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Russia plans to develop Kuril Islands

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

1Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev indicated Thursday he plans to inspect economic development on some of the Kuril Islands, about 1,300 km northeast of Hokkaido, including four claimed by Japan.The inspection may be designed to demonstrate Russia’s effective control of the four islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. Earlier in the day, the Russian government approved a 10-year plan to develop the Kuril Islands. Medvedev said the government will spend 70 billion rubles the plan. Japan has urged Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev not to visit Japan-claimed islands off Hokkaido, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said today (July 24), calling the planned trip to the isles at the center of a long-standing bilateral dispute “unacceptable”. Mr Kishida said that the visit, if it pushes through, would “go against Japan’s position on the territories and hurt the feelings of the Japanese people”.

2The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are ready to meet later this year in another attempt to revive the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, international mediators said on Thursday as they ended their latest tour of the conflict zone. The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a joint statement in Baku after holding talks there with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. They met with President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan earlier this week.

3Turkmenistan is implementing several major projects aimed at increasing the production and export of natural gas, as well as the projects for deep processing of gas, the country’s Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources said July 23.The total cost of these projects is $20 billion.Moreover, these projects include the second stage of Galkynysh field’s development, construction of Turkmen sector of the fourth branch of Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline with the total capacity of 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas, a plant for polyethylene and polypropylene production in Balkan province, as well as a plant for producing synthetic gasoline from natural gas in Ahal province.

4Not déjà vu all over again. The nuclear agreement with Iran is very different from the one with North Korea. “Just as important as the technical differences between the two agreements are the differences between the two societies. North Korea is the most hermetically sealed country on earth. Ending its isolation by exposing its terrified, impoverished people to outside influences was the last thing the Kims wanted. Iran has a large population of well-educated young people who use the internet and social media. The election of President Hassan Rohani was brought about by businesses and citizens painfully aware of the economic damage done by sanctions. Opportunities to trade with the rest of the world could revitalise Iran’s economy.” [The Economist]

5During a two visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kazakhstan, the two countries have signed a number of new agreements in energy and defence.Kazakhstan and India expected signed agreements on supply of uranium and moved forward with their cooperation in rare-earth elements.The CamKazInd fund aims to combine Kazakhstan’s rare-earth elements and mineral wealth with India’s human capital and the experience of Cambridge scientists to develop various technologies.Quantum technologies using Kazakhstan’s minerals have a great potential in computers, keeping food fresh and decreasing mobile phone bills.

6Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov received Richard Hoagland, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs on July 23. Cooperation in transportation and energy industry were discussed during the meeting.Hoagland, noting that he supports his country’s initiative for the development of the ‘Silk Road’, said Azerbaijan is playing an important role in this regard.He said the realization of these initiatives will serve to the stability, prosperity and development of cooperation in the Eurasia.Mammadyarov, for his part, said that Azerbaijan is carrying out a consistent work to enhance the capacity of the transport infrastructure as an important element of the strategy of development of the non-oil sector.In this context, Mammadyarov noted the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the new Baku International Sea Trade Port.

7Southern Russia Mobilizes Against Islamic State. Moscow appears to be seriously concerned about the changes taking place within the ranks of the North Caucasian armed Islamists and the unexpected emergence of a branch of the Islamic State (IS) in the region. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of the Velayat Kavkaz of the Islamic State on the basis of the former Caucasus Emirate. [Jamestown]

8Russia guarantees energy security for Europe through the development of new gas transit capacities, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said. In December 2014, Moscow announced the cancellation of its South Stream pipeline project that was to transport Russian gas across the Black Sea to Europe. Russia cited the “non-constructive” stance of the European Union as the reason for scrapping the project. The European Commission claimed that the project would violate the EU Third Energy Package that prohibits simultaneous ownership of both the gas and the pipeline through which it flows.”Turkish Stream is taking South Stream’s place. It’s not proceeding as fast as we’d like, but it’s not stalled either. And then we thought of building a second Nord Stream line, which delivers Russian gas to Germany across the Baltic Sea. You probably heard that we have signed a memorandum between our companies to increase the gas volume via Nord Stream. So Europe’s energy security will be guaranteed,” Medvedev said in an interview with Slovenian radio and television company RTV Slovenija on the eve of his visit to Slovenia.

9Azerbaijan and Turkey will jointly invest in the renewable energy sector, Turkey’s Public Disclosure Platform said on July 22.The relevant Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed between the Turkish Turcas Enerji Holding and Azalternativenerji under Azerbaijan’s State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources.According to the document, the sides will jointly invest in the construction of solar, wind, and geothermal power plants in Turkey and Azerbaijan, along with implementing other projects.The contract is valid for a period of three years from the date of signing.According to preliminary studies, Azerbaijan plans to construct up to 100 facilities for producing alternative energy in five years.

10President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has received Martin Bouygues, chairman and CEO of French Bouygues company.During the meeting Bouygues informed the president about the company’s facilities, and made new proposals regarding the further partnership. These proposals were worked out taking into account the priorities of socio-economic development and ambitious reforms in Turkmenistan, also his interest in further strengthening its positions on the promising Turkmen market, where the company has been operating for more than 25 years. “The concept of further development of Ashgabat and other cities in the country offers great opportunities for fruitful cooperation with foreign partners, including the French companies,” the president said. The most important things are the timeliness and qualitative construction of facilities. Bouygues has been represented on the Turkmen market for a long time. The French concern has carried out several projects.

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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Energy News

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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