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Food safety critical to development and ending poverty

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Smallholders and small family farms produce up to 80% of the food in many developing countries. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

Ensuring that people everywhere can trust the safety and quality of the food they eat is the focus of a UN meeting taking place this week in Rome.

The international food standards body known as the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is expected to adopt a text on the maximum level of  mercury in fish, among other matters, during its annual session, which opened on Monday.

“One of the greatest challenges the world faces is how to ensure that a growing global population has enough safe food,” Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told the gathering.

“Food safety is a critical enabler for market access, which promotes economic development and alleviates poverty.”

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established more than 50 years ago by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO).

It coordinates input from nearly 190 countries and the European Union, and addresses themes such as contaminants, pesticides, health claims and nutrition labelling.

The Commission meets every year for one week to adopt the standards, guidelines, codes of practice and other recommendations that make up the Codex Alimentarius—Latin for “food code” —aimed at protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade.

Tom Heilandt, CAC secretary, told UN News that mercury in fish and other seafood can be harmful or even deadly to people of all ages.

“We are particularly concerned about the contamination of fish because of contamination of the seas with this heavy metal. It is partially because of natural contamination, meaning that the mercury was in the environment already and then dissolved in the oceans, and partly also because of emissions from industry,” he explained.

“It can also enter into the body, even through the hair, and it is also possible to enter the foetus in a pregnant woman.  And that can be really bad for the baby.”

Representatives from nearly 120 countries and 70 organizations are attending this year’s CAC meeting, which concludes on Friday.

Guilherme da Costa, the chairperson, called on delegates to build consensus in setting standards.

“It is essential we do our best to further develop and disseminate Codex standards in order to ensure food safety and quality for everyone everywhere,” he said.

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Paperless Travel Pilot Outlines Best Practices for Digital Travel Experience

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The World Economic Forum today releases findings from its digital passport pilot project which indicate that a fully digital travel experience is possible. However, further collaboration is needed to progress towards globally accepted and verifiable digital travel credentials.

The Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI)initiative, which was started in 2018, has worked with the governments of Canada and the Netherlands plus private-sector partners to pilot digital travel credentials for paperless travel between two countries. Lessons from this pilot are particularly relevant today as COVID-19 has underscored the need for verifiable digital credentials in cross-border travel.

A new white paper, Accelerating the Transition to Digital Credentials for Travel, is the result of collaboration between the World Economic Forum, Accenture and industry and government partners. It draws on lessons from the KTDI pilot and is intended to serve as a playbook to guide decision making and help assess important considerations in the use of verifiable digital travel credentials across borders.

“Creating digital travel credentials that work across borders is not an issue of technology but an issue of governance,” said Lauren Uppink, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism, World Economic Forum. “The learnings from the Forum’s KTDI consortium demonstrates that while the technology for the next stage of digital-first travel is ready, thoughtful collective action is what truly enables the design and effective implementation of global governance structures, ensuring that digital travel credentials are easy to use, trustworthy and verifiable across borders.”

“The pandemic has highlighted the urgency for trusted, widely-accepted, privacy preserving digital travel credentials,” says Christine Leong, Global Lead for Blockchain Identity & Biometrics, Accenture. “Leveraging digital travel credentials would provide a much more secure way of sharing verifiable information, leading to greater assurance for travellers, shorter airport processing time, and greater efficiency for airline and border staff. To achieve this, governments and private sector organisations must collaborate to bring about a seamless, paperless and contactless travel continuum for all. The time to work together is now.”

Lessons from the KTDI pilot

The KTDI project established that two major, often misleadingly polarized, technology approaches to verifiable digital identities can work together. Working with governments and technology partners, the consortium found that public key infrastructure (PKI) and decentralized digital identity can co-exist and address the digitalization of various parts of a travel journey.

Furthermore, the pilot project found that these technologies can and must be integrated within existing systems to accelerate adoption and scale.

Interoperability and collaboration were other key areas for progress identified during the KTDI pilot. For paper passports, interoperability already exists as all participating member states agree to follow the specifications through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s governance and trust frameworks.

Such an agreement for the specifications of digital travel credentials is not as widespread yet, but the adoption of traditional passport specifications shows that the benefits of using digital credentials in travel cannot be realized through isolated or one-off approaches.

The KTDI project

The first cross-border pilot for digital travel identification, the Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI) project, has been piloted with government partners from Canada and the Netherlands, along with a consortium of technology, private sector and other partners. The KTDI partners have designed and built the first government-led, public-private ecosystem to test the vision of safe and seamless cross-border travel. This vision aimed to reduce touchpoints by using emerging technologies, including biometrics and decentralized identity, and inform the future development of a globally accepted decentralized identity ecosystem.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected KTDI pilot efforts, it has also created an opportunity to further analyse how decentralized digital identity and PKI-based approaches could work together or work in sync. Although the initial pilot employed a decentralized identity approach to trial trusted digital credentials, KTDI could in the future expand to incorporate additional verifiable credentials such as COVID-19 vaccination certificates, as well as PKI-based digital credentials.

The consortium’s achievements and expertise can serve as a valuable blueprint to inform other similar efforts being pursued globally.

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Online game showcases plight of our planet’s disappearing coral reefs

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One of the world’s leading producers of online word games joined a global effort to help protect the planet’s coral reefs, which a new report finds are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Sweden’s MAG Interactive has unveiled six ocean-themed games to educate people about the ocean, coral reefs and climate change risks. The games will be launched in Wordzee, Ruzzle, Word Domination, WordBrain, WordBrain 2 and New QuizDuel.

Players are encouraged to either add their name to the petition for greater ocean and climate action and/or donate to projects associated with the Global Fund for Coral Reefs that are working to protect ocean health.

MAG Interactive is part of United Nations Environment Programmes’s (UNEP’s) Playing for the Planet Alliance that brings together gaming companies worldwide with a monthly active player base of more than 1.5 billion and a common goal of improving the environment through play.

The initiative has seen developers, including the popular Rovio Angry Birds, integrate environmental messages into their games to support the global environmental agenda, ranging from planting millions of trees to reducing plastic in their products.

Gaming companies are also supporting the Playing4Forests pledge, asking world leaders to protect forests as a line of defence against climate change.

“We couldn’t be more excited to join hands with MAG Interactive and Playing for the Planet partners, to raise awareness and resources for our planet’s precious coral reefs on the front line of climate change,” said Leticia Carvalho, Head of Marine and Freshwater at UNEP.

“Many people have no idea of the value of coral reefs to the well being of species and humans alike. Gaming can be transformational in inspiring this learning and action journey,” she added.

While they may look like plants or hard rocks, most corals are made up of thousands of small, soft-bodied animals, called polyps, surrounded by stony exoskeletons. Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life. They also provide at least half a billion people with jobs and food while protecting coastlines from storms and flooding.

Coral reefs are also extremely sensitive to climate change. Corals have shown the most rapid increase in extinction risk of all the species assessed by the Global Biodiversity Outlook.

When waters get too warm, corals release the symbiotic algae turning white, a process known as bleaching. While corals can recover from bleaching if conditions improve, prolonged coral bleaching can be fatal.

The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2020, released last week by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network in partnership with UNEP, found that 14 per cent of the world’s coral has been lost since 2009, and climate change is threatening what remains of these fragile ecosystems, often call the “rainforests of the sea.”

In the last 12 years, around 11,700 square kilometres of coral has disappeared. That is more than all the living coral in Australia.

But there is still hope for corals. Across the globe, scientists are identifying pockets of coral habitats that have greater resilience to climate change and may provide the key to their survival. The research shows that incorporating coral safe havens, known as climate refugia, into conservation plans is vital for ensuring their future survival as we work to halt and reverse current threats.

“Our goal is to create engaging content for our players while spreading an important message, that they have the power to help preserve marine ecosystems,” said Daniel Hasselberg, CEO of MAG Interactive.

MAG Interactive, whose ten game titles have been downloaded over 350 million times, developed the ocean-themes games based on the UNEP-led campaign Glowing Glowing Gone.

The creative campaign works to curb the threats to coral reefs, which along with climate change are under siege from overfishing, coastal development, pollution and ocean acidification.

The debut of the ocean-themed games preceded the recent announcement of US$125 million earmarked for the Global Fund for Coral Reefs to address critical financing and private investment barriers centered around the blue economy and to protect coral reefs. As the Global Climate Fund’s first at-scale private sector programme in climate adaptation, this investment signifies a major achievement for coral and climate resilience.

UN Environment

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Environment

Act Urgently to Preserve Biodiversity for Sustainable Future — ADB President

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The world must act urgently to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity for the sake of a sustainable future and prosperity, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said at the opening of a global event on biodiversity here today.

“The world is at a critical turning point. If we are to reverse the alarming decline in nature, we must respond with urgency and coordinated action,” Mr. Asakawa said. “These efforts are needed to ensure the survival of our ecosystems, and for the sake of our shared future and prosperity.”  

Asia and the Pacific is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries, and the greatest marine diversity. “If restored and well-managed, these natural capital assets can help to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity loss in a cost-effective and impactful manner,” Mr. Asakawa said in his opening remarks at the Ecological Civilization Forum at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  

The event is cohosted by the PRC’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Yunnan provincial government, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participants include high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, development agencies including ADB, and civil society. 

ADB is committed to helping accelerate and increase nature-positive investments in Asia and the Pacific. “Through our ADB Nature-Positive Investment Roadmap, we are working with partners to scale up finance, develop knowledge of natural capital, and generate financially sustainable projects that deliver on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems,” Mr. Asakawa said.

At COP15, ADB is launching a new publication, Greening Development in the People’s Republic of China, which outlines how ADB and the PRC have successfully partnered to promote green development and ecological restoration in a way that complements economic and social priorities. 

In partnership with the Chinese Academy of Science and Stanford University, ADB is sharing progress on its new Natural Capital Lab due for launch in 2022. This will be a digital platform for sharing methods for valuing biodiversity and ecosystems, and for building knowledge, capacities, and alliances across the region.  

In addition, ADB with partners will be launching the Regional Flyway Initiative that will conserve ecosystem services that support people and critical habitats for more than 50 million migratory waterbirds.

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