What future do you want?

Still buzzing with excitement following Youth Declaration, or perhaps experiencing post-conference blues? Never fear, enthusiastic member, the opportunities to engage with global affairs just keep on coming. Allow me to elaborate:

In 1992 there  was a United Nations conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  This was known as the Earth Summit, or the UN Conference on Environment and Development. It was here that Agenda 21 was adopted, a comprehensive plan-of-action, meant to deal with all issues arising from humans using or exploiting the environment. Quite a hefty task, one might add.

As you will be well aware, the world is rapidly changing. The General Assembly found that there were a lot of new issues emerging as impediments to this plan, things that didn’t really exist two decades ago, or at least not on their current scale. Globalisation, for one thing, and unprecedented technological advancement. And although we have seen a growing global middle class, there are deepening inequalities on the fringes.  The reality of Agenda 21 was divorced from the original ideas and goals, despite commitment to ‘further action’ and ‘full implementation’ coming from the UN.

So, twenty years on, we get Rio + 20. Clearly the international community has more pressing issues than creative conference titles.

 

What is Rio + 20?

Clause 20 (a) of 2010 GA resolution [64/236] (a real one, keen Munsters) reads,

The objective of the Conference will be to secure renewed political
commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the
remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on
sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges.

This conference will set the sustainable development agenda for the decades ahead.

The Economic and Social Council have identified seven key issues, which you can see in the symbolic diagram below:

So it is at about this point in the blog post that you might be starting to think, how can I get involved and play my part in this global conference, which is going to determine the world I live in? While pondering this, you may have also perused the aforementioned resolution, and came across operative clause 12, which of course reads,

Also reaffirms the objective of enhancing the participation and effective
involvement of civil society and other relevant stakeholders, as well as promoting
transparency and broad public participation…

And you’re right in thinking that this applies to you. So, read on, young global citizen, and prepare yourself for exciting information.

Your line: ‘Wow, this is neat! But how do I become part of the process?’

This questions plays on your mind for a while. You keep thinking, ‘These leaders are making decisions on my behalf. But how do they know what I think?’ So you get together with your friends, are you start talking about how super it would be if you could all somehow present your views to these decision-makers.

Well, dear friends, this blog post is going to make your day!

UNICEF, in cooperation with a bunch of other great organisations, are running Rio + 20 youth consultations in the three major centres in the coming weeks. Here, you will learn more and discuss the critical issues of sustainable development, and express your views to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and also international forums like the World Youth Congress, which will run concurrently with the conference in Brazil.

Before you start think of excuses for why you shouldn’t go, consider yourself already qualified. It’s not about technical knowledge, but about your vision and hopes for your future.

Imagine the city you want to live in when you’re older.

Do you imagine safe streets and green, open spaces?

Do you want a well-paying job, and financial security?

Will you and all your friends drive your own car?

What kind of world do you want to live in? How will we get there?

This is the essence of sustainable development. You are a key stakeholder in these issues, and you now have the opportunity to influence the conference which aims to ‘define pathways to a safer, more equitable, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all.’

During the consultation, you will hear from guest speakers and a panel of experts, as well as participating in facilitated group discussions. Your views will be brought together not only in a document, but expressed through an art project and video message.

 

What is ‘sustainable development?

If simplified, it can look a little bit like this:

Or summed up like this:

We must also remember that the human system is only one of  many, and it is imperative that it operate along side natural systems- climatic, for example.

We can’t solve all the world’s problems in a day, no matter how many UN Youth events we’ve been to. We can, however, through educating ourselves and engaging in society, build the foundations for sustainable change.

So, while you are recovering from this wildly inspiration post, register for a free youth consultation in your city!

Auckland
Saturday 21st April
9am-5pm
Case room 1, Owen G Glen building
University of Auckland

Wellington
Saturday 28th April
9am-5pm
Location to be confirmed

Christchurch
Saturday 5th May
9am-5pm
Dovendale Village rooms DA1 and DA2
University of Canterbury

Register at: www.unicef.org.nz/thefuturewewant 

For more info email: pip@unicef.org.nz

See you there! 

How to become New Zealand’s Next Top Model (UN delegate)

So you want to be on top?

I remember my first Model UN conference. The passage of time has left me with a pleasant reminiscence. However, in reality I was so nervous beforehand I was struggling to function normally. Not only was I the only one from my school going, I wasn’t sure what to wear, how much I was expected to know or how I was going to find the entrance to the university building.

USEFUL TIP #1: RELAX

Model UN, while intellectually stimulating and sometimes challenging, is meant to be fun. Conferences are what you make of them, and so with this blog post I hope to impart a few tips that will help you make the most of events.

RESEARCH

Chances are, if you are taking time to read this blog, you are committed to a number of extra-curricular activities already. Preparing for a Model UN Conference need not be a major time-suck. It in fact can be quite a fulfilling experience. Allocate some to reading a little about your country- a useful guide for this, especially for first-timers, is the ‘My Country’ sheet.

You are not expected to be an expert on your given country, but knowing about its government, history, and economy will facilitate your involvement in committee sessions. Read-up on recent news articles relating to the region and your member state.

USEFUL TIP #2: A real gold mine for research is  the website of country’s permanent mission to the UN. There, you will find their foreign policy outlined in black and white, and I would highly recommend taking a look.

RESOLUTIONS

Read through the resolutions beforehand, and make sure you understand why the issue is being discussed. Because UN Youth is nice and helpful, you will often be provided with a briefing paper. Ensure you understand all the terminology, because you don’t want to waste valuable committee time getting explanations for something you could have Googled yourself.

USEFUL TIP #3:

Before the conference, I always found it helpful to go through each operative (numbered) clauses and, using your understanding of your country’s stance on the issue, marking it with either a tick, cross, or question mark. By doing that, you get a rough idea of where your country stands on the resolution as a whole. You may have to remove or alter a certain clause in order for the resolution to be favourable to your country, for example. 

USEFUL TIP #4:

The first part of a resolution, what are known as the preambulatory clauses, serves as an introduction to the issue, and they are not subject to debate. They will often mention previous documents or resolutions pertaining to the resolution at hand. What I have found helpful in the past is to research these referenced resolutions and look up the voting records. This is likely to give you a very clear indication of where your member state stands in relation to the issue, as you will be able to see how they voted in the real UN.

 

 Now, remember that you are representing the government of your member state, not the population. This can be easily confused, especially if there are popular movements occurring within their borders. It is not your place to decide whether the governmental stance is right or wrong, for you are playing the role of a public servant, and you are there to voice their official policy. While this can sometimes be difficult, being forced to argue from another point of view is one of the beautiful education journeys you will embark on with UN Youth.

 GET DIPLOMATIC:

For more experienced delegates, one thing I found useful was researching your state’s foreign relations, and there is a section for it on most country pages on Wikipedia. This means you can approach other countries with authority, for example ‘We have strong diplomatic ties, so you would probably be interested in supporting this…’ It can be particularly useful to see how your country gets on with the more powerful members, or countries which are especially concerned by the resolution, as this may influence your state’s voting.

In addition, if a clear divide in the issue becomes apparent during your research, looking into the opposing side’s views, the reasons for it, and the actions taken, will mean that you will be able to question their stance more competently, and perhaps give you a better chance of reaching a compromise.

That brings me to an important point: act in a constructive matter. The goal of a Model UN is to achieve something, namely to pass a resolution. Thus, your goal is to make that document appealing for your country, and ideally the majority of others also.

Always remember that your country is in that committee, debating that resolution, for a reason. Its relevance may not be instantly clear, but you have to look beyond the obvious. If you are truly lost as to where your country’s government opinion lies, take a look at some of your allies, especially your regional grouping. You will have mutual goals and views a lot of the time, so work together.

 If your country isn’t a fan of the resolution as it stands, propose an amendment; try and make it better. Do not, however, get hung up on what percentage of GDP should be dedicated to whatever cause. This is just annoying.

Furthermore, in the real UN, they can spend hours debating the placement of a comma. In Model UN, we simply do not have time to dedicate to such details. By all means, strive for accurate semantics and sound wording, but often you will have to allow for things that are less than perfect.

This will all probably seem more complicated than it really is. So I will ask you now, please do not be intimidated by the more experienced of the bunch. Just because they come up to you wielding a pen and an amendment form and using words you don’t understand does not mean you have to sign it. You and only you are the representative of your country, so how your country chooses to vote is your decision.

If your member state is particularly relevant to the issue, you have a specific responsibility to be prepared. For example, if you are the delegate for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and you are debating nuclear disarmament, the debate will not be as interesting or active if you cannot participate in a capable manner. You can research as much or as little as you like, but Model UN conferences are always more fun if you have a firm grounding in what is going on.

USEFUL TIP #5:

If you are nervous about speaking, a really good place to start is by asking a Point of Information. This is a question directed to a delegate at the conclusion of their speech. Committee sessions are a lot more enjoyable when you’re participating in them, so do not be afraid to raise your placard and express your country’s views. If you don’t understand a point that they’ve made, you can use a Point of Information to ask the delegate to clarify.

Similarly, if you have made the leap into giving a speech, don’t be nervous about taking points of information at the end. It makes you appear significantly more confident in your country’s stance, and if your understanding of the issue is sound, fielding questions should be a breeze.

If another delegate asks you a question that you can’t answer, remember that there is no cross-floor debate, so it is easy for you to avoid the question. Just reply nicely that this delegate believes it should be examined at a later date.

The points do not have to be means by which you rip apart a delegate’s speech, you can also use them to offer your support or emphasise a particularly positive point another delegate has made.

USEFUL TIP #6: As long as you seem confident, chances are everyone in the room will think you are too.

While it is tempting to call everyone by their country name, also take the time to learn their real names and get to know a little bit about them. You’re likely to find a whole lot of people who are as nervous as you. One of the best parts about Model UN is the opportunity to meet a variety of new people, so make friends, talk to people, and at the next conference you go to you will feel popular and it will be awesome.

Don’t just approach others when you want them to be signatory for your amendment. If you take interest in their country’s views and ideas, they are more likely to give you the same respect.

USEFUL TIP #7:

Use unmoderated caucus time (Model UN-speak for a free-for-all lobbying session) to see what the other member states are hoping to achieve. Do not sit in your seat and pretend to be texting.

 And please, take it seriously, but not too seriously. You are here dressed in a suit and wearing a name badge out of choice, so no one is going to believe you are too hipster to care. On the other hand, we know it’s cool to be the USA, but never forget that this is Model UN, and if you want the people in your committee to accept your friend requests later, try and not let the power go to your head.

In large sessions, such as the General Assembly, you may find it frustrating trying to get on the speakers’ list. I have a few tricks that may help in this situation, but number one, thrusting your placard in the air and making faces at the Chair is not going to help your case.

The Chair will try and give everyone an opportunity to speak, so one way to improve your chances of getting to the podium is to save raising your placard until your country really needs to speak. If you haven’t been chosen before, it is more likely you’ll get picked.

This is also a reason why you should aim to be as involved as possible in your smaller committee sessions, because you’ll regret the relative ease with which you could share your country’s views once you compare it to the plenary.

USEFUL TIP #8:

If you’re feeling especially OCD, you can pre-write notes to the Chair, such as ‘The delegate of [your country] to speak for the resolution’, so as soon as note passing opens, you can get your note to the Chair. I have found this eliminates the unpleasant, frantic ripping of pieces of refill and illegible handwriting that can occur in the rush to get on the speakers’ list.

Moreover, this is when your allies can come in handy. Under the Rules of Procedure, there can be a ‘yield chain’ of up to three speakers. Generally, as long as the delegate is on the speakers’ list, you can yield the floor to them. This can allow you to have three subsequent speeches of a similar stance, meaning you will be able to send a clear message to those in your committee. And while you do this, remember to never use personal pronouns, otherwise the Chair may pull you up on this, and that will just disrupt your train of thought.

After all this, I must admit that there is no substitute for practical experience, but I promise you will get the feel for Model UN very quickly. Every conference you will go to you will improve your skills and confidence, as well as your general knowledge. With a bit of effort, Model United Nations can become one of the most positive parts of your time as a secondary school student- and beyond.

USEFUL TIP #9: There are so many opportunities out there, so do not hesitate to get involved.

To conclude, honourable delegates, be fierce, but diplomatic, and you will still be in the running to make a difference!

 

Where do we get our information from?

Let’s imagine I asked this question 50 years ago. It wouldn’t really matter what age-group or socio-economic group I asked; the majority would say they get their information from an assortment of prior knowledge, books, newspapers and magazines and the government.

How has this changed for us today?  For me, I read the Economist, Die Spiegel (in English), New York Times, and the BBC news all online.  The only thing that has changed is the format I receive my information – I get my information online (on my netbook or on my phone) rather than through physical newspapers or magazines.

What hasn’t changed is the reliability of the information -the New York Times articles are just as reliable whether I read on a newspaper or online.

I came across an interesting article on BBC  which questions our ability to judge the accuracy of the information we receive through the internet.  This assertion was based on researchers asking high school students where they get typically get their information from, and how reliable they thought the information was.

The internet has facilitated the free flow of information (perhaps a good example of this is Wikipedia), but without no regard to the credibility or accuracy of the substance. The internet has no editor, no police.

Most of the interviewed students tell the researchers that they get most of their information from the first page of results from searching on google, youtube, and hearsay. What is more worrying is that they are far more likely to trust these information sources than information from traditional forms of media or the government.

This is the link to the original article (sorry I couldn’t embed the video).

Is too much information (facilitated by the internet) fueling disinformation?

What are the implications for government, and for wider society? Do governments have to wage publicity campaigns to improve their brand profile so that young people trust the information that they provide?

Information is only relevant if it is used – if the majority of people outside academic institutions gain most of their information through youtube videos about conspiracy theories, will this cause a disconnect from the thousands of years of accumulated knowledge that humanity has collectively amassed?

What can we/you do about this? Is internet censorship the way to go? Or do we list off information sources that we believe are accessible for youth, and are also credible?

DISCUSS.