China, India & Sri Lanka Embroiled in the Geo-Politics of the Indian Ocean

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


The writer is former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN and, until recently, Ambassador to China

Credit: United Nations

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Apr 10 2024 (IPS) – Unfortunately, a rivalry that should not exist and did not exist historically between China and India is being stoked by the media and some policy makers, especially in the West. It is not too difficult to discern the Machiavellian geo-strategic objectives of this complex game plan.

Most policymakers in the West find it difficult to accept that a non-European and non-white Asian nation which the West has been used to exploit and treat with disdain has risen so rapidly that it is now in a position to offer an alternative social, economic and political model to development and progress.

China has not only risen from the depths but is challenging the West in many respects, including economically, technologically, socially and even militarily. The China led the Belt and Road Initiative, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Global Development Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS Bank, etc, have posed a real challenge to the established world economic order dominated by the West.

The BRI has resulted in the investment of over USD one trillion in the countries of the region and beyond making a tangible contribution to the development of many countries and has pricked the hitherto somnolent West also to participate positively in the development of those countries.

The calculated statements of EA Minister of India, Jaishankar, while emphasising India’s obvious strategic interests, have not overly endorsed the Western approach to China. China has attracted many admirers.

China has risen in a very short period to the position of an economic super power and to become the second largest economy in the world. It is expected to overtake the US economically by the end of this decade. It is also the main source foreign investments in the world, not to mention tourists.

It is also the biggest source in the global supply chain and the most lucrative multi billion dollar consumer market. All this is causing serious discomfort to those countries in the West, giving rise to damaging efforts at delinking, which were so used to dominating the world unchallenged. China’s technological advancement is nothing short of spectacular.

There could even be racist undertones to the criticisms being directed at China, a poor Asian country formerly dominated and exploited willy nilly by the West and to the reluctance to accept its new status and its own model of development. (One recalls that in the 1980s, a resurgent Japan experienced a similar process of vicious containment resulting in twenty years of stagflation).

China, for its part, has not articulated any desire to dominate or influence its economic partners and others or impose its political and economic model on anyone else. On the contrary, it has consistently expressed a desire to achieve a common future and a goal of shared prosperity, without domination. To judge Chinese intentions through the prism of the West’s own historical experience is patently wrong.

Both India and China are over dependent on Indian Ocean sea routes for the transport of their energy needs. While both would want to ensure the safety and security of Indian Ocean sea routes, both should also take adequate measures to prevent competition from blowing into confrontations of unmanageable proportions.

China has never expressed interest in establishing bases in the Indian Ocean region or acquiring territory. Its only military base in the region is in Djibouti established as part of a multinational effort to counter pirates.

The West which has been dominating the region since 1500 AD tends ascribe similar motives to China against the background of its own past record. (The situation with regard to Hambantota which has crept in the West’s narrative requres a longer explanation).

Sri Lanka’s initiative in the 1970s to establish an Indian Ocean Zone of Peace, although designed to contain the then prevalent super power rivalry in the Indian Ocean, may become relevant again in the contemporary context.

The situation in the Maldives should NOT be viewed purely from the Western lens and characterised as a simple case of China – India rivalry for regional influence. The domestic Islamic political imperatives and the resulting political pressures on the Maldivian leadership are important factors.

It is a fact that Chinese companies have been proactive in developing infrastructure in Maldives for sometime and their work is of good quality. India’s official reaction to the Maldivian measures has been measured. China has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the Maldives and Maldives readily agreed to accept a ship visit from a Chinese research vessel which was denied access to Sri Lankan ports due to Indian pressure.

Some critics argue that Chinese investments in Sri Lanka are part of a larger geopolitical strategy by China to expand its influence in the region.

This assertion needs to be stripped of its polemical outer layer to appreciate its essential shallowness. To begin with, it is mainly raised by commentators from countries which had rapaciously exploited vast swathes of the non white world through conquest and colonialism for centuries and continuing economic domination, conveniently ignoring their ongoing depradations.

Sri Lanka, which desperately needs development funding, has welcomed the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the highest levels. It has not sought to exclude anyone else from participating in our development process. We have steadfastly asserted our non-aligned status and our neutrality.

In fact, our President has characterized the AUKUS alliance, which is designed to contain China, as a mistake. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited China this week and was received at the highest levels.

China has already invested around USD one trillion in the countries that joined the BRI, and more is forthcoming. Sri Lanka needs to develop fast and has no option but to welcome investment funding from all sources.

As a sovereign and independent state, Sri Lanka must be free to select its own development partners and its own development model. In the process, it has not sought to exclude anyone nor posed a threat to anyone, directly or indirectly. Sri Lanka has welcomed all friendly countries to participate in its development process.

I would not characterise Sri Lanka’s approach to development as a balancing act. It is not. Sri Lanka must work with all countries to achieve its own development objectives which should not be held hostage to the unfounded sensitivities of any other party.

Dr Palitha Kohona is also a former Sri Lanka Foreign Secretary, Head of the UN Treaty Section, chairman, UN Indian Ocean Committee and Chairman of the UN’s Sixth Committee.

IPS UN Bureau


Civil Registration is Shaping World’s Largest Election Year With 76 Nations Going to the Polls

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Democracy, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


A smiling Timorese casts his vote at the Second National Village Council (sucos) elections while an election worker looks on. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

BANGKOK, Thailand, Apr 5 2024 (IPS) – Over four billion people will take to the polls in 2024 as 76 countries are set to hold elections. In Asia, this includes populous countries such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Russia.

These elections range from the world’s largest multi-day legislative election in India, to Indonesia, where the biggest single-day vote took place for the presidential poll in February. These elections will have lasting impacts for many years to come.

In order to vote, eligible citizens need to be included in voter lists. Accurate and credible voter registration is important to ensure trust in the electoral process. Voter lists represent consolidated, official lists of all persons eligible to vote.

But they are often costly and complicated endeavors. This is where civil registration and identity management is an integral structural support for voter registration. A strong Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system not only secures an individual’s legal identity and the resulting human rights, but also supports the collection of voter information, reinforcing the national voter list integrity by linking it with the civil register.

All voter registration systems are broadly categorized as “active” or “passive”. In countries employing ‘active’ systems, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the individual to update their information which ensures their eligibility to vote. This in turn means that many eligible voters may never be included in the voter list.

The ‘passive’ system, on the other hand, is when voter lists are generated from existing databases such as civil or population registers. Globally, a total of 69 countries (40 per cent) extract data from a civil or population register for their national voter list.

While there is no definitive standard for how voter lists should be produced, countries with a robust and universal CRVS system stand to gain numerous benefits. For the voter, it reduces the burden of having a separate and potentially cumbersome process. For example, consider a woman who marries and subsequently changes her name and residence.

This affects which electoral district or subdivision she belongs to. A well-functioning population register which collects up-to-date information on the occurrence of vital events would facilitate the automatic update of the voter list, ensuring her inclusion in future elections.

Governments also benefit from voter lists established based on civil registers. It has the potential to incur significant savings in financial and human resources needed to compile an independent voter list, and also helps prevent inflated voter numbers as people are automatically removed upon their death.

Traditionally, in countries lacking a robust CRVS system, the electoral management body produces its own voter list, which also has some potential benefits. People who do not own legal identity documents may be included through community identification i.e. on the testimony of village chiefs or teachers.

The choice of voter registration system requires a careful balance between inclusion and accuracy, as well as consideration for the country context. However, robust CRVS/ID systems can contribute to the efficiency, inclusiveness, and accuracy of voter lists.

In the Asia-Pacific region, 15 countries rely solely on data extracted from population or civil registries, while a further eight countries create voter registration lists through a combination of register data and efforts by electoral management bodies.

However, many people are unable to vote because they lack the required ID. Marginalized population groups and people in vulnerable situations often remain ‘invisible’ to their government because their existence has never been recognized through birth registration, potentially creating a barrier for participation in electoral processes. Inclusive electoral processes go hand in hand with complete and universal legal identity.

In Vanuatu, electoral and civil registration authorities joined hands to digitally transform the civil registration system with an aim to produce accurate and credible voter lists, with support from UNDP/Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project (VEEP), funded by the Government of New Zealand.

Although the initial basis for developing a comprehensive civil register based on unique identity arose from the need for accurate voter lists, the initiative has had a far-reaching impact for the overall development of the country through digital transformation.

The new Integrated Identity Management System in Vanuatu is supported by legal reforms to digitally transform civil registration in Vanuatu and is becoming the digital backbone of the Government, as well as the private sector.

Multiple government departments and other partners such as Vanuatu Society for People with Disabilities, are working together on a campaign ‘Disability bai no limitim’ to increase the registration of persons with disabilities, ensuring that they have a national identity card and thus facilitating their right to vote.

The collaborative efforts to improve CRVS goes beyond Vanuatu, as exemplified by the Brisbane Accord Group and the Asia Pacific CRVS Partnership. ESCAP and UNDP are working with partners to support governments in achieving the shared regional vision of universal and responsive CRVS systems that facilitate the realization of their rights, support good governance, health and development.

Chloe Harvey is Associate Population Affairs Officer, Statistics Division, ESCAP; Tanja Sejersen is Statistician, ESCAP; Risa Arai is Programme Specialist (Legal Identity), Governance, BPPS, UNDP and Anne-Sofie Gehard is Chief Technical Adviser & Project Manager, Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project (VEEP), UNDP.

IPS UN Bureau


UNWRA Chief Warns Agency’s Fate ‘Hangs in the Balance’

Aid, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), briefs reporters at UN Headquarters.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), briefs reporters at UN Headquarters.

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2024 (IPS) – UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini asked the UN General Assembly to urge member states to support the organization’s mandate during this period of unprecedented crisis for the region and the agency. He also called for member states to facilitate a “long-overdue political process” for the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Only then, in this context, should UNRWA be allowed to transition.

He was speaking at an informal session of the General Assembly on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This was convened to discuss the ongoing situation with UNRWA’s capacity as a humanitarian and human development agency in Gaza.

Despite its existence for 75 years, UNRWA’s presence was always intended to be temporary. “It is a stain on our collective conscience that for 75 years, UNRWA has had to fill a vacuum left by the lack of a political solution and genuine peace,” said Lazzarini.

The ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip and the resulting destruction of UNRWA facilities, which have disrupted humanitarian services in the region, have led to calls to seek alternatives that can deliver on the scale of the agency or to raise concern about whether other agencies can deliver the necessary humanitarian aid.

“UNRWA is facing a deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine its operations and ultimately end them,” said Lazzarini.

Lazzarini argued that dismantling UNRWA during the current crisis would be shortsighted, given that the agency was designed to provide public services such as education and primary healthcare in a region without state authority. “The notion that the Agency can be dismantled without violating a host of human rights and jeopardizing international peace and security is naïve at best,” he said.

Speaking at a press briefing that same day, Lazzarini told reporters, “We can only feel that the worst is yet to come.” He remarked that since January, aid delivery to Gaza has decreased by 50 percent. Since then, famine has become all but inevitable.

Remarking on the dual investigations into UNRWA’s operations, Lazzarini stated that the investigations were necessary as an accountability measure. These investigations were announced after it was revealed that he had terminated the contracts of 12 staff members who were allegedly involved in the October 7 attacks. Lazzarini added that the “swift decision” to terminate the contracts, as well as the investigations, would likely reflect the agency’s ability to follow through on recommendations from a risk management review.

Lazzarini admitted, however, that he had not anticipated the swift action that 16 donor countries took to suspend their funding in the wake of the allegations, which he revealed were conveyed to him in an oral manner.  “I have no regret,” he said, referring to his response to the allegations, “but to be honest, I did not expect that… over the weekend, 16 countries would take that decision.”

The UNRWA chief also indicated that most donor countries would consider resuming their support. For those donor countries, the pressure to pull support came from domestic or public opinion that seems divided over UNRWA rather than foreign policy considerations.

There is some promise that UNRWA will continue to deliver on its mandate with the help of donor states, as was seen with the European Commission’s decision to continue funding the agency, starting with a pledge of 50 million euros. However, this will only go partway into filling the gap of 450 million USD left by the 16 donor countries. Lazzarini warned that without additional funding, the agency would be in “uncharted territory” and would have “serious implications for global peace and security.”

The atrocities that were committed on and since October 7 have only resulted in increasing devastation and tragedy. The international community, as embodied by the General Assembly on Monday, seems largely united in their calls for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and for the safe release of all hostages.

Yet the ongoing hostilities in the region have prevented the UN and its agencies from fulfilling their mandate to safely provide critical emergency aid. Five months on, there is a seeming lack of forward momentum within the Security Council to deliver a ceasefire resolution. UNRWA has been contending with compounding existential questions about its survival as an agency from hostile forces in the Gaza Strip and beyond who call for its dissolution.

IPS UN Bureau Report


International Women’s Day, 2024Progress Hinges on Feminist Leadership

Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day, March 8.

PORT LOUIS, Mauritius, Mar 4 2024 (IPS) – Investing in inclusion requires more than electing and initiating women leaders. It requires a coordinated effort to change mindsets and systematically increase investments. This will allow feminist leaders, individually and collectively, to fully exercise their agency and counter targeted attacks on their safety and legitimacy.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the accomplishments of women in politics and society in recent years. Joan Carling, Francia Marquez, Maria Ressa, Amira Osman Hamed, and Narges Mohammadi have received global accolades for their vision and fearless activism.

Amid the pandemic, women leaders like Jacinda Ardern, Sanna Marin, Tsai Ing-Wen, and Angela Merkel outpaced their strongman counterparts by leading complex responses. During this period, the UN achieved gender parity in its senior leadership, including its national missions and peace operations, for the first time in history.

The leadership of women has been visible not just in institutions but also on the streets. Across the world, women human rights defenders have acted boldly for change despite severe restrictions. Movements such as #MeToo, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos and #AbortoLegalYa are examples of women advancing systemic change for equality and justice. Women led peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience actions as part of the Sudan uprising in 2018.

In 2022, the killing of Mahsa Amini sparked a large-scale and intersectional uprising for democracy. Across borders, Iranians demonstrated for ‘Women, Life, Freedom.’ They hit home the point our societies are incomplete if women are denied the right to participate in political, economic, and societal activities fully.

While the United States made headlines with its Supreme Court ruling restricting abortion rights in 2022, other countries like Ireland, San Marino, Colombia, and Mexico have turned the tide. They legalized abortion following years of struggling for their right to choose.

An uphill battle

Despite these achievements, there has been no respite in the attacks targeting women’s rights and their leadership. Civic space has never been worse since the launch of CIVICUS Monitor in 2018. 118 countries now face serious civic space restrictions. Only 2.1 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with open civic space. Intimidation, protest disruption, and detentions of protesters were the top violations documented in 2023.

These repressive strategies are extensively used to push back against women’s and LGBTQI+ people’s rights. Gender and sexuality remain at the centre of a culture war waged by a well-organised and funded international network of anti-rights forces leveraging these issues for political advantage.

South Korea’s national election in 2022 stands out as an example of how disinformation distorted the public and policy discourse against women’s rights. In his campaign, South Korea’s president-elect, Yoon Suk Yeol, actively legitimized the notion that moderate advances in gender equality were responsible for young men’s struggles in the current labour market. He pledged to abolish the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family and promised to increase punishments for the offence of making a false claim of sexual assault, a move likely aimed at making it harder for women to report real crimes.

But women are fighting back, in South Korea and elsewhere. Despite relentless anti-rights disinformation campaigns and owing to multi-year advocacy efforts, Indonesians passed a Sexual Violence Bill to criminalise forced marriage and sexual abuse and enhance protections for victims. In Spain, a new Law on the Guarantee of Sexual Freedom, based on the principle of consent, was passed to challenge widespread impunity for sexual and gender-based violence.

Women made up less than 34 percent of country negotiating teams at the COP27 climate conference, and only seven of the 110 world leaders were present. In response, gender equality was featured as a key theme during the COP28 climate conference last year.

A ‘Decision on Gender and Climate Change’, which lays the basis for future advancement of gender equality and women’s rights in future COP processes was adopted and 68 parties endorsed a Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership, which includes a package of commitments on finance, data and equal opportunities.

Feminist leaders

In the recent past, several countries have elected or inaugurated their first-ever female political leaders. This includes Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan, Honduras’s Xiomara Castro, Slovenia’s Natasa Pirc Musar, and Peru’s Dina Boluarte. In Australia, a newly elected progressive government included a record number of women and brought the welcome promise of a U-turn on its predecessor’s policies of climate denial.

And yet, other contexts have provided a stark reminder that female leadership isn’t necessarily a victory for women, especially when feminist leadership principles aren’t at the fore. Examples include Hungary’s first female President, Katalin Novak, a close ally of authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and a staunch supporter of his anti-gender policies. Italy’s first woman Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, has also, unfortunately, loudly touted anti-feminist values.

For generations, women have been subjected to rules they’ve had no role in making. Women’s movements all over the world have experienced the frustration of unsuccessfully calling for laws that benefit women. They have been struck down by the countries’ legislative bodies, made up mostly of men. Globally, women still have only three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men. They continue to be grossly underrepresented in the places where decisions are made on issues that deeply affect them.

Invest in a feminist future

According to UN data, feminist organizations receive only 0.13% of official development assistance. Only five percent of government aid is focused on tackling violence against women and girls, with no country on track to eradicate intimate partner violence by 2030. If current trends continue, more than 340 million women and girls will still live in extreme poverty by 2030.

Close to one in four will experience moderate or severe food insecurity and as many as 236 million more women and girls will be food-insecure under a worst-case climate scenario. While progress has been made in girls’ education, women’s share of workplace management positions is estimated to remain below parity, even by 2050.

When CIVICUS interviewed Terry Ince from the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago, she highlighted, “Women are running but not necessarily winning. To win, they would need financial and coordination support. It is not just about being in the room, but at the table, contributing, being listened to and having their ideas examined, pushed forward and implemented.”

There is a lot left to do to ensure greater representation at all levels. Only four women have been elected as president of the UN General Assembly in its 76-year history. The UN has never had a woman Secretary-General.

The 2024 International Women’s Day arrives with women heavily impacted by conflicts, crises, democratic erosion, and anti-rights regression. On the 8th of March, women will take to the streets in solidarity with those experiencing the brunt of regression. We collectively resist and take action and celebrate victories scored thanks to longstanding struggles.

The struggle for justice and progress will continue until we realize the dream of a healthier, safer and equitable world for all. To make this reality come true, we must invest in women and feminist future.

Lysa John is Secretary-General of CIVICUS, a global alliance of over 15,000 members working to strengthen citizen participation and defend civic freedoms. She has championed human rights and international mobilisation for over twenty-five years, starting her journey with grassroots organisations in India and subsequently spearheading trans-national campaigns for governance accountability. Her former roles include working as Global Campaign Director for Save the Children and Head of Outreach for the UN panel that drafted the blueprint for the Sustainable Development Goals. She can be reached through her LinkedIn page or X handle: @lysajohnSA.

IPS UN Bureau


Martin Luther King’s Message Shook the Powerful: Vital People can Hear it Today

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


Dr. Martin Luther King and Mrs. King are greeted by Ralph Bunche on a visit to the United Nations in 1964. Credit: UN Photo

Ralph Bunche received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s work as a United Nations mediator in the Palestine conflict. He called himself ‘an incurable optimist’. Bunche was the first African American and person of color to be so honored in the history of the prize.

ROME, Jan 9 2024 (IPS) – All through this week, leading up to January 15th, the world will commemorate Martin Luther King. In a world as wounded as ours is today, the lessons of his life’s work offer a vital opportunity for healing.

But the opportunity to hear his message continues to be obstructed: too many of the soundbites of TV pundits and the tweets of politicians are, once again, not distilling the insights of Dr King, but are serving instead to obscure a library of wisdom behind wall-to-wall repetition of the same few lines, extracted from their context, of one speech.

This is not a mistake, it is a tactic, and we owe it not only to the legacy of Dr King but to the future of our world to ensure that his authentic message is shared.

The true message of Martin Luther King is not a saccharine call for quietude or acceptance, but an insistence on being, as he put it, “maladjusted to injustice.” It represents not an idle optimism that things will get better but a determined commitment to collective action as the only route to progress.

When Dr King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”, he didn’t mean this process is automatic; as he noted, “social progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people.”

And he was clear that advancement of progress requires the coming together of mass movements, “organizing our strength into compelling power so that government cannot elude our demands.”

Children from a dozen countries met with the President of the General Assembly and toured the United Nations on a federal holiday in the United States honouring the late civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Martin Luther King Jr. 17 January 2023. Credit: Paulina Kubiak, United Nations

Justice, Dr King taught, is never given, it is only ever won. This always involves having the courage to confront power. Indeed, he noted, the greatest stumbling block to progress is not the implacable opponent but those who claim to support change but are “more devoted to order than justice.” As he put it, “frankly I have yet to engage in a direct action movement that was ‘well-timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly; this ‘wait!’ has almost always meant ‘never.’”

When the civil rights movement’s 1962 Operation Breadbasket challenged companies to increase the share of profits going to black workers and communities, it was only after the movement showed that they could successfully organize a boycott that those companies, in Dr King’s words, “the next day were talking nice, were very humble, and [later] we signed the agreement.” As he noted when challenged by “moderates” who asked why he needed to organize, “we have not made a single gain without determined pressure…freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Advancing progress, he emphasized, involves challenging public opinion too. Organizers cannot be mere “thermometers” who “record popular opinion” but need to be “thermostats” who work to “transform the mores of society”. In 1966, for example, a Gallup Opinion poll showed that Dr King was viewed unfavourably by 63 per cent of Americans, but by 2011 that figure had fallen to only four per cent.

Often, people read the current consensus view back into history and assume that Dr King was always a mainstream figure, and imagine, falsely, that change comes from people and movements who don’t ever offend anyone.

Dr King’s vision of justice was a full one. It called not only for the scrapping of segregation, but for taking on “the triple prong sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism.” He challenged the “economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few” and noted that “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it understands that an edifice which produces beggars, needs restructuring.”

He spoke out against war not only for having “left youth maimed and mutilated” but for having also “impaired the United Nations, exacerbated the hatreds between continents, frustrated development, contributed to the forces of reaction, and strengthened the military-industrial complex.”

He noted how “speaking out against war has not gone without criticisms, there are those who tell me that I should stick with civil rights, and stay in my place.” But he insisted that he would “keep these issues mixed because they are mixed. We must see that justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

When I went to Dr King’s memorial in Atlanta I did so to pay my respects at his tomb. But arriving at the King Center I found a vibrant hub of practical learning, at which activists and organizers working for justice were revisiting Dr King’s work and writings not as history that is past but as a set of tools to help understand, and act, in the present.

Together, we reflected not only on his profoundly radical philosophy, but also on his strategies and tactics for advancing transformational change. Conversations with Dr King’s inspirational daughter, Bernice, were focused not on her father’s work alone; instead, she asked us what changes we were working for, and how we were working to advance them.

This year, on 10th January, the King Center is hosting a Global Summit, a series of practical conversations accessible to everyone, for free, online. I’m honoured to be panelist. It is open for sign ups here.

“Those who love peace,” noted Dr King, “must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” And he even guided us how.

Ben Phillips is the author of How to Fight Inequality, Communications Director of UNAIDS, and a panelist at the King Center Global Summit on 10th January.

IPS UN Bureau


What Is the Cost of Phasing Out Fossil Fuels in Latin America?

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Change Finance, Conferences, COP28, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

Colombian President Gustavo Petro presented his environmental plans at COP28 in Dubai and added his country to the small group of nations that support the negotiation of a binding treaty to prevent the proliferation of fossil fuels, despite his country being an oil producer. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Colombian President Gustavo Petro presented his environmental plans at COP28 in Dubai and added his country to the small group of nations that support the negotiation of a binding treaty to prevent the proliferation of fossil fuels, despite his country being an oil producer. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

DUBAI, Dec 12 2023 (IPS) – One of the most heated debates at the annual climate summit coming to a conclusion in this United Arab Emirates city revolved around the phrasing of the final declaration, regarding the “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels within a given time frame.

This is an essential calculation on the decommissioning of refineries, pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure that, in some cases, have been in operation for years, as discussed at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Experts who talked to IPS at the summit agreed on the magnitude of the bill, which for some Latin American nations could be unaffordable.

“Financial support will be needed. There must be a differentiated approach, differentiated timing, and developed countries must come up with the resources.” — Fernanda Carvalho

Fernanda Carvalho of Brazil, global leader for Energy and Climate Policy at the non-governmental World Wildlife Fund (WWF), referred to the amount without specifying a figure.

“Financial support will be needed. There must be a differentiated approach, differentiated timing, and developed countries must come up with the resources,” the expert, who was present at COP28, held at Expo City on the outskirts of Dubai, told IPS.

COP28 engaged in an acrimonious debate between phase-out and phase-down, with a definite date, of oil, gas and coal, which has already anticipated a disappointing end in Dubai, that in line with the tradition at these summits extended its negotiations one more day, to conclude on Wednesday, Dec. 13.

The “phase-down” concept has been in the climate-energy jargon for years, but it really took off at the 2021 COP26 in the Scottish city of Glasgow, whose Climate Pact alludes to the reduction of coal still being produced and the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

Throughout the climate summits since 1995, developing countries have insisted on differentiated measures for them, in accordance with their own situation, the need for financing from developed nations and the transfer of technology, especially energy alternatives.

Enrique Maurtúa of Argentina, senior diplomacy advisor to the Independent Global Stocktake (iGST) – an umbrella data and advocacy initiative – said they hoped for a political signal to determine regulations or market measures regarding a phase-down or phase-out.

“If a target date is not set, there is no signal. If you set a phase-out for 2050, that is a pathway for the transition. With a deadline, the market can react. And then each country must evaluate its specific context,” the expert told IPS in the COP28 Green Zone, which hosted civil society organizations at the summit.

Available scientific knowledge indicates that the majority of proven hydrocarbon reserves must remain unextracted by 2030 to keep the planetary temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold agreed in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement to avoid massive disasters.

On Sunday, Dec. 10 the non-governmental Climate Action Network (CAN) delivered at COP28 a dishonorable mention to the United States for its role in Israel's carnage in Gaza, in the traditional Fossil of the Day award for “doing the most to achieve the least” in terms of progress on climate change at the summits. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

On Sunday, Dec. 10 the non-governmental Climate Action Network (CAN) delivered at COP28 a dishonorable mention to the United States for its role in Israel’s carnage in Gaza, in the traditional Fossil of the Day award for “doing the most to achieve the least” in terms of progress on climate change at the summits. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Failed attempts

In the Latin American region there are unsuccessful precedents of fossil fuel phase-outs.

In 2007, the then president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa (2007-2017), launched the Yasuní-Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini initiative, which sought the care of the Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, in exchange for funds from governments, foundations, companies and individuals of about 3.6 billion dollars by 2024 to leave the oil in the ground.

The aim was to leave 846 million barrels of oil untouched underground. But a special fund created by Ecuador and the United Nations Environment Fund only raised 13 million dollars, according to the Ecuadorian government. So Correa decided to cancel the initiative in 2013, at a time when renewable energies had not yet really taken off.

In a referendum held in August, Ecuadorians decided to halt oil extraction in a block in Yasuní that would provide 57,000 barrels per day in 2022 – the same result sought by Correa, but without foreign funds.

The result of the referendum is to be implemented within a year, although the position of the government of the current president, banana tycoon Daniel Noboa, who took office on Nov. 23, is still unclear.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, President Gustavo Petro has put the brakes on new oil and coal exploration contracts, a promise from his 2022 election campaign.

In addition, the president announced on Dec. 2 in Dubai that his country was joining nine other nations that are promoting the formal initiation of the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Colombia will thus become the first Latin American nation and the largest oil and coal producer to join the initiative that first emerged in 2015 when several Pacific Island leaders and NGOs raised the urgent need for an international mechanism to phase out fossil fuels.

For the undertaking of a just energy transition to cleaner fuels, Petro estimates an initial bill of 14 billion dollars, to come from governments of the developed North, multilateral organizations and international funds.

The latest summit of hope for the climate kicked off on Nov. 30 in this Arab city under the slogan “Unite. Act. Deliver” – the least successful in the history of COPs since the first one, held in Berlin in 1995.

The hopes included commitments and voluntary declarations on renewable energy and energy efficiency; agriculture, food and climate; health and climate; climate finance; refrigeration; and just transitions with a gender focus.

In addition, there were financial pledges of some 86 billion dollars, without specifying whether it is all new money, to be allocated to these issues.

Like many countries, the host of COP28, the United Arab Emirates, has had a pavilion in the so-called Green Zone, which hosts non-governmental organizations, companies and other institutions. The Emirati government bet a lot on the climate summit to deliver results, but without directly targeting the fossil fuels on which its economy depends. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Like many countries, the host of COP28, the United Arab Emirates, has had a pavilion in the so-called Green Zone, which hosts non-governmental organizations, companies and other institutions. The Emirati government bet a lot on the climate summit to deliver results, but without directly targeting the fossil fuels on which its economy depends. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS


Given the production and exploration plans of the main hydrocarbon producing countries in the region, the magnitude of the challenge in the medium and long term is enormous.

In October, Brazil, the largest economy in the region and the 11th largest in the world, extracted 3.543 billion barrels of oil and 152 million cubic meters (m3) of gas per day.

This represented approximately two percent of the domestic economy that month.

Mexico, the region’s second largest economy, extracted 1.64 million barrels and 4.971 billion m3 of gas per day in October, equivalent to 52 million dollars in revenues.

Meanwhile, Colombia produced 780,487 barrels of oil in the first eight months of 2023 and 1,568 cubic feet per day of gas, equivalent to 12 percent of public revenues.

“We have to think about decarbonization measures. We want Latin America to be a clean energy powerhouse,” said Carvalho.

As of September, Brazil’s state-owned oil giant Petrobras was working on obtaining 9.571 billion barrels of oil equivalent, according to the Global Oil & Gas Exit List produced by the German non-governmental organization Urgewald.

This represents an excess of 94 percent above the limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex is producing 1.444 billion barrels of oil equivalent, 56 percent above the threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

Finally, the public company Ecopetrol, mostly owned by the Colombian state, is working to obtain 447 million barrels, 98 percent above the Paris Agreement limit, according to Urgewald.

In addition, the cost of action against the climate crisis is far from affordable for any Latin American nation.

For example, Mexico estimated that the implementation of 35 measures, including in the power, gas and oil generation sector, would cost 137 billion dollars in 2030, but the benefits would total 295 billion dollars.

But Maurtúa says the budget question is only relative. “There is a lot of public money with which many things can be done,” complemented by international resources, he argued.