Last Monday I was invited to speak at the Diana Stableworth Memorial Lecture by UN Association Birmingham. As a humanitarian aidworker by day and an environmentalist the rest of the time, I chose to combine the two: talking about poverty, climate change and the role of the UN. The main cause for people to be poor (not just financially, but genuinely and fully poor) in the majority of countries is environmental: loss of livelihood due to forest being chopped, loss of life and property due to desertification, floods and landslides. Landslides are often exarcerbated by loss of forest as tree roots no longer hold the soil together. And these forests are at great risk of being chopped and sold off cheaply to pay for international debts, debts often incurred by previous regimes (of dubious integrity) and with eye watering interest rates. This means many countries spend more on servicing debts than they spend on healthcare, education or sanitation. This in turn means next generations have less opportunities to escape debt and poverty through education and good health.

The UN has laudable aims (see UN charter preamble and article 55 for instance) and positive plans (e.g. 8 Millennium Development Goals, incl. halving hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability, all in SMART objectives to be achieved by 2015). Achieving these objectives doesn’t come cheap (a few billion here, a few billion there). However, these amounts pale by the amounts we even spend on make-up in Europe, or pet food in the US, let alone spend on the military!

So what are our priorities? What will truly compel us to action? Is it when climate refugees become a ‘security issue’ (which some Governments are starting to call it)? The UN has a role, but WE ARE the UN, and the poor didn’t choose to be poor, nor did we have much say in being lucky enough to have been born in wealthier parts of the world. So come on, let’s BE HUMAN, let’s care for our joint future and take ACTION (think what difference millions of 2p can do, together!).

In peace, Rianne