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Bergen Symposium highlights the opportunity for a new forum for discussion and local action

Bergen Symposium18 October 2012, Bergen, Norway - The Bergen Symposium, organized by UNITAR, the City of Bergen with the support of the UN Association of Norway, provided two days of discussions and presentations on the interplay between three main domains of international affairs: climate change, development, and human rights.

UNITAR promoted this discussion because each of these three important areas of international action and policy is the focus of separate communities, academic research, donorship and even militant engagement, but in the life of missions of people in need these are not distinct realities. Rather, they are interconnected, with common areas of overlap and interaction. UNITAR is planning to research the dynamics in these overlap areas and apply its combination of research and applications skills to identify new ways to look at these important issues in an integrated manner.

In opening the event, UNITAR’s speaker Francesco Pisano underlined that gaining knowledge of this interaction and exploring best practises is the objective of the initiative. UNITAR is seeking a group of partners able to engage in concrete research projects building on successful experience like UN CC:Learn, a partnership of 33 multilateral organizations that supports Member States, UN agencies and various development entities entirely dedicated to climate change. In another example, UNOSAT experts are increasingly witnessing in their geospatial research how climate change means also new human security challenges. The increasing magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events put additional strain on the world’s vulnerable groups threatening their fundamental rights. “Our message, said Pisano, is that the interaction between climate change, development and human rights is going to shape the future of our civilisation. Cross-thematic research and innovative solutions are key to sustainable development and even more so as we plan for a future made of emerging threats that we don’t fully understand yet, but will surely have a global dimension.”.  

Bergen Symposium In her opening remarks, May-Elin Stener, Deputy Director General of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the example of the disaster risk reduction initiatives in Eastern Africa and South-East Asia, where Norway and UNITAR have developed multi-year capacity development programmes leveraging the capability and knowledge of UNOSAT.

Mr Jan Egeland, Europe Director at Human Rights Watch, Ms Heba El-Kholy, Director of the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre and Ms Siri Gloppen, Professor at the Department of Comparative Politics of the University of Bergen offered keynote addresses on the various dimensions the interplay dynamics between climate change, human rights and development. Mr Joost van der Aalst, Chief of the IOM Mission to Norway, gave a talk on the second day of the Symposium.

In referring to the Global Framework for Climate Services, an initiative to “cover the last mile in climate services for those countries that need them the most”, Jan Egeland explained that still today some 60 countries do not have an effective climate service and some of them are among the most vulnerable to natural hazards. In her address, Heba El-Kholy touched on crucial issues for world governance such as youth and the potential role of the private sector. Professor Gloppen underlined that the topic of human rights is related to all dimensions of social well-being. "Human rights are not only goals of development; they are also a way to secure participation in the process towards development."

Mr. RyggIt was not the first time that the City of Bergen played stage to a discussion on the interplay between human rights and other dimensions of the international agenda. Together with UNITAR experts and the local UN Association and other experts from the Rafto Foundation, academia and research, Bergen City officialshave been instrumental in advancing the dialogue and supporting the research done by UNITAR on the possibility of garnering international attention to this specific topic. In addressing the Symposium, Filip Rygg, Bergen’s Commissioner for Urban Planning, Environment and Climate, stressed how Bergen itself is an example of how these themes intersect and interact with each other as they evolve and impact society in different ways. “The work with UNITAR on climate change and human rights is very exciting for our city, he said. The local level has an important role to play”.

The point made by Mr Rygg was also echoed by the Bergen Message, a short to-the-point declaration issued at the conclusion of the meeting. The Message recognises that Bergen is indeed a centre of knowledge on several areas relevant to the study of the interplay. It also underlines that climate change is real and is already affecting life on our planet. At the same time, the interaction between climate, sustainable development and human rights should be studied more closely and the actual impact on the life and rights of people should be brought to the forefront. The Message calls for the creation of knowledge and usable data so to operate a shift from the attention for the phenomena to their actual significance in the life of millions worldwide.

Participants were convinced that technology and capacity development can be turned into powerful tools if applied to local realities with identifiable requirements and clear objectives. The Bergen Message concludes that better life for future generations depends on the collective ability of our generation to operate a shift of focus from scientific knowledge to mitigating impact on humans and to planning new processes that can lead to results at the local level, avoiding accumulating a delay that will mean higher costs and being trapped in a reactive cycle.


Photo on homepage: Credit - S. de la Rosa, Bergen

Photos on this page

Photo 1: Centre: Ms May-Elin Stener and Mr jan Egeland with Francesco Pisano (far right) and Eianr Bjorgo (far left) of UNITAR
Photo 2: Mr Filip Rygg of the City of Bergen during his address
Photos: UN Association of Norway/Kai Grieg