Founded on the values of solidarity and mutual trust, volunteerism transcends all cultural, linguistic and geographic boundaries. By giving their time and skills without expectations of material reward, volunteers themselves are uplifted by a singular sense of purpose. --UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
December 5 has been selected as the International Volunteer Day by a 1985 UN General Assembly resolution. This year, Volunteer Day comes as government representatives and NGO volunteers are meeting in Paris to develop a new international climate agreement at COP 21. The NGO representatives are fewer in number than originally planned due to the recent Paris attacks and consequent tightened security. However, those that are present are doubly active as world media attention focuses on the conference and its outcome.
As with all major UN conferences, negotiations among governments have been going on for two years with a good deal of input from NGO representatives. At the Paris stage, there is a preliminary “Final Document and Action Plan” of some 30 pages with a good number of square brackets around words or sentences on which there is no agreement. Negotiations concern making the document shorter so that the main ideas will stand out better and to remove square brackets. If a suitable word is not found, often the whole sentence will be dropped.
Both government representatives and NGOs are discussing post-Paris action and coalition building. There is also a concerted effort to bring the business community, especially transnational corporations, into the action. While the UN system has a structure of consultative status for NGOs through the Economic and Social Council, the world of business largely is not represented. Only the International Labour Organization with its headquarters in Geneva has a three-party membership: governments, trade unions and business associations from each of the member States. The business world is not really a “voluntary association” in the sense of NGOs. Material reward is an important element in business.
COP 21 is a prime example of the need for cooperative action at the local, national and world level. As has been often said, the climate does not recognize national borders. The relations among ecologically sound development, security, conflict resolution and respect for human rights have now assumed a more dynamic form than at any other time since the creation of the United Nations in 1945. To meet these strong challenges, NGOs, academic institutions, business and professional associations and the media must work together cooperatively. International Volunteer Day can serve as a time of reflection on capacity building and improved networking.