Category Archives: Op-Eds

The transformation to a more sustainable and just world begins now

OP-ED by Mogens Lykketoft, President of the United Nations General Assembly

Deadly conflicts, horrific terrorist attacks and a worsening global humanitarian crisis have dominated 2015. Yet this year also saw a number of major international breakthroughs, most recently with the Climate Agreement in Paris, writes Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN General Assembly.  But for these agreements to bring us closer to a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world, 2016 must be all about action and implementation.

Ask anyone for their abiding memory of 2015 and they will most likely recall a negative one.

Some will recall the horrifying stories of death and destruction caused by conflicts around the world, most notably in Syria where over 250,000 people have lost their lives and almost 11 million people have been displaced. Others will recall a sense of grief, fear and anger after violent extremists attacked, tortured, kidnapped and executed innocent civilians around the world. Others still might recall a simple but disturbing fact they heard in passing – that 2015 was the hottest year on record or that over 15,000 children continue to die annually, mostly from preventable diseases.

Yet, despite all of this, 2015 was also a year of progress and breakthroughs.

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What I Expect From the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris

An Op-ed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

For the nearly nine years that I have been Secretary-General, I have travelled the world to the front-lines of climate change, and I have spoken repeatedly with world leaders, business people and citizens about the need for an urgent global response

Why do I care so much about this issue?

First, like any grandfather, I want my grandchildren to enjoy the beauty and bounty of a healthy planet.  And like any human being, it grieves me to see that floods, droughts and fires are getting worse, that island nations will disappear and uncounted species will become extinct.

As His Holiness Pope Francis and other faith leaders have reminded us, we have a moral responsibility to act in solidarity with the poor and most vulnerable who have done least to cause climate change and will suffer first and worst from its effects.

Second, as the head of the United Nations, I have prioritized climate change because no country can meet this challenge alone.  Climate change carries no passport; emissions released anywhere contribute to the problem everywhere.  It is a threat to lives and livelihoods everywhere.  Economic stability and the security of nations are under threat.  Only through the United Nations can we respond collectively to this quintessentially global issue.

The negotiation process has been slow and cumbersome.  But we are seeing results.  In response to the UN’s call, more than 166 countries, which collectively account for more than 90 per cent of emissions, have now submitted national climate plans with targets.  If successfully implemented, these national plans bend the emissions curve down to a projected global temperature rise of approximately 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

This is significant progress.  But it is still not enough.  The challenge now is to move much further and faster to reduce global emissions so we can keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.  At the same time, we must support countries to adapt to the inevitable consequences that are already upon us.

The sooner we act, the greater the benefits for all: increased stability and security; stronger, more sustainable economic growth; enhanced resilience to shocks; cleaner air and water; improved health.

We will not get there overnight.  The climate change conference in Paris is not the end point.  It must mark the floor, not the ceiling of our ambition.  It must be the turning point towards a low-emission, climate-resilient future.

Around the world, momentum is building.  Cities, businesses and investors, faith leaders and citizens are acting to reduce emissions and build resilience.  The responsibility now rests with Governments to conclude a meaningful, binding agreement in Paris that provides clear rules of the road for strengthening global ambition.  For this, negotiators need clear guidance from the top.

I believe this is forthcoming.  The leaders of the G20, who met earlier this month in Antalya, Turkey, showed strong commitment to climate action.  And more than 120 Heads of State and Government have confirmed their participation in Paris, despite heightened security concerns in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

I see four essential elements for Paris to be a success: durability, flexibility, solidarity and credibility.

First, durability.  Paris must provide a long-term vision consistent with a below 2 degrees trajectory, and send a clear signal to markets that the low-carbon transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial and already under way.

Second, the agreement must provide flexibility so it does not need to be continually renegotiated.  It must be able to accommodate changes in the global economy and strike a balance between the leadership role of developed countries and the increasing responsibilities of developing countries.

Third, the agreement must demonstrate solidarity, including through financing and technology transfer for developing countries.  Developed countries must keep their pledge to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 for adaptation and mitigation alike.

Fourth, an agreement must demonstrate credibility in responding to rapidly escalating climate impacts.  It must include regular five year cycles for governments to assess and strengthen their national climate plans in line with what science demands.  Paris must also include transparent and robust mechanisms for measuring, monitoring and reporting progress.

The UN stands fully ready to support countries in implementing such an agreement.

A meaningful climate agreement in Paris will build a better today – and tomorrow.  It will help us end poverty.  Clean our air and protect our oceans.  Improve public health.  Create new jobs and catalyze green innovations.  It will accelerate progress towards all of the Sustainable Development Goals.  That is why I care so deeply about climate change.

My message to world leaders is clear: success in Paris depends on you.  Now is the time for common sense, compromise and consensus.  It is time to look beyond national horizons and to put the common interest first.  The people of the world – and generations to come – count on you to have the vision and courage to seize this historic moment.

Op-Ed: United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons (30 July 2015)

By Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Conflict, terrorism, economic turmoil, natural calamities, disease: we are living in an era of unprecedented crises and troubles, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned.

Record numbers of people are fleeing war and persecution, and the international community is grappling with acute migration challenges in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, in the Andaman Sea, Latin America and Africa.

For human traffickers, these hardships represent business opportunities.

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Op-Ed: An Action Agenda for Our People and Our Planet

By Mr. Nikhil Seth *

2015 marks the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations. It is also the year when countries will come together to adopt the next generation of goals for our people and their only home – planet Earth. 2015 will also see the hosting of a Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa and the Climate Conference in Paris. It will be a historic inflexion point for the global approach to development.

This new agenda will stage the transition from the Millennium Development Goals—the MDGs—to the next generation of Sustainable Development Goals, with a new time horizon of the year 2030. The new sustainable development goals will build on the MDGs which covered poverty, gender equality, health, education and environmental sustainability, but in a way which is deeper, more integrated and policy relevant. They also include nine more goals to cover the broader scope of the sustainable development agenda which include more economic issues, such as growth, employment, infrastructure and inequality; environmental concerns that include water, energy, terrestrial and marine ecosystems; and most importantly a goal with targets promising more peaceful, better governed and inclusive societies.

The earlier MDGs succeeded in focusing political will and international development resources on a number of priority objectives which include, in addition to sharply reducing poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary school enrolment with gender parity, checking the HIV/AIDS pandemic, promoting gender equality and substantially reducing preventable deaths from malaria, diarrheal diseases and complications of childbirth.

For the past two years, an unprecedented engagement has helped define what should succeed the MDGs in 2016. The Member States of the United Nations have elaborated on a new goal and target framework that builds on the work of the MDGs, but one which calls for a fundamental rethink in all economies and societies.

In shaping this future agenda, Governments have been joined by the voices of millions around the world including women, children, youth, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, business and industry, workers and trade unions, farmers, local authorities, the scientific and technological community and civil society. There could be no better process to give meaning to the involvement of ‘we the people’–as set out in the UN Charter–in determining their own destiny.

Halving extreme poverty in the past fifteen years has been an extraordinary accomplishment by any standard. Yet, there are still many millions of poor and vulnerable people left behind in the world and development must include them. Hence, the ambition of the sustainable development goals is to end extreme poverty and hunger, while leaving no-one behind.

The new goals will take us into the second quarter of the 21st century. During the next 15 years, more countries will graduate from being least developed countries, and middle-income and upper-income countries will continue to grow and to provide productive and decent employment to their populations.

As more and more of the world’s population joins the global middle class, demands on the environment and our natural resource base will also continue to grow. Already we are consuming each year one and a half times the Earth’s annual capacity to regenerate itself. We are drawing down precious natural capital just to live the way we are. Climate change already poses a serious threat that, if left unchecked, risks undermining the livelihoods of the poorest and worsening food insecurity in some of the most populated regions of the globe.

If all the Earth’s inhabitants are to be able to enjoy a decent standard of living, the wealthy will need to shift to much more sustainable patterns of consumption, and producers everywhere will need to shift to more sustainable patterns of production. Thus, the future agenda and goals are universal, calling for action on the part of everyone everywhere, beginning in the developed world, to shrink their environmental footprints, to create a ‘safe operating space’ for all countries to prosper. The planetary limits cannot be transgressed and our climate system, our oceans, land and atmosphere must be preserved, regenerated and made safe. We hope that a significant and meaningful outcome in Paris in December will strengthen global efforts in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Many worry about the price tag of the transition to the bold new goals. But this agenda is not about aid and concessional flows to developing countries alone. It is more about the fundamental transformations in all societies and economies. Resources have to be raised and spent primarily in countries themselves. All the important economic actors–governments, the business sector, banking and insurance, financial institutions and intermediaries, the trading system–have to be part of the accelerated impetus for sustainability. The financing for development conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015 will be an important landmark on the way to financing the implementation of the new sustainable development goals.

Let us make sure that we do not let our people and our planet down. History has given us this chance; let us not fritter it away.

* Mr. Nikhil Seth is Director in the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, DESA, New York.

The time for courage and vision for Middle East peace is now

By Jeffrey Feltman

The search for peace in the Middle East is, once again, at a crossroads.  Negotiations on the two-State solution have stalled.  The region, meanwhile, is threatened by violent confrontation and extremism, potentially throwing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into greater turmoil.  This difficult landscape for negotiation makes it even more important to continue international efforts to help bring about a settlement, especially as we know the enormous human costs of missed opportunities and past failed peace initiatives.

In such difficult times, leadership and vision are essential. A new Israeli Government has now been formed. The Secretary-General stands ready to work with all in order to encourage a return to negotiations, on the basis of an agreed framework. He has also strongly urged the incoming Government not only to reaffirm Israel’s commitment to the two-State solution, but also to take credible steps to foster an environment conducive to a return to meaningful negotiations. This should, first and foremost, including a freeze of settlement activity. Recent settlement announcements by Israeli authorities are, therefore, alarming. Settlements are illegal under international law and send the wrong signal to the Palestinians and the international community about Israel’s intentions. Continued security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli authorities remains a cornerstone of a peaceful resolution.

On the Palestinian side, unity is essential for the viability of any peace agreement. The United Nations has consistently supported efforts towards Palestinian unity within the framework of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s commitments, which include the recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist and the renunciation of terrorism and violence. The forming of the Palestinian Government of National Consensus in June of last year, opened the way for unity at long last. This was an important first step in what is likely to be a long and complicated process. Almost one year later, the consensus Government has yet to assume full responsibility in Gaza, including at border crossings. Both sides, while calling for elections, have been unwilling to take the political risks necessary to make progress on the difficult issues at hand.

The severity of extreme poverty and continuous conflict has placed a massive toll on the people of Gaza. Enormous financial challenges and the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza exacerbate an already fragile security situation. Unemployment is massive, estimated by the World Bank at 43 per cent, and at 60 per cent among Gaza’s youth. Public sector employees remain unpaid. The virtual closure of the border crossings stifles trade and suffocates its people. Such realities feed frustration and tension in a vicious cycle that undermines the path to peace.

While the UN continues to play a key role in assisting people in need – including through UNRWA, for example, which provides assistance and protection in very difficult circumstances for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees – what is needed is a lasting solution to this long-standing conflict.

In order to achieve this long-desired goal, both sides must make difficult choices – to refuse to be swayed by extremist elements on either side, to embrace cooperation rather than conflict, to realize that lasting peace depends on agreeing viable arrangements for coexistence that will allow for the full development of the peoples within the two states.

We must turn back from the cycle of violence and confrontation before it’s too late. We at the United Nations believe there is still time for both sides to show the commitment and courage necessary to chart a viable course towards a better future. That time is now.

Jeffrey Feltman is United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs