May Digital News Recap

UN Social Media Champions
Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In May, South Africa became the eleventh country to reach gender parity in its cabinet. After Mr. Ramaphosa’s successful general election victory earlier this month, he announced a reshuffle in his cabinet – with half of the positions now held by women. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo, offered her congratulations to President Cyril Ramaphosa for the move. The presence of women in leadership positions can not only enable women to have a say in the country’s politics but also help to incentivise young girls across South Africa that such influential positions are obtainable. The other ten countries to have gender parity cabinets are Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Seychelles, Spain, and Sweden.

South Africa was additionally praised by Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change  for enacting a Carbon Tax. The Tax will come into effect from 1 June 2019 and the media statement released by the South African government credits the act as illustrative of the government’s commitment to mitigate GHG emissions. ‘Climate change represents one of the biggest challenges facing humankind, and the primary objective of the carbon tax is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a sustainable, cost-effective and affordable manner’ reads the statement.

The tax has been a long-time coming. It was first planned in 2010 but has been delayed due to opposition (from mining firms for instance) amongst problems of low growth and unemployment at nearly 28 percent. South Africa is the 14th largest polluter in the world and the largest in Africa, in large part for its heavy reliance on coal. The tax is not enough as it stands, but certainly a step in the right direction and a gradual increase in the price and spread of the tax to more GHG producers in the future would enable greater effectiveness.

The Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, was in New Zealand where he met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The visit was part of a Pacific Island States tour for Mr. Guterres focussing on climate change, considering the great risk that rising sea levels and more extreme weather pose to many Pacific Islands. The pair discussed climate change and how New Zealand is working to reduce its own greenhouse gas production and help less fortunate Pacific Island nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

New Zealand has introduced legislation working to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. As with most highly developed nations however, New Zealand has been slow to actually realising significant change in the fight against climate change. Per head of population, New Zealand ranks at 6th in the world for emissions, with transport and agriculture two of the prime contributors. Enacting legislation is positive, but more specific targets and objectives, such as subsidising electric cars, are needed to change public behaviour in regards to the environment.

Mr. Guterres was also full of praise for the Prime Minister’s response to violent extremism following the mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch earlier this year, which killed 51 people. The prime minister has been lauded by the global community for her handling of the tragic event on an emotional level and with strong leadership, including revisions of national gun laws and a buy-back scheme to tighten gun control.

This tweet from Antonio Guterres was the most retweeted of all UN staffers this month. On World Press Freedom Day, the Secretary-General noted the importance of Press Freedom for peace, justice, sustainable development, and human rights. Access to information enables people to have greater autonomy in their decisions and ideas, and it helps to hold leaders accountable. Though, Mr. Guterres also pointed out that misreporting and spread of extremism can be a danger too.

One of the newcomers to UN Social 500, Charlie Yaxley, the UNHCR Global Spokesperson for Africa and the Mediterranean/Libya, voiced his concern for children in Cameroon, where conflict has closed more than 80% of schools in the country’s North-Western and South-Western regions, depriving more than 600,000 children of education.

Today, more than 4 million people need humanitarian assistance across Cameroon. That is a 30 percent increase on last year. As well as Cameroonians, many of those in need are refugees who have fled conflict in neighbouring countries, such as the Central African Republic. In addition to the damage to education, attacks on medical staff and infrastructure have also increased, with at least 70 incidents noted since 2018, including abductions of medical staff and burning of hospitals. While sexual violence and abuse have also increased. Currently, more than 40 humanitarian organisations are in operation in Cameroon. They are mainly local NGOs which between them have reached over 100,000 people this year. Though, issues of funding and problematic service delivery due to damage to infrastructure and violence and interference from opposition groups have made the humanitarian effort a complex and challenging issue.

The work of the United Nations is more easily achieved with widespread support and action. The use of social platforms, such as Twitter, by UN staffers to share their experiences, work and promote awareness is thus valuable to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ultimately greater prosperity for all.