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Choosing sufficiency for greater fulfillment and satisfaction

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Our consumerist economy constantly prompts us to buy new things to find happiness, even when it’s unsustainable. Sufficiency is a burgeoning idea that calls for buying less material goods and finding fulfillment in sustainability.

Thinking of goods as circular and leaving a lighter environmental footprint are ideas that are moving from niche to norm. Growing numbers of people now buy less stuff and buy better quality, longer-lasting goods.

Some people also want to extend the lifetime of products by repurposing, repairing, reusing and recycling them.

In other words, as the European Union presses ahead with the EU Green Deal to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, many ordinary people of Europe are doing their part by modifying their lifestyle choices.

Yet, welcome as low-carbon choices are to mitigate the increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs), they can often be poorly understood. Two new projects supported by Horizon science funding intend to explore the area.

By examining lifestyles that shun excess and embrace “sufficiency”, researchers in the newly commenced FULFILL research project will shed light on a trend that has been marked by youth climate protests, the COVID-19 pandemic and even the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Deep changes

‘Interest in sustainable lifestyles is clearly rising,’ said Dr Elisabeth Dütschke of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Germany. ‘However, it is still open whether this means that deep changes to our societies are actually coming.’

Although a relatively new principle, the notion of sufficiency is central to the European Green Deal objectives because it calls for practices that decrease demand for natural resources and for polluting energy – the root cause of the worsening climate crisis.

The issue gains new primacy as we are urged to reduce our consumption of oil and gas because it is in short supply as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

As it ramps up in its first year, FULFILL plans to interview households and examine initiatives in five EU countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Latvia – as well as in India.

The goal is to learn to what extent sufficiency as a way of life is possible in today’s globalised world by identifying obstacles. The researchers will also examine how it affects other matters, like health or gender equality.

From there, they will draw up policy recommendations – together with citizens from varying backgrounds – and point out realistic paths to more sufficient lifestyles.

Sufficiency barriers

The early evidence is suggesting that there are many barriers to adopting sufficiency as a way of life.

‘So far, our research really underlined the strong interconnections between all areas of life and how deep change needs to be,’ said Dr Dütschke.

‘People trying to live highly sufficient lifestyles face many challenges and are, more or less, not able to live a normal life like others do.’  New clothes, the latest goods and ever more consumption are central to economic activity.

While significant change on this front in wealthy, democratic societies may be tough to achieve, the challenges faced in poorer countries is different.

‘In many parts of the world, people are living very sufficiently but not by choice,’ said Dr Dütschke. ‘We need to find ways to improve their lifestyle and wellbeing without making the mistakes of over-consumption and its negative consequences.’

Fundamental rethink

The second project – EU 1.5 Lifestyles – links the individual’s transformation of habits to a fundamental rethink of economic and social institutions themselves. The project’s name is inspired by the worldwide goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° C, coming out of the Paris Agreement made in 2015.

The risk is growing of the world crossing “tipping points” that trigger irreversible climate change. Alarm about this increasingly likely scenario has helped focus minds on understanding what types of everyday activity can contribute to meeting the temperature target.

Proponents of this largely bottom-up approach stress the carbon footprint of average households and shoppers.  

Though rarely held accountable, manufacturers and retailers are as vitally important to progress as consumers are, according to Dr Steffen Hirth, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Interdisciplinary Sustainability Research of the University of Münster in Germany who is working with the EU 1.5 Lifestyles consortium.

‘The adoption of “green” lifestyles and corresponding products and services are not something that should depend on consumer choices alone,’ said Dr Hirth.  ‘Producers decide how, how much and what is produced,’ he said. ‘

‘We cannot consume ourselves out of a crisis of overconsumption.’

As a result, decisive political regulation will be needed to discourage unviable economic activity and, by extension, reorient production practices towards environmental objectives, said Dr Hirth.

Open to change

The project’s initial findings are that mainstreaming 1.5-degree lifestyles requires overcoming ‘a range of very deeply ingrained structural barriers’ and ‘an openness for fundamental change, including a good level of imagination of how a carbon neutral society would really look like.’

With the researchers ultimately aiming to influence policymakers and others able to make a difference, Dr Hirth sees reasons for both pessimism and optimism.

‘It is weird to live in a society that already has enormous knowledge about this crisis and has available technology to solve it, without being able to draw the necessary political conclusions and take decisive steps towards actual social change,’ he said.  

‘At the same time, an imaginary society that has solved the climate crisis by focusing on essential needs, according to the latest research, could be a much happier society with higher welfare and well-being than in fossil fuel-based capitalism.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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