Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Luc Gnacadja of UNCCD, Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Coordinator of Rio+20, Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, and Omnia Marzouk, President of Initiatives of Change International (Photo: Marion Bouvier)The 5th Caux Forum for Human Security at the Initiatives of Change centre in Caux, Switzerland, started on 9 July with a special one-day event on Restoring Land, Restoring Lives. The event was co-organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Restoring Earth’s Degraded Land initiative of Initiative of Change International.

The invitations reads: ‘Land restoration is a potent way to fight poverty and climate change, while enhancing food security and reducing conflict over resources,’ and asks, ‘What could inspire people, industries and governments to give sustainable land management the attention it deserves?’ The day was moderated by Martin Frick, working for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Representative to the United Nations Organizations in Bonn, who suggested that the packed programme of the day was a ‘Caux version of speed-dating’.

A keynote speaker and host of the day was Luc Gnacadja (Photo: Marion Bouvier) Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, from Benin. ‘Land degradation is about life degradation, so land restoration is about life restoration,’ he reminded the large audience of 400 participants from 62 countries. Some 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and about 1.5 billion people are affected by food insecurity, he noted. ‘We are the planet’s skin disease,’ Gnacadja continued, ‘man is the desert-making species.’

The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia and member of UN Secretary General’s High-level panel on Global Sustainability brought greetings from the Australian winter. ‘Global mega-conferences aim to do much and but often achieve little,’ he said. In the spirit of Caux, he shared some of his memories as the son of a farmer, seeing his father clearing the land. He had just become a grandfather for the first time, ‘and that does cause you to reflect on sustainability’. He noted the ‘If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist’ mentality, and called for the elaboration of a ‘sustainable development index’ and ‘natural asset valuation’. ‘I believe we’ve seen the failure of global politics,’ he continued.

(Photo: Marion Bouvier)One of the positive outcomes of the recent United Nations Sustainable Development summit in Rio, Rudd said, was ‘the impressive commitment of international corporate leadership’. ‘If we wait for an absolute global consensus to arise, we’ll be waiting for disaster,’ he said, and ‘non-governmental action, driven from below, is more important than ever.’ He concluded with ‘one word of hope’ following his ‘most recent career adjustment’. He had been involved in the work of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research in Timor Leste (East Timor) in a ‘Seeds for life’ programme that had led to 100-200% improvements in crop yields. He concluded, ‘This sort of action with individual states is critical for world progress.’

The day saw a host of speakers briefly sharing their experiences: representatives of United Nations bodies, NGO representatives, grassroots activists and practitioners from every continent.

In the day’s final panel discussion with the audience, there was a consensus that one priority should be empowering women and girls: ‘women are the best savers, the best workers’. The human factor was another vital element: ‘build on people’. ‘The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment,’ so business and the environment need to be reconciled, and ‘We must raise a moral voice against the ever-increasing consumption model.’ The day concluded with the projection of seven documentary films on efforts around the world to tackle these problems effectively.

The 5th Caux Forum for Human Security opened on Sunday with Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, Founder and Chairman of the Forum calling for ‘A “coalition of conscience” that is capable of redirecting society towards creative policies.’ The Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines two elements of human security: freedom from want and freedom from fear and expands the notion of security to seven dimensions of human security: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security. The idea of human security is that people should be included ‘in the concept of security, no longer as members of a state, but as members of humanity’.

The Caux Forum focuses on a holistic approach to improving social cohesion and well-being through trust-building at all levels, from the personal to the global. The Forum will dedicate a day to each of five specific themes identified in previous years: ‘just governance, inclusive economics, living sustainably, healing memory and intercultural dialogue,’ as well as the creation of strategies towards a safer, more just world for all. The daily programme consists of presentations from active change-makers, community discussions, workshops which allow for in-depth analysis of specific issues, and open-space, which encourages the sharing of ideas, knowledge, and action.

The Forum envisions a worldwide community of conscience that is based on solidarity which surpasses national, regional, ethnic or religious divides to create shared solutions to our global problems. It contributes to the dialogue which aims to change the language of security from weapons and power to human dignity and ethics.

The 5th Caux Forum for Human Security runs until 15 July 2012.

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