Panama’s Elections: Has Impunity Prevailed?

Civil Society, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Education, Featured, Headlines, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Johan Ordoñez/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 21 2024 (IPS) – Regional experts called it Panama’s most important election since the 1989 US invasion that deposed de facto president General Manuel Noriega. Panamanians went to the polls amid high inflation and unemployment, with a stagnating economy. Endemic corruption was also high on their long list of concerns, along with access to water, education and a collapsing social security system.

The winner, conservative lawyer José Raúl Mulino, was a stand-in for former president Ricardo Martinelli, disqualified from running due to a money laundering conviction. Martinelli remains popular regardless and managed to transfer his popularity to his less charismatic substitute. For those who backed Mulino, nostalgia for the economic stability and growth that marked Martinelli’s pro-business administration seemed to outweigh his proven record of corruption.

On the face of it, the election results seemed to demonstrate the primacy of economic considerations in voters’ minds, with hopes for growth trumping corruption fatigue. But that’s not the whole story.

Free, fair and uncertain

On 5 May, Panamanians went to the polls to elect a president and vice-president, 71 National Assembly members, 20 Central American Parliament deputies and local representatives.

The elections were undoubtedly clean and transparent, with integrity guaranteed by the participation of civil society in the National Scrutiny Board. Results were announced quickly and all losing candidates accepted them. But the pre-voting context was far less straightforward. Until the very last minute the now president-elect wasn’t sure he’d be allowed to run.

Mulino served as security minister in Martinelli’s government between 2009 and 2014. Ten years later, largely unknown to the electorate, he entered the race as Martinelli’s running mate for Achieving Goals (Realizando Metas, RM), a party Martinelli founded in 2021.

In July 2023, Martinelli was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to 10 years in prison, making him ineligible to run. He appealed, but the Electoral Tribunal didn’t make a final decision on his disqualification until March. To avoid jail, he sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama City. Mulino took his place, but his presidential candidacy was also challenged. For two months, he became the centre of attention as the Electoral Tribunal and Supreme Court debated whether he could ran. The positive court ruling came on 3 May, just two days before voting. Mulino also received a lot of help from Martinelli, who campaigned for him online while holed up in the Nicaraguan embassy.

A fragmented vote

Eight candidates contested the presidency, a five-year position with no possibility of a second consecutive term. With no runoff, a fragmented vote was likely to produce a winner with far less than half the vote. Mulino’s winning total of 34.2 per cent wasn’t unusual: two previous presidents received similarly low shares, including the outgoing centre-left president, Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD).

Mulino’s closest competitor, on 24.6 per cent, was Ricardo Lombana, a centre-right anti-corruption outsider. In third place was Martin Torrijos, another former president and Martinelli’s immediate predecessor, now distanced from his original party, the PRD, and running on the ticket of the Christian democratic People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP). Fourth was Rómulo Roux, of the centre-right Democratic Change (Cambio Democrático, CD), the party Martinelli founded and used as a vehicle for the presidency, but which he abandoned in 2020 amid leadership disputes.

The parties that once dominated the political landscape fared badly. The Panameñista Party didn’t even have a presidential candidate; instead, its leader joined Roux as his running mate. The PRD, which led three of the last six governments, fell below six per cent.

Independents on the rise

In 1998, Martinelli’s CD was the first to challenge the dominance of traditional parties. Later changes to the electoral law allowed independent candidates to stand. Their growing prominence reflects widespread dissatisfaction with traditional parties and the political class.

In the 5 May congressional elections, independent candidates won more seats than any political party – 20, up from just five. Mulino’s new RM party took 14 seats. The PRD lost a whopping 22, retaining only 13. The new composition of the National Assembly speaks of a thirst for renewal that doesn’t match the choice for corruption and impunity the presidential results might suggest.

Spotlight on the economy

For the three decades before the pandemic, the Panamanian economy grew by around six per cent a year, helped by income from the Panama Canal and construction and mining booms. But then challenges started piling up. The economy slowed down. Jobs disappeared. Inflation rose.

Activity in the Panama Canal has been severely affected by the impacts of climate change, with a drop in water levels. Drought has also reduced access to drinking water in some regions. Meanwhile an unprecedented rise in the numbers of migrants travelling through the Darién Gap, the treacherous stretch of jungle at the border with Colombia, has stretched the resources of the humanitarian assistance system.

Mulino campaigned on promises to improve the economy by attracting investment, developing infrastructure and creating jobs. He pledged to improve access to safe water and promised to ‘shut down’ the Darién Gap.

Mulino’s voters may have accepted the bargain he appeared to offer – prosperity in exchange for impunity – but many more people voted against him than for. He was able to win because the vote against was so fragmented. The number of independents who entered Congress is just one of many indicators of widespread dissatisfaction with politicians like him.

Mulino will have to deliver on his promises to attract investment and create jobs. He’ll need to reduce inequalities and deal with growing insecurity, the situation in the Darién Gap and a pensions system on the brink of insolvency. Last but not least, he’ll need to strengthen institutions and tackle corruption – which begs the question of what he’ll do about Martinelli.

The challenges are many and great, and Mulino won’t have anything close to a legislative majority. The National Assembly is so fragmented that a high-level deal with one or two parties won’t be enough. Mulino seemed to recognise this on election night when he called for national unity and said he was open to dialogue and consensus. This was a first step in the direction he should keep following.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Choose Hope: Standing at the Crossroads of the Future

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Global, Headlines, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations


Future Action Festival Organizing Committee

TOKYO, Japan, May 8 2024 (IPS) – We are at the tipping point in human history, facing major existential crises. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has heightened the risk of a nuclear weapon being used since the Cold War. Furthermore, the climate crisis is accelerating. In these crises, the most affected are those in vulnerable situations.

Future Action Festival Poster. Credit: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan

Amidst all these crises, the UN Summit of the Future will be held for the first time in September to strengthen global cooperation and revitalize the multilateral approach to tackle these challenges. It will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift the course of humanity to a peaceful world where no one is left behind.

Toward the Summit, together with some youth-led civil society organizations in Japan, we decided to organize the “Future Action Festival” to create momentum to strengthen solidarity toward a peaceful and sustainable future.

The Future Action Festival Organizing Committee comprising of representatives from six organizations, including GeNuine, Greenpeace Japan, Japan Youth Council, Kakuwaka Hiroshima, Youth for TPNW, and Soka Gakkai International (SGI) youth, was established in the summer of 2023.Among all the global challenges, we decided to focus on addressing two major existential threats today – nuclear weapons and the climate crisis.

While youth engagement in these issues is more crucial than ever, there is also a need to cultivate awareness among youth in being agents of change. The event is not a summit, but a “festival” that is led by, with and for the youth and highlights the aspect of joyfulness in youth coming together for a better future.

To achieve a unique event, the committee engaged with as many actors as possible towards the festival. Throughout the process, the festival was joined by multiple stakeholders, including NGOs, private sectors, artists, and UN representatives, in many ways.

Engagement with corporations played a significant role in making the festival possible and raising awareness in the private sector. For example, Japan Climate Leaders Partnership (JCLP), which comprises of more than 240 corporations targeting zero-emission, agreed with the purpose of our event and supported us since the establishment of the organizing committee. In the end, the sponsorship and participation by more than 160 corporations not only supported the event financially but opened new possibilities in the sense of corporations’ involvement in abolishing nuclear weapons.

Future Action Festival convened at Tokyo’s National Stadium on March 24, drawing approximately 66,000 attedees. Credit: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan

The festival included entertainment elements performed by professional singers, comedians, YouTubers, and marching bands. The participation and active promotion of the event by those in the entertainment sector mobilized many people, including those who were not very much interested in the thematic issues, making the event uniquely engaging.

Finally, the engagement with the UN expanded the reach and possibilities of the festival. For example, one of the major advocates and partners of the event was the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Tokyo. Since the beginning of its preparation, UNIC supported us in gaining credibility with diverse stakeholders, especially corporations and artists. In addition, the first Assistant Secretary-General for Youth Affairs Felipe Paullier sent us a video message which called upon youth participants to work together for a world without nuclear weapons and a world that is sustainable for all. At the end of the event, the Rector of the United Nations University Professor Tshilidzi Marwala gave his remarks, emphasizing the significance of the role played by youth in tackling these global issues. The partnership with the UN became the core driving force for the event’s success.

The strong partnerships and youth engagement resulted in the success of the festival held at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo on March 24th. It gathered more than 60,000 participants at the venue and was viewed by over 500,000 people online through livestream.

Tshilisi Marwala, President of the UN University and UN Under-Secretary-General (Center) who endorsed the joint statement from the organizing committee, acknowledged the critical importance of young voices in shaping the Summit’s agenda and urged them to “be a beacon of hope and a driving force for change. Credit: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan

One of the key purposes of the event was to deliver youth voices to the UN. Toward the festival, the organizing committee conducted a youth awareness survey on nuclear weapons, the climate crisis, and the UN. About 120,000 responses from individuals ranging between their 10s to 40s were collected from November 2023 to February 2024. The results showed that young people have a high level of awareness on climate issues and that they think that nuclear weapons are not necessary. The youth want to contribute to addressing these issues. At the same time, more than half of the respondents find it difficult to have hope for the future. About eighty percent of all the respondents felt that youth voices are not reflected enough in national and government policies. Young people are dissatisfied with the status quo and seek a systemic change.

Based on the outcome, the organizing committee created a joint statement intended for the UN Summit of the Future to ensure youth voices are heard and reflected in the discussion process. The statement was handed over to Prof. Marwala at the event.

This is only the beginning of our journey to create a great momentum of youth standing up for a better future. As a next step to amplify youth voices, we plan to communicate with MOFA, a focal point of the Summit of the Future. We, the organizing committee, will also participate in the UN Civil Society Conference that will take place in Nairobi, Kenya in May, which is a key milestone for civil society to give their input to the Member States. We hope to convey the survey results to the co-chairs and UN high-level officials during the conference. In addition, at a national level, we will engage with the government, the UN, and like-minded organizations to contribute to the Pact for the Future in a meaningful way.

In addressing daunting global issues, we may feel a sense of hopelessness sometimes. However, through this festival, we learned that when diverse stakeholders of different background unite to create change, their solidarity serves as a beacon of hope for the youth. It is our responsibility to create a world where young people feel hopeful. Starting from youth in Japan, we will move forward, taking concrete steps to extend our local and global solidarity together with the UN and multiple stakeholders.

[embedded content]
Future Action Festival Filmed and edited by Katsuhiro Asagiri, Yukie Asagiri and Kevin Lin of INPS Japan Media.

Hiroko Ogushi is a Committee Member, Future Action Festival Organizing Committee Co-representative, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) youth

IPS UN Bureau


Africa Pushing Limits To Boost Renewable Energy Supply Chain, Security

Africa, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, COP28, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid is the current African Union (AU) commissioner for Energy and Infrastructure. She believes that cross-border approaches are critical for clean energy affordability. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid is the current African Union (AU) commissioner for Energy and Infrastructure. She believes that cross-border approaches are critical for clean energy affordability. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

ABU DHABI, Apr 17 2024 (IPS) – Investors, regulators, researchers, policymakers, and representatives of renewable energy companies, acknowledged the key challenges of shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy in Africa when they gathered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) this week.

The latest estimates by the African Development Bank show that Africa’s energy potential, especially renewable energy, is enormous, yet only a fraction of it is currently employed. Official projections indicate that the demand for energy could also be around 30 percent higher than it is today over the next decade on the continent. 

Francesco La Camera, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) stated that the energy transition is accelerating rapidly, but it clearly remains off track, with an unacceptable uneven distribution of renewable growth that still disproportionately affects the Global South.

“African governments and other stakeholders should adopt innovative solutions to overcome pressing challenges and achieve the energy transition,” La Camera told IPS in an interview.

According to him, there is opportunity [for the continent] to prioritize and narrow down collective actions to overcome the structural and systemic barriers that are impeding progress.

In Africa, experts believe that there are multiple dimensions to energy poverty, which is associated especially with the lack of clear plans and a clear understanding of what the continent wants to achieve.

“Electricity remains the backbone of Africa’s new energy systems, powered increasingly by renewables but a large part of the continent is still left out of the energy transition,” said Bruce Douglas, the Chief Executive Officer at the Global Renewables Alliance, one of the global coalitions of leading industry players committed to accelerating the global transition to renewable energy.

Yet several new commitments were made at the latest UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) that took place in Dubai, UAE, last year, giving further momentum to the energy transition. Experts are now exploring priorities for the energy transition and immediate steps to ensure that current policies on the continent are improved to encourage greater deployment of renewables.

The latest estimates show that, with Africa accounting for around 39 percent of the world’s renewable energy potential, several renewable energy milestones can be achieved.

“Private and public investment is critical to tackling the multiple dimensions of today’s energy crisis on the continent but to ensure energy security, diversification of various sources is also essential,” Douglas told IPS.

Africa, for example, has abundant hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, hydrogen, and bioenergy resources, but still, the continent’s current energy generation mix continues to rely on fossil fuels, while renewable sources account for nearly 18 percent of the electricity output, it said.

Whereas countries committed on the sidelines of last year’s UN Climate Change Conference to accelerate progress towards tripling renewable power capacity globally to at least 11 terawatts (TW) by 2030, some experts believe that this is still not a long-term solution as more than half of the population still lacks access to electricity.

Amani Abou-Zeid, the Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union Commission (AUC) told IPS that a cross-border approach is critical for participating countries in the transition to clean energy affordability.

“Some countries in Africa have embarked on cross-border projects on clean energies but much more effort is needed to develop really sustainable transitions and adequate instruments,” she said.

The Africa Continental Power System Masterplan, a blueprint currently being developed by the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), highlights some key strategies for countries across the continent to identify key components at national and regional levels that will enable the creation of a smart power systems master plan that promotes access to clean, affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity supplies across the continent by 2040.

Adja Gueye, Director of Promotion and Cooperation at the National Agency for Renewable Energies in Senegal points out that overall, African countries need appropriate plans at the policy level to overcome some key hurdles on the path to clean energies.

“To facilitate this transition, it would be appropriate for African countries to revise their regulatory framework and move towards harmonization, since the continent needs to improve regional and cross-border electricity interconnections,” she told IPS

Both Gueye and Abou-Zeid are convinced that without infrastructure and appropriate green energies policies and strategies at national and regional levels, it is challenging and impossible to buy and sell electricity across borders.

“Top-down governmental policies and long-term plans on clean energies in Africa are essential,” Abou-Zeid said of the current strategy to establish a long-term continent-wide planning process for power generation and transmission involving all five African power pools.

These include the Central African Power Pool (CAPP), East African Power Pool (EAPP), Northern African power Pool (COMELEC), Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and Western African Power Pool (WAPP).

Dr. Jimmy Gasore, Rwanda’s Minister of Infrastructure, who is also the current chair of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) points out that Africa’s climate goals necessitate collective recognition that the energy transition is not just about technological change but also about ensuring equity and justice.

“We need to ensure that the benefits of the energy transition are universally accessible, prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized communities,” he said.

To optimize and diversify green energies on the continent, some experts also stress the importance of encouraging effective cooperation between the private and public sectors in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

“To prepare for the current transition to renewable energy, partnerships are essential,” said Gueye of the National Agency for Renewable Energies in Senegal, one of the few dedicated national agencies dealing with clean energies in Africa.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Migration in the Americas: A Dream That Can Turn Deadly

Civil Society, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: David Peinado/Anadolu via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Apr 16 2024 (IPS) – The Darién Gap is a stretch of jungle spanning the border between Colombia and Panama, the only missing section of the Pan-American Highway that stretches from Alaska to southern Argentina. For good reason, it used to be considered impenetrable. But in 2023, a record 520,000 people crossed it heading northwards, including many children. Many have lost their lives trying to cross it.

People are also increasingly taking to the seas. A new people trafficking route has opened up across the Caribbean Sea via the Bahamas. Growing numbers of desperate migrants – mostly from conflict-ridden Haiti but also from more distant countries – are using it in an attempt to reach Florida. It’s risky too. In November 2023, at least 30 people died when a boat from Haiti capsized off the Bahamas.

The pattern is clear: as is also the case in Europe, when safer routes are closed off, people start taking riskier ones. Millions of people in Latin American and Caribbean countries are fleeing authoritarianism, insecurity, violence, poverty and climate disasters. Most remain in other countries in the region that typically present fewer challenges to arriving migrants – but also offer limited opportunities. The USA therefore remains a strong migration magnet. Its tightening immigration policies are the key reason people are heading into the jungle and taking to the sea.

Dynamic trends

Out of the staggering 7.7 million Venezuelans who’ve left their country since 2017 – greater than the numbers of displaced Syrians or Ukrainians – almost three million have stayed next door in Colombia, with about 1.5 million in Peru, close to half million in both Brazil and Ecuador, and hundreds of thousands in other countries across the region.

Latin American host countries are relatively welcoming. Unlike in many global north countries, politicians don’t usually stoke xenophobia or vilify migrants for political gain, and states don’t usually reject people at borders or deport them, and instead try to provide paths for legal residence. Overall they’ve been pragmatic enough to strike a balance between openness and orderly entry. As a result, a high proportion of Venezuelan migrants have acquired some form of legal status in host countries.

But host states haven’t planned for long-term integration. They face typical global south challenges, such as high levels of inequality and many unmet social needs. That’s why those moving towards the USA include many Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who were already living in other countries. They are mostly driven by the lack of opportunities, although in the case of Haitians language barriers and racial discrimination are also significant motivators.

While the USA has tightened its migration policies, its porous southern border – the longest border between global north and global south – remains inviting for many. In its 2022 fiscal year, US authorities had a record 2.4 million encounters with unauthorised migrants at the border. Many had come a long way, having crossed the Darién Gap and then headed across Central America and Mexico.

Dangerous journeys

People do so at great risk. According to the United Nations’ Missing Migrants Project reported at least 1,275 people died or went missing during migration in the Americas in 2023.

It’s unclear how many people have perished so far in the Darién Gap. In many cases, deaths go unreported and bodies are never recovered. The crossing can take anywhere from three to 15 days. As they cross rivers and mountains, people suffer from the jungle’s harshness and difficult weather.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), much of the danger is because the Darién is one of the world’s most humid regions and doesn’t have any proper infrastructure. People can easily slip and fall on its steep paths or drown in rushing rivers. Hired guides can leave people stranded. Those who can’t keep up can get disoriented and lost. The difficult terrain forces many to leave their supplies along the way, including food and drinking water.

Migrants also often cross paths with local criminal groups that steal from them, kidnap them or commit rape. In December 2023, MSF recorded a seven-fold increase in monthly incidents of sexual violence. But despite the dangers, the number of people crossing in 2023 almost doubled compared to 2022.

The Darién Gap is only the gateway to Central America – the start of a much longer journey. The dangers don’t stop. Many end up staying somewhere in Mexico, but others keep marching northwards and face many hazards trying to reach the USA – drowning , or dying of heat exposure and dehydration in the desert during the day, or of hypothermia at night. Migrants have also died of asphyxiation in botched migrant smuggling operations. They are often blackmailed by smugglers and experience human rights abuses, including lethal violence, from Border Patrol agents.

US policies

Starting in early 2021, the administration of President Joe Biden made several changes to US immigration policies, such as rescinding the travel ban on primarily Muslim-majority and African countries, restoring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme and granting Venezuelans living in the USA Temporary Protection Status, among other things.

But it was only in May 2023 that the Biden administration finally lifted Title 42, a public health order that, under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration used to immediately expel those caught crossing the border, with no right to apply for asylum. At the same time, however, the government issued several new rules that became known as the ‘asylum ban’. Before showing up at the border, people are now required to make an appointment with a smartphone app or have proof they have previously sought and failed to obtain asylum in the countries they’ve travelled through on their way to the USA. If they don’t comply with these requirements, they’re automatically presumed ineligible for asylum and can be subjected to expedited removal.

Civil society points out that it’s very difficult to get an appointment. The app frequently fails and many migrants don’t have smartphones, adequate wi-fi or a data plan. They face language and education barriers and are exploited by people pretending to help. Barriers to seeking asylum have risen to the point that advocates view them as violating the Refugee Convention’s principle of non-refoulment, according to which people can’t be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

Election politics

Pressure is intensifying as the USA’s November 2024 presidential election approaches.

Republican governors of southern states such as Texas have made a show of bussing newly arrived migrants to far-off cities run by Democrats, dumping them there with no support, treating them as pawns in a political game. Congress Republicans have also repeatedly delayed backing support to Ukraine unless new border control measures are enacted in return.

In October 2023, Biden announced plans to strengthen the southern border and resume deportation flights to Venezuela, which had been paused. But no one has gone lower than Donald Trump, who recently told a rally that ‘immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country’ – a straightforward use of white supremacist rhetoric. His comments have grown increasingly dehumanising – he has repeatedly referred to migrants as ‘animals’.

In his 2023 State of the Union speech, President Biden responded to Trump directly, stating he refused to ‘demonise immigrants’. But in the same breath he urged Republicans to pass a bipartisan immigration bill they’re currently blocking, which would further tighten asylum rules, expand funding for border operations and give the president authority to empower border officials to summarily deport migrants during spikes in illegal immigration. The bill continues to be rejected by hardcore Republicans who see it as not strict enough.

For migrants and asylum seekers, the prospects look bleak. As far as their rights are concerned, the election campaign is a race to the bottom. A Trump victory could only bring further bad news – but a Biden win is unlikely to promise much progress. Election results aside, people will keep taking to the sea or venturing through the jungle, the barbed wire and the desert. Politicians need to recognise this reality and commit to upholding the human rights of all who strive to find a future in the USA.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


The Climate Alarm Is Ringing – It’s Time to Stop Silencing It

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Last Generation Germany

LONDON, Apr 12 2024 (IPS) – The heat records keep tumbling – 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history. Extreme weather events keep mounting up. And yet the voices most strongly calling for action to prevent climate catastrophe are increasingly being silenced.

It’s a sad fact that climate campaigners in the global south – in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America – have long faced repression. People have been subjected to incarceration and violence all the way up to murder for resisting climate-harming extractive projects and environmental destruction. In comparison, climate activists in global north countries – including Europe and North America – for a long time enjoyed relative freedom, which they used to protest against their governments and the corporations headquartered in their countries that bear most of the responsibility for causing global warming.

But they no longer enjoy the full freedom to do so. As the latest State of Civil Society Report from global civil society alliance CIVICUS shows, several global north governments are increasingly making it harder for people to take part in climate protests. They’re using anti-protest laws, raids, arrests, jail sentences and violence to try to subdue voices calling for urgent action.

When it comes to the climate, delay is denial, because if action isn’t taken fast, it may be too late. This means the repression of activists demanding immediate action must be seen as a form of climate denial.

Examples are piling up. In Germany last year, authorities used laws intended to combat organised crime to raid the homes of young activists from the Last Generation climate movement, seize their laptops and freeze their bank accounts. The German police also used violence against activists trying to block a coalmine expansion. The imposition of restrictions on climate activism is one the key reasons the CIVICUS Monitor recently downgraded Germany’s civic space rating.

In Italy too, the government has served climate campaigners with criminal conspiracy indictments historically used against the mafia, and it has also introduced a law to criminalise non-violent action at key sites. The Dutch authorities have responded with mass arrests to roadblock protests demanding it fulfil its promise to end fossil fuel subsidies, which amount to around US$39.9 billion a year. Thousands have been detained and the police have used water cannon against protesters.

The UK government has passed a package of laws that criminalise disruptive and noisy protests, clearly targeted at the non-violent direct action used by climate campaigners. In January, the UN Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, condemned these new laws. Numerous climate activists have been jailed for peaceful protest actions that until recently would never have received a prison sentence. Meanwhile the UK government plans to grant over 100 new oil and gas licences. Several Australian states have also passed anti-protest laws that have been used to jail climate activists.

Global north states, apparently eager to do the bidding of the fossil fuel giants, can be expected to intensify this repression as the gap between the action needed and the lack of effort being taken becomes increasingly clear. They silence civil society because activists expose the hypocrisy behind the greenwash. As right-wing populists and nationalists who oppose climate action – and often spread climate disinformation – gain influence across the global north, climate activists can expect an even greater wave of vilification.

The impacts of repression are personal. They increase the costs and dangers of activism in an attempt to deter people from getting involved and sap collective energies. However, in response, campaigners are showing resilience. In Germany, frozen funds were quickly replaced with crowdsourced donations. In the Netherlands, attempts to repress roadblocks motivated more people to turn up to protest.

But the opportunity cost is steep. Energy that should be invested in advancing creative climate solutions is instead being spent in fending off restrictions. In the long-term, there’s a danger of attrition, depleting the ranks of climate activists. And without civil society, who will push to keep the climate crisis high on the political agenda?

Civil society has shown it can make a difference. While there was much to be unhappy about with the last global climate summit, COP28, the fact that for the first time states acknowledged the need to transition away from fossil fuel use came as a direct result of civil society’s decades-long advocacy. More institutions are committing to divest from fossil fuel investments due to campaigning pressure: 72 per cent of UK universities have now done so, because student activists demanded it.

And the growing field of climate litigation keeps paying off. A group of Swiss women just won a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights, which found that their government has violated their human rights by not doing enough to tackle climate change, a verdict that sets a strong precedent. Last year, courts in Belgium and Germany insisted on stronger actions to cut emissions following lawsuits brought by campaigners. More are sure to follow.

Civil society will strive to keep working on every front possible, through protest, advocacy and litigation, because the scale of the climate crisis demands a full spectrum of responses. States should stop trying to hold back the tide and put themselves on the right side of history. They must respect the right of everyone to protest and stop the denial they practise through repression.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


New Report Examines Progress on Global Sustainable Development Goals

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Natural Resources, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Students in Nepal’s Chitlang. Both Nomads/Forus

NEW YORK, Mar 21 2024 (IPS) – At the half-way point of the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “are in deep trouble.” The need to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals has never been more urgent as only approximately 12% of targets are currently on track. “Planet” is equally at risk as “people”.

As civil society leader Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of SPONG, the Burkina Faso NGO network, puts it, “What unfolds in the Sahel and in so many other forgotten communities ripples across the globe, impacting us all even if we choose to look away. Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals is vital to unlock a different future.”

The new “Progressing National SDGs Implementation” report looks at how countries around the world are advancing in their efforts towards sustainable development. The 2023 edition of the report is particularly significant as it marks the midpoint towards the 2030 Agenda’s goals, and the “world is not delivering”.

The report, which has been published since 2017, looks at crucial aspects such as governance, civil society involvement and space, localization, the importance of policy coherence, and the principle of Leaving No One Behind.

To compile the analysis, the report combines official Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted by member states with spotlight and alternative assessments, which aim to offer a more complete picture of national progress, particularly with respect to the fundamental 2030 Agenda principle to leave no one behind.

The report highlights that while more countries are engaging in ‘whole of government’ planning to implement the SDGs, at the same time many of the same countries do not ensure a wider ‘whole of society’ approach that involves civil society partners in delivery of the 2030 Agenda.

The report calls for a renewed global commitment to the SDGs, with a focus on:

    • Increased ambition: Countries need to adopt more ambitious plans to achieve the SDGs and ensure policy coherence.
    • Leaving no one behind: Data collection and policy focus must ensure that everyone benefits from SDG progress pacitularly by considering the extra challenges faced in reaching historically marginalized groups.
    • Stronger partnerships: Governments, civil society, and the private sector need to work together more effectively.
    • Improved monitoring: More robust data, national statistical and monitoring systems are needed to track progress and identify areas lagging behind.

Oli Henman from Action for Sustainable Development said: “We need to ensure that SDG reviews are genuinely inclusive of all parts of society and that national plans are backed up with real steps towards financing implementation at the community level. This to the only way that the world can get back on track to deliver the transformative change that was promised in 2015.”

Wangu Mwangi, a seasoned environmental journalist and expert in sustainable development, has authored the Progressing National SDG Implementation Report 2023, drawing on her extensive experience in sustainable development, land governance, natural resources management, climate change adaptation, and African development.

This report was coordinated by A4SD, in collaboration with ANND, BOND, Cooperation Canada, CPDE, Forus, IISD, Save The Children UK, and Sightsavers.

IPS UN Bureau