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Infographics: financing the end of extreme poverty 2019

ODI - 16. September 2019 - 0:00
These graphs reveal the levels of financing needed from countries and donors to end extreme poverty by 2030.
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Disaster risk reduction in conflict contexts: an agenda for action

ODI - 16. September 2019 - 0:00
This synthesis report explores how to deliver disaster risk reduction in contexts of violence, conflict and fragility in a way that 'leaves no one behind'.
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Youth Forward | Newsletter

ODI - 16. September 2019 - 0:00
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Women’s empowerment, gender equality and social protection: where next?

ODI - 16. September 2019 - 0:00
Discussing the critical role of social protection policies and systems in promoting gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment.
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Guterres calls for ‘maximum restraint’ following drone assault on key Saudi oil facility

UN ECOSOC - 15. September 2019 - 22:26
The UN Secretary-General appealed on Sunday for “maximum restraint" following a wave of drone attacks claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen, against a huge Saudi Arabian State-owned Armco petroleum processing facility, which threatens to disrupt global oil supplies. 
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Stellungnahme der Treaty Alliance Deutschland zum neuen Entwurf für ein verbindliches UN-Abkommen zu Wirtschaft und Menschenrechten

Global Policy Forum - 14. September 2019 - 16:38

Auf Grundlage intensiver Konsultationen mit Regierungen, Wissenschaft und Zivilgesellschaft hat der ecuadorianische Vorsitzende Emilio Rafael Izquierdo Miño im Juli 2019 einen konsolidierten Entwurf eines UN-Abkommens zu Wirtschaft und Menschenrechte veröffentlicht („Revised Draft“). Während der fünften Tagung der UN-Arbeitsgruppe vom 14. bis 18. Oktober 2019 in Genf wird dieser die Grundlage für „substantielle Verhandlungen“ sein. Die Treaty Alliance Deutschland bezieht in einem neuen Positionspapier Stellung zum neuen Entwurf.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

UNESCO food and culture forum dishes up fresh serving of SDGs

UN #SDG News - 13. September 2019 - 23:20
Strengthening cultural heritage and culture-related food practices boosts social inclusion, economic development and well-being, the UN’s deputy culture chief told participants at the UNESCO agency’s World Forum on the matter, on Friday.
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Friday’s Daily Brief: 12 million may miss school, Bangladesh and Mali updates, Kenya’s malaria vaccine, land degradation pact

UN #SDG News - 13. September 2019 - 22:21
A recap of Friday’s top stories: 12 million children may never go to school; Monsoon rains crush Rohingya shelters; 3.9 million Malians in need of humanitarian aid; Kenya launches malaria vaccine; and agreement made to neutralize land degradation.
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Delhi Declaration: Countries agree to make ‘land degradation neutrality’ by 2030, a national target for action

UN ECOSOC - 13. September 2019 - 21:43
A major UN conference on fighting desertification agreed on Friday to make the Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving “land degradation neutrality” (LDN), a national target for action.
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There’s a Scourge of Gender Based Violence in South Africa, and Women Are Fighting Back

UN Dispatch - 13. September 2019 - 18:12

When Uyinene Mrwetyana went missing on 24 August 2019, her family and friends started a nationwide campaign to find her and bring her home. They put up posters. They begged the South African Police Service (SAPS) to launch an investigation. #BringNeneHome was tweeted and retweeted across the country.

When the news broke that a male employee of the country’s postal service raped and murdered Mrwetyana in a post office, South Africans were stunned, horrified, and angry. Jesse Hess, also a 19 year old student, was murdered in her home. Leighandre Jegels, a boxing champion, was shot and killed by her former partner. Women’s Month, meant to commemorate the women who marched against pass laws in apartheid South Africa, ended with the murders of young women at the hands of men.

Although South Africa’s murder rate has dropped since 2000, it still has one of the highest murder rates for women in the world.

2018 report shows that almost 69% of victims of sexual offenses in South Africa are women. In 2017, at least half of murdered women were killed by a partner.

These statistics, and the murders of Hess, Mrwetyana and Jegels are a painful reminder that gender-based violence is prevalent in South African society, with seemingly no government action and political will to protect the lives of women.

There have been calls for government intervention in the past. Students protested against rape culture and sexual violence on university campus in 2016, only to be arrested by the police for disrupting the peace. The 2018 Total Shutdown campaign marched for an end to violence against women in South Africa. Its organizers called for women and gender non-conforming people to stay at home and not engage in any economic activity on 1 August, the start of Women’s Month. They demanded that government finally treat gender-based violence with the urgency it required. Dressed in black and red, protesters across South Africa marched to government buildings and handed a list of 24 demands.

These demands were simple enough, including that President Ramaphosa not appoint anyone known for perpetrating violence against women into any government position. The response was more promises and pledges to act. A year later, with the murders and disappearances of more women across the country, the deep frustration and anger against government inaction has only grown.

After the murders of Hess, Mrwetyana and Jegels, students held vigils and memorial services for the women whose lives were violently ended, and mourned at the traumas and fears that their country silenced and delegitimised. Women shared their experiences of trying to report cases of abuse and assault to the police, only to be ridiculed and dismissed. Parents shared their fears of having to bury their children. Enough was enough. Protesters took to the streets during the World Economic Forum on Africa, demanding that President Ramaphosa come out and address them on. He could not act as though it was business as usual when women were living in fear of rape and murder. Once again, the protests were met with police, who deployed water cannons to disperse the crowds.

For the women of South Africa, there is a pervasive sense that the time for empty promises is over. No longer can strong words and political rhetoric satisfy the demands for justice and protection. Women are fighting back. On social media, anonymous accounts have taken it upon themselves the names of alleged abusers and rapists. Women have used online platforms to share their experiences and find support and justice. They have relied on the care and support of each other as they press politicians to introduce legislation to protect women and tougher punishments for those convicted of gender-based crime.

President Ramaphosa has promised that this time, Parliament will deliver. One of his proposals is to amend the law on the National Register of Sexual Offenders. Currently private, the president seeks to make the register public and accessible. “Enough is enough”, he declared in an address. It remains to be seen whether or not Ramaphosa and his government will succeed in their proposals. For the lives affected by violence against women, they need to.

‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’ is a famous South African refrain. ‘You strike a woman, you strike a rock’. Invoked to praise women for their strength, valor and value, the words are from the 1956 women’s march in South Africa. Protesting against the introduction of apartheid laws that would affect women, the women’s march is a symbol for women’s activism and rights in the country. However, six decades on, and the situation of women in South Africa is still one of oppression and violence.

The post There’s a Scourge of Gender Based Violence in South Africa, and Women Are Fighting Back appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Around 12 million children may never see a classroom, UN data reveals

UN #SDG News - 13. September 2019 - 17:59
New data published by the United Nations cultural agency on Friday, reveals that without taking urgent measures, around 12 million young children will never set foot inside a school, with girls facing “the greatest barriers”.
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UN week of Summits: Are the winds of change beginning to blow across the UN?

Global Policy Watch - 13. September 2019 - 17:49

Civil Society watchdog says the UN week of summits 23-27 September could see more positive action on the climate emergency, on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and could change the direction of financing for development.

New York, 13 September 2019: “In the four years since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) most governments have failed to turn the proclaimed transformational vision of the agenda into policies that bring about real change, but there are signs of push-back’”, says Jens Martens of the Global Policy Forum and the Civil Society Reflection Group in the run up to the Week of UN Summits (23-27 September).

Over 100 Heads of Government will to attend this unusual week of five UN Summits covering climate, health, finance, small island states and the Sustainable Development Goals. With so many key meetings piled on top of each other, the synergies between the different areas: climate, health, gender and finance are becoming clearer.

Global Policy Forum is hopeful this might indicate a shift from ‘business as usual’, as world leaders are increasingly aware that promises to improve life for billions of people are failing, inequalities are increasing, and the planet is heating up.

UN Climate Summit- faces up to the destruction wrought by climate change

The week opens with the “Climate Action Summit” (23 Sept). UN Secretary-General António Guterres has asked the Summit to promote action to address the climate crisis and both mitigate and adapt to its impacts.

With the destruction of the Bahamian Island of Abaco, the world is seeing the catastrophic consequences of ‘business as usual’.

Indrajit Bose of the Third World Network says “developed countries must stand by their commitments to cut emissions and provide the promised finance for developing countries to take mitigation and adaptation measures”.

Assessing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG Summit takes place on 24-25 Sept, and the Reflection Group  has a track record of assessing governments and international organizations’ progress in attaining the SDGs*. Its members hope that governments will not waste the opportunity to turn away from deregulation, corporate voluntarism and self-regulation of ‘the markets’. They point out that the nuclear power plant melt-down in Fukushima, Japan, was a clear example of the effects of this policy.

“To avoid future calamities on this scale, governments must improve regulation for sustainability and human rights”, says Barbara Adams, from Global Policy Watch.

The end of the 1980’s mantra ‘There is no alternative’

The Financing for Development (FfD) Summit (26 Sept) will look at the state of development finance.

“An important and welcome change is that the 1980’s mantra that ‘There is No Alternative (TINA)’ to Neo-Liberalism is over”, says Roberto Bissio of Social Watch. “We are urging those at the Summits to strengthen public finance at all levels, and to draw up budgets that take into account the long-term effects of extracting and consuming non-renewable resources, or the rights and welfare of poor and low-income people”.

The Reflection Group welcomes the discussion at the FfD meeting on ‘Putting public resources to work for more equal sustainable societies, including combatting illicit financial flows’. It says the meeting must suggest measures to eliminate corporate tax incentives, and strengthen global tax cooperation to counter the tax race to the bottom and schemes of tax abuse.

Can the UN live up to the challenges?

All these reforms demand well-equipped and -resourced national and international public institutions. At the global level, the premier multilateral institution – the UN – must to be updated and strengthened to ensure it is adequately resourced and that decision-making is democratic, elements which have been missing in recent years, finishes the Reflection Group.

In the run-up and during the week of the UN Summits, members of the Reflection Group will be commenting and assessing progress on the Climate, SDG and Financing for Development Summits.

For more information, or to talk to any of those mentioned in the press release, please contact: Daphne Davies: Tel/WhatsApp +447770230251,

* To see the Reflection Group reports on the Sustainable Development Goals: Its publication Spotlight 2019 can be accessed here.

The post UN week of Summits: Are the winds of change beginning to blow across the UN? appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

#GDSR: A call to action: 20 interventions that will matter - 13. September 2019 - 13:56

Since 1990, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. But this progress is under threat: inequality has deepened and climate change and biodiversity loss are approaching tipping points. However, science has the power to help mitigate the trade-offs that come with achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are all interconnected, and put us back on track to creating a better world for all by 2030, according to the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report #GSDR.

This report is the first quadrennial Global Sustainable Development Report to be written by an independent group of scientists appointed by the United Nations Secretary General as mandated by United Nations Member States. It has been written to inform actions to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Entitled “The Future is now: Science for achieving the SDGs”, the report stresses that governments, business, communities and civil society need to transform a number of key areas of human activities: food, energy, consumption and cities. Increased investment in science for sustainability and in natural and social science institutions based in developing countries are needed.

The report’s Call to Action identifies 20 points where interventions can create transformative and accelerated progress towards multiple goals and targets in the coming decade. These targeted actions are based on the recent scientific literature analysing the deeper systemic interconnections that identify synergies and trade-offs between individual goals and targets.

The report advocates for universal access to quality basic services—healthcare, education, water and sanitation infrastructure, housing and social protection—as a prerequisite to elimination of poverty and advances in human well-being, with special attention given to persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. The report calls for renewed attention to ending legal and social discrimination, and for strengthened unions, nongovernmental organizations, women’s groups and other community organizations, finding them all to be important partners in efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. The authors identify the food and energy systems as particularly important arenas for change since these systems, as they currently function, are bringing the world toward environmental tipping points, but they are also critical nexus areas for human health and well-being.

The food system must undergo widespread changes to the infrastructure, cultural and societal norms, and policies that are supporting the current, unsustainable, status quo. At present, approximately 2 billion people suffer from food insecurity and 820 million people are undernourished. At the same time, overweight rates are growing in almost all regions of the world, with global numbers reaching 2 billion overweight adults and 40 million children under the age of five.

For developing countries, stronger social protection floors are needed to ensure food security and nutrition. Countries must reduce the environmental impact of their food production systems, considering the entire value chain, by reducing food waste and reducing reliance on animal-based protein sources. Developing and developed countries both need to increase attention to malnutrition in all its forms—including the increasingly high numbers of persons who are overweight.

The energy system also must transform to close the energy access gap. Close to 1 billion people are without access to electricity, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 3 billion people rely on polluting solid fuels for cooking, causing an estimated 3.8

million premature deaths each year. These gaps must be addressed, while at the same time

increasing energy efficiency and phasing out fossil-based power generation without carbon capture and storage , so that the world economy is decarbonized, in line with the aspirations of the Paris agreement.

The amount of modern renewable energy in the total global energy supply has increased by an average of 5.4 percent annually over the past decade. Meanwhile, since 2009 the price of renewable electricity dropped by 77 percent for solar photovoltaics and 38 percent for onshore wind—and for five years in a row, global investments in clean energy have exceeded US$ 300 billion annually.

However, additional growth has been stymied by direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels that continue to distract from their true economic, health and environmental costs. With two-thirds of the global population projected to live in cities by 2050, the report finds that achieving the 2030 Agenda will require more compact and efficient cities that are better served by quality public transport and other infrastructure, social services and an economy that provides decent and sustainable livelihoods including those enabled by technology and nature-based industries. Partnerships and networks among peer cities can help municipal leaders build on good practices and a store of expertise, as can investing in building a “science of cities.”

The scientists emphasized that the global environmental commons—such as the atmosphere, rainforests and oceans—must be safeguarded as crucial sources of ecosystem services and natural resources. Governments, local communities, the private sector and international actors must work together to conserve, restore and sustainably use natural resources. Accurately assessing environmental assets is a critical first step, and their value should be reflected through pricing, transfers, regulation and other economic instruments.

Decisions based on science

 Science must play a major role in advancing sustainable development. Universities, policymakers and research funders must increase support to research guided by the 2030 Agenda. Simultaneously, researchers in sustainability science and other disciplines, must work together to solve development problems and strengthen the science-policy-society interface, providing society and policy-makers information they can use to solve development problems.

The report makes the case for shifting current research priorities and supporting innovative approaches to sustainability science, emphasizing cross-disciplinary partnerships, and committing support and resources to scientific institutions, particularly in the global South. Development aid budgets should prioritize boosting scientific capacity and access in the global South. UN Member States, research consortia and libraries should work together to improve cross-border and inter-disciplinary collaborations in science for the SDGs.

The full report, “The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development,” can be found here:

A complete list of the scientists is available here:

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Climate action: why developed countries should track imported emissions, and how to make certification and labelling work for developing countries

Simon Maxwell - 13. September 2019 - 8:36

Climate action: why developed countries should track imported emissions, and how to make certification and labelling work for developing countries


By Aarti Krishnan and Simon Maxwell

Developed countries are making progress in reducing carbon emissions – and Government regulation of the private sector is playing its part. In the UK, for example, and alongside other measures, the requirement to report energy and carbon emissions has recently been extended to a wide range of quoted and unquoted companies and limited liability partnerships. This is intended to help improve energy efficiency, support companies in cutting costs, and at the same time reduce carbon emissions. Many hundreds of companies have signed up to measurement and certification, and sometimes offset, schemes, like the footprint label from the Carbon Trust, the carbon neutral label from Natural Capital Partners, or Carbon Smart certification from Carbon Smart. The scope and coverage of such schemes is expanding, as indirect emissions and life cycle issues are recognised.

Missing in current policy: imported emissions

There is, however, a large gap in current policy: it does not take account of the emissions embodied in imports, and thus of total consumption emissions. These have been growing in size and relative importance in most developed economies. In the UK, once again, the latest figures show that between 1997 and 2016, territorial emissions fell by over a quarter but imported emissions rose by 20%, with the net result that the UK’s total carbon footprint fell by only 9%. Imported emissions now account for 45% of the UK’s footprint (Figure 1). Policy-makers are paying attention. For example, the Science and Technology Committee of the UK House of Commons recently concluded that ‘the Government should do more to increase the prominence of consumption emissions’. The incoming President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has also highlighted the issue.













Rising consumption is the main cause of rising greenhouse gas imports

It is important to emphasise that the main driver of rising imported emissions is increased consumption, itself driven by rising population and income. Deindustrialisation and the shift of industrial production to developing countries may also play a part in some cases. That suggests a priority is to manage consumption and consumer behaviour, a big topic in itself, and one with important implications for developing countries. For example, if the Oxfam campaign to buy only second-hand clothes in September were to succeed in curbing long-term demand, that would impact on jobs in exporting countries like Bangladesh or Vietnam. Similarly, if long term demand for imports of extractives from Africa to the EU were reduced, African countries could stand to lose over 20% of their total export value.

And energy efficiency needs to improve

Independently of action on developed country consumption behaviour, however, action is also needed to reduce the carbon intensity of imports – as also of domestic production in both developed and developing countries. Energy efficiency is a key element. The carbon intensity of production has been falling fast in countries like India and China, but is still significantly higher than in OECD countries: not surprising when coal still plays such a large part in many emerging economies.

Certification and labelling can play a part

An important question remains. Should reporting, certification and even labelling be extended to imports? And if that were to happen, what would be the impact on developing countries?

Certification and labelling might well be thought to be plausible and popular drivers of carbon reduction in developing countries. In addition to the internal benefits, companies can benefit from external validation and reputation enhancement. Consumers can also benefit if carbon certification and labelling help them make better choices. Fair Trade certification is an example of a scheme which delivers benefits to both consumers and producers - via guaranteed prices, premium payments which can be used to improve productivity, and support to producer organisation.

Overcoming the pitfalls

There are pitfalls in implementing certification.  Experience across many sectors shows that certification can be costly and time-consuming, especially for poor producers and countries. Further, these groups can find themselves as having standards or reporting requirements imposed, with little scope for participation or ‘voice’, and often with different priorities to those they themselves would choose. There is a risk of a top-down ‘green squeeze’ on the suppliers in low and middle income countries. From a consumer perspective, an additional risk is ‘label overload’, with labels for different aspects crowded onto packaging. And from a trade perspective, certification can cause trade distortions and over-burden trade agreements. It may also, in some cases, be incompatible with WTO rules.

If the pitfalls are to be avoided, reporting, certification and labelling of developing country production need to be planned in such a way as to maximise the participation of those involved upstream and downstream in the value chain, and harmonised so as to reduce costs and a multiplicity of reporting and labelling requirements. Certification at the company level will be more straightforward than trying to tie emissions to particular and highly heterogeneous products. It will also be important to tailor certification to the specific circumstances of different sectors. In the UK, for example, the construction industry is an important source of emissions, but one less suited to consumer-facing certification than some other sectors.

And reaping the benefits

There will be benefits. The UK, along with some other developed countries, has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Many developing countries will need to follow suit if global warming is to be kept to the level agreed in Paris in 2015, well under 2 degrees, and if possible 1.5 degrees. At present, the world is very far from being on track to meet those targets. Indeed, the national plans submitted in Paris promised only about a third of the reduction needed to reach 2 degrees, and only about 10% of the reduction needed to reach 1.5 degrees. The plans themselves are not always being implemented: half of G20 countries have more work to do if they are to come close to meeting their 2015 pledges. New pledges are required by the UNFCCC in 2020, for the period to 2030. Certification could play a part in helping all countries identify carbon hot spots and take decisive action to reduce emissions.

Certification and labelling: better than restricting trade

Certification is not the only option. Technology transfer offers important possibilities, including within companies as a result of foreign direct investment. Overseas aid can also be a useful incentive. In these cases also, however, there are benefits in measuring and reporting on carbon emissions. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Council for Sustainable Business Development, is used by companies and certification bodies, and by Governments, including the UK. It provides a global framework, alongside ISO and other standards.

If no action is taken, and as the carbon constraint begins to bite, there will be pressure to enforce carbon intensity standards, for example by imposing new tariffs, so-called border carbon adjustments. Indeed Ursula Von der Leyen has proposed BCAs, //">as has Elisabeth Warren in the US. These will be problematic, adding to trade tensions at a time of increasing protectionism. Better by far for developing countries and their development partners to launch the progressive, step-by-step adoption of new standards and certificates.

Aarti Krishnan is a Senior Research Officer at the Overseas Development Institute

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Youth Forward | Thank you

ODI - 13. September 2019 - 0:00
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UNcomplicating the UN: a new podcast is born over coffee in New York

UN #SDG News - 12. September 2019 - 19:45
This week, just in time for #UNGA74, UN News is launching a brand-new podcast which grew out of a conversation in a coffee shop, between our hosts, Sinduja Srinivasan, and Jason DeWall.
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South-South Cooperation ‘accelerates’ us toward 2030 goals, UN Chief says on International Day

UN #SDG News - 12. September 2019 - 19:01
Collaboration among countries of the global south offers a “unique pathway” that accelerates us towards the key 2030 sustainable development targets, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, told a commemorative event for South-South Cooperation (SSC) on Thursday.
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United Nations SDG Summit 2019

UNSDN - 12. September 2019 - 18:57

“The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are our collective response to building a fair globalization.” António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a global plan of action to drive economic prosperity and social well-being while protecting the environment. Countries established the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) — to boost efforts to achieve the goals.

The HLPF meets every year, in early July, bringing representatives of governments, businesses and civil society together to review progress, examine obstacles, exchange best practices, and recommend new actions to achieve the goals. Countries also agreed (resolutions 67/290 and 70/299) that every fourth year, the HLPF will meet under the auspices of the General Assembly at the level of Heads of State and Government. 2019 will mark the first HLPF meeting at the leader level.

On 24–25 September, world leaders will gather at UN Headquarters in New York for the SDG Summit to review progress and identify measures to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDG Summit will bring together political and thought leaders from governments, private sector, civil society and international organizations in a series of high-level meetings to turn the ten years leading up to the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDG into a decisive decade of action and delivery.

The United Nations SDG Summit will be chaired by the President of the General Assembly and will result in a concise negotiated political declaration.

Since the 2030 Agenda was adopted, governments, businesses, and citizen organizations have moved to embrace the SDGs and made the goals and the centerpiece of their development plans. The SDG Summit will also seek to mobilize further support for action to achieve the SDGs. The meeting presents an important opportunity to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by announcing ambitious SDG Acceleration Actions to put societies and economies onto a path towards zero poverty and lives of dignity for all, on a safe, healthy and peaceful planet.

Learn more about the SDG Summit 2019.

The post United Nations SDG Summit 2019 appeared first on UNSDN - United Nations Social Development Network.

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Death in Ndola

D+C - 12. September 2019 - 16:19
A new book gives relevant insights into Dag Hammarskjöld’s work as the 2nd UN secretary-general

Henning Melber’s book on Hammarskjöld is not an impartial account. The Swedish-German scholar is the former director of the Uppsala-based Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, and he also belonged to the committee whose work made then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reopen the investigation into the airplane crash near Ndola in today’s Zambia. Melber readily admits that he is personally engaged. (Full disclosure: he has contributed to D+C/E+Z very often and, over the years, has become a friend.)

“Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations and the decolonisation of Africa” is a short, but ambitious book. On a mere 180 pages (of which 50 are notes, references and acknowledgments), Melber delves deeply into complex issues that he has been dealing with for much of his professional life. For anyone unfamiliar with the history of the UN and African decolonisation, the reading is likely to prove a rewarding challenge.

The tragic death of the Swedish UN leader is obviously of particular relevance. The background was the Congo crisis of 1960/61. On 30 June 1960, the Belgian colony gained formal independence. Not even two weeks later, its territorial integrity was threatened by the secession of the resource rich Katanga region. Belgium supported the secessionists with troops in violation of its agreement with Congo’s government. In view of military clashes, Congo’s President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba requested the UN to intervene.

Melber gives a detailed account of how Hammarskjöld tried to control the damage and what limitations he faced. The greatest challenge was that the Security Council was split. While western governments basically sided with Belgium, the Soviet Union wanted to reduce the influence of the USA and the former imperial powers. In this setting, decisive UN action was impossible.

Nonetheless, Hammarskjöld managed to bring about a UN resolution. Its wording remained ambiguous however. UN troops were deployed, but since their mission was not clearly defined, they could not act effectively. The mission stayed controversial, with interested parties either stating that the blue helmets were doing too much or doing too little.

Melber recounts how Hammarskjöld handled the matter. To a large extent, he relied on the growing group of non-aligned nations, which were mostly newly independent colonies. To bypass stalemate in the Security Council, he turned to the General Assembly, in which their membership kept increasing.

The leaders of the non-aligned group appreciated Hammarskjöld’s approach. The secretary-general wanted the UN to shield them from undue influence of hegemonic powers. In his eyes, the young nations deserved ample policy space. In today’s parlance, he was endorsing the policy ownership of developing countries. Trying to prevent the spread of the Cold War into Africa, he neither pleased western nor eastern leaders.

Matters became even more complex when Congo’s leaders, Kasavubu and Lumumba, had a falling out. For some time, Lumumba lived under UN protection, but he decided to move on in an attempt to reclaim power. UN troops were present when he was arrested, while another UN contingent later witnessed him being brought to Katanga. They did not intervene in either situation, and Lumumba was tortured and killed on 17 January 1961. The UN was immediately blamed for not protecting him.

According to Melber, Hammarskjöld was not personally in charge of troops and thus not immediately responsible for the failure to save Lumumba. Moreover, it is unclear what difference UN soldiers could have made. President Kasavubu was relying on army leader Mobutu Sésé Seko, who later grabbed power in a military coup and ruled as a ruthless dictator from 1965 to 1997. Lumumba was one of Mobutu’s early victims. The main success of multilateral action was certainly that the Congo conflict did not spread to other African countries.

In Melber’s account, Hammarskjöld felt devastated by diplomatic failures, but nonetheless stayed determined to do his best to prevent further escalation. After UN troops clashed with secessionist forces in Katanga, he arranged a meeting with Moise Tshombe, their leader, in Ndola. Back then, this town belonged to Northern Rhodesia, a part of the British Central African Federation run by a white minority regime. The airplane crashed when approaching Ndola on 18 September 1961.

At the time, the Northern Rhodesian authorities concluded that a pilot error caused the crash. Later research, however, showed that they had not taken all evidence into account. In particular, they neglected black eyewitnesses. Some reported that a second airplane had been in the sky, and others saw Hammarskjöld’s plane in flames before it came down. As Melber further reports, it took officialdom unreasonably long to find the airplane, so Rhodesian security forces probably arrived first, with ample time to manipulate the scene. The author spells out that various parties might have had an interest in killing the assertive UN secretary-general and that they probably had the capacity to do so. They included the Katanga secessionists, southern Africa’s white minority regimes as well as member countries of the Security Council.

The UN believes that the secret services of several countries are likely to still have relevant recordings, for example of the radio communication between the pilot and Ndola airport. In particular, the USA and the UK are thought to possess such evidence, but as Melber writes, they have not followed UN requests to declassify such information.

The individual person matters

Melber’s main intention, however, is not to revisit the tragedy at Ndola. As the title of the book suggests, his main topic is what impact Hammarskjöld and the UN had on decolonisation. Critics have argued that the Swedish policymaker promoted capitalism, served imperialist interests or had racist tendencies. Melber defends him convincingly.
The author grew up as teenager in what is now Namibia. He joined the freedom struggle and is a member of SWAPO, the former liberation movement which is now the ruling party. Melber is just as interested in the topic of decolonisation as he is in Hammarskjöld’s legacy.

The Africa scholar insists that Hammarskjöld was a child of his time. His father was a high-ranking official and diplomat, and many of his ancestors were loyal civil servants and clergymen. The UN leader’s roots in Sweden’s political culture, which shies away from confrontation and is geared to brokering compromises that serve all parties, were deep. He himself was an economist who, as a technocrat, played a crucial role in designing his nation’s welfare state, before becoming a diplomat.

Melber elaborates how this personal background, including his Lutheran faith, shaped Hammarskjöld’s action as UN secretary-general. He emphasised integrity – both his own and that of the UN. H believed that multilateral action could prevent political disasters and mass suffering if the parties involved acted in a spirit of honesty and probity. The book quotes extensively from Hammarskjöld’s writing and public speeches.

Some accuse Hammarskjöld of coming from a white middle-class background. Melber rectifies such criticism. Everybody has a personal background, and what really matters is what we do on this basis. The author further points out that being male and white brings privileges, but that does not mean that every white man endorses those privileges – nor does it mean that every white man exploits and abuses women or people of colour. He also notes that UN staff will always be likely to have a middle-class background. The simple reason is that it is impossible to do UN work unless one has an academic education and speaks at least one world language.

Melber does a fascinating job of showing how personal relations matter within the UN administration itself. Indeed, interaction within the UN team that was handling the Congo crisis was often difficult. Communication problems were probably more important than ideology. The questions of whether Hammarskjöld was sufficiently anti-capitalist and anti-racist probably mattered less than communication problems.

Back then, Nikita Khrushchev, the top Soviet leader, prominently accused Hammarskjöld of promoting capitalism. Others have reiterated that charge. As we know today, the idea that capitalism can easily be replaced with something better, has proved a fallacy in many countries. Melber could make this case, but he takes a different approach. His entirely valid point is that Hammarskjöld focused on shielding newly independent African countries from hegemonic influence.

Under Hammarskjöld, UN diplomacy was a well-considered balancing act, as Melber writes. That is part of Hammarskjöld’s legacy. Successful UN diplomacy has indeed always been – and had to be – a balancing act.

Melber, H., 2019: Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations and the decolonisation of Africa. London, Hurst.

Hans Dembowski is editor in chief of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.

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