Weekly migration of 1.4m to cities can contribute to ‘disasters’
In his message for World Cities Day, celebrated annually on 31 October, Mr. Guterres stressed that “hazards do not need to become disasters.”
“The answer is to build resilience – to storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, pandemics and economic crises,” he said.
Mr. Guterres explained that cities around the world are doing just that, forging new ways to increase resilience and sustainability.
The capital of Thailand, Bangkok has built vast underground water storage facilities to cope with increased flood risk and save water for drier periods.
In Quito, the capital of Ecuador in South America, local government has reclaimed or protected more than 200,000 hectares of land to boost flood protection, reduce erosion and safeguard the city’s freshwater supply and biodiversity.
The UN chief also indicated that the city of Johannesburg in South Africa “is involving residents in efforts to improve public spaces so they can be safely used for recreation, sports, community events and services such as free medical care.”
World Cities Day was established by the UN to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), flagged the importance of investing in resilience or face growing “economic, social, political and human” risks.
“It has been estimated that without action on climate change – which accounts for just one facet of resilience – some 77 million urban residents risk falling into poverty,” she warned, elaborating that human-made and environmental threats ranged from droughts, floods and fires to economic shocks, disease outbreaks, war and migration.
“Investing in resilience is a wise investment,” the UN Habitat chief said.
The theme of this year’s commemoration, Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities, focuses on the need to preserve human life and limit damage and destruction while continuing to provide infrastructure and services after a crisis.
A range of UN-backed international agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the New Urban Agenda provide “a roadmap for a more sustainable and resilient world,” according to the UN Secretary-General.
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More than nine in ten children exposed to deadly air pollution
In a call for concrete policy pledges from governments across the world to tackle the problem, the UN health agency reports that more than nine in 10 youngsters breathe air that is so polluted, “it puts their health and development at serious risk”.
The WHO findings – launched on the eve of the agency’s first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in Geneva – include the estimate that 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air in 2016.
Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives – WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
“The enormous toll of disease and death revealed by these new data should result in an urgent call to action for the global community, and especially for those in the health sector,” the WHO report says, noting that the impact of air pollution both inside and outside the home is worst in low and middle-income countries.
Among the WHO report’s other findings are data indicating that pregnant women are more likely to give birth prematurely when they are exposed to dirty air.
Their babies are also prone to be underweight and small, according to WHO, which also highlights how air pollution can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, while also hampering neuro-development.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”
One reason why children are especially vulnerable to polluted air is that they breathe more rapidly than adults, absorbing more toxins, WHO says.
Youngsters are also more exposed to pollutants that stay closer to the ground at a time when their bodies and brains are still developing, the UN agency report continues, adding that newborns and young children are more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that use polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting.
As part of its call for action from the international community, WHO is recommending a series of “straightforward” measures to reduce the health risk from ambient fine particulate matter, or PM2.5.
These include accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning.
“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO. “But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants.”
WHO is also supporting low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management” to reduce community air pollution, Dr Neira added.
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Jordan flash flooding: UN chief ‘saddened’ by loss of life
According to news reports, at least 18 have been killed, and dozens of others injured. The victims were washed away by the floods in the Zara Maeen hot springs area, following heavy rains on Thursday. Many are being treated for serious injuries, and search and rescue efforts are ongoing.
Mr. Guterres conveyed his “condolences and deepest sympathy to the families of the victims” and the Government of Jordan.
He added that the “the United Nations stands ready to support ongoing rescue and relief efforts”.
The Dead Sea valley is prone to flooding as it lies below sea level and flash floods tend to occur when rain water rushes down from the adjacent hills.
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Oslo leads the way in ‘Breathe Life’ campaign for cleaner cities in climate change era
The city is a global front runner when it comes to sustainability, having implemented methods of recycling waste into heat and electricity, and allowing cyclists precedence over private cars.
The Executive Director of UN Environment Erick Solheim, said the capital city’s pollution reduction sets the example for “turning climate action into an opportunity.”
A major contributor to dwindling emissions has been the city’s transition toward renewable fuel solutions. Oslo has the highest number of electric vehicles in the world per capita, which alone has decreased CO2 emissions by 35 per cent since 2012, UN Environment reports.
Benefits for drivers include reduced taxes, access to bus and taxi lanes, free travel on toll roads and public ferries, together with free municipal parking. All public transport in Oslo, and neighbouring Akershus, is to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2020.
Oslo is one among 42 cities taking part in Breathe Life, a campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNEP, and the Climate Clean Air Coalition aimed at exploring clean air options and reducing pollutants to safe levels by 2030.
The network of participating cities are spread across the world, each tailoring their approach to clean air issues locally.
In Colombia’s Santiago de Cali, the city has focused on the reduction of agricultural burning along with transport emissions. While in the capital of Ghana, Accra, where long hours are spent near wood and charcoal cookstoves, the city has outlined strategies to improve household and ambient air pollution.
Highlighting that such changes will improve the everyday lives of citizens, Mr. Solheim said, “I hope that other cities around the world will be inspired by what Oslo is doing.”
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Sulawesi devastation ‘beyond imagination’ as massive aid operation continues: UN relief agencies
Three weeks since disaster struck, it is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 people, displaced 80,000 and destroyed nearly 70,000 houses. At least 680 individuals remain unaccounted for, UNHCR says.
In addition to the tremors and tidal waves, huge landslides turned the ground into liquid mud which washed over large areas.
“Our staff described the effects of the earthquake and tsunami as ‘beyond imagination’ and ‘devastating’,” said Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for UNHCR in Geneva. “Communities have seen their houses, schools and hospitals reduced to rubble. Entire villages have been decimated.”
Mr Yaxley confirmed that UNHCR had delivered 435 tents to the hub at Balikpapan airport, on the neighbouring island of Borneo earlier on Friday. The relief items were delivered to Indonesian authorities, which assisted with transferring them to Sulawesi.
Another 1,305 tents will be delivered to Balikpapan in “the next few days”, he added, noting that this initial consignment will provide “much-needed shelter” to around 6,500 of the most vulnerable.
Far more material and psychological assistance will be required, however, and additional emergency tents, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and solar lamps will be delivered in the coming weeks.
‘Strong resilience’ of survivors continues
“There remains a strong resilience, with people helping each other where they can and simply by sharing their stories,” Mr Yaxley said. “One woman said that she felt ‘lucky’ that she had only lost her father, and that her husband and son had survived.”
Another 10 “mobile storage hubs” are being set up around Palu and Donggala “to ensure the smooth flow and distribution of aid to where it is needed”, WFP said in a statement.
“WFP is due to have 40 trucks in operation in and around Palu by 20 October,” said spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel. “These trucks will be available to all partners through a common services agreement for transporting and distributing aid.”
Palu in Central Sulawesi, is one of the worst-hit areas. Earlier this week, UNHCR staff went there to coordinate with local government and partners. In Petobo and Balaroa, “many people have not only lost their home, but even the land on which it once stood”, Mr Yaxley said.
In answer to a question about aid workers’ access to Sulawesi, the UNHCR spokesperson insisted that the Government of Indonesia and humanitarian workers had been working “tirelessly” as first responders in the affected areas.
“The Government is leading the response and they are coordinating that,” he said. “It’s Indonesian aid staff who are leading that as well. Our staff were on the ground earlier this week and they’ve had no issues with access to the affected areas.”
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Conflict diamonds and climate change: Cooperate, don’t compete over natural resources urges Guterres
The risks associated with preventing and resolving such conflicts are “only going to grow” with the increasing impacts of climate change, warned Mr. Guterres, briefing the Security Council.
Citing the example of Africa – where 75 per cent of civil wars since 1990 have been partially funded by resources such as diamonds and valuable minerals – the UN chief highlighted the need for greater cooperation between civil society, governments and international organizations in regulating and controlling such assets.
With the increasing impacts of climate change evident in all regions, the risks are only going to grow – UN chief Guterres
“Through certified extraction, production and fair-trade practices, and with a focus on aiding local communities, lawlessness can be countered, and tangible benefits brought to conflict-affected populations,” he said, noting the positive impact of what is known as the Kimberley process certification scheme, on curbing trade in conflict diamonds.
Resources also ‘catalysts’ for cooperation
In his briefing, the UN chief also emphasized that the wealth generated by shared natural resources, provides an incentive for cooperation and dialogue, such as in the Senegal River and Lake Chad basins in Africa; Lake Titicaca, in South America; or trans-boundary water management in Central Asia.
“And, from my own experience, the Albufeira Convention, agreed during my time as Prime Minister of Portugal, continues to promote good relations and cooperation on water management between Portugal and Spain,” he added.
Mr. Guterres also informed the 15-member Security Council of the Organization’s efforts to mitigate the fallout from competition, highlighting the UN’s work to address climate-related security risks, use of mediation over natural resources as a tool for conflict prevention, and partnerships at all levels.
“We are [also] seeking to strengthen the capacity of women’s networks and organizations to effectively engage in mediation processes around natural resources and the environment, including in the context of climate change,” he continued, noting support schemes for Afro-Colombian women in Colombia on natural resource use, ownership, governance and benefit-sharing.
In addition, a new UN system-wide guidance note to streamline the best approach to resolve conflicts over land use, has been recently finalized, said the Secretary-General.
The guidance note follows a study on land and conflict, published by the UN Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat.
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With rapid, far-reaching changes, world can prevent climate change worst-case scenarios – UN chief
“Limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees will require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society – especially how we manage land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities,” Secretary-General António Guterres, at a ministerial meeting on climate finance, in Bali, Indonesia.
“That means ending deforestation and planting billions more trees; drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels and massively increasing renewable energy; switching to climate-friendly sustainable agriculture.; considering new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage.”
In his remarks, the UN chief made a particular call for “climate friendly” investments, particularly in the infrastructure sector, where over $90 trillion in investments is expected by 2030.
“The next few years are critical [and] your leadership is needed,” Mr. Guterres told the ministers.
‘We cannot afford to ignore climate risk’
Highlighting enormous economic losses to climate-related disasters and projections that by 2050, climate change could reduce annual GDP in some South and Southeast Asian countries by up to 4 per cent, the Secretary-General underscored that climate risk cannot be ignored.
“We need a new economic framework that integrates climate and disaster risk in all aspects of finance, planning and budgeting,” he said.
We need a new economic framework that integrates climate and disaster risk in all aspects of finance, planning and budgeting
Alongside, effective economic policy and fiscal instruments are also needed, he continued, urging a “meaningful price” on carbon and an end to fossil fuel subsidies to promote low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.
He also called for “fundamental shifts” in climate financing, including government policies that can increase resources available for climate action.
“Governments need to encourage their banks to support green financing and innovative financial instruments – such as green bonds – and debt instruments that can strengthen the resilience of vulnerable nations,” said the UN chief, calling also for the mobilization of private sector financing.
In his remarks, he also called on countries to make full use of the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-24), to be held in Katowice, Poland, and to come out of the meeting with a robust framework that allows countries to operationalize and implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
“I count on all leaders to call on their negotiators to resolve all sticking points and insist on progress,” he said.
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At epicentre of Indonesia disaster, Guterres praises resilience of Sulawesi people
Following the series of devastating earthquakes, tsunami and landslides on 28 September in Indonesia, the death toll has risen to 2,010, with around 10,700 seriously injured and nearly 700 still reported missing, according to United Nations agencies on Tuesday.
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Nigeria floods: Guterres ‘deeply saddened’ by loss of life and rising need
With over 826,000 people affected by heavy flooding affecting most of Nigeria, humanitarian agencies continue to step up efforts to provide life-saving assistance, especially basic medical care, which is essential to prevent disastrous epidemics.
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Disasters: UN report shows climate change causing ‘dramatic rise’ in economic losses
The findings, published by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), also show that people in low- and middle-income countries are seven times more likely to die from natural disasters than those in developed nations.
“This puts a big emphasis on the need to…make sure that we curb greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ricardo Mena, UNISDR chief, in charge of implementing the Sendai Framework.
This puts a big emphasis on the need to…make sure that we curb greenhouse gas emissions – Ricardo Mena, UNISDR chief
Failing to do this, risks letting climate-related hazards get out of control, he told journalists in Geneva, before calling for greater investment in disaster risk-reduction measures, “so that we do not allow for countries to create new risk”.
In terms of the impact of disasters on the global economy between 1998 and 2017, affected countries reported direct losses of $2.908 trillion. That’s more than twice what was lost in the previous two decades.
Illustrating the growing threat from climate change, extreme weather events now account for 77 per cent of total economic losses, $2.245 trillion, the report notes.
This represents a “dramatic rise” of 151 per cent compared with losses reported between 1978 and 1997, which amounted to $895 billion.
Poorer countries most vulnerable, worst-hit
The increased vulnerability of poorer countries to disasters is illustrated by the fact that, in the last 20 years, only one officially high-income territory – the island of Puerto Rico – has featured in a league table of the top 10 economic losses as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).
Last September, devastation in the US-dependency caused by Hurricane Maria contributed to overall losses since 1998, of more than $71 billion; the equivalent of 12.2 per cent of Puerto Rico’s GDP.
Apart from Cuba, which is classified as an upper-middle income country in the 20-year review, the other top 10 worst-hit nations, as a percentage of their output, are all lower-income.
Haiti – where a deadly 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck the north-west of the island just four days ago – recorded the highest losses, at 17.5 per cent of GDP.
In terms of fatalities from disasters, the report indicates that more than 747,000 people – 56 per cent of the total – died in the last two decades during major seismic events, a total of 563 earthquakes and related tsunamis.
Overall, however, more than 90 per cent of all disasters in the last 20 years were in fact floods, storms, droughts and other extreme weather events.
Heatwaves are next climate change ‘explosion’
Heatwaves are an increasing global threat for which solutions need to be found in the next five to 10 years, warned report co-author Professor Debarati Guha, from the Institute of Health and Society (IRSS), part of the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL).
“The next one that is going to hit us with an explosion is heatwaves,” she said. “It’s going to be both in poor countries, remember, human beings have a limit, a thermal resistance limit…it is also going to be a huge problem in the wealthier countries.”
“We emphasize the need to reduce existing risk to strengthen the resilience of people and nations. Otherwise the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is going to be a very elusive target”, UNISDR’s Ricardo Mena said.
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Global warming report, an ‘ear-splitting wake-up call’ warns UN chief
The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued the report from Incheon, Republic of Korea, where for the past week, hundreds of scientists and government representatives have been poring over thousands of inputs to paint a picture of what could happen to the planet and its population with global warming of 1.5°C (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
Limiting global warming will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to human behaviour, according to the panel. “We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of one of the IPCC Working Groups.
This report by the world’s leading climate scientists is an ear-splitting wake-up call to the world. It confirms that climate change is running faster than we are – and we are running out of time – UN chief Guterres
The landmark Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
Tweeting shortly after the report was launched, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that it is not impossible to limit global warming to 1.5°C, according to the report. “But it will require unprecedented and collective climate action in all areas. There is no time to waste.”
In a statement released later in the day, Mr. Guterres said that getting there, would require “urgent and far more ambitious action to cut emissions by half by 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2050.”
“This will take unprecedented changes in all aspects of society – especially in key sectors such as land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities,” he said, adding that “we need to end deforestation and plant billions of trees; drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and phase out coal by 2050; ramp up installation of wind and solar power; invest in climate-friendly sustainable agriculture; and consider new technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
“The coming period is critical. We must meet the Paris commitments to bend the emissions curve by 2020
Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said on Monday in Geneva that there was “extreme urgency” needed on the part of Paris Agreement signatories, and “so far the progress hasn’t been good enough” to keep temperature rises below even 2°.
“There will be 420 million people less suffering because of climate change if we would be able to limit the warming to 1.5°C level and we have certain areas in the world which are extremely sensitive,” Mr. Taalas said. “Small island states, (the) Mediterranean region and also sub-Saharan Africa is already suffering and will suffer more in the future.”
It is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the WMO official continued, “but we should change many things how we run our everyday business today”.
Also in Geneva, a UN rights expert warned that failing to do more to address climate change risked “locking in decades” of grave violations.
“Climate change is having – and will have – devastating effects on a wide range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food, housing, and water, as well as the right to a healthy environment,” said David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
“The world is already witnessing the impacts of climate change — from hurricanes in America, heat waves in Europe, droughts in Africa to floods in Asia.”
Half a degree is a big deal
The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C, or more.
For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C.
Moreover, coral reefs, already threatened, would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all would be lost with 2°C, according to the report.
“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher, increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
Limiting warming ‘possible’ but we need to move faster
“Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.
With that in mind, the report calls for huge changes in land, energy, industry, buildings, and transportation-use and across cities everywhere. Global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach “net zero” around 2050.
Allowing the global temperature to temporarily exceed or ‘overshoot’ 1.5ºC would mean a greater reliance on techniques that remove CO2 from the air to return global temperatures to below 1.5°C by 2100.
But the report warns that “the effectiveness of such techniques are unproven at large scale and some may carry significant risks for sustainable development.”
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being, making it easier to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Priyardarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, referring to the 17 Goals adopted by UN Member States three years ago to protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
‘Can’t fail’ moment in Katowice
The new report will feed into a process called the ‘Talanoa Dialogue,’ in which parties to the Paris accord will take stock of what has been accomplished over the past three years. The dialogue will be a part of the next UNFCCC conference of States parties, known by the shorthand COP 24, which will meet in Katowice, Poland, this December.
The UN Secretary-General said that the Katowice conference was a “can’t-fail moment.”
“The international community must emerge with critically important implementation guidelines for operationalizing the Paris Agreement,” he said, adding that all countries now needed to “heed the counsel of the world’s top scientists: raise ambition, rapidly strengthen their national climate action plans, and urgently accelerate implementation of the Paris Agreement.”
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FROM THE FIELD: Comoros farmers battle climate change
Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns including a severe decrease in rainfall have led to soil erosion and widespread deforestation as well as decreased crop yields.
A UN climate change expert panel determined in a special report on Monday that the world needs to move much faster and more dramatically, if global warming is to be contained to anything like the levels demanded by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The Comoros sits some 300 kilometres off the coast of East Africa and is amongst the most underdeveloped countries in the world.
But now, a project backed by UN Environment has been launched to plant 350,000 trees per year across the three islands of the archipelago, in the hope that reforestation will protect the environment and boost development there.
Read more about the challenges that Comorian farmers face here.
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