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UN atomic agency and Japan’s Fukushima prefecture to cooperate on nuclear safety


17 December 2012 – An agreement between the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and administrators from Japan’s Fukushima prefecture was signed over the weekend, ushering in a new era of emergency preparedness and radiation monitoring for the beleaguered Japanese prefecture.

The Memorandum of Cooperation – signed on the sidelines of the three-day Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, held in the city of Koriyama, Japan – will help promote cooperation between the IAEA and local bodies for radiation monitoring and remediation as well as human health issues in the wake of the devastating nuclear accident which afflicted the region over one year ago.

In a statement marking the agreement, the UN nuclear watchdog’s Director-General, Yukiya Amano, acknowledged the importance of the IAEA’s role in alleviating the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“The IAEA has expertise in the areas of remediation and decontamination, as well as environmental monitoring and human heath,” Mr. Amano said. “It is our hope that we will support Fukushima and at the same time serve as a bridge connecting the Prefecture and the world.”

In March 2011, Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people in the eastern part of the country. In addition to causing widespread destruction, the tsunami also slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, located in Fukushima, disabling cooling systems and leading to fuel meltdowns in three of the six units.

The accident, which was reported to be the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, shook the nuclear industry, regulators and governments; and weaknesses in the design and various oversights in the power station were later identified, which could have diminished the damage. Since then, the Japanese Government has significantly increased its efforts to improve its early warning systems and nuclear safety measures.

According to the Memorandum, an IAEA Response and Assistance Network Capacity Building Centre will be designated, with IAEA radiation monitoring equipment to be deployed in case of need, and to provide training in emergency preparedness and response in Japan and the Asia Pacific region.

“I’m very much encouraged by the conclusion of this Memorandum and I believe this will serve to promote reconstruction in Fukushima,” said the Governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Yuhei Soto, who was also present at the signing, according to an IAEA news release.

“We will also be able to disseminate to the rest of the world the knowledge and experience to be gained from the activities that we are conducting, and we hope this will be a symbol of Fukushima,” he added.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43786&Cr=IAEA&Cr1=

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Tajikistan: UN review finds that access to clean water among most pressing environmental challenges


14 December 2012 – Access to clean water and improved sanitation and waste management remain some of the most pressing environmental challenges for Tajikistan, according to a United Nations review of the Central Asian nation’s management of its environment, published today.

Carried out by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the so-called Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Tajikistan – the second of its kind – covers ten issues of importance to the country related to policymaking, planning and implementation, the financing of environmental policies, climate change, water management, waste management, human health and the environment and biodiversity conservation.

It notes a series of improvements, including significant changes to the legal and policy framework in the area of the environment, as well as challenges that the country is still facing.

It is the second such review of progress made by the country in the management of its environment, with the first having been carried out in 2004. The EPRs are independent, external assessments that are carried out under the auspices of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy.

Tajikistan has abundant water resources, according to the regional commission. However, due to institutional weaknesses as well as inadequate funding and outdated infrastructure in the water sector, there are multiple challenges in the use and protection of water resources.

The EPR finds that only one third of Tajikistan’s 7.2 million inhabitants have access to chlorinated piped water. Some 30 per cent rely on spring water and the remainder of the population depend on river and ditch water sources. Only five per cent of the population are connected to public sewerage.

The functioning of the water supply and sewerage systems is, moreover, frequently interrupted by power outages, which is also a source of water contamination, the Review finds. Frequent power cuts limit water supply to a few hours per day. Although there has been an overall improvement since 2004 in the quality of drinking water, 15 per cent of samples do not meet bacteriological standards today.

Waste management has been receiving more attention since 2004. Nevertheless, today municipal solid waste collection services are only provided for the urban population, which represents about 26 per cent of the total population. Waste disposal practices require urgent improvement as even in the capital, Dushanbe, the city’s single disposal site does not meet sanitary norms and standards.

Tailing ponds from mining activities also pose a threat to human health in the country, according to the EPR. Approximately 54.8 million tons of waste from past uranium mining operations are still located in unsecured sites in northern Tajikistan, a number of them close to Khujand, the country’s second-largest city.

The Review concludes with a set of 47 recommendations to the country to improve management of its environment, to better integrate the goals of sustainable development into sectoral policies, to promote greater accountability to the public and to strengthen cooperation with the international community.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43774&Cr=tajikistan&Cr1=

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UN environment agency welcomes renewed commitment to protecting Caspian Sea


13 December 2012 – The five countries bordering the Caspian Sea have reaffirmed their strong commitment to protect its marine environment, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which welcomed the move as an “important step.”

In a news release, the UN agency said that Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan had reached a crucial milestone by adopting and signing one more protocol to the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, also known as the Tehran Convention: the Protocol for the Protection of the Caspian Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities (LBSA Protocol).

“The signing of the LBSA Protocol in Moscow is an important step forward in the process as it addresses one of the major ecological threats to the Caspian environment and aims to safeguard coasts and waters from the detrimental effects of pollution from land-based sources such as agriculture, industry and urban settlements,” UNEP stated.

Ministers and high-level government representatives from the five countries had met in the Russian capital of Moscow for the Fourth Meeting of the Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP4) from 10-12 December.

Hosted by the Russian Government, COP4 was also attended by representatives from the European Union, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in addition to UNEP, as well as other international observers.

“This remarkable progress follows the 2011 adoption and signing of the Aktau Protocol on Regional Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Incidents, at COP3 in Kazakhstan,” UNEP said.

The UN agency noted that the Caspian environmental process, supported for many years by the world body and others, led to the signing of the landmark Tehran Convention in 2003 and its entry into force in August 2006, and for which UNEP provides the Secretariat.

It added that the legally-binding agreement resulted in increasing cooperation amongst the five Caspian nations and comes at a crucial time when the Caspian region is witnessing unprecedented growth in oil and gas exploration, exploitation and transportation.

In the area of cooperation in addressing common environmental challenges, UNEP said that COP4 laid the groundwork for implementing a sound environmental monitoring and reporting programme in the region, providing for harmonized and regular information and data exchange between the countries.

“Environmental cooperation is an essential basis for the overall economic and social development of the region, a crucial first step on the road to a green economy, equitable management of resources, and a sustainable future for all Caspian states,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, on the progress achieved by the Caspian nations throughout the years, and in particular at COP4.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43763&Cr=Caspian&Cr1=

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Nuclear plants in Japan operating normally following earthquake


7 December 2012 – Nuclear plants near the region that was hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan appear to be operating normally, the United Nations atomic energy agency said today, adding that no emergency measures have been put into place so far.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had been in contact with Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to collect information about the status of nuclear power plants that could be affected.

“Nuclear power plants in the region nearest to the epicentre of the earthquake have reported to NRA that they have detected no trouble and that no emergency measures have been activated,” said IAEA’s spokesperson, Gill Tudor.

The earthquake triggered a one metre sea level rise in some areas and prompted evacuations, but according to media reports, no deaths, injuries or serious damage have been noted. Media reports said the earthquake’s epicentre was about 245 kilometres south-east of the city of Kamiashi at a depth of about 36 kilometres.

Ms. Tudor said the IAEA has offered its good offices to Japan and reaffirmed its readiness to provide assistance if the Government should request it.

In March 2011, Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people in the eastern part of the country. In addition to causing widespread destruction, the tsunami also slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, located in Fukushima Prefecture, disabling cooling systems and leading to fuel meltdowns in three of the six units.

The accident, which was reported to be the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, shook the nuclear industry, regulators and governments; and weaknesses in the design and various oversights in the power station were later identified, which could have diminished the damage. Since then, the Japanese Government has significantly increased its efforts to improve its early warning systems and nuclear safety measures.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43705&Cr=nuclear&Cr1=

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Secretary-General offers condolences and UN assistance to typhoon-hit Philippines


6 December 2012 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced his sadness at the loss of life and the serious damage to homes and infrastructure in the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Bopha, and said the United Nations stood ready to assist, according to his spokesperson.

The typhoon, known locally as Typhoon Pablo, made landfall in the southern Philippines on Tuesday and is the second devastating storm to hit the island of Mindanao in a year.

With 193-kilometre-per-hour winds, the storm swept across the island, reportedly killing nearly 400 people and leaving at least as many missing. Tens of thousands of people were also reportedly from their homes by Bopha, which triggered floods and landslides.

“The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the Government and people of the Philippines, particularly those who have lost family members and who have been otherwise affected by this disaster,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson added in a statement.

“The United Nations stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance and to mobilize international support for the response,” he added.

Mindanao and neighbouring areas were hit last December by Tropical Storm Washi, known locally as Sendong, which brought torrential rains that triggered flash floods and landslides. The storm claimed 1,430 lives, damaged nearly 48,000 houses and affected the livelihoods of as many as 625,000 people.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43698&Cr=philippines&Cr1=

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UN environment agency launches initiative to help Africa adapt to impacts of climate change


6 December 2012 – The United Nations today launched a new initiative to support communities across Africa in adapting to the impacts of climate change which, if left unaddressed, could have major consequences for lives and livelihoods on the continent.

The information portal known as the Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network (AAKNet), launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), will serve as a hub for knowledge, research, successful initiatives and collaborative partnerships on climate change adaptation.

“It builds on ongoing efforts around the continent to mobilize existing knowledge and provide robust solutions to the major impact of climate change on lives and livelihoods in Africa,” the UN agency stated in a news release.

Disasters such as severe droughts in the Sahel in 2012 and the Horn of Africa in 2011, noted UNEP, have brought into sharp focus the serious impacts on water, land, soil and other resources linked to climate change on the continent, and the need to build resilience to such pressures.

Global warming is expected to pose serious challenges to sustainable development, particularly as most African economies depend on climate-sensitive sectors such as water, agriculture, fisheries, energy and tourism.

“Yet the region lacks the capacity and resources needed to face the challenges of climate change – a problem that could have major economic consequences,” stated UNEP.

The AAKNet aims to support climate change adaptation in Africa by providing services such as aggregating knowledge in addressing pertinent climatic risks and sharing information across regions and countries, and providing tailored support to countries in developing strategic planning processes for climate change adaptation.

It also seeks to build partnerships with governments, research bodies, non-governmental organizations and others, with the aim of supporting climate change response. To reach those directly affected by climate change, the AAKNet initiative will also conduct workshops with community organizations, farmers, and other groups, to share knowledge and practical advice.

The initiative comes as countries continue their negotiations at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, hoping to reach agreements on issues such as the way forward on climate finance, a response to the widening emissions gap, and an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the 1997 Protocol, whose first commitment period expires at the end of 2012, 37 States – consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy – have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments.

Today at the conference, which brings together the 195 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty of the Kyoto Protocol, participants underlined their commitment to a range of priority actions, reviewed progress and pledged to re-double efforts to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs).

Six new countries – Chile, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Maldives, the Netherlands and the Republic of Korea – today joined an international effort aimed at fast action on reducing black carbon, methane, some hydrofluorocarbons and other SLCPs.

This brings to almost 50 the number of partners in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – a voluntary initiative aimed at maximizing the health, agricultural and climate benefits of swift action on SLCPs.

Fast action on black carbon and methane have the potential to slow a global temperature rise by up to 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, reduce air pollution-related deaths by as much as 2.4 million and crop losses by around 30 million tonnes annually, UNEP said in a news release.

Scientific assessments indicate that the near-term benefits in places like the Arctic and on glaciers in mountain regions could be even higher, it added.

The Coalition, which was launched initially by six founding countries and UNEP in February this year, is already acting on several fronts. Among other actions, it is supporting an initial group of 10 major cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Stockholm, Accra and New York, to accelerate methane reductions from landfills and black carbon or ‘soot’ from burning wastes.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43703&Cr=climate+change&Cr1=

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UN disaster response study highlights challenges faced by cash-strapped African towns


5 December 2012 – Lacking both early-warning systems and risk-reduction budgets, medium-sized towns in Africa are poorly equipped to respond to emergencies provoked by natural disasters, rural-urban migration and ecosystem destruction, a United Nations report released today says.

Most local government staffers have no direct access to computers, while information management systems are non-existent, according to the report, titled “City Resilience in Africa: A Ten Essentials Pilot,” and published by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

The office unveiled the 64-page report in Dakar, Senegal, at the Africities Summit, where almost 5,000 delegates representing African governments and their development partners from around the world are examining the impact of urbanization, among other settlement issues.

“The report finds there is recognition of the value of disaster-risk reduction and the need to build resilience, but the means, knowledge and political commitment to do it are lacking,” the Director of UNISDR’s “Making Cities Resilient” Campaign, Helen Molina-Valdes, said in her address before the summit.

“Indigenous local knowledge is valuable, but it’s not enough on its own, especially given the challenge of climate change across Africa,” she added in reference to the way the phenomenon of global warming is said by many scientists to be causing a rising number of extreme weather events.

Ms. Molina-Valdes said the report’s findings – while based on assessments of three East African towns – were typical of the challenges faced by mid-sized centres throughout the continent.

The study looked at the Kenyan towns of Narok (pop. 60,000) and Kisumu (pop. 200,000), and the Tanzanian town of Moshi (pop. 150,000). The agency said they were selected because they had signed up to its urban-resilience campaign, which assessed them against the campaign’s “Ten Essentials” for achieving resilience.

“These three towns are not unique,” Ms. Molina-Valdes said. “Many cities and towns throughout Africa are struggling to meet basic urban infrastructural needs such as clean water, waste management disposal and drainage systems.”

She added that disaster risk reduction was “not integrated into urban planning in many local governments.”

Of the pilot towns, Narok suffers rampant poverty despite being a tourist town in Kenya’s Rift Valley; Kisumu is a major trade hub on the shores of Lake Victoria; and Moshi sits at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro near Tanzania’s border with Kenya, where it is susceptible to floods and drought, UNISDR said.

Indeed, floods and drought comprise the most common hazards faced by all three, according to UNISDR.

“The three local governments are not well equipped to respond to disaster events; interventions and support are limited and uncoordinated,” it said. “They are limited by funds, capacity, infrastructure and slow administrative links with regional and national authorities.”

UNISDR’s Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction in Africa, Abdou Sane, highlighted at the summit the need to mobilize political leadership.

“This remains a problem,” he said. “Strategic planning is rare at the city level, where the most vulnerable people are gathering in informal settlements, and where valuable economic assets are increasingly exposed to disaster risk.”

Mr. Sane said the report should be seen as a wake-up call for national governments to focus on how to help urban centres effectively respond to emergencies.

“This report is a very good reminder that, when we meet in these forums, we must focus on action and what works well,” he said.

“Local government leaders are on the frontline of building resilience against climate change and extreme weather events, and must be given the resources by national governments to meet the challenges.”

The summit, the sixth such event since the first in 1998, opened Tuesday, and will end Saturday.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43683&Cr=disaster+reduction&Cr1=

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Doha meeting must take decisive action to tackle growing crisis of climate change


4 December 2012 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged countries to act decisively to tackle the “growing crisis” of climate change, as United Nations negotiations kicked into high gear in Doha, Qatar.

“Let us be under no illusion. This is a crisis. A threat to us all. Our economies. Our security. And the well-being of our children and those who will come after,” Mr. Ban said at the start of the high-level segment of the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The danger signs are all around,” he added, pointing to the unprecedented melting of icecaps, rising sea levels, and land degradation and drought in various parts of the world.

“No one is immune to climate change – rich or poor,” he stated. “It is an existential challenge for the whole human race – our way of life, our plans for the future. We must take ownership. We, collectively, are the problem. Then we should have the solutions.”

The two-week conference brings together the 195 Parties to the UNFCCC, the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol, 37 States – consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy – have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments.

Delegates at the two-week conference – that ends this Friday – will, among other goals, try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period expires at the end of 2012.

“I urge all Parties to work with a spirit of compromise – to take the long view and avoid getting bogged down in minutiae,” Mr. Ban told participants. “Let us ensure that we stay on track for an effective, fair, ambitious and universal climate agreement by 2015.”

The Secretary-General said he hoped for five key “deliverables” by Governments in Doha this week, beginning with the adoption of a ratifiable second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

“The Kyoto Protocol remains the closest we have to a global, binding climate agreement. It must continue. It is a foundation to build on. It has important institutions, including accounting and legal systems, and the framework that markets sorely need. Its continuation on 1 January 2013 would show that governments remain committed to a more robust climate regime.”

He also expected progress on long-term climate finance, and ensuring that the institutions set up in Cancun and Durban to support mitigation and adaptation by developing countries – including the Green Climate Fund and the Climate Technology Centre and Network – are fully equipped and effective.

In addition, he expected governments to demonstrate, with no ambiguity, that negotiations on a global and legally binding instrument remain on track, and to show how they intend to act on the gap between mitigation pledges and what is required to achieve the two degrees target.

Recent UN-led reports have pointed to the urgency of keeping global average temperatures from rising beyond an internationally agreed level of two degrees Celsius, beyond which climate change would have serious impacts.

“The gap can be bridged. But time is not on our side,” Mr. Ban warned.

The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, told the meeting that addressing the problem of climate change must become a core national interest of every UN Member State.

“The window of opportunity to prevent the effects of climate change from spiralling out of our control is closing,” he said. “When future generations look upon the choices we made, let them not be forced to exclaim that we failed to act in time. Let them not have to suffer the consequences of the inability to answer the clarion call to act with conscientious foresight.”

Speaking to reporters in Doha today, Mr. Ban emphasized that “we are in a race against time,” adding that every delay will require greater future effort or will mean greater future harm.

“If we act together with clear purpose, we can meet this challenge. But we need to be united – governments from all regions, business and civil society. We have a clear choice: stand together, or fall together.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43671&Cr=climate+change&Cr1=

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New UN report highlights value of indicators for transitioning to green economy


3 December 2012 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a new report that shows how indicators can measure progress towards a resource-efficient, green economy as well as inform policy decisions that support sustainable societies.

“Green economy indicators provide a mirror on the journey to an environmentally stable, economically sound and equitable society,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner.

“This publication is intended to help policy-makers understand how useful such measurements are for informing policy decisions and advancing their green economy agendas at a national level,” he added, referring to the report, ‘Measuring Progress towards an Inclusive Green Economy.’

The report comes as experts from major institutions and governments meet in Geneva at the first major gathering since the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil in June, which called on the UN and its partners to advance the work on developing methodologies to evaluate green economic policies.

The three-day Geneva meeting aims to learn from countries and businesses that have developed green economy/green growth-related indicators, and provide advice on how to harmonize these approaches, as well as identify the knowledge gaps and research priorities to advance this work.

According to UNEP, indicators can be used at all stages of policy interventions: identifying the key environmental issues; assessing the potential cost and performance of various policy options to understand which investment will yield the highest return in environmental, social and economic terms; and tracking the impact of the policies on human well-being and equity.

“When we put in place a framework to account for and value environmental goods and services, we are making the contribution of nature to our collective well-being more visible, and acknowledging the fact that investing in natural capital is necessary for our continued economic prosperity,” said the Chief of UNEP’s Economics and Trade Branch, Steven Stone.

UNEP pointed out that currently, most countries concentrate too heavily on gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic performance, and policy-makers do not factor in depreciation of fixed assets such as forests, clean air or water resources.

“The idea is to supplement GDP, which monitors macroeconomic activity, with other measures that better reflect the multidimensional nature of human well-being and quality of life,” said a UNEP Economic Affairs Officer and co-author of the new report, Sheng Fulai.

The report details a range of indicators that policy-makers can use to formulate, focus and track the impact of their green economy policies, including in the areas of climate change, resource efficiency, green investment, employment, and health.

The report notes there are already several indices and indicators available for countries interested in promoting sustainable development, such as the new UN System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), which sets new statistical standards for collecting and integrating economic and environmental data.

Government officials from Barbados, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Indonesia, Morocco, Thailand and Uruguay, all of whom are engaged in developing a comprehensive set of indicators to inform their national green economic policies, are attending the Geneva meeting.

Also participating are representatives from academia, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43665&Cr=green+economy&Cr1=

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