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Putin tests West

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Wednesday, June 10:

1As Vladimir Putin makes a rare trip to Western Europe, meeting Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Milan on Wednesday, what does he hope to achieve? “In truth, it’s been apparent since the spring that European leaders were likely to renew sanctions, but this hasn’t prevented Mr Putin from seeking out chinks in Europe’s armour, whether by wooing cash-strapped Greece or developing ties with Europe’s far-right parties, like France’s National Front.UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned of this last week.”Of course we are concerned about what is clearly a Kremlin strategy of trying to pick off, shall we say, the brethren who may be less committed or more vulnerable in the run-up to the June decision,” he told an audience at the London think-tank Chatham House. [BBC]

2Kazakhstan is interested in investment in Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port in order to facilitate transit of its goods to world markets via the Persian Gulf. Head of the country’s national railway company, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, was visiting the port and the nearby Bandar Abbas on Wednesday for discussions with local officials.“The Kazakh side is interested in investing in Bandar Shahid Rajaee for construction of silos in order to store its wheat crop in the port and facilitate shipments,” head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR) Abbas Nazari said. Kazakhstan currently uses Iran’s transit railway linking the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf to ferry about 11 million metric tons of wheat per year. As Central Asia’s largest grain producer, Kazakhstan is looking for shipment routes by sea which is very cheaper for its growing flow of goods.

3Games and Politics: Hearings on the issue of human rights in Azerbaijan are also expected to be held in the United States, and in Baku they already described it as an international campaign against Azerbaijan. What is the reason for such a distinct change in the international community’s attitude towards the Aliyev regime? It is noteworthy that out of the “European leaders” only the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be attending the Games opening in Baku. Some analysts believe it is Putin’s visit that “scared” European leaders, who would rather avoid meeting him. Besides, many international experts consider the Putin-Erdogan-Aliyev triumvirate to be provocative for the West and dangerous in terms of changes in the situation in the western Eurasian region. [ArmeniaNow]

4Why the G-7 Warning of More Sanctions Won’t Worry Russia. “Aside from the structural problem, it is also not clear how far the sanctions can be expanded: Would they be prolonged, or would they target more individuals, or both? In March 2015, the U.S. State Department declared that U.S. sanctions will remain in place until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. That makes U.S. sanctions de facto indefinite. Continental Europe is divided on the issue. As Angela Merkel has said, sanctions should be relied on as only one of the methods of resolving the conflict. The U.K., while adopting a harsh political stance, is open for business with Russia by accepting money that originates from Russia through its tax havens” writes Anastasia Nesvetailova for the Epoch Times.

5Iran, Russia step up trans-Caspian trade. Iran has prepared three ports in the Caspian Sea and added six ships to its fleet for cargo trade with Russia as the two countries are forging stepped-up commercial relationship to counter Western sanctions on both countries. The new shipping route is unprecedented in the chequered history of the two countries’ relations and follows a trade agreement signed in March. It allows Russia to sell Iran’s crude oil abroad and deposit the money in a fund which Tehran would use to buy goods from Moscow. A separate deal allows Iran to import increased quantities of Russian grain in exchange for Iranian foodstuff, including fish from the Caspian Sea, the Sputnik news agency reported.”The most important thing is that by exporting oil, we can gain access to the financial resources we need to buy goods from Russia,” Iran’s consul to the Russian city of Astrakhan Ali Mohammadi said.

6The Government of Kazakhstan signed a $88 million loan agreement today with the World Bank to foster productive innovation in Kazakhstan. The five-year project will be implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan to promote high-quality and nationally relevant research and commercialization of technologies. The loan agreement was signed by Bakhyt Sultanov, Minister of Finance, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Ludmilla Butenko, Country Manager for Kazakhstan, on behalf of the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The project is the first in a series under the Partnership Framework Arrangement signed in May 2014 between the World Bank and the Government of Kazakhstan, according to the World Bank.

7Business first and foremost. Italy has long had an important economic relationship with Russia and political ties were sufficiently close before the Ukraine crisis. Italy is Russia’s third-biggest trading partner after China and Germany with deals between the two countries worth just over 30 billion euros last year. Renzi has said he will not be lecturing the Russian leader, while stressing that Italy stands fully behind international demands that Moscow ensure the respect of a second ceasefire between Kiev and the rebels that was agreed in Minsk in February.

8Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan is ready to provide guarantees for Iranian investors, Vasif Talibov, chairman of the Supreme Majlis of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic said. He made the remarks during the meeting with the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province Esmail Jabbarzadeh in Iran. During the meeting with the province’s governor, Talibov said that Azerbaijani businessmen are interested in making investments in Iran, including in Aras free economic and industrial zone. There are many spheres for expanding the economic and trade relations between the two countries, he said. Talibov said the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are at a satisfactory level and the cooperation between the two countries will develop in the future as well.

9Peeling back Iran sanctions onion no easy task. The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement, officials and others involved in the process tell The Associated Press. The problem derives from what was once a strong point of the broad US sanctions effort that many credit with bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Under the sanctions developed over decades, hundreds of companies and individuals have been penalized not only for their role in the country’s nuclear programme but also for ballistic missile research, terrorism, human rights violations and money laundering. Now the administration is wending its way through that briar patch of interwoven economic sanctions. [GulfNews]

10The Caucasian Cold War.“The main security concern for Azerbaijan comes from Armenia. Conflicts in the 1990s and recent border clashes still are fresh wounds in Azerbaijan. Having a defense relationship with a regional power like Turkey will act as a deterrent for Azerbaijan. This deterrent is particularly in regards to Armenia’s relationship with Russia that involves large amounts of Russian troops being stationed in Armenia. Therefore similarly to the Georgian case, Azerbaijan and Turkey both want to keep the Russians out to ensure security and influence in the Caucasus respectively” writes Taylor Morse for the Modern Diplomacy.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

Energy News

Covid crisis deepens energy efficiency slowdown, intensifying need for urgent action

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The already sluggish pace of global progress on energy efficiency is set to slow further this year as a result of the economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, deepening the challenge of reaching international energy and climate goals and making stronger government action critical, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

Global primary energy intensity – a key indicator of how efficiently the world’s economic activity uses energy – is expected to improve by less than 1% this year, the weakest rate since 2010, according to Energy Efficiency 2020, the latest edition the IEA’s annual update on efficiency trends. This is well below the level of progress needed to achieve the world’s shared goals for addressing climate change, reducing air pollution and increasing access to energy.

The disappointing trends are being exacerbated by a plunge in investments in energy-efficient buildings, equipment and vehicles amid the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, the report finds. Purchases of new cars, which are more efficient than older models, have slowed, while construction of new, more efficient homes and other buildings is also expected to decelerate. In industry and commercial buildings, lower energy prices have extended payback periods for key efficiency measures by as much as 40%, reducing their attractiveness compared with other investments. Overall, investment in energy efficiency worldwide is on course to fall by 9% in 2020.

“Together with renewables, energy efficiency is one of the mainstays of global efforts to reach energy and climate goals. While our recent analysis shows encouraging momentum for renewables, I’m very concerned that improvements in global energy efficiency are now at their slowest rate in a decade,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the IEA. “For governments that are serious about boosting energy efficiency, the litmus test will be the amount of resources they devote to it in their economic recovery packages, where efficiency measures can help drive economic growth and job creation.”

Improvements in energy efficiency can contribute around half of the reduction in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions that is required over the next two decades to put the world on a path to meeting international energy and climate goals, according to IEA analysis. But short-term trends resulting from the Covid-19 crisis are slowing improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy, meaning that every unit of economic output uses more energy than it would do otherwise. This is mainly because energy-intensive industries, such as metals manufacturing and chemicals, appear to have been less severely affected by the crisis than other, less intensive parts of the economy.

The stimulus packages governments are introducing as part of their economic recovery plans will heavily influence future efficiency trends. They have the potential to drive investments and structural changes that can reduce energy intensity across all sectors of the economy. More than 60% of the funding for energy efficiency-related measures in stimulus packages announced by governments to date has focused on either the buildings sector or on accelerating the shift to electric vehicles, including new vehicle charging infrastructure.

Many opportunities remain untapped, however, with IEA tracking revealing a spending imbalance across sectors. No announcements have been made to increase the penetration of super-efficient appliances, while spending on vehicle efficiency beyond electric vehicles is minimal to date. The planned spending is also imbalanced on a regional basis, with announcements from European countries dwarfing those from other parts of the world. Announced spending in Europe accounts for 86% of global public stimulus announcements for efficiency, with the remaining 14% split between the Asia-Pacific region and North America.

“We welcome plans by governments to boost spending on energy efficiency in response to the economic crisis, but what we have seen so far is uneven and far from enough,” said Dr Birol. “Energy efficiency should be at the top of to-do lists for governments pursuing a sustainable recovery – it is a jobs machine, it gets economic activity going, it saves consumers money, it modernises vital infrastructure and it reduces emissions. There’s no excuse not to put far more resources behind it.”

Spending on efficiency-related stimulus measures announced by governments worldwide to date is set to generate almost 2 million full-time jobs between 2021 and 2023, according to IEA analysis, mostly in the buildings sector and mainly in Europe. However, the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan suggests further recovery efforts related to energy efficiency could create another 4 million jobs globally through enhanced public and private sector investment in buildings, transport and industry.

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Environment

In Latin America, farmers use microfinance to fight climate change

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María Fernanda Masís and her family are the owners of the hot sauces brand Xoloitzcuintle, named after their farm. Photo: UNEP

Sonia Gómez has spent her entire life around agriculture. She grew up on her parents’ plantation in the fertile mountains of Costa Rica before opening her own organic farm several years ago. But that experience did little to prepare her for what has become a dire threat to her business: climate change.

Increasingly severe cycles of drought and flooding – which are being driven by global warming – have wreaked havoc on her crops of chilis, tomatoes and carrots.

“We don’t know when it will rain or when it will be sunny,” says Gómez, whose farm is in the foothills of Costa Rica’s tallest volcano, Irazú. “It is difficult for us, as farmers, to work like this.”

Globally, more than 1.5 billion people live or work on small farms, like Gomez’s. They often cannot afford the advanced technology that could help them contend with the fallout from climate change.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Gomez are hoping to change that. In late November, Gomez’s farm became an official test bed for low-cost, environmentally friendly technology designed to help farmers adapt to a changing climate. It now features everything from a seed bank to a high-tech irrigation system.

The effort is part of the Microfinance for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (MEbA) project, spearheaded by UNEP and implemented in Costa Rica along with Fundecooperación, a non-profit group and microfinance bank. Along with supporting the creation of 11 test farms, the initiative has worked with micro-lenders across Latin America to provide 17,000 loans to small-hold farmers looking to invest in eco-friendly solutions.

Seeds of change

“Helping small-scale farmers to adapt to climate change is crucial to fighting poverty, ensuring food security and preserving the biodiversity that provides us with vital resources,” says Leo Heileman, UNEP Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean. “This move towards more sustainable and resilient agriculture requires the full support of financial institutions.”

While it produces relatively little carbon dioxide itself, Latin America and the Caribbean is vulnerable to extreme weather induced by a changing climate. This is especially true in the so-called Dry Corridor of Central America, which includes El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. More than 2 million people there depend on subsistence farming and by the end of the century, temperatures could rise up to 7 °C, according to some projections. That, say experts, would drastically alter weather patterns.

Since 2012, MEbA has provided technical assistance to financial institutions, helping them disburse more than US$ 29 million in loans to small-scale farmers in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and the Dominican Republic.

The project has helped farmers finance more than 30 strategies for adapting to climate change, from beekeeping to agroforestry. In late November, Fundecooperación also launched two new loan types that promote climate-smart agriculture and livestock farming.

Capital improvements

That financing has allowed farmers to re-invest in their land. Gomez’s farm, which she calls La Sanita, Spanish for “healthy”, features several innovations designed to safeguard against extreme weather. Those include a rainwater collection system built atop a greenhouse Gomez previously erected through a microloan from Fundecooperación. It funnels water directly to the roots of her plants through drip irrigation, reducing water loss through evaporation.

The farm, located in the province of Cartago, also has an organic fertilizer laboratory to improve soil productivity and a bank to preserve organic-grade seeds. As well, Gomez planted fruit trees and perennial herbs in the steepest areas of her farm to reduce soil erosion.

After months of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm was formally inaugurated on 25 November during an online event. It wasn’t the only ‘demonstration plot’ – another one, the Xoloitzcuintle farm, which grows vegetables for the country’s famed hot sauces, joined La Sanita in proving the MEbA project’s success in Cartago province.

The Xoloitzcuintle farm, led by María Fernanda Masís, is recovering the quality of its soil to cope with extreme weather events. Years of mechanical tillage and agrochemicals resulted in compacted soil, with little organic matter, that erodes easily when heavy rains arrive.

With support from the project, the farm is finding solutions for water management. Some are straightforward, like digging trenches to infiltrate water output, others more complex, like drip irrigation systems. Masís has also turned to organic fertilizers and put in place a silvo-agricultural system that taps into the farm’s timber and fruit trees.

“Teaching by example is our best option,” said Marianella Feoli, Executive Director of Fundecooperación. “Demonstration farms [like La Sanita and Xoloitzcuintle] facilitate exchanges between producers and help them learn from each other’s experiences and invest in similar solutions through specialized credit products.”

UN Environment

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Human Rights

COVID-19 worsening gender-based violence, trafficking risk, for women and girls

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With the COVID-19 pandemic heightening the dangers of gender-based violence and human trafficking, action on these two fronts is needed now more than ever, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Monday. 

UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly was speaking during a virtual event to strengthen global commitment at a time when women and girls are locked down and locked in, rendering them further exposed to violence and harassment, or at greater risk of being trafficked. 

“In every part of the world, we are seeing that COVID has worsened the plight of at-risk women and girls, while also hindering criminal justice responses and reducing support to victims,” she said

A ‘shadow pandemic’ surfaces 

Women and girls were already being exposed to different forms of violence before the pandemic.  

Most female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners or other family members, according to UNODC, while women and girls make up more than 60 per cent of all victims of human trafficking.  

However, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and other measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to what the UN has called a “shadow pandemic” of rising gender-based violence. 

Women’s economic inequality also increases their vulnerability to trafficking and sexual violence, according to UN Women, which supports countries in their efforts to achieve gender equality. 

‘Business is booming’  

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Women Executive Director, reported that most female survivors, or nearly 80 per cent, are trafficked for sexual exploitation. 

“There are socioeconomic consequences when these crimes happen, but in times of pandemic, the socioeconomic impact is even deeper,” she said.  

“Forty-seven million more women and girls will be pushed to extreme poverty because of COVID-19, but business is booming for traffickers.” 

Meanwhile, as already scant resources allocated for prevention, rescue and rehabilitation wear thin, women’s health is being put on the line, said Nobel laureate Nadia Murad, UNODC Goodwill Ambassador and a survivor of ISIL terrors in Iraq. 

“It is now difficult for many women to access psychological support, healthcare and safe shelter. They live in a constant state of vulnerability. For communities affected by conflict and displacement, these effects are often compounded,” she told the gathering. 

Answering the call 

In April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for a worldwide domestic violence “ceasefire”, urging governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the crisis. 

So far, nearly 150 countries have answered the Secretary-General’s call, pledging to make prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of their pandemic response. 

UNODC, alongside UN Women and other partners, are also backing the appeal. 

They are working together to promote action in four key areas: funding essential services, prevention, improving police and justice action, and collecting data. 

Recommendations for recovery 

Ms. Wady, the UNODC chief, emphasized the need to recover better after the pandemic. “Girls need to be able to go back to school and have equal opportunities. Women need decent jobs and social protection,” she said. 

Her colleague, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka at UN Women, pointed to the Secretary-General’s report on trafficking, which outlines additional recommendations. 

They include providing women with universal access to social protection as well as income protection, and designating programmes for trafficking survivors as essential services. 

The report further calls for long-term investment, including to address “toxic masculinity”, and to engage men and boys in programmes aimed at shifting norms and attitudes surrounding violence against women. 

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