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Countries urged to act on universal social protection

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Countries have been called on to develop their national social protection systems, which comprise basic, lifelong social security guarantees for all, for health care and income security.

A Call to Action  to this effect was issued by members of the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection  (USP2030), who convened at a high-level conference at the International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters on 5 February 2019. The Call to Action refers to earlier member State commitments, particularly to end poverty, undertaken within the Sustainable Development Agenda .

Universal social protection ensures that anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time. This includes child benefits, pensions for older persons and benefits for people of working age in case of maternity, disability, work injury or for those without jobs.

“The ILO Constitution teaches us that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Social protection for anyone in need, at any age, helps ensure against that threat,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General.

Countries in many parts of the world have achieved universal coverage, such as Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Lesotho, Mongolia, Namibia, South Africa and Timor Leste. Mongolia, for instance, has been able to provide universal old age and disability pensions, as well as universal maternity and child benefits.

However, more than half of the global population (4 billion people) still has no access to even one social protection benefit. Forty-five per cent of the global population receives only one social protection benefit. Progress has been best in old-age pensions, with 68 per cent of older persons receiving a pension. However, child and family benefits are limited to one third of the world’s children: 1.3 billion children do not have social protection. The numbers worsen for persons with disabilities: only 28 per cent receive social protection benefits.

“Social protection is an essential tool for reducing poverty and a fundamental human right,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this right protects persons in situations of vulnerability, including the elderly, unemployed, sick, injured or living with a disability and those in need of maternity care, so they can retain their fundamental dignity,” she added.

In many countries, there are still large coverage gaps and inadequate benefits. One challenge, discussed by meeting participants, is the long-term willingness and capability of governments to invest in the expansion of social protection to all, including informal and gig economy workers and women who may work their whole lives but receive no pension.

“Universal social protection is critical: it raises household incomes, consumption and savings, boosting aggregate demand and enhances people’s resilience in the face of shocks, such as those that may result from climate change and structural transformations coming, for example, from new technology affecting work,” said Michal Rutkowski, Senior Director, Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice, World Bank.

Another challenge is how to secure sustainable and equitable financing for social protection. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), developing countries spend just 7 per cent of GDP on social protection whereas OECD countries spend nearly three times that.

“It’s time to make universal social protection a reality. It’s sound economic policy,” said Isabel Ortiz, ILO Director of Social Protection. “To the question about how to finance universal provision,” she added, “there is fiscal space to extend social protection even in the poorest countries, some of which have been using a number of alternative options supported by international organizations.”

Universal social protection is achieved through national policies and programmes that provide equitable access to all people and protect them throughout their lives against poverty and risks to their livelihoods and well-being. This protection can be provided through a range of mechanisms, including via cash or in-kind benefits, contributory or non-contributory schemes, and programmes to enhance human capital, productive assets and access to jobs. The provision of a social protection floor for all people in developing countries costs as little as 1.6 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on average.

“There is a strong business case for social protection. We need to invest in it for development to occur and not wait for development to put it in place. Additional finance can be provided by the private sector, cash transfers and governments who fight tax evasion and avoidance,” said Gabriela Ramos, Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, OECD.

National action is required in five areas: protection throughout the life cycle; universal coverage; country-level ownership; sustainable and equitable financing, both domestic and international; and participation and social dialogue.

The Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection (USP2030) supports countries, accelerating progress in building their social protection systems. All countries are invited to join the partnership.

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900 suspects detained with the help of Moscow Metro’s face recognition system

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Photo: Vladimir Gerdo / TASS

Since the beginning of September, about 900 suspects have been detained in Moscow with the help of face recognition, said the Head of Moscow Metro’s Security Service Andrei Kichigin in an interview with Lenta.ru. The arrested people were suspected of committing serious crimes, including those related to drug trafficking, theft, causing grievous bodily harm and other violations.

Mr. Kichigin underlined that the face recognition system does not include any personal data. “The face recognition system does not know neither names nor other personal data. Only wanted people are checked, if they are in the law enforcement services’ database. If a person is not in the base, there is nothing to compare to”– says Andrei Kichigin.

According to Moscow Metro, cameras also help to find lost child renor elderly people. Since September 2020, the facial recognition system has helped find 25 children and minors. Another way to use the technology is to evaluate the work of metro employees and remotely monitor the quality of the cleaning service: for example, the quality of cleaning in cars and at stations. The cameras will also help improve the work of the service for assessing the load of cars.

In general, all our actions are aimed at improving the passenger experience of using transport. This is the main goal of all the changes: the installation of CCTV cameras, face recognition and new digital services. We need to make sure we use efficient tools to ensure a safe and comfortable metro environment, – says Andrei Kichigin.

Finally, Mr. Kichigin noted that face recognition will enable the launch of the FacePay service, which will allow paying for travel by “face” at turnstiles and at cash desks. The system is being tested and will be available to passengers throughout the metro by the end of 2021. Andrey Kichigin notes that a similar identity verification system for purchases using Face ID has long been used by smartphone owners.

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Environment

Can financial institutions invest in ocean health?

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New, pivotal guidance published today by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) provides a market-first, practical toolkit for financial institutions to take immediate action on their lending, investment and underwriting activities which negatively impact ocean health.

The ocean covers 70% of the earth’s surface, holding 97% of all water and 80% of all life forms. Major ocean sectors such as tourism, shipping, fishing, aquaculture and marine renewable energy collectively contribute to a ‘blue’ economy, estimated at a global gross value added of USD 1.5trn in 2010. This is projected to double in size to USD 3trn by 2030, with some ocean industries set to grow faster than the global economy (OECD, 2016).

However, ocean health is under existential threat. Faced with the triple crises of pollution, nature loss and climate change, two-thirds of our oceans have been negatively altered by human activity; leaving industries, businesses and livelihoods exposed. With existing financing still largely directed towards unsustainable sectors and activities, it is critical that all sectors of the blue economy are rapidly transitioned towards sustainable pathways.

Banks, insurers and investors have a major role to play in financing this transition to a sustainable blue economy, helping to rebuild ocean prosperity and restore biodiversity to the ocean. Through their activities, and client relationships, financial institutions have a major impact on ocean health and hold the power to accelerate and mainstream the sustainable transformation of ocean-linked industries. They thereby play essential roles in wider ocean governance, engaging in public-private partnerships, and propelling local-to-global actions for sustainability.  

“Momentum is building as more banks, insurers and investors wake up to the realisation that their financial activities can have a sizeable impact on ocean health, creating a negative feedback loop for key ocean industries such as shipping, fishing, tourism and marine renewables” said Eric Usher, Head of UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).

“A new sustainable pathway for the blue economy is thus both an environmental and economic necessity. This critical new guidance provides a practical toolkit for financial institutions to understand their impact and discover how a new sustainable finance approach can help them identify key risks and opportunities in ocean-linked sectors” he added.

Leveraging best practice based on input from more than 50 pioneering institutions and experts, this guidance sets out pathways to sustainable growth across five key ocean sectors, chosen for their established connection to private finance. It presents a detailed breakdown of which activities to seek out as best practice, which activities to challenge, and which activities to avoid financing completely due to their damaging nature.

“Decades of unsustainable consumption and production is leading to environmental risks and losses in natural capital, eroding the ocean’s resource base. Without engagement by financial institutions, we will not be able to change the course to sustain a healthy ocean and unlock its enormous potential. 1$ of sustainable ocean investments can yield 5x higher global benefits” said Leticia Carvalho, Head of the Marine and Freshwater Branch, UN Environment Programme.

“This new guidance can help financial institutions invest in good ocean governance at local, regional and global levels. In a nutshell, making sustainable blue economy opportunities too hard to resist” she added.

This guidance provides decision-makers across banking, insurance and investment with a science-based and actionable toolkit, giving easy-to-follow recommendations on how to approach financial activity related to:

  • Seafood, including both fisheries and aquaculture as well as their supply chains;
  • Ports;
  • Maritime transportation;
  • Marine renewable energy, notably offshore wind; and
  • Coastal and marine tourism, including cruising.

It builds on the foundation of the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles – a keystone for financing activities in the blue economy, supported by a community of over 50 institutions worldwide with a collective total asset size of over USD 6trn.

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Environment

Duck conservation takes flight in Jamaica

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On January 20, 2021, the day of the inauguration of American president Joe Biden, two ducks named “Joe” and “Kamala” took flight from a remote wetland near Negril, Jamaica. And, like their namesakes, the fowl will be the focus of international attention.

That’s because Joe and Kamala are West Indian whistling ducks, the rarest duck species in the Americas, with fewer than 20,000 remaining, found only in the northern Caribbean. Conservationists released the pair, which were outfitted with GPS trackers, into the wild on 20 January, kicking off a study to learn more about their species and, researchers hope, ensure their survival.

BirdsCaribbean is a partner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The whistling duck study is supported by UNEP’s Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco) project.

With one million species are at risk of extinction, biodiversity is a key priority of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  Ecosystems are fundamental to human health and prosperity, availing food and water, regulating temperature, stimulating economic growth, putting roofs over heads and clothing on backs. As ecosystems degrade, so do human lives.

As the world faces the stark reality that none of the Aichi targets were met and prepares for a new, ambitious post-2020 framework, the issue is more urgent than ever.  In fact, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are ranked among the top five threats to humanity in the coming decade.

Whistling ducks’ long-term survival has been threatened by the destruction of their wetland habitats, as well as climate change, pollution, poaching and predators. Little is known about the large waterbird that is between the size of a large duck and a goose, has a long neck, and is mostly brown in colour, but may have black-and-white patches on its neck and flanks. The duck’s characteristic features is its distinctive whistling call.

“We are thrilled with the launch of this exciting project,” said Lisa Sorenson, the Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. “I expect it will lead to major improvements in our knowledge of the ducks’ movements and habitat use.”

The trackers attached to Joe and Kamala  are expected to plot their positions every hour to within a few metres and will help the scientists to know about the species, their migration patterns, nesting sites, feeding zones and roosting locales. Researchers are aiming to use the information gathered through the initiative to plan for the species’ recovery.

Led by UNEP with the backing of the Global Environment Facility, IWEco is helping 10 Caribbean countries manage their water and land resources while safeguarding biodiversity. A key part of the project has been the protection and monitoring of endemic species, like West Indian whistling ducks.

As one of the three founding Global Environment Facility partners, UNEP has been working on conservation projects supported by the facility for almost 30 years.

“Together, UNEP and the Global Environment Facility have successfully worked to address global transboundary issues since 1992, and we look forward to further strengthening and implementing actions for nature,” said Sinikinesh Beyene Jimma head of UNEP’s GEF International Waters Unit.

And while biodiversity targets have not been met, evidence indicates that efforts have produced results. Where action was taken, habitat loss was controlled and decades of degradation were reversed.

UN Environment

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