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Concerned by curbs on free expression in Thailand, UN rights office calls for ‘prompt return to civilian rule’

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The United Nations human rights arm today expressed concern about the mounting constraints on the democratic space in Thailand – calling for a prompt return to civilian rule. “Following the military coup in May 2014, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and opinion and assembly have been in place through the use of criminal and military laws and orders, said spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani of the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

She elaborated that restrictions spiked in the lead-up to this month’s Constitutional Referendum.

“Overall, at least 1,300 people have been summoned, arrested or charged, and 1,629 civilians tried before the military courts,” the spokesperson explained. “Since June, at least 115 people have been arrested or charged under military orders, criminal codes and the Constitution Referendum Act for expressing their opinion on the draft constitution or reporting human rights violations, including torture,” she added.

Twelve people arrested in the Chiang Mai Province in late July remained in detention, along with a student activist who was incarcerated on 6 August. The others were released, but have been charged or remained under investigation.

“We urge Thailand to immediately drop all charges against political activists and human rights defenders, and to release those jailed for voicing dissent on the draft charter in the run-up to the referendum,” underscored Ms. Shamdasani. “We also call on the authorities to suspend the use of military courts and military orders in cases involving civilians.”

She made clear of the urgency in implementing the measures as Thailand moves towards its 2017 election – as proposed in the military Government’s roadmap to restore democracy.

The election next year represents an opportunity for Thailand to meet the commitment it made at the UN Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in May to respect freedom of expression and, therefore, guarantee a more inclusive and participatory process that involves all political parties, civil society and the media in an open and non-threatening environment.

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ADB Strengthens Partnership with WHO to Help Asia and the Pacific Combat COVID-19

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today strengthened its partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), recognizing that increased collaboration is helping to expand critical health care across Asia and the Pacific and contain the spread and impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

During a conference call with WHO Regional Directors Dr. Takeshi Kasai and Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said the partnership based on a memorandum of understanding signed in 2018 had helped to address the region’s health security risks and strengthen health systems, which have been stretched since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I very much appreciate the close collaboration with the WHO regarding COVID-19. I found that the regular exchange of views and the latest information on the evolution of the pandemic provided by WHO have been invaluable to ADB’s operations,” said Mr. Asakawa. “ADB has incorporated inputs and advice from the WHO to ensure our support is fully responsive to the needs of our developing members. As countries implement these projects and ADB continues to expand technical and financing assistance, we look forward to continued collaboration to help guide our response to, and the region’s recovery from, COVID-19.”

ADB announced on 13 April a comprehensive support package of $20 billion to help developing members address the impacts of COVID-19. ADB and the WHO are finalizing an administrative arrangement (AA) to govern financial, reporting, and implementation mechanisms related to their joint response to COVID-19, as well as projects to support recovery from the crisis. The first AA between ADB and the WHO will cover South Asia before expanding to Central Asia, East Asia, the Pacific, and Southeast Asia.

ADB is also working with the WHO and the Japanese Ministry of Finance to convene a virtual Joint Finance and Health Ministers Meeting on COVID-19 and Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific during the second stage of ADB’s Annual Meeting in September.

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From Relief to Recovery: PNG’s Economy in the Time of COVID-19

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Papua New Guinea’s economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis due to weaker demand and less favorable terms of trade, according to the latest World Bank economic update for the country.

From Relief to Recovery, the World Bank’s Economic Update for Papua New Guinea for July 2020 projects that the country will experience an economic contraction in 2020, with pandemic-related global and national movement restrictions weakening external and domestic demand and affecting commodity prices. These impacts are also expected to lead to wider financing gaps for the government and the central bank, and higher unemployment and poverty than previously anticipated in early 2020.

It is estimated that PNG’s real GDP will shrink by 1.3 percent in 2020, the current account surplus will narrow to about 15 percent of GDP, and the fiscal deficit will reach 6.4 percent of GDP.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the PNG government has mobilized domestic resources and is engaging development partners and the private sector for additional support for the people and the economy of PNG.

“The World Bank welcomes the swift actions by the PNG authorities to manage the COVID-19 shock by protecting the lives of the people of PNG and supporting livelihoods of vulnerable households and small businesses,” said Michel Kerf, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. “While the focus of the authorities is currently on crisis mitigation, it is important to also look beyond the current year to a more robust and resilient recovery over the medium term.”

The report emphasizes that a COVID-19-related revenue shortfall, increased emergency health spending and an economic support package have created an unanticipated fiscal gap of over US$400 million (1.8 percent of GDP) in 2020. The capital budget is expected to be hit harder than the recurrent budget and the government will have to trim non-essential spending.

In addition to the economic analysis, the report contains an additional section dedicated to physical infrastructure development in PNG.

The section recommends that the government’s pre-COVID-19 infrastructure investment plans should be amended amid the current crisis, which may result in the government having to resume its “Connect PNG” infrastructure development program once the pandemic is over while keeping the overall fiscal framework under control.

It also highlights the importance of more equitable access to quality infrastructure once the country moves to the recovery and resilience phase of COVID-19 response as well as the need to improve the balance between infrastructure investment and maintenance with greater emphasis needed on the latter.

The report concludes that PNG can significantly improve its infrastructure situation by strengthening policy design, investment planning, and coordination among agencies and with development partners. However, it will be vital for the government to set the stage for more sustainable and inclusive development by strengthening macroeconomic management and accelerating structural reforms while protecting the vulnerable.

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Deloitte: Energy Management – Paused by Pandemic, but Poised to Prevail

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Since Deloitte began conducting its annual survey tracking clean energy attitudes and actions a decade ago, the percentage of residential consumers concerned about climate change and personal carbon footprints has risen steadily from about half to a consistent 68%, putting increasing pressure on businesses to do more. The year 2020 appeared to be the tipping point, but when COVID-19 hit, many questioned whether the momentum had been derailed as companies focused on survival.

Deloitte’s 2020 Resources Study, “Energy Management: Paused by Pandemic, but Poised to Prevail,” found that despite the pandemic — and maybe in part because of it — progress in efforts to manage energy use, reduce carbon emissions and address climate change will likely continue and even potentially accelerate in the longer term. The study is based on survey data collected from 1,531 residential consumers and 602 business decision-makers.

Consumer concern about climate change is rising, but looking to others to solve
Consumer sentiment about climate change has steadily increased over the past decade. Sixty-eight percent of residential consumers surveyed said they were “extremely or very concerned” about climate change and their personal carbon footprint and 65% said they saw greater renewable energy development as boosting the national economy, the highest level since 2014. While the benefits of clean energy are clear, most consumers (80%) surveyed expect others, such as the government and corporations, to address climate change issues. And about a third of respondents expect action from their employers.

Millennials are a driving force for corporate sustainability
Further emphasizing the corporate role, more than a third of respondents who identified as full- or part-time employees, students and/or job seekers said it’s extremely or very important to work for a company with sustainability and/or climate-risk goals, and this sentiment rose to nearly 50% among millennials. “Employee motivations” has consistently been one of the top three drivers of corporate energy management programs, selected by at least a quarter of business respondents each year. But in 2020, that rose to a third, the highest level ever in our surveys. Employees are becoming more vocal about climate change, and this may be due to the growing influence of millennials in the workplace.

Businesses are feeling increasing stakeholder pressure to address climate risk
In line with rising consumer sentiment, nearly 60% of businesses surveyed feel increased pressure from stakeholders to develop and disclose plans to demonstrate how they’re addressing climate risk. The stakeholders seen as most active are employees (49%), followed by board members (42%), customers (41%) and shareholders (37%). Of those businesses feeling increased pressure, nearly 90% have reviewed or changed their climate-risk disclosure procedures and developed plans to address climate-related risks.

Importantly, although businesses are feeling pressure, they also increasingly see procuring clean energy as doing the “right thing.” In fact, 75% of those surveyed said recent global climate change reports have caused them to focus more on energy management. And almost 90% of respondents now see energy procurement as “not simply a cost to the company, but an opportunity to reduce risk, improve resilience, and create new value.”

Convergence of cost and clean means more green
Over the past 10 years, the “cost” versus “clean” motivations for utilizing cleaner energy resources have been steadily converging as renewable energy costs have declined. This greater affordability is allowing businesses and residential consumers to prioritize clean energy without making bottom-line sacrifices.

Businesses are procuring more renewables through more channels:

  • Sixty-three percent of businesses surveyed have increased emission reduction goals.
  • Three-quarters of business respondents said customers are asking them to procure renewable energy.
  • More than half (51%) of businesses said they’re working to procure more electricity from renewables.
  • Of the 60% of businesses citing having onsite generation, the highest share of electricity supply was generated with cogeneration (15%) and renewables (13%).
  • Microgrids also appear to be growing in popularity with 44% of business respondents saying they’ve considered a microgrid, a spike of 9 points over 2019.

Residential consumers still cost-conscious but putting environment first:

  • For the first time in five years, “utilizing clean energy sources to be better stewards of the environment” was cited ahead of “keeping my total energy bills affordable” as one of the top three most important energy issues to residential consumers.
  • More than half (53%) of respondents said it’s “extremely” or “very” important that part of their electricity supply comes from renewable energy.
  • Thirty-two percent of respondents said they were “very” or “extremely” interested in installing solar panels and 51% of those who don’t already have them on their primary residence, expressed interest if combined with battery storage.
  • Among respondents who had already installed rooftop solar, “clean” beat out saving money for the first time as the primary motivator.
  • Renewables are gaining ground as a reason for respondents to switch providers versus lower electricity costs as renewables rose 3 points in 2020 to take second place from “better service,” while “lower electricity costs” stayed steady in first place.

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