Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Road to 2030: Paving the Way to Transforming Our World

by Yulia Krylova, UNA-NCA Fellow

On February 17, UNA-NCA Fellows attended the 2017 Members’ Day at the UN Headquarters, which is one of the most important annual meetings for members of UNA-USA. We had a splendid opportunity to hear informative discussions by UN experts on the most pressing issues facing the UN, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The panel titled, “The Road to 2030: Paving the Way to Transforming Our World” focused on three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 5 Gender Equality, Goal 13 Climate Action, and Goal 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. This panel featured moderator Donna Rosa, President of the UNA-USA Northern New Jersey Chapter, and three panelists: Rachel Snow, Chief of the UN Population Fund; Juan Chebly, Head of the UN Environment Management Group; and John Romano, Coordinator of the Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network.

Beginning her presentation on Goal 5, Rachel Snow invoked a powerful image of the 10-year old girl for whom this goal is fundamental in terms of the success she will achieve in the course of the next 15 years. Her well-being in 2030 will be a crucial indicator of the success of the Sustainable Development Agenda. In Snow’s words, “Goal 5 underpins the success of all the SDGs because we are talking of whether or not 50% of the world’s population will be genuinely able to bring their intelligence, opportunities, and vibrant interest in making a better world.” Yet, there is much work to do to achieve this goal. Snow highlighted continuing inequality of opportunities for 10-year old girls globally. There are over 16 million girls in the world, with about 89% of them living in developing countries. In West Africa, 43% of girls will be married before the age of 18 and 16% before the age of 15. 1 in 3 of these girls will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. Snow pointed out that “very few of them will ever achieve the chance to be heads of corporate boards, full professors at universities, or artists exhibiting their works in the world’s finest galleries.” Concluding her presentation, she indicated that the 2030 Agenda is a 15-year window of opportunity for all of us to change the future of these 10-year old girls. And the first thing we can do for them is to ensure that child marriages are over by 2030 and women can participate in this world as full citizens.

In his presentation on Goal 16, John Romano highlighted three groundbreaking fundamental shifts that the 2030 Agenda brings to our understanding of international development. Most importantly, for the first time, the global community acknowledged that governance, peace, justice, and accountable institutions are interlinked with each other and with other SDGs. This gives us a unique opportunity to tackle all these issues at the same time in a holistic manner. Another profound shift in the 2030 Agenda is that it overcomes a traditional North-South divide in international development. It is a universal agenda targeting both developed and developing countries. To illustrate this point, Romano gave an example of the US that faces serious challenges in achieving Goal 16, such as improving access to justice, eliminating small-arms trade, and protecting freedom from violence.  Another tectonic shift in the 2030 Agenda is its people-centered orientation and focus on engaging citizens, holding governments accountable, and promoting fundamental freedoms and human rights. As a concluding remark, Romano noted that the 2030 Agenda is a huge opportunity for all of us to ensure that we all have, and demand from our governments, the same rights notwithstanding the countries we live in.

Introducing Goal 13, Juan Chebly drew attention of the audience to the abstract paintings on the walls of the UN General Assembly. In his words, “it is a real reflection of the work the UN is doing to transform into reality very abstract issues that have all kinds of different interpretations, such as human rights, development, and peace.” As for climate action, Chebly highlighted two issues. First, there has been relatively little progress on achieving Goal 13 so far. Second, global commitments in this sphere, including the Paris Agreement, will never become a reality unless we, as an international community, start “to put money where our mouth is.” Chebly suggested that the only approach to achieve Goal 13 is to act “out of compassion and love to our neighbor.” For example, developed countries produce most carbon emissions, yet, it is the most vulnerable populations in developing countries that suffer the greatest effects of pollution. Despite the difficulties, it is possible to achieve Goal 13 if we remember that the change begins within us. 

In the Q&A section, Donna Rosa raised a very important question about the greatest challenges in achieving the SDGs. As for gender equality, Snow indicated that extreme poverty, education, peace, and justice matter since they are directly related to child marriages, discrimination, and gender-based violence. Speaking about peace and justice, Romano named several issues, such as growing nationalism, populist movements, xenophobia, and shrinking civil space all around the world. Unfortunately, these disturbing trends are noticeable even in advanced economies. In terms of climate action, challenges highlighted by Chebly include the disconnectedness of people across the world, insufficient climate finance, and short-term mentality that precludes governments from assessing long-term environmental risks and damages.  To overcome these challenges, it is critically important for the UN community to make governments and people across the globe understand that the achievement of SDGs is a win-win situation for all of us, men and women, North and South countries, advanced economies and emerging markets. In this respect, the greatest advantage of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development is that it insures that there are no losers and we all are winners.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016): Can we make the global compact happen?

By Monzima Haque, UNA-NCA Fellow (2017)

         The issue of refugees and migrants has remained a politically charged subject matter for a long time. The sensitivities that surround this topic have played an enormous role in shaping the political discourse and direction of the recent American and European elections. On one side, liberals see the potentials of inclusiveness and cultural progress blended in the expertise that migrants bring along; while the conservatives highlight the risks associated with it citing instances of insecurity and terrorism. In an era of xenophobia, hate speech and negative media regarding refugees and migrants, what can be done to protect the rights of the people who are citizens of the same world we live in? What are our responsibilities as global citizens in this post-truth world?

According to the United Nations refugee agency, at least 3,800 migrants perished in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 in an attempt to reach Europe. These are not mere statistics but a reflection of how we think and act. As global citizens of the post-truth world, it is our responsibility to confront the negative narrative about migration. The UN may not be able to force member states to abide by their commitments, but citizens have the power to shape policy makers’ opinions and preferences. It is at our end to determine what world we want to live in and employ our intellect and resources to make it better.

On the sidelines of a vibrant Members’ Day at the UN headquarters in New York, the 2017 UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows engaged in an enlightening discussion with Kellie- Shandra OGNIMBA from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The discussion complements the past session with Tom Bradley, member of the Board of Directors of UNA-NCA and Vice President of Development, who shared the traumatic experiences of Syrian refugee children and women. One of the key arguments that came up during the past conversation was the lack of consensus on the issue of migrants’ rights and the understanding that there is more work to be done. In line with that argument, the young professionals learned about the latest landmark New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016) and discussed its potential to address the complications that surround the subject of migration in today’s changing context.

At the UN Summit on September 19, 2016, member states expressed their commitment to the protection of the rights and responsibilities of refugees and migrants. It was certainly a global expression of political will to create a platform of conceptualizing the protection of refugees and migrants as member states’ obligation. As noted by Ms. Kellie, from a human rights perspective, this declaration is a practical tool for a global compact on migration where member states have come together to develop a better approach to deal with the issue of migration. The declaration provides for two compacts: Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The New York Declaration is, therefore, a human rights instrument that contains tangible plans and timelines to achieve meaningful global compact to protect the lives of refugees and migrants based on common principles.

While this is certainly a historic step to create consensus surrounding the rights of refugees and migrants and to systematize the process of response, it is also likely to encounter challenges.  It is based on normative commitment rather than a legally binding agreement. The draft resolution and modalities have yet to travel a long way before reaching the final global compact. Undoubtedly, this still needs the expression of determination to be continually displayed. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Combating Global Pollution Needs Clean Energy and Efforts on All Levels

By Yi Ren, UNA-NCA Programme Assistant



On February 9, the UN Environment Programme’s North America Office held a half-day event entitled Towards the UN Environment Assembly: Combating Global Pollution, addressing actions being taken to combat pollution at the national, state and local levels, as well as the impact of pollution on human health and the environment.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme delivered the keynote address and highlighted that more than a quarter of annual global deaths are attributed to environmental degradation. Air pollution is a significant factor and 7 million people die from it each year, and the damage extends beyond individuals’ health to economic development in developing countries. For example, a large number of factories and construction sites in Beijing are forced to shut down temporarily in order to reduce the pollution, and the airport in Dubai has to close for days because of poor visibility. This puts employees out of work and temporarily hinders the local economy. The implications of pollution are widely agreed upon and Thiaw emphasized the importance of clean energy as a solution.

Pollution has other profound implications on our safety and social aspects of life as well. Fortunately, these observations (of impact on health, safety, economic development) are agreed upon broadly and the appropriate actions can be taken. On the topic of energy, clean energy can help us reduce pollution, including solar energy.  He took Africa as an example. Currently, three fourths of Africans do not have access to reliable energy but it is anticipated that this will change at the end of this century. Instead of traditional energy sources like coal, if clean energy like solar can be provided with a lower price with the help of technology development, the air pollution situation in Beijing and Delhi today would not be repeated in Nairobi, Lagos or other African cities in the future.

Two enlightening panel discussions followed, composed of distinguished representatives from government, civil society and the private sector. The first panel, entitled The Impact of Pollution on Human Health and the Environment, consisted of Tommy Wells, Director of D.C. Department of Energy and Environment; Radha Muthiah, CEO of Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves; and Terry Yosie, President and CEO of the World Environment Center. Tommy Wells talked about managing polluted rivers, which is a universal problem. He believes that a strong public–private partnership is an effective way to clean up contaminated water. Radha Muthiah illustrated that indoor pollution, in the form of smoke from burning traditional energy, causes a variety of diseases and is not only a rural problem but also an urban one. She said that indoor pollution is closely correlated to outdoor pollution with as much as 30 percent of outdoor pollution in India coming from indoor pollution such as cooking and heating. Terry Yosie pointed out that combating global pollution should be linked to sustainable development more closely and that the private sector could play an essential role in reducing pollution globally.

The second panel discussion focused on Addressing Pollution at the International, Federal, State and Local Levels. Panelists included John Matuszak, Senior Policy Advisor of U.S. Department of State; Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Executive Director of the Environmental Council of States; and Elgie Holstein, Senior Director for Strategic Planning of the Environmental Defense Fund. They discussed the truly universal nature of environmental pollution as a global issue.  Tackling this problem and reducing the implications of pollution require global efforts from the local to international levels.

The event ended with the election of the North American Regional Major Groups and Stakeholders Representative, who will share the civil society perspective at the third session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-3). UNEA-3 will convene environmental leaders in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2017 to address the serious global pollution threat.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The U.N. Security Council: Finding Ways of Reform Forward

By Jeanne Choquehuanca, UNA-NCA Fellow



Formed after World War II, the United Nations Security Council gave permanent membership to the Allied Powers of the U.S., Russia (formerly U.S.S.R.), China, the U.K., and France. The permanent membership of these five nation states (P5) has given them several special privileges, such as the ability to possess nuclear weapons, significant influence over other member states, and the power to veto any resolution put forward to the 15-member Security Council. This last privilege is increasingly controversial, because it has often enabled a single P5 member state to effectively disable the majority will to act on issues at hand. For instance, many have pointed to Russia’s blanket use of its veto as debilitating the Security Council from effective intervention in Syria and ultimately enabling greater escalation of the humanitarian crisis there.  

The makeup of the Security Council, and P5 in particular, has also come under scrutiny given its poor global representation and tendency to aggravate the global north-south divide. While the current makeup of the P5 is premised on those countries’ regional prowess and assumed greater capacity and willingness to contribute the maintenance of international peace and security, this capacity and will has nonetheless been undercut by perceived conflicts of national interest and foreign policy. Such conflicts have frequently paralyzed the Security Council and wider U.N.’s ability to act effectively on important issues. Overall U.N. action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, has been constrained by the U.S.’s historically unwavering defense of Israeli interests. Since 1946, the U.S. has vetoed more than 30 resolutions related to quelling military aggressions, several calling on Israel to halt military operations in Palestinian occupied territories. This, in part, is what made the Security Council’s recent passing of Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories as illegal so remarkable. After decades of consistent vetoes blocking similar resolutions, the U.S. abstained from this vote, allowing for its passage.

Given the challenges noted above, the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows had the privilege this past week of engaging in a robust discussion of Security Council reform led by UNA-NCA President Ambassador Donald T Bliss (ret). Foremost on our minds was the ever revolving challenge of getting past politics in order to fulfill the council’s responsibility of maintaining international peace and security. A long running critique of the Security Council is that its membership is unrepresentative of contemporary global demographic and geopolitical realities. There is currently no permanent representation of Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East, and the P5 is made up of four states of the generally developed global north and a single state from generally “developing” global south country. The obvious recommendation is thus to reform the council’s permanent membership to be reflective of the world served. However, while a variety of proposals have been put forward over the past several decades, none have gained real political traction. And given the political and bureaucratic process of such change, many experts venture that such reform will be slow to come.

Nevertheless, member states with less influence have become increasingly creative over the years and have crafted different means for accessing the Security Council and holding it accountable to wider interests. Our readings and discussion led us to examine methods such as the Arria Formula, developed by Former Venezuela U.N. Ambassador Diego Arria, which enabled informal consultations of the Security Council by NGOs and other private parties. Having encouraged that this method not be formalized, Arria emphasized the importance of experimentation on smaller scales that could lead to longer-term traditions and codes. Similarly, Canada’s Robert Fowler elevated the practice of engaging expert panels to a new level when their sanctions review helped expose government exploitation of the diamond mining industry. Another voluntary, non-formalized method for increasing efficiency and accountability in the security council is the enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect framework through a mechanism such as the Responsibility Not To Veto proposed in 2010 by Citizens for Global Solutions. This call to voluntarily suspend veto rights during cases of mass atrocity crimes has been echoed several times since, with nearly 50 speakers calling for it in 2013, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein again appealing to the P5 to limit their use of vetoes in October of 2016. The increased scrutiny of the use of veto power has also translated to an increased response to and treatment of those member states in other arenas of the U.N. system. Shortly after Zeid’s appeal, Russia was voted off the U.N. Human Rights Council, which may be seen as repercussion for its disabling the Security Council from taking action in Syria and provide warning to the P5 member states in the future. While certainly changes can and should be made in order for the U.N. engine to run more smoothly, given the current imbalance of power and bureaucracy entrenched in the large, diverse global system that is the U.N., these less formal and decentralized strategies may prove more practical and effective in the interim.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Syrian Refugees: Individuals Facing Unique International Challenges


By Stephanie Asher, UNA-NCA Fellow

Though it has roots in many events prior, the current and devastating conflict in Syria is generally dated back to 2011 when the Assad regime ordered a crackdown on government protests. The complete breakdown of Syria and the devastation that has since occurred could not have been anticipated—in the past six years, 5-6 million Syrian refugees have fled abroad while over 6.5 million are internally displaced people, facing much of the same human rights and public health issues as refugees without the protections of international law.

Recently, the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows discussed counter-terrorism strategies with Eric Rosand, the Director of the Prevention Project and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. It is only appropriate, then, that this past week we met with Tom Bradley, member of the Board of Directors of UNA-NCA and Vice President of Development, who discussed the personal stories of Syrian refugees and why they do not pose a terrorist threat. Mr. Bradley traveled to Jordan in August 2016 as part of a George Mason University study-abroad course focused on service-learning and hearing the stories of these refugees to understand them on a personal level. Mr. Bradley showed us pictures of the young children he worked with in the day centers for women and children staffed and attended by Syrian refugees, with smiling faces painted by the master’s students. The Syrian refugee children, though they have suffered traumatic experiences, are still hopeful and eager to learn. Two of the children, on separate occasions, drew signs on Mr. Bradley in paint to express their love and gratitude for his visit. In Mr. Bradley’s words, “As you can see, these are not Skittles and they’re not terrorists. They’re people who are trying to escape war because it has either destroyed their homes or it’s come too close to home for them to remain.”

The UNA-NCA graduate fellows used this past session to discuss the challenges faced by the Syrian refugees, such as societal integration, access to resources (both materials and services), and mental health. We discussed how the protections and assistance afforded refugees, Syrians refugees in particular, has come to be a topic of massive debate in the United States and the rest of the world. Indeed, the recent Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” signed by President Donald J. Trump on January 27, 2017 has introduced an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees entering the United States in the name of counter-terrorism. The Executive Order also targets anyone arriving from six other majority-Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) with a 90-day visa suspension—even though citizens of these countries have not been responsible for the most recent attacks in the US. Backlash has quickly grown against President Trump’s controversial Executive Order both nationally and internationally. Americans rapidly protested the Executive Order in major cities and airports across the nation, and the Executive Order is currently being debated in court.

In early February the newly confirmed Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, joined international critics of the ban by calling for the measure suspending refugee resettlement to be lifted. During his speech, Mr. Guterres stated, “In my opinion, the US policy is not the way […] to best protect the US or any other country, in relation to the serious concerns that exist about the possibility of terrorist infiltration. I don’t think this is the effective way to do so and I think these measures should be removed sooner rather than later.”

By the end of the session, the UNA-NCA graduate fellows worked to answer questions proposed by Mr. Bradley on how to achieve peace in Syria and what advice we would give Secretary-General Guterres regarding refugees. Our group referred back to the elucidating piece by Melissa G. Dalton in chapter 10 of the Global Forecast 2017 published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled What Options Do We Have In Syria? as well as discussed communication and funding strategies available to address the Syrian refugee situation. Throughout our discussion, one thing was clear—there’s more work to be done.