UN report: climate change to exacerbate freshwater problems of Pacific Islands
Climate change will exacerbate water stress in Pacific Islands, particularly small islands that rely on seasonal rain for their freshwater needs, according to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, issued in Bangkok, Thailand, today.
“The challenges facing the region in terms of freshwater resources are immense. Many of these islands have limited water resources, not to mention human, financial and management resources,” said the Regional Director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Park Young-Woo. “It is imperative that we improve water use efficiency to meet the basic human needs and to support sustainable development.”
The report, “Freshwater under Threat – Pacific Islands,” found that the almost total reliance on rain-fed agriculture across all islands puts economies and livelihoods at risk.
Nearly 10 per cent of deaths of children under five in the region is attributable to water related causes; and, 90 per cent of these deaths, according to the report, can be traced to poor sanitation treatment systems.
The delivery of water supplies and sanitation services in many Pacific countries currently falls well short of the targets outlined by the Millennium Development Goal (MDG), the globally agreed blueprint for halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of diseases, promoting access to education and improving health care by 2015.
According to the report, access to improved drinking water sources in Fiji and Papua New Guinea – at 40 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively – is about half the global average and it is anticipated that both countries will fall significantly short of the MDG for improved drinking water access.
Ecologically, smaller islands are under greatest stress, with 85 to 90 per cent of vegetation cleared on Majuro Atoll, Nauru, Fongafale and Upolu. These islands also have the smallest capacity to absorb wastewater generated from urban areas, polluting critical groundwater lenses.
The report cited water management as one of the greatest challenges to water resource vulnerability, particularly the limited technical and governance capacity partly due to the high emigration of the region’s skilled and educated workers. All Pacific Islands are struggling with Integrated Water Resources Management (IRWM) capacity, with only Samoa and Nauru having IWRM policies.
According to UNEP, these challenges will require innovative approaches and tailoring solutions that take into account the complex geographical and socioeconomic constraints of each island, as there is no one solution and would need a mix of policy intervention and preferred management measures.Back to Top
Ahead of International Mother Earth Day, UN officials highlight global concerns
Ahead of International Mother Earth Day on Sunday, senior United Nations officials today drew attention to global issues affecting the planet.
In a message to mark the occasion, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the annual observance honours “our one and only planet and the place of human beings in it,” adding that the Day is also meant as a call to action against human disregard for nature’s life-supporting resources and ecosystems.
In 2009, the General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth Day, expressing its conviction that, to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations, “it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth.”
Pointing to the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as (Rio+20), taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, Mr. Ban said that the event offers a timely chance for a much-needed paradigm shift.
“In the next twenty years, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy, 30 per cent more water and many millions of new jobs,” Mr. Ban said. “Our challenge at Rio+20 and beyond is to take a holistic, integrated approach to these linked challenges – driving at the interrelations such that solutions to one problem translate into progress on all.”
Rio+20 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, also held in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg. World leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an increasingly crowded planet.
“We must use Rio+20 to promote better respect for nature and to cultivate an environment – natural and social – in which all children feel safe and all people can prosper,” the UN chief said in his message. “Mother Earth belongs to us all; Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that all of us must seize.”
In a joint message for International Mother Earth Day, the Executive Directors of the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women, Ertharin Cousin and Michelle Bachelet, respectively, dedicated the Day to “the young girls who spend a full day in search of firewood, to the mothers who sell food rations to buy fuel for their family, and to the countless women who are forced to skip meals because wood is not available or unaffordable to cook their food.”
They noted that far too many refugees and women living in drought conditions are forced to walk into the bush to collect firewood, venturing into unsafe areas and are left vulnerable to rape and other attacks. In addition, they chop down trees and uproot grasses, harming the fragile eco-system.
“Wood fuel consumption for cooking and basic household needs has become a major contributor to rapid deforestation and environmental degradation. Stripping land jeopardizes agriculture and contributes to the loss of valuable carbon sinks,” Ms. Cousins and Ms. Bachelet said. “And indoor air pollution from burning solid fuel is one of the top ten global health risks according to the World Health Organization.”Back to Top
UN forum notes effectiveness of documentaries in telling stories of sustainability
A two-day United Nations-backed conference focussed on developing a better global future through the power of storytelling and documentary film ended today, with a call for filmmakers to help bring sustainability issues to life in a compelling manner.
“When we are able to find personal stories that documentaries do very, very well; and illuminate for people the conditions [of] people who are dealing directly with this issue… there’s ways that people come to this that really are effective and touch us when we hear their stories crafted through the careful eye of the documentarian,” said actor and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador, Don Cheadle, in an interview for the UN News Centre.
Mr. Cheadle was one of the guest speakers at the conference, ‘Envision 2012: Stories for a Sustainable Future,’ which focussed on developing a better global future through building on three key issues: just and sustainable cities; clean water; and green energy.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro opened the forum on Monday, noting in her remarks that the forum’s “documentaries and discussions have a crucial role to play in our effort to transform our economies and place our societies on more just and equitable footing.”
“We at the United Nations believe in the power of film to raise awareness and mobilize the action we need to change the world,” she added.
The conference is a partnership between the Creative Community Outreach Initiative of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), the Independent Filmmaker Project and the Ford Foundation. It was founded on the shared belief that storytelling and documentary film can be powerful tools in building a better future for all people.
“I think it’s [documentary story-telling] an effective tool and hopefully one of the tools that we’ll be able to use in the quest to draw more attention to the subject matter,” Mr. Cheadle said.
Now in its fourth year, the gathering connected United Nations experts and non-governmental organizations with people working in filmmaking and new media, and enabled them to work together to find new and compelling ways to create momentum for social change.
The acting head of DPI, Maher Nasser, said film has the capacity to encapsulate an issue and galvanize attention, whether through documentaries or fictional, citing the respective examples of An Inconvenient Truth, which brought attention to climate change, and Blood Diamond, which spotlighted the consequences of the real-life trade in diamonds sold to finance wars.
“But for all the memorable stories captured by the camera lens, many more remain untold – stories that deserve and need to be told,” Mr. Nasser said. “That’s why it’s important to bring together experts and the creative people behind the camera to find compelling ways to shine a light on these untold stories.”
Anchored by the UN’s anti-poverty goals known as the Millennium Development Goals and held at the Ford Foundation’s New York headquarters, the event was also aimed at helping build momentum for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as (Rio+20), being held in Brazil in June.
The Goodwill Ambassador said the issues raised by Rio+20 affect everyone, and warrant everyone’s attention.
“Ultimately, this is an issue that everyone is going to have to pay attention to because, I believe, it’s going to hit home very hard for a lot of people,” Mr. Cheadle said. “But we’d like to kind of get ahead of the curve and not have to wait until things are desperate, and water needs are disproportionate to our ability to get it, so hopefully the things that are brought up in Rio will spark debate, spark discussion, and sort of get the idea rolling a little faster.”Back to Top
Assembly chief urges scientific approaches to sustainable development
The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, warned today that economic growth that relies on unsustainable patterns of consumption and production is undermining humankind’s quest for harmony with nature and called for science-based sustainable development solutions.
“As a human race, we have the resources, the scientific knowledge and the know-how to save our planet,” said Mr. Al-Nasser in an address to the General Assembly’s Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature, organized to Commemorate the International Mother Earth Day, whose theme this year is ‘Scientific findings on the impacts of hAs a human race, we have the resources, the scientific knowledge and the know-how to save our planet.uman activities on the functioning of the Earth System.’
“I believe that future work on this new paradigm should be supported by a globally recognized and coherent science base, that is capable of creating a strong science-policy interface for sustainable development,” he said in the speech, delivered on his behalf by Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, who is also the Vice-President, and currently the Acting President, of the Assembly.
The scientific model on sustainable development would provide practical tools for utilizing natural resources in a more sustainable way, and safeguarding ecosystems by promoting social and economic development at all levels, Mr. Al-Nasser said in his remarks.
He stressed that the United Nations system should work together towards supporting a stronger science-based approach to sustainable development, and encouraged Member States to continue to support the academic sector as it explores the issue.
Humankind must figure out how to sustain life while protecting the planet, and what Earth requires to support seven – soon to be nine – billion people, Mr. Al-Nasser said. The two are the human race’s “greatest existential questions,” he added.
The Assembly President said that the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as (Rio+20), in Brazil in June, will be an opportunity to assess humankind’s relationship with nature over the past 20 years; to affirm previous commitments to environmental protection; and to inject new impetus and innovation towards fostering sustainability.Back to Top
UN disaster reduction office launches initiative to help cities manage risk
The United Nations office for disaster risk reduction today launched a new initiative to help cities across the world manage risk following the worst year on record for economic losses caused by disasters.
The initiative – the ‘Local Government Self-Assessment Tool’ – is part of the campaign to help cities establish baselines, identify planning and investment gaps for risk reduction and climate change adaptation, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said in a press release.
“Cities and towns are on the frontline of disaster risk reduction and bore the brunt of insured economic losses from disasters last year of $380 billion,” said Helena Molin Valdés, the Director of the ‘Making Cities Resilient’ campaign, which aims to reduce urban risks from climate-related disasters.
Ms. Valdés said the new tool would greatly enrich understanding of the challenges ahead as the world considers a new blueprint for disaster risk reduction once the existing plan, the Hyogo Framework for Action, expires in 2015. The Framework – a global blueprint for disaster risk reduction efforts – was adopted by governments in 2005 and aims to substantially reduce disaster losses by 2015.
Some 133 countries have been reporting at the national level on their progress on disaster risk reduction priorities agreed on in the Hyogo Framework. The new local government tool would enable municipalities to submit data for national progress reports for the first time. The tool has been tested in over 20 cities around the world.
UNISDR also announced that over 1,000 cities have now joined the ‘Making Cities Resilient’ campaign, which is creating a widening network of alliances for disaster risk reduction. There are currently 25 partners working with UNISDR to support the campaign, including the Local Governments for Sustainability, which has a membership of over 1,200 cities, towns, counties, and their associations worldwide.Back to Top
Ban welcomes European Union’s energy access initiative for developing countries
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed a new European Union (EU) initiative designed to assist developing countries in providing access to sustainable energy to their populations.
Under its Energizing for Development Initiative, the European Commission – the EU’s executive body – aims to support the provision of sustainable energy services to 500 million people in poorer countries by 2030.
“I commend the European Union for making energy central to its development policies, and for advancing the issue of energy access, along with renewable and energy efficiency, to the forefront of the global development agenda,” said Mr. Ban, addressing the EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, announced that the initiative will also create a Technical Assistance Facility worth €50 million, drawing on EU experts, to develop technical expertise in developing countries.
The initiative will also focus on refining, expanding and improving energy-related innovative financial instruments and risk guarantee schemes in developing countries to unlock greater private investment.
In the lead up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June, the EU and its Member States will seek to mobilize additional resources to support new investments in sustainable energy in developing countries, with the goal of leveraging even greater flows of investment from the private sector.
“Without energy access, we simply will not meet the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs],” said Mr. Barroso. “That’s why we’ve organised today’s summit – we are committed to the aim of providing universal access to sustainable energy for all by 2030,” he said.
Mr. Ban said the EU’s strong political commitment to access to sustainable energy will “enable developing countries to leapfrog over the energy systems of the past and build the resilient, competitive, clean energy economies of the future.”
The Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative is designed to catalyze global action in support of three, interlinked and complimentary objectives, all to be achieved by 2030 – ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the global rate of improvement of energy efficiency, and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
The International Energy Agency estimates that 1.3 billion people – one in five globally – lack electricity to light their homes or conduct business. Twice that number – nearly 40 per cent of the world’s population – rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook food, resulting in toxic smoke that causes lung disease and death.
On the sidelines of the summit, the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, signed a partnership agreement designed to strengthen cooperation between the two organizations on their work on empowering women and gender equality.
Cooperation under the new UN Women-EU Memorandum of Understanding will primarily focus on ensuring women’s representation in decision-making in the fields of economics, politics and justice worldwide, as well as better access for women to work and social opportunities.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, Mr. Ban described the EU as “a key strategic partner” of the UN on issues that range from peace and security to development and human rights.
“The UN receives first-rate political and financial backing from the European Union for conflict prevention initiatives and for our peacekeeping operations around the world,” said the Secretary-General.
He said that in the course of his separate meetings with Mr. Van Rompuy, Mr. Barroso and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, discussions touched on situations of mutual concern, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and South Sudan, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cyprus and sustainable development.
Mr. Ban said that Mr. Van Rompuy had also explained to him how EU Member States have been working together to overcome the economic and financial crisis.
“I sincerely hope that, under the leadership of President Van Rompuy and other members of the European Union, Europe will be able to address and overcome the current economic and financial crisis, which will be mutually beneficial for all around the world,” the Secretary-General added.
Mr. Ban is now in Luxembourg, the last stop on his three-country European trip, which also took him to Switzerland.Back to Top
UN agency to help 12 Eastern European countries get rid of obsolete pesticides
The United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will support efforts by 12 countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia to manage their vast stocks of obsolete pesticides.
An estimated 200,000 tons of obsolete pesticides – nearly half the world’s stockpiles – can be found in 12 former Soviet Union republics, according to FAO, which has formed a partnership with the European Union (EU) to invest €7 million to assist Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan to manage the chemicals.
Stored in tens of thousands of unprotected sites, the obsolete pesticides pose a serious threat to the health of the people around them and to the environment, FAO said in a press release yesterday.
“In the past decades, we were able to increase food production significantly, but at a huge toll on the environment,” said Director-General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva. “One of the consequences of this chemical-input, intensive agriculture we adopted are the barrels of obsolete pesticides lying abandoned around the world.”
“Pesticides may be an important input for farming, but they need to be used responsibly while protecting human health and the environment from their adverse effects,” he added.Back to Top
UN lauds Indian Ocean countries’ preparedness after tsunami threatBack to Top
Disaster risk reduction crucial for sustainable development, Assembly toldBack to Top
Africa and Asia to lead urban population growth in next 40 years
Africa and Asia together will account for 86 per cent of all growth in the world’s urban population over the next four decades, the United Nations said today, adding that this unprecedented increase will pose new challenges in terms of jobs, housing and infrastructure.
Africa’s urban population will increase from 414 million to over 1.2 billion by 2050 while that of Asia will soar from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion, according to the 2011 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, produced by the UN Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
The largest increases in urban population are expected in the following countries: India, China, Nigeria, the United States and Indonesia. Over the next four decades, India will add another 497 million to its urban population, China – 341 million, Nigeria – 200 million, the US – 103 million, and Indonesia – 92 million.
The projected increase in urban populations in India and Nigeria in the next 40 years will be higher than that of the past four decades, a news release on the report pointed out.
“This unprecedented increase in urban population will provide new opportunities to improve education and public services in Africa and Asia, as more concentrated populations become easier to reach,” the news release stated.
It added that this will also pose new challenges of providing urban jobs, housing, energy and infrastructure to mitigate urban poverty, expansion of slums and a deterioration of the urban environment.
“What we are seeing is the very rapid growth of megacities,” the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in DESA, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, told reporters at the launch of the 2011 Revision in New York. He noted that in 1970, only 39 million people lived in so-called megacities with 10 million or more inhabitants – in other words, less than three per cent of the world’s population at that time.
By 2011, 359 million people lived in these megacities – the equivalent to 9.9 per cent of the urban population of the world. In 2025, some 630 million will live in these megacities – some 13.6 per cent of the world’s urban population by then, he stated.
Speaking at the launch, the Chief of DESA’s Population Estimates and Projections Section, Gerhard Heilig, noted that the revision contains the most recent data available since it is based on figures from the 2010 census rounds, including from India and China.
Also, the 2011 Revision, for the first time, includes geographical coordinates for the 633 cities with more than 750,000 inhabitants, he added.
“That doesn’t sound like much, I agree. But for us, it’s really a quantum leap forward,” Mr. Heilig said. Now researchers can link estimates and projections of the population in urban agglomerations to various environmental characteristics, such as proximity to coastal areas, earthquake faults or climate zones.
An initial analysis found that among 450 urban areas with one million or more inhabitants in 2011 (representing 1.4 billion people), 60 per cent, or about 890 million people, are located in regions exposed to at least one major type of natural disaster risk.
With half of humanity living in cities today, urbanization is a critical issue for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, which will take place from 20 to 22 June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Cities are where the pressures of migration, globalization, economic development, social inequality, environmental pollution and climate change are most directly felt, according to DESA. Yet, at the same time, they are the engines of the world economy and centres of innovation where many solutions to global problems are being piloted.
“The launch of the World Urbanization Prospects is timely because world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, civil society organizations and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet,” stated the Secretary-General of Rio+20, Sha Zukang, in a news release.
“We expect world leaders to come up with concrete action plans to realize sustainable cities for the future we want,” he added.Back to Top