Iran: One Year on, What’s Changed?

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations, Youth


Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Sep 19 2023 (IPS) – It’s a year since a photo of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini – bruised and in a coma she would never recover from after being arrested by the morality police for her supposedly improperly worn hijab – went viral, sending people onto the streets.

The protests became the fiercest challenge ever faced by Iran’s theocratic regime. The unprecedented scale of the protests was matched by the unparalleled brutality of the crackdown, which clearly revealed the regime’s fear for its own survival.

Led by women and young people, mobilisations under the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ banner articulated broader demands for social and political change. They spread like wildfire – to streets across Iran, to universities, even to cemeteries where growing numbers of the regime’s victims were being buried. They were echoed and amplified by the Iranian diaspora around the world. The Iranian people made it abundantly clear they wanted the Islamic Republic gone.

A year on, the theocratic regime still stands, but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. By sheer force, the authorities have regained control – at least for now. But subtle changes in daily life reveal the presence of active undercurrents that could once again spark mass protests. The regime knows this, hence the fear with which it has awaited this date and its redoubled repression as it neared.

A glimpse of change

Last December, as protests raged and the authorities were busy trying to stop them, women could be seen on Iranian streets without their hijabs for the first time in decades. After the protests were quelled, many simply refused to resubmit to the old rules. A tactical shift followed, with mass street mobilisation turning into more elusive civil disobedience.

Women, particularly Gen Z women just like Mahsa, continue to protest on a daily basis, simply by not abiding by hijab rules. Young people express their defiance by dancing or showing affection in public. Cities wake up to acts of civil disobedience emblazoned on their walls. Anti-regime slogans are heard coming from seemingly nowhere. In parts of the country where many people from excluded ethnic minorities live, protest follows Friday prayers. It may take little for the embers of rebellion to reignite.

Preventative repression

Ahead of the anniversary, family members of those killed during the 2022 protests were pressured not to hold memorial services for their loved ones. The lawyer representing Mahsa Amini’s family was charged with ‘propaganda against the state’ due to interviews with foreign media. University professors suspected to be critical of the regime were dismissed, suspended, forced to retire, or didn’t have their contracts renewed. Students were subjected to disciplinary measures in retaliation for their activism.

Artists who expressed support for the protest movement faced reprisals, including arrests and prosecution under ridiculous charges such as ‘releasing an illegal song’. Some were kept in detention on more serious charges and subjected to physical and psychological torture, including solitary confinement and beatings.

Two months ago, the regime put the morality police back on the streets. Initial attempts to arrest women found in violation of hijab regulations, however, were met with resistance, leading to clashes between sympathetic bystanders and police. Women, including celebrities, have been prosecuted for appearing in public without their hijab. Car drivers carrying passengers not wearing hijab have been issued with traffic citations and private businesses have been closed for noncompliance with hijab laws.

The most conservative elements of the regime have doubled down, proposing a new ‘hijab and chastity’ law that seeks to impose harsher penalties, including lashes, heavy fines and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those appearing without the hijab. The bill is now being reviewed by Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member, all-male body led by a 97-year-old cleric.

[embedded content]

If not now, then anytime

In the run-up to 16 September, security force street presence consistently increased, with snap checkpoints set up and internet access disrupted. The government clearly feared something big might happen.

As the anniversary passes, the hardline ruling elite remains united and the military and security forces are on its side, while the protest movement has no leadership and has taken a bad hit. Some argue that what made it spread so fast – the role of young people, and young women in particular – also limited its appeal among wider Iranian society, and particularly among low-income people concerned above all with economic strife, rising inflation and increasing poverty.

There are ideological differences among the Iranian diaspora, which formed through successive waves of exiles and includes left and right-wing groups, monarchists and ethnic separatists. While most share the goal of replacing the authoritarian theocracy with a secular democracy, they’re divided over strategy and tactics, and particularly on whether sanctions are the best way to deal with the regime.

Ever since the protests took off last year, thousands of people around the world have shown their support and called on their governments to act. And some have, starting with the USA, which early on imposed sanctions on the morality police and senior police and security officials. New sanctions affecting 29 additional people and entities, including 18 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and security forces, were imposed on the eve of the anniversary of the protests, 15 September, International Day of Democracy. That day, US President Joe Biden made a statement about Mahsa Amini’s inspiration of a ‘historic movement’ for democracy and human dignity.

The continuing outpouring of international solidarity shows that the world still cares and is watching. A new regime isn’t around the corner in Iran, but neither is it game over in the quest for democracy. For those living under a murderous regime, every day of the year is the anniversary of a death, an indignity or a violation of rights. Each day will therefore bring along a new opportunity to resurrect rebellion.

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.


Halfway to 2030: Our 5 Asks at the SDG Summit

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Poverty & SDGs, Press Freedom, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


A protest for women’s rights in Puebla, Mexico. Credit: Melania Torres/Forus

NEW YORK, Sep 15 2023 (IPS) – At the UN SDG Summit in New York, the Forus global civil society network is calling for decisive action on SDG implementation. Clearly, as we hit the midpoint towards the “finish line” of the Agenda 2030, progress is stagnating.

The 2023 Special Edition of the SDG Progress Report emphasized that we’re falling short in implementing the SDGs. In April this year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres deplored that “Progress on more than 50 per cent of targets of the SDGs is weak and insufficient; on 30 per cent, it has stalled or gone into reverse,” disproportionately impacting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2030 Agenda, we urge world leaders at the UN General Assembly to address the precarious state of SDG implementation. Here’s our 5 asks.

Walk the talk with clear implementation plans and benchmarks for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“In Guatemala, there are two worlds, one for a small group that benefits from this macroeconomic stability, this weakness of democracy, this co-optation of state institutions, and a large majority of the population that faces poverty and inequality,” says Alejandro Aguirre Batres, Executive Director of CONGCOOP, the national platform of NGOs in Guatemala that recently published an alternative report on the implementation of the SDGs in the country.

Human rights activists in Cartagena, Colombia from the Coalition of Human Rights in Development at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Sebastian Barros/Forus

Governments must make specific national implementation plans to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, with clear benchmarks on when to achieve the targets set in 2015. Following the SDG Summit, we call on the United Nations and its partners to ensure that the “National Commitments to SDG Transformation” called for by the Secretary-General are adequately compiled and tracked, including by providing a transparent and inclusive platform for showcasing these commitments, helping to ensure adequate implementation, follow-up and accountability. All efforts and commitments must focus on breaching the increassing gap in inequalities, healing polarisation and restoring socio-environmental rights at the core of Agenda 2030 implementation as no form of development should come at the cost of environmental degradation and injustice.

Presenting a viewpoint from Asia, Jyotsna Mohan Singh, representing the Asia Development Alliance, emphasizes that while the SDGs look good on paper, their real-world implementation remains far from satisfactory. She explains, “Governments should develop a policy coherence for sustainable development roadmap with timebound targets,” adding that it’s all about creating spaces grounded in equity where civil society and other stakeholders can join discussions and connect with local communities.

In regions like the Sahel, stretching 5,000 kilometers below the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, challenges like conflict, political instability, extreme poverty, and food insecurity affect nearly 26 million people. Yet, this region is teeming with opportunities, boasting abundant resources and a young population, including 50% young women and girls. 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. But for global change to truly happen, we need countries to come together, we need solidarity, horizontal spaces, and for world leaders to start listening and acting accordingly.”

Commit to the protection of civic space and human rights.

“Although the state of Pakistan has ratified many global instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the SDGs, the irony is that none of them have been transformed into local policies and regulatory frameworks. Unfortunately, civil rights advocates and organizations have either transformed themselves into humanitarian organizations or practiced self-censorship to avoid state atrocities. Pakistan is failing to achieve SDGs due to disengagement with civil society and other stakeholders. Ironically, the government is unable to provide reliable data on any of their own priority indicators to measure progress towards the implementation of SDGs, particularly on rights-based indicators,” says Zia ur Rehman, National Convener of the Pakistan Development Alliance. Their newly published Pakistan Civic Space Monitor reveals a generally restricted civic space, including restraints on freedom of speech, assembly, information, rule of law, governance, and public participation, with further deterioration. This rings true for 92% of Forus members – comprising national and regional civil society networks in over 124 countries – who consider the protection of civic space and human rights a top priority.

Fridays for Future activists during a Climate March in Brussels, Belgium. Credit: Both Nomads/Forus

Indeed, over the past decade, thousands of civil society organizations have faced increasing challenges due to restrictions on their formation and activities. Nine out of 10 people now live in countries where civil liberties are severely restricted, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression, according to the CIVICUS Monitor. Forus reports confirm that civil society deals with increasing restrictions, involving extra-legal actions, misinformation and disinformation about their work both online and offline. Research also highlights the insufficiency of current institutional mechanisms to ensure an enabling environment for civil society, including addressing impunity for attacks on civil society and human right defenders, implementing supportive laws and regulations, and facilitating effective and inclusive policy dialogue. A recent ARTICLE 19 report highlights the inadequate integration of crucial elements like freedom of expression and access to information into SDGs, hampering progress. Journalist killings increased in 2022. Additionally, monitoring access to information mainly focuses on having a legal framework, ignoring its quality and adoption. Strengthening these rights is vital for advancing all SDGs. The growing number of human rights defenders being killed every year – at least 401 in 26 countries were murdered for their peaceful work in 2022 – is another worrying trend that needs to be reversed as the protection and promotion of human rights is the cornerstone of achieving sustainable development. Without human rights we will just move backwards.

Strengthen and Catalyze Robust Financing for the SDGs.

From the recent Summit for a new global financing pact to the Finance in Common initiative, it’s clear that the focus this year has been on increasing investment. But we need quality not just quantity, as expressed in a join civil society declaration aimed at public development banks signed by over 100 civil society organisations from 50+ countries. While we welcome UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s call for a SDG Stimulus, we remind Governments, International Financial Institutions, public development banks and donors that more efforts must be done to scale up investments for the realization of the SDGs at all levels, including through additional support for civil society and by involving communities in all “development talks”. The role of the private sector and financial institutions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be talked about openly. It is important to include in all development projects being carried out specific budgets for actions linked to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Discussions about financial reforms that are being repeatedly undertaken by several countries cannot happen behind close doors and in non-inclusive forums such as the G7 and G20. Instead, they should be open, inclusive, and transparent, involving a broader spectrum of protagonists, including civil society, to ensure fairness and sustainability in shaping global financial policies.

“The SDGs are severely off track as we reach the critical half-way point of Agenda 2030. We need a renewed global ambition on financial commitments to make progress on the SDGs. Reforms of global financial architecture are a crucial part of this to ensure we have a fairer, more effective, inclusive and transparent system supporting lower-income countries that are at the forefront of the global climate, debt, poverty, food, and humanitarian crises. It’s not about a lack of finance, it is about political will and getting our priorities right,” says Sandra Martinsone, Policy Manager – Sustainable Economic Development at Bond UK.

Mobilize Transformative Commitments for SDG16+.

Recognizing the vital role of SDG16+ as a critical enabler for the entire 2030 Agenda, governments should come to the SDG Summit with targeted, integrated, focused and transformative commitments to accelerate action on SDG16+. As developed in the #SDG16Now collective campaign, this includes domestic policies and resources, legal reforms and initiatives to advance SDG16+ at the international, national and local levels, as well as ambitious global commitments to strengthen multilateralism and international resolve to promote peace, justice, the rule of law, inclusion and institution-building. Additionally, governments must use key moments – such as the 2024 High-Level Political Forum and the Summit of the Future – to advance implementation and delivery of the SDGs through similar commitments to action, and ensure adequate follow-up to these commitments going forward.

Ensure civil society participation and listen to communities, reinvigorate commitments to SDG17.

The 2030 Agenda overall cannot be achieved without building on the role of civil society and fostering a true global partnership. Every year at the fringes of the UN General Assembly, initiatives such as the Global People’s Assembly bring to the ears of world leaders the voices of communities historically marginalised. Governments need to reinvigorate engagement towards SDG17 to trengthen the means of implementing sustainable development goals and revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development. It’s high time we move away from conducting discussions about the future of development in closed-door settings. Tokenistic participation of civil society, where their involvement is merely symbolic or superficial, undermines the core principles of nclusivity, hurting genuine progress and meaningful collaboration. A more inclusive approach must be embraced that actively involves civil society and communities. Let’s #UNmute their voices and perspectives by bringing about reforms to current participation mechanisms, and giving them a real platform to be heard.

In 2015 every government in the world agreed as a global community on what we want for our comon future for people and planet. So many efforts and work went on to reach such an agreement. Now is the time for governments and world leaders to walk the walk and prioritize people and the planet, delivering the 2030 Agenda, essential to secure our shared future. It is time for world leaders to act decisively and uphold their commitments to the SDGs.

IPS UN Bureau


Youth Rally for Peace Through Climate Justice at the UN

Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Environment, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations, Youth Thought Leaders

Climate Change Justice

Youth rally at the UN for climate justice. Credit: Abigail Van Neely/IPS

Youth rally at the UN for climate justice. Credit: Abigail Van Neely/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2023 (IPS) – “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” youth chanted in an unusually lively conference at the United Nations Headquarters.

Earlier on Thursday morning (September 14), almost 500 young people had streamed into the room to a DJ’s upbeat soundtrack. Spirits were high despite the more somber rallying cry of this year’s International Day of Peace youth event: the planet is on fire. Many speakers focused on the idea that there cannot be peace without climate justice.

“We cannot begin to talk about peace without talking about the climate crisis,” environmental justice advocate Saad Amer said after leading the crowd in the kind of chants more likely heard at a protest. Fossil fuel disputes spark wars that disproportionately affect people of color, Amer explained. Youth must take charge to “re-write destiny.”

To 21-year-old Mexican climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, “Peace is the ability to drink clean air and clean water.” Bastida, a member of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous community, spoke of her community’s traditional commitment to living in harmony with the earth. Now, indigenous people are being displaced as regenerative practices are forgotten. Bastida called for a world free of extreme weather and exploitation. The climate crisis reflects a broken system, she said, but peace is the bravery to imagine a better world.

Young people are “creating a youth movement for climate action, seeking racial justice, and promoting gender equality,” the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, told the audience. In a recorded statement, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that youth action has power. Still, only four governments have concrete plans to include young people in policymaking, Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanyake noted.

As she lived through brutal conflicts in her home country of Sri Lanka, Wickramanayake said she wondered why people around her continued to fight. Today, she told other young activists that the root causes of conflict always run deep – from inequality to poverty. She stressed that peace cannot be differentiated from development.

The event occurs days before the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Summit, a critical opportunity for world leaders to address failures to implement the goals so far.

“Next week there will be an important breakthrough in creating the conditions to rescue the sustainable development goals. I’m very hopeful that the SDG summit will indeed represent a quantum leap in the response to the dramatic failures that we have witnessed,” Guterres said during a news conference.

Meanwhile, youth are left with memories of their chants: “The oceans are rising, and so are we!” “We are unstoppable – another world is possible!”

IPS UN Bureau Report


Kazakhstan’s Transition: From a Nuclear Test Site to Leader in Disarmament

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Conferences, Headlines, Health, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations


A Group photo of participants of the regional conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and nuclear-free-zone in Central Asia held on August 29, 2023. Credit: Jibek Joly TV Channel

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Sep 7 2023 (IPS) – Exactly 32 years ago, on September 29, 1991, Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union, made a historic decision that would alter its fate. On that day, Kazakhstan permanently closed the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, defying the central government in Moscow. This marked the start of Kazakhstan’s transformation from a nuclear-armed state, possessing the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal at the time, to a non-nuclear-weapon state. Kazakhstan’s audacious move to eliminate its nuclear weapons was rooted in a profound commitment to global disarmament, setting an inspiring precedent.

Eighteen years later, in 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, led by Kazakhstan, designating August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. This day serves as a solemn reminder of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and underscores the urgent imperative for disarmament.

In a world where the threat of nuclear weapons being used again remains a grim reality, a pivotal question looms: Can we genuinely aspire to a world free of nuclear arms? To delve deeper into this pressing concern and comprehend the menace posed by nuclear weapons testing and deployment, we interviewed Karipbek Kuyukov and participants of the “Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone” regional conference. This conference, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in partnership with the Center for International Security and Policy (CISP), Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), took place in Astana, Kazakhstan to commemorate this year’s International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

Karipbek Kuyukov is an armless painter from Kazakhstan, and global anti–nuclear weapon testing & nonproliferation activist. Credit: Jibek Joly TV Channel

One of the most poignant moments during the conference came from Dmitriy Vesselov, a third-generation survivor of nuclear testing. He provided a heartfelt testimony about the profound human toll exacted by nuclear testings on his family and the broader community. The nuclear tests conducted at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site over four decades unleashed explosions 2,500 times more potent than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The repercussions of these tests have echoed through generations, inflicting severe health problems and untold suffering.

Kuyukov, a renowned Kazakh artist born without hands due to radiation exposure in his mother’s womb, has devoted his life to raising awareness about the horrors of nuclear testing. His powerful artwork, created using his lips or toes, depicts the survivors of nuclear tests and serves as a poignant tribute to those who perished. Kuyukov’s unwavering commitment reflects the indomitable human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Dmitriy Vesselov’s testimony shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by survivors. He candidly shared his struggles with health issues, including acromioclavicular dysostosis, a condition severely limiting his physical capabilities. Vesselov expressed his deep concern about the potential transmission of these health problems to future generations. Consequently, he has chosen not to have children. The conference underscored the imperative of averting the repetition of history by delving into the past tragedies inflicted by nuclear weapons testings.

Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues of SGI, commenting on the event said “I believe that this regional conference is a new milestone, a starting point for representatives from five countries of Central Asia to discuss how we can advance the process toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, given the ever-increasing threat of nuclear weapons.”

Terasaki observed that the international community is actively deliberating Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), mandating state parties to provide support to victims and address environmental remediation. He accentuated Kazakhstan’s pivotal role as a co-chair of the working group central to these discussions.

Kazakhstan does provide special medical insurance and benefits to victims of nuclear tests. However, these benefits are predominantly extended to individuals officially certified as disabled or a family member of those who succumbed to radiation-related illnesses. Numerous victims, like Vesselov, who do not fall within these categories, remain ineligible for assistance.

Despite his daunting challenges, Mr. Vesselov maintains an unwavering sense of hope. He hopes that his testimony will serve as a stark reminder of the perils of nuclear weapons and awaken global consciousness regarding the dangers posed by even small tactical nuclear weapons and the specter of limited nuclear conflicts. Ultimately, his deepest aspiration, shared by all victims of nuclear weapons, is that the world will never bear witness to such a devastating tragedy again.

As Kazakhstan assumes its role as President-designate of the third Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, it reaffirms its steadfast commitment to global peace and disarmament. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s resolute words resonate with the sentiment of a nation that has borne the scars of nuclear testing: “Such a tragedy should not happen again. Our country will unwaveringly uphold the principles of nuclear security.”

At the conference, member states of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk were encouraged to support Kazakhstan in this endeavor, and in its efforts to represent the Central Asian region’s contribution to nuclear disarmament, through attending the second Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW, at least as observers, which will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York between 27 November and 1 December this year, and by signing and ratifying the TPNW at the earliest opportunity.

In a world still grappling with the looming specter of nuclear devastation, Kazakhstan’s journey from a nuclear test site to a leading advocate for disarmament serves as a beacon of hope. Kazakhstan’s unwavering commitment to peace stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of a nation that once bore the weight of nuclear tests and now champions a safer, more secure world for all.

Katsuhiro Asagiri is President of INPS Japan and Kunsaya Kurmet-Rakhimova is a reporter of Jibek Joly(Silk Way) TV Channel.

IPS UN Bureau


The UN’s Own Relevance Is at Stake at This Year’s General Assembly

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequality, Peace, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the 22nd session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations headquarters in New York City on 17 April 17 2023. Credit: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

NEW YORK, Sep 7 2023 (IPS) – This September, world leaders and public policy advocates from around the world will descend on New York for the UN General Assembly. Alongside conversations on peace and security, global development and climate change, progress – or the lack of it – on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to take centre-stage. A major SDG Summit will be held on 18 and 19 September. The UN hopes that it will serve as a ‘rallying cry to recharge momentum for world leaders to come together to reflect on where we stand and resolve to do more’. But are the world’s leaders in a mood to uphold the UN’s purpose, and can the UN’s leadership rise to the occasion by resolutely addressing destructive behaviours?

Sadly, the world is facing an acute crisis of leadership. In far too many countries authoritarian leaders have seized power through a combination of populist political discourse, outright repression and military coups. Our findings on the CIVICUS Monitor – a participatory research platform that measures civic freedoms in every country – show that 85% of the world’s population live in places where serious attacks on basic fundamental freedoms to organise, speak out and protest are taking place. Respect for these freedoms is essential so that people and civil society organisations can have a say in inclusive decision making.

UN undermined

The UN Charter begins with the words, ‘We the Peoples’ and a resolve to save future generations from the scourge of war. Its ideals, such as respect for human rights and the dignity of every person, are being eroded by powerful states that have introduced slippery concepts such as ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘development with national characteristics’. The consensus to seek solutions to global challenges through the UN appears to be at breaking point. As we speak hostilities are raging in Ukraine, Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Sahel region even as millions of people reel from the negative consequences of protracted conflicts and oppression in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, to name a few.

Article 1 of the UN Charter underscores the UN’s role in harmonising the actions of nations towards the attainment of common ends, including in relation to solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. But in a time of eye-watering inequality within and between countries, big economic decisions affecting people and the planet are not being made collectively at the UN but by the G20 group of the world’s biggest economies, whose leaders are meeting prior to the UN General Assembly to make economic decisions with ramifications for all countries.

Economic and development cooperation policies for a large chunk of the globe are also determined through the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Established in 1961, the OECD comprises 38 countries with a stated commitment to democratic values and market-based economics. Civil society has worked hard to get the OECD to take action on issues such as fair taxation, social protection and civic space.

More recently, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – grouping of countries that together account for 40 per cent of the world’s population and a quarter of the globe’s GDP are seeking to emerge as a counterweight to the OECD. However, concerns remain about the values that bind this alliance. At its recent summit in South Africa six new members were admitted, four of which – Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – are ruled by totalitarian governments with a history of repressing civil society voices. This comes on top of concerns that China and Russia are driving the BRICS agenda despite credible allegations that their governments have committed crimes against humanity.

The challenge before the UN’s leadership this September is to find ways to bring coherence and harmony to decisions being taken at the G20, OECD, BRICS and elsewhere to serve the best interests of excluded people around the globe. A focus on the SDGs by emphasising their universality and indivisibility can provide some hope.

SDGs off-track

The adoption of the SDGs in 2015 was a groundbreaking moment. The 17 ambitious SDGs and their 169 targets have been called the greatest ever human endeavour to create peaceful, just, equal and sustainable societies. The SDGs include promises to tackle inequality and corruption, promote women’s equality and empowerment, support inclusive and participatory governance, ensure sustainable consumption and production, usher in rule of law and catalyse effective partnerships for development.

But seven years on the SDGs are seriously off-track. The UN Secretary-General’s SDG progress report released this July laments that the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ is in peril. As many as 30 per cent of the targets are reported to have seen no progress or worse to have regressed below their 2015 baseline. The climate crisis, war in Ukraine, a weak global economy and the COVID-19 pandemic are cited as some of the reasons why progress is lacking.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for an SDG stimulus plan to scale up financing to the tune of US$500 billion. It remains to be seen how successful this would be given the self-interest being pursued by major powers that have the financial resources to contribute. Moreover, without civic participation and guarantees for enabled civil societies, there is a high probability that SDG stimulus funds could be misused by authoritarian governments to reinforce networks of patronage and to shore up repressive state apparatuses.

Also up for discussion at the UN General Assembly will be plans for a major Summit for the Future in 2024 to deliver the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report, released in 2021. This proposes among other things the appointment of a UN Envoy for Future Generations, an upgrade of key UN institutions, digital cooperation across the board and boosting partnerships to drive access and inclusion at the UN. But with multilateralism stymied by hostility and divisions among big powers on the implementation of internationally agreed norms, achieving progress on this agenda implies a huge responsibility on the UN’s leadership to forge consensus while speaking truth to power and challenging damaging behaviours by states and their leaders.

The UN’s leadership have found its voice on the issue of climate change. Secretary-General Guterres has been remarkably candid about the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry and its supporters. This July, he warned that ‘The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived’. Similar candour is required to call out the twin plagues of authoritarianism and populism which are causing immense suffering to people around the world while exacerbating conflict, inequality and climate change.

The formation of the UN as the conscience of the world in 1945 was an exercise in optimism and altruism. This September that spirit will be needed more than ever to start creating a better world for all, and to prove the UN’s value.

Mandeep S. Tiwana is chief officer for evidence and engagement + representative to the UN headquarters at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.


African Startups Mull Home-Grown Solutions to Combat Climate Change

Climate Action, Climate Change, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Innovation, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Delegates outside the Climate Action Innovation Hub on the frontlines of the Africa Climate Summit. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa

Delegates outside the Climate Action Innovation Hub on the frontlines of the Africa Climate Summit. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa

NAIROBI, Sep 6 2023 (IPS) – A group of young African startups made their presence known at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, hoping to play a big role in promoting home-grown climate-oriented solutions.

In line with the recently adopted African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy (2022-2032), experts believe that broad-based ownership and inclusive participation are vital for engaging Africa’s women and young people to showcase their ‘game-changing’ innovations.

According to Dr Yossi Matias, Vice-President of the Google Research initiative, pushing for innovative solutions and research around climate change remains critical for Africa when considering that the continent continues to feel the impacts of global warming in many ways.

“Most solutions promoted by African startups and innovators are in danger of being ignored because of many factors, but there is a way to overcome these challenges,” Yossi told IPS.

Among the solutions put forward by young innovators at the Climate Action Innovation Hub, which took place on the sidelines of the summit, were clean energy, climate-smart agriculture and sustainable land management, biodiversity conservation, water storage and conservation, waste management, and circular economy.

The innovations can also enhance the key cross-cutting areas needed to amplify climate cooperation and action, including climate advocacy, empowerment, awareness raising, capacity building, and climate literacy.

Other key areas of innovation are green transport and climate-resilient infrastructure, resilient, climate-smart cities, digital transformation, and food security.

The latest estimates by the UN agencies show that changing precipitation patterns, rising temperatures, and more extreme weather contributed to mounting food insecurity, poverty, and displacement in Africa.

Official figures show that food insecurity increases by 5–20 percentage points with each flood or drought in sub-Saharan Africa

While African Governments are committed to supporting climate solution innovation to varying levels and with different approaches to tackle this phenomenon, some experts believe that what is needed is to encourage a growing number of African startups to shift in mindset—by becoming providers of solutions to improving the continental climate change resilience.

“What is needed for these young African innovators is to look for mentors and incubators because, as an entrepreneur, you need to learn how to develop a successful product that brings some short-term and long-term positive benefits to combat climate change in your community,” Yossi said.

Through its Accelerator programs, the Google Research initiative currently seeks to empower startups, developers, and nonprofits, especially in Africa, to better solve the world’s biggest challenges — from economic development, diversity, sustainability, and climate change — relying on its technology.

For example, one of the initiatives presented at the summit seeks to produce plastic waste collected from local communities in the Rwandan capital Kigali where a startup is producing handcrafts from plastic waste collected in the city.

Sonia Umulinga, a young Rwandan female entrepreneur and owner of ‘Plastic Craft’, a company that seeks to tackle the problem of plastic pollution, told IPS that key priority had been given not only to help reduce plastic pollution but also to her new business model in using the collected waste to produce unique products on the markets.

Harsen Nyambe Nyambe, Director, Sustainable Environment and Blue Economy, African Union Commission, told delegates that the current situation where the lack of ownership over innovations, coupled with a whole narrative built around imported solutions, constitutes a major challenge for the continent to combat climate change.

“Africa needs to redefine on how to engage of the issue of climate change, and countries need to work together to find possible innovative solutions to the challenges they are facing,” he said.

While some officials and experts cite innovation as an important driver of growth and the fight against hunger and malnutrition, which continue to affect major parts of the African continent, others believe there is a need for these African startup entrepreneurs to test and refine these ideas for the benefit of their community.

Current efforts for Africa’s transformation emphasize switching agriculture from subsistence to commercial, which means producing a surplus for the markets and making agriculture become a business while relying on home-grown innovative ideas.

Prof Kindiwe Sibanda, system Board Chair at the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), pointed out that the startup initiative is critical for the African Agriculture sector to expedite the production of food.

“We should not give up because we need these startup home-grown solutions to help small-scale farmers meet their needs,” she told delegates.

However, some small-scale farmers and pastoralists believe that indigenous innovation also constitutes another driver for innovation in African Agricultural systems considering that climate change impacts are stalling progress towards food security on the continent.

Tumal Orto, a livestock breeds farmer from Marsabit County in Northern Kenya, told IPS that weaving indigenous knowledge with scientific research remains critical.

“Small-scale farmers are also innovators in their own ways using local ingenuity in their practices,” he said.

However, most experts at the innovation hub on the sidelines of the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) in Nairobi were unanimous that more productive and resilient solutions to combat climate change in Africa will still require a major shift in the way various resources are managed.

IPS UN Bureau Report