UN Oral Intervention: Deforestation in Cambodia

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer Udit Mahalingam for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

The world’s attention needs to be drawn to the issue of deforestation in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the complicity of timber and agribusiness companies in exploiting indigenous groups. 

Losing a quarter of its tree cover in the past twenty years, rapid deforestation existentially threatens indigenous populations within Cambodia, who now face internal displacement and alleged threats of violence from armed forces.  

All the more alarming is the fact that international stakeholders are profiteering from Cambodian deforestation. 

Despite a national ban on luxury hardwood exports, 500,000 cubic metres of timber is transported annually from Cambodia into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. 

The second largest timber wood product exporter in Asia, Vietnam earned 10.5 billion U.S dollars from wood and woodwork exports in 2019 alone, its biggest markets being the United States of America, Japan, the People’s Republic of China and the European Union in that order.  

Illegally sourced Cambodian luxury timber, often referred to as rosewood, is being exchanged via legally officiated trade mechanisms. These include the 2001 US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, the 2015 Protocol to Amend the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement, and the 2019 EU-Vietnam FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement. 

We urge that Cambodia, in ratifying its proposed Environmental and Natural Resources Code, accommodate indigenous land claims within existing customary tenure rights provisions, thereby reinforcing crucial subnational protections. 

Nevertheless, given this issue’s international scope, we suggest that the United Nations Human Rights Council assemble a fact-finding mission to determine the extent of corruption in Cambodian natural resource management, and the nature of the transcontinental supply chain which imports large volumes of illegally logged Cambodian timber via Vietnam.  

The international community’s gluttony for hardwood timber must not come at the cost of the planet’s deforestation, the exploitation of indigenous communities, and the consequent environmental fallout which injures us all.

The Failure of the International Community to address the Russian Oil Spill

On the 29th of May, 20,000 tonnes of diesel were spilled into the Ambarnaya river near the city of Norsilk in Russia. The oil drifted 12 km and contaminated an estimated 350 square km of the surrounding ecosystem. While environmental organisations and news agencies were quick to report the spill, the international community has remained relatively quiet about this environmental catastrophe, inadvertently and mistakenly considering it a domestic issue.

Russia cited deteriorating ground subsidence due to melting permafrost as the reason for the collapse of the fuel tank, declaring a State of Emergency in an attempt to give the incident priority in necessary resources and attention. In addition, Russia’s chief prosecutor has ordered further checks in the hope of preventing future catastrophes. As 55% of Russia’s territory is covered in permafrost and home to most of its oil and gas fields, their lack of strategy mirrors the lack of international preparation in combatting climate change.

The Paris climate agreement was an unprecedented example of global cooperation to formulate an international response to climate change. Despite the agreement being ratified by 189 countries, Russia’s oil spill has not been addressed officially or through social media by any heads of state, with the exception of Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who offered the assistance and expertise of the United States. 

While the international community is preoccupied with tackling other issues such as coronavirus and protests, this is not just a Russian problem. It is estimated that ¼ of the Northern hemisphere is permafrost, a number which is quickly decreasing and this issue must be addressed. If the international community fails to learn from Russia’s incident and prepare an international response to the issue, this will not be the last of environmental disasters we see at the hands of an unprepared government. 


Extinction Rebellion: a new form of governance?

This comes to the Next Century Foundation from Evelyn Hull:

Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience group, demanding immediate action to address our climate emergency, has gained both attention and support over the last few weeks. Starting on the 15th of April, the group organised 10 days of protest in London, causing disruption through, marching, blocking roads and even gluing themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange. Their extreme measures have sparked debate and some have condemned their actions as causing too much disruption, and even as counter-productive. However, the group’s message that the real disruption will come if we fail to make drastic changes to address climate change, is compelling. Extinction Rebellion, by name, comments on a seemingly taboo subject; the reality of climate change and, as one of their demands, challenges politicians to face the facts and tell the truth.

Indeed, the group has shifted the boundaries of debate, demanding representation and forcing politicians to engage in the conversation. Serving as a wake-up call, the protests have, for the very least, sparked unprecedented levels of discussion about climate change. In a very short period of time, their first demand, has on paper, been met. After deliberations in parliament, led by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Government has declared a climate emergency. This could be seen as a ceremonial response and is not legally binding, thus its significance depends on sustained political will. However, the progress made is impressive and discussions with Michael Gove, the Environmental Secretary, even suggest a relative openness to the idea of developing citizen assemblies, the second demand of the group.

Perhaps the most interesting impact of Extinction Rebellion is the way in which it is questioning the legitimacy of our current democracy. The movement calls for democratic evolution through the creation of collective decision making facilitated by citizen assemblies. The group uses a crowdsourced strategy to brainstorm ideas and offers an environment to promote open and inclusive discussion. Many have commented on the way in which the group has served as an emotional outlet, giving legitimacy and empathy to their concerns and further providing practical means of initiating change. The group has engaged many people because it offers a feeling of hope and allows citizens to feel the importance of action. This feels particularly pertinent at a time when political disillusion is high.

Plastic Planet: A Sustainable Future?

Oral intervention submitted by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 2nd March 2018, the special report on the environment:

Mr President. The environment is now a human security concern.

The Next Century Foundation commends the commitment of the UN to combatting environmental degradation. However while good ecological practices are becoming more mainstream, the dangers posed by the increasing scale of global plastic pollution are grave. Plastic pollution is even prevalent at the South Pole.

According to the UN’s own figures, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items. Plastic waste entering the world’s seas and oceans is not only harmful to wildlife; it is also moving up the food chain and threatening human sustenance. Oceans and seas are crucial resources for human existence and their maintenance makes the Earth habitable.

Improper care of these resources could make humankind’s future unsustainable. Despite the vast number of pledges and promises made by nations to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the oceans, a distinct lack of timetables and a lack of legally binding agreements has hampered any resolute and meaningful action.

We urge nations to consider front-line solutions; to adopt a legal commitment to the environment; to move towards a plastic-free world and perhaps most crucially to establish a realistic time frame for when this will be achieved.

We have all played a part in creating this problem, we must, therefore, work together to find the solutions. Thank-you.