#GE2020: A Final Manifesto Rundown

#GE2020: A Final Manifesto Rundown

We have seen the final debates, been enveloped in canvassing and leaflets and passed by the posters and flyers distributed around the country. As polls indicate a possible change in direction for the Irish government; it is important to recap on each party’s promises before casting our votes. Each party has a full manifesto available online, but here is a brief summary of various stances and responses on key human rights issues.

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

Women make up roughly 50% of our global population but still face significant human rights challenges, including some which are less visible but equally damaging such as gender bias in institutions like the media. Cassie, our Women’s Section Editor, reminds us of the women’s rights issues that were important to us in 2019.

Climate change: why policies play a key role

Climate change: why policies play a key role

The effects of climate change are not limited to the natural world. Human beings are impacted by the natural changes in their environment and climate. Policies have a key-role to play as climate change also causes negative economic impacts to increase.

The world’s first carbon negative country

The world’s first carbon negative country

 

 

Welcome to Bhutan. You have arrived at a small Himalayan country, often referred to as “Shangri-la” by western media. You are situated deep in the Himalayan mountains, between India and China. Take off your seatbelt and enjoy your trip around the world’s first carbon-neutral country.

Bhutan is a small country with a modest economy. In total, the economy is worth only 2 billion, less than some individuals in western countries. However, despite a small net economy, healthcare is free, education is free and conservation of the environment is a national priority.

This is because Bhutan’s national economic policy is based on Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product, and no that’s not a joke. The small Himalayan kingdom, uses the Gross National Happiness Index as a socio-economic index that works like a measuring scale of the well-being of the Bhutanese population. This index is used to ensure that economic progression and development is not prioritised in a way that squashes traditional practices and lifestyles.

To give some background to Bhutan’s extraordinary commitment to the environment let me lay out the land. Bhutan is a country in which 72% of the land remains under forest cover. Under the Bhutanese constitution this figure must never dip below 60%. Buddhism is strongly entrenched in Bhutanese society and hinges on a very strong eco-ethical frame of mind whereby all of our actions should be chosen in a manner that cause the least harm to the world around us. One of the four pillars of the Gross National Happiness programme is conservation of the environment, an aspect of Bhutanese policy that has attracted global commendation, and for good reason.

Out of all of the countries in the world, Bhutan is the only country that has been declared carbon neutral. But the country has gone even further. Bhutan is now a carbon negative country, generating only 1/3 of the carbon dioxide that is sequestered by its forests. But even this extraordinary achievement has not caused Bhutan to let up. Bhutan has continued to forge it’s own path for climate justice and has set an aim to export enough green energy by 2020 to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tsering Togbay, recently gave a TED talk, outlining the country’s strategy for a greener future. He gave specific examples of how the government are promoting environmental conservation as part of the traditional lifestyle. For example, providing free electricity to rural farmers to avoid wood fires, investing in sustainable transport by subsidising the purchasing of electric vehicles, subsidising the cost of LED lights, going paperless at government level and planting trees throughout the country in the Green Bhutan programme.

Bhutan has also developed it’s unique ‘Bhutan For Life’ programme, which approaches the funding of protection for Bhutan’s national parks much like a Wall Street deal, a multiparty funder deal with a single closing. The idea is to raise a transition fund- until the government has enough money to fund the project itself- from individual donors, corporations and institutions.

But the country is not without its problems. The UN World Happiness Report recently ranked Bhutan 97th in the world on its World Happiness Index. The truth that lies behind these figures is a sad one. Despite Bhutan’s continued efforts to live sustainably, it is greatly affected by the careless actions of other countries around the world.

Bhutan is a country which lays claim to hundreds of glaciers. Glaciers that are melting as a result of global warming, causing flash floods and devastation among the Bhutanese population. Even though Bhutan is a world leader in climate justice and sustainable living, it is one of the most harshly affected countries.

Bhutan is an extraordinary example of a country that has managed to transcend the traditional narrative of economic development vs environmental conservation, intertwining the two together to produce a new story. This is a story that we should all be telling.

Welcome to Bhutan.

 

 

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Image courtesy of Faris Mohammad via Unsplash 

 

Recounting a year of change on International Day of Happiness

Recounting a year of change on International Day of Happiness

On International Day of Happiness we look at some highlights for social and environmental justice in the last year. We’ve captured just a handful of big and small wins across the world that made us happy and inspired us. We’d really like to hear you additions too! 

Gay rights
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Gay pride, Dublin

Marriage equality was the first answer everyone gave when we asked what moments of change made you happy in the last year. This was a momentous social justice win in Ireland when we became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by popular vote.

Meanwhile Mozambique decriminalised homosexuality. The revised penal code drops the mention of ‘vices against nature’, a clause dating back to Portuguese colonial rule. Twenty-one African countries have now either decriminalised homosexuality, or do not legislate against it.

A smaller win for diversity came with the introduction of more diverse emojis, including same-sex relationships and multiple skin tones that over 2 billions smartphone users can now choose from.

Environment

The COP21 climate talks in Paris saw the world’s governments commit to limiting global temperature increases to below 2 degrees, while aiming to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. The Global Climate March saw over 2,300 events take place in 175 countries involving 785,000 people in the run up to the talks, sending a clear message for climate justice. Public pressure was key in achieving this agreement and will remain critical to ensure a fossil free future.

Solar_cells_near_cargo_terminal

Solar cells near cargo terminal, Cochin Airport.



For for 285 days in 2015 Costa Rica powered its grid using only renewable sources. This has cut household bills by 12% in the country, showing that renewable energy doesn’t have to be more expensive. Costa Rica is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2021. 

Cochin Airport in the southern Indian state of Kerala, using over 46,000 solar panels, became the first solar powered airport in the world.

 

Refugees welcomed
Refugees welcome Cian Doherty

Refugees welcome protest, Dublin

In a wave of solidarity and goodwill countering racist undercurrents in Europe, volunteer efforts in Greece, Germany and Austria welcomed refugees on arrival, providing food and clothes to the newcomers.

An app similar to Airbnb called Refugees Welcome developed by a German couple to facilitate flat sharing for refugees has housed 577 refugees so far.

Meanwhile in Ireland, thousands of people joined protests calling on the government to do more and succeeded in increasing the amount of refugees we’ve committed to receive from 1,100 to 4,000.

Gender

2015 saw some inspiring grassroots feminist movements including a significant and moving success when former child brides succeeded in getting child marriage outlawed in Zimbabwe. They made the case that the minimum age to marry for girls of 16 year was discriminatory. It has now been changed to 18 years, the same age as for boys.

At home we saw the largest number of women ever elected to the Dáil last month. Smaller successes included the Waking the Feminist movement leading to a series of meetings with theatres and the Arts Council about making gender equality a reality in the arts through both policies and programming.

People power
tomorrow we disappear

Kathputli Colony, Delhi, India

Ongoing campaigns include the creative community of 3,000 people including puppeteers and artists in Kathputli Colony in Delhi who are resisting being moved of their land to make way for developers to build a shopping centre and offices. The community fear that their unique skills and talents will be lost if they are moved from their land.  

Communities across Europe are also mobilising and resisting. A campaign opposing TTIP and CETA, damaging free trade deals with the EU, US and Canada that threaten our food standards, our democracy and the environment is gathering pace. Communities and municipalities are creating TTIP free zones to show their opposition to these deals. Earlier this year Clare became Ireland’s first TTIP free zone.

What moment of change made you happiest in the last year? Add them to the comments section below or Tweet @stand_ie.

Author: Deirdre Kelly

Photo credits: Gay Pride Dublin, Iker Merodio, Solar cell near cargo terminal, Cochin Airport, Binu JayakrishnanRefugees welcome, Dublin protest, Cian Doherty, Tomorrow we Disappear, Joshua Cogan.

Public day of action against damaging EU-US trade deal

Public day of action against damaging EU-US trade deal

Nicola Winters highlights the problems with EU-US trade deal, TTIP, and calls for the public to get involved in opposing it.

The EU and the US are currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a trade deal set to be the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history – if agreed, and a template for future global trade agreements. The primary focus of TTIP is on curbing regulations and standards, impacting hard-fought social and environmental protection measures.

Truth, Transparency and Red Flags 

“Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption.” (Robert David Steele) The negotiations surrounding TTIP have been conducted at high governmental levels in a non-transparent manner, with access to talks dominated largely by big business and industry lobby groups. It is for this reason that a number of Irish civil society organisations working on behalf of social and environmental justice at local and global levels, have come together to share information and to stimulate greater public awareness regarding these negotiations.

“Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption”

The Investor State Dispute Settlement clause (ISDS) is of particular concern. It would allow foreign investors to sue their host country, if their investment potential and profits are affected due to regulatory decisions taken by governments. There are hundreds of existing cases where countries have been sued for millions, in some cases billions of dollars, for implementing social and environmental protective regulation. Not only does this place huge burdens on states’ public funds, particularly damaging for developing countries, it also directly infringes on a states’ responsibility to implement adequate protection measures for its citizens and the environmental.

Current ISDS Cases

Under the ISDS mechanism in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the US energy company, Lone Pine Resources, is suing the Canadian government over its moratorium on fracking in Quebec. This may set precedents for cases through TTIP. Other cases include the Swedish company, Vattenfall’s, attempts to reverse Germany’s decision to close its nuclear power plants following Fukushima.

“The disputes are held in secret arbitration tribunals, kept completely separate from the national legal systems already in place”

The disputes are held in secret arbitration tribunals, kept completely separate from the national legal systems already in place.  Through this mechanism, the sovereign rights of countries to regulate and legislate are repressed. Multi-national corporations are afforded greater control over natural resources than the countries themselves, placing commercial interests above all other factors.

Profit over precaution

The precautionary principle is another area of concern – this principle is an important safeguard enshrined in EU law. It places responsibility on investors to prove their product or process poses no risk to environmental, social or animal welfare, before it can be approved.

In contrast, the US operates in quite the opposite way. In the US it must be proved that a product or process already on the market is hazardous before it can be removed, meaning responsibility rests on the public.

Through TTIP the US are pushing to remove this precautionary principle, allowing investors greater ease of access to markets, and there are many more regulations and safeguards being targeted by both parties. It appears that profit at all cost trumps people and planet in the TTIP deal.

‘Harmonising regulations’

TTIP represents the lowering of food safety regulations which EU citizens have fought for decades to defend. US Meat lobby organisations are pressurising the EU to accept hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken, pork treated with ractopamine (an animal feed additive banned in over 160 countries but currently being used in the US). Big food and biotech companies seek to eliminate EU restrictions on genetically modified food and food labelling laws which they see as barriers to trade, further undermining the precautionary principle outlined above.

“The most ambitious TTIP scenario would serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 11.8 million tonnes”

Most worryingly however in negotiations surrounding TTIP is the complacency evident in relation to climate justice. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has warned that the majority of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, and that renewable energy must be scaled up to avoid catastrophic climate change. Yet in spite of this call for commitment, TTIP, a trade agreement between two of the largest offenders in carbon emissions, offers no support, and rather snarls in the face of ambitious global commitments. An examination of the European Commission’s official Impact Assessment analysing different scenarios for EU-US trade, predicts that the most ambitious TTIP scenario would serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 11.8 million tonnes.  TTIP also seeks to make it easier to export gas and crude oil from the US which would result in more fracking for fossil fuel.

People and planet first!

As a global interconnected society, it’s no secret that we are collectively facing challenges which threaten the very fabric of our existence. For those of us engaged in environmental and social justice movements, these challenges at times feel insurmountable – from the destruction of forests (the lungs of our planet), the toxic chemicals in our products, to the bloodshed over natural resources.

New models of leadership are called for which demonstrate an in-depth understanding of cause and effect, and consider the economic, social and environmental implications of policy in the long-term, recognising that sustainable development can only be achieved through such a balanced and prospective approach.

With this backdrop in mind it is imperative that any trade deal of such gigantic proportions as TTIP, must be carefully considered in a transparent manner. The perceived economic benefits of such a deal must be weighed against all social and environmental costs, lest we want history, replete with examples of exploitation of people and natural resources, to continue apace.

We can beat TTIP! 

It is possible to beat TTIP! Due to huge public outcry in the 1990s multilateral trade agreements were dropped. Do you want to be part of a movement that will apply the same pressure so that TTIP, and all damaging free trade agreements are dropped? Let’s mobilise together to transition to a sustainable, happy and truly democratic society.

Beginning this road to success here in Ireland, the collective of civil society organisations will address tip of the TTIP ice-berg this weekend. All are welcome to join for our public day of action on TTIP this Saturday July 12th in parallel with the World Development Movement’s day of actions throughout the UK.  A number of experts will present to civil society on key aspects of TTIP. It will be an informative and fun morning calling all those concerned to engage in this debate, and mobilise people power in Ireland to demand a trade deal that places people and the planet at its heart. We hope you can join and be a part of this historic movement!

For more information contact younggoe@foe.ie (one of the civil society groups involved) and check out our event facebook page!

Author: Nicola Winters

Image credit: Hands off our environment, http://www.nottip.org.uk/