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ACT UN 64th UNA-UK Annual Conference
Scottish Parliament and Edinburgh University,
5 - 7 June 2009

This three day conference, set in the heart of Edinburgh, consisted of the themes of humanitarian affairs, climate change and UN policy-reforms. Chairman Vijay Mehta, and Campaigns Officer Talyn Rahman attended as Action for UN Renewal’s (ACTUN) representative, where they had the opportunity to contribute to the structure of the United Nations Association (UNA) policy-making.


The UNA AGM was kept brief, with Lord Hannay’s report of the UN’s shortcomings and achievements over the last year. The campaign to ban cluster munitions has had a positive effect on the UK and international government, the outlook of climate change is being reflect and adopted by Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, and the UN’s main priorities for this year were discussed.

Act UN at UNAFrom left to right: Talyn Rahman, Vijay Mehta and Sir John Holmes

Sir John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General on Humanitarian Affairs, delivered the keynote speech for the conference, hosted by Alex Fergusson, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. Sir John spoke about the challenges facing the UN in its role as the world's humanitarian coordinator. In particular, reconciling the tensions between national sovereignty and international responsibilities were addressed, stating that the access for humanitarian assistance should be full and unimpeded. The world face a series of interconnected global trends which could transform the context of humanitarian work beyond recognition and which go beyond the ability of any state to deal with. Humanitarian agencies face criticism of acting at the behest of Western or Northern governments. In practice they cannot help representing and reflecting Western/Northern mindsets, and cultural, social and intellectual value, which is a problem. To reduce perception, agencies must try hard to achieve diversity in international ranks, have visibility on local NGOs, seek professional and strong NGO partners; respect by state and non-state alike.

Humanitarian is also threatened by the sensation of climate change. Sir John gave examples of natural and man-made disasters, and drew attention to the humanitarian consequences of climate change. So called mega trends are likely to drive up humanitarian needs by creating more poverty and vulnerability. This includes greater levels of inequality, higher unemployment, increased frequency and intensity of disasters, new kinds of conflicts, and major weather driven migrations. Combined, they threaten to create chronic vulnerability on a scale we cannot readily imagine now. Sir John also highlighted the food crisis and the current economic/financial crisis as a global crisis.

Vijay Mehta Speaking at the Scottish Parliament


The majority of Day Two consisted of reforming UNA’s policy commission. Such commissions included topics of: the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) & Sustainable Development, Human Rights and Humanitarian Action, UN reform, Peace & Security, and the promotion of multilateralism.

The session was very fruitful, with engaging discussions of amendments and new applications of each policy. ACT-UN had the chance to speak about a few topics addressed, especially in concern with the MDGs and gender architect. The plenary session was most useful in learning more about what UNA concentrates on in reflection to ACTUN’s work.

The plenary session was followed by a major climate change workshop, led by Trewin Restorick. Trewin, CEO of Global Action Plan, was one of Al Gore’s UK climate change ambassadors. Climate change was a major theme at the conference. Delegates debated effective follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol at Copenhagen, the UK's climate change policy, refugee flows resulting from climate change impacts, conflict over resources and new technologies such as a solar power supergrid. Trewin highlighted many of Global Action Plan’s initiative in creating individual awareness on the effects of climate change, pulling further on what we can do. More information of initiatives can be found on: www.globalactionplan.org.uk.
Climate change awareness video, “The Age of Stupid” was screened as a following.


The final day was brief, dealing with the business of UNA. A tribute to UNA members and UN staff were made. In a video message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked UNA-UK for its series of conferences on climate change, and called for ‘smart solutions’ to tie in the challenges of poverty and climate change.
Talyn had the chance to speak on behalf of ACTUN to thank UNA for the invitation, and feed backing on the overall running of the conference.