Common Home Conversations Beyond UN75

{{ show.title }}Trailer Bonus Episode {{ selectedEpisode.number }}
{{ selectedEpisode.title }}
|
{{ displaySpeed }}x
{{ selectedEpisode.title }}
By {{ selectedEpisode.author }}
Broadcast by

Summary

This week's episode features the President of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, María Espinosa. During our conversation, we talk about the chance to build back better post-COVID-19 through the power of cooperation, solidarity, a strong multilateral system, and a new social contract between ourselves and nature.

Show Notes

Kimberly White
Hello and welcome to Common Home Conversations. Today we are joined by María Espinosa, President of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly. She also served as the Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Coordinating Minister of Human Heritage, and Minister of National Defense. Ms. Espinosa is the first ambassador of the Common Home of Humanity. Thank you for joining us. 

Ms. Espinosa, you have been a real trailblazer throughout your career; you were the first woman to become the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations. And you were the first female Latin American to become president of the UN General Assembly, and only the fourth woman to hold that position in the 75-year history of the United Nations. Tell us, what was it about the proposal from the Common Home of Humanity that stood out to you and made you decide to become their first Ambassador?

María Espinosa
Well, it's been such a privilege to be requested by the Common Home of Humanity to become their first ambassador, or goodwill ambassador, I would call it. Because I think that they are looking at the earth system, the planet as a holistic container of relationships, and I am convinced that one of the core redefinitions that we need currently is to think about a new pact between society and planet Earth. And we need a new social contract among humans to establish not only harmony in our relationships between our humankind, but in our relationships with our planet, because unfortunately, we have taken nature and its cycles for granted. And the rights of nature meaning nature, not as an object that we can use, endless affecting and harming its cycles, it's right to regenerate and to leave simply now, so I saw in the Common Home of Humanity proposal, this holistic view, the systemic view of planet Earth, but also at the possibility of advocating for a new social contract between humans and nature.

Kimberly White
We would love to learn about what inspired you. Your educational background began in linguistics and then Amazonian studies, and you actually spent some time in the Amazon with some of those local communities. Can you tell us more about that and the impact it had on your career?
 
María Espinosa
Well, I think that my first contact with the Amazon region was a life changer, quite honestly. And that was at the very beginning of my career. I was offered a position to assess the bilingual education systems in the Amazon region in Ecuador, and a general assessment of the Amazon at the time. That was, well, a long time ago, around '87 or so. In my experience and work experience work was more in the highlands. I was fascinated by ethnolinguistics and the connection between language and culture, but more in the highlands and that opportunity that led me to the Amazon completely changed my entire passion for the Amazon, for the connection between Amazonian Indigenous peoples and their environment, I understood very quickly that language was only a vehicle means of communication but what was fascinating to me was to discover these very close connections between Indigenous peoples’ lifestyles and cultures and wisdom and knowledge through language but regarding the natural environment, in so many Indigenous, Amazonian Indigenous languages, you have, for example, so many different words to mean green. And Westerners as we say green and it's green, know they identify dark green, light green, different types of forests using different nomenclatures for green, a very fascinating taxonomies for traditional medicine for agriculture. It was an eye-opener. I was fascinated by that. And I was so much then connected and attracted to, to this relationship between culture and nature and the policymaking in that's what changed very much the path of my career from linguistics to ecology to geography into these master's degree on Amazonian studies that was perfect at the time and as I spent several years working in the Amazon, working with Indigenous peoples, in small projects, to improve their income to connect, Indigenous peoples to more economic opportunities to improve the quality of their education, and the access of young Indigenous women and men, to our universities, etc., etc. And that was at the end of the 80s. I also joined forces with Indigenous organizations of the Amazon in their struggle for their territorial rights, which is a big thing. And it was, I would say, quite a successful struggle because a big part of the Amazon, especially in Ecuador, belongs to Indigenous peoples. They do have collective rights to their territories. So I was also in a way in a very modest way, but part of that struggle I worked with Indigenous women a lot in their economic and political empowerment. I work with Indigenous women in preparation. That was also a long time ago, but to prepare their participation and involvement with the Beijing conference 25 years ago, so it's been a love story with the Amazon with the Amazonian Indigenous peoples in Amazonian Indigenous organizations. 

Kimberly White
And Indigenous peoples play a very important role in combating the climate crisis; approximately a quarter of the world's land surface, which is home to some very important carbon sinks, is owned or managed by Indigenous peoples. Do you think that the proposal from the Common Home of Humanity can help to support Indigenous peoples and the protection of their lands?

María Espinosa
I think that you're bringing a very critical issue to the conversation, which is climate change, and how it is that our human societies are responding to this critical challenge. And I wouldn't even call it a challenge anymore. It's a climate crisis, what we are facing. So it's a whole of society responsibility, but of course, above all of our leaders. In every report that you read, even the pre-COVID reports, on implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals on implementation of the Paris Agreement, we see that there is a huge emissions gap and by the way, there is a report called the emissions gap report saying that we are not doing our homework properly. So if we continue with the same trend,  the climate crisis is going to wipe out our economies, our future, our ecosystem services, everything. So it's going to create a massive movement of people, massive migration, climate refugees. And not by the hundreds, but by the millions, if things continue as they are. And we were speaking about the Amazon, yes. The Amazon is a huge carbon sink. And unfortunately, we are seeing frightening devastation. Destruction of the Amazon basin and this does not only affect climate change, speeds up climate change, but really that kind of depletion and destruction really has an impact in the lifestyles and livelihoods of local communities and Indigenous peoples of the Amazon. So the situation is not very promising, but we shouldn't lose hope. You know, I'm a stubborn optimist. I still believe in the power of cooperation, of solidarity, of a strong multilateral system, of the role of the United Nations, of the possibility of really building this new social pact, which is the global pact of the environment, which is a very, very promising project.

Kimberly White
So the Global Pact for the environment, which you just mentioned, was proposed and discussed for the first time during your term as UN General Assembly President. Why is this initiative so important? And what do you think the global pact needs to address?

María Espinosa
A global pact for the environment, it should be a declaration of principles, and but of course, this declaration of principles cannot be more of the same, but they need to redefine, rethink, even I would say transform the relationship between society, the economy, politics, and nature. I was mentioning that at the beginning, Kimberly, I think that that's exactly what the pact for the environment should be about. It is intended not to overlap or duplicate, but more to be an umbrella, a scaffold of already existing multilateral environmental agreements. And I think at the end of the day, the main objective of the pact is bolstering the environmental law system, at all levels, from the local to the international to the regional. And I think that a pact of that sort would be, for sure, I'm convinced, a great helper to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda. So I think it has a tremendous potential and power, just if we think that if we only consider that there are more than 250, I hope I'm not saying the wrong number, but I'm pretty sure that it's more than 250 environmental multilateral agreements that most countries have signed to. There is no mechanism of looking at environmental international law from an interconnected holistic perspective. In other words, from this earth system perspective that we are discussing and that the Common Home of Humanity's using as a motto, so, there is no monitoring mechanism regarding the implementation of these 250 environmental multilateral agreements. So, we are lacking coherence, interconnectedness, coordination. And, and I think this is what I would call an epistemological contradiction. I don't know if it's the right way to call it, but there is a profound contradiction between the subject matter if we want to call it that way. And because nature, the environment, the earth system are, by definition, systemic, indivisible, interdependent. So, you cannot have 250 or more multilateral agreements on the environment that are not properly interconnected and where there is no accountability, where there is no coherence. It's very strange, but we look separately, oceans on one side and wetlands on the other side, air pollution, the ozone layer, climate, biodiversity as separate entities. So nature does not work like that. I don't know if this message is clear, but you cannot have an international law on biodiversity and a separate on migratory species, for example. You cannot have the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on one side and the Convention on Climate on the other side, you cannot have the forest principles to deal with forests, but a separate body to deal with the climate, the UN Convention on Climate Change, etc. It's good that they continue to exist, but we do need an umbrella, an overarching, you know, a rational set of principles that can make sense of all these sectoral approaches to the earth system and nature. So I think that is a critical aspect to stress, to underline, the need for a global pact for the environment.

Kimberly White
So, would you say that we need a conceptual evolution to make it possible to address issues such as climate change that transcend borders?

María Espinosa
Absolutely, yeah. You know, the earth system, ecosystems, nature, they have no clue about our national borders. If you look at the ocean, the dynamics of rivers, the dynamics of forests, if you look at the Amazon forest, and the very existence of the Amazon forest is through there. The life that happens not at the soil level, but up there in the green part of the forest, energy interconnections flux. So the idea of national borders is really artificial. So we need when you think about the environment and when you think about the relationship between societies, the economy, our consumption and production patterns. We should not think about a specific country or a community, but about the planet as a whole. And with the COVID-19, I think that we have learned a hard lesson is that we are so frail as a species, we are so vulnerable, and our strength lies on our interconnectedness and on our capacity of acting and doing together, and the earth system is our common heritage. So yes, we do need to upscale our theoretical tools, our thinking, about how to address, deal, and care for our common heritage, our commons, our atmosphere, oceans, biodiversity should be considered our global commons.

Kimberly White
And as we learned in our interview with Will Steffen last week, we're all global citizens. It doesn't matter, you know, whether we're from the United States, Australia, Ecuador, we all live on the same planet. So it really is in all of our best interest to protect our common home. Now, we're living in an increasingly fragmented world and seeing a rise of nationalism. Given that, how do you see that the proposal from the Common Home of Humanity can come to be realized?

María Espinosa
I think that, and I'm sorry that I'm bringing up the COVID-19 crisis, just having a reference to that all the time because that's the new world that we're living in. And we have lost so many lives, and all the dysfunctions or malfunctions of our societies have we have seen like a magnifying glass effect, looking at all the inequalities or the difficulties, how important it is to have a strong state, strong public health systems, etc. And I think that we have learned, perhaps the hard way, that we are better when we act together, and this is not just a nice phrase, it is a matter of life or death, in this case, is literal, and the level of how much we protect ourselves, we respect others, the social distancing, the precautions, we need to have, in all of that, to care about others has been a very, very strong lesson and the lesson is that no country is safe until every country is safe, when you talk about a pandemic, but the same goes for climate change. The same goes for the extinction crisis. I spent several years of my career working for the world conservation union, for IUCN. And there was the Red List of species that were about to go extinct. But this list instead of decreasing has increased in an amazing, incredible way. And when you look at all the assessments, environmental assessments, the two weak points are the extinction crisis, the loss of biodiversity and of course, the climate crisis, and believe me that these are not issues that can be solved by one country alone, or by one president or leader alone. It really requires a strong, multilateral system, a strong concerted action.

Kimberly White
That is concerning. The COVID-19 pandemic has really, in a way, shown us how interconnected we are as we face the same global problem, at the same time; just like climate change. Which gives us a unique perspective moving forward. Now, in June, you joined a group of world leaders that were calling on the G20 to further the implementation of the G20 action plan and have a more strongly coordinated global response to the health, economic and social emergencies that we face. What actions should the G20 take to address not only the global pandemic but also the climate crisis?

María Espinosa
Well, the G20 is a group of powerful economies around the world. I would say the 20 strongest and more powerful countries and economies. And it means that they have a special responsibility to address the key, the key challenges of humanity. Not only to respond to the COVID crisis, but in terms of the economic recovery packages, by the billions, $11 trillion of recovery packages for the richer countries. So, my worry, but also my hope, is that these economic recovery packages are going to invest in areas that are greener, that are more sustainable, that guarantee most safe employment, employment with dignity and under the right standards, and guarantee also a solidarity and cooperation with the global south in terms of their bilateral debts with the developing countries in terms of providing the necessary funding to the Green Climate Fund, and meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement and their mitigation targets, their nationally determined contributions, etc. And we have seen that some countries are very serious about it and the very serious mean to become carbon neutral countries by 2050. Unfortunately, the last co2 and gap emissions report, I think it's called the emissions gap report of last year, it's very clear that the 20 countries are not all meeting their commitments and targets. So, they are wealthier, these countries have more means, are powerful in the international arena, and therefore they have greater responsibility domestically, regionally, but also in solidarity and cooperation with the global south. 

Kimberly White
Okay, so you mentioned the emissions gap report. And I believe the report found that global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by more than seven points; I believe it was 7.6% each year over the next decade if we're going to meet our goals for the Paris Agreement. The G20 represents nearly 80% of global emissions, so it's imperative that, as the Secretary-General says, that they really increase their ambition and increase their climate action. And I feel the COVID-19 recovery efforts offer us an opportunity to do just that, and now we are already seeing several nations call for that green recovery.

María Espinosa
Indeed, I think that in the green recovery, of course, requires low carbon recovery, but in the green recovery, it also means green jobs, fair jobs, means to have women and men get the same salaries for the same jobs to really close the gender salary gap, which is now more than 20%. You get 20% less salary just because you're a woman, even if you do the same job and you have the same qualifications. So the green recovery, and when we speak about the Global Green New Deal, etc. it's a shorthand for a new era, in our way of thinking, in our way of, it's a new paradigm, it's a new development paradigm at the end of the day. That is free of discrimination, that is free of exclusion, that really walks the talk on this phrase of the 2030 Agenda, leaving no one behind. It's societies that are climate conscious, environment conscious, Earth system conscious. And I think that the best help we can have is this umbrella of principles, which basically is the aim of the global pact for the environment.

Kimberly White
You have been a real champion for gender equality, and we've touched a little bit about this throughout our conversation here. I think that one of the most powerful change agents that society overlooks is women. Do you believe that advancing gender equality and empowering women can deliver cross-sectoral long term solutions and results to the climate crisis?

María Espinosa
Oh, absolutely, Kimberly. Not only to respond to the climate crisis, I think that there has been, I don't know how many studies, numbers, data showing that societies that are more equal and that, have consciously, closed the gender gap and the equality gap are countries that are more peaceful. And let's only remember at the acknowledgment of the UN Security Council that connected climate change to the women, peace, and security agenda, for example. And that was acknowledged internationally. The resolution on women, peace, and security is having its 20th birthday this October. And there is a strong connection between climate security and the role of women. And there is also a strong connection between, there is an index that is called, I think it's the peacefulness index, and the countries that perform better on gender equality and women empowerment are in general countries that have a peace index that is higher that are more peaceful societies and that is a fact; but unfortunately, the situation with women's rights and women's empowerment, it's not really very promising it is the same as with climate. And here, there are figures that are staggering 35 million women in need of humanitarian aid and 35 million, that's a lot. And one in five refugee women experience sexual violence when we speak about where women refugees, for example. So the numbers are not right in terms of violence, in terms of conflict, and very few, less than 7% women in peacekeeping operations very little, I think it's less than 7% of women participating or being active in peace processes worldwide, when evidence shows that when women are involved in peace processes the agreements are more likely to last longer. And this is just very concrete data and evidence that is out there. And you have, I think it's 85-86 countries out of the 193 countries that have never had a woman as a head of state or government and little more than 20% women in government cabinets. If you look at women parliamentarians, there it's less than 25%, meaning that 75% of parliamentarians worldwide are still men. So what is important here, Kimberly, it's not about arithmetics, it's not about numbers. It's not only about that, but if we are half of the world's population, we deserve to be represented, 50/50 at least, and it's not happening. And it's not, I was saying not only a matter of meeting the quota, meeting the 50%. It is that us women, we bring quality, we bring different perspectives, we bring efficiency, it is a value, our work and contribution to society and gives a value added to our democracies, as well. So it is not only about quantity, it's about quality, and it's been proven in all fields and areas of our social and economic life. It has been true. If you look, for example, at successful countries in terms of handling, managing, and responding to the COVID crisis there are incredible examples of women, female heads of state and government. Look at New Zealand, look at Finland, look at Iceland, look at Barbados, and the incredible leadership of Mia Mottley and not only as Prime Minister of Barbados but as the chair of the Caribbean community. And here we have more examples, successful examples of the handling of the pandemic by women, heads of state and government. So it's not only a tokenistic thing, you know, and we are this year, we are commemorating the 25 years of the Beijing, the historical Beijing conference and its Platform for Action. And I have the privilege to sit on the steering committee of Beijing+25. There is a lot of movement among the feminist world. There is the Generation Equality Forum is in the making, with incredible participation and voices from civil society, and six action coalitions including a coalition on climate on the environment and a very important process for new compact on women, peace, and security. So there is movement, strong voices from women worldwide. I have the privilege to serve as a goodwill ambassador of FILAC, which is the fund for Indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. And there is a lot of movement from Indigenous women of the Americas as well. So there is hope. And there is hope, there is opportunity, and we have had the chance for time, for dialogue and for creativity in all these, I think, really gives more opportunity possibility and push to the much needed global pact for the environment.

Kimberly White
That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland. She once said that if we took away the barriers of women's leadership, we would solve the climate change problem a lot faster. And I think that's true about a lot of things that we face as a society.

María Espinosa
Hundred percent. You know, we share, I have the privilege to share so many spaces with Mary Robinson, and I have a great admiration and respect for her, for her contribution to the international arena and she has really walked the talk in a way. So, I think she's totally right. When women were given the opportunity, they showed talent and efficiency, to deal with the COVID-19, and when we are given the opportunity, I'm convinced that we will be a great contribution to fight climate change and to overcome the climate crisis, that's for sure.

Kimberly White
Absolutely, I think it's really imperative that we recognize the gender climate connection more globally as well as locally. And now, let's talk more about the Common Home of Humanity. The magnitude and urgency of the pending climate catastrophe calls for a mechanism to design and implement global public policy- the creation of instruments and institutions that enable collective action. Will establishing global legal support, such as recognizing the earth system as a common heritage of humankind, help us to avert this catastrophe?

María Espinosa
Well, I think that first of all, I think that we all agree, and we have mentioned that before as well. You know, climate, the way I see it is that the climate crisis is not the problem by itself. And I hope that this doesn't lead to misinterpretation, but it's not the problem. It is the symptom it is like when you have a fever, high fever, and that's the symptom in that very much, I connect with, high fever of the planet, that's exactly what climate change is about. So... 

Kimberly White 
I like that. 

María Espinosa
Yeah, exactly. It is a symptom. But then you have to see why that you have a high fever, the symptom, either you have an infection, you have the COVID-19, you know, something is wrong. And the something is wrong is precisely our production and consumption patterns. What is wrong, the problem is our development model, and that is what we need to fix. So, climate change is an indicator, the extinction crisis. And the fires in the Amazon are symptoms that society, our human society, is dysfunctional. I am sorry to say that, but that's exactly what we need to fix. And to think about our global commons, our shared responsibility, the need for concerted action is what is really going to fix the symptom. So if you don't understand that you have the COVID-19 and you need a treatment, your fever is not going to go away. You know, if you have an infection, if you don't take antibiotics, I don't take antibiotics that much. I'm more closer to the to other types of medicine but, let's see, you take antibiotics and you decrease your fever, you decrease the symptom, but I don't know how much that you have healed your infection and sorry to use this metaphor, but sometimes we need to realize that climate change is not about again arithmetics of mitigation, arithmetics of decarbonizing the economies and decarbonizing our production and our functioning as a society. It is a matter of a culture of an attitude towards our global commons. And I think that's exactly what it comes into play when we think about the need of an overarching set of principles about this global pact for the environment, and then this has to be part of this new post-COVID-19 social contract. And so, I think that is the opportunity that we have been given by the terrible, painful pandemic that we are undergoing currently. And I think that we need to address the very definition, and agree on a functional operational definition, of the global commons in that we need to manage in a sustainable, responsible way our global commons. And that's perhaps what is at the core of, of this.

Kimberly White
I think that was a great metaphor to explain the issues we are currently facing. What do you think we need to do as a society moving forward?

María Espinosa
Well, I think that we need to, we need a whole waking up of societies, but especially of young people. I am sure that young leaders, youth in general, they have been affected terribly by the current economic crisis. Unemployment, insecurity, fear has hit and affected everybody, as we said, but in a particular way, the vulnerable groups and in particular, I don't consider women among the vulnerable because, 50% of the world's population, the same goes for young people and I think that sometimes I hear: but what is the UN going to do? What is the government going to do, what is X or Y, our leaders need to act- and I agree, we need strong leadership, we need cooperation and collective action, but we need also citizens involvement, to exercise our condition as global citizens, and we all have a role to play, we should all become advocates of this new social contract between societies and nature of the need to have a global pact for the environment. So what I would say that it is a call to humanity to citizens around the world to be more aware and more responsible and more active in this conversation, and we should make sure that we don't leave anyone behind, but not only in achieving the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals but leave no one behind the opportunity to building back better collectively.

Kimberly White
Absolutely, we cannot return to business as usual, as you said. That's what got us in this mess in the first place. So this is really a great time to take this opportunity to build back better, and I think that the proposal from the Common Home of Humanity provides us with a framework to support those efforts. 

María Espinosa
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And we are going to continue to work together to make it happen, and I think we should use all of our spaces of influence, I say that in a very modest and humble way, but in the places that we interact, now we interact a lot, unfortunately, using zoom and other platforms, but we should make sure that we convey that message. We have to make sure that to become, and we should all be, ambassadors of a new world that is more humane and that is more sustainable, that is more respectful, that is more grounded in solidarity and love because that's, I think what, what we need today. And of course, to push our leaders to take the responsibility as well as I'm a strong defender also of, of the work of the United Nations. I think the UN is irreplaceable. We are commemorating the 75 years of its foundation. And I think that it's our Common Home just to paraphrase the Common Home for Humanity, but that that's our umbrella. And I think that when I'm told, but the UN should do this, and that and I say, well, but who is the UN? We are the UN. We are responsible for its future and for improving its performance from different corners and paths of life, but we are the UN, it's our creation, and that's why we should defend and improve how it performs.

Kimberly White
Alright, well, there you have it. As we embark into life post-COVID-19, we have the chance to build back better through the power of cooperation, solidarity, a strong multilateral system, and a new social contract between ourselves and nature. The proposal from the Common Home of Humanity will help bolster our environmental law system, providing the necessary framework to address the issues we face as a global community moving forward. That is all for today, and thank you for joining us for this episode of Common Home Conversations Beyond UN75. Please subscribe, share, and be sure to tune in next Wednesday to continue the conversation with our special guest, Dr. Izabella Teixeira, former Minister for the Environment of Brazil and Co-Chair of the United Nations Environment Programme's International Resource Panel. And visit us at www.ThePlanetaryPress.com for more episodes and the latest news in sustainability, climate change, and the environment. 


What is Common Home Conversations Beyond UN75?

In Common Home Conversations Beyond UN75, you will hear from leading global experts on how the proposal of recognizing the existence of an Intangible Global Common without borders–the Earth System - can change our relationship with our planet. The Common Home of Humanity proposes an ambitious new global pact for the environment. This proposal's cascading effects could be systemic and will assuredly produce huge impacts on international relations, economics, and open the doors to restoring a well-functioning Earth System. Common Home Conversations is the place to discuss a new social contract between society, economy, and the Earth System.