UN civil society conference to focus on sustainable solutions for challenges of urban life

26 August 2019

“Well-planned and managed cities can steer us towards inclusive growth and serve as models of harmony among diverse people”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared in a video message on Monday to delegates at the 68th UN Civil Society Conference, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The conference, described by the UN as the Organization’s “premier event in the civil society calendar”, opened today and will run through 28 August. It brings together representatives of civil society from around the world, and senior UN officials, to discuss a wide range of solutions to the challenges of urban life and the modern world.
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Utah’s indigenous Native American community perform a traditional ceremony at the 68th UN Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. (26 August 2019)

The UN chief welcomed the decision to make inclusive and sustainable cities and communities the focus of this year’s conference, noting that cities are well placed to help combat the global climate emergency and point the way towards sustainable, low-emission development.

At a time when civic space is shrinking worldwide and intolerance is on the rise, Mr. Guterres said civil society plays a vital role in solving all global challenges.

A global coalition to transform cities and communities

“We are here to learn from each other, to share ideas and to strengthen a global coalition to transform our cities and communities to be more inclusive and sustainable,” said Alison Smale, the head UN global communications, whose department co-organizes the event.

Ms. Smale, speaking at the opening session of the conference, underscored the critical importance of making cities inclusive, sustainable, resilient and safe, if the 2030 Agenda – the UN’s roadmap for tackling global challenges, including how to deal with the complexities of rapid urbanization – is to be achieved by its target date.

The 2019 conference is chaired by Maruxa Cardama, Secretary General of the Partnership for Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), who described cities and communities as “living laboratories” where “the challenges and opportunities that are central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change become tangible”.

Ms. Cardama said that cities and communities can provide opportunities to translate major global issues – from climate change, to human rights, education and jobs for youth – into positive local action for improving livelihoods and protecting the planet.

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Voice of youth

The 2019 conference has been set up to ensure that young people have a large say in the proceedings, holding a co-chair on nearly all planning sub-committees, and developing a separate outcome document for adoption on the final day of the event.

Young people have, said Ms. Smale, “pioneered global movement on the most pressing challenges of our time such as climate change”, and the conference will be an occasion to build momentum for climate action ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, taking place in New York in September.

‘The world can’t wait, and neither will we’

Salt Lake City has been preparing for the conference for over a year, led by Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who declared that cities and local communities have never before played such an important role in the health and well-being of the world.

Cities, she said, are becoming denser, and more diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, nd economic status, which presents great challenges and tremendous opportunities. Salt Lake City, she added, is innovating and building sustainable solutions to meet the challenges of our time.

“We are creating coalitions with other local communities, NGOs, and businesses, to maximize our impact. There is a phrase my fellow US mayors have begun using regularly. ‘The world can’t wait, and neither will we’”.

UN chief appeals to G7 leaders for ‘strong commitment’ and political will to tackle climate emergency

26 August 2019

People all over the world are calling for a shift towards a greener, cleaner future, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, stressing that “we have the tools to address the climate emergency, but we need more political will.”

This was the urgent message delivered on Twitter from Biarritz, France, where the UN chief has been meeting for the past two days with G7 leaders to mobilize action ahead of his Climate Action Summit next month in New York.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Guterres said the UN Summit – and the need for concrete action – come against the backdrop of a “dramatic climate emergency,” with the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reporting the 2015 to 2019 are on track to be the five hottest years ever recorded, and historically high concentrations of C02 in the atmosphere.

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The G7 group of nations with partners at the Hotel du Palais Biarritz, the location of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France. (25 August 2019)

And with Greenland’s ice melting, and record-setting fires blazing from the Arctic to Alaska and the Amazon, the Secretary-General said, “we are much worse than what we were during Paris,” referring to the 2015 conference in the French capital that give birth to the landmark climate accord aimed at easing global warming and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

He said that recent scientific evidence provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made clear that “we absolutely need to keep the rise of temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius to the end of the century and to be carbon neutral in 2050 and to have a 45 per cent reduction of emissions by 2030.”

“And so, it’s absolutely essential that countries commit themselves to increase what was promised in Paris because what was promised [there] is not enough,” said Mr. Guterres, calling for more ambition and more commitment to that end.

The UN chief said society is mobilizing, as well as the world’s youth, “and we want to have countries coming to New York and being able to commit to be carbon neutral in 2050, being able to increase substantially their ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions to climate action that have to be reviewed in 2020.”

Mr. Guterres also stressed the need to make sure that counties are “shifting of taxes from people to carbon,” ending subsidies to fossil fuels, and that more coal power plants are not built after 2020.

“All this requires a lot of political will, and the G7 was an excellent opportunity to appeal for the very strong engagement of the international community,” said the Secretary-General, adding that: “The youth have been leading the way, and we’ll start the Summit with a youth climate summit in the UN, but we need, especially those countries that belong to the G7, to give a positive example.”

The Week Ahead at the United Nations: 26-30 August 2019

The Week Ahead at the United Nations

26-30 August 2019

Monday, 26 August 

The G7 Summit in Biarritz, France concludes. Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the need for action on climate change, partnership with Africa, and work on inequality.

The UN Civil Society Conference begins in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Security Council briefing on UNAMID, the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur.

In Geneva:

Tuesday, 27 August

Secretary-General António Guterres participates in the 7th Tokyo International Conference of African Development, in Yokohama, then travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a three-day visit focused on the response to the Ebola outbreak.

Security Council briefing and consultations on the Middle East; and on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

 

Wednesday, 28 August 

Security Council briefing and consultations on UNAMI, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.

UNHCR’s 2019 Refugee Education Report will be presented in Geneva.

Thursday, 29 August

International Day Against Nuclear Tests

Security Council briefing and consultations on the Middle East, focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria. It also is expected to adopt resolutions related to UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, and to sanctions in Mali. That will be followed by consultations on the 1718 Sanctions Committee.

UNCTAD, the UN Conference on Trade and Development will present the Digital Economy Report 2019 – Value Creation and Capture: Implications for Developing Countries.

Friday, 30 August

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

 

In case you missed it last week: 

  • World must stamp out persecution of religious groups, SG Guterres urges; UN official presents plan to secure religious sites, ensure worshippers can practice faith in peace
  • The Security Council focused on Yemen, the broader Middle East, and Somalia
  • Lack of funds forces UN to close down life-saving aid programs in Yemen
  • Myanmar military committed ‘routine, systematic’ sexual violence against minorities
  • Photo story: Fighting Ebola in the DR Congo
  • Kashmir communications shutdown a collective punishment that must be reversed
  • WHO: Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but not necessarily a risk to human health
  • World Bank: Invisible crisis of water quality threatens human, environmental well-being


For more information:
 

World must stamp out persecution of religious groups, Guterres declares on new UN Day

UN chief António Guterres called for an end to the persecution of religious groups on Thursday, the first ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief.

22 August 2019

The Day was created in response to an increasing number of attacks against individuals and groups, targeted simply because of their religion or belief, around the world. Examples, said the Secretary-General, include “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

UN Photo/Mark Garten
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, lays a wreath in Christchurch memory of the victims of a mass shooting in the New Zealand city in March 2019. (May 2019)

Reject those who ‘spread fear and hatred’

Mr. Guterres declared that the Day was an opportunity to reaffirm support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief, adding that “we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable”.

Pointing out that all major world religions espouse tolerance and peaceful coexistence, the UN chief urged resistance to, and rejection of, those who “falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred”, noting that there is richness and strength in diversity, which is never a threat.

The Secretary-General drew attention to two new initiatives set up to overcome the threat of violence based on religion and belief: a UN strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, and a Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites.

UN plan to improve safety for worshippers

The latter initiative is being overseen by Miguel Angel Moratinos, who delivered a draft plan to the UN chief at the end of July, following consultations with governments, religious leaders, faith-based organizations and other relevant stakeholders.

Speaking at a July conference on counter-terrorism in Kenya, Mr. Moratinos, who is the UN High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), said that the aim of the Plan is to provide “concrete and action-oriented recommendations that can help ensure that religious sites are safe and that worshipers can observe their rituals in peace.”

In a message released on the Day, Mr. Guterres said that the best way to overcome the threat of violence based on religion and belief is by “uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity and protecting human rights”.