This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter
In today's Geneva Observer: Today’s Briefing will be short, with an exclusive preview of an alarming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the announcement of the opening of a new UN think-tank in Geneva. But first, of course, it’s impossible to ignore Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine, which has a particular resonance and significance here.
In Geneva the condemnation of the Russian attack has been unanimous. “As you can imagine, the Ukraine question is mobilizing Geneva’s entire diplomatic energy and beyond,” a seasoned Western diplomat tells us. While the full scope of what is currently unfolding remains difficult to grasp in all its dimensions and consequences, an intense diplomatic activity is being deployed in anticipation of the 49th Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), set to open on February 28. It will likely be marked by a confrontation between Sergei Lavrov and Antony Blinken, set to speak on March 1 during the high-level segment of the session which will see heads of States, foreign ministers, and other dignitaries address the Council.
The HRC’s session comes at a moment of utter paralysis of the UN Security Council—chaired this month by Russia, Ukraine’s aggressor. As one of the five permanent members of the Council, Russia has a veto right and is set to oppose any attempt to pass a resolution condemning its attack on Ukraine. Washington plans to introduce such a resolution, accusing Russia of having violated the UN Charter as well as international law.
With a deadlocked Security Council, the Ukraine crisis will spill over to the HRC, and despite statements from various diplomatic sources that the 49th session should not be politicized, it is bound to be extremely confrontational. The Ukraine Mission in Geneva announced today that it was requesting an urgent debate to examine the human rights situation in the country. “We must act now to put an end to the gross violations of human rights and international law,” the Mission said in a tweet. All permanent members of the Security Council are now members of the HRC, but in contrast to the Security Council, there is no veto right at the HRC. The decision to have an urgent debate could be taken by a simple majority: twenty-four of the Council’s forty-seven members.
One of the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis likely to scramble the agenda of the Human Rights Council’s session, however, will be to potentially shift the focus away from a number of very serious human rights situations which were slated to be addressed. In particular, the situation in China’s Xinjiang province. There is a growing dissatisfaction and incomprehension among human rights defenders and some council members at Michelle Bachelet’s refusal to release her long-awaited report on alleged violations in the region.
Speaking to ACANU, the UN Geneva press corps, Human Rights Watch Director Ken Roth urged Bachelet to release the report. “We still don't have it; we are at a loss as to what is going on... There is just no longer any excuse for this ongoing, long delay.”
China is accused of widescale abuse against Uyghurs and other minority groups, including torture and forced labor—accusations that Beijing vehemently denies. On Tuesday, Erkin Tuniyaz, vice governor of Xinjiang, told the UN Geneva press corps that “Xinjiang now enjoys social stability, economic development, and people live in peace and contentment.”
EXCLUSIVE: IPCC NEW REPORT HAS DIRE WARNINGS
“Without adaptation, deaths caused by floods will increase globally by about 130% compared to 1976-2005 with a 2°C warming,” warns a draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) obtained by The Geneva Observer. The report won’t be officially released until next week, but it is currently being circulated among governments, and the findings contained in the draft won’t be significantly altered, with the panel stressing that its science-driven assessments are reliable.
Other predictions are equally dire should temperatures keep rising: “With a temperature change of 3°C, 170 million people may be affected by extreme droughts, which is more than 100 times more than the number of people affected by the worst historical droughts,” the experts warn, with dramatic human consequences in some parts of the globe: “Up to 112 million people in Mesoamerica, 28 million in Brazil, and up to 31 million in South America will suffer from water stress [under] a 2.7°C temperature increase.”
Cities on river deltas with high income inequality and large informal settlements, such as Bangkok, Jakarta, Dacca, or even New Orleans, are all at risk of devastating floods. Even with immediate actions, it is likely that major disasters will occur. The IPCC encourages governments to urgently invest in projects to adapt their cities and protect their populations:
“ADAPTATION MEASURES ARE PROJECTED TO BE INSUFFICIENT TO REDUCE THE IMPACT OF MAJOR FLOODS, EVEN IN HIGHLY ADAPTIVE REGIONS,” THE REPORT STATES.
One of the “biggest barriers to adaptation,” the report’s authors explain, is the fact that “most investments, even in climate action, don’t consider risk and costs. […] Most innovations in adaptation have occurred through social and ecological infrastructure (things like disaster risk management and social safety nets), but most financial investments are made strictly towards large-scale engineering projects. These include clear-cutting rainforests, which can lead to more damaging climate change.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings together the world’s leading scientists, to try to understand and guide public policy. In 2007, the group received the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work on climate change.
ELSEWHERE IN THE ECOSYSTEM
UN THINK-TANK OPENS IN GENEVA
The United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR), an independent think-tank within the UN system, is setting up shop in Geneva. UNU-CPR was launched in 2014, in response to a request from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bring its research capacities to bear on the policy challenges facing the UN.
“The new office will promote engagement between the New York and Geneva UN hubs on a range of critical issues—from global governance innovation to conflict prevention, with a specific focus on human rights, sustaining peace, justice, and human mobility,” according to UNU-CPR’s press communiqué.
“Distance from UN structures and lead thematic agencies—where these have a center of gravity in either New York or Geneva—has traditionally resulted in limited consultation and engagement across UN hubs,” a spokesperson for UNU-CPR elaborated, in response to The G|O’s questions. “UNU-CPR will create new means of engagement to bridge this traditional divide. The UNU-CPR Geneva team will leverage our global set of partnerships and its existing network of academics and practitioners, maximizing the impact of Geneva- and New York-based programming,” he told us by email. “This is a natural and organic extension of UNU-CPR’s work.”
The Geneva launch of UNU-CPR has been made possible with the support of the Swiss government. UNU-CPR told us that the “Centre has partnered with the Swiss Government in the past on several projects run from New York, and has also built strong relationships with many UN agencies, academic partners, and civil society partners headquartered in Geneva since its establishment.”
“We are delighted to be supporting the creation of United Nations University Centre for Policy—Geneva,” noted Swiss Jürg Lauber, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations and other Organizations in Geneva, in the official press release. “We are convinced that the Centre’s practical, solutions-oriented research will enrich International Geneva and, ultimately, be of great benefit to the global policymaking community.”