British MPs have just approved the use of Syria airstrikes against ISIS. 397 Members of Parliament voted in favour of airstrikes, with 223 opposed. The debate in the House of Commons lasted more than ten hours, with some MPs reportedly close to tears by the end of it.
The United Nations was set up in 1945.
Its aim: to prevent another world war and make the world a better place. Its mission statement is laid down in the UN charter.
The UN is made up of 193 member states. Members convene at the United Nations General Assembly, which is the main policy making section of the UN. All sounds very important.
The UN Security Council maintains international peace and security. No big deal.
The Security Council has five permanent members;
France, Russia, China, the USA and the UK. 10 additional nations serve two-year terms.
In 1961 the United Nations created the World Food Programme. This provides food to around 90 million people. The number of starving people in the world has dropped by around 100 million in the last decade.
Eradicating smallpox is one of the United Nations greatest achievements, according to Alex Buskie at the United Nations Association.
By vaccinating more than half the world’s children against deadly diseases the UN is estimated to save 2.5 million lives a year.
The UN also takes a tough stance on war criminals.
A war crime is defined as an act carried during a war that violates accepted international rules of war.
Think: killing civilians and torturing prisoners. Not nice stuff.
In 2003 the UN set up a tribunal to trial Liberian politician Charles Taylor for war crimes during the Liberian Civil war. Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in jail. Go UN!
Oh, and the UN has a list of Global Development Goals which will make the world a better place. Read: the United Nations’ plan to save the world
A 1970 UN nuclear treaty committed most members to getting rid of all nuclear weapons. Some countries like South Africa have got rid of their weapons. Yet in 2015, there are still around 15,000 nukes in the world. Yikes.
The United Nations has also struggled to make headway in the fight against climate change.
In 2009, all the UN states met at a summit in Copenhagen to agree on a deal to tackle climate change. It was expected a legal treaty would be signed – but everyone came away with nothing. UN member states meet again in Paris this year to try to lock in a deal. If at first you don’t succeed.
Though the UN keeps the world looking pretty by protecting World Heritage Sites it failed to stop Islamist group Islamic State blowing up ancient temples at Palmyra, Syria.
United Nations peacekeepers are now being dispatched to protect other heritage sites around the globe. Better late than never.
The United Nations has also been criticised for the failure of some of its peacekeeping missions. Let’s just say the success rate is well below 100%.
The United Nations also failed to prevent another genocide (mass killing of an ethnic group or large group of people) in Srebrenica, Bosnia.
During the Bosnian civil war killings occurred inside zones that were deemed as “safe havens” by UN peacekeeping forces.
According to Human Rights Watch “United Nations peacekeeping officials were unwilling to heed requests for support from their own forces stationed within the enclave, thus allowing Bosnian Serb forces to easily overrun it and
— without interference from U.N. soldiers — to carry out systematic, mass executions of hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian men and boys and to terrorize, rape, beat, execute, rob and otherwise abuse civilians being deported from the area.”
Not the UN’s finest hour.
Though the Security Council is supposed to reduce international conflict there’s been tension between certain member states. Ahem, America and Russia.
The five Permanent council members have a veto power, or the power to reject plans put forward by other states. If just one of the five permanent member vetoes a particular action, it cannot go ahead – even if the other 14 countries voted for it.
Things got awkward when the UK, France and the USA wanted to intervene in the Syrian civil war… only to be blocked repeatedly by Russia and China.
Then there’s the selection of Saudi Arabia as the head of the UN human rights panel.
Despite some of the shortcomings listed above it is clear that the United Nations has done a lot of good in the world. However some still call it “outdated” and say that it needs to be reformed. What do you think?
The international organisation the United Nations just set a load of aims to make the world a better place. Only thing is, the UN didn’t meet its previous targets. What are you going to do to help?
Everyone has that friend who’s a bit of an overachiever. You know, balancing three careers simultaneously whilst also learning a new language?
In the international community the United Nations is that person.
The United Nations is an intergovernmental organisation promoting international cooperation. That’s a posh way of saying the world’s governments get together to solve problems faced by the planet. For example: war, poverty, climate change, that kind of stuff.
The United Nations formed in 1945, primarily to prevent another conflict like World War II. So far, so good.
The UN just announced its new set of Sustainable Development Goals. Big words; simple aims. These are the UN goals make the world a better place.
The full list has 17 goals.
Each goal has numerous aims and targets to be met before 2030. Ambitious much?
The list kicks off with “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. Starting with something easy then.
It then zips through stuff like “end hunger” and “ensure sanitation for all” (clean water and all that jazz) and “achieve gender equality” for good measure. No biggie.
That’s not to mention promising “decent work for all” (fair pay and realistic working hours) making our energy and cities sustainable reducing inequality in the world.
All done yet?
The United Nations also believes we must “take urgent action to combat climate change”.
The key word here is sustainable. As in, we only have one world with limited resources, so let’s be smart about how we use them.
Oh, and the UN wants to ensure global society is inclusive and peaceful.
It’s like the to-do list of a higher power.
Errmmm… not exactly.
The Guardian reports that although the United Nations achieved significant progress with the previous set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), many specific targets were missed. For example; Millennium Development Goal One tackled global poverty. The United Nations missed its target of halving the number of people suffering from hunger.
It’s not all doom and gloom; despite some missed targets, other aims were achieved ahead of schedule. It’s estimated that 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Not bad going.
United Nations member states will meet at the UN summit 25-27th September 2015 to formally adopt the brand new Sustainable Development goals.
International organisations like the UN relies on aid from countries to fund development work.
In case you were wondering what we spend: the UK government is committed to spending 0.7% of our total income on foreign aid.
The United Nations created the Sustainable Development Fund to put organisations and businesses who want to help in touch with relevant UN and humanitarians agencies around the world.
Call it the world’s largest matchmaker.
However with goals like providing “sanitation for all” estimated to cost $290 billion a year people worry there will not be enough money.
Is it realistic to set new goals when previous ones are unfinished? Or perhaps setting the bar high is a good thing as it encourages us to strive harder?
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general acknowledges that while remarkable gains were achieved “inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven.”
The United Nations is doing some great things in the world, though we wonder how it would go down if we tried a similar approach in our own lives.
Picture it: next time you’re given a task at work, brand it as part of something much more difficult and say “at least I tried”. Then set new targets and hope no-one notices.
Sometimes it just means you don’t hit your targets.
Nuclear weapons have a kitschy old-school feel. The threat of nuclear Armageddon is what our parents grew up with, not us. It is not something we tend to think about from day to day. We did some research, though, and were surprised to find the likelihood of nuclear war today is higher than we might think.
The closest the world ever came to nuclear devastation was completely by accident. On September 26th 1983 Soviet Russia picked up signals that a US ballistic missile was heading their way. The poor sod in charge, Stanislav Petrov, had to make the call whether or not to retaliate with their own missiles. Refusing to be ‘that guy’ who started World War III, Petrov decided it was a false alarm and did nothing. Luckily he was right – and the world was spared millions of deaths. Neat. Close call though.
And now for something completely obvious: This would not have happened if nuclear weapons didn’t exist.
Well duh-doy. Donald Trump wouldn’t keep happening if he didn’t exist. Then again, the world’s nations haven’t signed a treaty promising to rid the planet of him, like they have with nuclear weapons.
Ever since 1970 with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or NPT, the whole world, including Britain, has been officially committed to global nuclear disarmament. If we all agree with the UN party line: getting rid of nuclear weapons makes the world a safer place.
Meanwhile, in Britain, senior members of every major political party insist that Britain should keep and update its own nuclear weapons in order to make Britain a safer place. Members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet have even said they would resign if the new Labour leader did not support the renewal of Britain’s nuclear weapons programme, Trident. [What is Trident?] A Telegraph column stated recently that possessing nuclear weapons is what keeps European countries protected and free.
Hang on just a tick. How can eliminating nuclear weapons make the world safer while at the same time Britain needs nuclear weapons in order to be safe?
The logic that solves this conundrum is called deterrence theory.
Deterrence theory is very simple: Take two enemy countries: Country X and Country Y. If Country X possesses nuclear weapons, they are capable of inflicting such enormous damage that Country Y wouldn’t dare attack them.
If both countries have nuclear weapons, their early-warning systems mean that if they are attacked, they will have time to retaliate with their own missile before they are hit. If Country Y was to launch a nuclear missile on country X, deterrence theory suggests that they can expect to have a missile launched right back at them.
The result is that no one dares do anything.
So – according to this theory – possessing nuclear weapons deters other countries from making aggressive moves. A recipe for everlasting peace?
Perhaps, except when false alarms very nearly lead to nuclear war like it did in 1983. Since we’re only human and liable to make mistakes from time to time, would it not still be safer for the world to get rid of all these weapons of mass destruction? Keep Out of Reach of Humans?
The problem with this: now that nuclear weapons exist, we can never un-exist them. They are out there now, like the bad smell of a cooking experiment gone wrong. And like bad smells, not everyone wants to own up to making them.
There are 15,000 nuclear bombs in the world. Here is a map to show you where those bombs are. Five of the eight countries who possess nuclear weapons have signed the non-proliferation treaty, recognising that any aggressive use of their nuclear weapons would be illegal under international law and stating that they will take concrete steps towards worldwide disarmament. These countries are Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.
Meanwhile, Israel is believed to have been developing nuclear weapons since the 1950s and there has been major diplomatic work in the last year to ensure Iran is not making nuclear weapons on the sly.
The key word here is uncertainty. Some reckon that nuclear states like Britain would be mad to get rid of their nuclear deterrents at a time like this. This is because no one can be 100% certain which other countries may or may not possess weapons of mass destruction, and how they intend to use them. Better safe than sorry?
But uncertainty can easily turn into scaremongering: rogue states like North Korea are not the number one threat the UK faces. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament points out that the UK government’s National Security Strategy sees international terrorism, cyber-attacks and climate change are greater threats than nuclear war. These problems cannot be solved with a nuclear deterrent. As the old saying goes, you can’t nuke a terrorist.
What does this mean for the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, Trident? (Tell me again, what’s Trident?). The programme, funding and nuclear technology are outdated and due for renewal – and the House of Commons will vote next year on how, and if, this should be done.
Every major political party, except the Scottish National Party, supports Trident renewal in principal. So Trident = good?
Not everyone thinks so. The No to Trident campaign argues that the £100 billion needed to renew the programme would be better spent on other methods of national defence, seeing as the threats Britain faces like terrorism and climate change cannot be tackled with nuclear weapons.
This £100 billion cost for renewing the Trident programme is disputed.
According to the Guardian, the Commons library estimates the cost of renewing the programme to be closer to £25 billion.
Whichever estimate convinces you, it’s a lot of monies.
Is Trident an expensive but necessary investment in UK security, or is it a very pricey safety net that we do not need?
The safety of the nation is not the only thing in question. Britain’s status in the world as a nuclear power is what guarantees it a place on the Security Council.
It’s not all or nothing. Britain does have the option of remaining a nuclear power, but reducing its stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The UK has in fact been gradually dismantling its own nuclear warheads from 225 to a goal of 180 by the mid 2020s. This may not seem like much, but it is similar to the agreed joint-reduction of nuclear warheads by the US and Russia that earned President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize.
Are these the concrete steps towards global nuclear disarmament the UK has signed up to under the non-proliferation treaty? Are they enough? Would renewing Trident negate these actions, or is it still a necessary part of Britain’s defence?
Nuclear weapons explained: When nuclear weapons were invented, we opened a Pandora’s box that cannot be shut.
We now live in a world where we cannot be certain who does and does not possess weapons of mass destruction. Because of this, some would argue that it is better to be safe than sorry, and to use nuclear weapons as a deterrent: the most deadly defence mechanism ever. The counterargument is that nuclear weapons are not what we need to tackle the problems we actually face today, and that they are an unnecessary, expensive and potentially deadly safety net. It is difficult to face the ugly truth of how peace works now, and there are decisions and judgement calls we have to make that we wish would go away, but won’t.
Take Action as part of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
Luckily we created a video answering that very question.
So… Climate Change = Long Term Weather. However, a deal to stop Climate Change shouldn’t = Long Term Plan.
This December the world’s politicians are going to sort it all out. Or so they say. COP21 or the 2015 Paris Climate Conference is the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that 193 countries in the world are signed up to. Their aim is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, locking in the target of keeping global warming below 2°C.
If the Earth heats above 2°C it’s generally agreed that we’ll see serious side effects. Think natural disasters like floods and freak weather events. If we keep burning fossil fuels at the rate we currently are we could hit this level by around 2036. No pressure then.
Countries attending the Paris climate conference were asked for plans outlining the amount of carbon they will reduce. These are called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”. Yeah, no offence, but I prefer “No Carbs before 2020”.
At the moment these are only promises and at COP21 politicians will attempt to turn these into a binding agreement. Good plan, guys.
It’s an ambitious target and yes, we have been here before. A deal was expected to be signed in Copenhagen in 2009… but fell through.
Even worse news; research is suggesting that even if a deal is struck at the Paris Climate Conference, the pledges from the countries involved may not be enough to slow global warming down. So how will the Paris Climate Conference make sure countries keep their word? There has been talk of creating a “ratcheting” system which would allow the UN to monitor the progress of each country. This would allow more pressure to be put on countries which aren’t pulling their weight. Come on guys, crank it up a notch!
Climate Action Supporter; “the science is there and 97% of scientists agree, the world is heating up. We may already be too late to stop it, but have to act now.”
Climate Change Denier; “How do we know that the planet warming up is down to humans? Surely there are other natural causes? We don’t know that the predicted results of ‘Climate Change’ would be a bad thing.”
Strange as it may seem, there are a small number of people who say that Climate Change has nothing to do with humans. However, a lot of people who are undecided about Climate Action are:
On the fence; “I think we need Climate Action… but isn’t it really expensive?”
Lots of developed countries are playing hard to get as they think Climate Action will have a negative effect on their wallets. For example China is keen to tackle Climate Change in the long run, but want a few more years of economic growth thanks to fossil fuels.
Paris may be the city of romance, but some are hoping mankind’s love affair with fossil fuels ends here. Will the Paris Climate Conference lead to a proper international agreement to stop Climate Change?
David Saddington is a climate change communicator, social entrepreneur, Huff Post blogger and TEDx speaker who has studied the science & policy behind the climate topics and is actively engaged in tackling the problem. You can follow him @