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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Civil Society, Export Credit Guarantees + REEEP
Yesterday Earth-Info.Net had a very interesting day in London thanks to invitations organised by Shelaine Weller of Globe-UK (an all-party sustainable development group based in the Houses of Parliament)...

In the morning, I attended an informal consultation meeting of The Secretary-General's Panel of Eminent Persons on Civil Society and UN Relationships hosted by the One World Trust. This group of eminent persons represent a variety of perspectives + experiences and have been given the task of review past + current practices and then make recommendation for future improvements in the interactions between civil society and the United Nations.

The need to improve the involvement + access of civil society in international decision making is clear, and much of the discussion was centred on strengthening the representation + role of NGOs, local government + the global south.

This reform appears to be designed to strengthen the mandate of the UN and the multilateral approach to global problem solving and you are invited to do your bit by submitting your suggestions for improving the relationship between the UN + civil society.

Earth-Info.Net's suggestion was to establish a forum for ordinary people who do not have the vested interests of (elected) politicians, (unelected) NGOs + countries but might be able propose actions for the common good and strengthen the connection between the publics of different nations + the UN. I proposed a good way to select people, to serve for a year or so, might be to use national electoral rolls and appoint random people to represent countries, in a similar way to jury service.

In the afternoon, I learnt about the vast sums of money the UK government spends on Export Credits Guarantee Department (guaranteeing payments for goods that UK companies export to poor countries).

Much of this money (approx £3.5 billion per annum) is spent supporting the arms trade, building coal-fired power plants + supporting the sale of agricultural products.

However, in reports written by Corner House "Turning a blind eye", WWF "Credit where it’s due", Greenpeace "G8 Plan For Africa Pointless Without Renewable Energy Support" + Friends of the Earth "Green" Company Violating International Norms in Controversial Caspian Oil Pipeline) serious concerns have repeatedly been raised that commercial interests are routinely placed above internationally agreed social + environmental standards.

The sums and issues are quite staggering, so if you would like to learn more about export credits I recommend that you start by reading a copy of a briefing paper prepared for a UK NGO Seminar on Export Credit Reform entitled "Beyond Business Principles".

In the evening, I attended the launch of Climate Change Capital a specialist merchant banking firm which provides financial services + products to organisations affected by the convergence of laws and policies on energy and the environment. This company seemed to see opportunities rather than a burdens in the challenge of climate change and it was interesting to see someone taking a commercial approach to tackling something which is generally treated as a campaigning or political issue.

Last but not least, I ought to mention a scheme I learnt of while at the CCC launch... the UK's renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership (REEEP) which was initiated at the Jo'burg World Summit and launched recently... REEEP is a coalition of progressive governments, businesses and organisations committed to accelerating the development of renewable and energy efficiency systems. This is a great idea and one that I hope will flourish!

If only all days were so interesting!