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Countries urged to ratify labour conventions

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Since its founding in 1919, ILO international labour standards have improved the working lives of millions of people. From eliminating forced and child labour to ensuring the rights of seafarers and promoting gender equality, the 189 Conventions  and 205 Recommendations  adopted by member States during the last 100 years have formed the bedrock of the ILO and its mandate.

However, many issues in the world of work remain, and with new challenges being created by globalization and cross border activities, international labour standards are needed more than ever. Therefore, to mark its Centenary  year, the ILO is urging its 187 member States  to ratify at least one additional ILO Convention or Protocol  in 2019.

“We hope that as many member States as possible will step up to the plate and ratify this year. Ratifications and the full application of ILO global labour standards will ultimately lift up millions of workers whose livelihoods today, like 100 years ago, are facing substantial challenges. The implementation of international labour standards ensures that no one will be left behind in the world of work,” said Corinne Vargha, Director of the International Labour Standards Department.

To gauge progress towards this goal the ILO will track all 2019 ratifications in real time on a new dashboard . More than 30 member States have already made a head start, having signed Conventions or Protocols in 2019 or ratified instruments that will enter into force this year.

“For one hundred years, the ILO has been setting and supervising the standards that breathe life into social justice, decent work and fair globalization. Setting such standards today is more relevant than ever,” said Tim De Meyer, Senior Advisor on Standards Policy. “Our ‘One for All ’ campaign to step up the number of ratifications this year should ultimately help people who may not yet have fair treatment at work, income security or the right to organize.”

ILO Conventions are negotiated by government, employers’ and workers’ representatives. They fall into three categories:

  • Fundamental Conventions, which cover child labour, forced labour, discrimination at work, the right to organize and collective bargaining;
  • Governance Conventions, which strengthen social dialogue, labour inspection and policies for full, productive and freely chosen employment;
  • Technical Conventions, which cover a range of issues including specific categories of workers, minimum wages, pensions, occupational safety and health.

In the last 100 years the implementation of international labour standards has led to positive changes on a wide range of issues. For instance, Conventions on child labour contributed to the reduction in child labour from 246 million children in 2000 to 152 million in 2016. Conventions on working time have placed limits on working hours and the working week. The Maritime Labour Convention – which currently covers more than 90 per cent of the world’s gross shipping tonnage – has improved working conditions for many seafarers.

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Environment

Minamata Convention on Mercury: 3 years of protecting health and the environment

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The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The year 2020 is a milestone for the Convention – it is when parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Convention, reflects on its impact.

Mercury has been mined and utilized since ancient times. People used it in burial ceremonies, in paints in their houses, as a sedative, an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive, in cosmetics, to treat syphilis, to name a few. Alchemists believed that mercury was the component in all metals that gave them their “metal-ness.”

The chemical properties of mercury make it popular for many uses. It is the only common metal, which is liquid at ordinary temperature, it has high density and amalgamates easily with many metals, such as gold, silver, and tin.

If only people in the past knew what we know today. Health effects of metal and especially of its more toxic and bio-accumulative form called methylmercury, are devasting. It can damage brain functions, nervous system and is especially dangerous to women and unborn children since it is transmitted through the placenta.

Over the last decades, scientific evidence about the environmental fate of mercury and its compounds has grown tremendously. Past and present human activities have increased total atmospheric mercury concentrations by about 450% above natural levels (UNEP, 2019). Mercury from human activities can now be found in the most remote areas, in marine mammals and fish in the Arctic and at the bottom of the Mariana Trench—the deepest oceanic trench on the planet.

Despite all this evidence, mercury use continues – it is used to extract gold from ore on four continents and in certain products and industrial processes in countries around the world. But the scientific knowledge has not been produced in vain.

In 2013, a new treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, was adopted by a global community under the auspices of UNEP. The Convention is named after Minamata Bay in Japan to remember the lessons of the tragic health damage by industrial mercury pollution in the 1950s and 1960s.

The aim of the treaty is to protect the environment and the human health from anthropogenic emissions and releases of the toxic heavy metal. It regulates the entire life cycle of mercury – its supply, trade, use, emissions, releases, storage, and the management of waste and contaminated sites.

This new piece of international law entered into force on 16 August 2017 and it already has 123 Parties, with new countries joining all the time.

2020 is a major deadline in the Convention. By the end of this year, Parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. These products are in every-day use and include batteries, switches and relays, certain types of lamps, cosmetics, pesticides, biocides and topical antiseptics, and certain types of measuring devices such as thermometers and manometers. Mercury use in two major manufacturing processes, Chlor-alkali industry and acetaldehyde production, is being phased out as well, along with restricting use in other industrial processes.

Science will continue to be instrumental to ensure effective and cost-efficient implementation of the Convention by its Parties. For instance, we know that artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest user and emitter of mercury into the environment globally, accounting for 37% of total consumption and 38% of total anthropogenic emissions in 2015 (UNEP, 2019).

The Minamata Convention Parties work to reduce, and where feasible eliminate, the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, without pushing the often-informal sector underground. This is done primarily through formalization, including improving transparency and accountability in global gold supply chains. ASGM generates income for an estimated 10-15 million miners and another 100 million or more in the secondary economy and is thus an essential focus of economic recovery from COVID-19 and building back better.

Apart from the intentional use of mercury in processes and products, industrial activities to produce power and other commodities are a major source of mercury contributing to air pollution. Mercury emissions can be controlled by a wide range of technologies and best practices, including many which reduce other air pollutants at the same time. Shifting away from coal is an effective measure too.

For many years, four behavioural factors – unhealthy diets, tobacco-smoking, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity – were cited as the top risk factors for non-communicable diseases. In 2018, the United Nations High-level Meeting on non-communicable diseases included air pollution as a fifth risk factor. Non-communicable diseases, respiratory diseases included, currently account for the deaths of seven in every 10 people worldwide. A correlation between the level of air pollution and the number of COVID-19 cases does not come as a surprise (WEF, 2020).

In implementing the Minamata Convention, we are all working to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Coral might be back in once heavily-polluted Minamata Bay in Japan, after decades of restoration. However, Minamata Bay people still suffer from past methyl-mercury poisoning. Building back better is also about creating a world where people can live in good health for generations to come.

We celebrate the third anniversary of the Convention with the great enthusiasm that we can #MakeMercuryHistory.

UN Environment

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APEC Announces Nominations for 2020 Science Prize

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Twelve young scientists across 21 APEC member economies are tackling biodiversity challenges and they have been nominated for this year’s APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education, known as the ASPIRE Prize.

Under the theme of “Biodiversity for a Prosperous Economy,” the 2020 ASPIRE Prize will be awarded for scientific research focused on biodiversity and how it contributes to local livelihoods, traditional and modern medicines and economic development.

“We are thrilled to announce the nominees and showcase their research,” said Daniel Dufour, Chair of the APEC Policy Partnership for Science, Technology, and Innovation, which administers the annual ASPIRE Prize. “The work of the nominees will contribute to APEC’s scientific and technological efforts toward a post pandemic recovery.”

The winner will be announced at a virtual ceremony during a suite of meetings hosted by Malaysia in August 2020 and will be awarded USD 25,000 from renowned publishers of scholarly scientific knowledge, Wiley and Elsevier.

“The theme of biodiversity is important to APEC economies because of its application to health systems and sustainable development,” said Dr. Siti Hamisah, Secretary General of Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation Malaysia. “A well-functioning ecosystem and rich biodiversity are imperative to the well-being of communities around the region and lead to economic prosperity.”

Work carried out by the 2020 nominees includes the study of wasps’ contribution to maintaining healthy natural ecosystems; the testing of herbal medicines traditionally used to prevent viral infections applied to other contexts; and conservation and sustainable use of plant biodiversity using molecular technologies.

Click here to meet the 2020 ASPIRE Prize finalists

“As we celebrate 10 years of the ASPIRE Prize, we are honored to highlight the work of researchers who are dedicating their careers to driving APEC’s economic sustainability and prosperity,” said Brian Napack, Wiley’s Chief Executive Officer.

“Collaboration across borders is a critical pillar of the ASPIRE Prize and global scientific advancement,” he explained. “We are proud to support these impressive young scientists.”

“These young researchers and their pursuit of scientific excellence is critical for all of our economies, not only to further economic growth, but also to protect the health of our environment and populations,” concluded YoungSuk “Y.S.” Chi, Chairman of Elsevier. “These young scientists are leading the way for a more sustainable future for generations to come.”

Since its establishment in 2011, the ASPIRE prize has recognized young scientists working on issues ranging from natural laboratories, food security, sustainable ocean development, strengthening international science and technology networks and promoting innovation.

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Biofuture Platform: 5 Principles for Post-COVID Bioeconomy Recovery and Acceleration

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The Biofuture Platform, a twenty-country, multi-stakeholder initiative, announced on the 12 August the launch of a set of voluntary principles. These are intended to offer guidance to governments and policymakers around the world on the need to promote the sustainable bioeconomy in both short-term relief packages and broader post-COVID economic recovery programs. The principles have the support of the twenty Biofuture Platform member countries, and were developed following consultations with policymakers, industry experts and international organisations.

The IEA is the Facilitator of the Biofuture Platform since February 2019. The Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol commented on the development of the Principles: “Bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy sector and will be paramount to a successful global energy transition. But its growth is currently not on track to meet sustainable development goals. It is critical that governments incorporate bioenergy in their COVID economic recovery plans, promoting jobs in the sector and ensuring its considerable potential does not remain untapped”.

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