INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
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4 August 2017: The United Nations confirmed today that as Depositary of the Paris Agreement, the Secretary-General had received a communication from the United States Ambassador expressing the intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, "as soon as it is eligible to do so under the Agreement, unless it identifies suitable terms for re-engagement."
Under article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a Party may withdraw at any time after three years from the date on which the Agreement has entered into force for that Party, and such withdrawal takes effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal. The United States accepted the Paris Agreement on 3 September 2016 and the Agreement entered into force for the United States on 4 November 2016.
A UN spokesman said the Secretary General "welcomes any effort to reengage in the Paris Agreement by the United States. He recalled that the Secretary-General had said on 1 June 2017 that the decision by the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is "a major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security," and that "it is crucial" for it to remain a leader on climate and sustainable development. The Secretary-General looked forward to "engaging with the American government and all other actors in the United States and around the world to build the sustainable future for our children and future generations."
6 May 2017: ECOSOC's Forum on Forests concluded a week-long session in New York on 5 May by adopting an omnibus text sustainable woodlands management. Some delegates lauded the "good balance" of the text while others tried to amend it at the last minute, leading to a suspension of the meeting to steer a way to the end.
Upon resumption, the European Union’s representative said the two paragraphs on the Global Environment Facility, and the role of the 2030 Agenda, respectively, remained problematic, pointing out that no common language had yet been identified. It was difficult to make out the nature of the problem from what was said; it seemed to center on how prescriptive the Forum could be and whether the Forest Strategy had the same authority as the Climate Change Agreement and Agenda 2030. Whatever it was, past experience teaches us that it is unlikely to matter in the long run.
The resolution adopted outlined how countries should report on sustainable woodlands management, the financing of those efforts, and expanded engagement with partners.
The session was notable because it came in the wake of the General Assembly’s adoption of the UN Strategic Plan on Forests 2017-2030 in January. The adopted resolution was described as "a stronger, better platform” for discussion of the world’s forests.
The resolution will guide the Forum Secretariat, a 14-agency Collaborative Partnership on Forests, Governments, financing bodies and other stakeholders. It seeks to improve forest management in four key areas: monitoring, assessment and reporting; means of implementation; enhanced cooperation, coordination and engagement on forest-related issues; and contribution to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Annexed to the text were guidelines for initiatives led by Governments, organizations, regions and major groups.
At its next session the Forum will consider the format and cycle of national reporting. That will take into account forest indicators and the need to reduce reporting burdens.
ECOSOC would invite the Global Environmental Facility to make further funds available for sustainable forest management during its 2018-2022 replenishment cycle. It would also decide that the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network should carry out its priorities in a balanced, effective and transparent manner, as set out in the Strategic Plan.
Also, the Forum Secretariat will prepare a report proposing actions to accelerate progress on the relevant SDG and decide on the substantive input to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018.
A secretariat note on the Forum Trust Fund (E/CN.18/2017/6), noted that eight donor countries — China, Finland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Switzerland and the United States — had contributed $2.1 million during 2015-2016. Forum staffing costs were expected to be reduced from more than $1 million in 2015-2016 to $400,000 in the next reporting period. On other matters, the Forum decided that starting at its 14th session officers would be elected for a two-year term with a view to ensuring continuity between policy and technical sessions. The 13th session will be at UNHQ from 7 to 11 May 2018.
25 April 2017: The conference on sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources (NY, June 5 to 9) will have seven “partnership dialogues. All to be held in the basement Conference Room 4 at UNHQ, the dialogues will deal with:
Open to all participants in the Conference, the dialogues will begin with a panel discussion, followed by an interactive dialogue in which each speaker will be limited to 3 minutes. The order of speakers will be on a first-come, first-served basis, but with attention to equitable geographical distribution and the level of representation. It is envisaged that up to 25 States and 15 other participants will be able to speak in the interactive debates.
All participants have been asked to inform the Secretariat by 19 May about two partnership dialogues they want to address, along with the order of preference, name, title and level of participation.
6 December 2016: With 76 countries cosponsoring the resolution, the General Assembly is set to declare World Tuna Day to be observed annually on 2 May. The resolution notes that at present more than 80 States have tuna fisheries, thousands of tuna fishing vessels operate in all the oceans and tuna fishery capacity is growing in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It says further that “many countries depend heavily on tuna resources for food security and nutrition, economic development, employment, government revenue, livelihoods, culture and recreation.”
The observance is to focus on the importance of managing tuna stocks sustainably. Governments, UN System entities, other international organizations and civil society are asked to use the Day to raise awareness of the value of tuna, the threats facing tuna populations and the economic and social benefits of sustainably managed tuna stocks.
5 Decmber 2016: Although 38 stock exchanges have informed UNCTAD that by the end of 2016 they will begin reporting regularly on the environmental, social, and governance sustainability of their markets, just two have actually done so. However, many of them have posted draft guidelines on their web sites for comment and discussion.
The action is the result of a 2009 UN initiative to get stock exchanges and their listed members to focus on sustainability issues. So far, over 60 stock exchanges and some 30,000 companies with a market capitalization of over $55 trillion have expressed interest.
The minimal action so far has not discouraged UNCTAD officials who think sustainability reporting is "inevitable" and expect growing momentum.
26 October 2016: It will be a miracle if anyone but a 3rd Secretary or librarian reads the 2016 report of the Assembly of the UN Environment Program. It is written to a 7 decade pattern that obscures substance and emphasizes procedure. Just issued as a document of General Assembly, the report leads with the following information:
"The second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was held at the headquarters of UNEP in Nairobi from 23 to 27 May 2016. The session was opened at 10.20 a.m. on Monday, 23 May 2016, by Ms. Oyun Sanjaasuren, President of the Environment Assembly. In line with rule 62 of the rules of procedure of the United Nations General Assembly, she invited the Environment Assembly to observe one minute of silence for reflection. Thereafter she introduced a film presentation entitled “Welcome to UNEA”, in which Mr. Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP, gave an overview of the environmental threats facing the planet, inviting viewers to act to address those threats." The hyperlinked footnote on Mr. Steiner's statement leads to another document, which tells us:
"In his opening remarks, Mr. Steiner welcomed participants to the second session of the Environment Assembly, at a time when prodigious breakthroughs had recently been achieved. The focus of discussions at the session would be on delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the inextricable link between environment and human health. At the Science-Policy Forum, held on 19 and 20 May 2016, preceding the session, some 300 of the world’s leading scientists had discussed the most pressing environmental challenges and the manner in which policies could respond to those challenges, while around 250 participants had engaged in constructive dialogue during the sixteenth session of the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum held on 21 and 22 May 2016. Notable side events taking place during the Environment Assembly would include the Sustainable Innovation Expo, which aimed to bring together the spheres of technology and science, and the business dialogue for environmental sustainability convening under the Expo, during which policymakers, scientists, technology entrepreneurs and leaders from civil society would meet with a view to forging new alliances and taking advantage of new ideas and opportunities."
The main report devotes all of Chapter 2 to such gripping matters as the countries that attended the UNEP Assembly and the names of UN organizations present. Such information is important for the historical record, but could easily be moved to the back of the book or the Web. In fact, all of the procedural stuff could be shifted to a cloud-based archive; reports to General Assembly should hone in on data and analysis to support deliberation on policy.
10 September 2016: The venue of the Conference on the sustainable use of ocean resources planned for Fiji (5-9 June 2017) has been shifted to UNHQ in New York because of the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston in February 2016.
The conference was convened by the General Assembly (resolution 70/226 of 22 December 2015), with Fiji and Sweden as co-chairs. The commitment of the two nations to pay for the conference and its preparatory process remains unchanged.
Under the overarching theme “Our oceans, our future,” the Conference will: (a) Identify ways and means to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 of Agenda 2030; (b) Build on existing successful partnerships and stimulate innovative and concrete new partnerships to advance the implementation of Goal 14; (c) Involve all relevant stakeholders (d) Share experiences; (e) Contribute to Agenda 2030 follow-up processes.
In addition to plenary meetings and seven partnership dialogues the conference will also hold a special event commemorating World Oceans Day, on the morning of 8 June 2017. The interactive partnership dialogues, will focus on recommendations to strengthen cooperation, expand partnerships and stimulate innovative and concrete new ones. They will be presided over by co-chairs from a developing and a developed country.
The intergovernmental preparatory process of the conference will also be facilitated by a similar developing/developed country twinning. It will conclude in a “Call for Action” by May 2017 (the draft of which is expected to be ready by March 2017).
The Secretary-General has been asked to prepare a background note by the end of January 2017, including a proposal for the themes of the partnership dialogues. The Secretary-General of the Conference (to be appointed), will prepare concept papers on each of the themes of the partnership dialogues on the basis of inputs from stakeholders.
The stakeholders will include organizations and bodies of the United Nations, intergovernmental organizations, international financial institutions and non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions, the scientific community, the private sector and relevant philanthropic organizations.
27 August 2016: The Preparatory Committee established by General Assembly at its 69th session (2014-2015) to develop an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction is holding its 17th meeting at the UN on Monday, 29 August. The legal regime it is articulating will fit under the much broader Convention on the Law of the Sea. To see the diversity of interests involved in the effort, look at the lunch time schedule of side-events.
August 2016: The latest status report on the world's forests from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presents a mixed picture of trends in land-use. There is substantial loss of forests through conversion to agriculture but also significant gains in forest area on land previously used for agriculture.
Historical Review: Reviewing the historical relationship between population growth, increased demand for agricultural land, and forest loss, the report notes that patterns of land use have changed over thousands of years, with forests sometimes being re-established naturally as deforestation pressures have eased. Deforestation was most prevalent in the temperate climatic zones until the late nineteenth century and is now greatest in the tropical climatic domain. Net forest area has increased in the temperate domain in recent years, and there has been relatively little recent change in forest area in the boreal and subtropical climatic domains.
There was a net forest loss of 7 million hectares per year in tropical countries in 2000–2010 and a net gain in agricultural land of 6 million hectares per year. The greatest net loss of forests and net gain in agricultural land over the period was in the low income group of countries, where rural populations are growing.
Large-scale commercial agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of deforestation in the tropics and subtropics, local subsistence agriculture for 33 percent, infrastructure for 10 percent, urban expansion for 10 percent and mining for 7 percent.
There are significant regional variations. For example, commercial agriculture accounts for almost 70 percent of the deforestation in Latin America but for only one-third in Africa, where small-scale agriculture is a more significant driver of deforestation. Underlying factors affecting forest conversion include population growth and changing food consumption patterns. Agricultural developments, such as changing markets, technological improvements and active policy interventions are also factors, as are land-tenure security and quality of governance.
Forest losses in 2010–2015 (most of which was natural forest) were offset partially by a combination of natural expansion, often on abandoned agricultural land (2.2 million hectares per year), and the establishment of planted forests (3.1 million hectares per year).
June 2016: From now on, 29 June will be observed as the International Day for the Tropics. In making that decision just days before the date, the General Assembly noted that the tropics account for 40 per cent of the world’s total surface area and are host to approximately 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, linguistic diversity and cultural diversity.
The day will be used to call attention to the "specific challenges faced by tropical areas, the far-reaching implications of the issues affecting the world’s tropical zone and the need, at all levels, to raise awareness and to underline the important role that countries in the tropics will play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals"
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The United Nations Forum on Forests (New York, 1-5 May 2017) will consider the implementation of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017-2030. In particular, it will consider three sub-items: (a) Thematic and operational priorities, and resource needs; (b) Voluntary national contributions; and (c) UN system-wide support. The United Nations Forum on Forests is a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council; it contributes to and supports follow-up and review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, in particular through thematic reviews of progress made on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The contributions of the Forum are to be considered in the context of the implementation of the strategic plan.
A Secretariat Note issued to help delegates at the Forum points out the importance of forests in the global environment and economy:
The Note is available for download above.
6 October 2016: New interactive maps from the World Health Organization highlighting areas with unsafe air quality show that 92% of the world’s population is breathing in quite a bit of particulate matter. The maps show the most detailed country health data related to outdoor air pollution ever reported by WHO.
The new figures are based on data from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban.
Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution and about an equal number to indoor air pollution, accounting for over 11% of global mortality.
Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Of that, 94% are due to non-communicable diseases – notably heart/lung diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.
Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. Dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts, are also a major contributory factor.
To alert people to the dangers of pollution WHO and UNEP are coordinating on a new BreatheLife campaign highlighting measures that cities can take (such as adopt better housing standards and improve transport, waste, and energy systems) and individual/group initiatives on such matters as burning waste, promoting green spaces and walking/cycling rather than fuel burning transportation.
3 October 2016: The $258 billion illegal trade in wildlife trade is the focus of the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP 17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). With a membership that will reach 184 on 20 October (with the entry of Tonga), CITES combats illicit international trade in over 35,000 species of endangered plants and animals, including their products and derivatives. It operates a permit system aiming to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.
CoP17 (Johannesburg, 24 September to 4 October), will decide on trade controls affecting nearly 500 species, including many trafficked by international criminal syndicates. In his inaugural address, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon noted the increasing interest of governments in protecting their wildlife resources. In addition to the $131 million in funding from the Global Enviroment Facility, he pointed to the following indications of strengthening support:
CoP17 saw the first ever Global Partnerships Coordination Forum convened by the ICCW, a collaboration between the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO).
More than 80 delegates attended the high-level Forum, moderated by Valerie Hickey of the World Bank who described the work of enforcement agencies as “difficult and dangerous.” Leigh Winchell of the WCO said that combating illicit trafficking of wildlife was not a simple enforcement issue. It was also an educational and social process engaging the supply chain community. Mr Jorge Rios of UNODC told delegates there was a clear nexus between wildlife crime, organized crime and corruption. He urged close cooperation in recovering the proceeds of illicit trafficking in wildlife and reducing corruption in enforcement institutions.
11 September 2016: Sand and dust storms (SDS) throw an estimated 2,000 million tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere annually. Much of that is part of natural earth cycles but human activities, especially unsustainable land and water management, now contribute a significant amount. As the world faces changes in climate that will alter aridity patterns globally, it is important to benchmark the current situation and know what is changing, and where. That has been done in a new study under the aegis of UNEP, WMO and UNCCD.
The 123-page report on the study says there are large uncertainties about precise data. About 75 per cent of current global dust emissions come from natural sources, most of them dry ancient lake beds with little vegetation cover. Human activities contributing to dust storms include desiccation of artificial water bodies, removal of vegetation cover from land, loss of biodiversity, and disturbance of the sediment or soil surface by farming or vehicular traffic.
Simulations suggest that global annual dust emissions have increased by 25% to 50% over the last century due to a combination of land use and climate changes. SDS frequency and severity have increased in recent decades in some areas but decreased in other areas. There appear to have been no major changes in dust activity over the past three decades over North Africa, the Middle East and South America, whereas there have been substantial changes in the US high plains, central Asia and Australia.
The authors of the study say it is difficult to predict the impact of climate change and increased anthropogenic dust emissions. “Simulations suggest a high sensitivity of dust emissions to human intervention, which has large implications for climate and biogeochemistry in the future, and precautionary principles should be applied.” The report provides detailed description of dust sources, trends and trajectories for different regions:
Climate change projections suggest that regions that are currently dusty areas and which are likely to become drier include most of the Mediterranean areas of Europe and Africa, northern Sahara, central and west Asia, southwest USA, and southern Australia. Precipitation has increased in mid-latitude land areas in the Northern Hemisphere since 1950, which might help to reverse desertification in the mid-latitude belt. Dusty regions that are likely to become wetter include eastern Africa and east Asia, whereas large model uncertainties preclude projections for the Sahel-Sudan, the Gangetic basin and the Lake Eyre region.
The report is interesting overall; readers with an interest in new words and concepts will find the Glossary especially so. It begins with:
June 2016: The Global Framework for Climate Services is the United Nations system’s flagship initiative on climate change. It provides a major platform with intergovernmental status, bringing together the competences of the entire system in delivering jointly through a coordinated approach. Resulting from the 2009 World Climate Conference in Geneva, it is spearheaded by the World Meteorological Organization and aims to support decision-making guided by the development and application of science-based climate information and services. In 2012 an extraordinary session of the World Meteorological Congress established the implementation plan and governance of the Global Framework, establishing an Intergovernmental Board on Climate Services.
A total of 25 UN organizations are involved in climate change related activities: FAO, ICAO, IMO, ITC, United Nations, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHabitat, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNISDR, UNODC, UNOPS, UN Women, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, WIPO, WMO, UPU, IAEA and the Regional Commissions (ECA, ECE, ECLAC, ESCAP and ESCWA).
The Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), a General Assembly watchdog body, reported last year (JIU/REP/2015/5) that UN organizations have significantly increased expenditures related to climate change mitigation and adaptation from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013. The total spent increased from $612.3 million in the 2008-2009 biennium to $1,196.7 million in the 2012-2013 biennium. The total expenditure on mitigation grew from $321.5 million to $603.9 million. The total expenditure on adaptation increased from $290.8 million to $592.8 million, almost doubling during the period.
The aggregated total expenditure on mitigation grew from $321 million to $606 million. The aggregated total expenditure on adaptation increased from $290.8 million to $596 million, almost doubling during the period. The participating organizations rapidly increased their expenditures on mitigation from $236 million to $538 million and those on adaptation from $150 million to $398 million, almost tripling during the period. The participating organizations spent some $200 million per biennium in cross-cutting activities dealing with science and outreach, mainly attributable to the significant role played by UNESCO and WMO in this area.
A group of multilateral development banks has been publishing an annual joint report based on a joint methodology for tracking climate change mitigation and adaptation finance. The group includes the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank. The Inter-American Development Bank leads efforts on mitigation and the African Development Bank does so on adaptation efforts.
The group agreed to collect data on the resources devoted to climate change categorizing the adaptation sectors under a number of heads ranging from agricultural and ecological resources to waste and waste-water treatment. It also adopted an elaborate taxonomy of mitigation sectors.
In scientific and technological cooperation, Copenhagen is an important hub for environment-related, and more specifically, climate-related assessment and research activities. Under a partnership agreement with UNEP, the University of Denmark, the Climate Technology Center and Network provide significant support in implementing activities. The Center was originally set up to deal with scientific research on energy and environment, and has evolved towards addressing climate change as well. The Partnership comprises some 60 staff members and is active in four areas: sustainable development, energy, climate change and carbon issues. It develops technology needs assessments for projects funded by the Global Environment Facility in some 36 countries, identifying and determining national mitigation and adaptation technology priorities. It also helps in capacity-building for carbon reduction projects in more than 60 developing countries.
The Montreal Protocol, through its Multilateral Fund, provides eligible countries with funds for the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances controlled by the protocol. All those substances are also greenhouse gases with global warming potential values ranging from 5, for methyl bromide, to over 14,000, for CFC-13 and for HFC-23, a by-product of the production of HCFC-22, as shown below.
Substances Under Montreal Protocol Global warming potential value
CFC-11 4 750
CFC-12 10 900
CFC-13 14 400
CFC-113 6 130
CFC-114 10 000
CFC-115 7 370
Halon-1301 7 140
Halon-1211 1 890
Halon-2402 1 640
Carbon tetrachloride 1 400
Methyl bromide 5
HCFC-22 1 810
HCFC-142b 2 310
HFC-23* (by-product of producing HCFC-22) 14 800
(*) Not controlled by the Montreal Protocol.