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No pathway to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C goal without the G20: UN chief

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, July 25: “The world urgently needs a clear and unambiguous commitment to the 1.5 degree goal of the Paris Agreement from all G20 nations”, António Guterres said on Sunday after the Group failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments during their recent Ministerial Meeting on Environment, Climate and Energy.

“There is no pathway to this goal without the leadership of the G20. This signal is desperately needed by the billions of people already on the frontlines of the climate crisis and by markets, investors and industry who require certainty that a net zero climate resilient future is inevitable”, the Secretary General urged in a statement.

The UN chief reminded that science indicates that to meet that ‘ambitious, yet achievable goal’, the world must achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 and cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by 45 % by 2030 from 2010 levels. “But we are way off track”, he warned.

With less than 100 days left before the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference COP 26, a pivotal meeting that will be held in Glasgow at the end of October, António Guterres urged all G20 and other leaders to commit to net zero by mid-century, present more ambitious 2030 national climate plans and deliver on concrete policies and actions aligned with a net zero future.

These include no new coal after 2021, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and agreeing to a minimum international carbon pricing floor as proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The G7 and other developed countries must also deliver on a credible solidarity package of support for developing countries including meeting the US $ 100 billion goal, increasing adaptation and resilience support to at least 50% of total climate finance and getting public and multilateral development banks to significantly align their climate portfolios to meet the needs of developing countries”, he highlighted.

The UN Chief informed that he intends to use the opportunity of the upcoming UN General Assembly high-level session to bring leaders together to reach a political understanding on these critical elements of the ‘package’ needed for Glasgow.

The G20 ministers, which met in Naples, Italy on July 23-25, couldn’t agree to a common language on two disputed issues related to phasing out coal and the 1.5-degree goal, which now will have to be discussed at the G20 summit in Rome in October, just one day before the COP 26 starts.

Farmers are lifeblood of our food systems: deputy UN chief

ROME, July 24: Farmers, especially women and indigenous people, work tirelessly to put food on our tables. UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed met on Saturday women producers at a farmers’ market in Circo Massimo, Rome, ahead of the Food Systems Pre-Summit taking place next week.

Dozens of stalls were set up in the vicinity of the UN event’s venue, where heads of state and delegates will gather from Monday to discuss ways to transform food systems to tackle hunger, poverty, climate change and inequality.

UN and government officials toured the market to meet with farmers before paying tribute to producers, particularly women, for their central role in food systems.

“Farmers are the lifeblood of our food systems”, said Ms. Mohammed. “Understanding their needs and the challenges they face helps ensure that emerging solutions are fit for purpose”, she added.

The Deputy Secretary General, joined by Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, visited the stalls of women producers. They also addressed the market and welcomed two Food Systems Heroes on stage to share their stories.

The visit aimed to raise awareness of the essential, yet often unnoticed, contribution that women producers make and to highlight the urgent need to support greater resilience against shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Women farmers and ‘agripreneurs’ are often held back through a lack of resources and access to information. Supporting women with the same skills, tools and training is a failsafe way to improve food systems”, said Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of the Pan-African Farmers Organizations (PAFO).

The three-day Pre-Summit will begin on Monday, bringing together delegates from more than 100 countries in a hybrid event to deliver the latest evidence-based and scientific approaches from around the world, launch a set of new commitments through coalitions of action and mobilize new financing and partnerships.

The event will bring together youth, farmers, Indigenous Peoples, civil society, researchers, the private sector, policy leaders and ministers of agriculture, environment, health, nutrition and finance, among other key players.

The meeting will set the stage for the culminating global event in September by bringing together diverse actors from around the world to leverage the power of food systems to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Key facts to be addressed at the meeting

As many as 811 million people went hungry in 2020, with an estimated 118 million joining the food insecure

Around 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030 – 30 million more than had the pandemic not occurred

In 2020, around one in five children under five were affected by stunting caused by malnutrition

Around three billion people are unable to afford healthy diets
Climate change and biodiversity loss

Food systems contribute an estimated one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions

Deforestation and climate change means the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon than it stores

Food systems are the greatest driver of biodiversity loss, responsible for up to 80% of losses and around 25% of species under threat of extinction

Almost 100 million people found themselves in poverty as a result of the pandemic

Global unemployment is expected to reach 205 million in 2022, from 187 million in 2019

Shortcomings in food systems account for an estimated $12 trillion in hidden costs

Around a third of all food produced is lost or wasted every year
If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third most emitting nation in the world

Reducing food waste would cost an estimated $30 billion but the potential return could be as much as $455 billion.

UN Human rights chief condemns illegal use of Pegasus spy software

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, July 19: The UN human rights chief on Monday said the apparent widespread use of Pegasus spy software to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists and politicians, was “extremely alarming” and confirmed “some of the worst fears” surrounding the potential misuse of such technology.

“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own Office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition”, said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in a statement.

According to reports, the Pegasus data leak allegations which surfaced through a consortium of media organisations over the weekend, suggests widespread and continuing abuse of the software, which the manufacturers insist, is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.

The Pegasus malware infects electronic devices, enabling operators of the tool to obtain messages, photos and emails, record calls, and even activate microphones, according to the consortium’s reporting. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers which reportedly belong to those identified as people of interest, by clients of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments.

Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even killing of journalists and human rights defenders, according to the senior UN official.

Reports of surveillance also trigger fear and cause people to censor themselves. 

Media reports on Sunday claimed that spyware Pegasus was used to conduct surveillance on about 300 Indians, including ministers, political leaders, government officials and journalists.

The Indian government has categorically rejected the attack on it by the opposition parties in the wake of the snooping row, saying attempts were being made to 'malign' Indian democracy.

“Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer”, she said, reminding all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances when necessary and proportional to a legitimate goal.

Given that Pegasus spyware, “as well as that created by Candiru and others, enable extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives”, the UN rights chief underscored, “their use can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats.”

If recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, she maintained that the “red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity”.

Companies developing and distributing surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding human rights abuses, she said, and they must take immediate steps to mitigate and remedy the damage their products are causing, or contributing to, and carry out “human rights due diligence” to ensure that they no longer play a part in “such disastrous consequences” now, or in the future.

States also have a duty to protect individuals from privacy rights abuses by companies, she added.

One key step in this direction is for States to require by law that the businesses meet their human rights responsibilities by becoming more transparent in their design and use of products and by putting in place effective accountability mechanisms.

Reports also confirm “the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technologies and ensure strict oversight and authorization.”

Governments should not only immediately stop using surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, but also “take concrete actions” to protect against such invasions of privacy by “regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others”, the High Commissioner said.

Without human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks, Ms. Bachelet upheld that there are “simply too many risks” that the tools could be used to intimidate critics and silence dissent.

Indian Foreign Secretary Meets UN Chief, Discusses Security Council Reforms

UNITED NATIONS, July 16: India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday and the two exchanged views on regional situations, including Afghanistan and Myanmar, climate change, Security Council reforms and the COVID-19 situation around the world.

Shringla is on an official visit to New York from July 14-16 to participate in high-level meetings of the Security Council being held under the French Presidency this month.

His visit comes as India prepares to assume the Presidency of the powerful 15-nation Security Council for the month of August.

He called on the Secretary-General on Thursday afternoon and congratulated him on his reappointment as chief of the world organisation for a second tenure.

"Foreign Secretary briefed Secretary-General about India's priorities for the Security Council during its Presidency in August, namely maritime security, peacekeeping and counter-terrorism," a press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said.

"Views were exchanged, inter alia, on regional situations, including Afghanistan and Myanmar, on climate change, International Solar Alliance, UNSC reforms and on the COVID-19 situation around the world," it said.

The release added that Guterres expressed solidarity with the Government and people of India in their efforts against the recent wave of COVID-19 pandemic.

He "appreciated the positive role India is playing in the UN Security Council as well as India's robust contribution to UN peacekeeping," the release said.

Guterres also wished India the best for its upcoming Presidency of the United Nation Security Council.

Earlier in the day, Shringla participated in the High-Level Security Council briefing on the "Situation in Libya" chaired by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian.

On the sidelines of the UNSC high-level meeting, Shringla also called on the French Foreign Affairs Minister and briefed him on India's August UNSC Presidency initiatives.

Avoid politicisation of humanitarian work, India tells UNSC

UNITED NATIONS, July 16: India on Friday urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) to “avoid the politicisation of humanitarian work and humanitarian actors” in conflict situations and they should not be used as a ploy to undermine the territorial integrity of countries.

“Too often we have seen humanitarian assistance being linked to coercive measures by external players in order to force outcomes desired by them,” said Indian foreign security Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who is on a two-day visit to New York, during a UN Security Council briefing on protection of civilians in armed conflict.

“Such actions run the risk of being counter-productive to achieving a resolution of the conflict itself and could further shrink the necessary space for much needed humanitarian action or assistance,” he added.

According to reports, 99 humanitarian workers were killed in the last one year. Extending India’s condolences to their families, the foreign secretary called on member states to undertake all measures mandated by the Security Council to ensure the protection of humanitarian workers.

To ensure accountability for serious violations, Shringla said the UN body must assist national authorities to strengthen their legal frameworks for protecting humanitarian workers and also consider sanctioning violation such as attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel.

But, he cautioned, “such measures should have wider regional and international support, in the absence of which, there may be further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis and shrinking of the humanitarian space”. As it was happening in Syria, where, he added, it had a “worsening impact of such measures on humanitarian operations on the ground”.

The foreign secretary went on to reiterate India’s commitment to “working with the international community to address global humanitarian challenges in an effective and comprehensive manner”.

WHO warns of 'early stages' of COVID-19 third wave amid Delta variant surge

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, July 15: World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday warned the world about the 'early stages' of COVID-19 third wave amid Delta surge.

"Unfortunately...we are now in the early stages of a third wave", he said.

On Wednesday, the head of WHO said that Delta variant's spread, along with increased social mobility and the inconsistent use of proven public health measures, is driving an increase in both case numbers and deaths.

Recalling the sustained decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths that was being driven, in recent months, by increasing vaccination rates in Europe and North America, he sounded alarms over the fresh reversal of that positive trend, reported UN News.

Meanwhile, said Tedros, the virus is continuing to evolve, resulting in more transmissible variants.

"The Delta variant is now in more than 111 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant COVID-19 strain circulating worldwide if it isn't already," he said.

Last week marked the fourth consecutive week of rising cases of COVID-19 globally, with increases recorded in all but one of WHO's six regions. Deaths are also rising again, after 10 weeks of steady decline.

Tedros also drew the Emergency Committee on COVID-19's attention to the ongoing "shocking disparity" in the global distribution of vaccines, as well as unequal access to life-saving tools, reported UN News.

He reiterated his concern that inequity has created a two-track pandemic - namely, one track for countries with the greatest access to vaccines, who are lifting restrictions and reopening their societies, and a second track for those without vaccines access who are left "at the mercy of the virus."

Many countries still have not received any vaccines, and most have not received enough.

Tedros reiterated WHO's appeal for a massive push to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 per cent by the end of 2021, and at least 70 per cent by mid-2022.

Emphasising that vaccines alone will not stop the pandemic, he called upon countries to persist with a "tailored and consistent approach".

It means using the full array of available public health and social measures and taking a comprehensive risk management approach to mass gatherings.

"So many countries around the world have shown that this virus can be stopped and contained with these measures," he stressed.

To provide support, WHO recently issued updated guidance to facilitate a risk-based approach for opening.

The Agency is also reviewing options to digitalise the International Certificate for Vaccination and Prophylaxis, to support a harmonised approach for recording vaccination status, reported UN News.

Jaishankar meets China's Wang Yi, says unilateral change of status quo along LAC not acceptable to India

DUSHANBE, July 14: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday met China's State Councilor Wang Yi and told him that unilateral change of status quo along the LAC was not acceptable to India. Jaishankar had a one-hour meeting with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of Dushanbe SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting.

"Discussions focused on the outstanding issues along the LAC in the Western Sector. Highlighted that unilateral change of status quo is not acceptable. Full restoration and maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas is essential for development of our ties. Agreed on convening an early meeting of the Senior Military Commanders," the foreign minister said.

Both the leaders had a detailed exchange of views on the current situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. Jaishankar pointed out to Wang Yi that disengagement in Pangong Lake area earlier this year had created conditions for resolving remaining issues.

"It was expected that China would work with us towards this objective but situation in remaining areas is still unresolved," he said.

Jaishankar also recalled that both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side. "It was visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner," the MEA said.

Assessing the overall relationship, Jaishankar emphasized that maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas had been the foundation for the development of ties since 1988. "The attempts to change status quo last year that also disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements have inevitably affected ties," he said.

"It was, therefore, in mutual interest that the two sides work towards early resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh, while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols," he added.

In May this year, Jaishankar had said that the relationship with Chian was at a crossroads and which direction both the countries go depends on whether Beijing will adhere to the consensus. "Whether it will follow through on the agreements which we both have made...What is very clear in the last year is that border tensions cannot continue with cooperation in other areas," he had said.

Don't return to the era of 'your terrorists' and 'my terrorists': India cautions UN

July 7: India has cautioned that 20 years after the 9/11 terror attacks, there are attempts again to divide terrorism into different terminologies such as violent nationalism and right wing extremism, asserting that the world should not return to the era of “your terrorists” and “my terrorists” but fight the scourge collectively.

Participating in the UN General Assembly debate on adoption of resolution on 7th Review of Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) on Tuesday, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador T S Tirumurti said that the international community has acknowledged that the threat of terrorism is grave and universal, and can only be defeated by collective efforts of all UN member states, without any exception.

“It is only after 9/11 that we accepted that terrorism in one part of the world can directly impact another part of the world and we all came together to fight terrorism collectively,” he said.

The envoy said the international community should not forget that before the 9/11 terror attacks, the world was divided into “your terrorists” or “my terrorists”.

Two decades later, “we are now seeing attempts to divide us once again” by adopting new terminologies under the guise of “emerging threats” such as racially and ethnically-motivated violent extremism, violent nationalism, right wing extremism, he said.

"I do hope that member states do not forget history and divide terrorism again into different categories and take us back to the era of 'your terrorists' and 'my terrorists' and erase the gains we have had over the last two decades,” Tirumurti said.

WHAT IS THE GLOBAL COUNTER-TERRORISM STRATEGY?

According to the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is a “unique global instrument to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. Through its adoption by consensus in 2006, all UN Member States agreed the first time to a common strategic and operational approach to fighting terrorism”.

The UN General Assembly reviews the Strategy every two years, making it a living document attuned to member states’ counter-terrorism priorities. The General Assembly reviews the Strategy and considers the adoption of a resolution on this occasion, the UN agency said.

Tirumurti said the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy was adopted by consensus 15 years ago and was a major step forward in maintaining and achieving international peace and security.

“It was agreed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should be condemned, there cannot be any exception or justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of motivations behind such acts, and wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed. It was also recognised that the menace of terrorism cannot be and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group,” Tirumurti said.

He said it is essential for all member states to not only not squander the gains of “what we have achieved so far but also ensure that we do not give the slightest opportunity to provide excuses or justification for terrorism, thereby diminishing our collective fight".

"Justifying terrorism in any way, whether on grounds of religion, ideology, ethnicity or race, will only provide the necessary fodder for terrorists to enhance their activities even more,” he said.

Equitable distribution of vaccines, equipment only way out of pandemic: WHO chief

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, July 6: Equitable distribution of equipment and medicines to fight COVID-19 is the only way out of the global crisis, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, in remarks to a meeting of the advisory group making the case for investing in these tools.

Briefing the ACT Accelerator Facilitation Council, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that although countries have made progress in controlling the pandemic, it remains in a very dangerous phase.

“Our only way out is to support countries in the equitable distribution of PPE (personal protective equipment), tests, treatments and vaccines. It is not rocket science, nor charity. It is smart public health and in everyone’s best interest,” he said.

The Council, co-chaired by Norway and South Africa, provides guidance and advice to facilitate the work of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, launched last April to fight the new disease.

For Tedros, the meeting was as an opportunity to discuss ways to address urgent needs and scale-up lifesaving treatments amid what he described as “a two-track pandemic”.

Countries that are now able to open up, “are those that have largely controlled the supply of lifesaving of personal protective equipment, tests, oxygen, and especially vaccines”, he said.

“Meanwhile, countries without access to sufficient supplies are facing waves of hospitalisations and death. This is being compounded by virus variants.”

The UN’s top health official pointed to signs of hope, as countries are beginning to share vaccines through the global solidarity initiative, COVAX, though he underscored the need for more action.

Currently, more than 180 nations and economies are taking part in the scheme, which aims to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to shots.
Tedros added that the financing mechanism supporting COVAX, known as the Advanced Market Commitment, is fully funded for this year “but there are still substantial risks in the vaccine supply forecast.”

WHO together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are working to find practical ways to track, coordinate and advance deliveries to low and middle-income countries.

Last month, the UN agency announced it was supporting the establishment in South Africa of the first technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines, where manufacturers from developing countries will be trained in how to produce these new treatments.

Messenger RNA, or mRNA technology, instructs cells to make a protein that generates an immune response in the body, thus producing the antibodies that provide protection against a disease. It is the basis for some of the COVID-19 vaccines being used by governments worldwide and by. 

Tedros said the announcement of the hub is a positive step forward, “but we need manufacturers to help by sharing know-how and accelerating technology transfer.”

Delta variant drives Africa COVID threat to ‘whole new level´: WHO warns; ‘dominant’ in Europe by August

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, July 1: With cases now doubling in Africa every three weeks, the Delta variant of COVID-19 has spread to 16 countries and it is present in three of the five nations reporting the highest caseloads. The variant is the most contagious yet - up to 60% more transmissible than other variants.

Along with Alpha and Beta, Delta is fuelling an aggressive third wave across Africa, with case numbers climbing faster than all earlier peaks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO experts warned on Thursday that the numbers have increased for six consecutive weeks, up by 25% last week, reaching 202,000 positive cases. Deaths also rose by 15% across 38 African countries, to nearly 3,000.

The Delta variant, initially identified in India, is now dominant in South Africa, which accounted for more than half of Africa´s cases last week. Moreover, the variant was detected in 97% of the samples sequenced in Uganda and 79% of those sequenced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The variant also seems to be fueling illness among young adults. According to WHO experts. In Uganda for example, 66% of severe illness in people younger than 45, is attributed to Delta.

“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before. The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa up to a whole new level. More transmission means more serious illness and more deaths, so everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO´s regional director for Africa.

The Alpha and Beta variants have been also reported in 32 and 27 countries respectively. Alpha has been detected in most countries in north, west and central Africa, while Beta is more widespread in the south. Both are considerably more transmissible than the original virus.

With rising case numbers and hospitalizations across the continent, WHO estimates that oxygen demand in Africa is now 50% greater than for the first wave peak, one year ago.

Eight vaccines have been approved for the WHO emergency use listing, however, shipments to Africa have, in effect, dried up.

“While supply challenges grind on, dose sharing can help plug the gap. We are grateful for the pledges made by our international partners, but we need urgent action on allocations. Africa must not be left languishing in the throes of its worst wave yet,” added Dr. Moeti.

Only 15 million people – a mere 1.2% of the African population – are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile in Europe, a ten-week decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in the 53 countries that the WHO analyses, has come to an end.

The regional director for the UN health agency, Hans Kluge, informed on Thursday that last week the number of cases rose by 10%, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings, and easing of social restrictions.

“This is taking place in the context of a rapidly evolving situation - a new variant of concern, the Delta variant - and in a region where despite tremendous efforts by Member States, millions remain unvaccinated,” he explained.

Kluge said that the Delta variant overtakes alpha very quickly through multiple and repeated introductions and is already translating into increased hospitalizations and deaths.

“By August, the WHO European Region will be Delta dominant”, the expert underscored.

However, by August, Europe will not be sufficiently immunized, with 63% of people currently still waiting for their first jab, and the region will still be mostly loosening restrictions, with increasing travel and gatherings, Dr. Kluge warned.

“The three conditions for a new wave of excess hospitalizations and deaths before the autumn are therefore in place: new variants, (a) deficit in vaccine uptake, increased social mixing; and there will be a new wave in the WHO European Region unless we remained disciplined”, he said.

Kluge reminded that vaccines are effective against the Delta variant: “not one dose but two doses”.

He added that delays in getting vaccinated cost lives and the economies, and the slower vaccination programmes are, the more variants will emerge.

“We see many countries doing well, but the truth is that the average vaccine coverage in the region is 24% only, and more serious, half of our elders and 40% of our health care workers are still unprotected. That’s unacceptable”, the expert said, explaining that with these figures, the pandemic is nowhere over.

“And it would be very wrong for anyone – citizens and policymakers - to assume that it is”.

 

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