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Russia and Nato ‘actively preparing for war’

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

1The increase in the scale and number of military exercises by Russian and NATO is making armed conflict in Europe more likely, a think tank has warned. Ian Kearns, director of the London-based European Leadership Network, said that war games “are contributing to a climate of mistrust” that has “on occasion become the focal point for some quite close encounters between the NATO and Russian militaries.”Kearns is a co-author of a study which looks in detail at two military exercises held this year by Russia and NATO, which are deeply at odds over Moscow’s interference in Ukraine. He found signs that “Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.”The exercises “can feed uncertainty” and heighten the risk of “dangerous military encounters”.The ELN study said NATO is planning around 270 exercises this year, while Russia has announced 4,000 drills at all levels.

2Iran’s frozen funds: how much is really there? Iran’s portfolio of foreign assets is diverse, and the segment that has been frozen as a result of Western and international economic sanctions is spread among several countries and dates from different times. The freeze date for some goes as far back as the 1979 Islamic Revolution.The conflicting estimates about the value of assets to be released within a year of the deal’s implementation are partly due to the fact that there are different types of assets: some will be very easy to recover, while others will likely remain tied up. Details are murky.In general, the value of all Iranian assets blocked since 1979 most likely exceeds $100 billion. Nader Habibi for the Fortune.

3How much will the Iran deal really affect the U.S. dollar? President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry argue that if Congress doesn’t approve the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. dollar will fall from grace. Recently, Kerry and Obama have argued that if the Iran deal doesn’t pass, the U.S. would be forced to slap sanctions on anyone doing business with Iran going forward. That could be some of the world’s largest banks or even our allies in Europe or China if they forge ahead with the deal and America doesn’t. That would not go down well. The fear is that these nations and banks might retaliate by ditching the dollar as their currency of choice.

4Azerbaijani and Turkey’s military officials have exchanged views on the military situation in the region.Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov met outgoing military attaché of the Turkish Armed Forces to Azerbaijan Hasan Nevzat Tasdeler on August 11, the Azerbaijani defense ministry said.They stressed the importance of high-level reciprocal visits, and exchanged views on the military-political situation in the region, military-educational issues.The sides emphasized the necessity of solving the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying this will help establish peace and security in the region.

5The foreign trade turnover of Kazakhstan with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) (Russia, Belarus, Armenia) declined by 21 percent and amounted to $7.806 billion in January-June 2015 compared to the same period of 2014, according to the State Statistics Committee under the Ministry of National Economy of Kazakhstan.Kazakhstan’s exports to the EEU countries decreased by 26.8 percent and amounted to $2.351 billion in the first half of 2015. Kazakhstan’s import from Russia, Belarus and Armenia decreased by 18.2 percent and amounted to $5.455 billion. Kazakhstan’s main trade partner in the EEU is traditionally Russia. Some $2.323 billion of Kazakhstan’s exports and $5.221 billion of Kazakhstan’s imports accounted for this country in the reporting period.

6The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project has recently become much more popular. The problem is that security in the transit countries, which the pipeline should cross, i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan, is at a very low level. Blowing up infrastructure in these countries is commonplace. For the years since the emergence of the idea of the TAPI gas pipeline, the situation has not improved. On the contrary, with the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the terrorist threat in the region only increased. Under these conditions, in case of the project implementation, its participants will have to take huge risks, without any guarantee. The question arises: is it worth it for Turkmenistan to take such a risk? Elena Kosolapova for Trend.

7President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Almaty city on August 9, shortly after the city’s mayor was changed. Nazarbayev spoke about the progress achieved by Akhmetzhan Yessimov, the former Almaty Mayor. The latter took the office of Almaty Mayor in 2008 and only days ago was appointed Chairman of Astana EXPO-2017 National Company, the company steering Kazakhstan’s preparations for the EXPO. He explained that Yessimov’s experience was needed for organization of the upcoming EXPO-2017 in Astana. “EXPO-2017 is our future. Construction exhibition venues is just one part of this task. Another part, a more important one, is its content. EXPO-2017 is supposed to boost Kazakhstan’s transition to a new technological level based on alternative energy. The steering company needs an experienced leader capable of working with the government and regional akimats (local authorities) as well as with dozens of countries to attract investments and new technologies,” Nazarbayev said.

8Azerbaijan, the only Caucasus country with significant prospects for comprehensive development, is keen on diversifying its national economy, in particular the non-oil sector.A successful energy policy pursued by the government has enabled the South Caucasus country not only to stand on its own feet, but also to decrease dependence on petrodollars.Nariman Agayev, the Chairman for Research on Sustainable Development Center, believes that Azerbaijan can develop its non-oil sector by investing in the agricultural sector.He told local media that after three years, this sector of the national economy will bring significant revenues to the state budget.

9Saudis Looking for A Life of Problems. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said on Tuesday that remarks by al-Jubeir in a joint press conference with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Monday showed that the JCPOA, which is aimed at ending an “unnecessary crisis,” has incurred the Saudi official’s “irrational wrath”.“When the senior representative of a regional government is infuriated to such extent by the political settlement of issues in the region and at the international level, it leaves no doubt that he has chosen a life of problems and crisis,” she said.She expressed regret that the Saudi minister’s remarks about the JCPOA were an “echo of the Zionist regime’s stance.”

10Ereymentau Wind Power has kicked off tendering to build a 50MW wind farm in Yereymentau city, Kazakhstan.The developer intends for prequalified firms, joint ventures and consortia of any nationality to tender for the turnkey project.Subsequent phases could push total project capacity up to 300MW.Funding sources for build include part of a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Clean Technology Fund and the client, EWP.

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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