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‘Innovation divide’ persists; investment crucial to vibrant competitive economy

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A new report published by the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has shown that for the first time, a middle-income country, China, has joined highly developed economies among global leaders in innovation.

“China’s progression reflects the country’s improved innovation performance as well as methodological considerations such as improved innovation metrics in the GII [Global Innovation Index],” noted a press release issued by WIPO today.

However, despite China’s rise, an “innovation divide” persists between developed and developing countries, according to the Global Innovation Index 2016, released today by the WIPO, Cornell University, and the multi-nation business graduate school INSEAD.

Switzerland emerged as the global leader among innovative economies followed by Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Finland. Switzerland ranked first in the 2015 index as well.

WIPO also noted that the 2016 findings point to an increasing awareness among policymakers that fostering innovation is crucial to a vibrant, competitive economy.

“Investing in innovation is critical to raising long-term economic growth,” said WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry. “In this current economic climate, uncovering new sources of growth and leveraging the opportunities raised by global innovation are priorities for all stakeholders,” he added

The agency added that innovation requires continuous investment. Before the 2009 crisis, research and development expenditure grew at an annual pace of approximately seven per cent. However, 2016 data has indicated that global research and development grew by only four per cent in 2014.

“This was a result of slower growth in emerging economies and tighter research and development budgets in high-income economies – this remains a source of concern,” it noted.

According to WIPO, among the GII 2016 leaders, four economies – Japan, the US, the UK, and Germany – stand out in “innovation quality,” a top-level indicator that looks at the calibre of universities, number of scientific publications and international patent filings. China ranked 17th in innovation quality, making it the leader among middle-income economies for this indicator, followed by India, which has overtaken Brazil.

However, Sub-Saharan Africa continued to lag behind. Mauritius took the top spot among all economies in the region (53rd), followed by South Africa (54th), Kenya (80th), Rwanda (83rd), Mozambique (84th), Botswana (90th), Namibia (93rd), and Malawi (98th).

That said, since 2012, Sub-Saharan Africa has had more countries than any other region among the group of “innovation achievers” – countries that perform better than their level of development would predict. This year, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda stood out.

“As economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is slowing, the GII 2016 shows that [the region] must preserve its current innovation momentum, while continuing to diversify economies away from oil production and commodity revenues,” noted WIPO.

Average regional performance shows strengths in the ease of starting a business, information and communication technologies (ICTs), business-model creation, and relative expenditure on education, with weaknesses in firms conducting global research and development, high-tech exports, the quality of local universities and number of scientific publications.

The press release further added that in general, further efforts are required in Human capital, Research and Infrastructure.

Highlighting the importance of investment in improving innovation quality as essential for closing the “innovation divide”, co-editor Soumitra Dutta, Dean at the Cornell College of Business pointed out that: “While institutions create an essential supportive framework for doing so, economies need to focus on reforming education and growing their research capabilities to compete successfully in a rapidly changing globalized world.”

The report also found that Europe benefits from comparatively strong institutions and well-developed infrastructure, while room for improvement is found in business sophistication and knowledge and technology outputs.

The WIPO press release also noted that Europe did particularly well in environmental performance, ICT access, and school life expectancy. At the same time, it noted that there is room for improvement in research and development, financed by businesses, research and development financed by foreign firms, high-tech exports, and international patent filings.

Pointing to the benefits of innovation, Bruno Lanvin, INSEAD Executive Director for Global Indices, and co-editor of the report said, “Some may see globalization as a trend in search of its ‘second breath.’ Yet, the relative contraction of international trade and investment flows does give even more strategic importance to the two sides of global innovation: on one hand, more emerging countries are becoming successful innovators, and on the other hand, an increasing share of innovation benefits stem from cross-border co-operation.”

The Global Innovation Index

The Global Innovation Index 2016 (GII) explores the rising share of innovation carried out via globalized innovation networks, finding that gains from global innovation can be shared more widely as cross-border flows of knowledge and talent are on the rise. It also concludes that there is ample scope to expand global corporate and public R&D cooperation to foster future economic growth.

At the national level, the report says that innovation policies should more explicitly favour international collaboration and the diffusion of knowledge across borders. New international governance structures should also aim to increase technology diffusion to and among developing countries.

Published annually since 2007, the GII is a leading benchmarking tool for business executives, policy makers and others seeking insight into the state of innovation around the world. Policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders use the GII to evaluate progress on a continual basis.

The WIPO press release added that this year’s study benefited from the experience of its Knowledge Partners, A.T. Kearney and IMP³rove – European Innovation Management Academy, the Confederation of Indian Industry and du, as well as of an Advisory Board of international experts.

The core of the GII Report consists of a ranking of world economies’ innovation capabilities and results. Recognizing the key role of innovation as a driver of economic growth and prosperity, and the need for a broad horizontal vision of innovation applicable to developed and emerging economies, the GII includes indicators that go beyond the traditional measures of innovation such as the level of research and development.

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Environment

Millions affected as devastating typhoon strikes Viet Nam

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An aerial photograph showing houses destroyed and submerged in flood waters caused by the typhoon in Le Thuy district, Quang Binh province, central Viet Nam. UNICEF/Pham/AFP-Services

A major typhoon has struck central Viet Nam, affecting millions of people – including about 2.5 million children – in a region already reeling from the effects of severe floods, according to UN agencies in the country. 

There are also reports that 174 people have died or are missing. 

Storm Molave, which made landfall at around 11 am local time on Wednesday, is one of the strongest storms to hit the southeast Asian nation in 20 years.

The resulting “extreme rainfall” could continue over the coming days, worsening the already precarious situation faced by many families, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement

 “For the affected populations, their homes remain severely damaged, their food stocks have been lost, they have no access to clean water for drinking, washing and cooking; and water and sanitation systems have been damaged,” said the agency. 

Evacuation centres flooded

Thousands have been moved to evacuation centres, which are themselves flooded, resulting in difficult health and hygiene conditions for the displaced people, primarily women, children and elderly. Health centres have also been damaged, leaving without to access basic health care services. 

“Added to this is the trauma of the violent storms and rushing waters, that for a population where many cannot swim, creates fear and impacts mental wellbeing,” UNICEF added. 

The storm has also damaged vital infrastructure, including electricity and roads, leaving many communities cut off from assistance and protection. 

Affected populations 

An estimated 7.7 million people live in the affected areas, including as many as 1.5 million who have been “directly affected”, the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam said in a humanitarian  update late Wednesday. 

Of these, some 177,000 people considered vulnerable (poor or near-poor), should be prioritized for urgent humanitarian assistance, it added. 

Response 

According to the Resident Coordinator’s Office, UN agencies and partners are developing and will release a multi-sector response plan, within the coming days, to support emergency relief efforts. 

In the immediate term, UNICEF has mobilized to provide emergency water, nutrition, sanitation, education and protection support, it said in the statement. It is also coordinating with Government agencies and humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable and those most affected. 

The Vietnamese army has also deployed troops and vehicles for search and rescue missions. 

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Human Rights

Poland ‘slammed the door shut’ on legal and safe abortions

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A group of UN independent human rights experts have denounced a court ruling in Poland that bans abortions on the grounds of fatal or severe foetal impairment, effectively “slamming the door shut” on safe and legal pregnancy terminations.  

In a statement on Tuesday, the rights experts also called on the Polish authorities to safeguard the rights of men and women protesting against the ruling. 

Across the country, thousands have taken to the streets in protest over last Thursday’s ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court. 

According to the experts, with the court verdict, Poland has “effectively slammed the door shut” on legal abortion for women in the country. It is estimated that currently 98 per cent of all legal abortions in the country are performed on the grounds of severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus. 

“Poland has decided to sacrifice women’s human right to safe and legal health services for termination of pregnancy, on account of protection of the right to life of the unborn, in violation of its international human rights obligations,” they said. 

‘Devastating consequences’ for women and girls 

The ruling will have “devastating consequences for women and adolescent girls” in need of such terminations, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged and migrant women who are undocumented, who do not have the the means to go abroad for abortion services, they said. 

Before the ruling, Poland had already one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, made even more restrictive in practice with serious barriers and stigma, according to the rights experts.

Termination of pregnancy was permitted in three circumstances only: risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman; severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus; or pregnancy as a result of a prohibited act. 

Decision ‘clearly against’ human rights standards 

The experts highlighted that international human rights mechanisms have clearly recognized women’s right to abortion in cases of fatal foetal impairment and that States have to provide for termination of pregnancy in such cases as the lack of access constitutes, inter alia, a violation of the right to be free from inhuman treatment. 

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (since 1977) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (since 1980), Poland has legal obligation to uphold these international human rights standards, stressed the experts.  

International human rights mechanisms recognize women’s right to access safe and legal abortion as necessary for the protection of women’s dignity and equality and implicit in the right to equality, right to private life, right to be free from inhuman treatment and the right to the highest attainable standards, they said, adding that the decision of the Constitution Court “clearly goes against these standards.” 

“It cannot be justified by invoking the protection of the right to life, as the right to life and all other human rights under international human rights law are accorded to those who have been born,” the experts said. 

“Those who believe that personhood commences at the time of conception have the freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs but not to impose their beliefs on others through the legal system.” 

‘Politicization’ leads to discrimination 

The rights experts also pointed out that the “instrumentalization” and “politicization” of women’s bodies and health leads to discrimination against them, particularly in relation to their right to access health services and the resulting preventable ill health, including maternal mortality and morbidity. 

The experts voicing their concern included the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women; the right to physical and mental health; and cultural rights, as well as the members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.   

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Environment

2020 Climate Action Award winners shine ray of hope

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Cycling avenues aim to shift urban infrastructure to sustainable, zero-emission transport. Image: C40 Cities Finance Facility

In a year that has cast darkness upon many, the 2020 UN Global Climate Action Awards, announced on Tuesday, shone a light on the positive action that many across the globe are taking, to combat climate change.

While COVID-19 is the world’s most clear and present danger, climate change is a menace that threatens all future generations, according to the head of the UN climate change convention.

“The last eight months have been a nightmare for many throughout the world”, said UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, pointing out that the pandemic has “altered lives, economies and the nature of business on every continent—from the largest cities to the smallest villages”. 

And while it is “the most urgent threat facing humanity today”, she quickly added, “we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”

Building sustainably

The UNFCCC chief attested that the convergence of these two crises has “opened a window of opportunity to build forward – to build cities and communities that are safe, healthy, green and sustainable”. 

“Nothing exemplifies this better than the efforts of our 2020 award-winning activities to address climate change”, she upheld.

This year’s award-winning projects demonstrate leadership on climate change by nations, businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society as a whole. 

They range from the Caribbean’s only carbon-neutral hotel, to the world’s inaugural green bonds platform and the first all-women solar team in Lebanon.

Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated the winners, saying that they “provide tangible proof that climate action is under way around the world”.

“It is exciting to see these climate solutions, which reinforce my call for decisive leadership on climate change by Governments, businesses and cities, and for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”, stated the UN chief. “Let us keep pressing ahead to build a more sustainable and equitable future for all”.

Spearheading momentum

As Governments work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the awards are part of a wider effort to mobilize climate action and ambition. 

They also set the stage for two upcoming climate change events. The Race To Zero Dialogues, from 9 to19 November, will serve as critical input to the UNFCCC Climate Dialogues to advance work governing the rules of the Paris Agreement, which runs from 23 November to 4 December.

The UN Global Climate Action Awards are spearheaded by the Momentum for Change initiative at UN Climate Change and each project presents an innovative solution that both addresses climate change and helps drive progress on other SDGs. 

“It is crucial we celebrate all actors who are leading the way,” said Gabrielle Ginér, Chair of the Advisory Panel

“The recipients of the UN Global Climate Action Awards send a strong political signal to all nations – and through their leadership and creativity, we see essential change”. The 2020 winning activities, selected by an international Advisory Panel, can be found here

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