Access to low-cost energy vital in fight against poverty
The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, today underlined the urgent need to provide sufficient and low-cost energy to people across the world who lack access, stressing that making energy readily available can boost efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
“More than a billion people continue to live without access to electricity,” said Mr. Al-Nasser in an address to a conference organized by the Foreign Policy Association on the topic of ‘The Future of Energy.’
“It is clear that the basic energy needs of their daily lives are not being met. Today, more than any time in the past, there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainable use of energy and to address the challenge of energy poverty,” he added.
Mr. Al-Nassir noted that it is widely acknowledged that the more energy is available to communities, the greater the impact on food security, health, education, transport, communications and water and sanitation.
“Energy has therefore become an important component, if not an essential means, of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Unfortunately, over the past decade, the international community has not managed to agree on meaningful action to tackle the challenge of climate change, including energy poverty,” he stated.
The Assembly President called for the adoption of a new paradigm of consumption and production designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions; develop mechanisms to improve energy efficiency and ensure clean technologies are applied to fossil fuels; build capacities; facilitate access to renewable energy; and transfer technology.
Mr. Al-Nasser emphasized that international collaboration in boosting energy availability is a crucial way to ensuring success, adding that the cooperation should be between governments, academia, private sector and civil society.
“I would call for leaders in policy technology and business to work together, to develop new ways to shape the future of renewable energy, while also focusing on sustainability. Environmentally friendly means of using clean fossil fuels, including natural gas, must be found,” he said.
Mr. Al-Nasser also stressed that the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro next month, will be “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a sustainable future and a more equitable world.”
“My hope is that the international community will formulate global strategies for increasing access to clean energy, improving energy efficiency, and accelerating the spread of renewable energy technologies throughout the world,” he added.Back to Top
New UN website fosters sharing of successful sustainable development projects
The United Nations today launched a new online database to strengthen partnerships between sustainable development projects in developing countries and enable communities to better manage their natural resources and local environment.
The first online portal of its kind, the South-South Cooperation Exchange Mechanism will feature a host of initiatives – such as a biomass project at a Kenyan sugar factory and sustainable mining in Sierra Leone – and provide a forum where various actors working on environmental issues in developing countries can submit content, as well as share their expertise and experiences with peers.
“This new initiative is the latest development in UNEP’s ongoing efforts to support South-South cooperation and capacity-building,” the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Amina Mohamed, said at the launch of the mechanism at UN Headquarters in New York.
“Central among these is UNEP’s Green Economy initiative, which has assisted and encouraged developing countries to embed sustainability within their national economies – from organic agriculture in Cuba to solar energy in Barbados,” she added. “These are projects which have the potential to be scaled-up and replicated elsewhere in the global South.”
South-South cooperation refers to the exchange of technology, skills, resources and information between governments, organizations and individuals in the developing world.
Currently, around 30 case studies from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean can already be consulted on the website, available at: www.unep.org/south-south-cooperation.Back to Top
On biodiversity day, UN chief calls for greater protection of world’s oceans
Marking the International Day for Biological Diversity, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today highlighted the fragile state of the world’s oceans, urging greater protection for marine biodiversity.
“Oceans cover almost three-quarters of the surface area of the globe. They are home to the largest animal known to have lived on the planet – the blue whale – as well as billions upon billions of the tiniest of microorganisms. From sandy shores to the darkest depths of the sea, oceans and coasts support a rich tapestry of life on which human communities rely,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the Day.
“Yet, despite its importance, marine biodiversity… has not fared well at human hands,” he added.
The General Assembly proclaimed 22 May as the International Day for Biological Diversity, to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. The theme for this year’s observance is marine diversity.
In his message, Mr. Ban noted the impact of commercial over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks, with more than half of global fisheries exhausted and a further third depleted, and between 30 and 35 per cent of critical marine environments – such as seagrasses, mangroves and coral reefs – estimated to have been destroyed. As well, plastic debris continues to kill marine life, and pollution from land is creating areas of coastal waters that are almost devoid of oxygen.
“Added to all of this, increased burning of fossil fuels is affecting the global climate, making the sea surface warmer, causing sea level to rise and increasing ocean acidity, with consequences we are only beginning to comprehend,” he noted.
According to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the survival of marine and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity is essential to the nutritional, spiritual, societal and religious well-being of many communities, and not just those in coastal areas. Amongst its findings, it notes that fisheries provide more than 15 per cent of the global dietary intake of animal protein; oceans and coastal areas provide invaluable ecosystem services, from tourism to protection from storms; and, minuscule photosynthesizing plants called phytoplankton provide 50 per cent of all the oxygen on Earth.
Amidst the concerns over the future of marine biodiversity, Mr. Ban said, “there is hope.” He pointed to a 2011 scientific review which showed that, despite all the damage inflicted on marine wildlife and habitats over the past centuries, between ten and 50 per cent of populations and ecosystems have shown some recovery when human threats were reduced or removed.
“However, compared to the land – where nearly 15 per cent of surface area is under some kind of protection – little more than one per cent of marine environments are protected,” the UN chief said. “Lately, some progress is being made, particularly with the establishment of large-scale marine reserves and documenting areas of ecological or biological significance in open-ocean and deep-sea habitats.”
Mr. Ban said the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, next month, will provide an opportunity to recommit to building on advances made so far.
“Rio+20 must galvanize action to improve the management and conservation of oceans through initiatives by the United Nations, governments and other partners to curb overfishing, expand marine protected areas and reduce ocean pollution and the impact of climate change,” Mr. Ban said. “By taking action at the national, regional and global levels, including enhancing international cooperation, we can achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target of conserving 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2020, a crucial step in protecting marine biodiversity for the future we want.”
The CBD entered into force in December 1993, with three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.Back to Top
UN soil carbon survey aims to help Tanzania reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping Tanzania determine how much carbon is stored in forests and forest soils, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
More than a third of Tanzania is forested, but almost one per cent of the country’s forest is being lost annually, according to a news release issued by the Rome-based FAO.
Deforestation, forest degradation or changes in forest management practices can release carbon from soil to the atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change. It is estimated that deforestation and degradation in developing countries account for nearly 20 per cent of global carbon emissions.
“The forest soil survey, the first of its kind in Tanzania, was designed to provide unbiased estimates of the soil carbon stock in the country,” said FAO Forestry Officer Anssi Pekkarinen.
“It will also help experts to further develop a methodology for assessing the changes in carbon stock,” he added. “The project will allow the government to make informed decisions, which will result in an increase rather than a loss of carbon stocks.”
The FAO soil survey project for Tanzania involves 16 field teams which have been working for two years, collecting data from 3,400 sites. Soil sampling is being carried out on one-quarter of these sites and the samples are being analyzed in a local laboratory.
The UN has been calling for countries to take action under its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative (REDD) initiative – an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.
The Tanzania soil survey project was presented today at the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Bonn, Germany.Back to Top
Bird-watching can help boost ecotourism industry, says UN environment agency
Bird-watching, a popular hobby around the world, can present significant economic opportunities for countries through sustainable tourism, the United Nations environment agency said today, stressing that States should increase efforts to support this growing industry.
“Birding plays a significant and growing part in the tourism industry, and creates direct and indirect economic benefits for many countries and communities, also amongst developing countries,” said the Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, in a news release ahead of World Migratory Bird Day, which is observed on 12-13 May.
Initiated in 2006, the Day is an annual campaign organized by CMS and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) – two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which also backs the campaign – and devoted to celebrating migratory birds and promoting their conservation worldwide.
In a news release, UNEP highlighted that global spending on all areas of ecotourism is increasing by about six times the industry-wide rate of growth, and underlined the potential economic benefits of bird-watching in particular.
In the United States, for example, a survey by authorities puts the economic value generated every year by bird and other wildlife watchers at around $32 billion in that country alone. This amount corresponds to the gross domestic product of Costa Rica, which is also a popular destination for US birdwatchers.
In Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found that last year, between $8-12 million is spent annually by tourists wishing to see White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull alone, and that four per cent of jobs in Scotland are associated with wildlife tourism.
World Migratory Bird Day seeks to spotlight these benefits while also raising awareness of the importance of protecting birds, which face a series of challenges each year in their journeys.
“Conserving migratory birds is highly challenging because their annual migration often spans several countries, each governed by its own jurisdiction and national conservation strategies,” Ms. Mrema said.
Events to mark the Day are due to take place in 70 countries, including bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and bird watching trips, run by hundreds of volunteers and organizations.
The Day will be followed by an AEWA intergovernmental conference on migratory waterbirds, which will take place on 14-18 May in La Rochelle, France, and will focus on the role that wetlands play as a vital habitat for migratory birds and people and as a source of livelihoods for communities, particularly in Africa.
“It is absolutely critical that governments use the forthcoming meeting, to continue to do all they can to work together to try to safeguard, retain and where feasible restore high quality habitats – and to begin to link the conservation of migratory birds to human development and livelihoods on a flyway scale,” said the Acting Executive Secretary of AEWA, Marco Barbieri.Back to Top
Small island nations commit to new steps at UN forum to reduce fossil fuel use
Twenty small island developing nations have announced new actions to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and end poverty, as they wrapped up a sustainable energy conference organized by the United Nations and the Government of Barbados.
The “Barbados Declaration” calls for universal access to modern and affordable renewable energy services, while protecting the environment, ending poverty and creating new opportunities for economic growth, according to a news release issued by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The declaration – adopted ahead of next month’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) – includes an annex with voluntary commitments of 20 small island developing States (SIDS) to take actions toward providing universal access to energy, switching to renewable energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
It emphasizes that there are commercially feasible options in many SIDS for providing energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and oceans energy.
“However, these technologies must be made accessible, affordable and adaptable to the needs and particular circumstances of SIDS communities,” stated the declaration. “In this regard, we strongly urge the international community, particularly developed countries, to ensure the provision of financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building to SIDS.”
The host country announced its plan to increase the share of renewable energy in Barbados to 29 per cent of all electricity consumption by 2029. Among other commitments, the Maldives plans to achieve carbon neutrality in the energy sector by year 2020, while Seychelles will seek to produce 15 per cent of its energy supply from renewable energy by 2030.
The declaration also recognized the importance of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last September, which seeks to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, all by 2030.
The two-day conference, which ended yesterday, brought together more than 100 Heads of State, ministers, leading development experts, civil society activists, business executives and UN officials from 39 SIDS.Back to Top
Ban urges progress in Rio+20 negotiations, names post-2015 High-level Panel co-chairs
“We are at a crucial stage,” Mr. Ban told the members of the General Assembly in New York this afternoon. “We have about 40 days – and 40 nights – to Rio. We must use every moment.”
He added that although he was encouraged by the level of participation shown by countries so far, making progress on issues will largely depend on the ambition of the outcome document endorsed at the conference.
Last Saturday, representatives from governments negotiating the outcome document agreed to add five more days of deliberations to bridge differences that have kept them from making further progress in negotiations.
The UN chief appealed to all countries to show flexibility to reach an agreement on substantive issues and finalize the document ahead of the conference in Rio de Janeiro.
“Quite simply, we need a negotiated outcome document before Rio to ensure the high-level participation that we have worked so hard to generate,” he said.
Mr. Ban emphasized that the outcome of the deliberations over the next few weeks would help shape actions on the main issues to be addressed at Rio+20, such as the management and protection of oceans, ensuring universal access to sustainable energy and water, and improving life in the world’s cities, among others.
The Secretary-General also underlined that there should be an agreement to establish Sustainable Development Goals that build on the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the anti-poverty and social development targets that have an achievement deadline of 2015.
“We must harness the power of partnership to shift the world onto a more sustainable trajectory of growth and development. Rio should be a concrete step forward in this regard,” he said.
In his remarks to the General Assembly, Mr. Ban also announced the co-chairs of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons to advise on planning for post-2015.
“I am pleased to announce that the following leaders have accepted my invitation to serve as co-chairs of this High Level Panel: His Excellency President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia; Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; and His Excellency Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom,” Mr. Ban told the Assembly. “I am grateful to these three leaders for their commitment.”
He added that he intends to conduct further consultations regarding the composition of the High-level Panel, “mindful of the appropriate balance across geography, gender, generations, and constituencies” and plans to announce the full panel following the Rio+20 Summit Meeting.Back to Top
Better use of water leading to positive impacts on development
Sustainable water reforms are having a positive impact on countries’ development, according to the results of a United Nations survey released today.
The survey reveals that countries that have implemented water reforms backed by Member States at the UN Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 years ago have had significant improvements to drinking water access, human health and water efficiency in agriculture.
“[The survey] shows important successes regarding integrated water resources management, where a more sustainable approach to water has resulted in tangible benefits for communities and the environment,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.
More than 130 governments participated in the survey, which focused on progress towards implementing internationally-agreed approaches to the management and use of water, known as Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), which was backed by countries in Rio.
The survey, which was coordinated by UNEP on behalf of the UN inter-agency coordination mechanism for freshwater issues (UN-Water), asked governments for their feedback on governance, infrastructure, financing and other areas relating to water management, to gauge how successful countries have been in moving towards IWRM.
Overall, 90 per cent of countries surveyed reported a range of positive impacts from integrated approaches to water management following national reforms. However, the report showed that global progress has been slow in the areas of irrigation, rainwater harvesting and investment in freshwater ecosystems.
The report provides examples of countries that have shown progress since implementing water management measures. In Estonia, for example, the introduction of water charges and pollution taxes contributed to improved water efficiency and a reduction of pollution in the Baltic Sea.
In Costa Rica 50 per cent of revenues gained from water charges are now re-invested in water resource management, and in Ghana, 40 per cent of irrigation schemes for more effective water use and productivity have been rehabilitated.
Mr. Steiner emphasized the importance of these findings to build on water management initiatives at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil next month. The survey includes recommendations and suggested targets designed to inform policymakers at the conference.
“At Rio+20, governments will have the opportunity to build on these innovations and chart the way forward for sustainable development, where the water needs of a global population set to rise to nine billion by 2050 can be met in an equitable way,” he said.Back to Top
New report stresses benefits of reducing UN peacekeeping’s environmental footprint
Reducing the environmental impact of United Nations peacekeeping operations can lead to increased financial savings for the missions as well as improved safety and security for local communities and UN personnel, says a new report by the world body.
“Greening the Blue Helmets: Environment, Natural Resources and UN Peacekeeping Operations,” released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), presents the findings of a two-year analysis of how peacekeeping missions around the world affect, and are affected by, natural resources and the broader environment.
The 16 missions currently led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and supported by the Department of Field Support (DFS), constitute the largest environmental footprint in the UN system.
In December 2011, DPKO had 121,591 personnel deployed across those 16 operations. “These personnel and their supporting infrastructure contribute to the recovery and security of countries emerging from conflict, but also place considerable demands on the local environment, including natural resources,” states the report.
In fact, a 2008 inventory conducted by the UN Environment Management Group calculated that peacekeeping operations alone represent over 56 per cent of the UN system’s total climate footprint of approximately 1.75 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year – about the same size as the climate footprint of the city of London.
“Greening the Blue is not just our motto, it is also our commitment to ensuring that peacekeepers have a lasting and positive impact in countries where they are deployed,” said the head of DPKO, Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous.
To avoid and minimize the environmental impacts of peacekeeping missions, DPKO and DFS adopted an Environmental Policy for UN Field Missions in June 2009. It provides a series of minimum operating standards and requires each mission to adopt environmental objectives and control measures through all phases of the mission.
The policy focuses on a range of issues, including water, energy, solid and hazardous wastes, wastewater, wildlife and the management of cultural and historical sites. The policy’s objective is to decrease the overall consumption of natural resources and the production of waste, protect local environmental and public health and establish UN peacekeeping as a role model for sustainable practices.
The report identifies the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as having made the most progress in introducing environmental practices, with initiatives ranging from the use of electric cars at its headquarters in Naqoura, to energy efficient power generation and the establishment of a community-led recycling plant for plastic bottles, cans and glass.
“The case of UNIFIL illustrates what all our peacekeeping missions are now trying to achieve,” said the acting chief of DFS, Anthony Banbury.
The report also discusses natural resources as drivers of conflict, and recommends that where diamonds, gold, oil and other resources are factors in a conflict, peacekeeping missions should be given a more systematic mandate to support national authorities in restoring the administration of natural resources, monitoring sanctions and prosecuting violations.
UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said that addressing the ownership, control and management of natural resources is crucial to maintaining security and restoring the economy in post-conflict countries.
“There has been little progress in systematically considering and documenting how natural resources can support, advance or undermine the aims of a peacekeeping mission so this report is the first attempt to understand the links and identify good practices and gaps,” he said.
The report is based on desk research, field visits and consultations with DFS and DPKO, including ten peacekeeping missions.Back to Top