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Divesting to Investing: The Fight Against Climate Change

Marked with enthusiasm and high expectations, the United Nations kicked off its long anticipated Climate Summit in New York City on September 23rd. Geared towards finding solutions and methods to combat climate change, nations converged at the summit while enormous marches in support took place globally. In New York City, over 400,000 people marched to express their grievances toward climate change and iterate the need to act immediately.

Met with optimism, the summit allowed nations to collaborate and address, for the first time in five years, the challenges that they must confront. Attendees included world leaders and celebrities such as Leonardo Dicaprio, an actor and a UN Message of Peace ambassador, who gave a thunderous and monumental speech. He emphasized the importance of our planet, acknowledging the existence of global warming and stressing, “You can make history…or be vilified by it.”

Cities, companies from many sectors, and national governments announced new actions to shift away from fossil fuels to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. Even the biggest economies signaled that they are ready to shift to a low-carbon growth path. The US announced that it will give the World Bank $15 million to help finance a program aimed at reining in methane pollution.

Issues at the United Nations 69th General Assembly


Last week I attended at my first panel on Capitol Hill, which pertained to the currently ongoing 69th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City. The panel was hosted by The United Nations Association of the United States of America, and included guests from the State Department, the Better World Campaign, and Peacekeeping Operations Support Section of the UN. The discussion centered on what the likely topics were going to be at the UNGA, as well as on the role of UN peacekeeping forces around the world.

After the panelists were introduced, they quickly highlighted some of their expectations from this UNGA, and what major issues the US was going to lobby for. The audience was then shown a video of an interview featuring one of the panelists, Ken Payumo, who served with the UN peacekeepers in South Sudan. He described the conditions that political refugees lived in, his role in the operation, and a harrowing story of being threatened by pro-government forces who wanted inside the UN compound to look for political dissenters. Ultimately, he did not allow these forces inside the compound and was taken out of South Sudan for his own security. Though I’m sure it wasn’t intended, a lot of the subsequent audience questions focused more than his story than the issues of the UNGA.

Cosmopolitan Dreams: Why we’re yearning for the APB and why we’ll probably never get what we want

Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and UN Special Adviser Adama Dieng discuss atrocity prevention

The Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in theory is a cosmopolitan dream. It is the embodiment of the idea that we are connected as neighbors with the world around us. That as a country, we have a unique set of skills and resources that we use in to help our neighbors who might find themselves in harm’s way. The APB allows us to glimpse a world where we focus not on backroom politics, but on honest attempts to halt atrocities before they occur. A world where our intervention in a region is altruistic, and not simply political theater.

This cosmopolitan ideal is what had human rights organizations so excited at the board’s introduction in 2012. The President was finally making atrocity prevention a US priority. No longer were we simply focused on our own national security, but we were acknowledging our moral imperative to help prevent atrocities in the far reaches of the world. We had now created an inter-agency board specifically focused on strengthening early warning systems, building broader prevention strategies, and bringing together national and international bodies to work in cooperation toward better atrocity prevention.

Yet today we are left wondering how that moral imperative is being addressed. The board’s near invisibility has left many questioning what, if anything, it is actually accomplishing, and whether it was ever meant to accomplish anything at all. 

How to Deal with the Islamic State

President Obama and Vice President Biden Meet with National Security Council to Discuss ISIL

Almost the whole world community agrees that the barbaric Islamic State (ISIL) terrorists should be resisted by everyone. Even the often veto-plagued UN Security Council has unanimously passed two relevant resolutions. Resolution 2170 (Aug. 15) aims to cut off financial assistance to that group and sanctions its leaders. Resolution 2171 (Sep. 19) expresses outrage at ISIL's brutal activities and urges international support for the Iraqi government's efforts against ISIL.

The UN Security Council could also help to deal with the civil war in Syria by resolving to send humanitarian aid to the nations sheltering Syrian refugees; putting Assad’s chemical weapons under UN control; and referring the situation to the International Criminal Court to hold accountable those who have committed atrocities. 

To confront ISIL in Syria, however, the view of the US Administration and others is that more support must be given to the moderate rebels in that country. But precisely which rebel groups should be helped, and can we be sure that they won't become enemies in the future?

How will the various national governments in the area which are on opposite sides be encouraged to participate in the international effort against ISIL? Will any national governments provide the needed "boots on the ground" and might they eventually start fighting one another?

The Myth of American Isolationism

I recently had the privilege of attending a panel hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center. The panel was convened to discuss a new report from the Chicago Council concerning the notion that Americans have changed their viewpoints on foreign policy and believe that, as a nation, we should stay out of international affairs. While the panel itself made for a healthy discussion, the report was equally interesting, and I implore everyone to read it here.

In attendance at the panel were experts such as Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO; Jill Dougherty, former CNN foreign affairs correspondent; Bruce Jentleson, a professor at Duke University; and Jane Harmon, CEO of the Wilson Center. The panel began with a summary of the main points of the report, several of which I will address below. After the summary, the experts discussed their thoughts on the report and attempted to explain some of the interesting trends in the data. Following their summations, the panel fielded a few questions from the audience, mostly concerning the trends.

Just before the conference I coincidentally stumbled upon an article by one of my political science heroes, Professor Daniel Drezner of Tufts University, concerning this very report, which he co-authored. The article details ten surprising facts concerning the data gathered and the myth of American isolationism.

CO2 on the Rise, When Will Leaders React?

The rise in global carbon emissions between 1850-2009. (Data from Boden et al. 2012)

 In our world, there has never been a greater threat to humanity since the emergence of climate change. Last week, the UN Meteorological Organization released a report that CO2 levels on our planet are rising at an uncontrollable rate. If that’s not concerning enough, most of the major greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere reached an all-time high level in the year 2013.

Eventually, these gases will become more catastrophic and inflict widespread devastation to the point where the planet can no longer cope. In fact, the rise of these gases on earth are the leading cause of climate change, resulting in changes in the earth’s atmosphere and temperature as well as widespread drought, flooding, and devastating storms. And while one may think that CO2 only affects the atmosphere, that’s wrong too! Higher CO2 levels drastically change our oceans and raise the acidity of the water. With a greater output in the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, our planet will not have the ability to convert these gases back into the air that we breathe. Although invisible, the effects from these gases will eventually force animals to migrate or go extinct, increase the probability of war, cause drought and famine, and ultimately threaten our very existence as a species.

Why Wait? Multilateralism and the Islamic State

ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, Syria, Iraq,

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is continuing to gain both territory and vital resources in their quest of religious cleansing and spreading the control of their caliphate. Consequently, pressure is mounting on President Obama and the rest of the world’s leaders to step up and extinguish the violence in the area. The US has successfully conducted airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. However, it is clear that it is going to take an international coalition to eliminate the threat that they pose.

US military forces have been unable to enter Syrian sovereignty due to the bloody civil war that continues to rage on, having already killed 100,000 people. Furthermore, the situation is escalated by Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad’s close ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Putin has vehemently warned against any US invasion into Syrian territory, in part because Russia exports arms and resources to Al-Assad’s forces. Currently ISIS’ stronghold is located in Raqqa, Syria. For any substantial work to be done, a coalition force must be able to conduct operations within Syrian territory.

September 11, 2001: The Day the World Shifted

World Trade Center tribute in lights

This piece was originally published on September 11, 2011. It has been reposted to reflect on the tragic events and impacts of 9/11 and on our international strategy going forward.

Ten years ago, while driving to work, I watched in horror as smoke and flames billowed from the Pentagon from across the Potomac River. Later, huddled in a basement office, our small staff overcame its fear that this was "the beginning of the end" and got to work.

The message sent that day to our members began, "The world has shifted."  Like the first few moments after an earthquake, we didn't know how bad the damage was, but we knew the world would never be the same again. I wrote then:

"Right now, I am as fearful of the knee jerk reaction that our nation could embark upon, as I am by the damage that those forces behind these attacks can inflict.

We who work for a more peaceful and just world must be the voice that says more than 'strike back.'  We must talk about what we can do to stop this from happening again.... Military might is not enough to halt a determined foe that is willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believe in and use all means available to lash out.  The United States should seek to find those behind this attack and bring them to justice.  But at the same time it should evaluate what damage it has done by hamstringing the growth of a democratic system of international governance that will allow members of every society to feel that they are stakeholder, rather than downtrodden serfs, in our global village.

I ask all of you in the days ahead to be the courageous voice of sanity and reason and help turn this tragedy into the beginning of a healing rather than the beginning of the end."

Open Letter #5 To My Grandson Jake

Donna and her grandson Jake

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #5

Dear Jake,

Our recent visit to the Natural History Museum was so much fun. Papa and I were very glad that you insisted on seeing the movie in the “Origin of Man” exhibit. “We Are All One Species” was a fascinating movie for children and adults alike. It was interesting to learn that the other human species died out 17,000 years ago, at about the same time that our species, Homo sapiens, migrated across the entire planet. It was good to see the images of men and women as a rainbow of one species from light- to dark-skinned and everything in between. Our differences are very minor compared to the commonalities that unite us.

United Federation of Nations

This is at the heart of my desire to create a United Federation of Nations, to unite all human beings across the earth into a global community. I don’t want to eliminate the nations. Indeed, I want to be a proud American who can also say I’m a proud citizen of the world. I want the nations to deal with national issues and a federation of nations to deal with global issues that affect all Homo sapiens, like the environment, the oceans, war, and the world’s food supply and health threats.

Breaking new ground: the global call for a World Parliament Now!

Democracy across borders

Over the past decade the world has faced various global problems, many of which have not been adequately dealt with by governments and international institutions. These have ranged from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, terrorism, wars, extreme poverty, unresolved environmental negotiations or gross human rights violations to unfair trade and investment practices.

These unresolved problems have raised the fundamental question of whether individual countries and international institutions are adequate platforms to resolve the plethora of challenges that the world currently faces. It also raises the concern that there is a need to find solutions beyond the United Nations and which entail a process that fully and effectively involves global citizens.

As such, there is undoubtedly a need for a world parliament. This need emanates from the notion that global problems require global solutions.

Further, the creation of a world parliament is the most pragmatic approach that can be taken to resolve global problems. Presently, many international instutions have faced heavy criticism for furthering their own agendas, which do not allign with those of the citizens from the member states represented. The concept of a global parliament has the potential to expand the accountability space of these institutions and to introduce a model that better democratises global decision making by not only providing a platform for, but also encouraging active participation.

The idea of a world parliament is a fairly novel one which holds the vast potential to shift the way global issues are presently handled. Today more than ever, there is a need to involve the ‘global citizen’ in global affairs and decision making, especially as the past decade has revealed a gap that the current international institutions have not been able to fill.