Inclusivity, Impact, and Innovation Needed to Meet SDGs, UN Civil Society Conference Hears

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Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Office at Nairobi is hosting the 2024 United Nations Civil Society Conference on May 9 and 10, under the theme Shaping a Future of Global and Sustainable Progress. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

The United Nations Office at Nairobi is hosting the 2024 United Nations Civil Society Conference on May 9 and 10, under the theme Shaping a Future of Global and Sustainable Progress. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, May 9 2024 (IPS) – The world is neither on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) nor is it leveraging emerging opportunities to effectively address global concerns such as extreme hunger, poverty, conflict, and climate change. Global concerns have outpaced existing structures for international cooperation and coping.

To forge a global perspective, the United Nations Office in Nairobi is currently hosting the 2024 United Nations Civil Society Conference under the theme Shaping a Future of Global and Sustainable Progress. Bringing together more than 2,000 participants from civil society organizations, academic institutions, think tanks, member states, private sector companies, UN entities, change-makers, and other relevant stakeholders from across the globe.

“That civil society engagement remains a critical cog in the wheel of development is well established. Greater collaboration between civil society organizations, governments, and the private sector can therefore not be more urgent at this time as we gear up for the Summit of the Future,” says Carole Ageng’o, Global Initiatives Lead & Africa Regional Representative at HelpAge International.

Indeed, civil society participation will contribute greatly towards meeting the aspiration of an international system that is better prepared to manage the challenges we face now and, in the future, for the sake of all humanity and for future generations.”

Since 1947, sixty-eight civil society conferences have resulted in successful outcomes due to previous interactions with civil society organizations. The ongoing conference is the premier event on the civil society calendar at the United Nations and the first of the UN’s civil society conferences to be held in Africa.

Born in Zimbabwe and currently working in South Africa as a human rights defender, Constance Mukarati told IPS that the role of civil society organizations and, more so, human rights defenders cannot be overstated towards ensuring that no one is left behind.

“For us, SDG 5 is really SDG 1. As a matter of urgency, women and girls everywhere must have equal rights and opportunities. We are still in an era where girl child education is not a priority and a gathering such as this is an opportunity for a revolution in how we think about issues of national and global concern, how we talk about these issues, who is in the room and how we execute and implement commitments towards sustainable development,” says Mukarati from the African Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders.

The ongoing gathering of civil society and other stakeholders is on track to provide preliminary discussions and data ahead of the world’s leaders’ Summit of the Future on September 22–23, 2024, at the UN Headquarters in New York. The Summit is part of a monumental effort to reset global cooperation towards accelerating efforts to meet our existing international commitments and take concrete steps to respond to emerging challenges and opportunities.

Ultimately, the Summit of the Future is about rethinking what multilateralism means in a world characterized by plummeting levels of trust in public institutions, glaring wealth inequalities, and a majority of the world’s population in underdeveloped and developing nations being left furthest behind, falling deeper into extreme hunger and poverty. To address global concerns, the Summit will produce three international frameworks: the Pact for the Future (available as a zero draft), the Global Digital Compact, and the Declaration on Future Generations.

“It is highly urgent that the UN systems relook and redesign how they engage its global citizenry so that the citizens can in turn engage the UN more effectively. This is what is needed to bring the SDGs back on track. What are people saying about the multiple challenges they face today? There is a feeling within the civil society movement that governments’ voices are prioritized within the UN system. This engagement is unique and highly relevant for our voices as activists and human rights defenders, which will inform and influence the direction that the Summit of the Future takes,” Eric Omondi, a Nairobi-based activist, told IPS.

This is a historic gathering aimed at galvanizing collaboration and reinforcing civil society organizations engagement in sustainable development. “We recognize that our generation stands at a critical junction where every action we take can significantly shape the future of our shared planet,” said Florence Syevuo, Executive Director, SDG Kenya Forum, and Co-Chair, Coalition for the UN We Need, Nairobi.

She stressed that the need to recognize the urgency of addressing global concerns such as climate change has never been more tangible as the effects of human interactions with nature become even more evident, underpinning why the outcome of the conference matters to all.

The Civil Society Conference and the Summit of the Future are critical platforms for deepening the engagement of citizens in international cooperation. As a prelude to the Summit of the Future, the Civil Society Conference features in-depth dialogues, a variety of workshops, and exhibits centered on three main objectives: inclusivity, impact, and innovation.

Inclusivity helps broaden the scope of discourse on global issues by enhancing the visibility and impact of diverse voices. On impact, participants are shaping global multi-stakeholder coalitions to advocate for and push the key issues that will be the outcome of the September Summit of the Future. On innovation, the two-day gathering is redefining the interaction between civil society and intergovernmental processes, showcasing a new model of collaboration that spans generations and sectors.

“The inclusion of youths and young voices in the SDG processes and other related commitments must become a priority. I recently completed my studies in law at Kampala International University and I intend to use my legal knowledge to amplify the most pressing problems facing young people in the global south and the communities in which they live,” Kiconco Shallom Esther, a youth participant from Uganda, told IPS.

As the curtain fell on the first day of the landmark civil society conference, there was consensus around the need to promote civil society’s insights and initiatives to bolster the Member State-led Summit of the Future process. Further emphasizing that a reinvigorated, organized civil society group can more effectively hold governments and powers accountable for progress towards a just, fair, and equitable shared future.

IPS UN Bureau Report


IPCI 2024: Oslo Commitment Protects Sexual and Reproductive Rights Across All Contexts

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Identity, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics


Ase Kristin Ask Bakke, MP and Chair of APPG Norway, reads the Oslo Statement of Commitment. Alando Terrelonge, MP, Jamaica, chair of the IPCI Drafting Committee, sits second from left. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

Ase Kristin Ask Bakke, MP and Chair of APPG Norway, reads the Oslo Statement of Commitment. Alando Terrelonge, MP, Jamaica, chair of the IPCI Drafting Committee, sits second from left. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

OSLO, Apr 12 2024 (IPS) – Parliamentarians from 112 countries have adopted the IPCI statement of commitment to protect and promote sexual and reproductive health rights, committing to the principle that “life or death is a political statement.”

As IPCI Oslo drew to a close on Friday, April 12, 2024, parliamentarians adopted a new Statement of Commitment that was “the collective effort of every single delegate,” said Alando Terrelonge, MP from Jamaica and chair of the drafting committee.

Remarking on the drafting process, he remarked, “We have definitely placed people’s rights and their dignity, the whole essence of human rights, at the forefront of our discussion.”

“Human rights really are at the heart of human civilization and sustainable development.”

Terrelonge, along with Ase Kristin Ask Bakke, MP and chair of APPG Norway, presented the statement before the conference in its penultimate session.

In brief, the Oslo Statement calls for parliamentarians to advocate for and promote SRHR across the life course, from birth to old age. It addresses the “rising polarization, conflicts, and fragile environments” that threaten the achievements made in the realization of IPCD’s Programme of Action by mobilizing their efforts and cooperating with relevant stakeholders.

It calls for increased accountability towards governments, the tech and healthcare sectors, and other relevant stakeholders, to respect human rights law. The statement makes a specific note to protect women, adolescents, and other vulnerable, marginalized groups who suffer disproportionately in conflicts and crises.

This statement seems pertinent in the wake of prolonged conflicts in Gaza, South Sudan, and Ukraine. In this light and in a broader context, the statement reaffirms a commitment to uphold international human rights law and humanitarian law in all contexts.

The statement reaffirms and expands on the core issues of the conference: policy and megatrends in demography, technology, and financing.

Technology’s impact on SRHR and political practices was officially codified in the statement, as it calls for governments to recognize the impact of digital technology on people’s lives, and the “immense potential” for the “full realization of the ICPD [Programme of Action].”

It also cautions that governments promote the safe and meaningful participation of women and girls in the digital space.

Financing SRHR programs has also been recognized as a priority, along with urging governments to allocate 10 percent of national development budgets towards the implementation of the Cairo program of action (POA). Furthermore, the statement advocates for following another UN-codified program, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, for its framework on long-term investments in development projects.

The participants had also agreed to increase political commitment to the continued implementation of the IPCD POA on parliamentary action for accountability and political commitment. The parliamentarians present pledged to accelerate developments and promote laws that respect international human rights obligations.

All those present enthusiastically applauded the statement’s adoption by consensus. As the conference reached its end and the statement was formally pledged, attendees expressed their support and its relevance to their states.

A delegate from Guatemala noted that while there were several pieces of legislation aimed at SRHR, they were not implemented clearly enough for civilians to know that these laws existed. She added that it was important to bridge the gap between governments and civilians in their understanding and implementation of SRHR policies.

The MP from Peru said parliamentarians needed to return to hold their governments accountable for the setbacks in the SRHR. She added that there needed to be investigations into the factors driving conservative groups to push back against the expansion of SRHR.

A MP from the Mauritiana delegation noted the progress that is achieved through pursuing gender equality: “Any society that does not give a space for women is a society that will suffer, socially and politically.”


Abandoned Children Growing Problem in Northern Syria

Active Citizens, Aid, Armed Conflicts, Child Labour, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Human Trafficking, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Youth

Humanitarian Emergencies

Children eating and drinking at the Children's House in Idlib. Abandoned children is a growing issue in the region. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS

Children eating and drinking at the Children’s House in Idlib. Abandoned children is a growing issue in the region. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS

IDLIB, Syria, Mar 27 2024 (IPS) – Wael Al-Hassan was returning from work in the Syrian city of Harim when he heard the sound of a baby crying.

He was returning from work on December 10, 2023. He stopped momentarily, turned on his mobile phone flashlight to investigate, and spotted a baby girl, around one month old, wrapped in a white blanket, lying by the roadside.

He felt saddened by the infant’s condition and said, “She was crying loudly, and I saw scratches on her face from cat or dog claws. I then carried her in my arms and took her home, where my wife breastfed her, changed her clothes, and took care of her.”

The phenomenon of abandoning newborns is increasing in northern Syria, where individuals leave their newborns in public parks or alongside roads, then leave the area. Passersby later find the infants, some of them dead from hunger or cold.

Al-Hassan said that the next morning, he handed the baby girl over to the police to search for her family and relatives.

Social Rejection

Social worker Abeer Al-Hamoud from the city of Idlib, located in northern Syria, attributes the primary reason for some families abandoning their children to the widespread poverty and high population density in the province. Additionally, there is fear of the security situation (the area is not in the control of the Syrian regime and is often under attack), the prevalence of divorces, and spouses abandoning their families after traveling abroad.

Al-Hamoud also points out another reason, which is the spread of the phenomenon of early marriage and marrying girls to foreign fighters who came from their countries to Syria to participate in combat. Under pressure from their families, wives often have to abandon their children after their husband’s death, sudden disappearance, or return to their homeland, especially when they are unable to care for them or provide for them financially. Moreover, these children have no proper documentation of parentage.

Furthermore, Al-Hamoud mentions another reason, which is some women are raped, leading them to abandon their newborns out of fear of punishment from their families or societal stigma.

Al-Hamoud warns that the number of abandoned children is increasing and says there is an urgent need to find solutions to protect them from exploitation, oppression, and societal discrimination they may face. She emphasizes that the solutions lie in returning displaced persons to their homes, improving living conditions for families, raising awareness among families about the importance of family planning, and launching campaigns to integrate these children into society.

Alternative Families

It’s preferable for members of the community to accept these children into their families, but they face difficulties in registering the births.

Thirty-nine-year-old Samaheer Al-Khalaf from the city of Sarmada in northern Idlib province, Syria, sponsored a newborn found abandoned at a park gate, and she welcomed him into her family.

She says, “After 11 years of marriage to my cousin, we were not blessed with children, so we decided to raise a child found in the city at the beginning of 2022.”

Al-Khalaf observes that the Islamic religion’s prohibition on “adoption” prevents her from registering the child under her name in the civil registry. Additionally, she cannot go to areas controlled by the Syrian regime to register him due to the presence of security barriers.

She says, “I fear for this child’s future because he will remain of unknown lineage. He will live deprived of his civil rights, such as education and healthcare, and he won’t be able to obtain official documents.”

Children’s House Provides Assistance

With the increasing numbers of children of unknown parentage, volunteers have opened a center to receive and care for the children abandoned by their families.

Younes Abu Amin, the director of Children’s House, says, “A child of unknown parentage is one who was found and whose father is unknown, or children whose parentage has not been proven and who have no provider.”

“The organization ‘Children’s House’ opened a center to care for children separated from their families and children of unknown parentage in the city of Sarmada, north of Idlib,” says Abu Amin. “The number of registered children in the center has reached 267, ranging in age from one day to 18 years. Some have been placed with foster families, while others currently reside in the center, receiving all their needs, including shelter, food, education, and healthcare.”

Upon arrival at the center, Abu Amin notes that the center registers each child in its records, transfers them to the shelter department, and makes efforts to locate their original family or relatives and send them to them or to find a foster family to provide them with a decent life.

Abu Amin explains that the center employs 20 staff members who provide children with care, psychological support, and education. They work to create a suitable environment for the children and support them psychologically to help with emotional support.

He emphasizes that the center survives on individual donations to cover its expenses – which are scarce. There is an urgent need for sufficient support, as the children require long-term care, especially newborns.

A young girl Marah (8) and her brother, Kamal (10), lost their father in the war. Their mother remarried, leaving them to live in a small tent with their grandfather, who forces them to beg and sell tissues, often leaving them without food for days.

Consequently, they decided to escape from home. Kamal says, “We used to sleep outdoors, overwhelmed by fear, cold, and hunger, until someone took us to the child center.”

Upon reaching the center, they returned to their studies, played with other children, and each other, just like children with families.

Kamal expresses his wish, “I hope to continue my education with my sister so we can rely on ourselves and escape from a life of injustice and deprivation.”

These children, innocent of any wrongdoing, are often left to fend for themselves, bearing the brunt of war-induced poverty, insecurity, homelessness, instability, and early marriage.

IPS UN Bureau Report


New Era: Unlocking Africa’s Agriculture Potential Through CGIAR TAAT Model

Africa, Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, COP28, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Food and Agriculture

Transforming food systems is key to solving food insecurity on the African continent. A powerful and unified effort is needed to ensure food systems are transformed to be robust enough to support the population. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Transforming food systems is key to solving food insecurity on the African continent. A powerful and unified effort is needed to ensure food systems are transformed to be robust enough to support the population. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, Jan 16 2024 (IPS) – As hunger and food insecurity deepen, Africa is confronting an unprecedented food crisis. Estimates show that nearly 282 million people on the continent, or 20 percent of the population, are undernourished. Numerous challenges across the African continent threaten the race to achieve food security; research and innovative strategies are urgently needed to transform current systems as they are inadequate to address the food crisis.

Transforming food systems is key. A powerful and unified effort is needed to equip food systems to advance human and planetary health to their full potential. This was the message as CGIAR entered a new era under the leadership of Dr Ismahane Elouafi, the Executive Managing Director. Named one of the most influential Africans of 2023, she continues to stress the need to use science and innovation to unlock Africa’s potential to meet its food needs.

Dr Ismahane Elouafi, the CGIAR’s newly appointed Executive Managing Director. Credit: FAO

Dr Ismahane Elouafi, the CGIAR’s newly appointed Executive Managing Director. Credit: FAO

During her inaugural field visit to an IITA center in Ibadan, Nigeria, alongside Dr Simeon Ehui, IITA’s Director General and CGIAR Regional Director for Continental Africa, she oversaw extensive discussions on transforming food systems and leveraging science and technology.

“At COP28 in Dubai, UAE, there was high-level recognition and a wonderful spotlight on science and innovation. CGIAR has an opportunity to represent science and innovation at large, representing the whole community at large. We can cut down poverty and stop malnutrition, and we have the tools—we just need to bring them to the farmers,” she said.

CGIAR continues to create linkages between agricultural and tech stakeholders, emphasizing digital innovation for agricultural development. CGIAR-IITA explores leveraging ICTs to tackle agricultural challenges, boost productivity, ensure sustainability, and enhance food security, featuring presentations, discussions, workshops, and networking across sectors.

There was a significant focus on the CGIAR TAAT model as a tool to use technology to address Africa’s worsening food crisis. TAAT Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) is a key flagship programme of the African Development Bank’s Feed Africa strategy for 2016 to 2025.

“We have the technology, and all hands are on deck to ensure that no one sleeps hungry. There are severe food insecurities on the continent today, deepening rural poverty and malnutrition. We have the capacity to achieve food security,” Ehui emphasized.

IITA’s Dr Kenton Dashiell spoke about TAAT in the context of strategic discussions around policy and government engagement. Emphasizing the need for the government, private sector, and other key stakeholders to create effective and efficient food systems transformation paths. As a major continent-wide initiative designed to boost agricultural productivity across the continent by rapidly delivering proven technologies to millions of farmers, TAAT can deliver a food-secure continent.

Elouafi stressed the need to ensure that technology is in the hands of farmers. in line with TAAT, which aims to double crop, livestock, and fish productivity by expanding access to productivity-increasing technologies to more than 40 million smallholder farmers across Africa by 2025. In addition, TAAT seeks to generate an additional 120 million metric tons.

IITA’s Bernard Vanlauwe spoke about sustainable intensification with the aim of increasing production and improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers are increasingly dealing with higher temperatures and shorter rainy seasons, affecting the production of staple foods such as maize. Further stressing the need for improved crop varieties to meet Africa’s pressing food insecurities.

Elouafi stressed that the needs are great, in particular, eliminating extreme poverty, ending hunger and malnutrition, turning Africa into a net food exporter, and positioning Africa at the top of the agricultural value chains. She emphasized the need to leverage progress made thus far, building on the commitments of Dakar 1, the 1st Summit of the World’s Regions on Food Security held in Dakar in January 2010, where representatives and associations of regional governments from the five continents noted that the commitments made at the World Food Summit in 2002 had had little effect and that the food crisis had only worsened.

Elouafi said the UN Food System Summit in 2021 and the 2023 Dakar 2 Summit, with an emphasis on building sustainable food systems and aligning government resources, development partners, and private sector financing to unleash Africa’s food production potential, were important meetings to build on. The commitments made at these high-level meetings had already created a pathway towards ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition and transforming food systems to meet the most pressing food needs today.

It is estimated that Africa’s agricultural output could increase from USD 280 billion per year to USD 1 trillion by 2030. The visit and ensuing discussions highlighted how investing in raising agricultural productivity, supporting infrastructure, and climate-smart agricultural systems, with private sector investments, government support, and resources from multinational financial institutions, all along the food value chain, can help turn Africa into a breadbasket for the world. Private sector actors will be particularly urged to commit to the development of critical value chains.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Rich Nations, IMF Deepen World Stagnation

Civil Society, COVID-19, Economy & Trade, Environment, Financial Crisis, Global, Headlines, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 13 2023 (IPS) – With the US Fed raising interest rates, the world economy is slowing as debt distress spreads across the global South, increasing poverty worldwide to pre-pandemic levels, with the poorest countries faring worst.

Extreme poverty continues to be high and is now worse than before the pandemic in low-income countries (LICs) and among those affected by fragility, violence and conflict. The promise of eradicating poverty worldwide by 2030 has become unachievable.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Bretton Woods institutions’ (BWIs) annual meetings in Marrakech in October were only the second-ever in Africa. But the rich nations-dominated BWIs failed yet again to rise to the challenges of our times, setting Africa and the global South even further back.

Instead of fostering cooperation to address the causes and effects of the contemporary catastrophe, neither the International Monetary Fund nor the World Bank governors could agree on joint communiques due to the greater politicisation of multilateral fora.

Indebtedness immobilises governments
Indebtedness and restrictive creditor rules prevent governments from spending more counter-cyclically to overcome the many contractionary tendencies of recent times, besides preventing them from addressing looming social and environmental crises.

The G20’s largest twenty economies have urged strengthening “multilateral coordination by official bilateral and private creditors … to address the deteriorating debt situation and facilitate coordinated debt treatment for debt-distressed countries”.

But its Common Framework to restructure debt has been roundly criticised by civil society, think tanks and even the World Bank on many grounds, including the paltry concessional credit relief offered to a few of the very poorest countries.

In contrast, the G24 caucus of developing countries at the BWIs has emphasised the need for “durable debt resolution measures while collaborating on resolving the structural issues leading to such vulnerabilities.”

But all those advocating purported solutions are not even trying to ensure fiscal space and public spending capacity for counter-cyclical efforts, let alone achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and national development objectives.

The IMF currently imposes additional charges on countries that do not quickly clear their debts to the Fund. Besides the usual fees and interest, borrowing countries paid over $4 billion in such surcharges in 2020-22, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surcharges will cost debt-distressed countries about $7.9 billion over six years. The G24 has emphasised that surcharges are pro-cyclical and regressive, especially with monetary tightening.

Governments have undertaken contractionary policies and cut imports for lack of foreign exchange. This deepens the problems of heavily indebted poor countries who cannot but count on the Fund for relief and solutions.

At Marrakech, the governing International Monetary and Financial Committee decided to “consider a review of surcharge policies”. The G24 called for “a suspension of surcharges while the review – which we hope will lead to substantial permanent reduction or complete elimination – is being conducted.”

Rich nations have been divided over surcharges. With Ukraine now among the top surcharge payers, following civil society criticisms, the Biden administration’s refusal to review surcharges in 2022 was heavily criticised by the US Congress.

Deepening austerity
IMF fiscal austerity measures of the 1980s returned with a vengeance after the 2008 global financial crisis, and then again during the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020. Most Fund loans require cutting the public sector wage bill (PSWB), the budget line to pay employees.

Most wage earners in many LICs, including nurses, teachers and other social service workers, work for the state, directly or indirectly. Although much needed, these employees have been more likely to be targeted by such budget cuts.

PSWB cuts may involve hiring or wage freezes, or limiting, or even cutting wages. These inevitably undermine government capacities and services. Fiscal consolidation has also involved raising more indirect, consumption taxes, and tax exemptions, e.g., for essential goods such as food.

In 38 countries with over a billion people, loan conditionalities during 2020-22, the three years of the Covid-19 pandemic, meant regressive tax reforms and public spending cuts. PSWB and fuel or electricity subsidy cuts are also common demands worsening economic contractions.

Austerity bound to fail
But the IMF’s own research suggests such austerity policies are generally ineffective in reducing debt, their ostensible purpose. The April 2023 IMF World Economic Outlook acknowledged austerity programmes and fiscal consolidations “do not reduce debt ratios, on average”. Yet, its Fiscal Monitor still demands “fiscal tightening” of most developing countries.

The new IMF-World Bank debt sustainability framework sets the LICs’ external debt-to-GDP ratio limit at 30% or 40%. It insists debt-distressed economies must have lower ratios than ‘strong’ countries, effectively further penalising the weak and vulnerable.

Instead of enabling consistently counter-cyclical macroeconomic frameworks, the IMF’s current short-termist approach is mainly preoccupied with annual, or worse, quarterly balances, mimicking corporate reporting practices.

Such short-termism further limits fiscal space, effectively preventing or deterring public sector investments requiring longer-term macroeconomic frameworks to realise benefits. This discourages ‘patient’ medium- to long-term investments required for national economic planning and transformation, essential for sustainable development.

Restrictive debt and fiscal targets have meant even less public investment. This is typically required of borrowing countries as a credit conditionality. Annual IMF Article IV consultations cause other countries to also accept similar constraints to avoid Fund disapproval.

While a few better-off economies enjoy full employment, most countries face further economic contraction, not least due to interest rate hikes led by the US Fed and their many effects. Instead of being part of the problem, the IMF should be part of the solution.

IPS UN Bureau


COP28: Climate Migrants’ Rights, Risk-based Labor Polices Under the Spotlight

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Labour, Middle East & North Africa, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


Workers, some from regions impacted by climate change, joined queues for accreditation outside Expo 2020 in Dubai, where COP28 is being held. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Workers, some from regions impacted by climate change, joined queues for accreditation outside Expo 2020 in Dubai, where COP28 is being held. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

DUBAI, Dec 7 2023 (IPS) – With COP23 underway, researchers and activists are pointing at the plight of climate migrants.

On November 30, a few hours before the COP23 was officially inaugurated, long, serpentine queues could be seen outside Expo 2020, the venue of the COP23. Standing under the blazing sun, besides delegates and media personnel, were hundreds of migrant workers, a majority of whom were from Nepal and the Philippines.

The workers, who would later be working in different service hubs such as food kiosks and cleaning units throughout the COP, were there to get registered and get a badge that would allow them entry inside the blue zone, the high-security area within the COP. Almost all of these workers are unskilled and employed by various contractors. Despite the long hours of standing in the scorching sun, none of them was complaining—some because they have worked in much worse conditions, while others didn’t want to earn their employers’ wrath by expressing any displeasure.

“The company decides where and when we will work, as well as how long. What is there to complain about? Please understand, it’s risky,” whispered Chandra, a worker from Nepal who requested not to reveal his last name. Chandra also wouldn’t reveal his exact address except that he is “from the upper Mustang,” a district in Nepal that has seen large-scale migration of locals following massive water scarcity caused by the drying of natural springs and groundwater sources.

Chandra’s whispered sentences nearly summarize the environment in which thousands of migrants work: exposure to harsh climate conditions, inadequate pay packages, and oftentimes abuse, say human rights advocates who have documented migrants across the Middle East.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based global human rights defender, recently published a study conducted in three climate-vulnerable countries—Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—that found that migrant workers faced a strong set of labor abuses that included paying high recruitment fees, low and irregular wages, and high exposure to extreme heat. Although the research did not specifically focus on climate migrants, most of the respondents were from places that have witnessed strong climate change impacts, including extreme weather events.

Ironically, their search for a secure livelihood and a better life also made them vulnerable to working in environments that leave them exposed to similar harsh climatic conditions. For example, during the construction of Expo City, the very venue of COP28, migrant workers were seen working in scorching heat that could lead to a plethora of health challenges, including heat stroke and extreme dehydration leading to chronic kidney failure. In fact, HRW’s study found that several migrants had had kidney failure and were on dialysis, which not only cost them their jobs but also pushed them into a financial crisis as they needed to take out loans for medical treatment.

“Our study interviewed 73 current and former UAE-based workers and 42 families of current migrant workers between May and September 2023 from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Ninety-four of these interviewees live in or are from areas already facing the devastating consequences of the climate crisis, with scientific studies linking extreme weather events like floods, cyclones, and the salinization of agricultural lands to climate change. In addition, former and current outdoor workers interviewed were working in jobs like construction, cleaning, agriculture, animal herding, and security and were often exposed to the UAE’s extreme heat, which is also increasing due to climate change,” says Michael Page, Deputy Director in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

Climate Migration: A global snapshot

According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the implications of the climate crisis on migration are profound and are ever-increasing. IOM cites data produced by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center that shows in 2022 a total of 31.8 million internal displacements due to weather-related hazards.

The World Bank Groundwell Report also shows that in South Asia, 12.5 million people were displaced by climate disasters in 2022, while the numbers are 7.5 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and 305,000 in the Middle East and North Africa region. The report projects that without immediate and concerted climate and development action, the number could go up to over 216 million by 2050.

According to the Nepal government’s own assessment, the UAE, along with Qatar, remain the most popular work destinations among young Nepalis. Data collected by the country’s Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), 37,492 young people arrived in the UAE for work between mid-July and mid-October of the current fiscal year alone. This group includes 7,015 women and 30,477 men.

A moment of global recognition

On Friday, Nepal, one of the biggest source countries of unskilled and climate migrants, found a special mention in the speech of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the inaugural ceremony of COP28. “Just days ago, I was on the melting ice of Antarctica. Not long before, I was among the melting glaciers of Nepal. These two spots are far in distance, but united in crisis. Polar ice and glaciers are vanishing before our eyes, causing havoc the world over, from landslides and floods to rising seas,” Guterres said, addressing the global leaders at the opening ceremony.

Soon after, addressing the media, Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said that his country was preparing to establish Nepal’s rights to receive compensation for loss and damage. According to him, Guterres’s speech had drawn the world’s attention to the climate crisis in Nepal, and his government would now push for the much-deserved compensation under the newly operationalized Loss and Damage mechanism.

Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Environment, who is at the COP, says that Nepal has plans to address climate-induced displacement and migrations at their root, but it needs external support and resources.

“Due to climate change and loss of livelihood, our youths are migrating rapidly to other countries. This is also destabilizing the family value system and causing social disorder as youths are separated from their family elders. This is under discussion at the political level. But at the same time, unless and until equal education, opportunities, and a level of salary (available in other countries) are made available, we cannot stop this migration. We have assessed that the total cost to implement our National Action Program (that can address climate displacement) will be USD 50 billion, of which we can only raise USD 2 billion; we need the rest from external sources such as the various funds.”

Nepal senior delegate Maheshwar Dhakal. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Nepal senior delegate Maheshwar Dhakal. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Need of the hour: a risk-based labor policy

However, experts believe that host countries, particularly the COP presidency UAE, where migrant workers make up 88% of the labor force, can take immediate steps while negotiators develop their respective arguments and strategies to claim compensation for climate refugees and displaced people under the climate finance mechanisms.

One of these is adopting a risk-based labor protection policy.

Currently, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) is implementing the ‘Midday Break’ initiative, which broadly means workers should not work outside from 12 to 3 p.m.  Violations of the ban can lead to a fine of Dh5,000 for each worker from non-compliant employers. The maximum fine amount is Dh50,000 when multiple workers are made to work during the banned hours.

However, the policy also allows employers to continue working through midday in areas where it is deemed unfeasible to postpone work until it is completed. These works typically include roofing, manning traffic, containing hazards or repairing damages such as interruptions to water supply or electricity, etc.

These provisions provide escape routes for employers who continue to push migrant workers into unsustainable and risky work conditions. The same ‘loopholes’ also make the labor policies inadequate for protecting migrant workers from harsh weather conditions, says Page of HRW, who thinks adopting a public health risk-based policy would be the right way to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

A risk-based approach would mean that countries, competent authorities, and employers would identify, assess, and understand the public health risks to which the workers are exposed and take the appropriate mitigation measures in accordance with the level of risk. One of these strategies would be to use the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) index, which is already in use in nations like Canada.

The wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) unit considers a number of environmental factors, such as air temperature, humidity, and air movement, which contribute to the perception of hotness by people.

Page thinks that the adoption of the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) would be a great way to assess the risks for migrant workers in a place like the UAE because it can cover more risk factors that are usually ignored by employers but are regularly faced by the workers. For example, in some workplace situations, solar load (heat from radiant sources) is also considered in determining the WBGT as the basis of the risk assessment.

“If the UAE really cares about the protection of its migrant workforce, then they should also care about adopting a risk assessment method that is more reflective of local conditions; that will also ensure climate justice for the workers,” Page says.

IPS UN Bureau Report