Italy and the Dubious Honor of Chairing the G20

Conferences, Democracy, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Globalisation, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

ROME, Jan 11 2021 (IPS) – For 2021, Italy has been given chairmanship of the Group of 20, which brings together the world’s 20 most important countries. On paper, they represent 60% of the world’s population and 80% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the shaky Italian government will somehow perform this task (in the general indifference of the political system), the fact remains that this apparently prestigious position is in fact very deceiving: the G20 is now a very weak institution that brings no kudos to the rotating chairman. Besides, it is actually the institution which bears the greatest part of responsibility for the decline of the UN as the body responsible for global governance, a task that the G20 has very seldom been able to face up to.


Roberto Savio

Let us reconstruct how we arrive at the creation of the G20. It is a long story, that begins in 1975, when France invited the representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, leading to the name Group of Six, or G6. The idea was to create a space where to discuss the international situation, not for decision making. Then it became the Group of Seven, with the addition of Canada in 1997. Russia was added in 1998, so the summit became known as the G8. And then, in 1980, the European Union was invited as a “nonenumerated participant”. In 2005 the UK government initiated the practice of inviting five leading emergency markets – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Finally, in Washington, in 2005, the world leaders from the group recognized the growth of more emerging countries, and they decided that a meeting of the 20 most important countries of the world would replace the G8 and become the G20.

At the meetings the United Nations, the European Union, and the major international monetary and financial institutions are also invited. Spain is a permanent invitee, together with leaders of the Asian, African Union, of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Financial Stability Board, the International Labor Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank Group, and the World Trade Organization.

Plus. The host country can invite some countries that it feels particularly associated with its foreign policy, at its year of presidency. Until now, 38 countries have been invited, from Azerbaijan to Chad, from Denmark to Laos, from Sweden to Zimbabwe. To complete, it is important to mention that Russia was suspended by the G8 in 2014, because of its annexation of Crimea. And was never readmitted. Trump, in his inexplicable deference to Putin, asked for its readmission to the G8, and this was refused by the other countries. The G7 has kept meeting, as “a steering group of the West”. At the same time, the G20 meets regularly, with Russia as part of his members.

So, Italy has the task to invite all those different actors, establish the agenda and planning and hosting a series of ministerial-level meetings, leading up to summit of head of governments. Italy has decided as agenda “The three P”: People, Planet and Prosperity. This imaginative and original agenda will be structured in 10 specialized meetings, like Finance (Venice July 9-10th); Innovation and Research (Trieste Aug. 5-8th); Environment, Climate, Energy (Naples, July 22nd), just to give a few examples. Beside these 10 specialized meetings, there will be 8 “engagement’s groups”, which will go from business to civil society, youth, etc.

The G20 is formed by countries that are involved in different and often contradictory groups. For instance, after Trump killed the TTP, (the Transatlantic Pacific Partnership), that Obama was able to put together excluding China, with a vast range of counters going from Australia to Mexico, from Canada to Malaysia, China was able to reciprocate, and crate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which puts together the same countries plus some others and leave outside completely the United States. This commercial bloc is the largest ever created and has 30% of the world’s population, and 30% of the world GDP. But the European Union, (to which Italy belongs) has explicitly taken a path of European nationalism, to make the EU able to survive in the coming competition between China and the United States. European Union (and therefore Italy) are also members of NATO, where the United States is the indispensable and fundamental partner. And in the G20 China seats with India, which is the only country that has refused to join RCEP, and who is clearly taking an alternative path to China’s expansion in Asia. But this is also Japan’s policy, who is very active in G7, in the G20, and has entered RCEP, and considers, like South Korea, a priority to limit the Chinese expansionism.

Of course, there are a number of other pacts, agreements, treaties and alliances, that would be now boring and useless to enumerate. One country, like Italy, would therefore wear several hats at the same time. The point to make is, that since the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, the multilateral system started to be under attack. Reagan, in Cancun’s Summit for the North-South dialogue, a few months after his election, questioned the idea of democracy and participation as the basis for international relations. Until then, the General Assembly resolutions were considered the basis for global governance. In 1973, the GA passed unanimously a resolution, calling for the reduction of the economic gap between the North and the South of the world, calling rich countries to their duties to establish a New International Economic Order, more just and based on the faster development of the poorer countries. Reagan denounced this as an anti-American maneuver. The US is not the same as Montecarlo, as he famously said (probably he intended Monaco, as Montecarlo is no state), and yet they have a vote each. So, this democracy coming from the UN, was in fact a straitjacket, and the US would proceed on the basis of bilateral relations, and not to be strained by multilateral mechanisms. Reagan was the first to talk of America first, He, together with Margaret Thatcher in Europe, dismantled all the social progress made in the world after the end of the Second World War. The market, with his invisible hand, would be the sole engine of society (that Thatcher said does not exist, only individuals). The State, that he called “the beast”, was the first enemy of the citizen. He declared: the most terrifying words in English are: I am from the Government, and I am here to help”. Any public or social cost was just a brake to the market. Reagan wanted to privatize even the ministry of Education: he and Thatcher left UNESCO, as a symbol of disengagement from the UN. Both he and Thatcher curtailed trade unions, privatized whatever possible, and started the era of neoliberal globalization, whose effect is now widely evident, and that Trump, Bolsonaro and Co. bless every day, because it has created a very large swath of disaffected citizens, who believe they will readdress their destiny.

Is important to note that Reagan did not have any real opposition, from the other rich countries. So, all this fragmentation of the world, with the creation of G7, G8, G20, and other exclusive clubs, was not an exclusive responsibility of Reagan and Thatcher. For forty years, the process of divesting the UN from its responsibility for the world’s peace, development, and democracy went on. Neoliberal globalization was based on finance and trade. Even before the end of the war, finance was delegated to the System of Bretton Wood, by the name of the site where it was founded. Let us just constate a fact: the Financial System was established in a such way, that Finance is the only sector of human activity that has no regulatory body. Today it has clearly separated by the general economy when its original function was to be at its service. And political institutions are not able to control its global structure.

The other engine of globalization was trading. United Nations had the UN Commission on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, which looked to trade as an instrument of development. The creation in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, as an independent organization, envisaging trade as an economic engine, divested the UN from trade too. And more the UN weakens, the easier is to decry its shortcomings.

The stroke of grace to multilateralism has been the arrival of Trump, the heir and an updated version of Ronald Reagan. But with a totally different agenda and vision. His basic idea is not “America First”, but “America Alone”. He pushes Regan’s idea of bilateralism versus multilateralism to the extreme of ignoring the concept of alliances. So, he declared, Europe is even worse than China. But there is a fundamental difference between them: Trump never pretended to be the President of all Americans. On the contrary, he tried immediately to divide and polarize the United States, and he leaves as a legacy the US that will take a very long time to become again a united and pacified country. And his strategy has been taken by several other leaders, from Bolsonaro to Orban, from Erdogan to Salvini.

It will be, therefore, difficult, for the UN to recover its function of the meeting place, to express plans of global governance, based on democracy and participation. It was a vision based on the lessons learned in the Second World War: let us avoid millions of deaths, terrible destruction, and to do so we need to work together. That lesson has been now forgotten. Just compare the kind of political leaders from that time, and the present one, to see the enormous change. Therefore, the expression of national egoisms will continue, with the richest countries in exclusives clubs, like OECD or the G20.

But there is a problem: those clubs are not efficient, because they gather together countries with very different agendas and priorities. Let us take a good example from the last G20, held last November under the very discredited chairmanship of Saudi Arabia. One of the points was the cancellation of the debt from poor countries, evidently urgent, because of the additional burden of the pandemic that is going to bring disproportionate damage. The Pope, the Secretary-General of the UN, Gutierres, pressed for that decision. All that the G20 was able to do, was to freeze the payment of the interest of the debt, for six months. And here, let us divagate for a useful learning exercise of the Third World Debt, and on the nobility of the rich countries.

If you take a loan that you repay over 20 years at 5%, or a mortgage, of 100, at the end you will have repaid 200. And during the first ten years, all you pay are the interest, and only in the second decade, you start to pay back, progressively, the capital. The result is that the poor countries several times renegotiated their debt and every time what they paid where the interest, to start again. And those interests were cumulative. During that process, they paid several times the amount of the capital that they received. But all that they paid went to the interests… At the university, you learn one good example of the perversity of cumulative interests. The old story is that a Dutch settler, Peter Minuit, bought the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin tribe. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pairs of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. If that amount was put in a loan at 5%with composite interest, it would be by now more than the estimated value of all of Manhattan, which exceeds three trillion dollars. So, the decision of the G20 to freeze interests for six months, amount to nothing. It is interesting to listen to insiders’ voices. The loans of the rich countries are computed in the DAC, Development Assistance Committee, established by OECD (the organizations that gathers all rich countries). The OECD engaged itself, in the old good day of multilateralism, to dedicated 1% of the members’ GDP to the development of the underdeveloped countries. This engagement was never kept, except for the Nordic Countries and Nederland. The US never went over 0,3%. Anyhow, any debt condonation goes into the official statistics of the DAC committee. But new loans are made, by countries that are not in the DAC committee, like China, which has made a very extensive number of loans, especially in Asia and Africa in not public conditions. For the OECD countries (basically the West), to cancel their loans could mean to unleash resources that could go to pay China loans, becoming so China funders. This is a good example of how competing interests, block the G20 from concerted actions.

Decisions on this issue are now expected from the next G20 Summit in Rome, in November. But before, the Global Health Summit, called from the G20 together with the EU in May, will be the occasion to verify what will happen. with vaccinations. But in the same month, Portugal has called for the very important Social Summit of the European Union. Portugal has taken the much more substantial chairmanship of the EU, and this is a very positive contribution to a positive 2021. Portugal is today probably the most civilized country of Europe, a place of tolerance, harmony and civic engagement, much like Sweden in the 80s. And is the only credible country on the issue of immigration. In the Social Summit Lisbon will push to strengthen social Europe, after so many decades of a solely economic Europe. The outgoing German chairmanship was fundamental in abandoning the austerity dogma and move to an unprecedented plan of solidarity and institutional strengthening, made also possible by the blessed departure of England, and its anti-European historical bias. The fact that vaccination is a European plan, and not a hotchpotch of national attempts, is great progress in term of vaccination. And if it will continue on the same path, on the issue of climate control, and technological development, it will recover much trust from the citizens, who felt Brussels an unaccountable institution, far from their priorities. Now the EU deals with unemployment, with the economic and social disaster brought by the virus. It is a tribute to the virtues of multilateralism, solidarity and development. And Portugal will try to complete what the German Presidency was unable to conclude.

But if we look to the obvious need for a world’s vaccination, the reality is much dimmer. Until now the rich countries have bought as many as possible vaccines. f. Europe, with 13% of the world population, has bought 51% of the total production. Israel is a case study. With a population of 9 million people, highly registered and organized in the health system, Netanyahu (who will do everything to stay in power), has bought the vaccines at an extra cost but is fast reaching all the population. Certainly, this cannot be the case of India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, and a very primitive system of health… Even the Pope has launched an appeal for distributing a free vaccine in the poor countries, and India and South Africa (which are a member of the G20), have asked the General Assembly of the World Health Organization for free distribution in poor countries. There has been strong opposition from the rich countries, that have financed at the tune of 10 billion dollars the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which now they buy at market prices, several times higher than those of AstraZeneca… And then those two vaccines use a new technology, whose side effects are still unknown, unlike AstraZeneca, which uses a well-experimented technique.

But even if we take the cheaper vaccines, there is a very basic issue: under which ethical and human logic, patents and money can be made over public goods, as the Pope has repeatedly asked? The patent industry has been patenting seeds, rice, plants, which have been existing for hundreds of years, and those new peasants cannot use them without paying a royalty to the company who patented them. And then the pharmaceuticals tried to patent, parts of the human body… Citizens from several parts of the world have been setting up an association, Agorà for Humankind, that is conducting a campaign, for the elimination of patents and profits over public goods, as they belong to humankind. Also, an international alliance has been set up between the public and private sectors, the General Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, GAVI, which has the task to finance vaccination in 93 middle and poor countries. But funding is still far from coming. As things are now, at the end of 2021, only 30% of humankind will be vaccinated, basically from rich countries.

Yet, if there is something that should make all of us aware that we are in the same boat, is this pandemic. Until at least 70% of all humans will be vaccinated, the virus will continue to strike and kill. The British mutation, much more contagious, is a good example. The country with more cases is now Spain, which has no physical contact with the UK. But it went to Gibraltar, the British colony since 1713 in the South of Spain. And from there spread to the surrounding Spanish villages and towns. Did the realization that viruses does not know borders help to make the new treaty for relations between Gibraltar and Spain? The answer is not really: it is trade. Yet, it does not require a virologist to assume that trade spreads the virus…

So, after this long ride among different subjects, its thread should be clear. We have gone from an era when the lessons of the Second World War created a generation of politicians who made of peace and development the common ground for international relations, even during a very dangerous Cold War. Would Trump, Johnson and Putin be at Yalta, instead of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, the outcome would have been very different. Most probably, we would have had no United Nations, no international organizations. Just think that the US, to push for the creation of the UN, agreed in its founding engagement, to pay 25% of its costs.

Then, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, a profound change came. The interests of my country are more important than international cooperation, and the stronger I am, the more so. Multilateralism, cooperation, went under attack, and so the role of the State, its function of guarantor of social progress, equity and participation. Other organizations started to sprout, and weaken the UN, and the instruments of a social pact, like trade unions. From the spirit of the fall if the Berlin’ Wall, in 1989, a number of clubs of rich countries, like the G7, the G8, the G20, started to substitute the UN, and private clubs, like the World Economic Forum of Davos, attracted more important personalities than the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We are now in a third phase, whose symbol abounds: nationalism, xenophobia, and the illusion that sovereignty is more important than cooperation. Brexit is a notable example. But Trump sets up an unprecedented level of legitimacy to what was once considered the betrayal of civism and democracy: exploit and exasperate the divides of a country, racial, cultural, gender, and run without any compliance to rules and traditions. He is accompanied by a variegated assortment of autocratic, populist, and narcists kind of new political generation: Bolsonaro, Orban, Kacynski, Putin, Modi, Sissi, Nehayanu, Duterte, just to cite the most known, while others, like Salvini, are poised to take the power. The virus, instead of uniting citizens, has further divided them. To wear the mask, is a left-wing declaration, like to worry about the climate, which is a survival’ concern. Military expenses are on a continuous increase. In 2019 they have reached an unprecedented amount of 1917 billion dollars. Enough to solve all problems of food, health and education worldwide. The UN is still the only organization able to provide the world with plans of global significance. Its Agenda 2030 gives a plan for the solution of our most significant problems. It costs a fraction of the military expenses. The G20 has paid some lip services, to Agenda 30, but never anything significant. The new generations of politicians are under general scrutiny, and it is not positive at all… I would say that is representative of our crisis, books still get published on a world of conspiracy, like that the virus is used by Bill Gates to inoculate nanoparticles that will make it possible to control all human bodies, Or myths like the one on Bilderberg Club, one of the private’s clubs meeting, as the place where decisions are taken by a small elite on how to run the world. This, when more than ever is clear that the system has lost its compass, and even the tragedy of climate and soon two million deaths are not able to bring back cooperation and multilateralism… but the explosions of conspiracies is a good sign of the decline of democracy…

So, Italy enters now the chairmanship of the G20. It is a position without any significant weight, with the task to realize a coming Summit, of the head of States, from which nobody expects much. If Trump’s defeat has any significant meaning, by November the political situation could have improved, but we will have a Germany without Merkel, probably more nationalist, and the miraculous social engagement of the European Union, could come to a halt. Italy has a very fragile government, and the dubious distinction of having a very young minister of Foreign Affairs, whose only working experience was to be a steward at Naples’ stadium. On the Health Summit, he does not look particularly commanding respect and authority. This will be Italy’s first test. In May, it will be clear that without vaccination in the world, rich countries will not be out of danger. It should be easy to rally the 20 most important countries of the world, which include India and South Africa, to such obvious actions. But in those times, where interests and selfishness are the reality, it is legitimate to nourish many doubts… Anyhow, if 2021 will not be a year of regeneration and creation, we will be on an irreversible slipping decline… time is running out…

But it looks now like the solution to the problems is beyond the reach of the system…

Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

 

Are We Going from San Francisco?

Armed Conflicts, Conferences, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 30 2020 (IPS) – Seventy-five years ago, on 26 June 1945, before the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War, fifty nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the United Nations (UN) Charter.


UN Charter
Nations pledged “to practice tolerance and live together in peace …, and to ensure … that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Anis Chowdhury

They sought “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to … promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Charter’s contents reflected some contradictions inherent in framing an international organization recognizing national sovereignty as its organizing principle, and various other compromises, often influenced by the convening host nation.

Although the conduct of Member States often falls short of the UN’s lofty goals, its Charter was nonetheless a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

San Francisco Conference
Forty-six Allied countries, including the four sponsors – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China – were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference.

The conference itself invited four other States – the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, newly-liberated Denmark and Argentina. Poland did not send a representative as its new government was still uncertain.

Of the fifty participating states, only four were African and nine Asian. Latin American countries, independent since the mid-19th century, were present and active in deliberations.

The Conference was not only one of the most significant international gatherings in history, but perhaps the longest ever. The two month long Conference was attended by 3,500 people, including 850 delegates, their advisers, staff and the secretariat, plus more than 2,500 from the media and other observers.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Conference opened on April 25, 1945 with great fanfare, despite the sudden death of its principal architect and presumed host, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 April. The task of carrying on fell to his Vice-President Harry Truman who had become President.

Truman often quoted English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, carried in his wallet, bewildering colleagues, senators and staffers who doubted his commitment to international peace. Tennyson foresaw that nations, realizing they could destroy one another, might agree to form “the Parliament of Man”, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Clashes and compromises
Many serious differences of opinion triggered crises, even at the preparatory stage. For example, the Soviet Union proposed that all 16 Soviet republics should have UN membership to balance the influence of US allies: the US countered by proposing membership for all its 50 states!

A compromise was struck, allowing membership for the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine; the Soviet Union then withdrew its opposition to Argentina, which had supported the Axis powers.

The most important deliberations concerned the UN Security Council (UNSC), initially composed of five permanent members (US, UK, USSR, China, France) and six elected members. The P5’s right to veto provoked a long and heated debate.

Others feared that when one of the P5 threatens the peace, the UNSC would be ineffectual. But the P5 collectively insisted that as the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them, the veto provision was vital.

Australia proposed that no permanent member should be allowed to veto when involved in a Chapter VII dispute over threats to peace. The US delegation blocked this and a Soviet proposal allowing P5 vetoes on procedural matters, e.g., discussion of disputes in which it may be involved.

While US officials saw the UN General Assembly (UNGA) primarily as a ‘talk shop’, the USSR tried to limit it from discussing sensitive political matters. However, recognizing its importance for legitimacy, the compromise reached permits the UNGA to discuss any issues “within the scope of the Charter”.

Colonialism was not supposed to be discussed at the Conference to avoid alienating the European imperial powers, whom the US needed to isolate the Soviet Union. But the handful of Asian and African countries attending wanted countries still under the colonial yoke to attain freedom and independence as soon as possible.

Although not on the original Conference agenda, after much debate, Chapters XI, XII and XIII provided some norms for colonial administration and pathways for decolonization. Nonetheless, these ambiguous, at best, pronouncements greatly disappointed anti-colonialists around the world.

US hegemonic from outset
Despite some compromises inherent in framing such an agreement, the UN Charter favoured the US. It promised to protect freedom of action and national sovereignty, as desired by the US, but contained no open-ended commitment to preserve other countries’ territorial integrity, like the League of Nations Covenant’s Article 10.

Article 2(7) placated American sovereigntists and nationalists, declaring: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The US and the UK also got what they wanted for existing and new regional and plurilateral arrangements, including defence and mutual assistance organizations.

Some US officials were concerned the UN might threaten the Monroe Doctrine privileging the US in the Western hemisphere, while limiting its ability to intervene elsewhere. Some clever drafting of Chapter VIII provided blanket endorsement to regional organizations, also seen as reflecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 51 enshrined the principle of “self-defense against armed attack, either individual or collective”. Although not fully appreciated in 1945, such provisions later helped legitimize various US and other post-colonial security pacts in Europe, Asia and the Americas against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Conference participants also considered a proposal for compulsory jurisdiction for a World Court, but the US Secretary of State recognized this would jeopardize Senate ratification. Delegates compromised, agreeing to let countries decide whether to accept the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction.

Unsurprisingly, the US has had an uneasy relationship with the ICJ from the outset, never submitting to its authority, and reacting negatively to Court decisions seen as adverse to the US.

From Truman to Trump
Presiding at the closing ceremony, Truman cautioned that the success of the new world body would depend on collective self-restraint. “We all have to recognize – no matter how great our strength – that we must deny ourselves the license to do as we please. This is the price each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

Truman is probably turning in his grave watching Trump’s jingoist ‘America First’ policy undermine the UN and multilateralism. Are multilateralism and the UN now doomed as Trump belies Tennyson’s hope and leads the US to up-end the Roosevelt-Truman legacy?

 

Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women & Climate Change

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 (IPS) – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.


Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”

 

TRENDS E-Symposium to Address Post-Corona Globalization Challenges

Conferences, Health

Experts from around the world to discuss factors behind the crisis and the steps needed to mitigate its negative effects worldwide

ABU DHABI, Mar 26 2020 – TRENDS Research & Advisory is organizing its first-ever E-Symposium to discuss the global impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and offer insights on the steps needed to mitigate its negative effects worldwide. This will be the first online symposium of its kind to be organized since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Gulf and Middle East region.


To be held on March 31, 2020, at 7 pm UAE time, the E-Symposium – Confronting the Challenges of COVID-19: A New Global Outlook – will provide a unique and innovative online platform for international experts covering medical, geostrategic and economic perspectives.

Panelists will offer insights on the factors behind the emergence of the crisis and will also include a special perspective on how China coped with the initial outbreak of the pandemic and adopted measures and solutions that could offer valuable lessons for other countries.

Dr. Mohamed Al-Ali, the Director General of TRENDS Research & Advisory lauded the Center and its staff for their contributions under these exceptional circumstances. “Harnessing modern technology to hold this E-Symposium will feed into the Center’s ambitious goals of strengthening scientific research and providing policy and decision-makers in the region and around the world,” he said.

The Director General said that ideas and recommendations are needed to deal with the challenge of Covid-19, which has become an existential threat to humanity. Dr. Muhammad Al-Ali expressed his confidence that this international E-Symposium, the first of its kind in the Middle East, will come up with recommendations that enhance the current regional and international efforts to curb the rapid spread of this pandemic.

“The pandemic has so far claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people and infected more than 300,000, in addition to having a calamitous economic and strategic impact on the entire world. Nearly 600 million people in around 22 countries are under forced social quarantine and 400 million under curfew,” he said.

Dr. Mohamed Al-Ali said that think-tanks and research institutes should play their role in supporting governments and countries in today’s circumstances so that we collectively stop this human tragedy by providing workable ideas, recommendations, and solutions.

With the COVID-19 crisis representing a historical milestone for the global community, this symposium performs a critical function in helping its participants identify the continuities and changes expected in the months and years to come.

The E-Symposium will be live-streamed via TRENDS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmaxK85OoRz8E1YaWHo6FQQ

 

Preserving World’s Biodiversity: Negotiations Convene at FAO Headquarters

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Gender, Global, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Delegates gather at FAO headquarters to advance negotiations of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

ROME, Feb 24 2020 (IPS) – “The world out there is watching and waiting for results,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema warns while talking to IPS regarding the preservation of biodiversity of our planet.


The acting Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is referring to a worrying report[1] released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which paints a grim picture of the planet.

“Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline and evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing,” the report says.

The FAO also warns that “nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished, and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened”.

These are just some of the critical issues being debated during the open-ended working group on the post-2020 biodiversity framework. This round of negotiations is taking place at FAO headquarters from 24 to 29 February. In the run-up to October’s historic UN Biodiversity Conference, government officials, experts and activists from around the world gathered today at FAO headquarters, Rome, to forge ahead with negotiations. This round of talks was supposed to take place in Kunming, China, on the same dates. Due to the ongoing situation following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), it was moved to Rome, Italy.

Background

The fourteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had its meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2018. It was here that the working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was appointed. The working group’s mandate was to prepare the text of a framework that would guide the work of the Convention after the year 2020. At the working group’s first meeting held in Nairobi in August 2019, the Open-ended Working Group (WG2020) requested the Co-Chairs and the Executive Secretary to prepare a zero-draft text of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This framework is under consideration at its second meeting, which is currently taking place in Rome. The aim of the second meeting of the Working Group is to significantly advance the negotiation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, discussing the different aspects of the whole ambitious project.

‘Healthy Diets’ was among the proposed initiatives during the first day of the six-day event at FAO headquarters. The initiative emphasised the importance of ‘geographical indications’ for biodiversity, with examples and experiences from Africa and Eastern Europe. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

Negotiations in Rome: Promoting a bi-directional approach

In the coming days, the working groups will be divided on a regional basis. They will discuss a wide variety of concerns including biodiversity, food, agriculture and fishing systems, to the importance of promoting an approach that leaves no one outside of this circuit. Civil society, the private sector, indigenous people, local communities, women and youth are all represented to create a functional framework for the whole society and at all levels. Many organisations, like Bioversity International, supported by a host of international agencies, have submitted research reports on biodiversity and food systems. It has also made representations on alternative models for access and benefit-sharing rules, practices and impacts in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The voice of indigenous people

Key to the discussions is the role of indigenous people in biodiversity and Aslak Holmberg, the representative of the indigenous people, is convinced that policymakers can learn from these groups.

“There is a key message we want to share with other groups here during these negotiations,” he told IPS. “Indigenous peoples and local communities’ management of natural resources is (in fact) conserving biodiversity. (This is) because these management practices are built on a balanced relationship with the respective environment.

“Biological and cultural diversity are linked, and by this, I mean that (for indigenous communities) culture plays a fundamental role in the process of preserving biodiversity: it is in our culture to use our areas in a sustainable way. That is the message we want to share with others”.

The voice of the business sector

Representatives of the private sector too, in particular of the business world, wish to be part of the framework that will result from the negotiations and officially approved in October, in China.
Eva Zabey, Executive Director of the Business for Nature Coalition, told IPS she was grateful to the CBD secretariat for giving business and opportunity to engage and contribute to the zero draft of the post-2020 framework.

This coalition is a unique global group of influential business and conservation organisations participating in the negotiations.

“Forward-thinking businesses are starting to change the way they operate, based on their understanding of the value of nature – but this is still the exception, not the norm,” she told IPS.
“Therefore,” said Zabey, “Political leadership is needed now to transform our economic and financial systems in a way that places nature at the heart of global decision-making. It needs to create a level playing field and a stable operating environment for business.”

Zabey is looking forward to an ambitious post-2020 framework which will facilitate businesses’ involvement and create and positive “policy-business feedback loop,” she said.

Perspectives

Audrey Azoulay, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, perfectly summarised urgency at the negotiation.

Commenting on the global assessment report, she said: “The present generations have the responsibility to bequeath to future generations a planet that is not irreversibly damaged by human activity.”

“Our local, indigenous and scientific knowledge are proving that we have solutions and so no more excuses: we must live on earth differently”.

Zabey echoes Azouley. She said entrepreneurs are increasingly aware that the profit-sustainability ‘conflict’ is no longer feasible or conceivable.

“Companies planning on being successful in the future are starting to realise that financial performance is irrelevant on a dead planet.’

[1] http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/ca3129en.pdf

 

Coming Down the Davos Mountain with a Gender Lens

Conferences, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Labour, TerraViva United Nations

NEW YORK, Feb 15 2020 (IPS) – In a recent report by World Economic Forum (WEF) shows women suffer a “triple whammy” in the workplace. Without drastic action, gender parity will take more than a lifetime to achieve. This is the challenge that Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver is staring down.


“We know that achieving gender equality is not a women’s issue. It is a societal issue. To be successful … boys and men must be involved at all levels and all ages,” said Iversen.

Iversen’s involvement WEF 2020 annual meeting in Davos increased the spotlight on gender equality. She was involved in a myriad of discussions, conversations, panel debates, midnight huddles and a social media drive. As the woman who heads leading global advocate for gender equality, health and rights of girls and women her role at the annual forum was clear cut.

“We provoked discussions using our ‘gender lens’ – a small magnifying glass. We gave this to leaders and influencers to bring down the mountain and apply to their businesses, governments, and lives,” Iversen said in an exclusive interview with IPS.

“Along with our partners, Promundo and Unilever/Dove Men+Care, we released a series of recommendations on male engagement in gender equality, condensed in a catchy infographic.”

Iversen went on to emphasise how “everybody – including the men and women in Davos – must apply a gender lens to every aspect of life, from leadership, to health systems, to schools, the workplace, and at home. That is an important step to change systems, to change harmful norms, and drive progress.”

This may seem a momentous task. The WEF report, released in December 2019, highlighted the factors that fuel the economic gender gap. This included a noticeably low level of women in leadership positions, wage stagnation, labour force participation and income.

The report highlights what it terms a ‘Triple Whammy’ for women in the workplace. Women, the report said, are highly represented in many of the roles that have been hit hardest by automation.

Moreover, not enough women are entering technology-driven professions where wage growth is more profound. This puts women into the middle to low wage categories that have been stagnant since the financial crisis in 2009.

Thirdly, a lack of access to capital prevents them from pursuing entrepreneurial activities, another key driver for income.

WEF aims to close the gender gap by setting up coalitions between relevant ministries and the largest employers to increase female labour force participation, increase women in leadership positions, close wage gaps and prepare women for jobs of the future. Additionally, the global business commitment on Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work mobilises businesses to commit to hiring 50% women for their five highest growth roles between now and 2022.

Iversen said women must be involved in the development and growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ubiquitous digital technology for them to benefit.

“We know that innovation and technology hold a lot of power and can be used for good – but only if it works for girls and women and identifies the bias that holds them back,” she said.

While there was potential for digital technologies, like AI, to unlock better health access and information, new employment and leadership opportunities, and greater economic security for women – it could “just as likely leave big parts of the population behind and exacerbate existing inequalities”.

This was why the gender lens in the development and implementation of AI and other tech solutions is so critical, said Iversen. Having women involved in the growth of digital technology “can ensure technology is more representative and can eliminate unconscious bias in hiring, promotion, and recruitment”.

It is critical that women’s education, especially in the field of technology, is enhanced, enabling them to participate in future workforce equally.

“We also need to make sure we are investing in women’s lifelong education and training, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math. It is key to their professional and financial security in the workforce of tomorrow.”

Investment in women and their participation in the economy has a ripple effect.

“Evidence and common sense confirm that when leadership and the workforce represent the population and include women, it leads to better economic, social, and political cohesion and puts us on a better, more sustainable path.”

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, noted in his speech at WEF 2020 that while problems were global, the responses were fragmented.

“If I had to select one sentence to describe the state of the world, I would say we are in a world in which global challenges are more and more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented, and if this is not reversed, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he warned.

Iversen explains that by putting the gender lens at the centre of the solutions, it would enhance society’s ability to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals. It would also mitigate the ‘fragmented responses’ to global challenges.

“Gender is cross-cutting, it is essential to progress and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Conservation of our planet; eradicating poverty and ensuring health; education; peace, and prosperity for all need to be integrated. This requires putting a gender lens to the entire development agenda,” Iversen said.

“One of the reasons the world is facing so many challenges right now, including trade wars, conflict, climate change, and growing inequality, is that girls, women, and marginalised groups are prevented from accessing power, both political and financial. Big egos, narrow interests, and profit over people and planet have been, mistakenly, prioritised, and we are paying the price for that.”

Women Deliver’s President was emphatic that “development actors from across the spectrum must abandon siloed approaches. It was essential to work together to drive progress for the people and planet, including girls and women, both through financial investment and multi-sector partnerships.”

Iversen is confident. WEF was “good start to the Decade of Action for the Global Goals and the 2020 Generation Equality push, demanding women’s equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life.”

Involving the younger generation was also paramount to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

“What was also clear coming down the Davos mountain is that any efforts to push the development agenda over the finish line will fail if they don’t involve young people. Because youth not only have a stake in reaching our ambitious development goals by 2030, they are also well-suited to identify solutions right now.”

To address and improve gender equality, Iversen emphasised that it required a global effort. The private sector has a vested interest and a significant role to play in advancing gender equality. “We want governments and business leaders to use the gender lens in all they do. They should complete a concrete analysis of what progress they have made and what gender gaps remain,” Iversen said.

Both should ask themselves: What policies and procedures are inhibiting or promoting progress? What gender norms are prevalent and need to be addressed? What investments in gender equality could be made?

“And once that analysis is complete – get to work!”

Women Deliver has been relentless in that message and in bringing the evidence to bear with great partners. “And in recent years we have seen that the world – including at WEF – has started to catch on. Our challenge now is to move from talking to mobilising dedicated action.”

Women Deliver continues to be serious advocates, speaking up for girls and women in every setting.

“We’ll continue to advise committees for big corporations and international agencies. We’ll continue to elevate the voices of young advocates and local organisations around the world. We will continue to push back on the pushback to protect our gains and drive further progress,” Iversen said.

“We will continue to communicate from podiums, in boardrooms and hallways of major summits, on the pages of major newspapers, on (television) screens and social media – with the clear message: In a gender-equal world, everybody wins.”

IPS asked about the trend of women participating as policy-makers at WEF. Just how prominent is women’s role? Iversen replied that “24% of the 2,700 formal WEF participants were women. While that is an improvement from previous years, it’s still way too small. WEF has pledged to double female participation by 2030, and we are ready to help to speed it up.”

“We have a long way to go, but I saw progress at WEF,” said Iversen, adding, “More and new world leaders – in business and government – are picking up the gender lens. There is still so much to be done, and progress is slow for an impatient optimist like myself. But I came down the Davos mountain more hopeful than I went up, and more ready than ever to power progress for girls, women and gender equality in the Super Year ahead.”

Iversen remains optimistic. “Ultimately, we want to work ourselves out of a job. Then sit back and see a world where gender inequality is a thing of the past, where it is something people make fun of like the ‘old days’. Where people say, ‘I can’t believe we didn’t do this sooner’.”