Dienstag, 28. Mai 2019

Europe´s choice: division or leadership

Why the European Parliament elections matter to the world and our future

An alliance of authoritarian, nationalist political parties is projected to gain more than 60 additional seats in the upcoming crucial elections for the European parliament taking place between May 23 and 26. This rising alliance talks of sovereignty and freedom, but it aims to undermine the very institutions Europe has built since the 1950s and could end the peace project built in the wake of the Second World War.

The parties that dream of a Europe made up of self centred, authoritarian states, are the same parties that oppose climate action and question the very existence of the climate crisis.

At the same time, striking youth all over the continent are calling out Europe´s elites blatant failure to govern responsibly. There is no time to waste to drastically reduce emissions if we are to prevent more climate chaos disproportionately affecting today’s youth and those already most disadvantaged. Voters overwhelmingly agree with the youth demonstrators that urgent climate action is needed now. Almost four-fifths of European voters say that climate policy is a key concern for them as they decide who to vote for. The impacts of global warming - such as heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events - are being felt as a daily reality by more and more Europeans and are also starting to have an impact on their political choices.

For decades, the EU could claim to be a progressive leader on the environment - at least compared to the rest of the world - by, among other things, regulating chemical pollutants, banning the dumping of hazardous waste or restricting genetically modified organisms. Now, it is far too often on the wrong course. It´s climate targets are incompatible with a safe climate future and the EU is choosing to appease Donald Trump over trade rather than standing up for climate action, for example.

Amongst the absurdities of the drawn-out Brexit discussions it’s easy to forget that what Europe does reverberates across the world. But the EU is both the largest economy in the world and the world's largest trading block. The rules Europe adopts - including on climate change - send signals to the rest of the world and directly impacts multinationals wanting to sell to 500 million people living in the EU.

If Europe started to build a trading system that took climate change seriously, the rest of the world would have to listen. If Europe raised its climate targets and actions to deliver on the Paris Agreement - as Greta Thunberg recently demanded during a visit to the European Parliament - it would matter. If it chose to lead the way, the EU could, for example, turn the upcoming UN Climate Summit in September into what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demands: an action summit that delivers decisive plans instead of just even more fine words.  

But things could get much worse if climate-crisis denying, authoritarian players play a significant role in Europe’s parliament in the next 5 years.

Europe therefore faces a stark choice in May´s election. The continent can choose xenophobia and division, which would jeopardize desperately needed climate action, as well as the European peace project. Or Europe can choose to rise to the challenge of the school strikers, regain legitimacy with its people and make the biggest economy on our planet a global leader on issues that impact all of our lives, like climate change.

Either way, what Europe does in the next 5 years is of truly global significance and the world should be paying more attention to the European elections.

If you’re European or know any Europeans, do talk to your friends and family about the upcoming European elections. All of our futures depend on the future Europeans choose.

P.S. A lightly edited version of this opinion piece appeared on Euronews

Dienstag, 5. März 2019

Davos, inequality and the climate emergency

Why the crises we face are no accident and why we need new rules to survive

Four of the top five most impactful threats in this year’s World Economic Forum´s Global Risks report are related to climate change. The report warns that we are “sleepwalking to disaster” .

But that is not true.

The disaster is already here, it´s not something we are still walking towards. Climate change is no future threat, it´s a current one. We have entered a new phase, one in which the impacts are coming faster, with greater intensity. Already this year, Thailand has seen its worst storm in 30 years rip through coastal areas. In the Alps, just east of Davos, extreme weather is causing snow chaos.

The climate crisis also isn´t caused by sleep or ignorance. The rich and powerful gathered in Davos brought us to the the existential brink wide awake. The “profit first” neoliberal economic model has dominated policy making around the world for too long. It has resulted in national laws, trade and finance rules that drive our current overconsumption of resources, lead to climate disruption - and bring about more and more inequality.

The world’s richest 1% took home an obscene 82% of all new wealth last year and, according to the World Bank, almost half of all people worldwide are one medical bill or crop failure away from destitution. Inequality continues to rise as the world warms and the causes of both are linked. As Oxfam has shown, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half carbon emissions caused by consumption. And yet all around the world it’s the poor and marginalised that are most at risk from the devastating effects of climate change.

The failure by governments to prioritize climate action and the fight against inequality is caused by state institutions and decision-makers - in South as well as North - being captured by specific corporate interests. The report Justice for People and Planet, for example, showcases 20 examples of how the rules that govern our global economy (and sometimes the lack thereof) result in environmental destruction and corporate human rights abuses. The sad truth is, that those cases are just the tip of the iceberg. They merely illustrate the systemic problem we face.
Because the crises we face are the result of our current economic and political rules, neither the climate emergency nor inequality can be fixed by public private partnerships, as Klaus Schwab, the founder and director of the World Economic Forum tries to make us believe.

To the contrary.  We only have a chance to stop walking towards catastrophe if we force our governments to adopt new rules - nationally and globally - that have ending climate pollution and inequality at their heart.

This is certainly possible. At the global level, we do have some regulations with teeth. The World Trade Organisation, for example, can sanction countries that break its rules. Those very rules have prevented many positive laws and changes - because the threat of the WTO overruling a social or environmental measure always looms.

We need similarly strong rules to counter the climate emergency and to fight inequality. Environmental and social bodies should be able to impose sanctions and fines. Corporate accountability and liability needs to extend to all corporate impacts on people and the environment around the world. Trade rules, similarly, need to be revamped to put people and planet first.

At the national level, we need binding targets to at least halve global emissions by 2030, and we need tax rules that ensure that the corporations and the rich pay their fair share. We can take heart in some rules that are already on the statute books. France, for example, requires corporations to identify potential risks to people and the environment as a result of their activities, and act to prevent harm to people and the environment. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act meanwhile require businesses to tackle slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains - one extreme part of the inequality crisis.

We need more such laws, in more countries. Urgently. And that´s, luckily, what grassroots movements are demanding around the world. As the World Economic Forum gathers in Davos, people are mobilizing in many countries to put an end to inequality as part of the Fight Inequality alliance week of action. Feminists, workers, environmentalists and many more movements have come together in this alliance in the knowledge that we do not need nice words or acts of charity from the Davos elite but fundamentally different rules for our global economy if we are to survive. As the global Fight Inequality alliance manifesto says: “We stand together to build a world of greater equality – where all people’s rights are respected and fulfilled, a world of shared prosperity, opportunity and dignity, living within the planet’s boundaries.

That world is possible. Via collective mobilization around the world we are making it a little bit more real every day.

Montag, 1. Oktober 2018

Justice for people and planet - Greenpeace and corporate accountability

Greenpeace is famous for corporate campaigning. We make “Choke” out of Coca-Cola´s logo to draw attention to the massive plastic pollution impact that company has around the world. We stand in the way of imports of dirty cars and expose corporate misbehaviour wherever we encounter it.
The public image of Greenpeace is therefore often one of "corporate bashers". We can indeed be pretty harsh and irreverent when calling attention to corporate misdeeds (like in this satire video).

Of course, we don't believe that everyone in a corporation thinks like the man in the video. There are many in business - and many businesses - that want to do the right thing for people and planet. We applaud them.

Greenpeace never says no without offering an alternative. We are so committed to getting the solutions our world needs adopted fast, that we are, at times, willing to praise corporations that are still part of the problem. We say “well done” to Coca Cola for eliminating climate damaging refrigerants from their cooling equipment because the benefits for our climate and future generations are significant and real. But we do so in the context of us demanding more fundamental change. And we do so at the very same time as we campaign against them on plastic pollution. In the corporate world, we have “no permanent friends or enemies”. It’s part of our core values - and it works to achieve change. The work with Coca-Cola to eliminate climate damaging gases, for example, also started as a ´brand jam´ when they were providing the “green Sydney Olympics” with cooling equipment that destroyed our climate.

It’s a fact, though, that corporations who misbehave are too rarely punished - and too often have captured our political leaders. The public good - our planet, our future - is the loser.

You can see that clearly in our new report Justice for People and Planet, which showcases 20 case studies of corporate capture, collusion and impunity. The report describes how some corporations have abused and violated human and environmental rights - across different countries and environments. The examples are as shocking as they are diverse, ranging from deforestation, water and air pollution, plastic pollution, or waste dumping, to chemical spills, nuclear disaster, violations of Indigenous rights and more.

Our report argues that it is the rules that govern our global economy (and lack thereof) that are the real reason behind such corporate misdeeds. Economic globalisation has created significant governance gaps. There are no enforceable social and environmental global rules governing global economic players. That we lack these rules to deliver a sustainable and fair economy worldwide is the result of specific political choices by our leaders. The cases presented in our report show that corporate impunity for environmental destruction and human rights violations is a result of the current economic and legal system(s). The failure to protect human rights and the environment is often caused by state institutions and decision makers being captured by specific corporate interests. This all too often leads to politicians failing to pass binding laws and failing to ensure corporations are held to account.

There is a different way. Effective state action could end corporate capture and close the governance gap. Global regulations with teeth are clearly possible – they exist! The World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, can sanction countries that break its rules.

We need similarly strong roles for the environment and human rights. That’s why today we put forward 10 Principles for Corporate Accountability:

1. People and the environment, not corporations, must be at the heart of governance and public life.
2. Public participation should be inherent to all policy making.
3. States should abandon policies that undermine environmental and human rights.
4. Corporations should be subject to binding rules both where they are based and where they operate.
5. States should require due diligence reporting and cradle to grave responsibility for corporate products and services.
6. States should promote a race to the top by prohibiting corporations from carrying out activities abroad which are prohibited in their home state for reasons of risks to environmental or human rights.
7. States should create policies that provide transparency in all corporate and government activities that impact environmental and human rights, including in trade, tax, finance and investment regimes.
8. Corporations and those individuals who direct them should be liable for environmental and human rights violations committed domestically or abroad by companies under their control.
9. People affected by environmental and human rights violations should be guaranteed their right to effective access to remedy, including in company home states where necessary.
10. States must actually enforce the regulatory and policy frameworks they create.

You can find much more detail about these principles (and why they are needed) in the report itself.
And you can, like us, take heart in some steps in the right direction that are already underway: France, for example, recently required corporations to identify potential risks to people and the environment as a result of their activities, and act to prevent harm to people and the environment. Switzerland is gearing up for a people’s referendum that would legally oblige corporations to incorporate respect for human rights and the environment in all their business activities. New, specialised laws such as the UK’s Modern Slavery Act also require businesses to tackle slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains. All these show how governments can make rules with teeth to govern corporate activities around the world. If they want to. 

A more just and sustainable world is possible. If all who want a livable planet push for it - together. Are you in?

Donnerstag, 23. November 2017

True climate leadership still missing

The world is moving ahead without Trump - but not as fast and decisively as needed.

Another round of climate negotiations is over. And, like last year, President Trump has failed to stop the global climate talks from moving forward. Indeed, his announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has brought even louder and clearer voices for climate leadership from the United States to Bonn. Civil society, cities, governors and some businesses have shown the true face of America here, exposing how Trump and his regressive fossil fuel agenda does not stand for the majority of Americans. America is still in - and Americans are rising up for climate action.

We have also seen some positive announcements in recent days: a new alliance pledging to phase out coal was formed; Europe's biggest coal port, Rotterdam, decided to phase out coal to deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Pacific Island Development Forum nations signed on to the Lofoten Declaration, that calls for a just transition - a managed phase out of fossil fuels. We have also seen the largest wealth fund in the world announcing that they want to divest from oil and gas.

Overall, though, there has been too much talk and not enough action. France, Germany and China have claimed to be leaders here - but Chancellor Merkel embarrassed herself on the global stage when she failed to commit to a coal phase-out; French President Macron has put off the phase out of nuclear, which will slow down the urgently needed French energy revolution. And China, too, has seen emissions rise this year again after three years of coal consumption decline (though that may turn out to be a temporary blip).

In a year that has seen ever more devastating climate impacts, that is simply not good enough. This
conference was led by Fiji - the first time a climate summit was led by a Pacific island nation. The Pacific has been dealing with the devastating impacts of climate change for years - and this meeting did not deliver as much hope and support to them as would have been warranted and just.

One of my highlights of the last two weeks has been watching our Fijian volunteers, Alisi Nacewa and Samu Kuridrani, interview people about climate change - and these, at times crazy, negotiations. I encourage you to watch their Kava Chats. It's for the home of people like Alisi and Samu that we are fighting for. 

We will not win against dangerous climate change unless we work together across sectors and movements. This week, we held a joint event with the International Trade Union Confederation, discussing how we can unite to advance a just transition - and make climate action work for workers and the planet alike. We also brought together activists from climate impacted communities with National Human Rights institutions. We hope that many of them will follow the example of the Philippine Human Rights Commission, that is investigating the human rights impacts of 47 carbon producers, including ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Total.

There is an encouraging wave of legal action against polluters. This week a German court accepted a case brought by a Peruvian farmer against energy giant RWE. RWE, he argues, must share in the cost of protecting his hometown Huaraz from a swollen glacier lake at risk of overflowing from melting snow and ice. And our legal colleagues have been in a courtroom in Norway making the case that additional oil drilling in the Arctic not only undermines the Paris Agreement but actually undermines the Norwegian constitution. Add your name to this case of The People vs Arctic Oil here.

We will hold polluters accountable for their impacts. We will continue to push for quicker climate action so that even more devastation is prevented. The world is moving ahead. But we are in a race against time. And we need governments and corporations to move faster than we have seen them doing over the last two weeks here in Bonn.

This blog was first published on greenpeace.org

Time for ocean action — for us, our climate and diversity on earth

For centuries the ocean has been considered to be an infinite source of food and natural resources and able to absorb anything dumped into it. It was never true, of course, but the lie is only becoming obvious now. And we are starting to realize that nothing could be more essential to our survival than healthy oceans.

Covering more than 70 percent of the planet, the ocean gives us food, oxygen, it regulates and stabilise our climate and provides many essential “services”, as the scientists call it, that are vital to sustain life on Earth. The United Nation’s First Ocean Assessment tells us that many areas of the ocean have been seriously degraded due to - us - due to human activities: from overfishing, to oil and gas extraction, coastal development and plastic pollution, all of these work to destroy our oceans and decrease their ability to nurture life. This is not only true of areas close to our shores, but also of those out on the High Seas - in called areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The world is finally waking up to the need to take urgent action. This week, the ocean is in the global spotlight as the UN hosts a first high-level meeting which gets together governments, businesses, citizens and ocean lovers to advance global action and solutions against marine pollution and debris, to protect marine ecosystems, end overfishing and destructive fishing practices and minimise the effects of ocean acidification.
In the Call For Action that governments will formally adopt at the conference, a particular focus is given to the importance of cutting carbon pollution and implementing the Paris Climate Agreement (despite the Trump administration’s disgraceful attempts to prevent this important link being made). This is due to the alarming impacts our use of oil, coal and gas and destruction of forests and other carbon stocks are already having on the ocean, causing it to become more warm, more acidic and less rich in oxygen.
The speed, depth and scale of these changes is difficult to grasp. For example, our ocean is currently becoming more acidic at a rate unprecedented within the last 65 million years, if not the last 300 million years, threatening to fundamentally change marine lifewithin the span of a single human lifetime. For this reason alone, getting rid of fossil fuels as soon as possible and accelerating the transition to renewable energy, in the spirit of the Paris Agreement, will be crucial. Here the official conferences hosts, Sweden, who has pledged to lead in becoming fossil free and Fiji, who together with other Pacific Islands has called for an international moratorium on new fossil fuel developments, are showing the way.
But getting rid of fossil fuels is not sufficient to stop the impact of climate change and protect the ocean’s precious functions. The science is clear that a global network of marine protected areas, especially ocean sanctuaries - areas off limits to human activities - is necessary to reverse the ocean crisis, ensure food security and mitigate and build resilience against, climate change. That is one key reason why, back in 2010, the international community agreed to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020, a commitment that has been endorsed once again in 2015 when the world agreed the “to do list” for people and planet known as the Sustainable Development Goals. More recently, following scientific advice, States have gone further and committed to protect at least 30% by 2030.
These numbers are as vital as they are daunting. Right now less than 3% of the ocean is under some form of protection, and only little over 1% is strongly protected in no-take areas. Numbers are even more alarming when it comes to the High Seas, which cover two-thirds of the ocean. Less than 1% of these are protected. It is quite clear that if we want to achieve the targets needed to ensure our future, areas must be protected, both in national and international waters. Sadly, for the High Seas, including the central Arctic, there is currently no global process to create and manage protected areas. To fill this gap the international community has been discussing the need to develop a new Treaty under the framework of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to protect marine life in waters beyond national jurisdiction. The process toward this Treaty is now coming to a crucial stage. In only a few weeks from now, the UN will decide on whether to convene a formal negotiation process to address outstanding issues and adopt the Treaty.
The UN Ocean Conference therefore needs to send a strong signal about the need to launch formal negotiations of the “Paris Agreement for the Ocean” in 2018.
In the run-up to the Conference, governments and all relevant stakeholders, including the industry, have been busy registering their voluntary commitments to protect the ocean. While of course, this is a good thing, the record of implementation of voluntary commitments has been traditionally appalling. The ocean doesn’t need more expressions of goodwill, it needs concrete action. My hope is that beyond collecting voluntary commitments, this Conference will catalyse real action for the ocean, for the people, for our Planet and prosperity of humankind.
This post was first published on the Huffington Post

Montag, 19. Dezember 2016

Protecting what protects us

The diversity of nature is essential to ensure our planet remains habitable. That is why we need to stand up to all those who endanger the global web of life – those who plunder the Commons for private gain.

Back in 1992, governments agreed to conserve and fairly share the global biodiversity we all depend on. Since then, 196 countries have signed on to the Convention on Biological Diversity (the United States being the most prominent exception). This year, from December 4 to 17, governments from all over the world will meet for the biannual “Summit for Life on Earth” in Cancún, Mexico.

They have work to do. Biodiversity is falling at an alarming rate, with a two-thirds decline in animal species forecast for 2020 (compared to 1970).

When governments met in 2010, they said that they would act. World leaders, for example, committed to protect at least ten percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. But today, with only four years to go, just three percent of the world’s oceans are protected and only one percent are strongly protected (the level of protection necessary to give oceans a real chance to recover.) The numbers are shockingly low despite some amazing new oceans sanctuaries that have been declared recently, like the world's largest marine protected area off Antarctica.

Governments must deliver on their 2010 promises. They need to protect more of the ocean, better – and now. That’s what people around the world are calling for. Watch our video about why people love the ocean and want it protected. And add your voice here to remind governments that it’s our ocean – a common treasure that they need to protect for all of us.

Six years ago, governments also pledged to act against forest degradation and deforestation. They said that by 2020 all forests should be managed “sustainably”. Last year, governments added that deforestation should end by 2020. But reality is different. Even some of the most precious forests we have are still being degraded and destroyed.

The Great Northern Forest, for example, is under threat from out-of-control logging, forest fires and our warming climate. The Great Northern Forest covers a vast area stretching from the Pacific coast of Russia, through the Far East and Siberia, over the Ural Mountains to Scandinavia, and again from the east coast of Canada to Alaska.
Though separated by oceans, this huge area of forest is a single ecosystem, it is our planet’s evergreen crown. It is home to millions of Indigenous and local communities whose livelihoods depend on it as well as countless endemic plant and animal species. It is also the largest terrestrial carbon store – which means that it helps us in the fight to prevent dangerous climate change – if we protect it.

At their meeting in Cancun, governments must be honest and admit that they have not done enough to meet the targets they have set for themselves. They need to take bold new steps and announce that they will protect globally significant natural gems like the Great Northern Forest or the Arctic Ocean. We need a step-change in the scale of protection – on land and in the ocean.

Ultimately, if biodiversity loss is not halted, it will not just be animals and plants that go extinct, it will be us. So join us to defend our common heritage. The world’s resources can provide a decent life for all if we share them fairly. That’s the potential promise of the Convention of Biological Diversity. We must ensure governments deliver on it. Nature and people both will be winners if governments act.

This blog was originally posted on Huffington Post

Dienstag, 20. September 2016

Shifting power to protect people and planet

Last year, the world agreed an important to-do list for humanity. The Sustainable Development Goals set out a vision to end poverty by 2030, to turn the tide on soaring levels of inequality and to accelerate the transition to a world run on safe, renewable energy. However, these goals - like too many agreed by government summits before - will not be met unless the next 15 years sees a fundamental shift in the distribution of power. Nothing less will be required to deliver prosperity for all while staying within the ecological limits nature sets us. A redistribution of political and economic power is a precondition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dalberg, a global development platform, asked thought leaders from around the world to make 17 Big Bets about our world in 2030. Our big bet is that we can shift power to protect people and planet effectively by 2030.  

We are optimistic because the work to get us there has already started. Across the world, citizens are joining together and raising their voices for a fair and sustainable future. Over the last year, the Keystone XL pipeline was cancelled following pressure from a diverse coalition of citizens, farmers, Indigenous communities and others; Shell had to withdraw from the Alaskan Arctic in the face of people – from grannies, to investors to kayakers – opposing drilling for more oil than our climate can handle; China´s use of coal, meanwhile,  has gone into decline.

This encourages us. But to enable a just development path, we need more fundamental changes than just switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Governments must agree rules that secure the public good. They must empower public institutions to deliver and enforce these rules. That means changing some fundamentals in the way we govern our planet, including how our global institutions and regulations work.

As a start, we need to give real power to global bodies dealing with social welfare and environmental protection, we need to end corporate trade deals and we need to regulate the global financial industry.

Governments, to put us on the right track, must end the global impunity of the corporate sector. Corporate accountability and liability should extend to all impacts on people and the environment around the world. If corporations cause harm, they need to incur a real cost. A binding global instrument that ensures full liability for any social or environmental damage must be a high priority if we are to achieve human-centred development by 2030.

Sustainability and justice can simply not become a reality in a world in which short-term bets by financial markets prevail. Strong controls of financial markets are an essential first step. New fiscal instruments such as a financial transaction tax need to be agreed to slow harmful speculation and deliver much needed finance for development and environmental protection.

At the national level, we need to reawaken democracy and ensure that politics sets the rules for business, not vice versa. In the United States, for example, this implies immediate measures to reduce the influence of corporate money in elections and protecting voter’s rights.   

We realize our bet that governments will govern for people and planet will seem impossible and idealistic to many. But just as (formal) civil rights were delivered and Apartheid ended, we believe that governance for people and planet will be achieved if enough people around the world stand up and demand it. Robert Hunter, one of the founders of Greenpeace, once observed that “big change looks impossible when you start, and inevitable when you finish”. So let´s get to work!

You can read our full bet in the 17 Big Bets for a Better Future book. Other contributors include Noble Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, the Head of the UN General Assembly  Mogens Lykketoft, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and one the architects of the Sustainable Development Goals, the current Environment Minister of Nigeria, Amina J. Mohammed.
This joint blog was first published on the Huffington Post.