Peace and Climate Action: Challenges and Opportunities from Latin America
Organized by the Environmental Committee (GISA),
the Latin American Network Initiative (the Graduate Institute Geneva),
the Peace Nexus Foundation and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO)
By Raksha Gopal
As Hurricane Eta ravages Central America, the final day of Geneva Peace Week organised a panel discussion on ‘Peace and Climate Action: Challenges and Opportunities from Latin America’. Organised in collaboration with the Environmental Committee and LANI – student-run initiatives of the Graduate Institute Geneva – the Peace Nexus Foundation and the Quaker UN Office, this session introduced the audience to the linkages between climate action and peacebuilding. The panellists for the session were José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the United Nations, Yolanda Kakabadse, Former Minister of Environment in Ecuador and former Director of WWF International, and Astrid Puentes, Co-Executive Director of AIDA (Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense). The event was moderated by LANI President and IHEID student Karen Chica Gómez.
For panellist Cali Tzay, climate action has evolved over the long-span of his professional career. What began as a movement for protecting nature is now a massive call by the indigenous communities of his home country, Guatemala, for protection against climate change. For him, it is of utmost importance that youth be drawn into this movement immediately. Addressing the youth in his audience, he said, “Take care yourself, but also take care of Mother Nature because you are the hope for our species – you have the future in your hands.”
For Kakabadse, climate action for Latin America means two things. First, we must change our language and address climate ‘change’ as a climate ‘crisis’ to mobilise society around the real and negative effects of this phenomena. Second, we must encourage multilateralism and bring the state, civil society, markets, communities and individuals together for a dialogue where we can share our fears, experiences and needs. As a former member of the 1992 Rio Conference, Kakabasde praised the evolution of climate action over the last 30 years and is hopeful of continued progress.
Finally, according to Astrid Puentes, who works as a litigator for human rights, climate change and the environment, climate action in the region requires linking peace with climate change. She highlighted that the failure of current strategies towards conservation indicate that we must change our policies. Problematising climate action in Latin America, she said, “Latin America is diverse in terms of cultures, people and groups, but it is also the most unequal region in the world. This has prevented the effect of climate action here.” Eradication of this inequality requires collaboration, immediate action and effective implementation.
How does climate action connect with peacebuilding? According to Cali Tzay, when you practice fighting against climate change, you practice peacebuilding! Replying to an audience question, Kakabadse emphasised that peacebuilding would require us to adopt good practices like indigenous agricultural techniques and reject bad ones like food wastage which contributes to crises and conflicts.
The panel discussion ended with breakout room sessions among audience members who engaged in discussions on sustainability, sharing examples from their own countries. In a concluding statement, one of the organisers highlighted the importance of deconstructing the term ‘climate action’ and reflecting on how to change our current lifestyles.
Geneva Peace Week Closing Ceremony & Final Thoughts
Organized by the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform
By Laura Silva Aya
On Friday, November 6th, Geneva Peace Week 2020 came to a close with a focus on the significance of environmental protection and conservation to further peacebuilding efforts. The last day of events coincided with the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, and the dialogue centered on the ways in which environment, conflict, climate, and peace affect each other. The Closing Ceremony continued this discussion, highlighting the fact that the existential threat of climate change and environmental degradation both breeds conflict and jeopardizes peace negotiations – and so all peacebuilding efforts must take into account environmental concerns.
With a variety of speakers from different organizations around the world, the closing ceremony emphasized the importance of empowering local actors and contexts in the pursuit of global progress. The ecological threats communities are facing are global: in the words of Dr. Inger Anderson, the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Environment, “nature does not respect political boundaries”. Yet, these environmental problems will also breed instability and conflict in very real and localized ways for many people. Those most vulnerable and most marginalized are too often the hardest hit by environmental degradation. Therefore, resolving these issues will take not only strong multilateral cooperation and a sense of collective responsibility, but also the meaningful inclusion of local and indigenous voices. Global concerns evidently require global responses – yet, the world needs to begin with the places that are most at-risk.
During the ceremony moderated by Carl Bruch – Director of International Programs at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), and the founding President of the Environmental Peacebuilding Association (EnPax) – the presenters from a variety of international organizations alluded to the fact that forging strong and resilient links between the local spheres and the international sphere will help make a positive impact. They spoke of the importance of empowering people on the ground through different technological and scientific tools – such as the Ecological Threat Register, or the Internal Displacement Index. Evidence-based policy making and a global perspective with respect to data collection and environmental stresses can make an enormous impact, and help build community resilience.
In a particularly poignant part of the ceremony, environmental peacebuilders from all corners of the world – from the Philippines, Kenya, the US, Colombia, Lebanon, Geneva and more – shared their experiences and challenges. They stressed that despite many differences in geography, strategy, and institutional support, the fundamental work of environmental peacebuilding can be lonely and difficult – but the time to act is now, and it is important to remember that there are many people willing to stand up to make the world a better, more peaceful, and more sustainable place. Their collective message was that peace is synonymous with sustainable and equitable development, and the world cannot continue to separate environment and peace without being mindful of the way we use, produce, consume and manage natural resources.
The ceremony ended with reflections from Hani Abbas, a cartoonist who expresses himself through his perspective on issues such as war, oppression, and loss. He stated that art is essential to understanding and communicating peacebuilding, a message which was reinforced by the reading of a ‘Recipe for Peace’, a poem written collectively during Geneva Peace Week. Full of optimism, nostalgia and hope, the poem quaintly encapsulated the atmosphere of the whole week.
In these unorthodox times, GPW 2020 served as a reminder that while the world faces many challenges – many of which seem insurmountable and omnipresent – there are always individuals and groups that are ready to face them with commitment, dedication and persistence. It is inspiring to remember that so many different people work tirelessly to advance peacebuilding and make the world a safer and better place.
In the end, more than 4000 people from 170 countries came together to discuss solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing peace and security. Despite the distance and the uncertainty surrounding all of us, the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform and its partners were able to connect people on a global scale, offering a forum for constructive dialogue. Most important of all, GPW 2020 – perhaps more than ever before – empowered individuals and communities to share their stories and experiences, and encouraged all of us to renew our commitment to peacebuilding and to the future we envision.