George Orwell famously wrote in his novel 1984 that, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Indeed, the words we choose can shape our thinking. We should therefore make sure that our language accurately conveys our intentions and thoughts and is as reflective of reality as possible.
Ever since former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in a cynical attempt to exploit divisions in the Labour Party, announced less than a fortnight ago that the House of Commons would vote on the renewal of the four submarines that carry Britain’s nuclear warheads (a system collectively known as “Trident) on 18 July, debate about Britain’s future as a nuclear-armed state has filled the country’s airwaves and newspapers (Parliament voted in favour of renewal by a majority of 355). This, in itself, is a good thing as a robust public debate on such an important issue is needed. However, some of the terms used in this debate are inaccurate or misleading.
Let’s look at three such terms and consider how they have skewed the Trident debate.
One of the most misleading terms used in the debate on nuclear weapons is “deterrent” to describe a nuclear weapons capability or system. The term comes from the belief that nuclear weapons deter against aggression or a nuclear attack through the promise of retaliation—a security doctrine known as “nuclear deterrence”.
Although the primary geopolitical circumstances for its existence have ceased with the end of the Cold War (when nuclear deterrence took on the shape of “Mutually Assured Destruction”), the doctrine continues to permeate strategic thought in the nuclear-armed states and allied states covered by “extended nuclear deterrence”. For many in the defence and security elites in these states the doctrine is sacrosanct.
Incessant use of these terms in previous decades has meant that few people nowadays question the appropriateness of using “deterrent” as a synonym for any given nuclear weapons system. Every single British news gathering source—print media, broadcast news and online sources—covering the Trident debate referred to the weapons system as the UK’s “nuclear deterrent” or “deterrent”. Interestingly, and revelatory of just how successful the defence and security elites have been in controlling the terms on which the debate is had, even commentators with reservations about the Trident programme, or opposed to it, often use the term.
The problem is that the term “deterrent” is infused with meaning. The designation of a nuclear weapons system as a “deterrent” is invariably accompanied by the implication that it indeed does what the term suggests—that it deters. By using such terms, we tacitly acquiesce to this belief and invest considerable purpose and meaning into these inanimate instruments.
Yet, we cannot prove deterrence works. The fact that there has not been a nuclear war or a major war between the nuclear-armed states does not prove that deterrence work.
The contrary argument—that nuclear weapons and deterrence-fuelled nuclear brinkmanship has a considerable probability of triggering conflicts, possibly of the nuclear kind—is equally difficult to prove. However, there is considerable evidence within historical occasions where nuclear deterrence did not prevent war, as well as occasions where nuclear war was only narrowly avoided. There is further credible analysis that the deterrence doctrine has lost any relevance it may once have had in today’s multipolar world and changing security landscape.
As such, the use of “deterrent” to describe a nuclear weapons system is a sly way to shape people’s thinking on the utility, legality and acceptability of such a system. Just consider the difference in the following two ways to ask about Trident: (1) Should the UK give up its nuclear deterrent?; (2) Should the UK give up its thermonuclear bombs? The use of “deterrent” makes the former practically a leading question, while the latter is factually more correct. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume more people would answer “Yes” to the second one.
Nuclear weapons are instruments of terror and mass destruction. That’s what we should call them.
Furthermore, we should remind whomever attempts to get away with shrouding them in terms such as “deterrent” or “strategic stability” of the catastrophic consequences their use would cause and the risks inherent to their existence.
Newly minted Prime Minister Theresa May opined on the eve of the debate that voting against Trident renewal would be “A gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.” She, and many of those who voted in favour of Trident, also called the nuclear weapons system the UK’s “ultimate security guarantee”.
She, quite simply, has it backwards.
She was repeating a well-rehearsed mantra. The primary reason given for retention of nuclear weapons is that they are regarded as a vital part of a nation or alliance’s security. What defenders of nuclear weapons often fail to realise is that their country is of course not alone in caring about its security and the more they tout the indispensible role of nuclear weapons as the ultimate security guarantor, the more they are in the business of convincing other countries to acquire these weapons. No nation or group of nations can have a monopoly on “security”.
Luckily, the vast majority of states recognise that their security is better served by renouncing nuclear weapons. Indeed, through national and regional nuclear weapon-free policies, the entire southern hemisphere, as well as parts north of the equator, have sought security without nuclear weapons.
So, whose security are nuclear weapons supposed to serve? They don’t serve planetary security; they don’t serve human security; instead, they are used by a few to advance narrowly devised national security interests or those of military alliances. But even that is a false security. Recent research into the ever-growing list of cases of near nuclear use has revealed the kaleidoscope of risks inherent in nuclear operations.
The truth is that because the effects of use of nuclear weapons cannot be controlled within space or time and their employment in operations and deterrence policies are vulnerable to errors, their wielding by a few comes at the price of insecurity for the rest. This is a blatant form of inequality and injustice.
We thus have to recapture the meaning of security.
Through fear-mongering and misinformation, nuclear weapon advocates have permeated our collective thinking with the dangerous notion that these weapons have kept us safe and that their disarmament will bring with it insecurity and risks. It is imperative that we turn this on its head: nuclear disarmament comes at the benefit of our shared security. Greater security, not insecurity, for all lies in prohibiting and eliminating these instruments of terror. The security challenges coming from interconnected threats such as climate change, environmental degradation, demographic changes, resource scarcity and pandemic disease cannot be met by nuclear weapons. If anything, the adversarial deterrence policies in place are a great obstacle to achieving the unprecedented cooperation needed to address this host of transnational threats.
Crispin Blunt MP, one of the few Conservatives who voted against renewal had it right when he said in the debate yesterday:
“I oppose the renewal of Trident because I care about the security of my country. I’m not prepared to be party to the most egregious act of self-harm to our conventional defence. This is a colossal investment in a weapons system that will become increasingly vulnerable and for whose security we will have to throw good money, after bad – in fact tens of billions of it more than already estimated – to try to keep it safe in the decades to come.”
In the Trident debate, it was regularly suggested that the UK should continue to “possess” nuclear weapons. Merriam-Webster defines “possession” as “the condition of having or owning something”, which would undoubtedly apply to UK and other nuclear-armed states. But the term falls woefully short of accurately describing the nuclear enterprise.
The reality is that these weapons are being used every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day.
Merriam-Webster defines “use” as “the act or practice of employing something”. With regard to nuclear weapons, “use” is generally understood as the actual detonation of a nuclear warhead. But their threatened use is part and parcel of the policies of the nuclear-armed states and nuclear alliances.
Indeed, this “threat to use” underpins the deterrence doctrine. Nuclear deterrence relies on a perceived willingness to use these weapons, without which the credibility of the doctrine would implode. Nuclear weapons are thus best understood as continually “employed” by possessor states to project threat and power.
An analogy with firearms is enlightening in this respect. Falling short of actually pulling the trigger (thereby using a gun in the strictest sense of the word), pointing a gun at someone to secure a certain decision or type of behaviour or advance your own interests should surely also be regarded as use of said gun. Consider, for example: “He used a gun to rob me!”
The reality is that the nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear-armed states are not like a gun locked away in a cabinet at home or even holstered on the person. They are not residing in inert stockpiles. Rather, they are at all times employed in dynamic military policies and exercises to intimidate, coerce and extort.
They thus more resemble the drawn gun pointed at someone. As I write this, thousands of nuclear weapons are aimed at cities, with some of them on “hair-trigger alert”, ready to be fired at a moment’s notice. It is a “security system” predicated on the constant readiness and preparations to wage all-out nuclear war, which is riddled with risks, including unauthorized launch, mistaken launch on warning, accidental detonation and inadvertent escalation.
Talking about countries that “possess” nuclear weapons runs the risk of depicting a static situation that is under control. It lulls people into a false sense of security. It is our responsibility to remind people that “possession” actually entails a dynamic enterprise that breeds an existential form of insecurity for all, including their possessors.
There is no greater tactic of exclusion and obfuscation than bombarding (for lack of better word) someone with technical terms. For too long, those in the establishments committed to continue brandishing nuclear weapons have successfully employed this tactic. It has further allowed them to sanitise a discussion that should be had primarily on humanitarian grounds.
The widespread usage and dissemination of terms that, rather than state the facts, manipulate thinking, is all too prevalent in the nuclear weapons debate.
Some of these terms need to be challenged or exposed, while others need to be recaptured to represent their true meaning.
Instead of describing the systems and policies that rely on nuclear weapons in terms of “deterrent” and “strategic stability”, we should expose the risks they are rife with and underline the catastrophic consequences any use would have.
Instead of letting a few monopolise and corrupt the concept of “security” in narrowly devised goals that come at the detriment to the security of the rest, we should recapture the meaning of security as one that recognises that human and planetary security are better served through the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Ultimately, words don’t even begin to capture the horror of nuclear weapons. Anyone shown what these instruments of terror do—the destruction, the death, the burns, the birth deformities, the tumours—should be at a loss for words…
A flurry of positive environmental news stories emerging from Maryland is giving hope that the State’s strong environmental education legislation, which the WFC is working to spread, combined with tough pollution control and restoration actions is paying off. Recent weeks have seen particularly positive news for the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the US surrounded by Maryland and Virginia, which had become overfished and badly polluted with sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial waste since the 1970s. News that sewage pollution goals have been met 10 years early, that there has been a resurgence in aquatic grasses, blue crab, striped bass and bald eagle populations and that “dead zones” in the bay are shrinking are all giving cheer to those involved in restoration and environmental education activities in the area.
Environmental literacy is not just about having a deep understanding of environmental issues facing the planet today, but is also crucially about working to help reduce them.
On a recent environmental education field trip to Maryland, WFC staff saw first hand how awareness raising and practical actions go hand in hand to produce these kind of success stories. Environmental literacy is not just about having a deep understanding of environmental issues facing the planet today, but is also crucially about working to help reduce them. Groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) are improving awareness and changing behavior among Maryland’s schools and communities while actively restoring native oysters, planting underwater grasses, trees and stream buffers to restore the Bay’s natural filters.
In Maryland, these kind of actions by schools are not only encouraged but are a mandatory part of the curriculum thanks to the Maryland’s pioneering Environmental literacy Standards which in 2011 ruled that each local school system must provide a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education programme. We saw this first hand when joining a recent science class boat trip where students measured the quality of the water using a range of technology which they then analysed before releasing oysters they had grown into the bay. Oysters are economically important to the surrounding region but are also a vital part of the water filtration system. One oyster can filter about 50 gallons of water a day, meaning that maintaining high oyster levels is very important in making sure the water is fit for wildlife. More than 200 million oysters have been ‘planted’ as a result of these restoration programmes which have undoubtedly had a positive impact on the bay’s water quality
The good news isn’t only confined to the health of the bay but also to a student led victory on climate change. Faced with strong calls from Maryland’s undergraduate students to act on greenhouse gas emissions, the University System of Maryland Foundation pledged to direct its $1 billion endowment away from coal, oil and natural gas companies and instead invest in renewable energy. “It’s because of the students and the positions they took that caused us to focus on it this year,” said Leonard Raley, president and CEO of the foundation. “The world is changing and we’re paying attention to it. We’re concerned about climate change and I think the actions that our foundation took reflect that.”
Of course not all these victories are down to Maryland’s pioneering environmental literacy requirement but we certainly believe it is playing a key role. We are now focussing our efforts at the WFC on showing legislators from around the world how introducing a mandatory and holistic programme for educating young people about our environmental responsibilities can have a positive impact both on the health of local wildlife and in tackling environmental problems such as climate change.
As the fallout of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union continues to spread through Britain and abroad, the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system has become the latest issue to be sucked into the ‘Brexit’ vortex.
At what would prove to be his last international engagement, David Cameron announced last Saturday at the NATO Summit in Warsaw that the parliamentary vote on renewing the four nuclear submarines that make up the nuclear programme will be held on 18 July. Yes, next Monday.
“While Britain may be leaving the EU, we are not withdrawing from the world”, Cameron confidently proclaimed. What gall to tout these weapons as a sign of Britain’s good faith participation in global affairs, especially considering the vast majority of the world’s peoples and nations are desperately looking to the UK and the other eight nuclear-armed states to finally remove the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our shared future.
And yes, this too is related to Brexit. It’s related in three ways: first, the vote to renew Trident is being used by the Conservative Party to close its ranks after a bitter EU Referendum campaign and subsequent leadership election, which has regurgitated Theresa May as his successor, has left it divided; second, the vote is being used to exploit divisions in the Labour Party, which is currently embroiled in an acrimonious leadership battle of its own and remains split on the issue of Trident; third, the vote is being used by the outgoing Cameron to make it clear to the rest of the world that despite the Brexit vote, Britain has no intention of retreating from the global stage.
To use an issue as important as Trident renewal as a political football – like the Conservative Party has done with the EU Referendum – is bad enough. However, there is something uniquely sinister and cynical about proclaiming the renewal of a system designed to kill millions as demonstration of Britain’s commitment to remaining ‘open for business’ and globally engaged. “While Britain may be leaving the EU, we are not withdrawing from the world”, Cameron confidently proclaimed. What gall to tout these weapons as a sign of Britain’s good faith participation in global affairs, especially considering the vast majority of the world’s peoples and nations are desperately looking to the UK and the other eight nuclear-armed states to finally remove the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our shared future.
There are plenty of reasons for British elected representatives to vote against Trident renewal come Monday. Rather than being the bulwark of British security, the retention of Trident ensures the UK remains exposed to the hydra-headed risk of its nuclear deterrence policy, not least the very real risk of launch by accident or miscalculation. The risks have only been compounded in recent years, with non-state actors seeking to acquire or develop nuclear capabilities and evolving cyber security threats exposing vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems.
Meanwhile, the costs of renewing Trident – estimated to be anywhere between £167 and £205 billion – at a time when vital public services are suffering far-reaching budget cuts is inappropriate at best, irresponsible at worst.
Then there are the well-known moral concerns about continuing to brandish and threaten with weapons that are designed for one purpose only: to kill large numbers of civilians, set cities ablaze and spread the horrific trans-generational health effects of radioactive fallout.
As the effects of these weapons cannot be contained in time or space, the UK’s decision to renew Trident does not exist in a political domestic vacuum – the international community has a stake in it. And it’s clear where the vast majority of this world’s peoples and nations fall on the question of whether the UK’s nuclear weapons offer more benefit than harm: an overwhelming majority of UN Member States have continually called for the UK and other nuclear-armed states to disarm their nuclear arsenals for the good of international peace and security.
Neither does the decision exist in a vacuum free of the rule of law. The UK is under clear international legal obligations, enshrined both in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law, to eliminate its nuclear weapons. In fact, the Pacific island state of the Marshall Islands has taken the UK and fellow eight nuclear-armed states to the International Court of Justice for its alleged breach of its nuclear disarmament obligations. The Court has yet to decide on whether the case against the UK is to proceed to the merits phase but it should give MPs pause for thought that they are about to vote on something that is currently under review by the highest judicial organ in the world and which may be found as evidence of the UK’s continuing breach of international law.
Despite these arguments, it is expected that Parliament will overwhelmingly vote in favour of renewing Trident on Monday. Many MPs will do so as they dread the prospect of the UK losing the power and prestige Trident is perceived to convey. In particular, they are gripped by the fear that the UK may lose its seat on the UN Security Council if it disarms. For all their proclamations of commitment to internationalism, they have nothing but contempt for international law and the global community’s desire for a world free of nuclear weapons. Others will do so because they remain convinced Trident is the ultimate security guarantor, despite the clarion of calls and expert reports highlighting the risks involved with these weapons. And yet others will vote in favour as the manufacturing of the Trident submarines will take place in their constituencies and in their twisted arithmetic a few thousand jobs outweigh the peace and security of the nation and rest of the world.
Ultimately, the issue of nuclear disarmament is best understood as a social and justice struggle like the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid and the suffragette movement. While the Conservative Government and many Labour MPs will play fast and loose with Britain’s security and global standing by voting for Trident renewal on Monday, the minority voting for Britain to live up to its nuclear disarmament obligations and being a responsible stakeholder will have to settle for the scant comfort of knowing they will be on the right side of history.
Last weekend the CEO of Nasdaq complained in the Wall Street Journal about ‘The Overblown Brexit Market Panic’. Repeating the absurdity that the vote has created an “independent Britain”, as if the EU is a colonial power, he assured readers that “over the next two years, the timeline for EU withdrawal, Britain has an opportunity to become a trading magnet”.
It is rare to find so many errors and misunderstandings in such a short space. First, there is no panic because there has been no Brexit, only a non-binding referendum. This generated a small pro-Leave majority, which – according to numerous polls since – would not be repeated today.
Britain is a representative democracy with a sovereign parliament which chose to make this referendum non-binding. The Prime Minister who promised to implement it has since resigned. While the House of Commons could find strong reasons to ignore the vote, they will not (yet) dare to do so because of the fanaticism of the Brexiteers. Thus, Dominic Lawson, a columnist in the ‘Sunday Times’ has claimed (July 3rd), that ignoring the vote would cause such anger that “we could see tanks on the streets”.
So what is the most likely outcome? Will the British Parliament pass Brexit legislation, which most of its members do not believe in? The current House of Commons has a large pro-EU majority and it is unlikely that this will change after the next election.
So for now, it is likely that the process of the UK leaving the EU will go ahead, despite the growing opposition. Over 1000 lawyers have called for an independent body to examine the consequences, followed by a parliamentary vote.
Before the referendum, David Cameron said that the UK would trigger the EU exit clause (Article 50) quickly after a Brexit vote. Today this date is receding ever further into the future, with government ministers not wanting it triggered until the end of the year or even next year. Why? Because, having no Brexit plan, they have only now realized the complexities of unravelling 40 years of EU membership. As the Article 50 timetable stipulates that the UK will be outside the EU two years after triggering it, they are panicking that this will leave them without an alternative arrangement and at the mercy of their ex-partners. (Unanimity would be required to extend this two-year period). Experts have calculated that concluding negotiations and passing the required legislation may take seven years. The Austrian Minister of Finance experts Britain to still be an EU member in five years’ time…
As for negotiating new trade agreements, this may take even longer. For decades such agreements have been concluded at the EU level and the UK no longer has the required expertise. Last week, the media reported that New Zealand had offered to help out by lending London some trade negotiators…
While there is yet no panic, the Brexit insecurity is growing: “Sterling falls despite reassurance”, “Banks promise to boost lending to stop Britain falling into recession” (both headlines in the “Daily Telegraph”, July, 6th), and “Brexit vote may be the undoing of Italian Banks” (“City am”, July 6th). One of this paper’s columnists recommends that the UK adopts the cold war UN strategy of Stalin’s Foreign Minister Molotov and turns up at the EU Council of Ministers to “veto every proposal on any subject whatsoever, regardless of its merit”, until the EU agrees to Brexit negotiations before the UK has triggered the Article 50 exit clause.
One can only imagine the animosity and harm this will cause. Already, xenophobic and racist incidents have surged in the UK since the referendum. The vote has also created new inter-generational conflicts. Most young Britons voted to remain in the EU and many are furious with parents and grand-parents for depriving them of their freedom to live and work in other European countries.
So, as a result of holding this referendum at a time of strong anti-government feelings, and resentment against the privileged establishment after years of austerity, and promising to implement a non-binding vote come what may, the UK and EU now face many years of turmoil and disruption. At a time when many urgent issues — climate change, economic instability, terrorism, the refugee crisis, a resurgent Russia etc. — require the attention of European decision-makers, they will be busy unravelling the details of the UK’s EU membership and implementing alternatives. The simplest, guaranteeing continued full UK access to the EU market, would involve joining Norway and Iceland in the European Economic Area (EEA). Yet the UK will soon find that this involves accepting most EU laws and obligations — including free movement – but with no ability to influence them, and at equivalent financial costs for EU membership. The UK may believe it can get a special deal but this is very unlikely as the other members – who would all need to approve the outcome — would not want to create precedents.
So what is the most likely outcome? Will the British Parliament pass Brexit legislation, which most of its members do not believe in? The current House of Commons has a large pro-EU majority and it is unlikely that this will change after the next election.
The more time elapses since the Brexit vote, the more likely it is that MPs will assert their primary duty to act in the best interests of their country. This will particularly be the case if Scotland moves towards independence and the peace in Northern Ireland is threatened by Brexit, which will necessitate border controls between N. Ireland and the Republic.
In such a case it would be very surprising if MPs did not prioritize the peace and integrity of the UK above a non-binding vote taken years ago.
So, while it is likely that Article 50 will be triggered to appease the Brexit fanatics, it is even more likely that it will later be rescinded, i.e. that the UK withdraws its application to leave in a few years time. International treaty law allows this. Of course, this would require reversing the complex legislative process, wasting more years and risking more vetos along the way. David Cameron’s foolishness and arrogance will cost his country and Europe dear.
So what about immigration? Of course problems arise when health and educational facilities face years of under-funding due to austerity policies. But there can be little doubt that media anti-immigrant propaganda played a greater role in the referendum than actual immigration. I live in London which often really feels overcrowded with foreigners. But London voted to remain. On the other hand, areas of Britain which seem “unchanged since the 1950s” (to quote a retired lawyer living in Cheshire) voted to leave, despite very few immigrants. Voters there read the “Sun”, “Daily Mail” or “Daily Telegraph”, which worked hard to convince them that this was their last chance to stop the mass invasion of dreaded foreigners reaching their village…
While the cost of renewable energy is decreasing; technologies are advancing rapidly – Now is the time to set the course for a rapid conversion of our energy supply towards 100% renewables, especially in Germany. This is the only way to ensure the implementation of the goals agreed at the Paris Convention, setting the existentially important objectives for global climate protection. The deliberate slowdown of renewable energy must end.
The Future Justice team attended a talk concerning the relationship between climate change and human rights, hosted by the Global Governance Institute, UNICEF UK and UCL Grand Challenges, with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Prof. John Knox.
Mike Penrose, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, introduced the topic at hand by urging us all to place human beings at the core of this debate. Climate impacts causing the displacement of several tens of millions of people in places such as Bangladesh and food security crises in East Africa bringing a rise in child mortality, point to the key framing of the issue. It becomes even more pressing when we consider that it’s the young/future generations and the ones most vulnerable amongst the current generations who will bear the consequences of climate change first and hardest.
Climate impacts causing the displacement of several tens of millions of people in places such as Bangladesh and food security crises in East Africa bringing a rise in child mortality, point to the key framing of the issue.
With COP21, Penrose continued, we have an opportunity to stem this crisis – a sentiment later reiterated by Prof. Knox. Given that the governments have agreed to limit climate change to 2 degrees, or even 1.5, despite that still being a potentially catastrophic rise in temperature, it might just be within the realms of manageable. To go forwards with this daunting and ambitious objective Mike Penrose urged that we all need to move from words to actions.
Most importantly there needs to be early and heavy investment in mitigation measures that will reduce the climate impact on children. To achieve this we need to tackle the issue through a rights based approach, in order for human beings and children to be at the centre of the debate: ‘Their voice needs to be listened to because they will inherit this planet.’
The role of Prof. Knox as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment is to study this specific area of law and clarify how human rights law applies to environmental protection. Prof Knox’s work encompasses thereby also the study of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean and healthy environment.
It turns out that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t cover the environment because human rights laws developed before our understanding of the environment. Thus work to combine the two is increasingly vital. Nowadays, already more than 90 national constitutions include a right to healthy environment, this includes but isn’t limited to tribunals that have effectively ‘greened’ existing human rights.
Prof. Knox shared some of his conclusions drawn from his extensive research:
- Environmental harm interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights
- Human rights laws set out procedural rules for environmental policy making
- Human rights law sets minimum substantive standards
- Groups vulnerable to environmental harm are owed heightened duties
A clear benefit derived from a human rights perspective to climate change is a clarified view as to what is at stake: whether all of us – especially the most vulnerable – will be able to live with dignity, equality and freedom and furthermore, it provides a solid guidance for robust and effective climate policies, by virtue of keeping humans at the core of this debate.
What we need to do now is to go further with the reframing of climate change as a threat to human rights; the fact that we see images of polar bears and post apocalyptic Mad-Max-Style environments, John Knox explained, is a sign that climate change and the real impact of it is still too far removed from us as human beings.
“Climate change is the greatest threat to human rights in the twenty first century.” Mary Robinson
The recent Paris agreement therefore has to be lauded in that this is the first time that such an agreement refers to human rights in relation to climate change. The narrative on climate change is broadening out to the human threat faced, especially as basic human rights are already being violated due to climate change, with the risks of greater and more extensive corrosion of rights becoming more apparent. A great deal needs to be done to bring Paris into action, to see a fast reduction in emissions.
The talk concluded by highlighting a new way, paved in lawsuits, to move beyond this rhetoric such as Asghar Leghari v Federation of Pakistan 2015, Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands 2015 and most recently a case where the young generation decided to fight for their right to a healthy environment : the Children’s Trust Lawsuit v The United States of America ( Kelsey Cascade Rose Juliana; et al., v. The United States of America).
“How do we get to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 in the County of Oxford? One of the strategies is to look beyond our borders.” This is why Jay Heaman, Manager of Strategic Initiatives and David Mayberry, Warden of Oxford County travelled to Germany to learn what people from around the world have accomplished. After visiting Rhein-Hunsrueck District, Frankfurt, Wolfhagen and attending the Kassel International Dialogue, Oxford County’s political decision makers laid out a framework for Oxford to become a “100% RE” community. It outlines how community, business, government, academic, national and international partners can work together while the fully developed plan, to be presented in fall this year, will also include specific targets, milestones and actions.
Oxford County is a rural area covering 2,039 km² that encompasses 2 towns, 5 townships, and 1 city, with a population of 111,700. In addition to having long roots in farming, Oxford is rich in entrepreneurship and innovation, is located along highly accessible transportation routes. On June 24, 2015, the Council unanimously committed to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The motion put forward by Woodstock Mayor and County Councillor Trevor Birtch, who was inspired by the Global Learning Forum, placed Oxford as the first municipal government in Ontario to commit to a renewable energy target and only the second in Canada after Vancouver, BC. This commitment is for community-wide use of renewable energy not only for electricity, heating/cooling, and transportation, but also the primary industry, agriculture.
“Collectively as a community, I am convinced that we can accomplish renewable energy as we try to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. It won’t be done this year and not next year, but if we set ourselves a goal, I am absolutely convinced, that we can do it.” David Mayberry, Warden of Oxford County.
“Collectively as a community, I am convinced that we can accomplish renewable energy as we try to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. It won’t be done this year and not next year, but if we set ourselves a goal, I am absolutely convinced, that we can do it.” says David Mayberry, Warden of Oxford County. Motivated by the urgency to protect the planet for future generations, Jay Heaman, David Mayberry, Trevor Birtch have worked hard over the past 12 months, building on experiences from their partners including York University’s Sustainable Energy Initiative; the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), Renewable Cities, World Future Council and the Global 100% RE campaign.
The Draft Plan uses as its framework 12 internationally endorsed criteria from the Kassel International Dialogue on 100% Renewable Energy report released in November 2015. The criteria are intended to serve as guideposts for local governments in planning to meet their 100% RE goals, from implementation to target setting through to strategies that enable 100% renewable energy. “The magic is how we try and harness those naturally forming energy transformations to adapt our lives.” says Jay Heaman, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Oxford County.
Members of the community can read the Draft Plan and submit their questions, comments and feedback over the next 60 days at www.oxfordcounty.ca/speakup. The final version of the Plan is expected to be released in the fall of 2016. Oxford’s 100% RE goal is a target of the Future Oxford Community Sustainability Plan. For more information visit smartenergyoxford.ca and watch the series of videos that showcase the concept of 100% renewable energy.
Imagine a room packed with more than 1000 mayors from all parts of the world. Add different civil society representatives, stakeholders from the private sector as well as legislators from regional and national governments. Now picture them discussing on round tables how their cities could become more sustainable. Imagine then a concluding session in the plenary where all findings would be boiled down to five key recommendations. What’s the result? Well, “building political will” is definitely among these five key findings. Why am I so sure? Because I experienced these sessions literally a hundred times.
Political will is indeed lacking when it comes to making our cities greener, cleaner and more liveable. But frankly, that’s not the point. The question is: what will actually generate this political will and what are the causes of its absence? What do we have to change so that mayors, local authorities and governments will actually start to act?
Certainly the different measures for making cities more sustainable need to make economic sense. They need to fit the needs of the people and they have to be compatible with the social DNA of every single place. But that’s not enough. They also need to be supported by national governments. Most importantly, the different governmental levels need to work better together. This article focuses on this latter point. How do we overcome the competition for power between national, regional and local governments? How do we ensure that representatives from across levels of government really understand that sustainable development requires them to collaborate much more closely? How do we make better use of integrated urban development policy approaches? Just as the legendary Leipzig Charter from the year 2007 states:
Ensuring simultaneous and fair consideration of the concerns and interests which are relevant to urban development in which the spatial, sectoral and temporal aspects of key areas of urban policy are co-ordinated.
Habitat III: an opportunity for multi-level governance?
The upcoming UN Habitat III conference to be hosted in Quito next October will bring together a huge range of stakeholders and actors, ranging from the UN-level down to the municipal level. This will be a precious opportunity to launch and promote cross-cutting proposals to enable this multi-level governance that we so much need.
A concrete proposal: National Urban Policy Commissions (NUPCs)
A proposal that we believe could offer a concrete tool to improve multi-level governance, would be the creation of National Urban Policy Commissions. These would be cross-ministerial and cross-governmental commissions co-led by national, regional and local governments which would help to bridge incompatibilities between local and national legislations and hence help the effective and consistent implementation of national programmes within the local context (e.g. sustainability programmes). The Commission would be composed of members from different levels of government (from the city to the national level). This will ensure representation of all government levels and that these can work cohesively and constructively on establishing and implementing a sustainability roadmap for cities. Other stakeholders such as civil society organizations, interest groups and the private sector would also be involved within these commissions to ensure comprehensive representation and to stimulate cross-sectoral collaboration. These NUPCs would also be the institutional platform for the design as well as the implementation and monitoring of National Urban Policies (as outlined in Habitat III Policy Paper 3) as well as of the New Urban Agenda (as to be agreed by the UN General Assembly in October 2016). This would allow the commission to assume two key roles. On one hand, the role of improving multi-level governance by supervising cross-level collaboration. On the other hand, it would serve as a dedicated national taskforce for the implementation and monitoring of the New Urban Agenda following its ratification at the Habitat III in Quito in October 2016.
What would NUCPs actually do?
The main tasks of the Commission would include:
- Design National Urban Policies. The Commission is in charge of the design, implementation and monitoring of National Urban Policies.
- Facilitate coordination and help cross-departmental collaboration. The Commission is in charge of encouraging projects and collaboration across governmental departments and national ministries to find integrated, and cross-silos policy solutions for cities. Many times departments both at the national level (e.g. ministries) and at the municipal level (e.g. city councils) struggle to work jointly and cohesively. The Commission therefore facilitates collaboration across governmental departments to ensure coherence across sectorial policies at the national as well as at the municipal level.
- Establish Cooperation Projects Across Levels of Government. The Commission ensures enhanced coordination and collaboration across the different levels of government. Coordination between the national and municipal governments is essential in ensuring improved effectiveness of policy implementation, greater efficiency in the administrative procedures as well as ensure consistency and coherence between national and local policies. It is also important to ensure a balance between top-down and bottom up approaches.
- Supervise the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda. The Commission is in charge of ensuring that the agreements of the New Urban Agenda are considered when designing and implementing National Urban Policies. This Commission will be adapting the international targets and objectives agreed in the New Urban Agenda to the national and local contexts and explore concrete action-oriented solutions to achieve those targets. The Commission therefore facilitates the enactment of the New Urban Agenda and ensure consistency of national and local policies with international agreements.
- Coordinate Multi-Stakeholder Engagement. The commission engages different experts and stakeholders from a variety of sectors (government, private sector, civil society, etc.) when drafting National Urban Policies. This ensures that all voices are heard and all interests considered in an open, fair and transparent way.
- Coordinate City-to-City Collaboration. The Commission also facilitates the cooperation of cities across the country and promote exchange of knowledge and best policy solutions among cities from the same country and from abroad.
Going back to the analysis that progress in making our cities a better place is hold back by the lack of political will. Yes, but that shouldn’t be a conclusion. It should be the point of departure to actually generate this political commitment.
Stefan Schurig, Director – Climate, Energy and Cities, Member of the Management Board, WFC
Two women, one mission: Our Councillor Pauline Tangiora and our Youth Ambassador Kehkashan Basu are two inspirational women working to make the world a better place. As a Maori elder, Pauline has been a respected advocate for the environment and indigenous issues for decades in her native New Zealand. Kehkashan is an Indian-born, devoted youth activist living in the United Arab Emirates, frequently travelling across the world to mobilise other young people in the movement for a green future.
During our Annual General Meeting in Hamburg, the two women provided us with an insight into their lives, their work and hopes for the WFC and made one thing clear: You don’t need to become a full-time activist travelling the world to make a difference – change starts at home.
What can we do to make the world a better place?
Kehkashan: Everybody can start by practising a sustainable lifestyle in the simplest way possible, just trying to think about the environmental impacts of everyday activities. If people choose to learn more about sustainability and spread awareness, a lot of things can be done. This also means that people need to respect the rights of others and take their views and opinions seriously.
Pauline: People need to respect each other. That is the first thing we need to teach our children: To respect ourselves and those around us. It is also important that children are respected by the adults around them. And your actions will probably depend on the environment you live in. I live in a rural area and we have to catch our water and save it. So, everybody could contribute by putting a tank up by their house to catch the rain water. When children come to my house, they don’t turn taps on just like that because they know that water is the life and power of humanity.
Tell us a little bit about what you do
Kehkashan: In 2012, I started my youth organisation called “Green Hope”, which has the objective to carry forward the legacy of sustainable development and green economy by involving the children and youth of my region and also worldwide. We conduct conferences, workshops and academies to educate young people about what they can do to get involved in the sustainable development agenda and how they can spread awareness in their communities. But we don’t just talk about it. We also run small community projects so they can learn by doing. And we spread awareness through music, art, dance and drama because we feel the message is passed on easier that way.
Pauline: Personally, I wouldn’t even call it work. I walk alongside, especially alongside young people. I enjoy hearing their thoughts and ideas – and they listen to mine. I think in such conversations, young and old people can define the problems in the world very clearly. People from my generation should remember that we don’t have all the wisdom just because we are older. We should talk with young people to learn what they want and what they think the future will bring. If we don’t do that, we lose something.
Do you think that women or men are more concerned about the environment or more sensitive towards sustainability issues?
Pauline: In our community, we work together – male and female. We don’t say men are doing things better than women. We thank everyone in our community. We need to make sure that this remains the essence of who we are. And we have had many, many international calls, even from Germany, asking: ‘What can we do, we have a problem’ and I would say: ‘You need to work together. Men and women.’
Kehkashan: I think it really depends on the person and I don’t think it’s gender-specific. I am talking from personal experience. My group has an equal number of guys and girls who are equally passionate about what we do. So I think it really depends on the person as a whole and not their gender.
The Rights of Children commission is doing a really great job to secure the rights of children through national policies and legislation, for example to increase child participation and environmental literacy.
What are your expectations of or hopes for the WFC?
Kehkashan: The Rights of Children commission is doing a really great job to secure the rights of children through national policies and legislation, for example to increase child participation and environmental literacy. I think continuing this work and involving more young people is going to make a big difference in the world.
Pauline: The WFC has a very important role to play in the world, as it is not just working to change things but to actively make them better. And that is important, as you can’t just say “we have to change something”; you have to make things better through concrete action.
What changes have you seen over the years?
Kehkashan: When I started getting involved in sustainable development I was 8 years old. When I was 12, I started my own organisation and I think that was a huge changing point in my life because I learnt that working with others is so much more enjoyable. We can do so much more together to get our voice heard – much more than when we work alone. Our voices together have a much greater impact on society; it is a better way to spread our message.
I often meet people who think we young people cannot make a change, just because of our age! But now, I think our voices have really been heard and we have been able to convince people that the opposite is true.
Pauline: I am trying to represent the views and the concerns of the indigenous people. I am a lonely voice for them. It’s my belief that many people don’t understand the desperate needs of indigenous people worldwide. We had 500 years of colonisation in the Americas, 250 years of colonisation in Australia and 175 without sovereignty of New Zealand. So, where do we start and where do we finish? The indigenous peoples are not asking for much although they have lost their lands, rivers and forest – which is still happening today, for example in the Amazon. So while colonisation is still continuing in this day and age, where is the public in the world looking at?
But there are some positive developments. We had no fish in our river, we had nothing. Still, the local people made an agreement with the government department of conservation and since then, they have been working together to fence off our fish. Now, even visitors want to walk up there to see it.
Indigenous people still have the knowledge, still have their way of doing things. Many of us grew up with a basic understanding of the water, the sky, the storms and the sunshine. Sometimes I feel very sad that many people don’t understand that, don’t see that. We have a lot to offer.