Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How Do We Find the Best Solutions for Climate Change Both Locally and Globally, and What Challenges Persist?

Written by Marietta DeJulio-Burns, UNA-NCA Spring 2019 Development and Advocacy Program Assistant    

We are taking large quantities of sequestered carbon dioxide that have been locked up in our planet for millions of years and then releasing it over a couple of hundred years. It may not sound like a lot, but when you are talking geological time, that release is essentially instantaneous. It is going to have an impact. - Tony Giunta

As an undergraduate student, I often question what I can do to help tackle the problem of climate change. I recognize the will I have as an individual and the small changes that I can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle. But is that all I can do? There are many conflicting perspectives on the best ways to address climate change in the United States as well as some media sources that attempt to depreciate its harmful effects. This article attempts to provide some clarity on how climate change should be addressed and the importance of global participation for the United States utilizing an interview with Tony Giunta, an interconnected professional of both politics and science.

Tony Giunta is the current Mayor of the City of Franklin, New Hampshire.  He is also the Director of Project Development for the Nobis Group, and the founder of the American Energy Independence Company. By formal education, he is a geophysicist and has worked in the renewable energy field for several decades. Since his first term as Mayor beginning in 2000, Franklin has experienced immense growth in the renewable energy field. Despite considerable growth within the renewable energy field that has decreased its cost and increased its availability, it is his elected position as Mayor that has allowed him to decrease greenhouse emissions in his growing city. How? As Mayor, Giunta gets to appoint like-minded individuals to the Planning Board who will help support permit approvals needed for the construction of renewable energy projects proposed by developers.

In theory, those who want to see more environmental action would be strong supporters of implementing more renewable energy. If asked if they want renewable energy on their homes, their answer would be yes. So, what is preventing easy implementation of renewable energy? According to Giunta, everything comes down to cost. These individuals are willing to buy it, but they are not willing to pay more for it. How do we make renewable energy less expensive and competitive with combustible fuels? Individual localities across the country are showing us how.

I am most excited about what I am seeing from state governments from specific states that are making a solid commitment to welcome more renewable energy. States like Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, California, and Florida. These are states that are allowing renewable energy projects to happen on a large scale. These are places that are dedicating hundreds of thousands of acres to solar and wind, and these large-scale projects are making a very positive difference. They are moving the dial on putting renewable energy on our national electric grids.  So, I applaud these states for making these commitments...this is extremely exciting to me because as a result of their investment and commitment to renewable energy, the cost of renewable energy continues to decrease. - Tony Giunta

The commitment of these states to invest in renewable energy and encourage its building has reduced the cost of the production of renewable energy. It is these large initial investments in renewable energy that deliver a critical return on those initial investment dollars needed to pay for the equipment that is then used to build renewable energy components.  These initial components are the most expensive. It’s very much like large flat screen televisions.  The first flat screen TVs were $4-5,000.  Today, the same if not better models sell for $4-500.  Similarly, the first large scale solar panels that cost $1,000 ten years ago, cost $100 today.

Mayor Giunta emphasizes that these states are at a point where renewable energy is now the same cost, or cheaper than brown energy (energy created by burning oil, coal, and natural gas), all of which release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. It is renewable energy that should be becoming the preferred choice for consumers. Moreover, the states that have gone above and beyond with state statutes which encourage the use of renewables have helped bring renewable energy costs down nationally. As renewable energy costs become more competitive, they should be as accepted in New England as they are to a developer in Texas.

Across the board, the cost to build renewable energy components like wind turbines and solar panels are decreasing substantially because initial investment costs for the equipment to build these components has been recovered. As a result, the unit cost for each subsequent component that rolls off the assembly line continues to go down. I deal in the renewable energy field every day and I see ever cheaper solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and other carbon neutral or minimal admitters of CO2 available right now to make a significant difference in reducing the use of fossil fuels. - Tony Giunta

This begs the question, if there are competitively priced renewable energy innovations available across the nation, why aren’t we seeing more sustainable projects?

Mayor Giunta attempted to explain the reason we don’t see more renewable energy projects by using the recent example of what happened to a renewable hydroelectric energy project proposed in his home state of New Hampshire called “Northern Pass.” As proposed, the project would import large-scale hydroelectric renewable energy from Quebec, Canada into New England by bringing the power over existing transmission lines. Eversource, the State of NH’s largest utility, spent 5 years and nearly $280 million dollars to attain all the necessary State and Federal permits. But in the end, and mainly for aesthetic reasons, their last and most important permit was denied by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, thus ending the project before it even began.

Not only was this large scale attempt to bring over 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy into the New England electric grid a huge waste of money, but it has shown renewable energy developers from across the world that regardless of its environmental benefit, there is no guarantee their projects would ever be approved in New Hampshire.

I am telling you that right now the technologies are there, and the technologies are cheap enough that they can compete head-to-head with fossil fuels. The problem is people don’t want these projects in their communities. As a result, developers cannot get their permits. From previous examples, developers know that if they invest $100,000, $1,000,000, or $200,000,000, that at the end of their permitting process, there’s absolutely no guarantee their project will be approved. If the end result is a project denial, you have that big risk.  So, what do you do?  You go somewhere else. You go where there’s less risk. You go to Texas. You go to Florida. You go to California, or Utah, or Nevada.  You go where you’ve seen every other developer in front of you who has gone through that same process you are about to go through get approved to build their project. - Tony Giunta

The problem is not that green technology does not exist or is too expensive, it is that impactful, well-engineered projects are getting rejected. Why? Politicians need to get re-elected by their constituents and thus, their actions are influenced by the support of their constituents. Regardless if people truly believe in climate change and fully support renewable energy, if a proposed project threatens their view, open space, job, or livelihood, they will protest this action. In the end, politicians support actions that their constituents support, and although many want to take action against climate change, when they believe their actions will go contrary to their constituents’ wishes, they deny renewable energy developers from building their projects.

The Northern Pass project would have added about 15 miles of new transmission towers to an existing 192-mile transmission corridor with minimal impact to existing infrastructure.  But the public didn’t want change.  A similar New England natural gas pipeline upgrade proposal that would have increased capacity of the pipeline to deliver lower carbon emitting natural gas to replace dirtier coal and oil fuels was also recently rejected by regulating authorities. Two of the reasons for denial cited were it would have disrupted family backyard structures illegally placed on the existing pipeline’s right-of-way and it would have increased the danger of explosions.  The irony is, updating this 50-year-old pipeline would have made these lines safer. However, families filled town halls in protest and as a result, the developer simply walked away from the project. Thus, some of the same citizens advocating for renewable energy were the same families who showed up at public hearings to oppose the very projects they say we need to save our planet.

How can the average citizen help renewable energy developers actually successfully implement their projects?  And what in particular should we be demanding of our lawmakers? In the words of Tony Giunta:

At the end of the day, we all need to go back to our constituents and ask for their vote.  As the famous New England politician, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Niell once said, “all politics is local!”. Meaning, when my constituent “Joe” meets me at the local grocery store, pulls me aside and says, “your stance on X, Y, or Z, will negatively impact my job, my family, my livelihood, and I am not voting for you ever again if you continue to push your stance!” influences my decisions. This is what it comes down to.

And so, what can the local person do to help promote renewable energy? They can come out and help vocally support renewable energy projects in their communities.  When renewable energy projects are proposed, go to your Planning Board meetings, Zoning Board meetings, get up and speak in favor of these projects.  You can also go out and challenge people who are running for office by asking how they will encourage the use of renewable energy. Ask politicians how they will reduce the obstacles to renewable energies getting built in your town, your city, your state, and in our country. You can ask them what they’ll do to make it easier for renewable energy projects to get built.

The local person has the most power in this process because they are the ones who vote for their local elected officials and put individuals in power. They can make it difficult for elected officials to deny renewable energy projects or make it more difficult for officials to implement renewable energy projects.

Supporting renewable energy projects, questioning officials, and continuing to advocate for renewable energy are ways to promote these green projects locally, but what are the best ways to achieve progress globally?

How can we halt the negative effects of climate change through making our energy sector greener without affecting the economy or our day-to-day lives? Many people fear the perceived consequences of changing the energy sector.

However, Mayor Giunta has used his 30 years’ experience in politics to influence how he interacts with fellow members of his city council, especially those who do not think exactly like him.

I am blinded by the things that I do not believe in or do not understand. But if I am open-minded and want to come to the best solution, I listen to the person who disagrees with me the most because that is the area where I am blinded by not understanding. But once I am able to understand their position, I am always open to shifting my position especially if they are able to be open-minded to my ideas and compromise accordingly. In the end, it is not giving up ground or feeling like I lost the debate if I change my stance based on good, solid reasoning to do so. Unlike politicians on the national stage, I don’t take it personally if my original position becomes a better group position.  In the end, I’d like to be remembered for having fostered a cooperative environment where we found the best possible solution to the issue at hand. - Tony Giunta

On a global level, the United Nations Environmental Programme has provided the platform through the Paris Agreement to allow world leaders to come together and have open discussions about solving this issue that requires collective action. The appeal of the Paris Agreement is that leaders were able to speak about the needs of their country, whether it was their economic reliance on coal or an ambition to convert to nuclear energy. This discussion allowed leaders to better understand other countries’ interests and learn what prevented them from moving away from brown energy.

The Paris Agreement allowed each country to decide their own commitment based on their own capabilities. Tony Giunta explained how forcing other countries to take certain actions without truly understanding their full capabilities can be inhibiting to successful negotiations. Consider this example:

For example, leaders must understand that if my country is 90% dependent on coal, it’s no wonder I don’t want to use less coal. What is my alternative? I am terrified that I will be told that I can only use 10% of my coal. However, if everybody else understands my situation and my mindset, it can result in a better solution. If they say, “let’s work together to reduce your carbon output and we will make an agreement to send you the following sustainable technologies if you agree to reduce your coal usage by 20%.” Now, under those cooperative conditions, what would the coal using nation say? “I’m in!” But if everyone else looks at me and says, “too bad, we are forcing you to give up coal right now and you just have to accept it!” I am going to get up and I am going to walk out because my population is completely reliant on coal.  - Tony Giunta

On the other hand, if one country wants to move rapidly into renewable energy, then other countries who have previous experience in this field can help them. Sharing research can help countries with the efficiency of this transition and help reduce costs, but at times, this is slowed down by the desire to stay competitive and the particularities of patents that protect the rights of this information from being shared. People often forget that climate change is severe, and it will be catastrophic for all humans in just a short couple of years.

Picture this: we, the world community, are all in one big automobile. We just pulled into our massively large garage and closed the door. We are all in the car and the engine is running. All of us are in the same car, breathing the same build-up of carbon monoxide that will eventually kill every one of us. As soon as we all realize that, whether in Saudi Arabia or Taiwan, we are all breathing the same amount of poisonous molecules and we all need to get on the same page.  - Tony Giunta

I asked Mayor Giunta about if he would make any changes to the structure of the Paris Agreement. He believes one of the biggest strengths of the Paris Agreement is its ability to bring world leaders together, but he wants to see more of these discussions happening. The worst is when world leaders walk away from the table and agree not to meet again.

The Paris Agreement should be called the Paris Conferences or the Paris Continuing Resolutions or the Paris Approach to Solving Global Climate Change. It is not a one-time three-day event where everyone signs documents, feels good about themselves, then go to supper. This is not the way to solve it. It was a misnomer to call it the Paris Accord and for all of us to think that everyone that signed it would live by it forever. No way. It is a living document and needs to change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone who met agreed to meet on a yearly basis or a quarterly basis or a semi-annual basis? Make it an open forum where countries feel comfortable saying they missed their targets and other countries can say, how can we help? Better yet, a chance for everyone to get together and hear from those who met their goals and share how they did it.  - Tony Giunta

Mayor Giunta’s commitment to renewable energy perfectly embodies the often uttered “think globally, act locally.” As an undergraduate student, Mayor Giunta has taught me more efficient ways to advocate for action against climate change, particularly involving renewables. Most importantly, he taught me that the ability to be open-minded is necessary, both locally and globally. The developers and citizens in local areas need to be understanding of each other's interests and needs. Evidently, both the support of the citizens and the capabilities of the developers are vital components in completing successful projects. At the global level, the United Nations Environmental Programme has provided the forum for world leaders to gather and have open-discussions on climate change, but it requires a willingness for each leader present to be an active team player and understand each other's positions.

No one ever said the solution is easy, but before we are able to find the best solution possible, we need to work on understanding each other as individuals first.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Why MUN Matters: Asking the Big Questions

By Ghina Sabeh Aayoun
Finalist for  2019 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
Lebanese American University

Three months into my 3rd year in middle school, I crossed paths with a very unusual word as I was going to class. Plastered over a large poster on the notice board in the corridor were three letters: “MUN”. Curiosity got the best of me that day, and I was compelled to ask my teacher what that word meant. Little did I know that that word was about to stimulate an era of growth in mindset and revolutionize the way I view the world.

Not only has MUN changed my life, it has given me the opportunity to develop political awareness I wouldn’t have otherwise developed.

Later that year, I went on to participate in three conferences. I arrived to the first one with my knees clattering and my fists sweating buckets. I delivered my first speech ever with much of that nervousness still lodged in every corner of me. As those sixty pairs of eyes staring at me from across the enormous room, I felt vulnerable. My first conference was a train wreck, but I loved it. I looked up to those delegates who were so confident, so sharp, and so determined, and I viewed them as idols. “This is what I want to become”. I set a goal and I pursued it because Model United Nations ignited that spark in me. It opened up the door for me to discover the many things I can be, and in turn allowed me to revisit how I handle myself, and how I view the world.

Away from the field action though, MUN has also done me favors behind the scenes. The task seemed fairly simple - research, represent, resolve. But like all searches conducted on the internet, one thing led to the other. As I was researching, I found myself asking some big questions. Who has power? Is it the stakeholders? Who limits power? Does power really lie in the hands of the people or are democracies dying? These questions aren’t ones we would expect a thirteen-year old to be asking. The political awareness generated by the extensive reading required in Model United Nations allowed me to develop opinions.

The initiative to change one’s character, the development of opinions on polarizing subjects, those are huge milestones in my life I can only thank that strange word I saw on that poster. So, for that I say, thank you, MUN.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Why MUN Matters: We Can Shake the World

By Fatemeh Naghavinia
2019 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
9th Grader from Muslim Community School/Alim Academy

The struggle for justice often is the distinction between morality and immorality. Model United Nations, a learning experience in which students role-play delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees, is truly an opportunity for us youth to step up, take responsibility for the world’s issues, and put them to rest, one by one.

An important aspect of being involved in MUN is how it facilitates research and teamwork skills, along with the aptitude of public speaking. Researching for MUN has taught me two fundamental lessons: to not position myself along one ideology and to act as an open-minded, global citizen when presented with unfamiliar views on certain issues. MUN has taught me that I don’t need to only support the “marketable” opinion to be able to solve a problem; creativity and open-mindedness serve as a segue to successful diplomacy. Speaking as a delegate in MUN has also served as an outlet for me to lay out my ideas and opinions to a broader audience, as well as advance my public speaking skills.

The blessing of having MUN as a platform for everyone from every race and every religion to be able to freely express their opinions is an esteemed privilege. Children have often been disciplined to remain within their inner circles and seldom associate themselves with those from different backgrounds—this dissociation has bred the seeds of systemized discrimination and prejudice in our communities. MUN is able to extinguish the stigma of that mentality, and equipped me with a mentality to consider one’s personality and views from the inside, rather than what society paints them as.

I—as a hijabi, Iranian-American Muslim—have always been encouraged to express my thoughts and opinions, and to never be afraid to stand up for what I believe in. MUN nurtures that sense of responsibility, and encourages me to not only educate myself about ongoing problems, but also to work as a delegate in a communal force aimed at advocating for the silenced.

MUN truly serves as an opportunity to prove to adults that although we—the youth—have our flaws, our strengths are prominent as well. MUN has nurtured and grown those strengths, and given me the voice and mentality I have today. Many of us are driven to create equality between races and religions, but seldom find the willpower or the platform to do so. It was MUN that gave me the confidence to speak out, to voice my opinions and concerns to the world, to believe that I can, and WE CAN shake the world.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Model UN Conferences - A Path for An Equal Global Education

by Aika Okishige
Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant

On April 26, 2019, I assisted in organizing the 15th Global Classrooms DC Spring Model UN Conference. During a Model UN Conference, students act as delegates of countries in the United Nations and debate on topics through different agencies and committees of the real UN.

For the event this year, students were able to discuss five topics and corresponding committees: 
Ending Modern Slavery (International Organization for Migration) 
Creating Youth Employment Opportunities (International Labour Conference) 
Promoting Women in Peace and Security (UN Development Programme)
Developing Better Responses to Natural Disasters (UN Environment Programme)
Crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (UN Security Council)

During the conference, I observed how students prepared for the conference and how they approached international issues. What impressed me the most was how many of them confidently spoke on their own ideas in front of other students from different schools during the structured debates, how they negotiated with other students to act as supporters and authors for their idea, and how they intelligently debated with other students. 

It can be difficult for students to speak in front of others that they met just that day, critique their ideas, and work together to come up with solutions, all while adhering to a country’s background and policy other than the United States. However, they were able to debate issues in depth and drafted resolutions which are applicable to other countries and clearly stated how the resolutions are effective in improving the world.

Before getting involved in this conference, I thought global education generally requires mastering another language and understanding a different culture by living in foreign countries to develop global citizens. Therefore, middle- and upper-class students with the most access to resources are able to receive a global education; but as a result, global education is not for all students. 

However, since helping to organize this event, I realize that global education has more learning options other than language acquisition and going abroad. This Model UN Conference is an example of extremely effective global education. By engaging in Model UN Conferences, students can develop various skills, such as critical thinking, negotiation, and public speaking. These skills are essential elements to become an active global citizen. 

Moreover, Model UN Conferences are open to all students to provide opportunities to develop these skills in classrooms. In Japan, where I am originally from, Model UN Conferences are primarily for university students and a few high school students. Middle school students and primary school students usually do not have opportunities to participate in Model UN Conferences. Unlike Japan, American students have more opportunities to develop global awareness from a younger age. The earlier students have opportunities to be globally aware, the more they can develop their skills and abilities, which are required to be an active global citizen. 

By organizing this event, I understand that global education can be achieved not only by actually going abroad, but also by discussing in depth what is happening in the current world in classrooms. 

Furthermore, in this globalized world, global education should be available for all students from different backgrounds. Model UN Conferences trigger any students’ interests in different countries and allow them to think about how they can become agents to improve the world. I believe that is one of the essential goals of global education and the first step of being a good global citizen.

Monday, April 1, 2019

It’s Time To End FGM: All Girls Deserve The Right To Safety, Education, and Empowerment

By Jillian C. Newman, UN Population Fund Intern

My little sister is 14 years old. She is a freshman in high school and spends her weekends hanging out with her friends, watching movies and going to high school football games. Her biggest worry right now is her math class. If we lived in one of the 30 countries where Female Genital Mutilation is routinely performed on girls entering puberty, my sister would live a very different life.

When Kakenya Ntaiya was 14 years old growing up in rural Kenya, she was faced with ending her education and preparing for marriage. Kakenya negotiated with her father to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in order to not get married, as was the traditional practice in her community. She was allowed to continue in school and eventually came to the United States for college, eventually earning a Ph.D. She returned to her community and set up a school for girls, where parents have to make the pledge that they will not subject their daughters to FGM as a condition of enrolling.

Over 200 million girls have not been as lucky as Kakenya and have been subjected to FGM. Sixty-eight-million girls are at risk to be subjected to FGM by 2030 if we don’t speed up our efforts to end this harmful practice. FGM is an internationally recognized human rights violation, yet so many girls are still at risk around the world. FGM can cause health complications, birth complications, infertility, and even death. It’s a traditional cultural practice in many places with strong support by some communities.

Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of girls’ rights. It’s a harmful practice that can stop girls from reaching their full potential. To stop this, a coordinated effort all over the world by governments, local community leaders, and NGOs is needed. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is working toward eradicating FGM. The African Union also recently endorsed an initiative to end FGM. This is a positive step toward ending FGM, but also highlights how prevalent it is, especially in African countries.

Female Genital Mutilation is not a standalone issue, as Kakenya’s story shows. In many instances, FGM is in preparation for child marriage and an end to formal education. Globally, one in five girls is married before they reach the age of 18. In the least developed countries, that number rises to 40% of girls being married before age 18 and 12% before age 15. Child marriage threatens the future of young girls, puts their health at risk, and threatens their lives. Child marriage puts girls at risk of pregnancy as adolescents, which increases the possibility of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. This is the leading cause of death among older adolescent girls. Girls in child marriages tend to be less educated, as they are often pulled out of school, and they are more likely to live in rural areas. Many families living in poverty believe that child marriage is a way to safeguard for their daughter.

I had always known that FGM and child marriage occurred in the world, but it seemed very far removed from my life. When I began interning for UNFPA I realized that neither of these practices are as uncommon as I thought. UNFPA is working toward eradicating FGM and child marriage. All girls deserve to be able to reach their full potential and have their lives valued and respected. To protect the future of girls everywhere t is vital that both governments and individuals support the work of organizations like UNFPA.

My sister is lucky that we live in a place where girls’ lives are valued and viewed as equal to boys. Millions of girls around the world aren’t so lucky. I’m grateful for UNFPA making a difference and working for gender equality and the end of harmful practices around the world.

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Changing Society for the Better": Advocacy in the United States

By Aika Okishige

Being from Japan, I have never been involved with advocacy or lobbying before. The number of non-profit organizations in Japan is much lower than in the United States. Hence, Japanese people’s understanding of the work of non-profits is extremely low, and I was one of them.

The congressional visit on February 27 was my first experience with this type of work. From my Capitol Hill experience, I was able to learn the importance of advocacy and lobbying in order to change society, and of the work of NGOs in the United States.

During the congressional visit, we met two representatives’ staffs and briefly explained our work, issues, and made a request in a limited amount of time. My primary role was to briefly explain the work of Global Classrooms DC (GCDC) and invite them to our upcoming event, the annual Spring Model UN 2019 Conference at the U.S. Department of State and Pan American Health Organization. I explained that I am from Japan, and that I came to the United States to study education policy, and how I am pleased to learn the work of the UN and to engage in promoting GCDC to children in DC area.

Students can develop global citizenship, including leadership and teamwork skills, by discussing international issues with students from different backgrounds through Model UN. There is no Model UN Conference for primary and secondary school students in Japan. Thus, I emphasized that more students should have the opportunity to participate in this educational program, and the representatives’ support is essential for developing the GCDC.

One of the representatives’ staff was interested in facilitating global education and improving international issues in DC schools. We strongly recommended they come to the Model UN Conference in April to better understand our work.

From this visiting experience, I learned how important it is to share our work and the issues, as well as speak with the representative’s staff clearly and concisely. As congressional members receive various requests and hear many voices every day, making our claim strong and concise is an effective way to make our request to a representative. I understand that although each claim is important, it is difficult for representatives to listen and respond to all claims. Hence, consistent approaches are important for advocacy.

Ultimately, I learned that advocacy is an important way to improve society. Compared to the United States, I feel that people in Japan are being quiet and not trying as hard to change society themselves but relying solely on the government. Even though we have different policies and systems, I believe that concretely informing on the issues and asking for help from decision-makers are effective ways to improve society. There are many elements that decision-makers cannot see and could not know what is happening in the field.

The advocate has a key role to tell the facts and problems on behalf of citizens who are either silenced or do not have a platform to share their grievances or agenda.

I hope I can learn more about the concept and effective ways of conducting advocacy, and how advocacy is essential for changing society for the better.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

UNA-NCA High-Level Panel Discussion Addresses Migration from Central America

By Yulia Krylova and Kathie Bolognese, Members of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee.

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) convened a special panel discussion on Migration, Governance, and Sustainable Development in Central America on January 30th. It opened with introductory remarks by Sam Worthington, CEO, of the Washington, D.C.-based host organization InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations partnering to eliminate extreme poverty and vulnerability, and to strengthen human rights.

The recent influx of Central American migrants through the United States Southern border has generated a heated political debate leading to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 60,782 unauthorized migrants were apprehended at the Southwest border in December 2018, with 95 percent of them coming from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

To examine the specific challenges facing the Northern Triangle region and explore innovative solutions to migration from these countries, UNA-NCA invited a multi-stakeholder group of experts: the moderator Michael Camilleri (the Inter-American Dialogue) and the panelists – Juan Gonzalez (the Cohen Group), Jason Marczak (the Atlantic Council), and Claudia Escobar (the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University). UNA-NCA works closely with the policymaking community in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness and advocate for evidence-based approaches to tackle the current crisis.

Juan Gonzalez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, noted that the root causes of migrants fleeing the Northern Triangle are related to political instability, violence, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and corruption. The solution to these complicated problems requires multilateral initiatives where all regional governments share responsibilities for promoting a safer and more prosperous Central America. As an example, Mr. Gonzalez shared his personal experience in coordinating the launch of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (A4P) developed by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. To complement the A4P, the United States developed the U.S. Strategy for Central America, the ultimate objective of which is to protect American citizens by addressing the security, governance, and economic drivers of illegal immigration and illicit trafficking. As a part of this strategy, the United States has committed more than $2.6 billion in foreign assistance to Central American countries.

Jason Marczak noted that the United States has a broken immigration system, not an immigration crisis. The problem is that the current system cannot attract the kinds of migrants the country needs. He further underscored the importance of multi-stakeholder initiatives to address migration from Central America and shared his unique experience directing the Northern Triangle Task Force organized by the Atlantic Council and co-chaired by General John Kelly in 2017. This Task Force convened political, business and civil society leaders from the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala with the objective of promoting cooperation around the major challenges to achieve long-term prosperity in the region – sustainable economic development, the rule of law, and security. The resulting recommendations developed by the Northern Triangle Task Force should continue to serve as a blueprint for decreasing forced migration from this region by stabilizing and strengthening the economies and the rule of law in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals of Guatemala, Dr. Claudia Escobar emphasized that the rule of law and independence of the judiciary must remain a top priority for the public agenda in Guatemala and the entire region. She highlighted extraordinary levels of corruption in the Northern Triangle countries and the positive role that the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) played in strengthening the rule of law in the country. Established in 2006 by a bilateral agreement between the United Nations and the State of Guatemala, CICIG dedicated significant efforts to fighting corruption and organized crime that captured many governmental organizations and institutions. CICIG also served as a role model for the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) created by the Organization of American States in 2015.

The recent decision of Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales not to renew the CICIG’s mandate in 2019, however, demonstrates the serious challenges that anticorruption initiatives face bringing the corrupt political elites to justice. Establishing an independent judicial system is essential to solving social problems and creating better living conditions. Meeting all of these challenges requires the United States to show its continued support and commitment to CICIG and to implementing further institutional reforms in the Northern Triangle countries.

Tackling the migrant crisis will remain one of the top priorities for the national and international agenda in the coming years and, as such, UNA-NCA dedicated its first high-level panel discussion in 2019 to the urgent migration, governance, and sustainable development issues affecting Central America. Given its impact in the region and role as a world leader, the United States must share responsibility for addressing the underlying economic, political, and social factors that force Central American migrants to leave their home countries.

As noted by Sergio Martinez, Co-chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee in his closing remarks, “It is more about the specific actions and tools available to U.S. policymakers to develop new solutions and implement the existing commitments in the U.S. Strategy for Central America.” UNA-NCA welcomed this opportunity to raise awareness among the public about the major challenges in the Northern Triangle region and to remind U.S. policymakers that it is high time for new evidence-based approaches to migration and to strengthening U.S. engagement in Central America.