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General Assembly Plenary (Concurrent)

The General Assembly Plenary considers issues that are best addressed in a comprehensive manner or that require coordinating work between many bodies of the United Nations. The Plenary has the widest latitude of the deliberative bodies to discuss and pass resolutions on a wide variety of topics. For example, the 60th General Assembly established a Peacebuilding Commission that oversees the United Nations peacebuilding processes and coordinates the work of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretary-General and Member States emerging from conflict situations. Note: if the Security Council, which is given the primary task of ensuring peace and security by the Charter, is discussing a particular issue, the General Assembly Plenary will cease its own deliberations and defer to the Security Council. Additionally, only the Fifth Committee is able to set or discuss the United Nations budget. No other body, including the Plenary, is able to do so.

Education for Democracy Education for Democracy

The rights to democratic governance and popular representation in government are enshrined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United Nations has worked to empower civilians and governments across the globe in the process of supporting democratization and democracies. The promotion of democracy by the United Nations does not focus on any singular structure of democracy. Instead, democratic government is advocated for as a collection of ideals and principles which together support human development and make a government democratic in nature. Support for democratization by the United Nations has taken many forms including decolonization efforts, the promotion of good governance, election monitoring and support for the institutions necessary for democratic establishment and maintenance. Through these efforts, the United Nations has developed a focus on promoting education for democracy as educating citizens, especially during their formative years, about democratic principles builds a strong foundation to support democratic governance. 

The Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1974, was among the first international efforts to utilize national education programs as a forum to instill respect and understanding of human rights. The legacy of these efforts is reflected by the current inclusion of the principles of peace and non-violence, cultural diversity, and human rights in national education curricula. The teaching of these principles creates an environment in which democratic governance is more realistic and effective by defining the relationship between people and their government. After the 1974 Declaration, UNESCO continued to promote education for democracy, and in 1992 UNESCO hosted the International Forum on Education for Democracy. Through this forum, UNESCO outlined the purposes of education in building and revitalizing democratic traditions through education in democracies of various ages.

Education for democracy has been considered under the purview of many United Nations bodies and organizations since the 1992 education forum. Each organization has approached the topic from the lens of their individual mandates. For instance, education, democratic ideals and the connection between the two are considered as components of sustainable development by the United Nations Development Programme. Relatedly, while UN Women also considers education and democracy, it does so from a gendered perspective while seeking to improve educational and political opportunities for women and girls. Such organizations often work with the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), which is structured to fund projects to strengthen democratic institutions, emphasize human rights and support the voices of civil society. In 1994, the General Assembly proclaimed the following decade to be the Decade for Human Rights Education to coordinate international efforts on education for human rights. At the close of the decade, the General Assembly announced the World Programme for Human Rights Education. This action plan was structured into multiple phases to address various facets of human rights education. Work on human rights education set the stage for approaching education for democracy.

The General Assembly first considered education for democracy in 2012 with the passing of a resolution tying together the previous work completed by the international community on the subject. Through this resolution, Member States were encouraged to utilize education systems as institutions in which democratic traditions and human rights are instilled. Also in 2012, the Global Education First initiative was implemented to support progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals relating to education. This initiative featured a component designed to support global citizenship and subsequently create a foundational education upon which education for democracy can be more easily taught. These sentiments of education, democratic traditions and human rights were reiterated in subsequent resolutions passed by the General Assembly in 2015 and 2016. The resolution passed in 2016 served to frame education for democracy in terms of sustainable development and connected education for democracy to the Incheon Declaration: Education 2030

Over the past few years, the conversation regarding education for democracy has been forcibly reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, a resolution passed by the General Assembly on education for democracy outlined the expectation that Member States would need to enhance initiatives to educate and empower young people in the wake of the pandemic as a critical step in rebuilding societies where respect for human rights is prioritized. Additionally, the United Nations has considered the ongoing pandemic as a threat to human rights, which carries with it important implications for education for democracy. Furthermore, the pandemic has illustrated the need for democratically conscious citizens capable of responding to rapidly changing circumstances. 

In the past, education initiatives have encountered difficulties because the areas most in need of the initiatives are often lacking the standard education infrastructure such initiatives would be designed to build upon. Worse, progress in building that necessary infrastructure has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a critical need to ensure the development of educated citizens who are democratically involved. Moving forward, the international community will be forced to consider the best manner in which to support education for democracy in the aftermath of the ongoing pandemic. 

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can the General Assembly support greater collaboration among both United Nations organizations and related non-governmental organizations in the international approach to education for democracy?
  • What measures can be taken to protect initiatives designed to promote education for democracy during times of instability and unrest such as the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How can the United Nations expand pre-existing education for democracy efforts?

Bibliography Bibliography

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Nature knows no borders: transboundary cooperation—a key factor for biodiversity conservation, restoration and sustainable use Nature knows no borders: transboundary cooperation—a key factor for biodiversity conservation, restoration and sustainable use

Many environmental issues, most prominently climate change, transcend national borders and call for a shared global commitment to promote human well-being everywhere through sustainable development. As laid out in a 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), climate change and related human activities have dramatically changed life’s ability to thrive on Earth. The IPBES report suggests over one million species face extinction due to habitat loss that has left them with insufficient habitat for survival. Loss of biodiversity from climate change and related human activities pose serious hazards to the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems. 

Biodiversity encompasses not only the diversity of species on Earth, but also their geographic distribution. Habitat loss, over-exploitation, climate change and pollution have driven down populations of critical—and other—species across the planet. While many may avoid total extinction, local habitats’ loss of these species will have dramatic effects on the local ecosystems and, in particular, on the humans that rely on that ecosystem for their livelihood. While pollinators, forests and fisheries are among the most visible victims of modern biodiversity loss and their loss will have stark negative effects on human populations, the complexity of the environment at all scales makes the ongoing biodiversity loss an even more worrying threat. In the last 50 years, biodiversity has decreased at an unprecedented and largely irreversible rate as a result of growing demands for food, fresh water and fuel.

Humans drive change in the ecosystems they interact with which inevitably impact human well-being in turn at both a local and global scale. Biodiversity loss will result in worsened food and water insecurity. Further, habitat fragmentation and increased encroachment of humans upon wild spaces presents increased avenues for novel disease outbreak. Impacts from biodiversity loss disproportionately impact poor and developing Member States who lack the resources and critical infrastructure to adapt to a rapidly changing climate and the associated loss of livelihoods and culture. Ultimately, humanity’s flourishment relies upon a biodiverse world for ecosystem services and critical natural regulatory systems such as atmospheric carbon removal and insect pollination. Furthermore, a biodiverse world provides a host of cultural, ecological, recreational, economic and scientific resources that generate societal well-being. Protecting biodiversity is thus a critical component to sustainable development and managing the continued effects of environmental degradation. Further, as approximately 80 percent of remaining biodiversity is supported by indigenous lands, it is essential that indigenous voices be appropriately consulted and represented in discussions of biodiversity preservation and restoration. International cooperation is critical in effectively solving environmental issues that impact nearly every facet of human life. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the first global treaty to recognize the importance of biodiversity on human well-being, was adopted in 1992 and sought the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of resources, and fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources. Critical sustainable development frameworks, however, would not come until 2000 when the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration which laid out eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While primarily focused on poverty reduction and fighting disease, one of the goals was to ensure environmental sustainability. The MDGs gave the world something tangible to rally around and track progress. Though they expired in 2015, the MDGs were able to increase marine and terrestrial protected areas important in preserving biodiversity. In the wake of the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were formed to commit the global community to a sustainable path forward into 2030. The SDGs, unlike the MDGs, are human-centered and pledge to leave no one behind while committing Member States to fair and inclusive practices. The SDGs expand upon the MDGs by promoting environmental concerns and recognizing their impacts on poverty and human well-being. Goals 13 through 15 call directly for sustainable use of natural resources, urgent action on climate change and the restoration and protection of habitats

The CBD alongside the MDGs and SDGs laid the groundwork for action on the sustainable use, restoration and conservation of biodiversity. In 2020, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its contribution to sustainable development, reemphasizing the need for biodiversity conservation and its usefulness in disaster reduction and mitigation and sustainable development. That said, the resolution lays out concerns that biodiversity conservation and sustainable use best practices are being implemented slowly. Further, the resolution notes areas of concern identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and IPBES and calls for the urgent need to halt biodiversity loss and mitigate the impact of climate change. Ultimately, the resolution called for strengthening international cooperation between Member States and stakeholders. 

Leading up to the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to formulate a post-2020 biodiversity global framework, the General Assembly declared 2021 to 2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The resolution recognized biodiversity as a critical component of sustainable development and thus as being inherently associated with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The resolution heavily stressed the importance of international cooperation and private sector, academic, civil society and other stakeholder cooperation in order to promote information sharing and to mainstream restoration efforts into domestic and international development policies. Similarly, its resolution in 2021 clearly states the need for increased international cooperation to slow and, ultimately, reverse the rate of biodiversity loss. 

Despite the current rate of biodiversity loss, there is potential for positive change. The efforts to recognize and establish biodiversity as critical sustainability goals is an important first step. In its most recent report, the IPCC laid out ways humanity can come together to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestering and the sustainable use of resources which will help prevent further biodiversity loss. The report offers a comprehensive analysis of both the projected and current impact climate change will have on humans and the environment. Concurrently, the first drafts of the Global Biodiversity Framework for 2050 lay out several goals to reduce biodiversity loss and meet people’s needs sustainably, with the intent of ultimately working toward a world in which humans can live in harmony with nature and restore biodiversity. At present, the United Nations Environmental Programme is leading international discussions on sustainable land management under the umbrella of the Decade on Ecosystems Restoration 2021-2030. In parallel, the private and public sectors continue to address social, economic and financial issues related to biodiversity loss including such issues as reforestation and overfishing. Collaboration at the local, regional and international levels are essential for biodiversity conservation. Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) offer proven collaborative management opportunities for countries sharing natural resources, such as the savannas of southern Africa, that include national parks, game reserves or forest reserves. Such initiatives serve to emphasize the good that can be achieved through collaboration. 

There remains much to be done to reduce and ultimately reverse the loss of biodiversity around the world all while mitigating the negative impacts of human activity upon the environment. Biodiversity is critical for human security and stability as the increased loss of biodiversity threatens to worsen food insecurity and enable the emergence of new diseases. Reframing the discussion of biodiversity as a matter of human security thus has the potential to alter the international response. If biodiversity action is to be successful, the international community will need to mobilize substantial financial, political and social resources and efforts will need to be collaborative. Similarly, young and diverse voices, including indigenous populations, need to be more fully incorporated into high level conversations. 

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • Where is regional cooperation possible and what kinds of resources or third-party support would be necessary to broker cooperative agreements for sustainable use, restoration and conservation of shared natural resources that cross national borders? 
  • How can measures taken to protect and restore biodiversity benefit human security? What measures should be taken by Member States to protect biodiversity to ensure human security now and in the future? 
  • What has worked regionally or locally in protecting and restoring the species, habitats and natural resources critical for cultural, economic and environmental well-being? 
  • How do Member States promote accountability and information sharing internationally and regionally as it relates to biodiversity preservation? 

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