GFDD and FUNGLODE celebrate Earth Day at the United Nations

April 23, 2014

On April 23, the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, in collaboration with the Dominican Mission to the UN, and with the support from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Committee on NGO’s (CoNGO), and the Earth Day Network, hosted the New York Film Premiere of Jon Bowermaster’s latest film: On the Edge, Antarctica. The choice of venue for the screening at the ECOSOC Chamber was particularly important given its role as a focus for discussion between UN delegates, civil society representatives and business sector representatives on pressing development challenges, which include environmental protection.

GFDD’s Environmental Programs Manager, Ms. Emy Rodriguez made the opening remarks, welcoming guests to the event held in celebration of the 44th edition of Earth Day. In doing so, she recognized the power the medium of film holds, providing an effective platform for civil society to engage, and raising awareness on key environmental issues.
Emy concluded her statement by introducing Mr. Jon Bowermaster, the director of the film On the Edge, Antarctica. A noted oceans expert and longtime grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon Bowermaster has undergone numerous expeditions to Antarctica over the past 27 years. As a result of his travels, Jon has become a keen advocate for environmental
protection issues.

Jon explained how his new film, slated to be released in IMAX theaters and Museums in 3D this summer, is the first of its kind, providing information on the impact of climate change and how the resulting loss of ice is rapidly impacting Antarctica’s wildlife. Explaining that Antarctica’s peninsula is “warming faster than any other area on the planet” he stressed that the ecosystem and wildlife of this huge
continent “depends on consistency” and is at risk from this rapidly changing climate.

Following the screening, Mr. Marc Jourdan, the UN Representative for GFDD, took the floor to moderate a panel discussion on the topic of climate change and sea level rise. Welcoming the panel speakers to the stage, Marc introduced the three panel speakers including Mr. Bowemaster, Mr Jamil Ahmad, the deputy director of UNEP New York, and H.E. Ambassador Ahmed Sareer,
of the Permanent Mission of the Maldives to the UN.

Mr. Ahmad commended Jon on his film, particularly for blending art and science together so effectively, so as to educate audiences about the consequences of mankind’s actions on the planet and its particular effects on the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica, which is threatened by regional warming and loss of sea ice. He stressed how these rapid changes in Antarctica’s ecosystem affect nations all over
the world, be they developed or developing countries. For this reason he explained that UNEP strongly supported initiatives like Earth Day, and stated that UNEP was itself organizing the UN’s equivalent to Earth Day, the World Environment Day, held annually on June 5th. He explained that the topic of this panel discussion coincided well with the theme of this year’s World Environment Day which is
“Raise your voice not the sea level” and is specifically targeted at raising awareness about climate change induced sea level rise and its impact on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Marc praised UNEP for its commitment to educate people about the dangers of sea level rise and explained how the Maldives were a particular case in point for this issue. Ambassador Sareer
presented the plight of the Maldives given its particular geography as an “ocean country” with 80% of the country’s area being located at less than 3 feet above sea level. Mr. Sareer stressed that, for the low lying island nation of the Maldives, climate change represents a growing threat to its population, as the rising sea level destroys the local biodiversity, reduces freshwater reserves and encroaches on the land as 37 out of the country’s 1,200
islands have now been flooded.

The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session, where audience members praised Mr. Bowermaster for creating a very engaging film, showcasing the importance of Antarctica’s fragile ecosystem. They also raised concern
for the Maldives vulnerable position to the effects of climate change, prompting Ambassador Sareer to state that the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raised concerns that SIDS, like the Maldives, could experience an increase in sea level rise by 4 meters within our lifetime which could cause considerable damage to the country and its population. He explained the need for SIDS to come
together and find workable solutions during international summits such as the 3rd edition of the SIDS conference taking place in Samoa from September 1-4, 2014.

Mr. Bowermaster concluded the Q&A session by reminding audience members that Antarctica is currently protected under international law by the Antarctic Treaty signed in
1959, which provides that the country “shall be used for peaceful purposes only.” He noted the looming risk that mankind may one day attempt to override this agreement in order to exploit the minerals located underneath the continent, and called for discussion forums such as the UN to educate Member States about the risks to the planet of doing so.

GFDD thanks all participants and audience members for coming out to support and celebrate Earth Day, and
will continue to support environmental protection by raising awareness for this annual event.