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Water cooperation between States ‘key’ to Blue Nile dam project

INTERNATIONAL, 29 June 2020, Peace and Security - The Blue Nile is “critical for the livelihoods and development” of Egyptians, Ethiopians and Sudanese, the top UN official for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the Security Council on Monday, urging those States to reach a construction agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo underscored via videoconference that “transboundary water cooperation is a key element in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

She also warned that “climate change, combined with projected demographic growth and socio-economic changes, will increase water management challenges worldwide”.

“Through the generation of hydroelectricity, the GERD will significantly boost Ethiopia’s energy sources, allowing it to increase electrification, accelerate industrialization, and export excess electricity to the region”, the top UN political official said. 

A controversial dam

Stemming from the complicated water supply politics of the Nile States, the GERD has been a politically-charged issue in the region for years. 

When it merges with the White Nile in Khartoum, the Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River. 

Dam construction began on the Blue Nile, near the Sudan border in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region back in April 2011. Once completed, the $4.5 billion project will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant.

Concerned that the dam could decrease its water supply, depending upon how quickly it is filled, Egypt wants guaranteed access to adequate water if there is a drought while Ethiopia is filling the reservoir. 

Meanwhile, Ethiopia maintains that the dam could ultimately provide more electricity at a cheaper price, increase irrigation potential and reduce flooding to the Nile States. 

Settling the matter

Since construction began, there have been several rounds of talks between Ethiopia and the downriver States of Sudan and Egypt. 

“To fully realize its benefits and mitigate potential negative effects on the downstream countries”, Ms. DiCarlo commended the States involved for undertaking several “commendable initiatives over the past decade”, including the 2015 Declaration of Principles on the GERD, in which the three countries committed to “cooperation, equitable and reasonable utilization, security, and the peaceful settlement of disputes”. 

While trilateral discussions have been conducted, she noted that “the three riparian States were not able to reach agreement” on a text presented in February. However, they did appoint observers to the talks, including South Africa, the United States and the European Union.

And on 26 June, at a session of the Bureau of the African Union (AU) Heads of State, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (Egypt), Prime Miister Abiy Ahmed (Ethiopia) and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (Sudan) agreed to an AU-led process to resolve outstanding issues.

“The parties will meet over the next two weeks for this purpose”, Ms. DiCarlo informed the 15-member organ, lauding the parties “determination to negotiate an agreement” and applauding the AU’s efforts to facilitate the process. 

The remaining differences include the binding nature of an agreement, the dispute resolution mechanism and the management of water flow during droughts. 

UN participation

While acknowledging that the UN has not participated in the GERD negotiations, the political chief assured that, “the Secretary-General is fully seized of this matter”.

If the parties “show the necessary political will to compromise”, she upheld that differences can be overcome, and “an agreement can be reached”, adding that the UN “stands ready to assist”.

In conclusion, Ms. DiCarlo said that cooperation is “the key to a successful collective effort to reduce poverty and increase growth, thus delivering on the development potential of the region”. 

“We firmly hope that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will persevere with efforts to achieve an agreement on the GERD that is beneficial to all”.

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Extend cross border 'lifeline' into Syria, Lowcock urges Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 29 June 2020, Humanitarian Aid - With COVID-19 cases in Syria multiplying, its economy in freefall, and some households cooking weeds to eat in order to survive, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator is pressing the Security Council to extend its authorization for cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that the Council’s green light for aid from Turkey into Syria – which is set to expire on 10 July - is a lifeline for millions of civilians in Syria’s northwest.

“We cannot reach them without”, he told the Council via video-teleconference, adding that a failure to extend its authorization will halt UN food deliveries and “cause suffering and death”.

Border crossing background

After protracted negotiations, the Council on 10 January adopted resolution 2504 (2020) extending until 10 July authorization for the United Nations and its partners to deliver humanitarian aid across borders into Syria.

Through the text, the Council decided that aid would continue to be delivered through the Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa crossings only — excluding Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha on Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan, through which deliveries have moved since 2014.

China, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States abstained from voting on the resolution, which was adopted after two failed attempts in December 2019 to reauthorize the mechanism.

In his latest report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Secretary-General António Guterres asked the Council to renew the authorization for 12 months.

Coronavirus effect

Mr. Lowcock reported that so far, Syrian authorities have confirmed 256 cases of novel coronavirus, including nine fatalities, with six recorded in the north-east, including one death – a more than four-fold increase since he last briefed the Council in May.

“But this must not be read with too much optimism, since testing remains extremely limited”, he said, adding that the spread of COVID-19 in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen indicates the scale of the risk going forward.

Not only is Syria’s health system unprepared for a large-scale outbreak, but just the threat of broader COVID-19 outbreak alone is aggravating Syria’s economic crisis and constraining the humanitarian response, he added.

Prices for food, medicine, fuel and other essentials are soaring, while the Syrian pound has lost more value in the past six months than in the first nine years of war, he said.

‘Breaking point’ has arrived

“Across the country, people who have struggled through nine years of devastating conflict are telling us that they have now reached breaking point”, he said, with more and more Syrian families going into debt and eating less to survive.

Focusing on the situation in the northwest, he said that the mass displacement of almost one million people earlier this year, economic hardship and COVID-19 have left the area’s civilians among Syria’s most vulnerable.

“Some (people) say they are also cooking weeds to supplement the food rations”, he said.  “Such is the level of desperation.”

Overall, an estimated 2.8 million people in the northwest – or 70 per cent of the region’s population – require humanitarian assistance, he said, speaking a day before Brussels hosts a fourth Syria donors’ conference.

In May alone, nearly 1,800 trucks crossed the border from Turkey, hauling enough food to sustain 1.3 million people per month.

Nevertheless, more and more infants and children show signs of malnutrition, as mothers say they must rely on food packages because they cannot afford shopping in regular markets.

Both the Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa crossings must stay open, he said, explaining that the former provides direct access to parts of northern Aleppo that host some of the highest concentrations of displaced people in Syria.

Syrians need international solidarity, warn agency chiefs

Relief chief Lowcock was joined by his counterparts in the UN development (UNDP), and refugee agencies (UNHCR) on Monday, in calling for solidarity with countries hosting record levels of Syrian refugees.

Their appeal comes on the eve of a major pledging conference in Brussels to help conflict-weary Syrian and host communities, who now face an unprecedented hunger crisis.

This has been made worse by the economic impact of COVID-19, which has caused “spiralling impoverishment” and unemployment in neighbouring countries, as people lose their jobs.

Inside Syria, more than 11 million people need aid and protection.

While hostilities have decreased overall, there are tensions and flare-ups of violence in the northwest, northeast and the south, including resurgence of ISIL-affiliated groups.

Outside Syria’s borders, the conflict has created the largest refugee crisis in the world: 6.6 million refugees. More than 5.5 million live in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

In the statement, Mark Lowcock said that “a whole generation of children has known nothing but hardship, destruction and deprivation”.

Loss amidst widening outbreak threat

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said the COVID crisis “has had an immediate and devastating impact on livelihoods of millions of Syrian refugees and their hosts in the region…The most vulnerable in the society – including millions of refugees – have lost their already fragile and meager income. They are sliding deeper into poverty and debt.”

“The economic crisis now crashing upon an already-strained region is rolling back development and putting unbearable pressure on governments and communities hosting refugees in the region,” said Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UNDP.

The $6 billion refugee and resilience plan for Syria’s neighbours is only 19 per cent funded, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Monday.

To do something about the crisis, “generous pledges, quickly paid out, can help the UN and humanitarian organisations stay the course in Syria and get people the food, shelter, health services and protection they urgently need”, Mr Lowcock insisted.

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Food is best vaccine against chaos, insists UN World Food Programme head

INTERNATIONAL, 29 June 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Tens of millions more people are likely to go hungry this year because of the COVID-19 crisis, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday, as it announced plans for a massive boost to its global aid operation so it can reach them.

In an alert, WFP head David Beasley said that new estimates show that 270 million people face food insecurity “before the year’s end”.

Food insecure nearly doubles

This is an 82 per cent increase from before the pandemic took hold, he said, adding that the coronavirus was affecting regions of the world that had “previously escaped” severe food insecurity.

“The frontline in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world,” he said.

Latin American countries are experiencing the worst effects of the health crisis, with an almost three-fold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance.

This includes urban communities in low and middle-income countries, which the WFP warns “are being dragged into destitution” by job losses and a sharp drop in remittances.

Hunger spikes are also happening in West and Central Africa, which has seen a 135 per cent jump in the number of food insecure people, as well as in Southern Africa where there has been a 90 per cent rise.

WFP record response

To tackle this rising tide of hunger, WFP is undertaking the biggest humanitarian response in its history.

It intends to ramp up the number of people it assists to 138 million - from a record 97 million last year.

To do this, sustained funding is required urgently, Mr. Beasley said, in an appeal for $4.9 billion over the next six months to help 83 countries.

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos. Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition among populations that were previously immune from hunger.”

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Israel’s illegal annexation plans for Palestine, ‘disastrous’ for wider Middle East – Bachelet

INTERNATIONAL, 29 June 2020, Human Rights - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Israel on Monday not to proceed along the “dangerous path” of annexing a swathe of occupied Palestinian territory, urging the Government to listen to its own former senior officials along with the “multitude of voices around the world”.

“Annexation is illegal. Period. Any annexation. Whether it is 30 per cent of the West Bank, or five per cent”, Michelle Bachelet stated, adding that it would have “a disastrous impact on human rights” throughout the Middle East.

She warned that if Israel goes ahead, the “shockwaves will last for decades.”

While acknowledging that the “precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted”, she upheld that they are likely to be disastrous for Palestinians, Israel itself and for the wider region. 

According to news reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set 1 July as the potential date to unilaterally annex parts of the occupied West Bank – as Palestinians warn of a return to resistance, even violence. 

The UN rights chief cited the Secretary-General’s call for Israel to abandon its annexation plans, saying that she backs that appeal “one hundred per cent.”

More hardship

Noting other attempts to annex parts of the territory, Ms. Bachelet maintained that this latest move would will not only seriously damage peace efforts but may also “entrench, perpetuate and further heighten serious human rights violations, that have characterized the conflict for decades.”

As population centres become enclaves, in addition to restricting movement, significant tracts of private land could be illegally expropriated or become inaccessible for Palestinians to cultivate land they legally own.

Moreover, Palestinians living within the annexed zone would experience greater difficulty accessing essential services like education and health, and humanitarian access may also be hindered.

Palestinians would come under even heavier pressure to move out of the annexed zone, and entire communities that are currently not recognized under Israel’s planning regime, would be at high risk of forcible transfer, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). 

And Palestinians outside the annexed zone risk seeing their access to natural resources cut off, their opportunity for natural growth removed and even their ability to leave and return to their own country, severely restricted.

Meanwhile, settlements, which are already a clear violation of international law, will almost certainly expand, increasing the existing friction between the two communities, OHCHR pointed out.

‘Combustible mix’

Calling the situation “a highly combustible mix”, Ms. Bachelet expressed deep concern that even the most minimalist form of annexation, would lead to increased violence and loss of life, “as walls are erected, security forces deployed, and the two populations brought into closer proximity.” 

Shockwaves of annexation will last for decades ~ UN human rights chief

“The existing two-tier system of law in the same territory will become embedded, with devastating impacts on the lives of Palestinians who have little or no access to legal remedy”, she asserted.

The UN rights chief spelled out that under international humanitarian or human rights law, illegal annexation would not change Israel’s obligations as the occupying power. 

“Instead”, she said, “it will grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution, undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations, and perpetuate the serious existing human rights and international humanitarian law violations we witness today”.

In closing she maintained that “the shockwaves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians”.

“However”, concluded the High Commissioner, “there is still time to reverse this decision”.

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First Person: Looking to the skies to understand the climate crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 29 June 2020, Climate Change - Could studying the cosmos help us to fight the climate crisis? Two astronomers at the University of Hawaii think that knowledge of the solar system may help to slow down the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Professor John Tonry leads the NASA-funded ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) project which bills itself as “Earth’s Last Defence.” He works alongside postdoctoral researcher Ari Heinz.

Their work could play an important role in the global debate about climate change and, as a result, contribute to realizing some of the 17 goals Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the global community to reduce poverty and create a sustainable planet.

UN News joined the International Labour Organization on a visit to Hawaii to meet the two astronomers ahead of International Asteroid Day marked annually on 30 June.

John Tonry: I really like big questions; like, where did the universe come from and where is it going? One way to continue answering those types of questions was to create this asteroid survey. Our job is to track asteroid hazards and calculate if and when they will hit Earth. We have the technology to measure these events beautifully. The chances of being hit by an asteroid in the next year is very small, but in the next 100 years, it’s not so small and that could result in many deaths. So, we see an asteroid strike as a low probability but high consequence event. 

A University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy telescope scans the night solar system for asteroids/, by University of Hawaii/Henry Weilan

Ari Heinz: While most of our surveys focus on larger asteroids that we can see decades, or even a century, before they hit Earth, ATLAS focuses on smaller asteroids, which wouldn't cause global devastation, but which could destroy a city, and which we can only detect when they are close to Earth. If ATLAS discovers that kind of asteroid, then we would treat it like, for example, a hurricane and advise a city or state to evacuate, because there's going to be a big explosion there.

JT: 20 years ago, we couldn't purchase the computers we use nowadays, as they were hopelessly expensive. The cameras and telescopes that we're building now simply weren't possible even 10 years ago, and we have developed the software to match the hardware capabilities.

AH: The threat of asteroids although small, certainly motivates me to be careful and try not to miss anything. There's a strange paradox here. We’re sort of laid back in the asteroid community, we're trying hard but we're not under a lot of stress in general, but then we understand that at any moment, we could suddenly be some of the most important people in the world for a short amount of time. 

JT: Astronomy can play an important role in understanding climate change.  It's possible that the sun actually goes through century-long cycles: it’s crucial to understand how the sun behaves, and we have just built a new telescope to look at its surface.

The understanding of planetary atmospheres tells us an awful lot about how climate change can actually run away. John Tonry, Astronomer, ATLAS

We can learn from other planets in the solar system where climate change went seriously wrong. Venus was driven to extreme heat by its atmosphere while Mars went the other way and cooled down and now needs a warming atmosphere. So, the understanding of planetary atmospheres tells us an awful lot about how climate change can actually run away. 

AH: In terms of the future, I see a lot of exciting developments with new telescopes being built and new space missions being launched. There are areas where we can certainly make huge strides forward, for example, asteroids and solar system exploration.

Then there are big questions that are extremely interesting, but may be completely intractable. We have been trying to figure out what dark matter is for 50 years now.  We might find out tomorrow, but it's also possible that we'll never find out what it is. 

JT: Astronomers are in a good position to correct misconceptions about whether climate change is happening or not. The simple answer is “yes,” and that’s what I told my students 30 years ago. The only questions are really, how severe it will be, and how much it will cost to put right. The most important thing for the human race right now is that we absolutely need to deal with it. I think astronomers understand all of this very clearly, and we can also explain it pretty clearly.

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FROM THE FIELD: Supporting Nepal’s migrants, as overseas work dries up

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2020, Migrants and Refugees - Nepal is one most remittance-dependent countries in the world, with many Nepalese sending home around $8.79 billion from abroad. However, since the economic slowdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, work for many of them has dried up. The UN is supporting efforts to manage the large-scale influx of returnee workers.
Jungu village, Dolakha district, Nepal, by D. Gauchan/Bioversity International

A project run by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, which was already in place before the pandemic, developing enterprises in rural areas of Nepal, is now providing a range of services for migrants, forced to return home.

These include repatriation for workers stranded overseas, matching job-seekers with available jobs within the country, helping them to find other income-generating activities, and providing technical and vocational training. 
In addition, IFAD, working with the UN migration agency IOM, and other partners, is assisting local government as they design policies to reintegrate returning migrants into the local workforce, and programmes that ensure easy access to start-up funds.

Find out more about IFAD’s work in Nepal here.

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UN highlights urgent need to tackle impact of likely electric car battery production boom

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2020, Climate Change - Demand for raw materials used in the production of electric car batteries is set to soar, prompting the UN trade body, UNCTAD, to call for the social and environmental impacts of the extraction of raw materials, which include human rights abuses, to be urgently addressed.

Electric cars are rapidly becoming more popular amongst consumers, and UNCTAD predicts that some 23 million will be sold over the coming decade: the market for rechargeable car batteries, currently estimated at $7 billion, is forecast to rise to $58 billion by 2024 .

The shift to electric mobility is in line with ongoing efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, but a new report from UNCTAD, warns that the raw materials used in electric car batteries, are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, which raises a number of concerns.

Drilling down in DRC, Chile

For example, two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.

And in Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country's Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to migrate and abandon ancestral settlements. It has also contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution.

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Electric cars at UN Headquarters, New York (file)

Climb the value chain

Noting that "the rise in demand for the strategic raw materials used to manufacture electric car batteries will open more trade opportunities for the countries that supply these materials”, UNCTAD's director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, emphasised the importance, for these countries, to “develop their capacity to move up the value chain".

In the DRC, this would mean building processing plants and refineries that would add value and, potentially, jobs within the country. However, for various reasons (including limited infrastructure, financing and a lack of appropriate policies), refining takes place in other countries, mainly Belgium, China, Finland, Norway and Zambia, which reap the economic benefit.

The report recommends that countries such as DRC provide “conducive environment to attract investment to establish new mines or expand existing ones”.

Diversify and thrive

UNCTAD also recommends that the industry find ways to reduce its dependence on critical raw materials. For example, scientists are researching the possibility of using widely-available silicon, instead of graphite (80% of natural graphite reserves are in China, Brazil and Turkey).

If the industry manages to become less reliant on materials concentrated in a small number of countries, says UNCTAD, there is more chance that prices of batteries will drop, leading to greater take-up of electric cars, and a shift away from fossil-fuel powered transport.

As for the environmental consequences of the batteries themselves, the report recommends the development of improved, more sustainable mining techniques, and the recycling of the raw materials used in spent Lithium-Ion batteries, a measure that would help deal with the expected increase in demand, and also create new business opportunities.

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What will power the post-pandemic global economic recovery?

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2020, Climate Change - As governments try to kick-start their economies, the UN is calling for recovery plans to be built around low-carbon technologies, to avoid a return to fossil fuel-based business as usual.

Islands at the forefront

Some of the countries and regions at the forefront of this wholescale shift to renewables are islands, where the need to avoid the significant cost of importing fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, provides added motivation. 

Mauritius, for example, is planning to generate over a third of its electricity from renewable sources within the next five years. Projects supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), will be an important part of this transition, bringing an additional 25 Mega Watts of solar power to Mauritius, including a mini-power grid in Agalega, one of the outer islands.

At the current pace, it would take the world forever to come anywhere near a no-carbon system. Rana Adib, Executive Director, REN21

As well as reducing pollution, this shift to clean energy is expected to aid economic recovery, with new jobs in areas such as the production, installation, and maintenance of renewable energy equipment, from solar panels, to batteries and wind turbines.

Another added benefit is energy security: with such a high dependence on imported oil, price fluctuations can make budgeting difficult, and any interruption to supply can have serious consequences. “Home-grown” energy from renewable sources can make the energy grid more reliable, and more resilient. 

The Pacific US State of Hawaii is planning to go even further and become a trailblazer for the rest of the United States, by going completely renewable by 2045. As Hawaii State Governor, David Ige, explained to UN News, their commitment is now moving to the mainstream: “at the time we enacted the law to commit to 100 per cent renewables, no other community had done anything similar and at the National Governors’ Association, people were generally very surprised.

They thought that it was so beyond possible that it was a foolish undertaking. Now, California has embraced the commitment to 100 per cent clean renewable energy and other states are contemplating doing the same. I’m proud that Hawaii has really inspired other states and communities.”

Time to change the entire energy system

As economies recover post-pandemic, following these examples will be essential to turn the tide and, as a new report from REN21 – a renewable energy think tank that includes the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) amongst its members – shows, remarkable progress has been made by the renewable energy industry, where costs are falling, and clean energy use is increase.

Jasvirsing Jeetul works as a photovoltaic technician, maintaining the panels at the solar power farm in Henrietta., by UNDP Mauritius/Stéphane Bellero

However, this good news is currently offset by the fact that global energy use is rising, and is being powered, in the main, by fossil fuels. Following the release of the report, on 16 June, Rana Adib, REN21’s Executive Director, underlined the fact that the pandemic-related emissions drop barely makes a dent in the long-term problem of climate change, and an overhaul of the entire energy system is needed:

“Even if the lockdowns were to continue for a decade, the change would not be sufficient. At the current pace, with the current system and current market rules, it would take the world forever to come anywhere near a no-carbon system.”

The report warns that many recovery programmes include commitments to stick with dirty, polluting fossil fuel systems: whilst some countries are phasing out coal, others continue to invest in new coal-fired power plants. In addition, funding from private banks for fossil fuel projects has increased each year since the signing of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, totalling some USD 2.7 trillion over the last three years. 

“Some directly promote natural gas, coal or oil. Others, though claiming a green focus, build the roof and forget the foundation,” warned Ms. Adib. “Take electric cars and hydrogen, for example. These technologies are only green if powered by renewables.”

Clean is cost-effective

Nevertheless, Mauritius and Hawaii show that a green option is not only possible, but actually a better deal than a fossil-fuel based recovery plan, especially when the true costs, including air pollution, climate change effects and traffic congestion, are factored in.

A new book from the World Bank, Technology Transfer and Innovation for Low-carbon Development, shows that most of the emissions reductions needed to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, can be achieved if existing, commercially proven low-carbon technology is adopted on a massive scale.

A coal power plant in Tuzla, Bosnia., by UNEP

As Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) explains, “renewables are now more cost-effective than ever, providing an opportunity to prioritize clean economic recovery packages and bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement Goals. Renewables are a key pillar of a healthy, safe and green COVID-19 recovery that leaves no one behind.”

When Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2020, a report from UNEP, The Frankfurt School, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, was released in June, it further underlined the plummeting costs of clean energy, highlighting the fact that “putting these dollars into renewables will buy more generation capacity than ever before”, and help countries deliver on stronger climate action.

“If governments take advantage of the ever-falling price tag of renewables to put clean energy at the heart of COVID -19 economic recovery, instead of subsidizing the recovery of fossil-fuel industries”, said Ms. Andersen, “they can take a big step towards clean energy and a healthy natural world, which ultimately is the best insurance policy against global pandemics.”

An opportunity for a cleaner world

The economic slowdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant fall in harmful greenhouse emissions and, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 2020 will see a drop of around eight per cent. 

This has given us an idea of what a cleaner world might look like, but it is only a temporary respite: it has also had devastating consequences, including the shuttering of entire sectors, and unemployment for millions of people.

Now, with countries and regions like Mauritius and Hawaii investing in policies, programmes and initiatives to get people back to work, there is an opportunity for a more sustainable approach, with renewable technologies at its heart. The question is whether the international community will seize this opportunity, or stick with the devil they know.

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FROM THE FIELD: ‘Major breakthrough’ in fight against diseases spread by mosquitos

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2020, Health - The UN nuclear agency (IAEA) has announced a major breakthrough in the bid to scale up technology designed to suppress disease-carrying mosquitos, and bring  dengue, yellow fever and Zika under control.
Anopheles mosquitos in the lab of the KEMRI/CDC research institute outside Kisumu, Kenya., by Sven Torfinn/WHO 2016

A study has shown that the use of a specialized drone, developed by IAEA and partners, to release tens of thousands of male mosquitoes, sterilized by using radiation, is effective: many of the sterilized males mate with females, who then produce no offspring, reducing the mosquito population over time.

The drones are cheaper than manual ground releases, and cover a much wider area, leading to hopes of a reduction in mosquito-borne diseases almost anywhere: a smaller, lighter version of the drone designed to meet stringent regulations for flights over urban areas, is also being developed.

Find out more by reading the full story here.

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Global partners require $31 billion to speed up COVID-19 medicines for all

INTERNATIONAL, 26 June 2020, Health - More than $31 billion is needed over the next 12 months to develop medicines that will be effective against COVID-19, and make them available to all people, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners said on Friday.

Ahead of a major pledging summit, they updated journalists on a recently announced initiative to speed up production of these treatments, known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

“It’s clear that to bring COVID-19 under control, and to save lives, we need effective vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics – in unprecedented quantities and at unprecedented speed”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom.

Access for all

The ACT-Accelerator was launched at the end of April, bringing together governments, health organizations, scientists, businesses, civil society and philanthropists.

Members work across four pillars: diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, and what they call “the health system connector”.

They have outlined a plan that sees low- and middle-income countries receiving 500 million diagnostic tests, 245 million courses of treatments, and two billion vaccine doses, before the end of next year.

Race for a vaccine

WHO this week warned that the global COVID-19 caseload was approaching 10 million. So far, more than 484,000 people have died from the disease.

A safe and effective vaccine is the only way to prevent further spread and transmission of the new coronavirus, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO.

Although it normally takes up to 10 years to develop and manufacture a vaccine, the partners are looking to significantly shorten that timeline.

“We’re aiming for 12, maximum of 18 months. And that would be unprecedented”, said Dr. Swaminathan.

“The good news is we have over 200 candidates at some stage of clinical development; about 15 of them are actually now in human clinical trials.”

ACT now

WHO and partners will need $31.3 billion to achieve their goals. So far, $3.4 billion has been received.

“This is an investment worth making, more than any other we can think of”, said Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of the two Special Envoys for the ACT-Accelerator.

“If we don’t rally now, the human costs and economic pain will deepen. So, though these numbers sound big, they are not when we think of the alternatives.”

The European Commission will host a pledging summit on Saturday to support the initiative.

It will be followed by a concert organized jointly with the advocacy group Global Citizen, hosted by American actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

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