Message from the chairman

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Message from the chairman

Green Cross International has spent the past fifteen years insisting and demonstrating that sustainable development is the real frontline of the battle for lasting and genuine peace. I believe that 2006 and 2007 will be remembered as the years during which the citizens of the world joined us in that realization and demanded government and business leaders alike take urgent, united action. It has become impossible to ignore the fact that numerous inter-related threats, affecting each and every person on the planet, have been accumulating over several decades: threats to which many are only just, and still very slowly, waking up to. Sustainable paths must be followed in order to confront climate change and environmental degradation head-on, eliminate the shameful scourge of extreme poverty, and combat global insecurity. At the heart of this quest are fundamental human values that transcend cultural differences: respect, care, integrity, equality and non-violence. These are the universal values enshrined in the Earth Charter, and which will serve to guide us towards sustainability, justice and peace. The era during which I founded Green Cross International was one of immense optimism. The Cold War was recently, and peacefully, over. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro had initiated important conventions to protect nature from over-exploitation. We appeared to be embarking on an age of strong, multilateral governance and solidarity. Fifteen years on, it is clear that we squandered this opportunity, but today I am confident that we are on the brink of a new era of hope. The telecommunications explosion of the past decade has truly made the world smaller; people are far more aware of the links between natural resources, poverty and peace, and sensitive to the fact that neither threats nor solutions respect national borders. We also know that we will not be given yet another chance fifteen years from now.

But progress is still not happening fast enough. Many political leaders remain trapped in the past, unable to move beyond traditional concepts of security, defined by borders and armies, or face up to the reality and severity of the new generation of 21st Century global challenges. As GCI1 has long asserted, access to essential natural resources can be a contributing factor in the emergence and prolongation of conflicts, while on the other hand there is nothing more destructive to communities or the environment than war. Sustainable development means the mutual reinforcement of peace, human development, and care for the environment. Without this realisation, all our efforts to achieve security will be in vain: we will be building castles in the air, with no foundation.

Never has the Green Cross International mission to drive change through cooperation been more relevant. Without joint efforts of governments, businesses and citizens, as well as scientists and experts, we do not stand a chance against today's perils.

Green Cross calls for building peace through development, rather than enforcing security through arms and military might. For every dollar that rich countries spend on aid they allocate ten to military budgets. Three days of military expenditure exceeds what is spent on fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic in a whole year. What is affordable is ultimately a matter of political priority. There are now just eight years left to honour the Millennium Development Goals, to really step up to the plate in the fight against poverty, disease, and environmental deterioration.

According to current trends, over the next ten years the gap between the MDG targets and the actual situation dictates that 41 million additional children will die before their fifth birthday of that entirely curable disease - poverty. These are not abstract concerns, this is a matter of life and death and threatens to destabilise communities across the world - rich and poor alike.

Climate change is adding to the urgency of the situation, and its effects are already heightening tensions within affected regions as competition for natural resources - particularly water and arable land - intensifies. Since the creation of GCI in 1993, resource conflicts have led to the deaths of millions of people and the situation is set to worsen as floods, famine, and desertification are exacerbated by climate change.

This is why Green Cross is committed to ensuring all people have access to essential services such as water, housing and energy; to protecting people and nature from contamination by weapons of mass destruction; and to working with communities and authorities to prevent and resolve conflicts related to natural resources. More than ever we need to build a strong public consensus in support of peaceful, just and sustainable solutions to the crises threatening our future. This is the motivation behind GCI's ambition to stimulate a new global glasnost to inform, inspire, and educate the public and world leaders alike on sustainability and conflict prevention. It is said that pessimists see difficulties in any opportunity, while optimists see opportunities in any difficulty. Green Cross International is an optimistic organisation and believes that meeting the 21st Century's challenges is a chance to achieve a better, more peaceful and fairer future - one that we are excited and proud to be a part of.

Message from the President

In 1989 President Gorbachev said, addressing a major international conference: “Now that we have achieved visible progress in nuclear disarmament, the biggest threat to our common future will be increasingly associated with environmental challenges” - thus duly laying the ground for the creation of Green Cross International several years later.

Unfortunately, his prophecy all too quickly became a reality. As reported last year in the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, we humans are destroying the life-support systems of the planet at an alarming rate. The data keeps pouring in that we are altering the climate and toxifying the air, water, and soil so that the health of humans and other species is at risk. Avoidable environmental hazards contribute to a wide range of diseases and injuries worldwide. This causes over 13 million deaths per year according to a new UN report by the WHO2.

Having to some extent bridled Weapons of Mass Destruction, we are now creating a Climate of Mass Destruction. Global warming is already evident in melting glaciers, thawing tundra, and flooding coastal regions. Furthermore, scientists are documenting that we are living in the midst of a sixth extinction, with more than 20,000 species lost annually. This period represents the largest loss of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. In other words, we are shutting down life systems and causing the end of our geological era.

Green Cross International, since its inception 15 years ago, has been one of the few organisations focusing on the crucial nexus between poverty, security and the environment. These challenges are of the utmost importance to today's world where vital resources such as water and energy are becoming ever more scarce, and the threat of conflict over limited resources looms ominously. Therefore, in order to ensure a sustainable and peaceful future, organisations like GCI that possess expertise in mediation and encouragement of synergies have become increasingly essential to the creation of international solidarity. The second decade of GCI's existence is loaded with new challenges. On the one hand we have many reasons to state that GCI has become a mature and dynamically developing Non-government organization. GCI has achieved visible success over the last several years. The Legacy of the Cold War programme continues to develop and involve more and more citizens; in 2006, GCI's global work on water won Mikhail Gorbachev the prestigious UN award of “Champion of the Earth”; and the Earth Charter is endorsed by a growing number of governments and organisations. The greatest sign that a network is in good health is the growth in membership. We have welcomed GC Sri Lanka, Australia, and Canada over the 2006-2007 period. All this has ensured very tangible support from several governments, the business community, and international public organisations. The two years since the last General Assembly in Moscow has also brought substantial stabilisation of our financial position. In this respect, GCI is pleased to announce the creation of the Green Cross International Circle of Friends Foundation, an Endowment Fund which will enable us to strengthen our organisational structure and to further expand our activities.

On the other hand the international situation is becoming increasingly complex and worrisome. As a result, issues related to sustainable development become more and more sidelined by multiplying political problems. The war in Iraq, the situation over Iran, endless Middle Eastern imbroglios, and the international atmosphere of the “cool peace” have downgraded the Millennium Development Goals agenda into an academic, if not science fiction, discussion rather than a major political challenge of global proportions. Undoubtedly the “collateral damage” of these developments for the sustainable development agenda will be very significant. Thus GCI is entering a very important period, and in order to face new challenges and enhance its capacity to resolve important problems with global implications, it needs to continue to adapt its vision, strategy, and operational efficiency. I have no doubt that the coming GCI General Assembly will prove a pivotal event in this direction.

Preventing and resolving conflicts over natural resources

Access to clean water and sustainable energy are two of the cornerstones of human development; unfortunately, despite all the technological advances of the past decades, today half the population of the world lives without one or both of these essential services, trapping them in poverty. GCI is dedicated to ensuring that the right of all people to basic supplies of safe water is respected, while also striving to secure sustainable sources of energy which will promote a healthy and prosperous future for humanity and the planet. In the face of an ever-increasing global population, with the need for both water and energy growing at an amazing speed, GCI has continued to implement initiatives locally, nationally and internationally to meet rising demands.

The lack of access to sufficient quantities of clean potable water and/or basic sanitation for a third of humanity is one of the most pressing matters of this age. Not only is there a lack of water in rural areas of developing nations, but also in the increasingly crowded urban centres. This shortage of water, which is such an essential part of modern life whether in domestic, commercial or agricultural endeavours, is having an untold effect on the health and development of communities across the developing world. It is hardly surprising that tensions - that could degenerate into violent conflicts - arise over this scarce and precious resource. For this reason GCI has established the Water for Peace programme, which aims to promote cooperation and conflict resolution throughout the world's transboundary river basins. This effort is illustrated by GCI's current efforts to help protect limited water resources - including groundwater - from pollution in Israel and Palestine. This also explains why GCI has become intricately involved in encouraging communication and negotiation between involved parties on how to peacefully handle the issue of equitably and sustainably managed and distributed water resources. In 2006, Green Cross International's global work on water won Mikhail Gorbachev the prestigious UN award of “Champion of the Earth”. GCI believes that access to a reliable and safe supply of water for essential human consumption and basic sanitation is a universal human right that should be recognised by all nations. In 2004 Mikhail Gorbachev announced that GCI would champion a global campaign for the Right to Water. The primary aim of this campaign is to empower national and local authorities with the ability and knowledge of how to integrate the Right to Water into their own national constitutions and legislation, thus fuelling the movement to establish a Global Convention on the Right to Water. So far, the Right to Water campaign has been successful in raising global awareness of the need for national governments to move towards an international agreement that legally binds each nation to recognise, protect and implement the human right to water. Even though the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has already recognised the right to water as a fundamental right, this decision is not legally binding on states and it remains essential to encourage national governments to officially acknowledge the right to water as a guaranteed human right. GCI is also promoting the UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, adopted in 1997, with the objective of gathering the required number of signatories for the convention to enter into force, before the start of the 5th World Water Forum in March 2009.

Without electricity the modern way of life would cease to exist, which is why there must be a concerted effort to use sustainable sources of energy. Fossil fuels are at best a transitionary source of energy due to their finite quantity as well as their harmful effects on the environment, which in turn will affect the security and economies of all nations. Therefore, GCI and national affiliates have been working on projects that will lower the cost and enhance the efficiency of sustainable energy sources such as solar power in order to compete with fossil fuels. One such project, being led by GCI and its national affiliate Global Green USA, is the Global Solar Fund, which aims to reduce the overall cost of solar photovoltaic technology to a level competitive with traditional fossil fuels. In the same vein, there are also projects to reduce the cost of energy consumption through the development of more “green building” techniques in the hope of reducing low-income families' utility bills by 15% - 25%. GCI continues to strive towards a more sustainable energy future with the hope that every person will have access to affordable and sufficient energy to guarantee human development and wellbeing, while also protecting the environment of which we are all a part.

Green Cross International believes that in order to achieve a more global level of sustainability there must be international solidarity and a collective effort to change the values and behaviour that we have become accustomed to. The shift has already begun but it is not happening nearly fast enough; GCI will continue to work hard in order to accelerate and expand the global movement towards real sustainability.

Water for peace

Protecting transboundary groundwater sources from pollution in Israel and Palestine: research, training and guidelines for Israeli and Palestinian municipalities.

Perpetual competition for water in the Middle East is a matter of contention and, in order to preserve both the environment and security, Green Cross France aims to reduce the tension that results from limited amounts of groundwater resources in Israel and Palestine. Pollution of groundwater resources in the region has been caused largely by human impact on the environment in terms of domestic effluents, industrial activity, and environmentally harmful agricultural practices. Since the summer of 2006, Green Cross France has coordinated a project arising from its partnership with Friends of the Earth-Middle East and the House of Water and Environment. The project has clear objectives; primary among them is the goal of educating Israelis and Palestinians at a local level to establish a network of water professionals with strong technical knowledge of groundwater preservation. In doing so the project will also clearly define the guidelines agreed upon for monitoring, alleviating and managing pollution. The ultimate objective of the project is to secure a commitment from municipalities to adhere to and improve pollution levels in their respective jurisdictions.
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