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IsDB launches innovation platform to accelerate economic growth in developing countries

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The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) – one of the world’s largest multilateral  development  banks  –  has  launched  Engage,  a  new  digital  platform  which  will promote technological and scientific solutions to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The President of the IsDB, Dr. Bandar Hajjar, announced the launch of Engage at an event hosted  at  Bloomberg’s  European  Headquarters  in  London,  alongside  the  Under-Secretary- General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Dr. Hayat Sindi, Chief Scientific Advisor to the IsDB and a group of business, innovation and development experts.

The IsDB has launched Engage in recognition of the crucial role that science and technology play in  enabling  the Global Goals.  The Engage platform will create  a global  innovation network, connecting the latest scientific and technological knowledge with market opportunities and funding. It will provide a space for innovators to interact with each other and incubate unique ideas that can be translated into real development solutions.

Speaking at the launch event, H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar, President of the Islamic Development Bank said: “The Islamic Development Bank understands the need to innovate and collaborate across all sectors to help build capacity within countries to address their own development requirements. Engage will provide the right tools and a supportive environment, so innovators and businesses can harness the great potential of science, technology and innovation as strategic drivers for economic growth among their local communities.”

Dr.   Hayat   Sindi,   Chief   Scientific   Advisor   to   the   President   of   the   Islamic Development Bank said: “Engage offers three main services: match-making, technology transfer and Calls for Innovation. Through Engage, innovators, SMEs, private sector companies, Governments and NGOs will benefit from tailored mentoring services and expert knowledge- sharing  that  will  help  activate  their  ideas  and  proposals  to  an  internationally  recognised standard.”

The platform will focus on six SDGs, specifically working towards achieving greater food security, healthier lives, inclusive and equitable education, sustainable management of water, access to affordable and clean energy, and sustainable industrialisation across the developing world; ultimately helping to improve the lives of millions of people.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Under Secretary General of the UN and Executive Secretary ESCAP said: “Engage and Transform will power the policy shifts needed for science, technology and innovation to have a positive impact, not just on our economy, but on our society and the environment.  The initiatives will also spur a new era of open and collaborative innovation to ensure no country is left behind in the technological revolution.”

She added, “The partnership agreement between IsDB and ESCAP will bring together the skills and sources of capital needed to support innovation solutions for sustainable development.”

To ensure its members have access to financing for innovation, the Islamic Development Bank has established a new Fund – The Transform Fund – which will finance innovative ideas linked to development solutions. It will provide seed money for innovators, start-ups and SMEs, as well as funding   partnerships   between   researchers   and   entrepreneurs   that   will   tackle development challenges in line with the SDGs.

The event also saw the signing of two landmark MoUs by the IsDB. The first, with the United Nations ESCAP, committing to build a global network of scientists, technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors; and to nurture and scale high potential innovations  to achieve sustainable and inclusive development.

The second, with the Shell Foundation, an independent UK-registered charity, is a commitment to  share  market  insight  and  investment  opportunities  to  support  social enterprises  that  are providing energy access and affordable transport for people in low-income areas. By providing critical early-stage support to pioneer innovators, the partners aim to lift millions of people out of poverty and improve their quality of life.

Mr. Sam Parker, Director of the Shell Foundation, said: “Most innovators lack the capacity, risk capital and market connections to build sustainable businesses and attract commercial funding to scale. Over the last two decades we have worked with entrepreneurs to prove that the private sector can deliver essential goods and services to low-income customers: enhancing access to energy, education, healthcare and employment. We are delighted to partner with  IsDB  to  show  how  foundations  and  development  banks  can  provide  and  leverage  this support, as a cost-effective way to achieve the SDGs.”

The Engage platform was developed for IsDB by Nordic Innovation Accelerator Ltd. Nina Harjula, Chairman of the Board of the NIA said: “We are pioneers of Open Innovation platforms and for us building a global reach has been the mission from the beginning. We are thrilled to work with IsDB especially since this is the first collaboration to reach innovators from the developing communities. To reach the sustainable development goals we need to engage innovators globally and ensure that their business ideas and tested and scalable sustainable solutions find their way faster to places where the demand and markets are.”

H.E. Dr. Bandar continued: “We recognise that ideas can come from anywhere, but ideas need to be nurtured so they can grow into long-term projects that can make a lasting difference to the world. We are grateful to our partners at UN ESCAP and the Shell Foundation for their support and look forward to collaborating with many more companies, entrepreneurs, investors, governments, academics and NGOs as we focus on the importance of investing in science, technology and innovation.

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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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