The Great Acceleration

You know, it is easy to understand how it gets to be a drag, having to think about things in new and different ways.

If you have been working on international development over the past 30 years since the end of the Cold War, in a government, or inter-governmental agencies, or non-governmental organisations, or switching among them, you will know what I mean. First there was development, then you had to add gender and human rights, then environment, and then conflict and peace. Wouldn’t it be great to get back to working just on development? And those folk over there could work on environment or gender or peace and conflict if they want and, you know, just get on with stuff.

Likewise, there are complaints and doubts within the humanitarian community about how their work is complicated by the people who want them to think about development and peace as well as simply meeting immediate human needs.

But watch out. As they say, people who are wise: be careful what you wish for.

In various governments among the traditional donors of international development assistance, things are beginning to unfold that could lead to a distinct narrowing of focus, leaving much of development and peace out of the picture and concentrating on meeting humanitarian emergencies.

This blog post is about one reason – an environmental reason – why that is deeply problematic, why it is essential to grasp the nettle and think about the full range of problems that confront peace and development today. Just one reason among several. The argument swings on the big changes in human impact on the environment that have unfolded since about 1950.

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Between two COPs

It is well established that, worldwide, there is an unfolding, escalating, multi-factor environmental crisis. It is seen in the loss of biodiversity and of biomass, massive changes in the use of land, air pollution, chemical pollution, plastics pollution and climate change. It has effects on health, food security, livelihoods, social and political stability, conflicts and the ability to handle them.

There is no real empirical argument left about any of this. It is getting something done to arrest the slide that is hard.

Two main international agreements attempt to address the environmental crisis: the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. There was a Conference of Parties (COP) – a kind of health check – for the climate convention at the start of November, and there will be one on the Biodiversity Convention in December.

So right now we are between two COPs.

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