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Water, Water, Everywhere… But For How Long?

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unwater.org

Happy Biodiversity Day!

That’s right, it’s that time of year again when we remind ourselves about the importance of conserving our biodiversity on this great planet. This year the focus is on water and the vital role it plays in biodiversity. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in an address yesterday “Biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides are central to achieving the vision of a water secure world. […] Where once the focus was on trade-offs between water use and biodiversity, today we are coming to understand how biodiversity and water security are mutually reinforcing.”

As I am sure most of you are asking yourselves what is biodiversity and why is it so important to us as individuals and as a planet? The basic answer is that biodiversity is the variety of life and the patterns they form. Areas like the rainforest or coral reefs have high biodiversity because there are so many different species all living in the same place, and these animals are different than those who live in the desert or the arctic. Each species plays a vital role in the life of all the other species they interact with. The age-old term, and famous song, that relates to biodiversity is the Circle of Life; what effects one organism will have a ripple effect on the others and thus will impact biodiversity.

Another way of looking at the term biodiversity it is the fruit of billions of years of evolution shaped by natural process and influenced by humans.

What really is the value of having such a large amount of biodiversity in the world? Well, our own self-interest is to protect and conserve resources since we need it to survive. These biological resources are the pillars of which civilizations are formed. Its loss would threaten our food supply and industries such as agriculture and the cosmetic industry. Some facts about biodiversity and the effects it has on people:

·         70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on strong biodiversity for their survival and wellbeing

·         The average abundance of species is declining — there has been a reported 40% loss between 1970 and 2000.

·         Unsustainable consumption continues as demand for resources worldwide exceeds the biological capacity of the Earth by about 20%.

Sustainable development, water and biodiversity should be forefront in the international community’s mind, says Ban rttc.org

This year’s theme for Biodiversity Day is Water, which correlates with 2013 being the Year of Water Cooperation. After all nearly 2/3 of the planet is covered in water. That being said, there is only three percent that is freshwater and only one percent of that is in liquid form suitable for drinking. Water is becoming scarcer as demands outstrips supply, and most of what little water is left fails to meet the minimum requirements for quality.  In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address for today, he noted that “we live in an increasingly water insecure world where demand often outstrips supply and where water quality often fails to meet minimum standards. Under current trends, future demands for water will not be met.”

At the World Economic Forum 2013, Global Risk reported that water supply is second only to major financial failure. Water is so important that without it food production is unimaginable. Accounting for approximately 70% of global water usage, agriculture remains the greatest single demand on water and the biggest polluter of watercourses. Water demands for agriculture and the impacts agriculture can have on water quality are key management issues in maintaining both food and water security.

“I Feel Happy Too” by Fairuz Othman, Creative Commons License. un.org

“I Feel Happy Too” by Fairuz Othman, Creative Commons License. un.org

With such an important resource being threatened, the question is – what are people doing to combat the threat? One convention that has been formed to deal with this issue was the Convention on Biological Diversity, a legally binding treaty with three goals, conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.  The 193 members feel that the ecosystem, species and genetic resources should be used for the benefit of humans, but in a way that does not lead to a decline in biodiversity.

evergreen.edu

Ways we can help preserve this vital resource can be very simple – as simple as just making sure we’re not dumping anything harmful into large water bodies, or cutting back on consumption in order to conserve water locally. The key water management philosophy should be: reduce, recycle and treat before disposal.

Examples of significant opportunities to use ecosystems to manage water include:

  • improving the health of soils and land cover in farming landscapes to simultaneously achieve water security for food security and reduce off-farm impacts, including reducing water use, pollution, erosion and landslides;
  • integrating natural infrastructure approaches into urban water management to achieve sustainable and secure cities, wetlands, floodplains, coastal marshes and estuaries, to increase resilience to natural disasters;
  • managed landscapes, such as forests, to sustain drinking water supplies;
  • reducing the risks from, and severity of, floods and drought

Desertification is a real threat in today’s world britannica.com

Conserving or restoring ecosystems to manage water also delivers significant co-benefits. For example: wetlands can help regulate water but can also support a significant amount of fishery practices; restoring soils can help achieve more productive agriculture and sustainable food security; forests provide timber and non-timber resources and habitat for pollinators and wildlife; improved landscapes provide significant recreational and cultural values. These benefits should be added to water-related benefits when considering returns on investments in water related infrastructure.

Now that we have discussed the importance of biodiversity and the role played by water, we all can do our part in trying to conserve it – not only for us but for future generations so that they get to enjoy the benefits of having a diverse ecosystem.

Now, what are you doing to support water conservation? How about biodiversity? What are you motivated to do?

Finding Optimism After Rio+20

Although more than 50,000 participants have left Rio de Janeiro, the buzz surrounding Rio+20 remains. The conference, which marked the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, concluded on June 22, with responses already hitting the internet before the jets left the tarmac.

20 years ago in Rio delegates adopted Agenda 21 and this year hopes were that through a combination of high-level proceedings and hundreds of smaller side events inspiration would be ignited and commitment to action would follow. Unfortunately, some are disappointed with the outcome of Rio+20, particularly from formal meetings. However, many are finding perspective in writing about the conference and are encouraging bloggers and reporters not to jump to conclusions. In fact, one particularly poignant point of reflection is how Rio’s predecessor in 1992 was initially met with criticism but is now lauded for its achievements in bringing the world together to have an important conversation.

Bob Skinner of the UN Foundation’s New York office urges that we should continue to see this as a step forward, saying that nations did indeed come together to create a document and that in itself is a starting point which can begin to give direction to move forward. Fiona Macleod of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian wrote, “The Rio+20 conference may not have produced an Earth-saving global deal but it succeeded in keeping global development at the top of the agenda of the world’s leaders.”

Furthermore,  Macleod opines that Rio+20 was not expected to generate the same landmark decisions we saw in 1992 but rather that the focus this year was on bringing together participants from every corner of the globe and from various sectors to engage in dialogue about the environment’s most pressing issues. This was certainly achieved: decision-makers from every sector (as well as global citizens who were more active than ever on social media platforms!) all came together in an impressive, unprecedented way.

A breakdown of Rio’s “The Future We Want” document.

In addition to high-level meetings and roundtables, 500+ side events at Rio+20 offered a promise of real progress. Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in an opinion piece for CNN that a “lack of political leadership was countered by the incredible vitality, determination, and commitment of civil society.” Outside of the scope of governing bodies, corporations, NGOs, and non-profits, identified action-steps to take in order to address environmental crises. Microsoft, for example, proposed an internal carbon fee on its operations in more than 100 countries; they hope to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2013.

Seeing actors from all sectors, public, private, not-for-profit, and civil society, work together and represent the next generation of environmental leaders is a positive note of the conference. It shows that key players acknowledge the importance of the multilateral, multinational cooperation that needs to take place in order to catalyze real change. Mary Robinson writes, “the legacy of Rio+20 will not just be the text of the Declaration.  Hopefully it will be the mobilization of people to build the future they desire.”

This brings us back to our original question and the theme of Rio+20, “The Future We Want”. In light of dissatisfaction from many concerning the Earth Summit, now is the time to voice our opinions and act locally to show our commitment as global citizens! We have been asked about the future we want and it is our duty to answer.

So, what can you do?!

Take social media by storm, express your opinions online or in your local newspaper, write to editors or government officials! Spread the good word – check out The Guardian’s article on 5 Reasons to Be Cheery About Rio+20 and pass it on!  And make some easy changes to your lifestyle that can benefit our environment. These are just a few suggestions that can make a big impact.

-Jessica P

Rio+20 images were used from The Interdependent’s photo diary.

What Future Do You Want?: Rio+20 Kicks-Off in Brazil

Today thousands of participants, including world leaders, CEOs, and global citizens alike are convening in Rio de Janeiro for Rio +20, also known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the conference in Brazil and is an opportunity for us to reflect on the strides we have made in supporting our environment as well as what lies ahead in the future of sustainable development. In 1992, Earth Summit in Rio concluded with an adoption of Agenda 21, a framework for rethinking economic development; this year the UN hopes to take it further by bringing together institutions to agree on measures that promote development and help to alleviate poverty in the most sustainable ways.

The emphasis of the conference, which takes place from June 20 through 22, is “the future we want”; not only are we urging corporations, NGOs, and the everyday citizen to be more conscious of our environment today but we also need to look forward to future generations. “The Future We Want” taps into two main focuses of the Conference on Sustainable Development: green economies and international coordination. Rio+20 is also focusing on 7 key global environmental issues: jobs, energy, cities, food, oceans, water, disasters.

Essentially, how can we act together to establish a greener path for development, today, tomorrow, and in the long-run? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement on YouTube last week expressing the future he wants? The Secretary-General’s statement promotes us to ask ourselves, “What is the future we want?”, and more importantly “How does Rio+20 factor into that?”

In a recent Guardian article, a UN official stated, “We want there to be more ambition so that it actually leads to sustainable development. At the moment, there is a risk that instead of the future we want, we will go back to the past we had.” Rio+20 serves as a forum for leaders from diverse backgrounds and sectors to come together and discuss ways in which we can move forward rather than backward.

Texts and documents have already been drafted through which corporations and groups pledge to make efforts to protect the environment. Yesterday 190 delegates drafted an agreement for approval on Friday, Rio+20’s last day, which addressed fossil fuel use, ocean protection, and support for renewable energy. The draft text is fittingly titled “The Future We Want” and delegates hope for it to act as a road map for businesses and policy makers in all areas.

Today the conference opens up with statements from Ban Ki-moon as well as Secretary-General of the conference both establishing their hopes for Rio+20 over the next few days and beyond.  High level round table discussions will take place in addition to countless side events throughout Rio de Janeiro. For forum and event schedules check out the take a look at the conference page.

Although Rio is nearly 5,000 miles from Boston, you don’t have to feel far away from the action.  Rio+20’s website has constant updates, and the Guardian’s Jo Confino and Adam Vaughan are detailing their experiences through daily diaries and live blogs. Rio+20’s webpage has an entire section dedicated to how you can be engaged and Rio+Social continues to be an easy way to be vocal.  Rio+Social, a social media conference and live stream which took place on June 19 let global citizens voice their opinions and express what they hope Rio+20 will accomplish. Although the live stream has passed, social media fans can still be involved by tweeting about sustainability using hash tags such as #rioplussocial or #rioplusfood, or going to Rio+Social on Twitter and Facebook. Liking and following UNA-GB on both Twitter and Facebook is also a great way to stay looped in!

Stay tuned for our post-conference reflection and analysis.  Additionally, we are continuing to answer the question about what is the future we want and are working towards here at UNA-GB, beyond Rio+20, and we hope you continue to join us.  While there’s a lot of ways to get involved, one exciting area we are growing here in Boston is our engagement around sustainable and responsible efforts of Boston and Massachusetts corporations.  Earlier this month, we teamed up with John Hancock Financial as they received their LEED Platinum certification for environmentally conscious design and joined some of their staff on a beach clean-up for World Environment Day. Additionally, at our annual United Nations Day Luncheon in October, we acknowledge several companies and universities that are signed onto the United Nations Global CompactPrinciples for Responsible Investment, and and the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) with our corporate honor roll. Not only do we gladly shine a light on the valuable efforts these institutions are making but we also hope to inspire other local companies to follow suit.  Stay tuned on ways to engage more in these efforts!

-Jessica P

6,994,726,950 and counting: Jane Roberts on “Women, Population, and the MDGs.”

Since the human race began, women have delivered for society.  It is time now for the world to deliver for women.” -The Lancet

With the world’s population set to hit 7 billion by the end of this month (6,994,726,950   was the most recent population count at the time of this posting – check out the current world’s population counter here) our Women’s Forum event “Women, Population, and the MDGs” , was a conversation that is more timely than ever!  The luncheon roundtable event featuring Jane Roberts was held on October 6th to a packed room of 60 attendees during a weekday noon.

Jane Roberts captivating the audience.

Jane Roberts is a grassroots advocate who exemplifies the power of taking a single action and making a huge difference. She is the co-founder, with Lois Abraham, of the 34 Million Friends of the UNFPA project. Her contributions in the fields of population, development, the environment, and the human rights of women and girls have led to her recognition in 2003 by Ms. Magazine as one of their Women of the Year. In 2004, Women’s eNews selected her as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Along with Lois Abraham, Ms. Roberts was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the 1000 Peace Women Project under the patronage of UNESCO in 2005. In the same year, she published her first book 34 Million Friends of the Women of the World.

Ms. Roberts has traveled widely, and given public talks around the country in addition to extensive TV and radio interviews. In 2008, Ms. Roberts was named a Purpose Prize Fellow by Civic Ventures. She received the Global Citizenship Award from the United Nations Association of Southern California in 2009. In the same year, Jane Roberts and her 34 Million Friends of the UNFPA project were featured in the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Jane finished her speech with her radical grassroots proposal,

Jane Roberts (center) with UNA-GB, JSI, and Pathfinder International staff.

When the world takes care of women, women take care of the world,”

leaving just enough time for our engaged audience to ask a few questions, focused on how to change the culture on the ground, how to engage men in the conversation, and what we can do to get engaged.

One direct way to get involved is to become one of Jane Robert’s 34 Million Friends of the women of the world. Visit her site, and do your part today!

The call to action also included ways you can support UNA-GB’s work, including our current 66 for 66 campaign that is geared towards educating the next generation of global leaders to tackle the pervasive problem of gender inequality.  Find out more here: http://www.crowdrise.com/unday2011/fundraiser/unitednationsassocia1
On October 24, 100 Boston area middle and high school youth will convene at the State House, stepping into the shoes of ambassadors from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, South Korea and Mali to debate solutions to the question: Why do global inequalities for women in education and employment persist and what can be done about it?
Help us provide this opportunity FREE OF COST to all the youth and donate now here: http://www.crowdrise.com/unday2011/fundraiser/unitednationsassocia1

Many Thanks as well to our two fabulous co-sponsors, JSI and Pathfinder International!

John Snow, Inc., and its nonprofit affiliate JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., are public health research and consulting firms dedicated to improving the health of individuals and communities throughout the world. JSI builds local capacity to address critical health problems, collaborating with local partners to assist countries, governments, communities, families, and individuals to develop their skills and identify solutions that meet their public health needs. JSI has implemented projects in 104 countries, and currently operates from eight U.S. and 81 international offices, with more than 500 U.S.-based staff, and 1,500 host country national field-based staff.  Learn more here!  

Pathfinder International’s mission is to ensure that people everywhere have the right and opportunity to live a healthy sexual and reproductive life. In more than 25 countries, Pathfinder provides women, men, and adolescents with a range of quality health services—from contraception and maternal care to HIV prevention and AIDS care and treatment. Pathfinder strives to strengthen access to family planning, ensure availability of safe abortion services, advocate for sound reproductive health policies, and, through all of our work, improve the rights and lives of the people we serve.  Learn more here!

-Jen J

Get Your Green On!

After a long cold winter here in Boston and with a much-needed boost of warm weather marking the promise of summer just around the corner, there’s no better time to consider how we can positively impact our surroundings!  This Sunday June 5th is World Environment Day, coordinated by the United Nations’ Environment Programme, and is a great opportunity to get involved in a variety of different activities to help our planet.

World Environment Day started in 1972 and has grown to be an important environmental action supported by the United Nations for people in the world to reunite on this day for the environment. This year the Global Host of World Environment Day 2011 in India, focusing on forest development called “Forests: Nature at Your Service” and its continued support as a nation of global sustainable living.

Whether you’re in India or around the world, there is plenty going on. From the Biofestival 2011 concert in Costa Rica to the biodiversity press conference in Canada to a music concert in Belgium, to beach-cleaning and tree-planting in Bahrain, there are so many ways to get involved all around the world.  All of these activities link back to the efforts of the UN’s Millennium Development Goal #7, which focuses on educating countries about the benefits of sustainable development and use of resources in protecting the environment.  As we work to educate as many people as possible about protecting our environment on the microlevel, the UN is working on the macrolevel with governments to be environmentally sustainable.  Just yesterday, UN officials discussed having political representatives get involved in working towards a globally “green economy” during a debate on the General Assembly floor.  They discussed both the importance and the challenges involved in making government officials aware of the importance of the environment and sustainability.  Included in discussions was the point that while developed countries have the technology to make a difference, they still need political and social support in order to have an impact.

Some high-profile celebrities are looking to increase the political and social support: UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors’ Gisele Bundchen and Don Cheadle are competing in the WED Challenge to get as many people to support  World Environment Day, and environmental sustainability as possible. For each person that votes for either of them, a tree will be planted to support this year’s focus on forest development and support.

Do you want to get involved locally? You can choose to walk instead of driving or go as far as organizing clean-up activities in your communities. Hold a forest or river clean-up with your local community. Educate your community about how endangered species rely on having a healthy environment to live in or create a habitat for an endangered species by planting trees, praire grasses or a butterfly gardenAny ideas you may have, you can register online register online and officially become a part of the activities supported for World Environment Day.  If nothing else, you should spend the day enjoying the nature around you – for fellow Bostonians, it’s a great excuse to see the swan boats in the Boston Common, walk along the Charles River, or sit among the shade in the Arnold Arboretum.

Make sure your involvement doesn’t just end after this weekend too!  Another way to stay involved on a more long-term level is to join local organizations that have environmental missions.  Some options in the Boston area include the  Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM), Green Corps (Program) and Boston Youth Environmental Network. Celebrate the great beauty of your environment this weekend, and take action, whether globally or locally in any way you can to make sure that environment is maintained for years -and generations! – to come.  It’s up to each of us to ensure a plentiful and rich future for our planet.

-Cara

A Day as a Refugee: Middle School Simulation

Today, more than 30 million people around the world have been displaced due to war and violence, making nearly 10 million children refugees. As previously blogged about, countries facing an inordinate amount of displaced persons today include Somalia, Colombia, Palestine, Haiti, and Iraq.

On Monday, April 11th, the Education Department of UNA-GB guided a group of participating middle school students from the Greater Boston area through the “Torn from Home: My Life as a Refugee” exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum. The special event was hosted in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees. The traveling exhibition provided an interactive second-hand look at the plight of refugees, particularly the children supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The 6th and 7th grade students from Josiah Quincy Upper School came highly prepared for the day’s simulation – when Rachel Farkas, the Asia Program Associate at Boston Children’s Museum,  sat down to give a brief introduction of the exhibition, they enthusiastically differentiated between refugees, evacuees, and environmentally displaced people!

To simulate the camp experience, the students were divided into 4 smaller groups: registration, medical, education and home. Through a series of inspiring hands on activities and guided questions from UNA-GB staff, students were able to address a myriad of complicated issues afflicting refugees. Upon ‘registration’, the students were issued individual identification bracelets and compared the food rations of a camp with their diets. In the medical center, they examined malnutrition, disease prevention, water and sanitation. While crammed into a tent, students discussed “What is home?” and “What does home mean to you?”. After exploring the exhibition, they gathered on the benches and mats of the minimalist school area to discuss the opportunities education presents to children in refugee camps and to share what each group had learned from the exhibit.

That afternoon, the students represented different countries associated with the UNHCR. They used their newfound knowledge from the exhibit to fuel a debate of the international issue of Environmentally Displaced People. The success of the day was evident due to the energetic debate amongst the students and the variety of resolutions drafted. To grasp the impact of Model UN simulation, read or watch personal feedback from the students themselves.