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월요일, 9월 28, 2020

UN report highlights links between ‘unprecedented biodiversity loss’ and spread of disease

On September 15, 2020, the fifth edition of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook Report was released. This global report is based on a review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources and was compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries. The continued degradation of the environment such as deforestation, overfishing, bush meant hunting and poaching, climate change, and pollution is threatening one million species into extinction in the next few years. It is also increasing the likelihood of diseases spreading from animals to humans. Despite the ominous state of biodiversity, several recommendations are given to reverse the negative effects. These findings will be taken up by the Heads of State at the Summit on Biodiversity to be held virtually on September 30. Read below to learn more.

UN report highlights links between ‘unprecedented biodiversity loss’ and spread of disease

Source: UN Environment Programme, Coral Reefs restoration at the coast of Banaire in the Caribbean.

The fifth edition of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook report, published by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), provides an authoritative overview of the state of nature worldwide. 

The report notes the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change, and long-term food security, and concludes that action to protect biodiversity is essential to prevent future pandemics. 

Wake-up call

The study acts as a wake-up call, and an encouragement to consider the dangers involved in mankind’s current relationship with nature: continued biodiversity loss, and the ongoing degradation of ecosystems, are having profound consequences of human wellbeing and survival.

“As nature degrades,” said Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.”

Ten-year targets missed

This year’s study is considered to be particularly significant, because it serves as a “final report card” for the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a series of 20 objectives set out in 2010, at the beginning of the UN’s Decade on Biodiversity, most of which were supposed to be reached by the end of this year.

However, none of the targets – which concern the safeguarding of ecosystems, and the promotion of sustainability – have been fully met, and only six are deemed to have been “partially achieved”. 

“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”, said Ms. Mrema, “and the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.”

Although the lack of success in meeting the targets is a cause for concern, the authors of the Outlook are at pains to stress that virtually all countries are now taking some steps to protect biodiversity, without which the state of the world’s biodiversity would be considerably worse. 

The bright spots include falling rates of deforestation, the eradication of invasive alien species from more islands, and raised awareness of biodiversity and its importance overall.

However, this encouraging progress can’t mask the fact that the natural world is suffering badly, and that the situation is getting worse. Financing is a case in point: funding for actions linked to biodiversity has been estimated at between $78 - $91 billion per year, way below the hundreds of billions needed. 

And this figure is dwarfed by the amount of money spent on activities that are harmful to biodiversity, including some $500 billion for fossil fuels, and other subsidies that cause environmental degradation.

Transitions to a healthier planet

Contained within the report are several recommendations, or “transitions”, which map out a scenario for a world in which “business as usual” is halted, and environmental devastation is reversed.

Under the proposals, ecosystems would be restored and conserved; food systems would be redesigned to enhance productivity, whilst minimizing their negative effects; and the oceans would be managed sustainably.

The design of cities also comes under the spotlight, with calls for a reduced environmental footprint in urban areas, and “green infrastructure”, making space for nature within built landscapes.

The report amplifies the UN’s support for nature-based solutions, hailed as one of the most effective ways of combatting climate change. Alongside a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, they can provide positive benefits for biodiversity and other sustainability goals.

And, in relation to health concerns, and the spread of diseases from animals to humans, the report calls for a “One Health” transition, in which agriculture, the urban environment and wildlife are managed in a way that promotes healthy ecosystems and healthy people.

Reacting to the report, UN chief António Guterres said that the transitions represent an unprecedented opportunity to “build back better”, as the world emerges from the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic: 

“Part of this new agenda must be to tackle the twin global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in a more coordinated manner, understanding both that climate change threatens to undermine all other efforts to conserve biodiversity; and that nature itself offers some of the most effective solutions to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet.”

Original article: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/09/1072292 

Download the Global Biodiversity Outlook report: https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/report/global-biodiversity-outlook-5-gbo-5 

금요일, 9월 18, 2020

IEP Releases Inaugural Ecological Threat Register - Over one billion at threat of being displaced by 2050

On September 9, 2020, the Institute for Economics & Peace released their inaugural Ecological Threat Register. According to the report, over one billion people are at threat of being displaced by 2050 due to environmental change, conflict and civil unrest. By 2040, a total of 5.4 billion people, which is more than half of the world's projected population, will face high or extreme water stress. By 2050, 3.5 billion people could suffer from food insecurity, an increase of 1.5 billion people from today. Read on for the details. 


Children wait to buy water in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, one of the countries most at risk from ecological threats. Photograph: Anne Mimault/Reuters


LONDON, September 09, 2020

Today marks the launch of the inaugural Ecological Threat Register (ETR), that measures the ecological threats countries are currently facing and provides projections to 2050. The report uniquely combines measures of resilience with the most comprehensive ecological data available, to shed light on the countries least likely to cope with extreme ecological shocks. The report is released by leading international think-tank the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), which produces indexes such as the Global Peace Index and Global Terrorism Index. 


Key results

  • 19 countries with the highest number of ecological threats are among the world’s 40 least peaceful countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan.
  • Over one billion people live in 31 countries where the country’s resilience is unlikely to sufficiently withstand the impact of ecological events by 2050, contributing to mass population displacement.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa are the regions facing the largest number of ecological threats. 
  • By 2040, a total of 5.4 billion people – more than half of the world's projected population will live in the 59 countries experiencing high or extreme water stress, including India and China.
  • 3.5 billion people could suffer from food insecurity by 2050; which is an increase of 1.5 billion people from today.
  • The lack of resilience in countries covered in the ETR will lead to worsening food insecurity and competition over resources, increasing civil unrest and mass displacement, exposing developed countries to increased influxes of refugees.

The Ecological Threat Register analyses risk from population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, rising temperatures and sea levels. Over the next 30 years, the report finds that 141 countries are exposed to at least one ecological threat by 2050. The 19 countries with the highest number of threats have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, which is around 25 per cent of the world’s total population. 

The ETR analyses the levels of societal resilience within countries to determine whether they have the necessary coping capacities to deal with future ecological shocks. The report finds that more than one billion people live in countries that are unlikely to have the ability to mitigate and adapt to new ecological threats, creating conditions for mass displacement by 2050.

The country with the largest number of people at risk of mass displacements is Pakistan, followed by Ethiopia and Iran. Haiti faces the highest threat in Central America. In these countries, even small ecological threats and natural disasters could result in mass population displacement, affecting regional and global security. 

Regions that have high resilience, such as Europe and North America, will not be immune from the wider impact of ecological threats, such as a significant number of refugees. The European refugee crisis in the wake of wars in Syria and Iraq in 2015 saw two million people flee to Europe and highlights the link between rapid population shifts with political turbulence and social unrest.

However, Europe, the US and other developed countries are facing fewer ecological threats and also have higher levels of resilience to deal with these risks. Developed countries which are facing no threats include Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Iceland. In total there are 16 countries facing no threats.

Steve Killelea, Founder & Executive Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, said: 

“Ecological threats and climate change pose serious challenges to global peacefulness. Over the next 30 years lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation. In the absence of action civil unrest, riots and conflict will most likely increase. COVID-19 is already exposing gaps in the global food chain”. 

Many of the countries most at risk from ecological threats are also predicted to experience significant population increases, such as Nigeria, Angola, Burkina Faso and Uganda. These countries already struggle to address ecological issues. They already suffer from resource scarcity, low levels of peacefulness and high poverty rates.

Steve Killelea, said:

“This will have huge social and political impacts, not just in the developing world, but also in the developed, as mass displacement will lead to larger refugee flows to the most developed countries. Ecological change is the next big global threat to our planet and people’s lives, and we must unlock the power of business and government action to build resilience for the places most at risk.“

Food Insecurity 



The global demand for food is projected to increase by 50 per cent by 2050, meaning that without a substantial increase in supply, many more people will be at risk of hunger. Currently, more than two billion people globally face uncertain access to sufficient food. This number is expected to increase to 3.5 billion people by 2050 which is likely to affect global reslience.

The five most food insecure countries are Sierra Leone, Liberia, Niger, Malawi and Lesotho, where more than half of the population experience uncertainty in access to sufficient food to be healthy. COVID-19 has exacerbated levels of food insecurity and given rise to substantial price increases, highlighting potential volatility caused by future ecological change.

In high income countries, the prevalence of undernourishment is still high at 2.7 per cent, or one in 37 people do not have sufficient food to function normally. Undernourishment in developed countries is a byproduct of poverty; Colombia, Slovakia and Mexico have the highest undernourishment rates of OECD countries

Water Stress


Over the past decade, the number of recorded water-related conflict and violent incidents increased by 270 per cent worldwide. Since 2000, most incidents have taken place in Yemen and Iraq, which highlights the interplay between extreme water stress, resilience and peacefulness, as they are among the least peaceful countries as measured by the Global Peace Index 2020. 

Today, 2.6 billion people experience high or extreme water stress – by 2040, this will increase to 5.4 billion people. The majority of these countries are located in South Asia, Middle East, North Africa (MENA), South-Western Europe, and Asia Pacific. Some of the worst affected countries by 2040 will be Lebanon, Singapore, Israel and Iraq, while China and India are also likely to be impacted. Given the past increases in water-related conflict this is likely to drive further tension and reduce global resilience. 

Natural Disasters


Changes in climate, especially the warming of global temperatures, increases the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters such as droughts, as well as increasing the intensity of storms and creating wetter monsoons. If natural disasters occur at the same rate seen in the last few decades, 1.2 billion people could be displaced globally by 2050. Asia Pacific has had the most deaths from natural disasters with over 581,000 recorded since 1990. Earthquakes have claimed the most lives in the region, with a death toll exceeding 319,000, followed by storms at 191,000.

Flooding has been the most common natural disaster since 1990, representing 42 per cent of recorded natural disasters. China’s largest event were the 2010 floods and landslides, which led to 15.2 million displaced people. Flooding is also the most common natural disaster in Europe,accounting for 35 per cent of recorded disasters in the region and is expected to rise. 

19 countries included in the ETR are at risk of rising sea levels, where at least 10 per cent of each country’s population could be affected. This will have significant consequences for low-lying coastal areas in China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand over the next three decades – as well as cities with large populations like Alexandria in Egypt, the Hague in the Netherlands, and Osaka in Japan.

Development Aid

Aid can be used as a mechanism to build resilience to ecological shocks such as droughts, water stress and food insecurity in developing countries. Climate-related aid has increased 34 fold from one billion US dollars in 2000 to US $34 billion in 2018 and is primarily spent in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Asia-Pacific. India received the largest amount of climate-related aid in 2018, amounting to US $6.5 billion. Although these increases are substantial, they fall well short of what is needed to address these issues going forward.

For more information, visit economicsandpeace.org 


Resources

Original press release: https://www.economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Ecological-Threat-Register-Press-Release-27.08-FINAL.pdf  

Ecological Threat Register: http://visionofhumanity.org/indexes/ecological-threat-register/

Full report: http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf 

목요일, 8월 27, 2020

Saving the Covid Generation - Tens of Millions of Children with No Hope for Education

 A group of 275 former world leaders, economists and educationalists have called on G20 nations to step in and take action to prevent the global health crisis from creating a ‘COVID generation’ - tens of millions of children without hope of an education.

The leaders, which include many presidents and prime ministers, wrote in their letter to the G20 nations that urgent measures are required now. As country lockdowns come to an end, the 30 million children who, according to a UNESCO report, may never return to school, should be the immediate priority for assistance.

Read the article written by Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, Graca Machel, founder of Graca Machel Trust, Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, and Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the United Kingdom. 


Saving the COVID Generation

Source: Gulf Times

On top of everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a global education emergency. With more than 1bn children out of school because of social-distancing and lockdown measures, the crisis threatens to leave behind a “Covid generation” whose future prospects have been irreparably damaged. According to one recent study, Pakistani children who were displaced from school for just three months in 2005 by an earthquake showed signs of having lost 1.5 years of education four years later.

Worse, the crisis is deepening pre-existing inequalities. Unlike the more fortunate children who have been able to continue their educations online and in alternative venues, the world’s poorest have been locked out entirely from learning, as well as from free school meals. Without this critical source of nutrition, 300mn boys and girls are facing the threat of hunger.

Another immediate concern is the estimated 30mn children who may never return to school at all. These are among the world’s least-advantaged children, for whom education is often the only route out of poverty. For adolescent girls in this cohort, school is the best defense against forced marriage; and for many poor children, it is the last protection against exploitative and dangerous labour.

Because education is a critical factor in almost every area of human development – from child survival and maternal health to gender equity, job creation, and inclusive economic growth – today’s crisis has implications for the fate of the entire 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. According to the World Bank’s latest estimate, the educational losses now being inflicted on the Covid generation could result in lifetime foregone earnings totaling $10tn.

Those who are in a position to prevent millions of young people from losing a fair chance in life must not stand idly by. This is the time to redouble global efforts to ensure that all children receive a quality primary education.

Even before the pandemic, there were 260mn children out of school, including many of the 13mn child refugees and 40mn internally displaced children. Moreover, half of all children in developing countries suffer from “learning poverty,” demonstrating little to no basic literacy or numeracy even at age 11. Around 800mn young people have left school with no labour-market qualifications whatsoever.

To have any chance of reversing these bleak trends, the millions of children who have already lost half a year of education will need to be afforded assistance so that they can catch up. Resources are urgently needed to resume young people’s education and “build back better” with investments in online and personalised learning, more trained teachers, conditional cash transfers for poor families, safer schools, and other outlays.

To push for more funding in these areas, a coalition of global organisations recently came together to launch the Save our Future initiative. The effort is a response to the fact that while extra resources are needed now more than ever, education funding is facing a triple whammy.

First, the pandemic-induced recession will result in less revenue to fund public services, not least education. Second, as governments determine how to allocate scarce funds, they inevitably will focus spending on public health and economic recovery, once again neglecting education. And, third, the intensifying fiscal pressure on developing-country governments will perversely lead to a reduction in international development aid for education, which has already been losing out to other priorities in the allocation of bilateral and multilateral aid.

In fact, the same multilateral donors who already underinvest in education may now reallocate even more funds away from schooling. Hence, the World Bank estimates that over the next year, overall education spending in low- and middle-income countries could fall by $100-150bn below what was planned.

This funding crisis will not resolve itself. It is thus imperative that the G20, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, regional development banks, and all countries recognise the scale of the crisis and intervene to help displaced children catch up.

First, every country should pledge to protect education spending and emphasise the needs of the most disadvantaged children wherever possible, including through conditional and unconditional cash transfers to promote school attendance.

Second, the international community must increase aid for education, particularly for the most vulnerable, including the poor, girls, children in conflict zones, and the disabled. The fastest way to free up resources for education is through debt relief. With the world’s 76 poorest countries on track to incur $86bn in debt-servicing costs over the next two years, debt suspension is urgent so that this money can be reallocated to education and other high-priority investments for children.

Third, the IMF should issue $1.2tn in Special Drawing Rights (its global reserve asset), and its members should agree to channel these resources toward the countries that need them most. For its part, the World Bank should unlock more support for low-income countries through a supplementary International Development Association budget. And all advanced economies should follow the lead of Britain and the Netherlands, which together have pledged $600mn to the new International Finance Facility for Education, which will leverage such donations to extend grants and guarantees on a much larger scale.

All of these new sources of funding should be in addition to the funds for replenishing the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait over the next two years. And, obviously all governments must continue to support Unesco, Unicef, and other United Nations agencies working to provide all children with an education.

The challenges posed by Covid-19 are momentous, to be sure. But they also represent an occasion to redouble our efforts to achieve the fourth Sustainable Development Goal: quality education for all. The children of the Covid generation deserve nothing less than the chance to reach their full potential.

Read original article: https://www.gulf-times.com/story/671206/Saving-the-Covid-generation

Read full letter: https://www.savethechildren.net/sites/www.savethechildren.net/files/LETTER%20TO%20G20.pdf


금요일, 8월 14, 2020

[Ban Ki-moon] To Honor the Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 Years on, We Must Lay Down Our Nuclear Weapons

 This year marks the 75th anniversary since the bombing of Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is estimated that 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population were killed and that at least 74,000 people died in Nagasaki. Thousands more died from radiation sickness in the aftermath lasting years. Back in 2010, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon became the first UN Secretary-General to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the anniversary of the bombing. To honor the victims and move toward together toward peace, Ban calls on Presidents Trump and Putin to lay down their nuclear weapons before the expiration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty next year. 


Read the TIME article by Ban Ki-moon:

To Honor the Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 Years on, We Must Lay Down Our Nuclear Weapons

Ban Ki-moon (L) and his wife Yoo Soon-taek (R) lay a wreath at the monument of bombing centre in Peace Park in Nagasaki on Aug. 5, 2010, when Ban was United Nations Secretary-General (AFP via Getty Images)


When the U.S. military first detonated an atomic bomb in the desert of New Mexico in July 1945, the programme’s chief physicist Robert Oppenheimer quoted lines from Hindu scripture: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

A few weeks later, two nuclear weapons destroyed the worlds of the inhabitants of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9 respectively. These attacks heralded the end of Japanese colonial rule and the Second World War, and signaled the dawn of the nuclear age.

More than one hundred thousand people lost their lives as a result of those bombs, including victims of radiation poisoning and related illnesses caused by the fallout. Yet seventy-five years on, we still live in the shadow of those horrendous mushroom clouds.

Reckless policies in the U.S. and Russia risk starting a new global arms race and a collapse of international treaties to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In February next year, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) will expire — leaving the world’s two nuclear superpowers without a binding agreement on arms control.

We are now closer to global catastrophe than at any time since 1945, according to the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in Washington D.C. In January, I was there when the hands of the clock were moved forward to 100 seconds to midnight, nearer to doomsday even than we were at the heights of the Cold War.

I was the first UN Secretary-General to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for the anniversary of the bombings ten years ago. I was deeply moved, particularly when I met the victims and got to know their continued sufferings across the generations. I resolved that no atomic bomb should ever be used again, and that we should do our utmost to make the world free of nuclear weapons.

A decade on we are as far away from that goal as ever. According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the global nuclear weapons stockpile still stands at 13,400 warheads.

2020 should have been a critical year for global efforts to make substantive progress to rid the world of these weapons. Not only did the 75th anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki offer high-profile opportunities for commemoration, but the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference scheduled for April 2020 offered a chance for the top nuclear powers to commit to real progress.

Instead, COVID-19 has muted or canceled global public gatherings, and has put on hold the habitual rhythms and practices of international diplomacy. The NPT Review Conference has been postponed to early 2021, and the UN General Assembly will not take place in physical form this year. This disruption puts an onus on the leaders of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, to show initiative and keep momentum going.

I particularly urge Presidents Trump and Putin to extend New START for another five years until 2026. The U.S. has suggested it wants to broaden New START and negotiate a new agreement that would include China. While it is important for China to be engaged in the global disarmament discussion, it is disingenuous to make New START’s extension dependent on Beijing, given that its stockpiles are one-twentieth the size of those of the U.S. and Russia.

It is also unrealistic to think that a complex new arms control agreement could be negotiated and ratified in the next six months, with Chinese participation. The U.S. should instead accept the offer of President Putin and immediately agree to an extension. This would provide time to negotiate a more ambitious successor treaty, and efforts to include China and other nuclear states can be seriously explored at this stage.

More broadly, I hope the coming months will see a revival in the United States of the spirit of multilateralism that its leaders showed when constructing the United Nations and the other pillars of the post-war political and economic order in 1945.

As a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, it has grieved me greatly to observe a sustained and targeted assault on the multilateral system in recent years. This has made it harder for leaders and institutions to respond effectively and save lives, not only in the context of Covid-19 but also in the face of the climate emergency, conflicts and economic inequality.

I deeply regret that the United States has deliberately weakened the multilateral system across several fronts over the past four years: from nuclear non-proliferation and climate change to respect for human rights, free trade and health security. Such a unilateral and isolationist approach weakens the security of the United States and of the whole world.

We owe it to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and those who survived to tell the tale, to focus all human ingenuity and expertise on the cause of peace and disarmament.


월요일, 7월 20, 2020

Wounds of Dutch history expose deep racial divide - BBC News


The protests that started in Minnesota were echoed across Netherlands as well. The history of Dutch colonialism recently exposed the deep-rooted racial divide as demonstrations and defacing of historical statues took place. Three teenagers took a stand to fight against the racial discrimination by petitioning for lessons on racial discrimination to be added to the national curriculum to unteach racism. 

7/13/2020 - Bronze statues of colonial icons have been spray-painted. Black Lives Matter protests have broken out. And now the Dutch parliament has backed a petition by three teenage women requesting the addition of racism to the school curriculum.

Winds of change are swirling around the cobblestones of The Hague. Faced with a strong colonial past and a legacy of slavery, the Dutch are being asked to take a more impartial look at their history.

"We're still a very white nation," says Mirjam de Bruijn, an anthropologist at Leiden University. "Our colonial legacy is visible every day in our streets. There's an inherent racism and acceptance of inequality. Racism is inside all of us."

 How the protests began

What happened in Minnesota found echoes here too. In June, more than 50,000 people knelt during demonstrations across the Netherlands.

"We have deaths of people who died like George Floyd, but still no arrests," explains poet and campaigner Jerry Afriyie, who has been detained at a number of anti-racism protests.

He points to two recent deaths in Dutch police custody.

Tomy Holten died an hour after he was arrested on 14 March, after reportedly causing a nuisance in a supermarket in the central city of Zwolle. Images appear to show one of the arresting officers pressing his foot down on his face.

 Last month, Mondy Holten paid tribute to his brother where he was detained

In 2015, Mitch Henriquez died after being arrested for allegedly claiming he had a gun at a music festival in The Hague. An officer was given a six-month suspended sentence for applying the neck grip that killed him.

Mr Afriyie believes the Netherlands has problems with "white-supremacy" sentiment and he has his own experience: "I was put in a choke-hold and had to struggle for my life."

Protesters complain of institutional racism and a disconnect between a society that sees itself as anti-racist and the actual experience of black people within it.

There is a distinct absence of black MPs in the current Dutch parliament. And that reflects a sense of invisibility felt by many.

"It's a strange country," says Mirjam de Bruijn, who finds it impossible to see the Netherlands as truly democratic when part of society is silenced or told the racism they endure is imagined.

The three teenagers fighting back

The place to get the issue addressed is in the classroom, according to high school graduates Veronika Vygon, Sohna Sumbunu and Lakiescha Tol. The three friends launched a petition calling for lessons on racial discrimination to be added to the national curriculum.

Within weeks they had collected 60,000 signatures, and had been overwhelmed by an explosion of support from politicians, musicians and social influencers.

"In school, people told us 'Your skin looks like poop'," Veronika, 18, told me. "You are not born a racist, it's taught by your parents, your environment, school. We want to unteach it, to use the same institutions reproducing stereotypes to turn them around."

A Labour politician put forward a motion backing their petition and it was passed by MPs on 23 June, with 125 out of 150 votes.

"The response has been amazing," says Veronika. "We are working on programmes and lesson plans to help teachers. Do I think this will make a difference and change lives for the better? One thousand per cent."

History teacher Rodrigo van Loo believes there has already been a shift in Dutch schools. "The books mention the people who were visited by the Dutch. And on slavery, we now teach how slaves became slaves."

He teaches in a so-called "black school", where most pupils come from migrant backgrounds.

Bitter blackface row that divides Dutch

Every 5 December, white people in the Netherlands paint their faces black, apply red lipstick and pull on curly wigs to embody fictional festive character Black Pete.

Defenders of "Zwarte Piet" vigorously reject accusations of racism. But opponents argue that the fact it continues, when so many in the black community are upset, shows black lives matter little here.

One recent poll, however, suggests fewer than half of Dutch people now support the tradition - a dramatic fall in a matter of months.

Old attitudes die hard, though. When veteran TV football pundit Johan Derksen suggested black rapper Akwasi looked like a photo of a man in blackface, both the Dutch men's and women's national teams said they would boycott the programme.

Derksen said it was a '"stupid joke", but stopped short of apologising. The TV network refused to sanction him, citing freedom of expression.

Stirring up history

As elsewhere, Dutch colonial legends are now coming under scrutiny from those whose ancestors experienced the nation's inglorious side.

During the "Golden Age" from the late 16th to late 17th Century, the Netherlands was a global pioneer in science, art and trade. Its wealth grew over 200 years through the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

But statues of famous, seafaring figures have come under attack from a group called "Helden van Nooit" (Heroes of never):

  •  In Amsterdam, a monument of Joannes van Heutsz, Governor General of the Dutch East Indies, was defaced
  • In Rotterdam, Piet Hein, 17th-Century vice-admiral of the Dutch West India Company, had the words "killer" and "thief" scrawled on his plinth
  • Outside the Dutch parliament, slogans were daubed on a statue of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, a hero of independence from Spain and co-founder of the Dutch East India Company
  • Riot police in the northern town of Hoorn protected a bronze statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, a 17th-Century officer who seized control of the spice trade.

The word "killer" was daubed on Piet Hein's statue in Rotterdam last month

A significant majority believe these monuments should stay, one survey suggests. However, a debate has stirred on the Netherlands' history of slavery.

On 1 July, the Dutch marked the formal abolition of slavery in 1863 in the old colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

The day is known as Keti Koti (broken chains in Surinamese), but slaves in Suriname were not freed for another 10 years, because of a mandatory transition period. Even then they received nothing, while their owners were given compensation.

Should there be an apology for slavery?

There is increasing support, but Prime Minister Mark Rutte rejected the idea in parliament, because he feared it would create further polarisation.

Statues shouldn't be removed either, he said, as they offered a chance to reflect on a history that cannot be removed.

But D66 liberal MP Rob Jetten called for more attention to be paid to the descendants of slaves: "A large section of black people in the Netherlands say: see our pain and feel it."

Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher told MPs: "Being against racism is not left or right, but a sign of civilisation."

But the populist right profoundly disagrees with an apology.

Thierry Baudet of the Forum for Democracy party laid flowers on Gen Coen's plinth, and urged others to celebrate national heroes.

Is there a sign of change?

Apologies for slavery have come from the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, while King Willem Alexander apologised on a visit to Indonesia "for excessive violence" during its war of independence.

"Don't deny the terrible wrongs we did. Amsterdam is built on the products of Indonesia," says anthropologist Mirjam de Bruijn.

The perception that modern Dutch society is inherently inclusive and tolerant was challenged last year by the UN's special rapporteur on racism.

"In many areas of life... the message is reinforced that to be truly or genuinely Dutch is to be white and of Western origin," wrote E. Tendayi Achiume.

Historian Alicia Schrikker believes a failure to understand what not being white is like gets in the way of more critical reflection.

"People being raised now find it difficult to imagine what it was like," she told me. "Going back to history is essential to understand how much of that has influenced our contemporary culture and ways of seeing or not seeing."

If the Netherlands is to protect its open and democratic society, that may require rethinking what it means to be Dutch.

Original article: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53261944