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19 October 2019
"Our Planet. Our Future." Event Coverage
By: Abby Bowman, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On October 18th, 2019, the United Nations Association of the Capital Area (UNA-NCA), in conjunction with the UNA-USA, the UN Foundation, and the UN Environment Programme, presented a highly successful event entitled “Our Planet. Our Future.” This programming was set forth as part of UNA-NCA’s annual October ‘UN Month’ celebration, to commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations. UNA-NCA began the month by hosting another successful annual Eleanor Roosevelt Happy Hour, to celebrate Eleanor’s birthday, the International Day of the Girl, and the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On October 28th, UNA-NCA will host an event entitled ‘The UN and Human Rights in 2019’ with keynote speaker Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

“Our Planet. Our Future.” was held in the evening on Friday the 18th at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, DC, and highlighted the work of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and its Executive Director, Inger Andersen. The event succeeded in connecting the global and local dimensions of the climate change challenge by joining Ms. Andersen’s remarks with a discussion including former Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe, and moderated by Ryan Hobert, Managing Director for Energy and Climate at the UN Foundation.

The presentation began with opening remarks by UNA-NCA Board President and event sponsor Stephen F. Moseley. Moseley thanked the event’s sponsors, Ambassador Donald T. (ret.) and Nancy Bliss, Edison and Sally Dick, A. Edward and Susan Elmendorf, Tim Barner and Kathy Guthrie, Michael R. Marsh, Northern Trust, Renee Dopplick, Kristen Hecht, Ellen McGovern, and Kimberly and Carl Weichel. He then highlighted the many events of UNA-NCA’s UN Month, and expressed his gratitude for everyone in attendance, as well as the guest speakers.

Moseley then turned the microphone over to Paula Boland, Executive Director of UNA-NCA. Boland shared the UNA-NCA’s intention behind this particular event, “This UN Month, we found it critical to program an event in which we could engage in a discussion about the global climate change challenge. Specifically, we wanted to highlight the work of the UN Environment Programme and its Executive Director, as well as connect the local and global elements of this issue, as aligns with our mission at the UNA-NCA.”

Boland then introduced Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, to deliver the evening’s keynote remarks.

Andersen was appointed to her prestigious position in February of this year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. She brings 30 years of experience to this position, and is a global expert in international development economics, environmental sustainability, and policy-making. Prior to her appointment to her current position, Ms. Andersen served as the Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Ms. Andersen brought to this position 12 years of experience in the United Nations, as well as a 15-year career at the World Bank, where she held key leadership roles including Vice President of the Middle East and North Africa, and Vice President for Sustainable Development. Prior to the World Bank, Ms. Andersen was appointed to several roles in the UN, and served as the UN Development Programme’s Water and Environment Coordinator for the Arab Region. She is a committed and passionate advocate for conservation and sustainable development, and carries invaluable experience with her to the position as Executive Director of UNEP.
Andersen took the podium to loud applause and a great excitement from the crowd. She began by detailing the multiple threats that she sees to face our planet and its people. Andersen explained this, stating, “Climate change is eating into our well-being, economic development, peace and stability, and unfortunately unless we take action, it will only get worse. In converting land for agriculture, infrastructure and urban expansion, we have destroyed ecosystems, biodiversity and the services they provide. We are polluting the land, air and sea, causing millions of deaths each year, burdening healthcare systems and, again, destroying nature’s foundations. In reality, though, there is only one threat: humanity. Our reliance on fossil fuels, our pursuit of unrestrained growth, our prioritization of the short-term over the long has caused these challenges. We are our own worst enemy.”

Andersen was also clear to promote the work of the United Nations as a whole, and the role that multilateralism can (and must) play in this effort. She said, “The UN has always been at the core of finding common grounds and the platform where we develop collective action, whether on the Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Agreement. The environment challenge is one that travels across boundaries, and in a sense, binds nations together. The environment is the platform that can enable multilateral action.”

She thanked those in attendance for their demonstrated commitment to this important cause, and paralleled this with a promise of commitment by UNEP. Andersen closed on a positive note, stating, “There is no excuse. With the multilateral processes in place, and levels of support never seen before, we can recalibrate our relationship with the environment. We can design and implement an inclusive global society that thrives within planetary limits. We can ensure a better future for this planet and all of the creatures that live on it.”

Following Andersen’s keynote remarks, Robert Perciasepe, former EPA Deputy Administrator and current  President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) joined her on stage for a panel discussion. This panel was moderated by Ryan Hobert, Managing Director for Energy and Climate at the UN Foundation. Hobert posed a couple of questions to the two, and Perciasepe discussed the groups he has seen have the most positive (and the most negative) influences in this effort. He said of power companies, amongst other businesses, that, “... they are questioning how they are going to [get to net zero emissions by 2050, amongst other goals], but they are making these public commitments. So there’s a lot going on, which is, I think, helpful.” However, he noted his discontent with government commitment to this work, explaining that he is extremely discouraged by the fact that, “...our government cannot mount the expedition to be a helpful global leader.”

panel Hobert then directed a question to Andersen, asking in the context of the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, “How do you see these major moments on biological diversity and climate coming together?” Andersen responded through an explanation on the way in which, “Nature produces the essence of our livelihood,” citing the “magic” of these intricate webs of survival. For her, an understanding of this connection is critical in understanding the far-reaching impacts of recent fast-paced climate shifts.

The panel discussion was then turned towards the audience, and there was a brief moment offered for questions from the event attendees. Interest was demonstrated in how to do one’s part in this global effort, as well as how realistic the implementation of some of these prescriptions proposed by leaders in the field might be.

“Our Planet. Our Future.” was another highly successful event organized by UNA-NCA, in conjunction with UNA-USA, the UN Foundation, and the UN Environment Programme. A strong call-to-action was made by Andersen, Perciasepe, and Hobert directly to the participants of the event, but emphasized that this call should be one that everyone actively chooses to answer. group