The “Wall of Welcome” in front of European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 14, 2015 (Photo by Wiktor Dabkowski for dpa via AP Images).

In 2015, more than 1 million people, mostly from Syria but also Eritrea, Sudan and other countries wracked by conflict and economic turmoil, found their way to Europe in search of asylum, where they struggled to rebuild their lives, often in the face of xenophobia and exclusion. Those were the lucky ones. Thousands of other refugees and migrants died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, a tragic waste of human life that was symbolized in a photograph of the lifeless body of a four-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, which washed up on the shore of a beach […]

The United Nations Headquarters in New York, which is closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, March 10, 2020 (Photo by Anthony Behar for Sipa via AP Images).

On Dec. 30, 2019, the world first learned that a dangerous new coronavirus had emerged weeks before in China’s Wuhan province. Three months, nearly 740,000 infections and 34,000 deaths later, as of this writing, it’s well past time for the United Nations Security Council to declare COVID-19 a threat to international security. Such a designation would carry immediate symbolic and practical weight, signaling to anxious populations around the world that U.N. member states are united in confronting this plague and determined to deploy their entire multilateral arsenal against it. It would also carry the binding force of international law, as […]

Migrants stand outside their makeshift tents on the perimeter of the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 28, 2020 (AP photo by Aggelos Barai).

In mid-February, the United Nations issued a statement calling for the immediate evacuation of the Moria refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Initially designed to hold fewer than 3,000 people, the camp’s population had increased from 5,000 last July to roughly 20,000. With ships bringing new arrivals every day, medical experts feared a looming public health crisis. Malnutrition was widespread, hygiene impossible to maintain and health care workers completely overwhelmed, leading many residents to die of treatable conditions. A regional government official called Moria “a powder keg ready to explode,” and a volunteer doctor told The Guardian that […]

Bangladeshi children sit on garbage piled up by the Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 4, 2018 (AP photo by A.M. Ahad).

By 2050, hundreds of millions of people in developing countries will have left their homes as a result of climate change—a mass displacement that will make already-precarious populations more vulnerable and impose heavy burdens on the communities that absorb them. Unfortunately, the world has barely begun to prepare for this impending crisis. Those displaced by climate change are neither true refugees nor traditional migrants, and thus occupy an ambiguous position under international law. The world needs to agree on how to classify environmental migrants, as well as what their rights are. It also needs to strengthen its capacity to manage […]

A member of the Afghan security forces stands guard after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 6, 2020 (AP photo by Tamana Sarwar).

There have already been many military maneuvers, political pivots and plot twists since the U.S. inked a peace deal with the Taliban late last month. But the one development that could finally bring a measure of clarity to Afghanistan in the long term is the International Criminal Court’s decision on March 5 to approve opening a full investigation into allegations that U.S., Taliban and Afghan government forces committed systematic abuses during the nearly 20-year-long war. For Afghanistan, the ruling issued by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber reversed the court’s earlier, mystifying decision last April to deny the request of the ICC’s […]

Trash collectors pick up plastic bottles in New Delhi, India, Sept. 26, 2019 (AP photo by Altaf Qadri).

In September 2018, after years of modeling and development, the Ocean Cleanup project launched System 001, a floating barrier designed to scoop up plastic debris from an area in the Pacific Ocean that, because of prevailing currents, had become a natural repository of ocean-borne plastic waste. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as the area the size of France became known, was first discovered in 1988, but it gained prominence after a public awareness campaign in 2008. Although System 001 ultimately failed to hold onto the plastic debris it collected, Ocean Cleanup announced late last year that a modified prototype known […]

A student protester holds up a foam replica of the earth during the Youth Climate Strike at Columbus Circle in New York City, March 15, 2019 (Sipa photo by Anthony Behar via AP Images).

The biggest challenge humanity faces this century is ensuring that the march of civilization does not degrade the global environment so much that we irreparably harm the planet on which our own survival depends. The advent of the Anthropocene—a new geological era in which humanity is the most important force shaping the biosphere—has revealed a fundamental contradiction between the Earth’s own integrated natural systems and a hopelessly fragmented international system. The former is an ecological and geophysical whole, as apparent in the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas Eve, 1968. The latter is an artificial human […]