At the seminal COP24, Poland has absolutely nailed their warm welcome of overseas nations to talk about the future of the planet by enacting a protest ban, terrorist alert and turning people away at the border. Also, they’re hosting it in the coal heartland of the EU. Nice.
The inequity of country affluence dictates whose voices are heard and whose are absent. Where the most impacted by climate change are the worlds most vulnerable, the voices of the least impacted dominate the direction of climate solutions.
As I sit typing this on our 17-hour flight back to NZ, unable to sleep, I’m able to reflect on the fastest 2 weeks of my life, and in particular, what I learned in the 3 days of the forum. The sessions were all very different but very informative, to the point where I’m a little overwhelmed (or maybe just a little jetlagged!).
This COP, NZ will spend its time bragging about our Government ‘ending oil exploration’ (bar endless exceptions), the Zero Carbon Act (which hasn’t even been tabled yet), our ‘visionary’ leadership on ending fossil fuel subsidies (yup you read that right) and perhaps most contradictorily, our ‘equitable’ agricultural policy plan though a series of ‘Ac!ion Agriculture’ side events (including Fonterra’s ‘bold’ plan to install no new coal boilers by...2030?!?). What we won’t be mentioning is our failure to adopt a meaningful emissions regulation framework (neither a tuned-up ETS nor a carbon tax), our lack of inclusion of indigenous voices in the climate korero, a history of dragging our feet on climate negotiations, or our lack of support for Pacific nations.
Human rights are something that we often bring up in many discussions across the United Nations. Next year in 2019, it will mark the 70th year celebration on the Universal Declaration of Human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on the 10th of December in 1948, which consist 30 articles that outline the most fundamental rights for every human being. Being in the diplomatic city of Geneva, surrounded by the UN human rights headquarters, it has been rather an interesting journey in learning about the work of UN on human rights and the involvement of UN agency such as International Labour Organisation (ILO), Plan International and the New Zealand Permanent Mission in Geneva.
Whilst learning about the work that's going on behind protecting and exercising fundamental human rights, a question was brought up upon - whilst we celebrate the successfulness of the advance we have today and the celebration of embracing all cultures, there is so much more work to be done, so much more unforeseen issues to be discussed. With a total budget of 2.6 billion USD, the suggestion that the United Nations might not be able to afford to solve all the human rights issues in the world perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise.
The current state of human rights globally is under pressure, it is no longer a priority but rather a pariah. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being a declaration, it is not legally binding but carries moral weight and values. For decades, men and women across all states who have stood and survived the two world wars has understood utterly the idea that there will be no peace without justice, no development without better standards of life, and there will be no freedom without social progress and collaborations. But as decades went by, the generation is departing. In an era where racist can deliberately discriminate in public whilst fully dress in democracy and uphold the rule of law, we are backsliding in our effort to find a common solution.
Human rights are threatened, as many leaders around the world consider such concept as "outdated", criticism is made abruptly and publicly towards the progress made amongst women's rights, indigenous rights and many others; space for civic activism is shrinking, the fear that advocating for something that is fundamental ensuring the safety of us; and the contempt of the rights of people are masked, as they are forced to flee from their home in order to escape prosecution. With the legitimacy of human rights being attacked, we question ourselves: How are we able ensure that these human rights are exercised correctly, to strength the human rights across the globe and make it more "normal"?
Luckily, we are talking about human rights and human dignity, and this should be done without borders. In an emerging society, many are fighting to make human rights accessible to all. Take an example of the implementation of the UN Forum on Business and Human rights, this has opened up global ethical dialogue in regard to how we address key issues and challenges faced in the business and human rights sector. With a theme of "Business on Human Rights - build on what works", it will allow us to have an extensive insight on corporate responsibly in regard to human rights and how we can advance further progress on human rights in the future in terms of AI intelligence and machines.
As for now, we are at a pivotal point in history, where we are not too late to make a difference. I look forward to participating fully in this conference and gather insights on this new innovative partnership between business, government agency, civil society and international organisation. Stay tuned for my experiences at the UN BHR 2018.
Between pasture and cropland used to feed livestock, 41% of the land in the U.S.A is used for animal agriculture. In contrast, about 5% of the land is used to feed humans. Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.
OK, hear me out. I know this sounds like the dullest blog topic, like, ever. And you may yet be correct. But I wanna talk about about responsibility - my responsibility, our collective responsibility - in the context of climate change and action.
I’m en route to COP24 - the 24th conference of country representatives to discuss international treaties for tackling climate change. It’s a privilege to attend, to go to Poland where it’s held, to meet like-minded climate activists, to advocate for the rights of youth and future generations to a safe, thriving future.
And the millstone of Privilege is Responsibility.
I’m told that my responsibility is limited to learning and growing personally from the experience of COP24. “Surviving COP is an achievement,” has been the common advice of past attendees. With all of the intensity of being surrounded by 30,000 people, negotiating the future of humanity, I guess they’re probably right. But I feel a nagging sense of responsibility to do more with my privilege while there. I’m yet to work out what that will be.
But let’s examine this with a broader lens. Whose responsibility is activism? Is it right that a small subset of the population, conducted by their rigid principles, dedicate their life and emotional energy to making change for the benefit of the hoi polloi? Viewed differently, are these same activists consuming the collective, quiet actions taken by most people every day, relegating those actions to the frame of apathy? Rather than a changemaker, am I (being a badge-wearing activist) actually a barrier to change? What is my responsibility in speaking on behalf of many? And what is the responsibility of the many in giving me the platform to speak?
And am I even the right person to be doing this mahi? My privilege suggests I’ll be one of the least affected by climate change. Is it right for me to go, and take the place of someone whose voice has been missing from the conversation?
I’m left with more questions than answers. And I’ve left for COP24 feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Thankfully I’m joined by a delegation of smart, compassionate, brave, young people. They’ll be my whānau for the trip, and we’ll be responsible for looking after one another. And in that I can find purpose.
Wow, we’ve only been here a week, but it’s been a week jam-packed full of meetings and tours! Just thought I’d share a bit about what we’ve been doing and some tips for any of you who might be travelling to Geneva.