In 2014, Aotearoa New Zealand (the country’s full name) became the first in the world to recognise an area of land – Te Urewera in the Northeastern corner of the North Island – as having the status of legal personhood. This act of law acknowledged that the future of the planet depends on respectful relationships between its humans and more than human co-inhabitants.

Put another way, recently, by Amitav Gosh: “The questions of who is brute and who is fully human, who makes ­meaning and who does not, lie at the core of ­planetary crisis”

Opened by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres the People’s Global Summit, ­“Co-building a New Eco-Social World: Leaving No One Behind” is a starting point for a ­continuing global conversation, in which the broken social contract with the planet and with each other, took centre stage, and in which we have played the role of both contributors and co-organisers, with partners from around the world.

The first summit (June 29 – July 2) was an experiment not unlike the far more ­localised initiatives of citizens’ ­assemblies seen in Scotland and throughout COP26. The Summit maintained five reference points to guide the conversation around our shared futures:

  • Buen Vivir, love and care for ­people and the planet, responsibilities, and rights.
  • Respect, dignity, harmony, and social justice
  • Diversity, belonging, reciprocity and equity
  • Ubuntu, togetherness, accountability, and community
  • Solidarity, equality, inclusion, and collaboration .

During the Summit people shared their experiences and stories in diverse ways through live discussion panels, open mic chat rooms, storytelling, interviews, ­cultural expression, and keynote addresses from political and civil society leaders.

READ MORE: Scotland on edge of missing out on green jobs revolution, governments warned

All contributions submitted to the ­Summit are available and free to view after the Summit concludes ­ (, (

Everyone is invited to view these ­contributions and to comment. The ­contributions and feedback received to date have been distilled into the first ­version of “The People’s Charter for an Eco-Social World.” At the heart, the ­broken social contract between the ­richest and the poorest in the world, which always excluded those seeking refuge, women, children and indigenous peoples.

The Charter is a living document and reference point that will grow as the world’s populations share their solutions to our joint challenges, so all people can live with confidence, security, and peace in a sustainable world.

The Charter will be submitted as an ­invitation and call to action to the world’s leaders gathered at the 2022 ­United ­Nations High-Level Political ­Forum and World Assembly. The People’s ­Global Summit will continue to convene, ­promote and support local and global ­action to unlock the means to co-design and co-build a new eco social world.

The summit acted as a people’s ­assembly, comprised of differing world cultures and values, with a holistic ­vision combining sustainability, social justice and “we the people” working together. Intergenerational. International. ­Intercultural. Multilingual.

It was ­initiated by 26 global ­organisations with roots in communities throughout the world, and as such the Summit has the potential to reach and represent the views of hundreds of ­millions of people. We share the ­perspective that the pledges made by ­governments – on peace, development, and human rights – have not been universally realised. ­Inequalities and fractures have grown between and within societies. Poverty sits alongside extreme wealth. Nature has been stripped, leading to climate warming and environmental destruction. ­Millions have been displaced by conflict and violence; environments rendered uninhabitable. Governments have prioritised competition over collaboration, sovereignty over solidarity.

The Unesco Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts (Unesco RILA) launched the Summit with a live panel discussion streamed from the new Mazumdar-Shaw Advanced Research Centre (ARC) at the University of Glasgow.

The panel – “Those Left Behind: Radical Dependency, Arts and Refuge” – featured Professor Alison Phipps. Dr Hyab ­Yohannes, Tawona Sithole ­(Ganyamatope), and Dr Piki Diamond.

Their intervention focused on four ­dimensions of what is “left behind” and “who is left behind”. Together they called for policy and practice to welcome and integrate forms of knowledge and understanding from communities and peoples who are at the sharp end of experiencing loss and damage in eco-cultural life. The panel posed the challenge of realising and codifying cultural justice widely within governmental and intergovernmental ­actions.

The panel demonstrated through the ­examples of those who have lost their lives making unsafe and impossibly ­dangerous journeys when fleeing war and persecution that benign notions of “progress” produce destitute humanity.

We have seen this once again with the example of the violent bordering polices in Spain, US, and UK just last week. The idea of moving forward in these terms is unsustainable and unethical. The panel noted that it is not only those humans whose lives are constantly at stake who are left behind. What is truly left behind is our ethical responsibility towards one another and the natural world. The ­erosion of our capacity to share, care, co-exist and stay grounded is the greatest challenge of our time.

We followed our panel with ­workshops by Unesco RILA staff and Artists in ­Residence. A music session led by Dr Gameli Tordzro started with the passing of a calabash and other percussion instruments and sparked an impromptu dance session. Song soon flowed through the atrium, with the participants coached through a Ghanaian song of movement before reflecting on the power of shared song and rhythm.

Next, Brittnee Leysen immersed the participants in a soundscape of birdsong, the sound of the sea, and Maori waiata (song) by Shanara Wallace. This journey began in the Highlands and Islands ­before taking listeners south to Glasgow, and across the sea to Aotearoa New ­Zealand. Participants identified “home” in the soundscape, which differed for ­everyone; with some people connecting with the sound of the sea, and others with the wind and birdsong.

Artist in Residence with Unesco RILA, Naa Densua Tordzro, introduced ­participants to the language of fabric in Ghanaian culture. Beautiful hand-dyed fabric was measured and cut by participants, whilst they learned how to style hair wrapping according to the message you were trying to convey: being in mourning, having a ‘child abroad’ or being wealthy, and holding a certain level of status in society.

FINALLY, the morning ended with ­Ganyamatope bringing the participants back to the themes of the summit and leaving no one behind. After working through a series of short spoken word ­exercises, the participants worked collaboratively to create a shared poem for their experience of the summit thus far:

Bringing someone with you, always walk in pairs,

But be cognisant of political Western contextualisation.

Language comes from the animal that we are.

Everyone and everything stays together, grounded.





Yet, the world and most of her people are “left behind” under the view of ­progress and constant paradigms of ­unsustainable growth. “Behind” is best characterised as an unjust placement, but in the discussions, it was clear it is also a place of richness, despite its precarity.

The figure of the refugee, in law and human rights, represents one who is ­permanently left behind and for whom the international community has ­imperfect mechanisms through which a restoration of life and identity might be accomplished in another place.

Sadly, the mechanisms and conventions which protect refugees have come under unbearable strain. Governments in countries which are signatories to the Refugee Convention, like the UK, seek to protect their borders by criminalising those ­exercising their human rights. ­Human rights we know in practice, on the ground, in the desert, on the seas, do not encompass everyone. People are left behind and are destituted, stripped of the means to exercise their rights in many contexts.

This work of “refuge”, welcome and sanctuary is highly contested and runs many risks of cultural appropriation, of reparation, of securitisation and violence. The world’s most insecure are those upon whom the strongest technologies, especially those of the state, are brought to bear.

The seeking of refuge is not, however, just a matter of safety and protection of the body. When refugees speak of those left behind or what is left behind, they speak of cultural and living heritage: The games played as children, the precise feel of spring or rain, or shade, or snow. The way in which the land made life, the way families could move or stay with lives lived in freedom. Much of what is left behind is unacknowledged. It is impossible to think of refugees without at the same time acknowledging the indigeneity of refugees and the restorative need to re-indigenise in the new context.

WITH the Scottish Crannog Centre people in Scotland try and discover who they may have been and how they may have lived sustainably and well in the land.

In this we are aided by those who have fled persecution and war and who find within the Crannog centre echoes of common ways in which life is lived or was lived back home – fireside stories; trees with healing properties or sacred value, the shape of simple shelters such as humans have made for dwellings, from what lies around; the sound of stories, the shards or pottery. The music we can make on instruments whittled from wood, gut, and cordage.

In the Arizona desert the great saguaro, the huge iconic cactus is understood by the Tohono O’odham peoples as beings with personhood. Elements of the natural world are now endowed with rights. Ko au te whenua, ko te whenua ko au. I am the land, and the land is me, as the te reo Maori proverb says. Indeed, we are both culture and nature.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes in talks to help smash ‘green ceiling’ for women

When a person seeks refuge, the ­uprooting does not need to mean that everything that was cultural, living, lovely and ­languaged must be left behind. Somehow, we treat refugees as if all those ­elements need to be divested of in the new home. The best of integrating work means the richness of language and culture, of land and lore, can be brought together into a meeting of many edges with those living in the new land. Festivals of ­sharing of language and culture are points of ­enrichment and demonstrate clearly why it is important to learn from precisely the examples brought at the First Global ­People’s Summit.

The process of constructing The ­People’s Charter for an Eco-Social World has just begun. This Summit is one step on the journey of a continuing process for sustainability, justice, and equality for all it raises awareness but also acts. We urge everyone everywhere to continue to make their voices heard: What values, policies and practices do you think are needed to give the planet and everyone and everything on it safety and security? Heed this call to action and join us to work together for our shared future.

As Scotland begins to look towards the question of its own independence once again, The People’s Summit – Co-building an Eco Social World has offered a timely example of how this might be done in ways which, following Bella ­Caledonia’s thoughts last week, are participatory, ­local, and international, and with a strong preference for the vital contribution ­Scotland might also make to planetary survival.

Main summit:

Twitter feeds: @ecosocialworld


Lauren, Brittnee, Hyab and Alison all work in the Unesco Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and Arts at the University of Glasgow and were co-organisers and participants, at The First Global People’s Summit.