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Amidst a Horrendous 2023, Civil Society is Fighting Back Society

TORONTO, Canada, Dec 22 2023 (IPS) - The year 2023 has brought so much tragedy, with incomprehensible loss of lives, whether from wars or devastating ‘natural’ disasters, while our planet has seen yet more records broken as our climate catastrophe worsens.

And so as the clock ticks towards the (mostly western) New Year, readers are traditionally subjected by media outlets like ours to the ‘yearender’—usually a roundup of main events over the previous 12 months, one horror often overshadowed by the next.

Farhana Haque Rahman

So forgive us if, for 2023, IPS takes a somewhat different approach, highlighting how humanity can do better and how the big depressing picture should not obscure the myriad small but positive steps being taken out there.

COP28, the global climate conference held this month in Dubai, could neatly fit the ‘big depressing’ category. Hosted by a petrostate with nearly 100,000 people registered to attend, many of them lobbyists for fossil fuels and other polluters, it would be natural to address its outcomes with scepticism.

However, while Yamide Dagnet, Director for Climate Justice at the Open Society Foundations, described COP28 as “imperfect”, she said it also marked “an important and unprecedented step forward in our ‘course correction’ for a just transition towards resilient and greener economies.”

UN climate chief Simon Stiell acknowledged shortcomings in the compromise resolutions on fossil fuels and the level of funding for the Loss and Damages Fund. But the outcome, he said, was also the “beginning of the end” for the fossil fuel era.

Imperfect as it was and still based on old structures, COP28 hinted at the possible: a planetary approach to governance where common interests spanning climate, biodiversity, and the whole health of Earth outweigh and supersede the current dominant global system of rule by nation states.

As we have tragically witnessed in 2023, the existing system—as vividly reflected in the repetitive stalemate among the five veto-bearing members of the UN Security Council—is failing to find resolution to the major conflicts of this year, Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza. Not to mention older and half-forgotten conflicts in places like Myanmar (18.6 million people in need of humanitarian aid) and in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (seven million displaced).

The unrestrained destruction of Gaza and the disproportionate killings of over 17,000, (now the death toll is “at least 20,000 people” according to Palestinian officials) mostly civilians—in retaliation for 1,200 killings by Hamas and 120 hostages in captivity—have left the Palestinians in a state of deep isolation and weighed down by a feeling of being deserted by the world at large.

The United Nations and the international community have remained helpless, with UN resolutions having no impact, while American pleas for restrained aerial bombings continue to be ignored by the Israelis in an act of defiance, wrote IPS senior journalist Thalif Deen.

The hegemony of the nation-state system is surely not going to disappear soon but – without wanting to sound too idealistic — its foundations are being chipped away by civil society where interdependence prevails over the divide and rule of the existing order. And so for a few examples encountered in our reporting:

CIVICUS Lens, standing for social justice and rooted in the global south, offers analysis of major events from a civil society perspective, such as its report on the security crisis gripping Haiti casting doubt over the viability of an international plan to dispatch a Kenya-led police contingent.

Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, lobbied at COP28 for a $150 million appeal to support school-aged children facing climate shocks, such as the devastating drought in Somalia and Ethiopia, and floods in Pakistan where many of the 26,000 schools hit in 2022 remain closed.

Leprosy, an ancient but curable disease, had been pegged back in terms of new case numbers but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 made it harder for patients to get treatment and for new cases to be reported. Groups such as the Sasakawa Health Foundation are redoubling efforts to promote early detection and treatment.

With 80 percent of the world’s poorest living closer to the epicenters of climate-induced disasters, civil society is hammering at the doors of global institutions to address the challenges of adaptation and mitigation.

Lobbying on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai was activist Joshua Amponsem, co-director of the Youth Climate Justice Fund who questioned why weather-resilient housing was not yet a reality in Mozambique’s coastal regions despite the increasing ferocity of tropical cyclones.

“My key message is really simple. The clock is ticking for food security in Africa,” Dr Simeon Ehui told IPS as the newly appointed Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture which works with partners across sub-Saharan Africa to tackle hunger, poverty and natural resource degradation.

Dr Alvaro Lario, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which has received record-breaking pledges in support of its largest ever replenishment, warns that under current trends 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030.

“Hunger remains a political issue, mostly caused by poverty, inequality, conflict, corruption and overall lack of access to food and resources. In a world of plenty, which produces enough food to feed everyone, how can there be hundreds of millions going hungry?” he asked.

Empowering communities in a bid to protect and rejuvenate the ecosystems of Pacific communities is the aim of the Unlocking Blue Pacific Prosperity conservation effort launched at COP28 by Palau’s President Surangel Whipps who noted that the world was not on track to meet any of the 17 sustainable development goals or climate goals by 2030.

A scientist with a life-long career studying coral reefs, David Obura was appointed this year as the new chair of IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

We really have reached planetary limits and I think interest in oceans is rising because we have very dramatically reached the limits of land,” says Dr Obura, “What the world needs to understand is how strongly nature and natural systems, even when highly altered such as agricultural systems, support people and economies very tangibly. It’s the same with the ocean.”

An ocean-first approach to the fight against climate change is also the pillar of a Dalhousie University research program, Transforming Climate Action, launched last May and funded by the Canadian government. Traditional knowledges of Indigenous People will be a focus.

As Max Roser, an economist making academic research accessible to all, reminds us: for more people to devote their energy to making progress tackling large global problems, we should ensure that more people know that it is possible.

Focusing on the efforts of civil society and projecting hope amidst all the heartbreak of 2023 might come across as futile and wasted, but in its coverage IPS will continue to highlight efforts and successes, big and small, that deserve to be celebrated.

Farhana Haque Rahman is the Executive Director of IPS Inter Press Service Noram and Senior Vice President of IPS; she served as the elected Director General of IPS from 2015 to 2019. A journalist and communications expert who lived and worked in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD.

IPS UN Bureau


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