Pollution kills as many people as cancer does, UN’s new environment chief warns
30 August 2016 The new head of the United Nations environment agency today laid out key issues facing the international community on environmental issues, including pollution as well as the linkages among the environment, wars and conflicts, and migration.
“The World Health Organisation has estimated that seven million people on the planet are dying from pollution – that is more or less the same number of people dying from cancer,” the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Erik Solheim, told reporters in Geneva.
In his remarks, the former Norwegian politician and diplomat flagged the role that partnerships could play in UNEP’s mission, noting that “at the very minimum we will be ready to go into partnerships with companies who either behave well or are ready to change,” and citing a recent agreement in Addis Ababa to look into a partnership with Ethiopian Airlines to find ways to assist the company in achieving the maximum fuel efficiency.
The second issue is “to look into the crossroads between environment and wars and conflicts and migration,” said Mr. Solheim.
To bring greater focus to these priorities, he said, it is necessary to reach out to more people and change narratives to get closer to people’s hearts. As a first step, he is considering changing the organisation’s name from “UNEP” to “UN Environment.”
Mr. Solheim also highlighted how his past experience would help inform him in his new role. As a negotiator of the peace process in Sri Lanka between 1998 to 2005, Mr. Solheim said he had gained valuable lessons, including the importance of dialogue and compromise.
“In my view you should always try to talk even with political leaders as well as guerrilla leaders or terrorists leaders who do not seem to be amendable to compromise – let’s try talking,” he said.
Mr. Solheim was elected to the UNEP position for a four-year term by the General Assembly on 13 May this year, succeeding Achim Steiner of Germany, who led the agency for the past 10 years.
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UN cultural agency hails creation of world’s largest marine protected area
29 August 2016 The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today welcomed the establishment by US President Barack Obama of the largest nature reserve in the world, done through expanding a marine reserve in the state of Hawaii.
“This decision is a powerful symbol of determination to protect the environment. It is a way to strengthen the resilience of societies threatened by climate change, to understand and protect the natural ecosystems on which our lives depend,” UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, said in a news release today.
Located roughly 250 kilometres northwest of the main Hawaiian archipelago, the marine reserve Papahanaumokuakea was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010 for its rich biodiversity, considered to be unparalleled in the world. The archipelago is home to more than a fifth of known fish species.
The marine reserve has now been quadrupled in size, and the expansion comes just days before the opening of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, also taking place in Hawaii.
“This is a strong reminder of the fundamental role of the ocean, its fauna and flora, to life on earth, just days before the opening of IUCN Congress on 1 September, in Honolulu,” Ms. Bokova said. “I see this as a call to the international community to commit fully to sustainable development and the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in 2015.”
According to UNESCO, the Papahanaumokuakea reserve also has deep cultural significance. The Hawaiian people view the site as the embodiment of the concept of kinship between people and the natural world, and as the place where it is believed that life originates and to where spirits return after death.
The marine reserve also includes archaeological remains related to settlement and land use in pre-European times, and it stretches almost 2,000 kilometres from its southeast to its northwest limits.
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UN relief wing monitoring situations in Italy and Myanmar after strong earthquakes
24 August 2016 In the wake of powerful earthquakes today in Italy and Myanmar, the United Nations relief wing is monitoring the situations, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson said the UN and its partners stand ready to support both countries and local actors should any humanitarian support be needed.
“The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of lives lost and damage caused by earthquakes today in Italy and Myanmar,” Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told the regular daily briefing at UN Headquarters, adding that Mr. Ban expressed his condolences to the peoples and governments of both countries.
According to news reports, a magnitude-6.2 earthquake and a series of aftershocks struck Umbria, Lazio and Le Marche, three regions some 80 to 100 miles north-east of Rome. At least 120 people are feared dead and dozens more could be missing.
As for Myanmar, reports suggest that a 6.8 magnitude quake there left at least three people dead and damaged ancient temples and cultural sites in the centre of the country.
Mr. Dujarric said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is in contact with the national authorities and continues to closely monitor both situations.
“Along with our partners, we stand ready to support the national authorities and local organizations should any humanitarian support be needed,” he said.
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INTERVIEW: ‘Climate change is really about the wellbeing of people’
The Mexican national comes to the job with more than 30 years of experience in international relations. This includes serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico from 2006 to 2012 and serving as her country’s representative to Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Germany, as well as to multilateral bodies and international organizations in Vienna, Geneva and New York. Her areas of specialty include global governance, sustainable development, gender equality, the protection of human rights and climate change. In relation to the last area, she was the Chair of the 16th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC leading to the adoption in 2010 of the Cancun Agreements – a set of key steps forward in global plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help developing nations protect themselves from climate impacts.
She was also in the French capital of Paris last year for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, at which the Paris Climate Change Agreement was adopted. The historic pact to combat climate change and to intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable, low-carbon future builds upon the UNFCCC and – for the first time – brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.
The Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
As of 3 August 2016, the Paris Agreement has 180 signatories. Of the 180 signatories, 22 have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval. The agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the Secretary-General.
Ms. Espinosa recently spoke with the UN News Centre about her work and the challenges ahead.
UN News Centre: What do you hope you to accomplish as Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC?
Patricia Espinosa: I am coming to the head of UNFCCC at a very exciting time. We have the approval of the Paris Agreement, which was an historic agreement, after many, many years of negotiations. Now we have on board a huge amount of political will of governments but also the willingness from private sectors, from civil society, from individuals everywhere in the world, to work toward a low-carbon economy, a low-carbon society-global society. So I wish to make a contribution in that respect. I wish to support all those actors, governments, private sectors and civil societies – everybody who is willing to participate in this big challenge that has to do with the future of our planet.
UN News Centre: Do you think the Paris Agreement is strong enough to get the world to limit climate change to well under two degrees Celsius or even 1.5 degrees?
Patricia Espinosa: The Paris Agreement actually provides a very comprehensive framework for action, and it provides a comprehensive framework for action by all the actors that I mentioned earlier. Of course, the governments are in the centre of this agenda but it’s not only about the governments. In fact, in the case of the Paris Agreement, if we want to have full compliance with the Paris Agreement we need, not only action by governments, we need the action by all of society. I believe it depends really on all those actors whether the Paris Agreement can deliver as to how we would want it to deliver.
UN News Centre: What will be the main driver to ramp up ambitions of countries to do more to reduce emissions and build resilience?
Patricia Espinosa: Actually, climate change is really about the wellbeing of people. It is not a very vague concept or a vague problem that is out of our everyday lives. It is actually affecting our everyday lives and this is the fundamental fact that everybody should keep in mind while working toward a low-carbon society. If we think about the people that are affected in their health by the effects of climate change – for instance, the quality of air that we are breathing and how much children and older people are suffering from that; if we look at people who are living in poverty, who are suddenly victims to flooding and they lose not only the little property that they have but they also lose members of their families; if we look at disasters that are destroying infrastructure, leaving completely isolated communities in different parts of the world – we are talking about the lives of people. So having that consideration in mind, it’s a big driver towards more ambitious and urgent action by everybody.
07 December 2010 – However, even before Durban, Ms. Espinosa was heavily involved in the issue of climate change, as seen with her role as President of COP16 in November 2010, held in the Mexican city of Cancun. Shown here, Ms. Espinosa addresses the opening of the high-level segment of COP16. The gathering drew almost 12,000 participants and produced the basis for the most comprehensive and far-reaching international response to climate change the world had ever seen, up until that time, to reduce carbon emissions and build a system which made all countries accountable to each other for those reductions. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
07 December 2010 – Shown here, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) chats with participants at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, shortly before the opening of its high-level segment. Those speaking with Mr. Ban include Ms. Espinosa (fourth from left), who was also serving as Mexico’s Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time. Highlights from the gathering included a commitment to a maximum temperature rise of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to consider lowering that maximum to 1.5 degrees in the near future; as well; as making fully operational by 2012 a technology mechanism to boost the innovation, development and spread of new climate-friendly technologies. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
28 September 2009 – Ms. Espinosa has served as Mexico’s representative in multilateral bodies and international organizations in Vienna, Geneva and New York. The statement announcing her appointment to the UNFCCC post said, “Named by the Secretary-General to the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, she is a tireless supporter of multilateralism as a way to improve conditions for development in all regions of the world, understanding the inextricable link between the aims of the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.” Shown here, while serving with Mexico’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Espinosa addresses the general debate of the 64th session of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Marco Castro
04 August 2008 – In a statement on her appointment, it was noted that Ms. Espinosa brought to the job more than 30 years of experience at the highest levels in international relations, with a specialization in climate change, global governance, sustainable development, gender equality and protection of human rights. Shown here, Secretary-General Ban meets with the future UNFCCC chief while she was serving as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico during a visit to her country’s capital. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
UN News Centre: Do think it possible that we will see the Paris Agreement enter into force this year?
Patricia Espinosa: We have, as of today, 22 ratifications. That is, in my opinion, very good news and very encouraging. And we have also the invitation to the Secretary General’s special event on 21 September in order to promote early ratification. So I’m very hopeful. I think it would send a very strong message about the willingness to comply with the commitment each country assumed in Paris.
UN News Centre: And now that an agreement has been reached, what will be the focus of UNFCCC?
Patricia Espinosa: Of course we need to work on different areas. First of all, we need to continue to supporting the governments in their intergovernmental process, in their negotiations because the Paris Agreements provides this very comprehensive framework and it requires a lot of tools that need to be developed still.
For instance in terms of rules for transparency, rules for measurement – these are issues that are not easy to solve and easy to really to get everyone’s minds together. So that will be one part, an important part, of our work. Of course, the Convention is mandating us to support the conference of the parties that takes place every year, but besides that, because what we really need is to have full compliance with the Convention, we would need to focus a lot on implementation of the Paris Agreement and which translates to the national programmes on climate change for each and every country. We will need to reach out to all those actors – to governments, to civil societies, to businesses – and help in mobilizing them to help in this fight against climate change.
UN News Centre: Many action areas that are essential for addressing climate change also happen to be a part of the Sustainable Development Goals. How will the two tracks be integrated?
Patricia Espinosa: This is a very important area of work for the future, not only work for the UNFCCC but for the whole United Nations system. I would actually say for all of our societies in general too, because of what I was mentioning earlier – the fact that climate change has to do with development. There is only one development process in each country. We need to generate the frameworks, the legal frameworks, the institutional frameworks, the policies that are required in order to allow for countries to have those types of structural transformation processes that are required. So in that sense, this is an area of work that will take a lot of the resources of the UNFCCC and one on which I will be also dedicating myself too.
11 November 2010 – Women in Char Kukri-Mukri tending to mangrove saplings. These saplings will be turned into a mangrove forest to protect the eroding coast. Such initiatives could help to reverse the effects of Climate Change, especially on rural women. According to UN Women, women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men— primarily as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. Photo: UNDP
UN News Centre: You mentioned the annual Conference of Parties, the COP, and you were the Chair of COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, which turned around fortunes of the UNFCCC process. Do you see you a change in the way countries are approaching climate change since that meeting in Cancun?
Patricia Espinosa: Absolutely. We are in a completely different environment. When we had the conference in Cancun it followed the conference in Copenhagen where, unfortunately, we were not able to achieve a consensus document and that situation, of course, discouraged many of the participants in the process of negotiations. So it was a very critical moment then we needed to restore trust in the Parties and we needed to restore trust in the process and we managed to do it. Today, there is not only trust – there is an enormous enthusiasm about participating in this agenda and about being apart about this transformation process. So I am very happy to be heading the UNFCCC right now at this very fortunate juncture.
UN News Centre: The Paris Agreement has now been signed by 175 countries, which is a great achievement, what needs to happen next and what is the main goal of the September Conference?
Patricia Espinosa: Now is the time for ratification and for implementation it is the time to act together, it is the time to avoid any disastrous consequences of climate change.
UN News Centre: Finally, on a more personal note: what made you accept this job?
Patricia Espinosa: I could see as a civil servant, particularly in my role as foreign minister of my country, that I had the opportunity to travel a lot and to be close to the reality and to the challenges that many countries are facing, especially, in this case, the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. I was responsible, for instance, for coordinating the help that we offered to countries in the region when there was flooding, when there was drought and people were starving. So I could see very clearly how much suffering this causes, really, a lot of suffering that should not happen. And, of course, I have been working all my life, more than 35 years, as a civil servant and trying to make a contribution to better conditions of living for our people in Mexico but not only for the people of Mexico, as part of my career has been in multilateral affairs. So in many senses the responsibility, the possibility of becoming the UNFCCC Executive Secretary brings together a lot of these issues for which I’ve worked for all my life.
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Ethiopia will need urgent global support in race to prepare for main planting season – UN
15 August 2016 Seasonal floods, resulting in crop damage and inundation of pastures, following a severe El Niño-induced drought in Ethiopia may be further exacerbated by its cool weather counterpart, La Niña, expected from October onwards, the United Nations agricultural agency has warned.
In a news release late last week, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) highlighted that if the floods worsen later this year, there could be outbreaks of crop and livestock diseases, further reducing agricultural productivity and complicating recovery.
“The situation is critical now,” Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative to Ethiopia, said.
El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.
While El Niño, and its counterpart La Niña – which is caused by cooler waters in the Pacific Ocean – occur cyclically, in recent years, mainly due to the effects of global climate change, extreme weather events associated with these phenomena, such as droughts and floods, have increased in frequency and severity, according to UN agencies.
“We must make sure that farmers will be able to plant between now and September and grow enough food to feed themselves and their families thus avoiding millions of people having to rely on food assistance for another year,” added Mr. Allahoury.
According to FAO, the urgency is due to the country’s main agricultural season, meher, that produces up to 85 per cent of the nation’s food supplies. The season starts as early as mid-June for some crops, with planting ongoing until August for others.
To ensure the last remaining planting window of the year is met, an estimated $8.8 million is needed to provide root crop planting materials, legumes, vegetable and cereal seed to 530,000 households.
“Ethiopia needs urgent global support to respond to its humanitarian needs, we have no time to procrastinate,” stressed Mr. Allahoury.
Additionally, according to the recently released Mid-Year Review of the Ethiopia Humanitarian Requirements Document, developed jointly by the Government of Ethiopia, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and other development partners, some 900,000 additional households need urgent agricultural support bringing the total number to 2.9 million in August.
It added that the overall food security situation has improved only slightly, with the number of people requiring emergency food assistance having decreased from 10.2 million to 9.7 since the beginning of the year.
FAO has estimated that meeting additional agricultural sector needs will require $45 million bringing the total requirement for the agriculture sector to $91.3 million for 2016.
Approaching La Niña
According to meteorological reports, a La Niña event is 55 per cent likely for October to November.
According to the UN agricultural agency, it will have two major impacts on the country: flooding in the dominantly highland areas and additional drought in the lowland livestock-dependent areas of Oromia and Somali regions.
In response, the agency is supporting the Government to prepare a contingency plan to address the upcoming needs.
Furthermore, in its response to the ongoing food security crisis in the horn of Africa country, FAO has already provided agricultural inputs to 127,000 households, number some 635,000 people, in drought-affected regions. It has also provided critical support to livestock-owning families: providing livestock feed, fodder seed to rejuvenate pasture, and rehabilitated water points for livestock.
The agency has also supported the Government to vaccinate and treat some 1.4 million animals. However, large numbers of animals has been weakened by the drought and are exposed to diseases as the result of the recent floods. The organization is planning to expand the vaccinations and treatment campaigns.
In order to increase the coverage of both farmers and livestock keepers affected by the drought and current floods, FAO requires $10 million by the end of September 2016.
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Threat of wildfires expected to increase as global temperatures rise – UN
12 August 2016 The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has warned that wildfires could become more frequent and more destructive as global temperatures rise and drought conditions plague many regions of the world.
“Last year was the hottest year on record and was above average for the number of reported major droughts and heatwaves. This year we are seeing a similar pattern with new temperature records being set on a monthly basis,” UNISDR chief Robert Glasser said yesterday in a news release issued by the Office.
He noted that a number of risk factors, such as lack of forest management, growth of urban areas in proximity to forests and human induced fires need to be addressed by disaster management authorities.
“The most frightening scenario is when major towns are threatened as we have seen this week in the case of Funchal and Marseille,” the senior UN official added.
According to UNISDR, firefighters on the Portuguese island of Madeira continue to battle wildfires that have reached Funchal, the island’s largest city, killing three people and destroying over 150 homes. The Government has also sought help to deal with nearly 200 fires on the mainland.
Similarly, Around 2,000 firefighters have been battling 8,000 acres of wildfires in the French region of Provence. More than 10,000 people have been evacuated from the Rhone river delta area which has been affected by drought, and there had been concerns that one of the blazes was close to Marseille which houses a number of petrochemical plants.
The fires are now reportedly under control but a high state of alert is being maintained.
Meanwhile, wildfires continue to wreak havoc in Spain. Some seven per cent of the La Palma island, part of the country’s Canary Islands was “devoured” by a wildfire and wildfires have also spread across 9,120 acres of land in the northern Spanish region of Galicia, reported UNISDR.
Additionally, UNISDR said that the Soberanes fire in northern California, near the Big Sur region, is now 50 per cent contained after growing to more than 67,000 acres. Some 4,800 firefighters have been deployed but 57 homes have been destroyed.
The wildfire in the United States was caused by an illegal unattended campfire, added the press release.
UNISDR also said that according to its Global Assessment Report, published in 2013, wildfires have a devastating impact on natural capital that has not be adequately accounted for, noting “Fires affect numerous ecosystem services including carbon storage, support to biodiversity, protection of water sources, reduction of soil erosion and land degradation and climate regulation.”
It stated that such fires may be leading to a loss of ecosystem services in the range of $146 to $191 billion per year.
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Ban congratulates Kazakhstan on its signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change
3 August 2016 In a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Erlan Idrissov, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the country on its recent election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well on its signing of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
According to a readout issued late yesterday by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, the UN chief and the Minister also exchanged views on projects in the field of sustainable development related to the cooperation between the UN and Kazakhstan, and the initiatives the country is spearheading in the UN.
Kazakhstan, along with Sweden, Bolivia and Ethiopia, were elected to serve on Security Council for a two year term, starting from 1 January 2017. The remaining seat will be shared by Italy and the Netherlands, each with a one-year term.
The Security Council has 15 members, including five permanent. The five permanent members, each with the power of veto, are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other current non-permanent members are Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.
Paris Agreement now has 180 signatories
With Kazakhstan’s signing and as of 3 August, the Paris Agreement now has 180 signatories.
174 countries and the European Union signed the Agreement at a high-level signature ceremony convened by the Secretary General at the UN Headquarters in New York on 22 April 2016, the day the Agreement was opened for signature.
Also, of the 180 signatory countries, 22 have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval.
The agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the Secretary-General.
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