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UN adopts Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The General Assembly has adopted a declaration outlining the rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous people and outlawing discrimination against them.

[T]he Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

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Global Child Mortality Rates Plummet

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported good news today on worldwide child mortality rates. As shown in the Times chart after the jump, the number of deaths of young children around the world has been cut in half since 1960, when these statistics were first recorded. This fact is even more impressive considering: 1) world population has doubled since 1960, and 2) these stats are based on 2005 household surveys and do not adequately account for the recent uptick in funds from sources like the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation, and the Administration’s AIDS and malaria programs.

UNICEF gives four reasons for the dramatic decrease (according to the Times).

  1. “Measles deaths have dropped 60 percent since 1999, thanks to vaccination drives” like those sponsored by the Measles Initiative.
  2. “More babies are sleeping under mosquito nets” because of campaigns like Nothing But Nets.
  3. “More women are breast-feeding rather than mixing formula or cereal with dirty water.”
  4. “More are getting Vitamin A drops”

Both articles gloss over the vital role that UNICEF has played in the decrease, but one doesn’t have to look far for evidence. Through the Measles Initiative, UNICEF and its partners have vaccinated more than 375,000 children since 2001 and have been the driving force behind the 60 percent decrease in measles deaths worldwide. UNICEF in particular provides a unique framework for procurement and for dealing with the complex logistics of delivering those vaccines where they are needed most. Through the same framework, UNICEF delivers Vitamin A, the deficiency of which is a widespread cause of malnutrition and death. UNICEF also bought nearly 25 million anti-malaria bed nets in 2006, making them one of the largest buyers in the world. They provide the same kind of logistical support that they do for the Measles Initiative to the Nothing But Nets campaign.

A second underdeveloped theme in both articles is that the solutions that are working are surprisingly low-tech and inexpensive. It costs only $10 to purchase and deliver a long-lasting, anti-malarial bed net, which can protect an entire family, and to educate that family on its use. Measles vaccines are less than $1 a pop. Vitamin A supplements are pennies apiece. Breast feeding is free. As global challenges (and the solutions) become increasingly complex, it’s comforting to know that there are some clear and guaranteed ways to make a difference globally.

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Executive Director of UNICEF speaks out on FGM

Ann M. Veneman, the executive director of UNICEF, penned a column for The Modesto Bee recently about the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM).

This summer, two young girls died in Egypt — one age 13, the other just 12 — as a result of female genital cutting. Globally, thousands more girls are presumed to have died in silence over the years from a practice that has no basis in any religion and is not condoned by any government. About 3 million girls are cut each year, and an estimated 130 million women have undergone the procedure.

Read the whole article here.

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A Fresh Look at Market-Based Approaches to Climate Change

By Ruth Greenspan Bell

The urgent need to act on climate change is sadly counterbalanced by the paucity of viable ideas for controlling further carbon emissions. Even those firmly convinced that prompt action is required appear mesmerized by the tantalizing hope that the problem can be efficiently controlled –- and developing nations induced to participate — by harnessing market forces.The Kyoto Protocol’s Flexible Mechanisms enshrine several forms of emissions trading — among participating industrialized countries, project-by-project between “donor” and “host” countries, and between the developed and the developing world (the Clean Development Mechanism) on the assumption that reductions are cheaper in the developing world — to achieve “mandatory” but unenforceable greenhouse gas reduction commitments by developed countries.

But many have questioned the integrity of CDM results. Recently documented cases show that investors reap enormous profits — up to 100 times the actual cost of cleanup — to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in China and India rather than revise practices at home. The deals are Kyoto-authorized, but don’t address deeper structural change. The incinerated waste gas, HFC-23 (also an ozone layer depleter), is produced during the production of the refrigerant HFC-22. Clearly, eliminating HFC-23 has greenhouse benefits but at a large and unnecessary cost.

More damning, the profits are not invested in long-run antidotes to climate change by either western investors or the home-country beneficiaries. Instead, the proceeds frequently expand existing factories and build new ones that produce the same offending gas to feed growing demand for air conditioning.

A close examination of offsets — a growing business selling carbon reduction credits to guilty westerners engaged in carbon-rich activities such as flying and driving fuel-inefficient cars — intensifies concerns whether anything real is to be gained by outsourcing responsibility. The Times of London spotlighted “the moral predicament of offsetting,” detailing close-to cynical efforts claiming climate benefits adequate to balance western lifestyles that actually pass the responsibility for emissions reductions to the poorest people on earth. Climate Care (a prominent seller) provides “treadle pumps” (people push pedals) to poor rural families to get water without using diesel fuel. Whatever the benefits to the families, if a peasant treads two hours a day, it will take at least three years to offset the CO2 from a one way London to India flight, an advertised use of a purchased offset.

Clearly, new approaches are needed and deployable once the United States has shown its own good faith by enacting and implementing serious legislation.

With colleagues at two major universities, I am developing a ground-up enterprise to formulate new climate policy options for the next U.S. administration. Rather than assume that incentives and policy instruments function identically in all cultures, we draw instead on specialists with deep knowledge of the traditions, cultures, beliefs, practices and institutions that condition collective decisions and actions in the key developing world countries.

The result should offer a different kind of vocabulary to engage Indian and Chinese polluters and countries like Indonesia and Brazil that contribute through deforestation, one that tailors appeals to national and local interests, country by country, and harnesses existing cultural values and institutions to rise to the climate challenge.

We envision customized approaches to bring key developing nations to participate meaningfully in climate change mitigation and options for effective implementation of climate goals within each of these nations. This offers an improved chance for the international community to come together around more realistic approaches to the daunting challenge of climate change.

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The Darfur Rebel Buy-In Problem

The Associated Press has an excellent run down of the central challenge facing a political settlement to the Darfur conflict. Many rebel groups are simply refusing to join new UN / AU sponsored peace talks — and not without reason. Last week, for example, a UN mediator met with the leader one of the main rebel holdouts to persuade him to join the peace talks. Then, two days later, the Sudanese air force bombed his town (violating a ban on offensive military over-flights over Darfur.)

This is the kind of vicious circle that is preventing rebel buy-in for the peace-talks: rebels are refusing to join in peace talks because, not without reason, they believe Khartoum will just violate the agreement anyway. Still, rebel buy-in is essential to any political settlement–and peacekeepers can’t really deploy until there is at least some semblance of a peace process underway.

The one positive development in recent weeks is that Libya–which is known to have close ties with some of the rebel groups–is finally beginning to play a constructive role in the conflict. The peace conference scheduled for late October will be held in Tripoli and overseen by Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi. Libya’s newfound cooperation is no accident–the country is trying to pull itself out of international isolation. And sensing the opportunity to make headway on Darfur, Secretary General Ban spent a day in Tripoli last week, meeting with the Libyan leader for hours of one-on-one talks.

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Top UN envoy calls for an end of violence in Afghanistan

Special Representative Tom Koenigs, top United Nations envoy in Afghanistan, has called for a total cessation of violence in the country on September 21–the International Day of Peace.

“In Afghanistan, we all know about conflict and insecurity,” Koenigs said. “But what we have seen in these past weeks is that Afghanistan wants peace.”

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