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World commits to pollution-free planet at environment summit

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The world today committed to a pollution-free planet at the close of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, with resolutions and pledges promising to improve the lives of billions across the globe by cleaning up our air, land and water.

If every promise made in and around the summit is met, 1.49 billion more people will breathe clean air, 480,000 km (or around 30 per cent) of the world’s coastlines will be clean, and USD 18.6 billion for research and development and innovative programmes to combat pollution will come online.

“The science we have seen at this assembly shows we have been so bad at looking after our planet that we have very little room to make more mistakes,” said Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica and the President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly. “With the promises made here, we are sending a powerful message that we will listen to the science, change the way we consume and produce, and tackle pollution in all its forms across the globe.”

Over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials, civil society representatives, activists and celebrities gathered at the summit in Nairobi, which ran for three days.

For the first time at a UN Environment Assembly, environment ministers issued a declaration. This declaration said nations would honour efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans – which harms our health, societies, ecosystems, economies, and security.

The declaration committed to increasing research and development, targeting pollution through tailored actions, moving societies towards sustainable lifestyles based on a circular economy, promoting fiscal incentives to move markets and promote positive change, strengthening and enforcing laws on pollution, and much more.

The assembly also passed 13 non-binding resolutions and three decisions. Among them were moves to address marine litter and microplastics, prevent and reduce air pollution, cut out lead poisoning from paint and batteries, protect water-based ecosystems from pollution, deal with soil pollution, and manage pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism.

“Today we have put the fight against pollution high on the global political agenda,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “We have a long struggle ahead of us, but the summit showed there is a real appetite for significant positive change.

“It isn’t just about the UN and governments, though. The massive support we have seen from civil society, businesses and individuals – with millions of pledges to end pollution – show that this is a global challenge with a global desire to win this battle together.”

A large part of the impact from the assembly comes from global support. UN Environment’s #BeatPollution campaign hit almost 2.5 million pledges during the event, with 88,000 personal commitments to act.

Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka all joined the #CleanSeas campaign during the Nairobi summit, with Sri Lanka promising to implement a ban on single-use plastic products from 1 January 2018, step up the separation and recycling of waste, and set the goal of freeing its ocean and coasts of pollution by 2030. There are now 39 countries in the campaign.

Colombia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Hungary and Mongolia joined 100 cities who were already in the #BreatheLife campaign, which aims to tackle air pollution. Every signatory has committed to reduce air pollution to safe levels by 2030, with Singapore promising to tighten fuel and emissions standards for vehicles, and emissions standards for industry.

The global momentum comes not a moment too soon, as the UN Environment report, The Executive Director’s Report: Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, lays out.

Overall, environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6 million people a year, and the widespread destruction of key ecosystems. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental killer, claiming 6.5 million lives each year.

Exposure to lead in paint causes brain damage to 600,000 children annually. Our seas already contain 500 “dead zones” with too little oxygen to support marine life. Over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, poisoning the fields where we grow our food and the lakes and rivers that provide drinking water to 300 million people.

There is also a huge economic cost. A recent report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says that welfare losses due to pollution are estimated at over USD 4.6 trillion each year, equivalent to 6.2 per cent of global economic output.

“We had two missions at this assembly,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment’s deputy head. “One [agreeing on action] is accomplished. The second we must start tomorrow.”

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AIIB Donates USD1M to Help China Fight COVID-19

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Overseas shipments of medical supplies donated by AIIB are being delivered to Wuhan and Beijing by batches.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is contributing USD1 million to help China control the spread of COVID-19. The amount comprises donations from AIIB staff and matching funds from the Bank.

The contribution was used to purchase medical equipment to help frontline health care professionals battling the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and Beijing. AIIB has been sourcing medical supplies from around the world, including 51,000 medical masks, 46,000 protective clothing, 17,000 surgery aprons, 21,000 boxes of surgery gloves and other medical and epidemic prevention supplies with a total weight of 40 tons. The first batch of materials is delivered to Wuhan and Beijing on Feb. 24, 2020, with other batches to follow.

“AIIB’s management and staff stand by the Chinese people,” said AIIB President and Chair of the Board Jin Liqun. “We are ready to offer our help to the best of our ability. We want to do our part as residents of China to help stop the epidemic’s spread.”

AIIB also announced on Feb. 10, 2020 that it has been in active discussions with the Government of China to strengthen the country’s emergency public health infrastructure and help meet its immediate and longer-term public health needs.

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APEC Needs to Look Beyond Numbers, Bring Concrete Benefits to People

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The current volatility and uncertainty of the international trade environment requires APEC to be dynamic, said Dato’ Sri Norazman Ayob, Deputy Secretary General of Industry of Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

“Integration of the global supply chain carries inherent systemic risk of disruption to domestic economies in the event of a major breakdown along the value chain,” he said during his remarks at a dialogue with stakeholders focused on APEC’s post-2020 vision in Putrajaya on Wednesday. “Businesses would need to constantly reassess their business models to ensure business continuity.”

Notwithstanding, the ever-changing environment requires constant rebalancing measures from regulators and industry players to encourage domestic industrial development to ensure economic growth remains sustainable. 

Norazman argued that as the premier economic forum in the region, APEC needs to realign its priorities to look at economic growth beyond creating equal opportunities and prosperity through trade and investment, “but also tangible benefits to the people.”

He noted that APEC’s goal of free and open trade in the region, otherwise known as the Bogor Goals, has brought integration to the region by reducing trade barriers and addressing regulatory issues.

Average tariffs within APEC have fallen from 17 percent in 1989 to 5.3 percent in 2018. During the same period, APEC’s share of world’s trade increased from 41 percent to 48 percent. APEC economies account for more than 80 percent of Malaysia’s total trade.

“Despite these achievements, we are very much living in a world where uncertainty is the new normal and economies have to be prepared to constantly embrace change in order to survive in the current global environment,” Norazman explained.

One of the key deliverables for Malaysia as the host of APEC this year is to lead the development of the new APEC vision that will guide the forum’s work in the next decades.

Guided by the overarching concept of “Shared Prosperity”, Malaysia plans to introduce initiatives to enable trade and investments to generate concrete outcomes for the people in the region.

According to Norazman, Malaysia will promote the development of the digital economy and encourage effective use of advanced technologies to improve living standards, create equal employment opportunities and achieve a more balanced growth across the region.

“The Post-2020 Vision has to ensure that people are put at the core of the discussion,” he concluded. “A more holistic approach that includes inclusivity, equality and sustainability can be explored in ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Senior Officials from APEC economies will gather in Putrajaya on 21-22 February 2020 to discuss the initiatives and work plans for the year.

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Afghanistan: Civilian casualties exceed 10,000 for sixth straight year

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More than 10,000 civilians in Afghanistan were killed and injured last year, according to a new United Nations report that details record-high levels of civilian harm in the ongoing conflict.

“Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),  said  on Saturday. 

The report, entitled Afghanistan Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2019, documents 3,403 civilians killed and 6,989 injured – with the majority of the civilian casualties inflicted by anti-Government elements. 

It is the sixth year in a row that the number of civilian casualties has exceeded 10,000.

Grim milestone

After more than a decade of systematically documenting the impact of the war on civilians, the UN found that in 2019 the number of civilian casualties had surpassed 100,000.

“It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are underway”, stressed Mr. Yamamoto.

The figures outlined in the report, released jointly by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office, represent a five per cent decrease over the previous year, mainly due to a drop in civilian casualties caused by the terrorist group ISIL. 

However, civilian casualties caused by the other parties rose, including a 21 per cent increase by the Taliban and an 18 per cent surge by the international military forces, mainly due to an increase in improvised explosive device attacks and airstrikes. 

Protect civilians

“All parties to the conflict must comply with the key principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution to prevent civilian casualties,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

To ensure accountability, the report calls on all conflict parties to conduct prompt, effective and transparent investigations into all allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. 

“Belligerents must take the necessary measures to prevent women, men, boys and girls from being killed by bombs, shells, rockets and improvised mines; to do otherwise is unacceptable”, concluded the High Commissioner.

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