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Happy 67th birthday, United Nations

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The United Nations was born out of the ruins of the second world war. It replaced the ill-fated League of Nations, which had failed to prevent that brutal conflict. Simon Leadbetter asks whether we will have to wait and see what emerges to tackle the effects of catastrophic climate change or whether the UN, and its leading nations, can act to avert this brutal transformation.

The United Nations Organisation was inaugurated today, 67 years ago, in a short ceremony at the US State Department in Washington DC. Twenty-nine countries, including the United Kingdom, were the first to ratify the UN Charter of the 50 who had signed up to the organisation in June 1945.

The Charter upheld human rights and proposed that nations should work together to overcome social, economic, humanitarian and cultural challenges. The stated aim of the UN is to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights and achievement of world peace. In an early sign of the US exerting its post-war muscle, the chosen headquarters would be in New York, despite opposition from the UK, the Netherlands and France.

At the time, there was no mention of meeting environmental challenges. Very little was then known of the science behind our climate, the incredible vulnerability of life on Earth or the impending depletion of finite and vital resources.

The organisation consists of six main organs. The first two, the General Assembly of all members and Security Council (with five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – and six temporary members) are probably the most famous.

There is also an Economic and Social Council which, along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (and non-UN body, the World Trade Organisation), is among the dominant economic bodies in the world; the International Court of Justice (which is based at The Hague in the Netherlands) and the Secretariat which consists of the 44,000 civil servant under the leadership of the secretary general.

There have only been eight secretary generals in the last 67 years, with Norway, Sweden, Burma, Austria, Peru, Egypt, Ghana and South Korea providing the diplomatic statesmen that have led this organisation. The incumbent is Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s former foreign minister. This is definitely a man cut out for dealing with difficult situations considering his own country‘s difficult northern neighbour.

The final organ, the Trusteeship Council, was designed to supervise administration of colonies, former mandates of the League of Nations and territories taken from defeated nations – the last of these to join the UN was Palau and the Council is now inactive.

Seventeen organisations and specialised agencies make up the UN System alongside many of the organisation’s own programmes and agencies. These include the World Bank, the IMF, the World Health Organisation and, our own favourites: PRI, the Principles for Responsible Investment and UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

By 2012, membership had grown to 193 members states, as many former colonies became independent and the old Soviet Union fragmented.

For 44 years, the Cold War stand-off between the US and USSR and their allies created a kind of uneasy equilibrium, with the tensions between the two released through proxy wars, client states and the UN Security Council. The most famous set piece took place when US ambassador Adlai Stevenson challenged Valerian Zorin, the Soviet ambassador, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which ‘celebrated’ its 50th anniversary last week.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic and military rise of China and India, have all conspired to shatter that equilibrium, just as the world is gearing up to face its biggest challenges yet.

As anyone knows who watched the original series Big Brother, putting 11 people in a house together creates some significant relationship and interpersonal problems. Putting 193 nations together, despite the restraint and skill of trained diplomats, representing their massively different degrees of soft and hard power, competing aims and philosophies, is akin to herding cats.

Today we face three existential threats, which have no regard for economic or military might, and cares not one jot for manmade borders.

Climate change, environmental degradation (including biodiversity loss) and resource scarcity all pose clear and present dangers to our way of life. While those nations, such as the UK, with the most benign climates and deepest pockets may be able to adapt to the changes those three threats represent, mitigating against them represents the cheapest and most prudent course of action in the long-term.

The UN has done some incredible work herding its member-state cats, holding a Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) this year, 20 years on from the original Earth Summit, which led to the aforementioned Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Millennium Development Goals of 2000 remain one of the UN’s towering achievements, as each goal had specific targets and dates for achieving those targets. We can’t let this praise pass without mentioning the PRI again, as featured online and in our recent Guide to Sustainable Investment. That said, sign-up and progress on all of the above has been uneven.

All international frameworks and agreements, even bilateral ones, invariably struggle to gain unanimity on anything but the vaguest statements of noble intent. The US continues to be a persistent outlier state, from an international perspective, by refusing to conform to many international agreements and standards. As the world’s only superpower, for now, it probably feels it has earned the right to exert its muscle.

As we celebrate 67 years of the United Nations, and the optimistic spirit of global collaboration it represents, we hope that over the next three years it can provide the leadership and focus we need to address the triple threats above, before it is too late. Otherwise, at 70, the United Nations, like so many post-War bodies, will increasingly look a little tired and unfit for purpose.

As we stated last week, it is for the United Kingdom and its fellow leading economies of eight nations (who contribute almost half of global GDP), to set the pace and example for rapid and increasing sustainable development. Sustainable development in the real sense of balancing the needs of planet, its people and everyone’s prosperity. Prime minster David Cameron deserves praise for defending the international development budget against the parochial and ultimately self-defeating interests of his fractious backbenchers.

Future generations will not forgive us easily for hiding behind our current but temporary economic woes, and not dealing with the future more permanent ecological ones, in a timely and pre-emptive fashion.

Further reading:

The outcome of unethical investment is a diminished, less ethical United Kingdom

The principles for responsible investment: a round-up

Rio+20: the long view

UN warns of environmental destabilisation

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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