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SEEN UP NORTH: Liz busy as a bee at UN

Tony Best

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The United Nations (UN) has been called different things by different people.
To some people, it’s the “the key centre for multilateral diplomacy” and “the body that has prevented World War III”. Others consider it “the globe’s biggest talk shop”. To another group, it’s an essential institution whose specialized agencies have been the forceful drivers of economic and social development, not to mention self-determination for at least 60 years.
That’s the atmosphere in which H. Elizabeth Thompson, a former Barbados Minister of the Environment and Energy, has been toiling since she vacated a seat in the Barbados Senate nine months ago to become an assistant UN secretary general.
Chosen by Ban-Ki Moon, secretary general, to be one of two newly appointed executive coordinators of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, called Rio+20, next year’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, Thompson, the first Bajan woman to serve at such a high level in the global organization, has a long list of responsibilities. They include:
• mobilizing high-level political support and maintaining dialogue with UN member states to achieve a successful conference;
• garnering financial backing from donors to enable developing countries to send representatives to Rio;
• coordinating the preparation of a road map for the deliberations;
• generating assistance for regional and national preparatory sessions;
• promoting outreach activities; and
• working alongside the panel on development and climate change.
In essence, she is the UN secretariat’s coordinator for the developing world in the run-up to the June 6 to 9, 2012 summit.
“It is fair to say that the pace of activity since joining the UN has been quite hectic and the scope of responsibilities very extensive,” she said.
“We are on the cusp of a new international political and economic agenda which would spawn a new and significant shift in the way we do business. The green economy is going to make a substantial difference in the lives of people everywhere, especially in the developing world, and the conference in Rio will be crucial to that change.”
That’s why Thompson is encouraging Caribbean nations to be “vigorous” in their preparations for the meeting and in the development of plans for the “green economy”, the “inevitable ways” of the future.
“We in the Caribbean have an amazing and unique opportunity to be engaged in the process. Indeed, we are well positioned, especially Barbados, to benefit from the transition to the green economy.”
As the world’s seventh highest per capita user of solar water heaters, Barbados, she explained, had a jump-start on most developing countries in that use of solar energy and could, indeed must, take advantage of the burgeoning field, especially when in licensing and sharing of technology.
“We began quite early with solar energy in Barbados and we must utilize our experience so that Barbados and the Caribbean region as a whole benefit,” she said.
The Rio+20 meeting will zero in on water and energy resources, food security, disaster preparedness, protection of the oceans and the environment in its broadest sense.