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Young Yemeni wins top UN Environmental prize

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UN Environment today made Yemeni engineer Omer Badokhon a Young Champion of the Earth for his work on biogas plants which could improve thousands of rural livelihoods in his war-stricken homeland.

Omer, 24, is one of six winners – each representing a region of the world – awarded the new prize by UN Environment and leading materials science company, Covestro. The prize gives seed funding and mentorship to outstanding individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30, who have big ideas to protect or restore the environment.

“I am passionate about the environment and sustainable energy, and have dedicated myself to environmental protection, integrated development and biodiversity conservation in Yemen,” Omer said. “This award is a great honor that will help me to upscale my initiative, forge ties with international organizations and help my country.”

Omer, who holds a degree from Hadhramout University, researched the production and purification of biogas from landfills to generate electricity as part of his studies. He quickly realized that such devices could be put to good use at a domestic level in his country, and set out to do this himself.

The devices, which will be constructed locally under Omer’s guidance, enable the rapid decomposition of domestic organic waste, thereby maximizing the amount of biogas produced. He is working with a non-governmental organization affiliated with the Green Projects Centre to build prototypes and pilot the biogas plants.

“From boosting food crops in the Pacific to sustainable fashion solutions in North America, it’s a delight to announce the first Young Champions of the Earth,” said UN Environment head Erik Solheim. “The breadth of innovation and ambition shown by the inaugural winners is nothing short of exceptional, and proof that we must continue to channel support to the world’s younger generation for the solutions we need to secure a sustainable future.”

Omer’s project will help to solve some major problems in Yemen, and can be replicated to elsewhere to deal with global efforts to reduce climate change and protect human health.

The small biogas plants will reduce household organic waste, which emits significant amounts of methane and is a major contributor to climate change, and indoor air pollution, which claims the lives of around 4 million people across the globe each year. In Yemen, over 3 million people still cook over open fires.

Additionally, the project will help to reduce certain diseases known to be spread or exacerbated by the dumping of organic waste, such as cholera, which has affected nearly half a million Yemenis in 2017 alone.

“At Covestro, we feel strongly about giving young people opportunities to make positive changes that directly affect them and their own communities,” said Patrick Thomas, Covestro CEO. “Young Champions of the Earth has allowed this to happen via some amazing and exceptionally diverse ideas, which help the environment and benefit the world we live in.

“Our employees have also embraced the competition by becoming mentors to our Young Champions, which tells us that securing a sustainable future is highly important for them personally and professionally. We are really pushing boundaries with this and will continue to support the great work of UN Environment.”

About Young Champions of the Earth

UN Environment and Covestro introduced the Young Champions of the Earth competition this year to accompany its long-running Champions of the Earth award, which recognizes outstanding environmental leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. This new, young competition recognizes the importance of supporting the innovation of the world’s newer generation to find lasting environmental solutions to the issues increasingly affecting them. 

Selected from more than 600 applicants, the six inaugural Young Champions represent each global region (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia). Regional winners will be announced throughout November.   

What do the Young Champions receive?

Each winner receives the following: 

  • US$15,000 in seed funding;
  • Attendance at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, December 2017, and the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 2018;
  • An introduction to the world’s environment ministers at the Champions of the Earth Gala Dinner in Nairobi, December 2017;
  • Publicity and recognition through online and global media;
  • Access to high-profile mentors and customized training in communications, project planning, financial management and more.
  • Participation in an intensive, one-week entrepreneurship course in Europe in the first quarter of 2018.

Tech News

Strengthen Inclusion and Empower the World’s Invisible Billion

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The World Bank announced today the launch of the second Mission Billion Challenge for innovative solutions to increase inclusion and access to digital platforms such as identification systems. This challenge will crowdsource innovations at a time when countries seek to deliver cash relief to vulnerable persons, such as informal workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Challenge offers cash prizes totaling US$150,000 for the most promising solutions.

“The challenges countries are facing to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 underscore the urgency for action. Innovation that takes into consideration gender equality and different levels of access to technology among vulnerable groups is critical,” said World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure Makhtar Diop, “The Mission Billion Challenge is a platform for sourcing solutions that address disparities by helping to ensure identification systems are inclusive of all people.”

The Mission Billion Challenge comes at a time of an unprecedented global crisis. The pandemic highlights the importance of platforms (such as foundational IDs, government to person (G2P) payments, and social registries) to quickly scale up or to introduce new social protection programs. In particular, countries with such assets have been able to efficiently make cash transfers to informal workers, migrant workers, and other vulnerable populations who are difficult to identify and not commonly included in social safety nets. The Challenge seeks more solutions to how countries can increase their efforts to reach women and girls, and vulnerable populations—who often lack smartphones, computers and broadband internet access—to prove who they are, remotely with no or minimal in-person interaction, so they can access services and benefits with minimal risks to health.

 “Inclusion must be at the heart of all digital solutions. Vulnerable groups—such as the poor, people living in remote areas, women and girls, migrants and refugees—are more likely to face barriers to accessing and using their IDs. They must have equal access to services, support, and new economic opportunities which having an ID helps create,” said World Bank Vice President of Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions Ceyla Pazarbasioglu. 

The 2020 Mission Billion Challenge offers a Global Prize for solutions with world-wide application to ensure the inclusivity of ID systems for vulnerable groups, particularly during physical distancing requirements. This year, a new Regional West Africa Prize, will seek innovative solutions that facilitate contributions to social insurance programs, such as pensions and savings accounts, by informal sector workers.

Individuals and organizations with a strong passion for developing innovative solutions are encouraged to apply. Submitted solutions to the Challenge will be reviewed by a group of experts in digital identification, inclusion, and international development. Finalists will be invited to a high-level event to present their solutions in front of distinguished judges around the World Bank Group’s Annual Meetings in October 2020.

The Mission Billion Challenge is open. The submission deadline is August 14, 2020. To learn more about the Challenge, visit: http://id4d.worldbank.org/missionbillion.

About the Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative

The World Bank Group’s Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative helps countries realize the transformational potential of digital identification. ID4D is a cross sectoral initiative that works closely with countries and partners to enable all people to exercise their rights and to access services, including to provide official identification to the estimated 1 billion people currently without one. ID4D has three pillars of activity: country and regional engagement; thought leadership; and global convening and platforms. The ID4D agenda supports the achievement of the World Bank Group’s two overarching goals: ending extreme poverty by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity. ID4D is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Government, the French Government, the Australian Government, and Omidyar Network.

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Enabling Europe to lead the green and digital transition

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The Commission released today its latest report on the EU’s Science, Research and Innovation Performance, through which it analyses how Europe performs in the global context. It highlights the need for research and innovation (R&I) to support sustainable and inclusive growth of companies, regions and countries, making sure that no one is left behind in the quest for strengthening innovation systems, especially in less-developed regions. It also emphasises the importance of ensuring that Europeans have the right skills, in the light of new technological revolutions, as well as the significant role of R&I policy in reinforcing companies’ productivity, resulting in jobs and value creation, in a sustainable way. In particular, the 2020 edition of the biennial report presents 11 policy recommendations to support our people, planet and prosperity.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “Research and innovation is at the core of the response to the unprecedented crisis we are facing and can significantly contribute to the economic recovery. The 2020 Science, Research and Innovation Performance report shows how research and innovation are central to bring about the ecological and digital transitions Europe needs. Horizon 2020 and the future Horizon Europe programme play a crucial role in this transformation.”

The EU ranks among the top players in scientific production and excellence, for example accounting worldwide for 25% of top-cited scientific publications on the topic of climate and for 27% in the area of bioeconomy. When it comes to patent applications in these two areas, the EU is also leading the way with 24% in climate and 25% in bioeconomy. Yet, more efforts are needed to turn research results into sustainable marketable solutions as well as to build a strong European Research Area and increase the effectiveness of public research systems.And, as digitalisation is transforming R&I,the right policy mix should foster deep-tech and researchers’ digital skills, alongside promoting open science and ensuring sufficient investments in high-quality data infrastructures. Horizon Europe, the EU’s next research and innovation framework programme, will be a key part in stepping up and steering R&I efforts, through its mission-oriented approach and European partnerships.

Building on the EU’s excellence and top performance in science-based research and innovation, the Science, Research and Innovation Performance report presents 11 policy recommendations, grouped around three main pillars:

  • R&I for a safe and just space for humanity;
  • R&I for global leadership;
  • R&I for economic and societal impact.  

Together, they pave the way towards R&I delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals and mainstreaming them into EU policies and initiatives that will contribute to a fair, climate-neutral and digital Europe, while at the same time boosting the competitiveness of European businesses and regions.

Background

The Science, Research and Innovation performance of the EU report analyses research and innovation dynamics as well as Europe’s performance on science and innovation and their drivers. The Report combines indicator-based macroeconomic analysis with in-depth analytical research to create a narrative that speaks to an audience of both research and innovation as well as economics and finance policymakers and analysts. This is the third edition of the biennial publication by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

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World Bank: Belarus’ Economy Can Face a Severe Shock

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As a small, open, commodity-exporting economy, Belarus is heavily exposed to shocks caused by deep contractions in its main trading partners, the collapse of oil prices, and global financial volatility related to the COVID-19 pandemic, says the World Bank’s latest Economic Update for Belarus, released today. Belarus’ economy is anticipated to contract by at least 4 percent in 2020 – the largest decline in 25 years – and growth is expected to remain weak in the medium-term.

“The impacts of COVID-19 will be severe for Belarus,” said Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Belarus. “A faster return to normal, however, could be achieved by enabling social distancing to slow the spread of the virus and cash transfers to assist vulnerable households. In addition, policy measures to boost competitiveness and productivity will allow Belarus to take advantage of global trends expected to accelerate after COVID-19. These include the growth of digital services, as well as more opportunities for goods and services, as producers seek to diversify supply chains and relocate manufacturing closer to home.”

A Special Topic Note that is part of the Update reviews the experiences of other countries in responding to the pandemic and formulates potential policy measures for Belarus.

“To help mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, it is critical to strengthen support to the poor and most vulnerable,” said Kiryl Haiduk, World Bank Country Economist for Belarus. “In Belarus, this could include increasing the coverage and generosity of means-tested benefits, such as the cash component of the targeted social assistance program (GASP), and increasing unemployment support.”

Since the Republic of Belarus joined the World Bank in 1992, lending commitments to the country have totaled $2.1 billion. In addition, the country has received grants of $31 million. The active investment lending portfolio financed by the World Bank in Belarus includes ten projects totaling $1.05 billion.

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