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Is this the moment of truth for an Iran deal?

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1“One of the most difficult disputes appears to deal with conventional, not nuclear weapons – the arms embargo enshrined in the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iranian sanctions adopted in 2006. Iran argues that ending the ban is central to its quest to end its pariah status in the region and restore its national pride.But the P5+1 is clearly divided. Western countries, mindful of significant regional tensions, have opposed lifting a ban which would allow Tehran to buy and sell arms. “We have always said this would one of the most sensitive issues,” said one senior Western diplomat last week.Russia and China are known to back Iran’s view that the embargo should now end. Russia’s foreign ministry even spelled it out in a tweet: “#Lavrov: The arms embargo on Iran must be one of the first sanctions to be lifted.” Writes Lyse Doucet for BBC.

2Russia, China benefit from Iran nuclear deal. US Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has criticized Russia and China over nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying those countries will benefit from a possible agreement with Tehran.“China and Russia have not been negotiating on our side of the table,” she told ABC News on Sunday.“It is in those two countries’ interests that Iran’s economy is open,” she said. “And so in many ways they have been negotiating on Iran’s side of the table.”The former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard software company also attacked American negotiators for caving in to President Barack Obama’s goals.“I would have walked away because if you can’t walk away from the negotiating table, the other side just keeps negotiating,” Fiorina said.“We have caved on every major goal that President Obama set,” she claimed.The Obama administration’s critics have voiced concern as Washington and its negotiating partners are in talks with the Islamic Republic in Vienna to finalize a nuclear deal.

3The U.S., a strategic partner and friend of Azerbaijan, will continue cooperating on the Southern Gas Corridor project and other projects to be implemented in the future. This remark was made by Amos Hochstein, a Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs at the U.S. Department of State on July 11. “Today, the delegation has met with President Ilham Aliyev,” he told reporters. “We have discussed the energy security and the role of Azerbaijan and the U.S. in partnership, Azerbaijani gas supply to Europe. This is part of the solution to the energy security problem of Europe.” Hochstein noted under the leadership of President Aliyev, Azerbaijan has played an important role in transforming an idea into reality.

4Kazakh President Nurusltan Nazarbayev underlined Iran’s important role in regional and international security, Irna reported.’The Islamic Republic of Iran has a high status in restoration of regional and international security,’ the Kazakh president said, addressing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Ufa, Russia, on Friday. The Kazakh president also highlighted Iran’s role in SCO’s economic and trade cooperation structure, and said, ‘I hope the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1 would end successfully and final agreement would be struck by the negotiating sides.’ President Nazarbayev pointed to the complicated and tense situation of the Middle East, and said, ‘The conditions of Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq is the cause of concern and there are still differences between the Palestinians and Israel.’

5Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Turkmenistan yesterday backed stronger energy ties with the gas-rich ex-Soviet state. Meeting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov for talks in Ashgabat, the premier backed an ambitious project to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to deliver its vast energy resources to India. The long-planned gas pipeline project, named TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), would be “a key pillar of economic engagement between the two countries” and have a “transformational impact,” the leaders said in a joint statement. The leaders “reaffirmed their strong commitment towards timely implementation of this strategic project for the common benefit of peoples of the four countries.” Berdymukhamedov said after the talks that the gas pipeline project “is already entering the final stage and soon we will start the practical implementation.We are standing on the threshold of a remarkable event,” the Turkmen leader said.

6Normalization of Georgian-Russian relations. Russian State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Georgian prime minister’s special representative for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze will discuss the issues of cooperation between the two counties in transport sphere, Sputnik reported. The announcement about the discussions was made by Karasin himself. The diplomat said the results of normalization of Georgian-Russian relations are obvious for everyone. “Bilateral trade between the two countries has increased by 1.5 times over two years and reached $850 million,” said Karasin. “Georgia’s export to Russia has increased more than fivefold as a result of lifting the restrictions on supply of wine and agricultural products.”Furthermore, he said that the two countries have resumed cooperation in the international road transport sphere.

7Real estate prices decrease in Azerbaijan. Real estate expert Rashad Aliyev believes there are several reasons leading to the price decrease in Azerbaijan’s real estate market.”First, oil prices have decreased, and this factor has affected the whole economy: government expenditures reduced, revenues from abroad decreased,” he said. “Low liquidity also played a role. Also, flow of capital in the real estate market has reduced. This was due to the fact that many banks have restricted the allocation of loans in manat, which led to a shortage of funds.” [AzerNews]

8South Africa nuclear energy deal with Moscow. South Africa has given its clearest indication yet of a possible nuclear energy deal with Moscow, with the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two countries that would see 200 locals going to Russia for training. The Department of Energy last week revealed that a deal with Russia was signed on the sidelines of the Brics summit in Russia, where Moscow would provide training for South African nuclear power plan personnel, engineers and construction workers in preparation for the launch of South Africa’s nuclear power plants. The deal that is expected to cost South Africa more than R1.2 trillion will see Russia build South African nuclear power plants to alleviate the electricity crisis in the country. South Africa put a six-month deadline to award the contracts.

9What Azerbaijan and Central Asia Have in Common. “While not nearly as remittance-dependent as Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, Azerbaijan nonetheless maintains warming relations with Russia, both due to general autocratic consolidation as well as Russia’s swelling arms trade with Baku’s regime. Azerbaijan doesn’t maintain quite the level of relations that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan know with China, though with the ever-expanding breadth of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, Baku’s relations with Beijing will only continue to swell.” Writes Casey Michel for The Diplomat.

10The 2016 Formula One season could start nearly a month later than usual and feature a record 21 races, with Azerbaijan hosting one for the first time, the sport’s governing body said on Friday. Azerbaijan’s capital Baku was chosen to host its first race on July 17, while Germany is due to return to the fold on July 31 after abruptly dropping out of the 2015 schedule.

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

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Environment

Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but not necessarily a risk to human health

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A woman fetches water in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

Tiny plastic particles known as microplastics are “everywhere – including in our drinking-water”, but they are not necessarily a risk to human health, UN experts said on Thursday.

In its first summary of the latest research into the impact of the tiny plastic pollutants on humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they have been found in marine settings, waste and fresh water, food, the air and drinking-water, both bottled and from a tap.

Frequently, microplastics are defined as less than five millimetres long, according to WHO.

Its report notes that the particles most commonly found in drinking-water are plastic bottle fragments.

“Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health. “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water.”

According to WHO’s findings, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres (a micrometre is a millionth of a metre) are unlikely to be absorbed in the human body, while the uptake of smaller particles is likely to be limited. 

Absorption of microplastic particles “including in the nano-size range may, however, be higher”, the WHO report continues, before cautioning that available data in this “emerging area” is extremely limited.

Asked by journalists about how levels of plastic pollutants differ between tap water and bottled water, WHO’s Jennifer de France from WHO’s Department of Public Health, replied that bottled water “in general did contain higher particle numbers”.

Nonetheless, Ms. France also cautioned against jumping to conclusions, owing to the lack of available data.

“In drinking water in general, often the two polymers that were most frequently detected were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene,” she said. “Now these polymers – the polyethylene terephthalate – is often used in producing bottled water bottles, and polypropylene, is often used in producing caps. However, there were other polymers detected as well, so more studies are needed to really make a firm conclusion about where the sources are coming from.”

While citing the handful of available studies into the absorption of microplastics and nanoplastics in rats and mice, which showed symptoms including inflammation of the liver, WHO’s report insists that people are unlikely to be exposed to such high levels of pollutants.

Drinking-water contamination: a million lives lost each year

A much more clearly understood potential threat than microplastics is exposure to drinking-water contaminated by human or animal waste, said Bruce Gordon, from WHO’s Department of Public Health, highlighting a problem that affects two billion people and claims one million lives a year.

One way that Governments can tackle this problem is by putting in place better waste-water filtration systems.

The move would reduce microplastic pollution by around 90 per cent, the WHO official explained, before noting that the report had touched on people’s wider concerns about how to live more sustainably and waste less.

“Consumers shouldn’t be too worried,” Mr. Gordon said. “There’s many dimensions to this story that are beyond health. What I mean by that is, if you are a concerned citizen worried about plastic pollution and you have access to a well-managed piped supply – a water supply – why not drink from that? Why not reduce pollution. Of course, there are times when you need a water bottle when you’re walking around, but please reuse it”, he emphasized.

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Brazilian stakeholders of UNIDO-GEF project trained on biogas

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC), and the International Center of Renewable Energy (CIBiogás) trained members and partners of the Steering Committee of its GEF Biogas project on the biogas value chain in Brazil – a renewable source of energy produced from the decomposition of organic waste generated by various enterprises, such as farms and restaurants.

“The potential use of biogas arises from the need to pursue sustainability in agribusiness; at the same time, it represents an opportunity for local economic development”, said UNIDO Project Management Specialist Bruno Neves. “Organic waste generated by the Brazilian agricultural production can result in economic, social and environmental gains as the benefits of biogas production can both be internalized by producers and be made available in the form of thermal energy, fuel and electricity”.

Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA); the Ministry of Environment (MMA); the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME); the Ministry of Planning, Development and Management (MP); the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (SEBRAE); the Energy Research Company (EPE); the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC); the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP); Itaipu Binacional and the German cooperation agency (GIZ) participated in the training.

“The main objective of the training was to raise the awareness of ministries and important institutional agents about the need to make rules around renewable energy generation more flexible”, said CIBiogas CEO Rodrigo Regis. “Today, Brazil is very dependent on diesel and we have a growing demand for energy, which biogas can partly supply in a decentralized way, and can develop a new economy for the country, thereby generating jobs, income, development and progress”.

The training included a visit to the Itaipu hydroelectric dam and to a demonstration unit supported by CIBiogas: with a breeding of five thousand pigs, the farm is capable of generating 770 cubic meters of biogas per day, resulting in savings of over US$1,000 per month in energy costs.

“The development of biogas is one of MCTIC’s strategic priorities”, said Rafael Menezes, Coordinator of Innovation at the Ministry’s Secretariat for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The Brazilian potential for biogas and biomethane production is underexplored; we have to create public policies and a favorable environment so that we can increasingly tap into this potential”.

The GEF Biogas project “Biogas Applications in Brazilian Agroindustry” foresees local and federal actions to stimulate the sustainable integration of biogas in the national production chain. It is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and aims to expand the production of renewable energy and strengthen national technology supply chains in the sector.

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The workplace equality challenge

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This year’s G7 French presidency has chosen the theme for the Biarritz Summit well. ‘Combating inequality’ is indeed one of the key challenges of our time. 

The theme of combating inequality strongly aligns with the International Labour Organization’s mandate for social justice, as articulated most recently by our Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work  adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2019 . The G7 presidency’s intent for the Biarritz Summit to reaffirm the G7 members’ commitment to respond to global challenges through collective action further provides important support for the declaration’s call for stronger multilateralism to confront the issues facing the world of work.

The G7’s labour and employment track, known this year as the G7 Social, furthered the overarching theme of France’s presidency by concentrating on four goals: further integrating international labour standards into the multilateral system, supporting access to universal social protection systems, supporting individuals through digital transformation and its impact on the future of work, and promoting occupational equality between women and men. Because these themes are integral to the Decent Work Agenda, they provided the ILO with an opportunity to engage deeply with G7 members, not only by providing technical inputs on each of them but also by participating during the discussions.

In the context of the G7 Social’s focus on the rapid changes in the world of work, France highlighted the importance of the ILO’s centenary by welcoming Work for a brighter future, the report of the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work. It also emphasised the critical role played by the ILO in the multilateral debate on economic and social policy, and the importance of the ILO’s groundbreaking new international standard on violence and harassment in the world of work.

The communiqué  adopted by labour and employment ministers when they met in Paris on 6–7 June 2019 reflects the work of the G7 Social through an ambitious set of goals:

A call to action to reduce inequalities in a global world, including a multilateral dialogue and coordination for the reduction of inequalities and a commitment to promoting responsible business conduct in global supply chains;

Commitments in favour of universal access to social protection in the changing world of work;

Commitments to empower individuals for the future of work; and,

Commitments to ensure gender equality in the world of work.

The ministers’ communiqué and the ILO’s Centenary Declaration have many strong points of convergence that reveal key areas of focus for the future of work.

The economic and social link

Both instruments stress the need to strengthen multilateralism. The G7 communiqué emphasises the inseparability of economic and social policies to reduce inequalities. This finds its counterpart in the Centenary Declaration’s recognition of the “strong, complex and crucial links between social, trade, financial, economic and environmental policies”, which leads to a call for the ILO to play a stronger role in broad policy dialogues among multilateral institutions. The communiqué and the accompanying G7 Social Tripartite Declaration reaffirm and implement the G7 members’ commitment to social dialogue as the means of shaping the future of work we want.

Similarly, just as the G7 communiqué stresses that social protection, in line with ILO Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors , “is instrumental in shaping the future of work”, the Centenary Declaration calls on the ILO to “develop and enhance social protection systems, which are adequate, sustainable and adapted to developments in the world of work”. Both instruments draw from the Report of the Global Commission, which underscores the importance of social protection systems to support people through the increasingly complex transitions they will need to navigate the changing world of work in order to realise their capabilities.

The G7 communiqué’s call for empowering individuals hinges on the need to “adapt labour market support and institutions to provide decent working conditions for all platform workers” and “underline[s] the importance of harnessing the potential of current changes to create high-quality jobs for all”. Addressing new business models and diverse forms of work arrangements, the Declaration, for its part, directs the ILO’s efforts to “[harness] … technological progress and productivity growth” to ensure decent work and “a just sharing of the benefits for all”. Both documents draw on prior work of the ILO to call for a transformative agenda for gender equality through a broad range of policies, including by closing persistent gender gaps in pay and participation in the labour market. Both instruments recognise the persistent challenges of informality.

As the ILO begins our second century, we are preparing our next programme and budget to respond to the key priority areas identified in the Centenary Declaration. We look to the G7 summit to provide an important boost for the ILO’s efforts to bring that about, and by so doing to provide our own contribution to the G7 priority of combating inequality.

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