The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Angela Viano, Committee Member, Westminster UNA

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 1st March 2019 as a continuation of past actions to preserve natural habitats and more broadly the ecosystem.

Biodiversity has been front and centre of the United Nations effort to act on climate change and reduce its degradation and loss for years. From the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity through to the Declaration of the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) with the implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted at the 10th COP to the CBD in Nagoya (Japan), the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity has never been more important. However, the Declaration of the new Decade which has just started, is deemed as crucial to finally achieve the Aichi Targets and drastically scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems.

On 30 September 2020 world leaders virtually gathered at the first ever global Summit on Biodiversity, building momentum for the 15th COP to the UN Convention on Biodiversity which was postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration will officially launch on World Environment Day (5 June 2021)

From Grasslands, Oceans to urban areas, its major aim is to prevent, halt and restore the degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems and achieve sustainable development.

The new Decade was proclaimed following a proposal by over 70 Countries for a more focused, action-and solution-oriented decade which also coincides with the end of the pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (also known as SDGs) in 2030, the deadline identified by scientists and climate experts to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

As a matter of fact, Biodiversity is directly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and it underpins many of them: SDGs 14 and 15, together with SDGs 2 and 6 are the goals which contain biodiversity-explicit targets. Biodiversity degradation is clearly jeopardizing not only the achievement of the goals but also human life and wellbeing. The post-2020 global Biodiversity Framework which will be adopted at the next Summit on Biodiversity in 2021 is itself a stepping stone to the 2050 Vision of “Living in Harmony with Nature” (A/RES/75/220).

With the UN Environment Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization at the helm, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims at becoming as inclusive as possible, reaching out to Governments, NGOs, Organizations, members of the Civil Society and world citizens to each participate and contribute to its full success.

Through a dedicated platform and several events the UN Decade makes it possible for everyone to become involved in restoring nature, its ecosystems and reach the UN goal of “Making Peace with Nature”, as comprehensively illustrated in the recently launched UNEP Report.

Angela Viano is a member of the Westminster UNA Executive Committee.

Priorities for sustainable development

by Andreea Prisecaru

A strong plan for global development that counteracts violence and promotes the progress of a peaceful civilization could build bridges for harmonious growth on an international level. This idea is encompassed in the UN’s Culture of Peace. At the Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, one of the questions participants discussed was: ”what are current priorities for sustainable development?”.

The first proposal concerns the call for a global ceasefire – the General Assembly supported this back in April. Action needs to be taken immediately in this direction – as UNICEF said: ‘’for 250 million children caught in the nightmare of armed conflict, a global ceasefire could be the difference between life and death’’. We know for sure that unless armed conflict stops, it will be impossible for people delivering Covid-related medical help to reach communities in conflict in Libya Syria, and elsewhere. We also know that hospitals have been a common target for airstrikes and even if a ceasefire is achieved, delivery of humanitarian help will not be without challenges. Therefore, this resolution aims to push for global advocacy for a ceasefire. The obstacle right now is that powerful countries choose the Security Council table to continue their traditional conflicts, to everyone’s loss, especially those who the Sustainable Development Goals have committed should not be left behind. The US and Russia claim they must continue with counter-terrorism operations while China fights over having a nice paragraph referring to the World Health Organization. However, there is one resolution the General Assembly can use in its advantage. The 70-years old Uniting for Peace resolution came about when in 1950 the Security Council failed to act, empowering the General Assembly to consider the matter immediately and use all means to maintain international peace and security. Therefore, I hope you agree that the UN should continue to push for a global ceasefire, one important way in arresting the spread of the COVID pandemic. Despite inherent difficulties, the principle behind the Uniting for Peace resolution is the recognition that there will be times when the global community, acting together, makes it clear to the Great Powers that even though they led the fight against tyranny seventy five years ago, the future of humankind trumps their replaying Cold War games.  

My first proposal identifies with one of the proposals detailed in Stepping Stones for a better future published by Together First: We demand a Security Council that acts   or gets out of the way’ 

My second proposal introduces the Smart Sustainable Cities project, which aims to integrate technology with sustainable management strategies for utilising resources in a more efficient way. This initiative has already been embraced by many countries – we can see how in Copenhagen, street lights have efficient/ lamps /adjusted/ on an algorithm /with /lighting/ triggered by human activity and with intensity adjusted at night for efficiency. Worldwide, Zurich and Stockholm are in the top ranks, followed by Geneva and Vienna. Why is this important? Because 30 years from now it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities so the concept of Sustainable Cities makes it an important, as well as an efficient resolution to the world’s growing population. However, cities need more preparation before they can offer a healthy life for all their inhabitants, despite their economic power. Look at Paris where one year of living in its streets is the equivalent of smoking 90 packs of cigarettes. In light of these and other data, we need cities to continue to improve their infrastructure, becoming more sustainable, also sharing their knowledge with those cities in developing countries, reducing the knowledge gap. It is important to help the environment in a holistic way: from improving waste management to optimising traffic flow and sanitation systems. Some businesses have aligned with environmental goals – for example, the ride-sharer Uber has committed to carbon-free rides by 2040. The Smart Sustainable Cities project resonates completely with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. Yes, some initiatives have to be global, but we need to engage communities better than we have done so far. The current disagreement between national and local government leaders in England regarding COVID19 shows these challenges. With their engagement and leadership, an important condition for the Culture of Peace Initiative is secured.  

ITU-T, Smart Sustainable Cities at a Glance

My second proposal: Encourage city leaders in richer countries to embrace the Smart Sustainable Cities project and similar initiatives and to share them with poorer cities.     

Tolerance and Solidarity

By David Wardrop

In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to ‘tolerance and solidarity’, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience an ‘impossible choice’ with both options being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote?   

I recalled that those who built the United Nations 75 years ago had lived through a pandemic, a global depression, genocide and world war. We are facing only one of these but still need to act in that same sense of solidarity for, as we look around, far too little assistance has been extended to countries with the fewest capacities to face the pandemic challenge.

UN International Day of Tolerance - Global event | New Europeans

People ask why Tolerance is included in the UN’s Culture of Peace Initiative. After all, it is not a challenging word, not the word we would pin on a flag as we storm the ramparts of prejudice. When the concept of the Culture of Peace was being hammered out in UNESCO, we should note that in 1984, Ronald Reagan had pulled the US out of UNESCO and the following year Margaret Thatcher did likewise. Their reasoning, influenced by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing US think tank, was that UNESCO was seeking to control the media. In fact, that was a proposal put forward by the then East Germany, but which did not even reach general debate.

With the US and UK no longer members, the balance of Anglophone and Francophone thinking in UNESCO tipped towards French concepts and interpretations. In 1995, UNESCO launched the International Year for Tolerance, asking all UN member states, UNESCO members or not, to promote its ideals.

Those of us in the UK advocating its return to UNESCO membership – we were back in 1997 – were puzzled. How could we promote a campaign for an attitude which can best be described as sufferance or liberality, at best neutral? But when we learned that in French the word tolerance has a more dynamic meaning, implying curiosity in the other, a wish to understand the other side of the argument and that only then could we manifest tolerance, it all made sense! We knew exactly which communities we should target, those who suffered that fuzzy anglophone type of tolerance but who needed the francophone type! Some years earlier, at the UK launch of the UN International Year of Disabled Persons, we had watched open-jawed as all pressure groups talked about their challenges, but none would listen to each other. In time they learned. So, for the International Year of Tolerance, we brought together those representing the deaf, blind, physically, and mentally handicapped, and those campaigning on gender and sexuality platforms, encouraging them to share how they overcame those challenges. All admitted they had not listened to each other’s challenges all those years back but now quickly joined a supervisory group to take the new Year of Tolerance forward.  

The first proposal was that negotiators, international and inter-personal, must be encouraged to show evidence of their understanding of each other’s position, and to share publicly that evidence.  

With regards to Solidarity, COVID-19 has forced us to step up and show it – and share! 

We have seen how cautiously countries approached the decision on whether to endorse the international COVAX programme, sharing research, sharing vaccines and treatment with nations and their peoples. As the UN Secretary-General said in his address on 21 September, ‘The dangers of “vaccinationalism” is not only unfair, but also self-defeating. None of us is safe, until all of us are safe.’ The UK has joined COVAX, but it took its time but now 172 countries have shown solidarity and joined.  

But let us not overlook what we can do on a personal level, for instance, Black Lives Matter. Would we be taking it as seriously had not images of George Floyd gone round the world? Those who watch Premier League matches must hail the determination of its leading players to honour this commitment. Will we stick with this new realisation, recognising we have turned a blind eye to this over these last decades? The International Year for Disabled Persons I mentioned earlier was quickly seen as offering inadequate time for the world to be mobilised and was immediately followed by a Decade. And still the job’s not done but even so, legislation is sufficiently embedded.   

So, who are we showing solidarity with, for how long and how do we measure outcomes?

Last month, in Ethiopia ten Amhara and Oromo political parties signed an interim agreement on joint political positions in Addis Ababa. The interim agreement marked an historic milestone in the relations of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia and issued a strong call for de-escalation of tensions and for reconciliation. And yet, a month later, the Tigray community is at war with the Ethiopian government and all previous sense of solidarity has been tragically lost.

In Cyprus, study visits are designed in a way to provide students with an opportunity to collaborate with each other and integrate new perspectives with cultural heritage environments to enhance learning initiatives. This sounds good but what have they been doing over these 30 years and why are today’s 50-year olds not showing tolerance? In Bosnia, neighbouring schools separated by faith play basketball against each other – but only once a year. That is just not good enough, but we must be persistent, ‘tie ourselves to the mast’, commit as did the founders of the United Nations.

Therefore, my second proposal was to challenge the audience to commit to Black Lives Matter, recognising it to be a milestone albeit an important one on the route to true international and interpersonal solidarity and to rejoice that we have the opportunity to play a part in it – and to do so.  

By a smallish margin, the audience voted for the first proposal.

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Democratic Participation

By David Wardrop

In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to democratic participation, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience an ‘impossible choice’ with both options being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote? 

Firstly, I recalled that the UN Secretary-General wants better public engagement and communication with communities. So, let us make that a priority, globally and within our communities, learning from each other. But how do we ensure it actually happens?

In 2011, the Open Government Partnership was set up by governments and civil society advocates seeking to create a unique partnership—one that combines these powerful forces to promote accountable, responsive and inclusive governance.

Today, seventy-eight countries including the UK and a growing number of local governments—more than two billion people—along with thousands of civil society organisations are members of the Partnership. Its Implementation Plan showcases successful case studies and identifies ‘bright lights’, those communities which are exemplars of reform. These can be in stable democracies, even in those experiencing civic tension as in the United States. On our page on the UN75 festival website, we showed how the Police Department in Camden, New Jersey, can be as an exemplar to all US police departments, especially those being stressed by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. And this begs the question: who initiates these reforms, giving breath back to minority groups, those whose voice is unheard? In such developed states, the rise of the BLM movement makes us ask why these issues are too often seen through the white man’s lens only. Last month, a revealing survey run by the UK journal Peace News showed the impact BLM has had on the British peace movement, prompting self-identified white readers to unlearn a lot and to listen to other voices.

Facing quite different challenges, following inter-faith warfare in the Central African Republic, the NGO Search for Common Ground is now launching a 24-month project with funding from the UN Democracy Fund to promote permanent and collaborative dialogue between citizens, civil society, and local authorities across eight districts in the capital Bangui. A brave initiative but even if it falters, we must watch it and we must learn from failure. Peace really is a dynamic. 

United Nations Democracy Fund |

So, my first proposal was this. We should urge that evidence of the representation of the interests of minorities be a pre-requisite for any national or civic review, and it must be clear at all times.

Then again, in all these programmes, youth is in danger of being excluded from proposed solutions. Recognising this, the well-received report Stepping Stones for a Better Future published by Together First, the  network of people and organisations co-led by UNA-UK, supports the view that ‘When it comes to the future, younger participants and those in many developing countries tend to be more optimistic than those who are older or living in developed countries’. Optimistic, yes, but is that enough? This week’s news that young people in the USA, UK and Australia are questioning the value of democracy demands action, in both developed and developing countries. Let us harness this tremendous energy and commit to creating a UN youth council. Just do it! Create a high-level champion for civil society itself.

So, my second proposal was to ensure youth be represented even in the highest fora, starting with a UN Youth Council, despite local and national cultural obstructionism.

How did the audience vote? They preferred the first proposal, 51% to 49%. 

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The equality of women: are there priorities?

by David Wardrop

In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to the equality of women, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience a ‘tough choice’ between two options both being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote?    

Firstly, a question on political correctness. UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, based in Paris was formed in London 75 years ago. Its constitution is held by our own Foreign Office.

Its original preamble stated:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

In the year 2000, at the time of the launch of the UN Culture of Peace, Federico Mayor, its Director-General advocated this amendment:

”That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.

Asserting that only men start wars and that women should be seen as central to the construction of the defences of peace. The impact of UN Security Council resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security agreed the same year rang out loud. UK statistics show that when women are charged with murder, there is usually a man involved also.

In September 2018, visitors to UNESCO were surprised to see yet another iteration of the original preamble, filling the entire wall of the foyer.

That since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.

Sometimes, even within the UN family, political correctness can override scientific and historical evidence. So how do we reach our first proposal?

From 1945 to 2000, the chronology of UN conventions relating to women focused on their protection.

1969, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), questioned whether women and children should be afforded special protection during conflicts.

1974, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

1975, the first demands for greater women’s participation in security were formally presented at the World Conference of the International Women’s Year,

1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women demanded that more women be placed at the highest levels of decision-making in peace and security.

2000 United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000): This was the landmark point of women’s rights in maintaining peace and security. This turned everything upside down.

The challenge now was perceived as not the protection of women but the involvement of women in the solution. So, what happened? Well, the UN’s Member States did nothing!

So, in 2005, Kofi Annan called them out and demanded they develop action plans. UNA hosted the public announcement of the first British Action Plan that same year. It was a start, and, over the next 15 years, seven further Security Council resolutions addressed critical issues on women, peace and security.

So how have we progressed? In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel but today it is 6% and 10% in police units in UN Peacekeeping missions. However, the responsibility for deployment of women in the police and the military lies with Member States so still there were laggards but radical, even controversial proposals have now been agreed. The 2028 target for women serving in military contingents will be 15%, and 25% for military observers and staff officers. The 2028 target for women serving in formed police units is 20%, and 30% for individual police officers. There is considerable push-back by Member States to these ambitious targets, but the UN is determined to push its case. The involvement of women in advancing progress in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and post conflict resolution is an accepted given. But there is more work to be done. To be effective, women need to be treated differently and there had remained disconnect between what women in the field needed and what they were being offered. It has not been a level playing field and there were no rules. That was until August 2020 when the UN Security Council agreed Resolution 2538 agreed which offers clear direction on how to increase the deployment of uniformed women in peacekeeping. It demands the establishment of national databases and support for mixed engagement teams with women included at all times. Also, the improvement of best practices for recruitment, retention, training and deployment of women in national militaries and police. And better accommodation, sanitation, health care and protective equipment, considering their specific needs as well as demands concerning security and privacy. Let us recognise that women are a force for peace!

The Story of Resolution 1325 | Women, Peace and Security - YouTube

So, my first proposal was that troop contributing states ensure they are ready to support initiatives which introduce gender specific facilities and aids to ensure that women peacekeepers can be most effective in their roles.  

Then, this theme must be mirrored in the communities where those involved in post-conflict reconciliation and UN peacekeeping are deployed. For instance, Sierra Leone’s post-war gender reforms have illustrated how some national and local actors, those who personally benefit through traditional patriarchal structures, are likely to treat such legal and policy changes as a threat to their authority and welfare. They too must be counselled.

Let us remember that Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) refer to this aspect of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Also, evidence from post-conflict African states supports the claim, once thought as extravagant, that ‘There is no sustainable peace without the full and equal participation of women’. The work in Somalia of the UK-based NGO Conciliation Resources points to success here despite that country’s parliament resisting One Man One Vote, not fearing women, rather the possible demise of the clan system.

It was Sudan’s military that overthrew the country’s long-time president, but it was a cadre of brave women who were the driving force in the protest movement. In Angola, local and provincial elections are called zebra elections with each party having to alternate male female candidates in their party lists.

However, many such initiatives have ground to a halt. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to international NGOs withdrawing experienced conciliators and trainers from the field. In this vacuum, women are of course the losers.

In many of these countries, legislation has brought about this revolution and we need to encourage more. There are more women leaders now in African states than in European ones but still their support base is insecure.

So, my second proposal was that women in communities in post-conflict and fragile states must be included in all conflict resolution and civic management training programmes as they have shown they are ‘forces for peace’.

The audience preferred to support the second proposal – but hated taking the decision.   

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Elevate Positive Peace as a Core Objective of the UN

By Autumn Melody Thomas

One of the eight building blocks of the UN’s Culture of Peace Programme is Human Rights. The essence of human rights is to protect individuals; by affording them not only the basic necessities of survival, but the opportunity to thrive in a safe and habitable environment, full of dignity and free from fear. If human rights are prioritised and preserved; civil unrest vanishes, backlash against governments quells, and the need for third party humanitarian intervention is thwarted. Regardless of the resources peace keeping missions may bring or the accountability international agreements aspire to bind states to, if the underlying cause of conflict remains at the local level, violence still remains a possibility. Therefore the preservation of human rights remains paramount to cultivating a lasting culture of peace. 

The most sustainable way to eradicate conflict is to target the structural factors which cause the gravitation towards violence in the first place. By pre-emptively addressing systemic human rights grievances and violations, issues can be peacefully resolved at the source before they reach the point of erupting into violence. Early operationalising of pre-emptive conflict prevention, works towards an ideal environment of ‘Positive Peace’, in which elevated economic and societal outcomes, paired with a diminished number of grievances, lowers levels of violence and the will to resort to it. Positive peace can be easily understood as a society free from the structural problems that would lead its citizens to resort to violent actions. Or, in layman’s terms, violence is rendered unnecessary because there are no issues to fight over. For example: If human rights are upheld, society is functions well, and citizens are generally happy…a peaceful environment prospers naturally. 

To create an environment free from conflict-igniting human rights violations takes firstly, a clear and comprehensive understanding of what ‘human rights’ means globally, what it takes to uphold them, and how the international community is obligated to act when these rights become jeopardised. States must have an obligation to refrain from violations of internationally agreed upon human rights standards and further, must act swiftly and decisively when violations arise, before they have a chance to erupt into violence. The creation of this understanding, and the will to engage in globally-backed peace keeping initiatives takes research, leadership, education, policy changes, and a normative will to triumph human rights as invaluable. 

Geneva and the Human Rights Council - Global Centre for the Responsibility  to Protect
United Nations Human Rights Council

Proposal 1: Elevate Positive Peace as a Core Objective of the UN 

UN facilitated deliberative and diplomatic approach to pre-emptive peace building through early identification of grievances and potentials for violent conflicts. Paired with early local level outreach designed by international peace keepers in tandem with local authorities to target the area’s unique issues and needs. 

Proposal 2: Expand Accountability Mechanisms to Defend International Human Rights 

Building on initiatives such as the Responsibility to Protect, UN member states must accountably bind themselves to upholding human rights standards, initiating unanimous international reactionary efforts when violations begin to occur, and cultivating a normative shift towards a culture that rejects human rights violations and the resort to conflict as viable options.The UN Peacebuilding Commission is the best UN mechanism to take this proposal forward and they must be afforded the support and resources to do so.  

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Steps towards the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

By Saoirse McGilligan

The festival ”What next for the United Nations?” took place in October 2020 and marked the UN’s 75 years anniversary. Its workshops explored the challenges we face in building a more secure world. For the Peace and Security program, we showcased our manifesto for a better world focusing on peace: challenging new ideas, proven case studies, and even those proposals that can frighten governments but which should really spur them to action. This article will outline the key ideas for the Disarmament and Security presentation: Steps towards the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

When we think about peace we often think about war as an antonym. Indeed, Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes to mind (although thankfully my proposals are much shorter). 

It seems inevitable that we come quickly to the issues of security and disarmament, therefore, when discussing war. The topic is vast and so in keeping with recent UN developments, and specifically the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, I chose to focus on nuclear disarmament. 

Article 11 of the UN Charter states that the General Assembly might consider the principles of cooperation including the disarmament and regulation of armaments.  

There are two key proposals on how to achieve peace involving disarmament. The first is to focus on what is happening in the world around us right now. 

In 2017, the UN passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Currently there are 84 signatories and 46 parties, yet the treaty requires 50 countries to sign it in order to achieve its ratification. I suggest that the UN look to ongoing projects, such as the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear weapons. ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. One particularly effective strategy is the #ICANSAVE MY CITY campaign on social media, which encourages individuals to campaign to their local city, the local city signs up to ICAN and in turn campaigns the government. So far Paris, Sydney, Kannur and Nagasaki are just some of the cities to sign up to ICAN. 

“A-Day” First atomic bomb explosion at Bikini in the Marshall Islands 1 July 1946.

My second proposal ensures that nuclear weapons and killer robots are part of people’s everyday understanding. We need to understand what they are, their history, their role in society today and the ethical questions surrounding them. Most people will not engage in a topic if they do not understand it or do not think it relevant. The reality is that nuclear weapons affect us all, as humanity but also as a planet. Therefore, we all need to know about them. Proposal Two is inspired by work already happening by some organisations, such as Pugwash which is currently organising an ethical science festival for young people. Proposal Two focuses on workshops for young people so that they can engage in the ethical questions of nuclear weapons and killer robots. 

Who would run these workshops? Well, it’s unlikely that one solution would fit all, but in the UK for example there are various UN university societies across the country. Students who are members of these societies could run the workshops for younger people in the surrounding areas. This could ensure a multidisciplinary approach.  

So, the two key proposals. 

Proposal One: Coordinated activity led by local politicians and university students to persuade city authorities to join the #ICANSAVE My City campaign, moving public opinion towards support for the ratification of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

Proposal Two: Noting the adverse impact upon human development by the development of nuclear weapons over 75 years, University UN associations in the UK lead an ethics-based campaign to raise awareness of the similar dangers posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons (killer robots), leading to their control and elimination.  

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My time at the UN

Over three weeks ago I had the privilege of joining my United Nations Association (UNA) group in London, to embark on a study trip to the UN headquarters in New York. Through my role as Deputy Co-chair of the UNA Westminster Young Professionals Association (the largest branch in the UK) together with Isabella Qin (also Deputy Co-chair), I considered that the trip would be a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the organisation and gather insights on current programmes and other branches.

During my week’s experience here, we sat in on over sixteen incredibly interesting briefings and held daily meetings with many UN officials and experts, such as the standing committees on counter terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, where we learned more about the hideous weapons as yet undeveloped and the UN’s planned strategies to contain the use of these within existing and new protocols. There were various presentations on climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals, the application of the Rule of Law, UN Women and the tensions between UN peacekeepers and UN health staff seeking to work in war-torn states.

I was also fortunate to visit the UK’s mission to the UN, where we learned more about the UK’s role in the UN and was also hosted by the Board of the United Nations Association New York Chapter on the 44th floor boardroom of Akin Group, which led to some fantastic views over downtown Manhattan.

Our group took the opportunity to visit the UNA Westminster’s sister chapter in Westport, Connecticut, to share in its annual UN celebration day. We met with some senior UN officials, where we discussed many pertinent issues close to my heart including climate change and the environment.

3The trip was also a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the structure and history of the UN and the implications it faces for the future. Established on 24 October 1945 with only 54 members, the UN now has over 193 members. Since its inception, it has been at the forefront of resolving many international conflicts; it has helped save the lives of millions of impoverished children and has pulled millions of people out of poverty, over 750 million (and eighty nations) have been freed from the jaws of colonialism, and for the first time the majority of the world states has reached an international consensus on climate change.

However, during my time at the UN headquarters, I was disappointed to hear about the challenging future the organisation faces. The main cause of concern was the deteriorating situation in the Security Council where the five permanent member states (USA, England, France, Russia and China) are stuck in a permanent quagmire over complex political differences such as Syria and Ukraine. This has, according to the officials I spoke to, led to the most poisoning and divisive atmosphere in the organisations history. The UN also faces major uncertainty due to impending threats from President Trump, who has threatened to implement major cutbacks to the funding of the organisation, which could have major repercussions as the US currently contributes around 22% of the entire UN budget.

Yet despite the challenges and indifferences the organisation faces, I left the UN headquarters feeling optimistic and hopeful for the future. I was inspired by the dedication and altruism of the UN staff workers, particularly those risking their lives in the field and pondered that despite its limitations and inherent need for reform, the UN remains a remarkable force of good in the world today.

By Harry Wright

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Protecting the World’s Oceans: A collection of personal accounts

Harry Wright (Co-Deputy Chair of UNA-WYP) is founder of The Conservation Project, a unique charity which aims to use collaborative ideas to ensure environmental conservation. Below are some testimonials from the project’s important staff, and why they believe their mission is so important.

“Do we really care so little about the earth on which we live that we don’t wish to protect its greatest wonder from the consequences of our own behaviour” Sir David Attenborough

 Harry Wright: Lawyer and founder of The Conservation Project 


For thousands of years the world’s oceans have held a special place in our imagination. Without them life would never have evolved.

Today some 4 billion years after they were formed, our oceans continue to dictate life on earth. They flow over nearly three quarters of our planet, hold 97% of the planets water, regulate the earth’s climate and weather systems and produce half of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Nearly 3 billion people rely on fish as a major source of protein and they generate economic benefits worth over $3.2 trillion annually.

Tragically this most precious of assets is under greater threat. As the human population exceeds 7 billion, our oceans are struggling to cope. We have lost 49% of our marine vertebrates since 1970, three quarters of the planets fish stocks are depleted and only 3.4% of the ocean is protected.  At the current rate of decline we will lose the world’s entire coral reef systems by 2050 and there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Our oceans are the most precious thing we have, by jeopardising the future of our oceans we are also putting our own future in balance.

Tom Rainey: Adventurer and Olympic Sailor  


The Ocean to me is a living animal, the absolute mother of the world. She can change in an instance and swallow you up good and proper, but treated right and you’ll be blessed with the most soulful experience. I work and play in the seas of the world, rowing, sailing and surfing the salty waters filled with animals that continue to amaze us all. The connections I’ve made with the deep dwellers will stay with me for life, especially with those of the true seadogs– the grand old turtle.  For me, what makes the ocean so special though, above all is that it’s the resting place for my dad. I know he’s out there taking on the waves like a true captain and I’ll continue to join him for the rest of my life. I just hope and pray that the world will appreciate how important and lucky we are to be blessed with such incredible oceans, and especially the mind blowing creatures that live within them.

Tom Young: Surf Photographer

tom young

The feeling I get when floating in the ocean, is like no other. It’s a constant reminder of how insignificant I am and how powerful Mother Nature is, a force not to be reckoned with. As a surf photographer, I’ve travelled extensively and documented hundreds of waves across the globe. This has been a real eye-opening experience. I’ve swam in some of the clearest waters in Tasmania and also dodged rubbish in some of the filthiest water I’ve ever seen in Indonesia. This is a sign of the times, a depressing reminder that we need to do more to protect our beautiful planet and prevent its rapid decline before it’s too late.

Abi Croker: Ecology and Conservation student


The ocean, that seemingly infinitely bountiful, ever awe inspiring blue, covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface. Yet despite the enormous benefits that the ocean brings to us, we ignore the ever increasing issues that are affecting a very large number of the earth’s species.

Coral reefs support approximately 25% of all marine life yet only cover less than 1% of the ocean floor leading to many believing that they are the most biodiverse biome in the world. These magical reef systems have survived for thousands of years but cannot sustain the current rates of climate change. Scientists have recently predicted that a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have been ‘damaged beyond repair’ due to an unprecedented increase in anthropogenic impacts. Staggeringly, 93% of the entire Great Barrier Reef is now severely damaged through coral bleaching.

In the future there is the potential that we will lose one of the most diverse biomes on the planet. This needs to be stopped through people getting involved in marine conservation and educating others on how they can live more sustainably.

Together we can all help make a difference, before it’s too late.

If you would like to help or learn more visit The Conservation Project today or join their Facebook page

You can also follow Tom Young on Facebook to view some more amazing shots.

Passionate about film and current affairs? Then check out The We The Peoples Film Festival!

Since 2006, The We The Peoples Film Festival has captivated audiences from around the world by inspiring individuals with its astonishing films on human rights, international development, security and peace. The festival initiated the UK’s first peace-themed film season and has screened over 150 films, becoming the world’s first festival of films on international development by young directors.

The festival seeks to raise awareness about the UN’s Three Pillars of Freedom and the Millennium Goals as well as inspire new audiences to make a positive difference to people’s lives in the UK and across the world. The United Nations Association Westminster Branch is proud to sponsor such a great event.

The festival this year will run from the 7th to the 20th of November and screen a number of powerful films covering issues ranging from the Syrian crisis to the genocide in Rwanda. The opening night will be held at the prestigious Century Club on Shaftsbury Avenue and the subsequent screenings will be held at venues around Central London.

The trailer for the 2016 WTPFF

For full details about the Festival’s schedule and how to register, please visit here:

You can also follow the festival on Facebook and twitter to remain up-to-date!