By Suzanne Maxx
It’s taken me a while to digest all that has happened this past fall in New York with our World Team project. There is truly much to be grateful for— thankfully it is more than the climate that is changing.
Change is at work in the U.N. and I experienced it firsthand this year, where I ended up on the inside during the week of the 69th General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA). The Climate Summit 2014 ended up to be subtle game changer, in retrospect, attributed primarily to the residue from the before with the People’s Climate March. We were glad to be part of the team that helped to make it be historical. The March had an impact. Certainly it was the first time in the history of New York that 42nd St. was closed for an event, but with hundreds of thousands of people that took to the streets, leaders finally took notice of the scale of this constituency that demanded climate action. If a world leader sitting in the UNGA was not personally engaged in the March, they at least had to take notice— especially when they were moved to their feet for a standing ovation from this video. There is something powerful about this video— we decided to use it again below, in case you missed it in our prior blog “PeoplesClimate Moves Masses and the United Nations”.
The UN events that had the most impact personally, came about by surprise. I was happy to be a leader of an NGO, (our World Team Now) and end up on the inside of the United Nations. However, clearing the multiple levels of security at least three check point made airport security seem like a breeze.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) Awards since its launch three years ago has grown from 8 to 65 participating countries and from a handful of founding civil society leaders to hundreds of organizations engaged in the OGP around the world. Open government reform commitments (200 plus) demonstrate that there is strong demand for more open and accountable government around the world and the opportunity to change the culture of government has never been greater.
Indonesia had a prominent role now with OGP’s High Level Event with 11 heads of state in government and 30 ministers and more than 300 society leaders from around the world. I was honored to attend.
I confess to have an opinion about the limitations of government growing up the family, of bureaucrats. My mom worked for the EPA and my step dad, HUD, and later FEMA, and they both had met at the Army Corps of Engineers. This concept of open government, where citizens were engaged, was new to me and only three years old to the United Nations. As I discussed, the role of government and society with my newly made friend from the Nestlé Corporation, I got more of the overview of Climate Week’s power from his journey at the Clinton Global Initiative. I felt like I had my finger on the pulse of critical conversations, especially when President Obama leaked to other governments that he had just left the room after to talking with a leader from China, and they had indeed finally agreed to some terms on Climate Agreement between the US & China that was formally announced later— truly new grounds.
Denmark continues to be a leader, not just in renewable energy, but also in open government too. In the Open Government Awards, Denmark’s initiative with the elderly, took first-place! A brilliant program where elderly citizens, 70+ are elected, to decision-making bodies in government and municipalities. The senior citizens are physically well functioning and eager to contribute to society. How wonderful that a government finds a value place for the elderly’s wisdom in society. Hopefully more countries will duplicate this action with the “Statutory Elected Senior Citizens Council,” empowered by law Senior citizens actively influence local government policy.
The Open Government Partnership is a multi-stake initiative focused on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens. OGP brings together government and civil society champions of reform, which recognize that governments are much more likely to be effective and credible if they open their doors to the public’s input and oversight. The concept of open government has enormous potential being able to take different sectors integrating government and society with for-profit and the nonprofit, corporations to create programs for people. Citizens can participate in bringing community to government to build our future. It’s not just the leaders’ job to bring policy to action. It’s also a way for the people to engage and the People’s Climate March was one day, one way, but we need the peoples’ voice to be heard, more frequently, and with a louder level.
I have to confess— it continues to be a challenge to hold the light and participate in the United Nations conferences, a process we have been involved with for over 20 years witnessing how little the nations seem to be united. But thankfully, we have a global structure for leaders to gather with the intent to unite.
I received a letter from the president’s delivery unit for development monitoring and oversight (UKP4) and the national REDD+ agency of the Republic of Indonesia to attend climate week in New York for “The Transformative Potential of REDD+”. Actually the preservation of forests are a passion of mine through our World Team Project’s journey, but our World Team Now is focused on renewable energy demonstration projects— so it was exciting to be back inside this conversation that dealt with preventing deforestation. I guess the seeds of where REDD+ was formed can be traced back to the first Earth Summit Global Forum that we attended in Rio. REDD+ seems to be making progress in Indonesia from the government’s point of view, but the language between the demand side, and sustainability does seem a bit blurred.
These days inside the UNGA, and leading up to the Climate Summit, were all consuming, getting very intense with much to process about the conversations I witnessed inside the United Nations, wishing I could do more than listen. I went to find solace in an empty quiet room seeking to find a Wi-Fi signal, to share back with the world. Here were some of my Tweets from that day.
As I started to write, the empty room started to fill up with people many wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh headdress. The tension in the room was palpable, between them and others entering. My writing quickly turned to prayer as I began to wonder if I should leave after feeling out of place, clearly not belonging there. The time clearing security to get out, as people were trying to clear security and get in was blurred, but not enough to see the teleprompter screen by the entrance door. This was a moment I wondered if presence at the United Nations made a difference.
Outside the United Nations, the day before the Climate Summit we were part of a UN related event where women gathered in the UN Church, WeCAN. Familiar faces from the climate movement over the years shared about various actions women were leading around the world, many representing indigenous people. But these women leaders have made perhaps more progress than those on the inside wearing suits, to truly represent the people.
For us at World Team Now, Climate Week ended with a tour of a green building in Manhattan.
Although at the end of UNGA, it looked like we were quite far from any kind of outcome we were seeking for climate action in terms of policy, these following months revealed that indeed the USA and China have agreed to terms, a significant milestone and step towards solid action in global policy. But will that be enough, and will the rest of the world unite as nations, for us people? Paris 2015, UNFCC’s COP21 proposes to be the key opportunity for global climate policy action when the possibility to cut of fossil subsidies globally, may be more than a dream. Dream big: what about all Nations United, and the voice of the people to be heard in harmony, moving to action and change!