World’s Young Activists at War: First, Occupy Wall Street, Next Un-Occupy Palestine

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Credit: Amnesty International

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2020 (IPS) – The world’s young activists, numbering over 3.8 billion, are on the war path.

The rising new socialist movements—which originated with “Black Lives Matter” and “Occupy Wall Street” (one protester’s slogan read: “Un-Occupy Palestine”) — were aimed at battling racism, political repression and institutionalized inequalities in capitalist societies.


In its recent cover story, Time magazine dubbed it “Youthquake” – a new phenomenon shaking up the old order, as young activists lead the fight against right-wing authoritarianism, government corruption and rising new hazards of climate change.

Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS “it is stunning to see how aggressive government efforts to quash protests, including by killing protesters, have not even succeeded in stopping them in the short run”.

In the long run, far too much is at stake, she said, where the coming years are likely to see more protests rather than fewer.

And it is more so in Asia, says AI, in a recently-released report which reviews human rights in 25 Asian and Pacific states and territories during 2019.

“2019 was a year of repression in Asia, but also of resistance”.

“As governments across the continent attempt to uproot fundamental freedoms, people are fighting back – and young people are at the forefront of the struggle,” says Nicholas Bequelin, AI’s Regional Director for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“From students in Hong Kong leading a mass movement against growing Chinese encroachment, to students in India protesting against anti-Muslim policies; from Thailand’s young voters flocking to a new opposition party to Taiwan’s pro LGBTI-equality demonstrators. Online and offline, youth-led popular protests are challenging the established order,” he added.

Also, the rise of a new generation determined to lead the fight against climate emergency has led to a major youth movement worldwide, resulting in protest marches, with thousands of young people demonstrating in the streets of New York and in several world capitals.

According to Time magazine, the world’s under-30 population has been rising since 2012, and today accounts for more than half of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Credit: Amnesty International

Asked for the primary reasons for this surge in young activism, Mariner said this new era of youth activism reflects young people’s understanding that it’s their future at stake.

“If they don’t demand more from governments, including a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, their future is uncertain. It is the young who will inherit this fast-warming planet, and they see all too clearly the consequences of their elders’ inaction and irresponsibility,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the Youth Assembly, described as one of the longest-running and largest global youth summits, is scheduled to take place in New York city February 14-16.

The theme of next week’s 25th session will be: “It’s Time: Youth for Global Impact” aimed at underlining the importance of engaging young people, “especially at a time when the youth are influencing and leading movements that can change the world.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International report says China and India, Asia’s two largest powers, set the tone for repression across the region with their overt rejection of human rights.

Beijing’s backing of an Extradition Bill for Hong Kong, giving the local government the power to extradite suspects to the mainland, ignited mass protests in the territory on an unprecedented scale.

Since June, Hong Kongers have regularly taken to the streets to demand accountability in the face of abusive policing tactics that have included the wanton use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults and abuses in detention. This struggle against the established order has been repeated all over the continent, said AI.

In India, the AI report noted, millions decried a new law that discriminates against Muslims in a swell of peaceful demonstrations. In Indonesia, people rallied against parliament’s enactment of several laws that threatened public freedoms.

In Afghanistan, marchers risked their safety to demand an end to the country’s long-running conflict. In Pakistan, the non-violent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement defied state repression to mobilize against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

Divya Srinivasan, Equality Now’s South Asia Consultant, told IPS young people across Asia have shown incredible resilience and bravery in their continuing battle against government repression in 2019.

One remarkable feature of these protests is that in many instances, they have been led by women and girls, including those from minority communities, she added.

In India, one of the epicentres of protests against the new anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which discriminates against Muslims, has been the neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi.

Srinivasan said women and children have braved the winter chill and gathered in huge numbers to continuously occupy a highway around the clock in a peaceful protest that has already lasted over a month.

“The voices of these women, particularly Muslim women, have been bravely opposing the Government’s discriminatory laws, and voicing concerns about the oppression of minorities and police brutality.”

“The Shaheen Bagh protest began on December 14th with around a dozen local women and their children and numbers soon swelled into the hundreds”, she said.

And the site has become a creative space for many children and young people, with singing, storytelling, poetry, and talks happening daily, and drawings, graffiti, posters, photographs, and art installations decorating the roadside where people are camping”

In early 2019, Srinivasan said, India saw another historic protest in the form of the Dignity March, which was a 10,000-kilometre long march through 24 states that brought together thousands of survivors of sexual violence, including many young women and girls, who were raising their voices to call for justice, dignity, and an end to victim-blaming and stigma.”

“Young women across Asia are making their voices heard. We cannot ignore them any longer,” declared Srinivasan, a licensed attorney in India with a background in women’s rights, including work on sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence against women.

Asked whether there is a role for the United Nations to either support or give its blessings to these youth activists, AI’s Mariner said: “The UN, including at the highest levels, can and should speak out to demand that governments respect the right of peaceful protest”

She pointed out it was heartening to hear UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemn the killings of protesters in Iraq, “although he has been far less vocal regarding repression elsewhere”.

Also encouraging, from the perspective of UN action, are the numerous UN special rapporteurs who have called on the authorities in Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia, among others, to protect the rights of those who participate in protests, she declared.

The AI repot said people speaking out against these atrocities were routinely punished, but their standing up made a difference. There were many examples where efforts to achieve human rights progress in Asia paid off.

In Taiwan, same-sex marriage became legal following tireless campaigning by activists. In Sri Lanka, lawyers and activists successfully campaigned against the resumption of executions.

Brunei was forced to backtrack on enforcing laws to make adultery and sex between men punishable by stoning, while former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak took the stand on corruption charges for the first time.

The Pakistani government pledged to tackle climate change and air pollution, and two women were appointed as judges on the Maldivian Supreme Court for the first time.

And in Hong Kong, the power of protest forced the government to withdraw the Extradition Bill. Yet, with no accountability for months of abuses against demonstrators, the fight goes on.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Addressing the Low Female Representation in STEM Education

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Education

Data by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), shows that only 35 percent of students studying STEM in higher education globally are women. At primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have no electricity, computers or even access to the internet. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

DJIBOUTI CITY, Jan 28 2020 (IPS) – Dr. Anne-Maria Brennan loved science as a young girl. But instead of encouraging her, those around her made attempts to steer her in the “right direction”. “The right direction was in nursing, teaching and secretarial courses. I was told that girls do not study physics,” she tells IPS.


“These voices were so loud that I seriously considered becoming a music teacher. But then someone sensibly told me that I could become a scientist and an amateur musician, but there was nothing like an amateur scientist who was also a professional musician,” she says.

That was in the seventies, today Brennan is the vice-president of Science Engagement at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation in the United Kingdom.

Brennan previously served as an associate professor in Bioscience and Forensic Biology, at the School of Applied Science, London South Bank University.

“It turns out that girls could in fact study physics, or mathematics, science, technology and engineering,” she quips.

It has been five decades since Brennan swam against the tide, pursuing a career in science. But data by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), shows that globally only 35 percent of students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – or STEM – in higher education are women. Further confirming that girls are still being steered towards domestic and caring career paths.

“Gender balance in enrolment as well as inclusivity in both participation and achievements in STEM education remains a global south challenge,” Professor Kalu Mosto Onuoha, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, tells IPS.

“Education systems will never be balanced and inclusive when half of the population is not participating at per with their counterparts in STEM education,” he adds.

Similar sentiments were shared by other delegates participating in the 3rd International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education currently being held in Djibouti City, Djibouti. Organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), over 200 delegates and government representatives from over 35 countries are currently in the Horn of Africa nation where state leaders are expected to sign a Universal Declaration on universal inclusive education.

  • Unfortunately, low female representation in STEM education is a narrative that knows no boundaries. According to UNESCO, Sweden has the highest share of women graduates from STEM programmes among Nordic countries, but STEM attainment among female students in Sweden stands at 16 percent, compared to male students at 47 percent.

Brennan affirms that the numbers are similarly low in the United Kingdom but notes some improvements in the fields of general practice and dentistry, where women have taken a lead.

She says there are few women in surgery and even fewer in engineering because men in these fields are considered unfriendly and the sectors too involved and dirty.

“These wide gender gaps in developing countries are purely out of choice. Students in these countries are making the choice to pursue other interests. In developing countries the choice is made for our students by a patriarchal culture and through socialisation,” says Onuoha.

He says that these inequalities are first rooted in the exclusion and marginalisation of girls in education enrolment.

“Girls who eventually made it to school were encouraged to undertake feminine subjects like teaching. They were socialised to believe that they could only be good mothers if they took on lighter subjects,” Onuoha expounds.

  • But the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 indicates that these inequalities are not limited to the lagging behind of girls at the enrolment level.
  • In countries such as the Southern Africa nation of Namibia where girls outpace boys in school enrolment at all levels, the gap widens in STEM education. Here, about eight percent of female students have attained STEM education, compared to 21 percent of male students.
  • Nonetheless, the report shines a spotlight on countries with impressive levels of STEM education uptake among their female students.
  • In Mauritania, for instance, attainment in STEM is at 29 percent among female students, and 31 percent among male students. In the South Asian nation of Myanmar, female students outpace male students in attainment of STEM education.
  • A few other countries such as the Arab country of Oman are slowly and surely closing the gender gap in STEM uptake, with 41 percent of female students and 55 percent of male students.

“In developing countries there are many concerted efforts to address the first part of  the problem, even though painfully slowly, we are slowly closing gender gaps in education enrolment, retention and in some cases, achievements,” Professor Mahouton Norbert Hounkonnou, from the Benin National Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, tells IPS.

Hounkonnou is a full professor of mathematics and physics, and called for the demystification of sciences. “STEM education is taught as if only a few people are meant to understand but science and math is for all of us. Everybody does math on a daily basis without even knowing it.”

Hounkonnou says that balanced and inclusive education systems call for an overhaul in what is taught in STEMs, who teaches it and how it is taught. “Learners love to be engaged. Our classrooms must become more interactive. We also need a gender component, currently lacking, in many of our educational interventions,” he adds.

He called for investment in infrastructure and learning materials to improve the environment in which STEM education is provided.

U.N. research shows that countries in the sub-Sahara Africa face the biggest challenges. At the primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools have access to electricity, computers and internet.

“This forum provides an opportunity for us to define the shape a balanced and inclusive STEM education system should take, and make concerted efforts to build that system. It will take financial and technical resources, including the training of teachers to better interact with female learners,” says Hounkonnou.

 

Balanced and Gender-Inclusive Education is a Smart Investment

Africa, Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Education

Pupils at the Elangata Enterit boarding primary school in Kenya’s Narok County. Experts say that a balanced education includes enabling girls to participate at the same level as boys. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

DJIBOUTI CITY, Jan 27 2020 (IPS) – Fihima Mohamed’s mother never attended school and until two years ago she could not read or write. Mohamed’s mother had been born in neighbouring Somalia but was sent to Djibouti as a young girl to live with her aunt. The expectation had been that she would have a better life by escaping the ongoing conflict in her home country at the time.


Instead, Mohamed’s mother became a domestic servant to her aunt — a circumstance that showed her that her own daughter’s future would be just as difficult if she too did not go to school.

Born and raised in the Republic of Djibouti, Mohamed told IPS that most of her childhood was spent in school or studying.

Between the ages of six and 16 years, she was driven by the vivid pictures her mother painted of the life that awaited her if she did not stay in school and perform well — one of domestic abuse. “I was told that as a woman, education would give me freedom,” she said, remembering how her mother was not able to make major household decisions and did not have the freedom to determine what direction her life took.

But her mother did make a decision that determined the course of Mohamed’s life. She opted not to buy the fish her children enjoyed so much for their meals and instead spent the money on private tuition classes for her daughter to supplement her schooling.

“I attended public school during the day, and at night, two hours of private school tuition. My mother sacrificed a lot to raise 25 dollars per month to pay for these night classes,” she said, explaining that she went to those classes not for her own sake but also so that she could help her three younger siblings with their homework.

The sacrifice paid off and Mohamed was placed among the country’s top-five students for her high school final exam. She received a scholarship to study in France for four years.

Fast track to 2020, Mohamed holds a bachelor’s degree in law and political science, and a Master’s degree in refugee studies. She is a social entrepreneur, a gender and environment activist and the founder of the Women Initiative, a local social movement for the empowerment of women and girls.

She said that Djibouti is among a growing list of developing countries were education attainment levels have significantly narrowed between boys and girls. United Nations statistics indicate that the gross primary school enrolment rates for girls have risen to nearly 61 percent.

This emerged during the 3rd International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education that is currently being held in Djibouti City, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

Organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), over 200 delegates and government representatives from over 35 countries rallied behind an education pathway that leaves no one behind.

  • According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, there is an increasing number of countries in the global south where, on average, educational attainment gaps are now relatively small.
  • These countries include Cambodia, Kenya, Cuba, Myanmar and Ethiopia.
  • In Myanmar, for instance, primary school enrolment rates stand at 88 percent for girls, and 90 percent for boys.
    • Additionally, in secondary level, enrolment rate for girls is at 62 percent and 57 percent for boys.
    • Even at tertiary level, enrolment rates for girls stand at 19 percent, compared to 13 percent for boys.

Countries struggling with gender parity in education include Togo, Burkina Faso and Burundi.

Togolese Prime Minister Komi Selom, Klassou confirmed that alarming gender inequalities exist, despite the existence of innovative strategies towards an inclusive education system.

“We have school canteens to provide school free meals, free medical cover for school-going children and the newly approved year-on-year budgetary increase to the education sector,” he said during the summit.

  • The Global Gender Gap Report indicates that in Togo, enrolment in primary school is at 88 percent among girls, and 94 percent for boys.
  • Secondary school enrolment for girls is at 34 percent for girls and 49 percent for boys.
  • At tertiary level, 10 percent of girls enrol vis-à-vis 19 percent of boys.

“Efforts to narrow this gap include a new government commitment to allocate at least 25 percent of its national budget to the education sector,” he said.

Fahima Mohamed says Djibouti is among a growing list of developing countries were education attainment levels have significantly narrowed between boys and girls. She called for more investments to ensure that girls participate at the same level as boys. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Mohamed told IPS that ongoing consultations on education will bring the global south a step closer towards “building fairer and more inclusive economies by transforming our education systems to ensure that every child has access to quality education”.

She explained that ultimately the idea was to embrace an education system that reflects the reality of children in the global south. This also included improving educational infrastructure and content so that the latter could be more diverse to reflect the multiple-cultural narrative of the global south.

Nonetheless, Sheikh Manssour Bin Mussallam, President of ERF, emphasised that balanced and inclusive education systems are not solely about having more children in classrooms, but the “construction of systems that makes exclusion impossible”.

“Our education systems should guarantee that marginalised groups participate under balanced and equitable conditions. The transformative power of education is only true if education itself is transformed and driven by forces that uphold equality and equity,” he said during the opening day of the summit.

Data by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) shows that existing education systems are far from equitable, prosperous and sustainable.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 21 percent of girls are much more likely to be out of school at primary school age compared to 16 percent of boys.
  • Globally, UNESCO statistics indicate that sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the worst rates of education exclusion. One in four children in South Asia, and one in five children in sub-Saharan Africa will never enter school.
  • Equally alarming, World Bank statistics show that children with a disability are more likely to never enrol in school at all. Overall, only one in four children with disabilities complete secondary school.
  • Additionally, primary school completion rates are 10 percentage points lower for girls with disabilities compared to girls without disabilities.

“In Sri Lanka where girls are consistently outpacing boys in both education access and achievement, our main challenge is lack of financial and technical resources to address the [requirements] of special needs children,” P.C.K. Pirisyala, director of education at the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service, told IPS.

“Developing countries are grappling with a lack of teachers to provide adequate training and material to provide disability-inclusive education,” she said.

She further said that a lack of resources (both technical and financial) and a lack of schools equipped to accommodate special needs children has made it difficult for these children in the global south to access education and participate with their peers.

“This forum will provide the global south with a roadmap that reflects these realities, and bring us closer to the dream of balanced and inclusive education for all by 2030. This is all in line with the [U.N.] sustainable development goal four on education for all,” she concluded.

The summit runs until Wednesday, Jan. 29.

 

Arab Region’s Largest Youth Gathering Focuses on New Tech

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Population

At the Global Youth Forum in Egypt thousands of youth attend a session on Artificial Intelligence and to hear Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

SHARM-EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Dec 18 2019 (IPS) – On late Monday morning, a motley group of more than a thousand youth gathered in a hall in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to listen to Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Yahya Elghobashy, a computer science engineering student from Cairo, sat excitedly in the audience. A few meters away from him, also in the audience, was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — the President of Egypt.


As Sophia and a panel of scientists on the stage spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI), El-Sisi was seen listening attentively and taking notes while the young crowd around him squealed and took photos.

“It was very exciting that I was going to see and hear the world’s best humanoid robot and that the president himself was there,” Elghobashy revealed, a big smile on his face.

Since 2017, Egyptian president El-Sisi has been seen here at the World Youth Forum each year. The event is now the Arab world’s largest youth gathering, focusing on peace, culture and development.

The 3-day forum, which ended yesterday, Dec.17, drew nearly 8,000 people including 64 speakers and several hundred youth leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There was also a large contingent of government officials and ministers in attendance, which has been happening under the direct patronage of the president. The core theme of the event is “Egypt: where civilisations meet” – an effort to highlight the cultural diversity of the country to the world.

Technology and innovation in the spotlight

But the dominating subject of discussions at the forum this year was technology and innovation. Of the 20 sessions, half were centred around technology and artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, industrial innovation and blockchain technologies and applications.

On Monday, Dec. 16, at the session on AI, youths were seen loudly cheering as Sophia the robot spoke. Designed by Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, Sophia described herself as a robot who is here to assist in the fields of research, education, and entertainment, and help promote public discussion about AI.  At the session, a panel of youth experts also talked passionately about ethics and the future of robotics. “You can build robots that are energy-efficient and also run on renewable energy,” said the humanoid robot to the cheering young crowd.

“This is very progressive that we are discussing advanced technology like AI here. As an engineering student, I think it especially encourages us to talk about what is most relevant to our life, our country and our future,” Elghobashy told IPS.

At a press conference later, El-Sisi assured people that the government was indeed paying attention to the developments at World Youth Forum and planned to bring cutting-edge technologies to the country’s youth for a better future.

“We will be launching a series of new universities teaching all relevant digital age sciences. We will also seek partnerships with international institutions to guarantee a high level of quality education,” El-Sisi said.

New technologies, risks and challenges

Besides the excitement of ground-breaking technologies, the forum also threw light on the risks and challenges of new technologies such as  blockchain – a decentralised, distributed ledger that records the provenance of a digital asset. Cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is a perfect example of blockchain technology.

Challenges faced by various countries regarding blockchain due to the lack of national legislation in countries other than China and the United States was also a prominent talking point. This includes possible threats like blockchain being misused by terrorist organisations to sell oil, purchase weapons, and exchange digital currencies.

The missing technologies

Samia Khamis is a student of international relations in Amman, Jordan who traveled to the forum for the first time. “I came via Cairo, which is only an hour away from Jordan, but the moment I stepped out of the airport I could feel that the air pollution level is much higher than my country,” she told IPS.

Cairo is one of the world’s most polluted cities.  According to NUMBEO – an air quality data monitor, residents of Cairo breathe in polluted air, with levels reaching as high as 85 percent.

According to Khamis, Egypt needs to develop technologies that could clear its sky which is “dark” because of pollution. “It is good that we are brining so many technologies on display here, but we need technologies that can make our environment better and our air clearer,” she said.

The forum’s closing ceremony took place on Tuesday night.

 

Social Summit Demands Stronger Commitments in Climate Talks

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Climate Change

One of the continuous protests staged at the Social Summit for Climate Action, meeting Dec. 7-13 parallel to the official 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change. The Summit, hosted by the Complutense University of Madrid, is tackling issues such as the controversial trading of carbon credits, human rights in the climate struggle and opposition to the growing production of hydrocarbons. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the continuous protests staged at the Social Summit for Climate Action, meeting Dec. 7-13 parallel to the official 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change. The Summit, hosted by the Complutense University of Madrid, is tackling issues such as the controversial trading of carbon credits, human rights in the climate struggle and opposition to the growing production of hydrocarbons. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MADRID, Dec 9 2019 (IPS) – As the COP25 deliberations enter the decisive final week, representatives of environmental and social organisations gathered in a parallel summit are pressing the governments to adopt stronger commitments in the face of a worsening climate emergency.


In the debates in the week-long Social Summit for Climate Action, which began Dec. 7 parallel to the Dec. 2-13 United Nations 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change taking place in Madrid, skepticism has been expressed with respect to the results to come out of the official meeting.

“Nothing good is going to come out of it for Central America, only proposals that are going to make it more vulnerable. The damage is going to become more serious,” Carolina Amaya, representative of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit, told IPS, pointing out that the region is one of the most exposed to the climate crisis, facing persistent droughts, intense storms, rising sea levels and climate migrants.

The social summit is taking place at the public Complutense University, in the west of the Spanish capital, about 15 km from the IFEMA fairgrounds which are hosting COP25 after Chile pulled out on Oct. 30 from holding the event due to massive anti-government protests and social unrest.

The alternative activities, which also end on Friday Dec. 13, include a varied menu of issues, such as free trade and its socioenvironmental impacts, oil drilling in indigenous territories, the protection of forests, and opposition to trading reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which cause global warming.

They are also discussing the monetisation of environmental services, increased funding for the most vulnerable nations, climate justice and attacks against land rights activists.

The Madrid Social Summit is also holding sessions in Santiago de Chile, under the same slogan, “Beyond COP25: People for Climate”, although there are fewer representatives of organised civil society than at previous COPs because of the last minute change of venue.

Civil society groups are also organising activities at their green pavilion within the official COP25 compound of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where their participation is more formal and ceremonious.

The demands of civil society gained visibility thanks to the mass demonstration held in Madrid on Friday Dec. 6, with the participation of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the reluctant star of the official conference and social summit.

COP25 is the third consecutive COP held in Europe, this time under the motto “Time to act”.

The deliberations, which enter the crucial phase of the adoption of agreements Tuesday Dec. 10, are focusing on financing national climate policies, rules for emission reduction markets, and the preparation of the update of emissions reductions and funding of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, designed to assist regions particularly affected by climate change.

COP25 is the climate summit that directly precedes the 2020 entrance into effect of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted in the French capital in 2015, which left key areas to be hashed out at the current conference, such as the controversial emissions market.

In their statement to the COP, the organisations criticise the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and mass consumption, blaming it for the climate crisis, and complaining about the lack of results in the UNFCCC meetings.

“The scientific diagnosis is clear regarding the seriousness and urgency of the moment. Economic growth happens at the expense of the most vulnerable people,” says the statement, which defends climate justice “as the backbone of the social fights of our time” and “the broadest umbrella that exists to protect all the diversity of struggles for another possible world.”

At the social summit, the first “Latin American Climate Manifesto was presented on Monday Dec. 9, which lashes out at carbon credit trading, the role of corporations in climate change and the increase in production of hydrocarbons, while expressing support for the growth of agroecology, the defence of human rights and the demand for climate justice.

In addition, indigenous peoples are holding their own meeting, the “indigenous Minga“, with the message “Traditional knowledge at the service of humanity in the face of climate change.” They are demanding respect for their rights, participation in the negotiations and recognition of their role as guardians of ecosystems such as forests.

“We are here to raise our voices and offer our contribution to fight” against the climate emergency, Jozileia Kaingang, a chief of the Kaingang people and a representative of the non-governmental Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, told IPS.

Brazilian indigenous groups are in conflict with the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro because of its attempts to undermine their rights and encourage the commercial exploitation of their territories. In fact, the Brazilian government delegation does not include a single indigenous member – unprecedented in the recent history of the COPs.

Faced with this dispute and the critical situation of the Amazon jungle, Brazil’s indigenous people have sent representatives to Madrid to speak out and seek solidarity.

The murder of two leaders of the Guajajara people in northeastern Brazil on Saturday Dec. 7 shook the indigenous delegation. Two murders had already occurred in that native community in the last two months.

In 2017, the States Parties to the UNFCCC adopted at COP23 the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform for the exchange of experiences and best practices, thereby ensuring the participation of these groups in the negotiations of the convention.

The Platform’s facilitative working group, composed of delegates from seven States Parties and seven indigenous peoples, is currently developing its plan for the period 2020-2021.

Martín Vilela, a representative of the Bolivian Platform for Climate Change umbrella group of local organisations, questioned the effectiveness of the climate summits.

“The agreements are only paper. Emissions continue to rise and countries’ voluntary targets are insufficient. The countries have to be more ambitious if they really want to avoid major disasters,” he told IPS.

Social organizations fear that the Paris Agreement, when it replaces the Kyoto Protocol next year, will be stillborn, because countries are failing to keep their promises, even though scientists are warning that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is insufficient.

The Agreement sets mandatory emission reduction targets for industrialised countries and voluntary targets for developing countries in the South.

“The countries need to know that we’re monitoring them. We, the organisations, must prepare ourselves to demand better action,” said Amaya from El Salvador.

For her part, Brazil’s Kaingang argued that the climate struggle would only be effective if it includes indigenous peoples.

COP26 will be hosted by Glasgow, Scotland in November 2020, after pre-conference meetings in Germany and Italy.

This article was supported by the COP25 Latin American Journalistic Coverage Programme.

 

Climate Summit Kicks Off, Caught Between Realism and Hope

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Climate Change

Family photo at the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change, taking place in Madrid Dec. 2 to 13. Credit: UNFCCC

Family photo at the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change, taking place in Madrid Dec. 2 to 13. Credit: UNFCCC

MADRID, Dec 2 2019 (IPS) – Tens of thousands of delegates from state parties began working Monday Dec. 2 in the Spanish capital to pave the way to comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change, while at a parallel summit, representatives of civil society demanded that the international community go further.


Calls to combat the climate emergency marked the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in light of the most recent scientific data showing the severity of the crisis, as reflected by more intense storms, rising temperatures and sea levels, and polar melting.

Pedro Sánchez, acting prime minister of Spain – selected as the emergency host country after the political crisis in Chile forced the relocation of the summit – called during the opening ceremony for Europe to lead the decarbonisation of the economy and move faster to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas generated by human activities.

“Today, fortunately, only a handful of fanatics deny the evidence” about the climate emergency, Sánchez said at the opening of the COP, held under the motto “Time to act” at the Feria de Madrid Institute (IFEMA) fairgrounds.

COP25 is the third consecutive climate conference held in Europe. The agenda focuses on issues such as financing for national climate policies and the rules for emission reduction markets – outlined without specifics in the Paris Agreement, which was agreed four years ago and is to enter into force in 2020.

It will also address the preparation of the update of emissions reductions and funding of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, designed to assist regions particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

In the 1,000 square metres where COP25 is being held, 29,000 people – according to estimates by the organisers – including some 50 heads of state and government, representatives of the 196 official delegations and civil society organisations, as well as 1,500 accredited journalists, will gather until Dec. 13.

But the notable absence of U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not give cause for optimism.

These include the leaders of the countries that produce the most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making their lack of interest in strengthening the Paris Agreement more serious.

On Nov. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he submitted a formal notice to the United Nations to begin the process of pulling out of the climate accord.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during the opening ceremony that “The latest, just-released data from the World Meteorological Organisation show that levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”

In its Emissions Gap Report 2019, the U.N. Environment Programme warned on the eve of the opening of COP25 of the need to cut emissions by 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030 in order to stay within the 1.5 degree Celsius cap on temperature rise proposed in the Paris Agreement.

Many delegations admitted that the world is off track to achieving the proposed 45 percent reduction in GHG by 2030 and to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

In fact, delegates pointed out on Monday, emissions reached an alarming 55.3 billion tons in 2018, including deforestation.

One of the hopes is that more countries, cities, companies and investment funds will join the Climate Ambition Alliance, launched by Chile, the country that still holds the presidency of the COP, and endorsed by at least 66 nations, 10 regions, 102 cities, 93 corporations and 12 large private investors.

More than 70 countries and 100 cities so far have committed to reaching zero net emissions by 2050.

Social summit

Parallel to the official meeting, organisations from around the world are gathered at the Social Summit for Climate under the slogan “Beyond COP25: People for Climate”, which in its statement to the conference criticises the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and mass consumption, blaming it for the climate crisis, and complaining about the lack of results in the UNFCCC meetings.

“The scientific diagnosis is clear regarding the seriousness and urgency of the moment. Economic growth happens at the expense of the most vulnerable people,” says the statement, which defends climate justice “as the backbone of the social fights of our time” and “the broadest umbrella that exists to protect all the diversity of struggles for another possible world.”

The first week of the COP is expected to see the arrival of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has unleashed youth mobilisation against the climate crisis around the world.

In terms of how well countries are complying, only Gabon and Nepal have met their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the mitigation and adaptation measures voluntarily adopted, within the Paris Agreement, to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But these two countries have practically no responsibility for the climate emergency.

The plans of Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and the Philippines involve an increase of up to 2.0 degrees, while the measures of the rest of the countries range from “insufficient” to “critically insufficient”.

Latin America “has to be more ambitious: although progress has been made, the measures are insufficient. We need a multilateral response to the emergency. We have only 11 years to correct the course and thus reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and meet the goal of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global head of Climate and Energy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The Marshall Islands already submitted their NDCs 2020, while 41 nations have declared their intention to update their voluntary measures and 68 nations – including those of the European Union – have stated that they plan to further cut emissions.

In its position regarding the COP25, consulted by IPS, Mexico outlined 10 priorities, including voluntary cooperation, adaptation, climate financing, gender and climate change, local communities and indigenous peoples.