for governments in this hemisphere to demonstrate their independent stance and refrain from automatic alignment with Washington. In addition to the three countries not invited (Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela), the heads of state of seven other countries decided not to attend, to protest the exclusion of their neighbors.

This snub marked the Summit, in which Washington was barely able to cobble together an agreement on migration, with other issues pushed to the backburner, while Latin American countries, still lacking a united front, continue to develop their relations with rivals such as Russia and China.

In the Caribbean, in Asia and especially in Africa, the old relationship between former colonial powers such as France and the United Kingdom – which are confronting Moscow as partners in the Atlantic alliance – and their former colonies is also waning.

“The world no longer works that way,” said Hernandez Bernalette. “For many African or Asian countries, the relationship with new economic players such as China is much more important, in addition to the ties, including military ties, with Russia.”

However, the loose pieces in the international scaffolding also give rise to fears and problems that seriously affect the developing South, such as the possibility of an escalation of the conflict between China and Taiwan, or the grain shortages resulting from the war in Ukraine and affecting poor importers in Africa and Asia.

Serbin said that for the countries of the South, and in particular for those of Latin America, the conflict “offers opportunities, for the placement of energy or food exports for example, provided that the necessary agreements and balances with rival powers are maintained.”

“But if the confrontation escalates and spreads beyond Europe, it will be difficult to stay non-aligned. Our countries will then have to learn to navigate in troubled waters,” he concluded.