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World Food Day: A Renewal of Collective Action

October 16 is the UN-designated World Food Day. The date is the anniversary of the FAO’s creation in 1945 with the aim of “contributing towards an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger.” 

Freedom from hunger is not simply a technical matter to be solved with better seeds, fertilizers, cultivation practices and marketing. To achieve freedom from hunger, we need to eliminate poverty. This must draw upon the ideas, skills and energies of whole societies and requires the cooperation of all countries. 

As Lester Brown, the American agricultural specialist says,

We are cutting trees faster than they can be regenerated, overgrazing rangelands and converting them into deserts, overpumping aquifers, and draining rivers dry. On our croplands, soil erosion exceeds new soil formation, slowly depriving the soil of its inherent fertility. We are taking fish from the ocean faster than they can reproduce.

To counter these trends, we need awareness and vision, an ethical standard which has the preservation of nature at its heart, and the political leadership to bring about the socio-economic changes needed. For the moment, awareness and vision are unequally spread. In some countries, ecological awareness has led to beneficial changes and innovative technologies. In others, the governmental and social structures are disintegrating due to disease, population pressure upon limited resources, and a lack of social leadership.  Worldwide, military spending, led by the US, dwarfs spending on ecologically sound development and the necessary expansion of education and health services.

Nobel Peace Prize: Tunisian Democracy Group Rewarded

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its contribution to democratizing the country. The group is made up of four civil society organizations: The Tunisian General Labour Union, The Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, The Tunisian Human Rights League, and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. 

The quartet, formed in 2013, organized a long and difficult national dialogue between Islamists and their opponents, forcing them to work together while dealing with the political unrest that occurred after the Tunisian Revolution. Thanks to their establishment of an alternative and peaceful political process, Tunisia was able to “establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population.”

Today, Tunisia is the only country in the region that has made genuine progress in transitioning to a democracy. After the revolution forced the country’s dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to step down, Tunisia freely elected its current president, Beji Caid Essebsi. Meanwhile, the revolution, which would come to be known as the Arab Spring, spread to a number of other countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

India’s Ambitious Climate Change Plan

India has just stepped up its efforts in the global fight against climate change.

The country has now joined over 140 others in submitting a climate change plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), to the UN. India, which is expected to become the world’s most populous by 2028, has pledged to focus on clean energy and obtain 40% of its electricity from low carbon sources by 2030.

Nations are submitting INDCs in preparation for an important UN climate change summit occurring in Paris this December. Here, the UN will attempt to come up with a global agreement to determine how climate change will be tackled after 2020, when current climate targets expire. 

Last November, the United States and China kicked off this process by unveiling an agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions, with the US pledging to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and China agreeing to cap its emissions by 2030.

Both countries recently submitted INDCs based on this agreement, with China-- the world’s largest carbon emitter-- further committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60-65% from 2005 levels. Since then, some 148 other countries have followed suit, submitting their plans before the informal October 1 deadline set by the UN. 

Almost 90% of world emissions are currently covered by INDC pledges. Forty-eight countries have yet to submit their climate plans.

The Hunger Games: Food Waste in the Developing World

The UN recently announced its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals encompassing everything from education to peace and justice. Of them, Goal 2 is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” Though the goal itself and the subsequent sub goals highlight the need for sustainability, they seem to overlook a very important roadblock in the fight to end hunger: food waste.

As I’ve written before, about a third of all food grown around the world is never eaten. Though this is more often reported as occurring in the first world, many would be surprised to know how large the issue is in the developing world: “as much as half of the food grown or produced in the developing world simply never makes it to market.” Often this is because of a lack of technology, whether it’s a lack of refrigeration or of something “as simple as getting farmers in places like Kenya to use crates instead of burlap bags to transport their tomatoes to prevent them from bruising on the way to market.”

September 26 : International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

The struggle against the nuclear weapon cult and threats it poses to the international peace, security and development, like all struggles against belief systems which have outlived their times, is going to be long and arduous." --K. Subrahmanyam

The United Nations General Assembly has designated September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. It is being celebrated this year for the second time to “enhance public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination in order to mobilize international efforts toward achieving the common goal of a nuclear-weapon free world."

Achieving global nuclear disarmament--or at least forms of nuclear arms control--is one of the oldest goals of the UN. Nuclear weapon control was the subject of the first resolution of the UN General Assembly and it is the heart of Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT): "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."  

Not My Pope?

I’ll never forget the time in eighth-grade religion class when one of my classmates asked why our school didn’t participate in neighborhood cleanup days. My teacher replied, “It’s not fair to worry about things like that when souls are going to Hell every day.”

She elaborated, “The earth can save itself.”

Seriously. A human being actually uttered that sentence without irony.

This teacher would also frequently stress the importance of following everything the Catholic Church teaches without question. (You can’t just pick and choose!)

Which, of course, begs the question of how she and others from this line of thinking are responding to Pope Francis’s new encyclical on ecology and climate change.

Entitled Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, the official statement of church teaching calls on all of humanity to do their part to stop environmental deterioration; to “recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat this warming” and protect our shared home.

However, protecting the environment and acting as stewards of the earth are not new concepts for the Church. In 1981, the U.S. Catholic Conference even issued a statement that recognized the threat of climate change and the need for clean energy.

So while the encyclical may be increasing global consciousness and moving the sympathetic to act, it’s probably not troubling the deniers as much as you’d think.

The UN Leadership Team and the Non-Aligned Movement

There is currently an active discussion among UN delegations in New York concerning how the next UN Secretary-General will be appointed in 2016. The discussions are likely to heat up as many heads of government come to New York in late September for a special summit to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. As chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Iran is likely to play a leadership role in the selection process both in formal and informal negotiations.

Currently, formal discussions are taking place in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly. There is widespread demand that the General Assembly have a greater role in the selection of the Secretary-General. In the past, the negotiations took place in the Security Council, mostly among the five permanent members. Then the General Assembly was only asked to “bless” the selection made within the Security Council.

Unease with this usual process comes not so much from the choices made as from the lack of inclusiveness of the process itself. There is an increasing demand that all member states know the candidates, their qualifications, and their vision for leading the UN.

SDGs Highlight Agenda for Historic 70th UN General Assembly

In the last few weeks, the world’s attention has been riveted on the crises in China and the upheaval in the emerging markets. We have all felt the consequences of the global economic turmoil. The moral of this story: What happens abroad has significant ramifications here at home. It would behoove the American public to take note of this fact.

This story is no different than the one that will soon play out at the United Nations at the end of September. Heads of State and other well-known dignitaries will descend upon New York City for the 70th UN General Assembly. This is no ordinary meeting of the General Assembly; this year it will pay tribute to the global institution’s 70th anniversary of its founding. The post-2015 development agenda will take center stage as leaders will mark the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will lead the way forward for the next 15 years.

How do they work? Why should I care?

As with the global economic turbulence we continue to witness on a daily basis leaving none of us unscathed, the SDGs will play a similar role in that all sectors of global society will be touched in some way. From ending poverty and hunger to ensuring the health and well-being of all; to providing education and access to clean water and energy; to growing economies in a sustainably responsible manner to galvanizing the world to act on climate change; to preventing conflicts and promoting peace and ensuring post-conflict peacebuilding, everyone is affected in some way by these goals. 

Paris Carbonomics

In December of this year, 196 nations will meet in Paris to close a global deal to address climate change. With less than three months and five official negotiating days left before the Paris UN conference, diplomats are working out the key remaining disagreements.

The major concerns revolve around money: how much responsibility rich nations will take for climate change compared to the developing countries that need to power their growing economies and populations; and how developed nations will fulfill their agreement of $100 billion per year of climate finance to begin in 2020.

It’s no surprise that cold hard cash is at the center of these disputes. At its core, climate change is an economic problem. Cheap and subsidized coal, oil, and gas fueled the industrial revolution and high quality of life in the West. We didn't realize until the 1960s and 1970s that there was also a huge expense we failed to foresee—pollution and climate change.

Here’s an analogy to consider: the 2008 financial crisis was created by insatiable banks and mortgage brokers who offered loans with “easy” terms to under-qualified customers that didn’t reflect the true risks involved and created a housing market bubble. When the bubble finally popped, homeowners who couldn’t afford increased mortgage interest rates and small investors took the brunt of the loss.

Fossil fuels are being sold at a price that doesn’t reflect the true cost of their impact on the environment. Businesses, governments and even consumers are creating a “carbon bubble” that when it pops may have both severe financial repercussions and, if not addressed soon enough, will trigger uncontrollable climate damage. And, like the housing bubble, those who will pay the most severe costs are the poor, elderly and children.

Migration-Refugee Exodus: A Worldwide Challenge

During the summer of 2015, the international community has become increasingly concerned with the causes behind the mass exodus of people from their homes—the refugees and migrants.

 It has been all too easy to become accustomed to the image of the refugee: the displaced in Europe after World War II, internally displaced Chinese during the Chinese civil war, the struggle of Jews to enter Palestine prior to the creation of Israel followed by the flight of the Palestinians, the Hungarians in 1956, and the boat people from Vietnam—the refugees who made the front pages of the world press and all the others too often forgotten. The sum of human misery since the Second World War has been so heavy and so constant as to have a numbing effect.

However, the summer of 2015 has brought images of refugees and migrants drowning at sea or trying to make their way under barbed wire, with the most recent photos of some 70 persons who died in a closed truck in Austria near the Hungarian border.

Until now, governments within the UN system have gone on the assumption that security and peacekeeping are political matters to be kept as separate as possible from emergency humanitarian efforts. Since, in nearly all the cases that have led to massive departures, the UN has failed in its attempts at conflict resolution, humanitarian aid did what it could to bind up some of the wounds. Both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations working on direct relief avoided political considerations as much as possible. For public political analysis leads to controversy, to charges of being one-sided, and to misunderstanding the historic complexities of the situation.