Spotlighting sustainability, the UN goes dark for Earth Hour 2012
The United Nations will today turn off the lights for one hour at its Headquarters in New York and other facilities around the world in observance of “Earth Hour”, an annual global event that seeks to raise awareness on the need to take action on climate change.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the UN was turning off its lights “in solidarity with men, women and children – 20 per cent of all humankind – who live with no access to electricity.”
Mr. Ban, who in September launched an initiative to achieve universal and sustainable access to this vital resource, called Earth Hour “a symbol of our commitment to sustainable energy for all,” and underscored the need to “fuel our future with clean, efficient and affordable energy.”
Earth Hour, launched in 2007 in Australia by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), calls for people, organizations and cities to turn off their non-essential light for one hour starting at 8:30 p.m. local time.
This is the third year that the United Nations joins hundreds of millions of people around the world in switching off the lights. Last year, more than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries participated in the event.
While the actual hour is a symbolic call to action on climate change and not intended as an energy-saving measure, event organizers are asking people to “go beyond the hour” and take meaningful steps to reduce their energy consumption after the light go back on.
Secretary-General of the UN Sustainable Development conference (Rio+20) that will take place this June in Brazil, Sha Zukang, said Earth Hour is an event that helps people think about the need to take actions that promote sustainable development.
“We cannot continue business as usual. We need to rethink the way we use our resources, how we promote well-being and protect the environment. We need to pursue new ideas,” Mr. Zukang said.Back to Top
UN expert warns of situation faced by Marshall Islands citizens affected by nuclear tests
A “durable solution” has yet to be found to the displacement of communities affected by nuclear testing more than sixty years ago in the Marshall Islands, a United Nations independent expert warned today.
“I have listened to the concerns and stories of affected communities from Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik. As a result of the nuclear testing, all of these communities have suffered dislocation, in one form or another, from their indigenous way of life,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights obligations related to environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, Calin Georgescu.
From 1946 to 158, some 67 nuclear weapons tests were carried out in the Marshall Islands, which were then administered by the United States under trusteeship arrangements with the UN.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Mr. Georgescu, who just finished the first fact-finding mission to the Marshall Islands by special rapporteur, said many communities “feel like ‘nomads’ in their own country and many have suffered long-term health effects.”
The expert underlined the need for strategic and long-term measures to tackle the consequences of the nuclear testing programme to ensure sustainable progress and cope with the specific challenges posed by climate change in the country. He urged the Government of the Marshall Islands, the United States and the international community to find effective ways to redress the situation for those affected.
“The affected communities are searching for solutions, but are yet to feel that they have been restored to a position that is any way equivalent to the life they and their families lived before this dislocation,” Mr. Georgescu said. “Each of the communities from these four affected atolls has a unique history in relation to the nuclear testing and each needs its own solutions.”
Mr. Georgescu stressed that education will be key for the long-term survival of the country, as there will be an increasing need to sustainably preserve the cultural and environmental heritage of the country, including the Bikini Atoll which has been declared a World Heritage site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
During his four-day mission, Mr. Georgescu met with President Christopher J. Loeak, as well as with government representatives, ministers, senators, high-level officials, experts, academics, civil society, local communities and members of the press.
Mr. Georgescu is due to present his final report to the Human Rights Council in September.Back to Top
UN envoy commends disaster preparedness initiatives in Bangladesh
The UN envoy responsible for disaster risk reduction today commended Bangladesh for issuing a policy directive requiring that risk assessment be integrated into all development projects, as the country expands its cyclone preparedness to include earthquake readiness.
“I am heartened to hear that the same dedication which the country has devoted to protecting the population from cyclones is now being applied to earthquake risk,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, who is on a three-day visit to Bangladesh, coinciding with its National Disaster Preparedness Day today, and ahead of the start of the country’s cyclone season on 1 April.
“We only need look to recent tragic events in Haiti, Japan and Turkey to understand the reality of this risk,” said Ms. Wahlström, who also heads the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). “More than a third of the population, over 40 million people, live in seismic zones. UNISDR supports the full implementation of the Bangladesh National Building Code as an important first step towards minimizing casualties.
Bangladesh is considered to be particularly vulnerable to a rise in sea levels and intense cyclones; and is ranked, by the Asian Development Bank, as the Asian country most vulnerable to climate change.
While in the capital, Dhaka, Ms. Wahlström was briefed by the Minister of Food and Disaster Management, Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, who told her that his country only has 3,000 cyclone shelters, but requires 5,000. He also noted that the country’s series of embankments for protection against rising sea levels are inadequate, with many of them in need of replacement or strengthening due to their age.
Speaking at an event to mark the country’s National Disaster Preparedness Day, Ms. Wahlström said Bangladesh is the “epitome of resilience,” as evidenced by its successful efforts to reduce mortality from cyclones over the last 40 years.
“Your country is often cited as an early example of a successful national effort to prepare for the worst-case scenario through planning, effective early warning, social mobilisation and putting in place the shelters necessary to save lives,” she said.
Ms. Wahlström will meet Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday. They are expected to discuss how Bangladesh can further promote climate change adaptation policies and disaster risk reduction programmes.Back to Top
UN environment agency calls for urgent action to support Mongolia’s reindeer herders
Urgent action is needed to support Mongolia’s reindeer herders and protect them from unregulated mining, logging, water pollution and climate change, among other threats, according to a report by the UN environment agency, released today.
The report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), “Changing Taiga: Challenges for Mongolia’s Reindeer Herders,” assesses the current living situation of Mongolia’s reindeer herder community, the Dukha, of which only some 200 members remain, and explores ways to guarantee their livelihoods, as well as of preserving the ecosystem in which they live in.
“The taiga – the Dukha homeland – is a hotspot for biodiversity and is rich in natural resources, but it is also one of the regions of Mongolia which could suffer the greatest impacts of climate change over the coming decades,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
Many herders, the report found, have abandoned pastures because of damage caused by unregulated, small-scale artisanal mining of gold and jade, which leads to deforestation, forest fires, chemical contamination and poisoning of water sources.
Mr. Steiner stressed that the challenges faced by the herders reflect challenges faced by communities across the world which are seeking to transition to a sustainable future that generates jobs and livelihoods while still protecting the environment.
In the case of Mongolia, its transition to a market economy in the 1990s resulted in eight million livestock being added to its pastures, significantly affecting traditional herding practices. In addition, certain measures to conserve biodiversity in the region, such as the creation of national parks and stricter hunting laws, have limited access to pastures and affected herding communities negatively since their subsistence depends on trapping wild animals.
Droughts and extreme winters in the past decade have also posed a threat to herders as they have led to widespread livestock deaths.
“As a culture tightly-coupled with the taiga environment, Dukha reindeer husbandry has played a significant role in shaping the environment and conserving the unique biodiversity surrounding them,” said the report’s Chief Editor, Kathrine I. Johnsen. “It is important that any protected area regulations or community partnerships take full account of the Dukha’s needs and rights to access to their traditional pasture grounds and migration routes.”
Other activities such as tourism have been both beneficial and detrimental for the Dukha community, the report states, as it provides herders with incomes and alternative ways to participate in the market economy. However, herders have altered reindeer migration routes to accommodate tourists, forcing animals to graze on pastures of poorer quality and limiting their ability to increase the herd size.
The report includes recommendations such as closely monitoring reindeer numbers and changes in migration routes, forming community partnerships to support biodiversity and traditional Dukha livelihoods, re-evaluating current hunting regulations, and providing assistance to develop local herders’ institutions, among others.Back to Top
UN food agency calls for measures to preserve natural teak forests
The United Nations food agency today called for implementing measures to preserve natural teak forests, which are currently in decline, and improve management practices of planted teak forests, to sustain the supply and quality of the wood extracted from this natural resource.
Natural teak forests teak forests grow in only four countries: India, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. According to an assessment carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), except for Thailand, the countries have registered a significant decline in teak forest hectares, as well as deterioration in the quality of teak wood – one of the most valuable hardwoods in the world.
Between 1992 and 2010, Laos lost 68,500 hectares of teak forests, India 2.1 million hectares, and Myanmar 1.1 million hectares. Thailand’s complete ban on logging in natural forests introduced in 1989, the report suggests, may have contributed to the recovery of natural teak forests, which increased by 2.9 million hectares during the same time period.
An FAO Forestry Officer, Walter Kollert, stressed that production of teak logs from natural forests will be further limited due to continuing deforestation and competition for environmental services, making it vital to put measures in place to preserve them.
“Supply trend points to a continuing decline in the volume and quality of natural teak, which results in progressive loss of genetic resources,” Mr. Kollet said. “This is why it is essential in the near future to plan, organize and implement a programme for the genetic conservation of native teak resources in the four countries with natural teak forests.”
The assessment, which was conducted in 60 tropical countries, found an opposite trend in planted teak forests. Its findings suggest that these are increasing globally, with African, Asian and Latin American private sectors heavily investing in teak to obtain hardwood.
“Although the time until trees reach harvestable dimensions is comparatively long and on average takes between 20 and 80 years, teak planting serves local communities as a savings account and in the long run helps smallholders improve their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their children,” Mr. Kollert said.
Currently, Asia holds more than 90 per cent of teak resources worldwide, with India managing 39 per cent of the world’s planted teak forests. Eleven out of 14 reporting countries named India as their number one importer, absorbing 70 to 100 per cent of global teak exports. The report added that Myanmar, India and Indonesia, are also expected to maintain their position in the market as sources of premium quality teak, but the supply may be limited in the future.Back to Top
UN Drylands Ambassador calls for greater efforts to fight desertification
With land degradation and desertification affecting 1.5 billion people across the globe, 75 per cent of them among the world’s poorest, the United Nations’ most recently-appointed Drylands Ambassador today called for greater efforts to combat the problem.
“I want us all to agree that we will become a society that is free of land degradation,” said Leila Lopes, also the holder of the Miss Universe 2011 title, at a press conference at UN Headquarters. “I want us to agree on a goal that will help us to reduce land degradation, rehabilitate more land than is being degraded. I truly believe that we can come together and create awareness about this important environmental issue.”
Drylands, or ecosystems characterised by a lack of water, cover some 40 per cent of the world’s terrain, ranging from cultivated lands and grasslands to savannas and deserts. They are home to 38 per cent of the world’s population or 2.7 billion people, and account for half of global livestock production.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) appointed Ms. Lopes as one of its Drylands Ambassadors, charged with helping raise international awareness about desertification, land degradation and drought, causes and possible solutions. Miss Lopes comes from the African region where desertification is the foremost environmental challenge – part of her home country of Angola is threatened by desertification.
In her remarks to the press, Ms. Lopes stressed that “drylands are not wastelands,” noting that they can be restored, and pledged to work hard to create awareness on the threat of land degradation. She added that she will travel to Brazil in June to participate in activities leading up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20.
Speaking at the press conference, the UNCCD Executive Secretary, Luc Gnacadja, pointed out that 75 billion tonnes of fertile soil is lost every year as a result of land degradation. He added that land degradation and drought in drylands causes the loss of about 12 million hectares of productive land every year on which 20 billion tonnes of grains could grow.
“This is equal to 23 hectares of land transformed into man-made desert every minute,” Mr. Gnacadja said. “Sustainable land use for all and by all is an imperative. It should be the cornerstone for the green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication, and I hope that the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil will live up to this imperative.”
He highlighted two mechanisms which he said can help halt the shrinkage of fertile land. The first of these entails the management of non-degraded fertile lands in ways that do not cause degradation, thus halting further loss; while the second method calls for the restoration of already degraded lands.Back to Top
UN relief chief highlights cooperation with South-east Asia on disaster management
The United Nations relief chief today highlighted the importance of working with South-east Asian countries to implement measures to manage and reduce the risk of disasters, which affected more than 176 million people in the region last year.
During her visit to Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, met with government officials and national disaster response agencies to discuss their recent experiences in disaster management.
Both Thailand and Cambodia were affected last year by floods, and Ms. Amos stressed that the international community can learn from their experiences.
“I was encouraged by the response of the national authorities in Cambodia and Thailand and I have asked if we can be part of their lessons learned process so that the international humanitarian system can improve its support in future large scale disasters,” said Ms. Amos.
She also underlined the leading role Indonesia and Singapore have played as supporters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in disaster management.
“Indonesia and Singapore have been instrumental in driving forward an ASEAN regional agenda for disaster response to support national governments in their increasingly active and central role,” she said.
During her tour, Ms. Amos met with senior ASEAN officials and visited the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA) in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she emphasized the importance of UN-ASEAN cooperation in responding to disasters.
“We are keen to support the new AHA centre so it can be up and running as soon as possible. We have offered our knowledge and expertise to help support its initiatives, which will ultimately ensure the most effective response when the next disaster strikes,” she said.
In 2011, there were 107 natural disasters in Asia and the Pacific, almost half of the worldwide total, with regional economic losses amounting to $296 billion.Back to Top
UN spotlights role of weather and water services in addressing climate change challenges
The role of weather, climate and water services to help countries achieve sustainable development is being highlighted today by the United Nations during this year’s World Meteorological Day.
“Knowledge about our weather, climate and water has made great strides in recent years and is fundamental to food security, disaster risk reduction, water management, energy supplies and health, to name but a few examples,” said the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, in a press release.
World Meteorological Day, observed on 23 March, celebrates the creation of WMO in 1950 to promote international cooperation in the field of weather, climate, water and other related sciences. This year’s theme, “Powering our Future with Weather, Climate and Water,” focuses on the importance of investing in national meteorological and hydrological services to address challenges that have risen as a result of climate change.
“We need to strengthen the international knowledge base and ensure that the information reaches all socio-economic levels, from government decision makers and captains of industry to farmers and local community leaders,” said Mr. Jarraud.
“There has been great progress in improving the accuracy and usefulness of weather forecasts. We now need to improve the performance of climate predictions, for seasons, years and even decades ahead, and to increase our knowledge about how global climate is changing at regional, national and local level,” he added.
WMO is developing a Global Framework for Climate Services with its partners that will focus on 70 countries that currently lack or have few weather services. The framework will seek to ensure that weather and climate information reaches all levels of decision-making to influence choices like the construction of dams and the use of land.
As part of World Meteorological Day, WMO also released its annual statement on the status of global climate which reveals that last year was the eleventh warmest year on record, and the warmest with a La Niña phenomenon, which is supposed to have a cooling effect on the Earth.
“This 2011 annual assessment confirms the findings of the previous WMO annual statements that climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat,” Mr. Jarraud said. “The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans.”
WMO will also release preliminary findings of a global climate assessment for 2001-2010, providing information on temperatures, precipitation, sea ice and extreme events over this period.Back to Top
Sustainable development efforts of 25 grassroots groups win UN-backed prize
Twenty-five local community projects – ranging from a wildlife sanctuary in Bangladesh to a medicinal plants farm in Brazil, a land and water conservation group in Morocco to a reforestation and farming initiative in Ethiopia – are the winners of a United Nations-backed partnership prize for promoting local sustainable development solutions.
Awarded by the Equator Initiative, a partnership that brings together the UN, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to advance sustainable development solutions at the local level, the Equator Prize is awarded biennially to recognize and celebrate outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
The 2012 prize will be presented to the 25 winners at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, in Brazil in June.
The winning projects, announced on Thursday, were selected from 812 nominations submitted by communities in 113 countries across the developing world. They will receive a monetary award and participate in a “community summit” that will run parallel to the main conference.
“We wanted to make this a truly global award, so expanded eligibility to all countries receiving support from UNDP,” said the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark. “The overwhelming response from 113 countries in 13 languages tells us there is a world of community-based innovation out there, and that demand for a better future transcends borders.”
“These community efforts are heroic and inspiring. That is what the Equator Prize is all about – shining a spotlight on the women and men on the front lines of sustainable development,” she added.
Many of the issues to be discussed at Rio+20 are represented in the pool of winners, including food security, sustainable jobs, freshwater access, sustainable energy and oceans, among others.
The winning projects were selected from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Middle East and North Africa.
Current partners of the Equator Initiative are Conservation International; Convention on Biological Diversity; Ecoagriculture Partners; Fordham University; Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development; International Union for Conservation of Nature; The Nature Conservancy; Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Rare; Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA); UN Environment Programme (UNEP); UNDP; and UN Foundation.Back to Top
UN-backed disaster preparedness package launched in Indonesia
The United Nations and the Government of Indonesia today launched a package of disaster preparedness initiatives to further strengthen the country’s response capacity.
The new set of initiatives, launched in Jakarta by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, and government officials, complements the existing National Disaster Management Plan 2010–2014.
“Indonesia is also one of the world’s better prepared countries, winning global recognition for its efforts to respond to, manage, and prepare for natural disasters,” said Ms. Amos, who also serves as the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. “This package will further enhance the country’s preparedness capacity.”
Indonesia is prone to natural disasters, including floods, landslides, whirlwinds, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis – all exacting high human, environmental and economic losses. Led by the Government, the humanitarian community in Indonesia has maintained a strategic focus on preparedness since 2007.
The UN’s humanitarian chief encouraged other countries and donors to invest in preparedness as a way of minimizing loss of life and livelihoods.
“Preparedness is simply being ready to protect human life and dignity, and that is the spirit of this package, which aims to strengthen the capacity of the humanitarian community to collectively prepare for and respond to disasters in a timely and effective manner,” Ms. Amos said.Back to Top