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World commits to pollution-free planet at environment summit

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The world today committed to a pollution-free planet at the close of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, with resolutions and pledges promising to improve the lives of billions across the globe by cleaning up our air, land and water.

If every promise made in and around the summit is met, 1.49 billion more people will breathe clean air, 480,000 km (or around 30 per cent) of the world’s coastlines will be clean, and USD 18.6 billion for research and development and innovative programmes to combat pollution will come online.

“The science we have seen at this assembly shows we have been so bad at looking after our planet that we have very little room to make more mistakes,” said Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica and the President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly. “With the promises made here, we are sending a powerful message that we will listen to the science, change the way we consume and produce, and tackle pollution in all its forms across the globe.”

Over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials, civil society representatives, activists and celebrities gathered at the summit in Nairobi, which ran for three days.

For the first time at a UN Environment Assembly, environment ministers issued a declaration. This declaration said nations would honour efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans – which harms our health, societies, ecosystems, economies, and security.

The declaration committed to increasing research and development, targeting pollution through tailored actions, moving societies towards sustainable lifestyles based on a circular economy, promoting fiscal incentives to move markets and promote positive change, strengthening and enforcing laws on pollution, and much more.

The assembly also passed 13 non-binding resolutions and three decisions. Among them were moves to address marine litter and microplastics, prevent and reduce air pollution, cut out lead poisoning from paint and batteries, protect water-based ecosystems from pollution, deal with soil pollution, and manage pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism.

“Today we have put the fight against pollution high on the global political agenda,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “We have a long struggle ahead of us, but the summit showed there is a real appetite for significant positive change.

“It isn’t just about the UN and governments, though. The massive support we have seen from civil society, businesses and individuals – with millions of pledges to end pollution – show that this is a global challenge with a global desire to win this battle together.”

A large part of the impact from the assembly comes from global support. UN Environment’s #BeatPollution campaign hit almost 2.5 million pledges during the event, with 88,000 personal commitments to act.

Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka all joined the #CleanSeas campaign during the Nairobi summit, with Sri Lanka promising to implement a ban on single-use plastic products from 1 January 2018, step up the separation and recycling of waste, and set the goal of freeing its ocean and coasts of pollution by 2030. There are now 39 countries in the campaign.

Colombia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Hungary and Mongolia joined 100 cities who were already in the #BreatheLife campaign, which aims to tackle air pollution. Every signatory has committed to reduce air pollution to safe levels by 2030, with Singapore promising to tighten fuel and emissions standards for vehicles, and emissions standards for industry.

The global momentum comes not a moment too soon, as the UN Environment report, The Executive Director’s Report: Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, lays out.

Overall, environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6 million people a year, and the widespread destruction of key ecosystems. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental killer, claiming 6.5 million lives each year.

Exposure to lead in paint causes brain damage to 600,000 children annually. Our seas already contain 500 “dead zones” with too little oxygen to support marine life. Over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, poisoning the fields where we grow our food and the lakes and rivers that provide drinking water to 300 million people.

There is also a huge economic cost. A recent report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says that welfare losses due to pollution are estimated at over USD 4.6 trillion each year, equivalent to 6.2 per cent of global economic output.

“We had two missions at this assembly,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment’s deputy head. “One [agreeing on action] is accomplished. The second we must start tomorrow.”

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ADB Provides $360 Million for Rolling Stock to Boost Bangladesh Railway

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The Board of Directors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved loans totaling $360 million to buy modern rolling stock and support reform in Bangladesh Railway to help promote a shift from roads to rail.

“Railways in Bangladesh potentially offer a cheaper, safer, and more fuel-efficient means of transport of goods and passengers than roads, but have been held back by lack of investment and aging and unreliable rolling stock,” said Tsuneyuki Sakai, an ADB Senior Transport Specialist. “The ADB Railway Rolling Stock Operations Improvement Project will boost the operational performance of Bangladesh Railway by introducing new technology, equipment, and processes that will be cleaner and more efficient, cutting carbon dioxide emissions.”

Historically, railways enjoyed a monopoly as a carrier and transported most commodities. However, its market share has dropped because of inadequate investment in railway infrastructure and rolling stock over an extended period. This has resulted in unreliable freight operations and uncomfortable experiences for passengers. Most rolling stock is more than 30 years old, and much is past the end of its economic life. Maintenance facilities have also not improved over time and are not adequately equipped.

Under its Seventh Five-Year Plan for fiscal years 2016-2020, the government has placed special emphasis on railway development, setting targets to increase the market share to 15% in freight transport and 10% in passenger movements by 2020.

Bangladesh Railway has also been operating at a loss, its operating costs about double what it makes from revenue. Under the railway reform supported by ADB, the government has taken steps to boost revenue by raising the level of passenger and freight tariffs that have remained unchanged for decades. An increase in the operational capacity through new rolling stock is needed to generate more revenue.

Starting with a Railway Sector Improvement Program in 2006, ADB has provided four loans to the government for railway development totaling $2.81 billion. Three loans invested in network improvement in key sections of the railway, with two targeting enhanced South Asian subregional connectivity. The Railway Reform Project under the 2006 program introduced financial reforms and an enterprise resource planning information technology (IT) system. A loan approved in 2015 is also procuring rolling stock and maintenance equipment, for which work is ongoing to 2020.

This latest project seeks to address the investment and modernization needs of Bangladesh Railway. It will procure 40 broad gauge locomotives, 125 luggage vans, and 1,000 wagons for freight trains for use on major lines of the rail network. The rolling stock will introduce auxiliary power units (APU) to Bangladesh Railway, to significantly reduce diesel consumption when the locomotives are idling. The project will also draw up investment plans for urgently required maintenance facilities, establish training programs for the drivers, and run the enterprise-wide IT system.

The total cost of the project is $453.37 million, of which $93.37 will be met by the government. It is due for completion around the end of June 2022.

Accompanying the loans is a technical assistance grant of $500,000 to devise a training scheme for drivers in the use of the APU and recommend potential approaches to achieving overall energy efficiency. ADB will administer the grant, to be provided by the Asian Clean Energy Fund under the Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, established by the Government of Japan.

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Helping Armenia Thrive

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Despite being a landlocked country with few natural resources, Armenia has come a long way since independence in 1991, with all major socio-economic indicators drastically improved.

The Asian Development Bank now is supporting Armenia in its effort to expand its private sector, diversify its economy, cut red tape, and gain access to new markets, says Shane Rosenthal, Country Director for Armenia at the Asian Development Bank.

What is Armenia’s current state of the economy?

Since independence in 1991, Armenia has come a long way. Gross domestic product per capita has increased ten-fold in the country, in large part because of smart decisions about investment and because of good connections with its main trading partner, Russia.

We now have a country where the electricity is reliable, where most of the population has access to clean water, where business is beginning to thrive, not least because it is possible to register a business in a short amount of time. It’s possible to go to a bank and get a loan.

This economy needs to diversify into new products, into new markets. That may mean Europe, it may mean other Eurasian economic union members, and increasingly, it may mean looking eastward, toward Asia.

What role does ADB play in Armenia’s development?

ADB has focused on what it does best vis-a-vis other development partners in Armenia. And that, for us, means infrastructure.

Infrastructure in terms of connectivity, helping upgrade the national highway system so that cargo and people can reach neighboring countries more quickly, more reliably.

It means making the cities more livable with improved water supply.

How can the private sector support Armenia’s development?

Going forward it’s important to understand that Armenia’s growth can no longer depend on the public sector to play the leading role. The private sector needs to be the one that takes this country forward. And that means diversification. It means ease of doing business, and it means access to new markets.

ADB is going to focus increasingly on a balanced portfolio, between the public and private sectors. It’s clear that Armenia’s future will depend on the role that the private sector plays. And there, Armenia has many advantages: a strong financial system, a strong diaspora, with very good connections around the world, and a very strong educational base.

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Three steps to end discrimination of migrant workers and improve their health

Afsar Syed Mohammad

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Authors: Afsar Syed Mohammad and Margherita Licata

When migrant workers leave their home, many encounter abuse and violence on their journey and discrimination once they arrive. This can be because of their status as migrants but also because of their ethnicity, sex, religion, and HIV status.

They often struggle to find decent work, which means they can end up in poor living and working conditions, which in turn affects their health. Female migrants are more likely to be vulnerable to exploitation and violence, which exposes them to the risk of HIV and other health issues.

Research has shown that migrant workers – particularly those who are in an irregular situation – often fail to access health services because of poverty, language and cultural barriers, lack of health insurance, as well as fear of job loss and deportation. It means that by the time they see a doctor, their illness has become all too serious.

Against this background, a newly launched ILO publication looks at the interplay between migration policies and those relating to broader health goals in countries of origin, transit and destination. Its key recommendation is that HIV and health policies should be integrated into the entire labour migration process.

So what can be done to ensure that migrant workers have better access to decent work, health and HIV services? The report recommends a three-pronged approach.

1) End discriminatory practices

Migrants face obstacles in accessing decent work, health as well as social protection. Whenever migrants are denied their rights, they tend to live and work in the shadows.  They become vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and marginalization.

Discriminatory practices such as mandatory HIV testing of migrants for employment have proved to be ineffective. On the contrary, it is a violation of their rights. It disrupts access to health care and increases migrants’ vulnerability to HIV infection.

2) Set up an integrated response

It is essential to develop a response that does not just pile up ad-hoc policies one after another. Instead there needs to be an integrated and coordinated response that leads to decent work and health outcomes for migrants, including more effective HIV responses.

Right to entry does not mean the right to work for women in many countries. In such cases, women are left with no option but irregular migration which further exposes them to various forms of abuse, exploitation and risks such as HIV.

Gender-responsive migration policies would help address existing inequalities between men and women migrants, while at the same time improve their health.

3) Focus on migrant workers’ rights

There are no quick-fix solutions but discrimination and inequalities relating to HIV and health can be reduced if we focus on migrants’ rights and if we take a global approach. The report especially insists on the following priorities:

  • There is a need to target different groups of migrant workers for HIV prevention, care and treatment, depending on the specific risks that they face. For example, risks are different depending on whether they are low skilled or high skilled workers.
  • Effective responses to HIV for migrant workers should be integrated into fair recruitment initiatives, encouraging fair business practices to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and equal access to health services.
  • Health programmes and HIV prevention for migrants must be disassociated from immigration enforcement.
  • Inclusion, participation and freedom of association among migrant workers are essential pillars for effective actions on migration, health and HIV.
  • Migration and health policies and practices, in particular those relating to HIV and AIDS, should address inequalities between women and men. A gender analysis is needed from the start for all policies and practices relevant to migration and health.

*Margherita Licata, Technical Specialist Gender, Equality and Diversity and ILOAIDS Branch

Source: ILO

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