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‘The clock is ticking’ on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals

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Pointing to climate change, inequalities and other serious challenges, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a forum on Thursday Development that “the clock is ticking” down, to making the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Climate change is ravaging the planet… staggering numbers of children and youth – especially girls and young women – still lack access to basic education and healthcare services, [and] people in many countries are starved of economic opportunities, decent work and social protection measures”, she told the  2019 ECOSOC Partnership Forum, where governments, business representatives and other influencers met to discuss how partnerships can best advance and the 17 (SDGs).

Under the theme, “Partnerships Driving Inclusive Implementation of the SDGs”, the Forum will capture key policy messages to inform the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in in September.

“Our task is immense, but many of the pathways to change are in plain sight”, she asserted, adding that while “success is still possible”, it requires difficult conversations around “the need to fill partnership skillset gaps, tackle financing shortfalls, and address data deficiencies”.

The economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development call for “a fully integrated approach” that engages everyone.

“Partnerships are critical for achieving progress across the full agenda” stressed Ms. Mohammed, calling SDG 17 on partnerships, “the ‘connective tissue’ which will ensure an integrated and holistic approach to sustainable development”.

The deputy UN chief shared four points for discussion, beginning with a commitment between the UN, governments, private sector and civil society to work together in a more coordinated and integrated way. 

“The transformation we need requires us to acknowledge that everyone is a development actor,” she argued. “Governments alone cannot achieve the SDGs”. 

Secondly, she pointed to the need to prioritize investments in platforms and coalitions that engage a larger ecosystem of partners. 

“Investments in cross-cutting, high-return priorities have strong potential to unlock progress across multiple SDGs”, she stated, flaggin a range of areas, from quality education and health services to zero-carbon energy and environmental conservation.

Ms. Mohammad’s third point focused on leadership, innovation and strategic collaborations “at the local level”. 

“We must draw on the knowledge and experience of local communities and actors on the ground to ensure that we replicate and scale up the most promising models”, she emphasized. 

Ensuring that the process to socialize the SDGs and strengthen ownership is “inclusive, transparent and accountable”, was her final point.

“All stakeholders, big or small should find a place to play their role and make their contribution”, she maintained. 

She urged everyone to “reflect honestly about where we are falling short, because those shortcomings are also where the opportunities lie to make a difference”. 

“Only with this kind of pragmatic approach will we realize our aspiration of leaving no one behind”, said Ms. Mohammed, with the reminder that promoting equitable access and equal participation by all, including the most marginalized, “is a fundamental ethic of the SDG era”. 

Turning to capacity-building for vulnerable groups, she encouraged the forum to apply “a lens of inclusion and empowerment” to ensure that they “are put in the driver’s seat for SDG implementation”. 

Recalling that young people, particularly women and entrepreneurs, are at the forefront of SDG progress, the Deputy Secretary-General concluded: “Let’s make sure we listen carefully to their vision and draw inspiration from their determination and commitment to creating a better world”.

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Trade and Development Bank, UNEP to collaborate on climate finance

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In a pledge to continue stepping-up its commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation action, the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB) signed a Memorandum of Understanding today with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The MOU effectively establishes a framework of cooperation through which the two institutions can collaborate in a number of areas critical to the global environmental agenda.

In the field of clean energy finance, TDB and UNEP will work to enhance investment opportunities for both public and private finance to support the dissemination of clean energy technologies. This will include supporting the early stage development and project finance of renewable energy projects, as well as the development of financing mechanisms to allow access to smaller-scale sustainable energy and energy-efficient appliances for household and productive use.

Additionally, the two institutions will cooperate on supporting eligible TDB Member States to access Green Climate Fund resources to enable them to adapt to the changing climate and develop along a low-emission pathway.

“As a member of the International Development Finance Club, a leading global group of development financiers advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate finance, TDB works closely with its partners to implement the 2030 SDG Agenda as well as the Paris Climate Agreement. With global partners such as UNEP, we expect to more seriously realize the international commitment to support Africa to grow and develop sustainably,” said Admassu Tadesse, TDB President and Chief Executive.

Michael Awori, TDB Chief Operating Officer, added that “our commitment is evidenced by the fact that 70% of our power sector portfolio is in renewable energy. With this track record, we are the right partner with whom to co-finance and support more sustainable growth and development projects across various sectors.”

“While Eastern and Southern African economic growth continues to be strong, there is great potential to harness clean energy in the region. UNEP and TDB are partnering to support wide dissemination of clean energy technologies and unlock the financial resources needed to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP.

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CLEANTECH: A Catalyst for Climate Action

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On the third day of the 18th Session of its General Conference, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) organized an event on innovative Cleantech solutions supported by UNIDO and its partners, which showcased their high potential to address environmental challenges, especially as a catalyst for Climate Action and the Clean Energy Transition.

The importance of strong and synergistic network partnerships to fulfill a Cleantech solution’s full impact potential – from situational analysis and needs assessment to full-scale commercialization and deployment – was discussed, with an emphasis on closing the financing gap typically experienced by Cleantech enterprises and project developers.

The event further highlighted the broader elements of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Energy Transition, with entrepreneurs sharing their experiences in starting and scaling up impactful ideas and products. Financing models for Cleantech and innovative solutions were introduced, with a view of transforming the investment paradigms and approaches currently applied to Cleantech. Concurrently, the CTCN support was presented, as also applied to youth, men and women.

As such, the event concluded that Cleantech technologies are a crucial and catalytic factor in implementing the global vision of a low-carbon, climate-resilient and sustainable future for all, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the event deemed very important that economic opportunities embedded in the low-carbon trajectory are leveraged to become profitable business models for climate and energy solutions.

Finally, the event shared insights and recommendations on how the international development community and the private sector could further support climate action and the clean energy transition by promoting the development and deployment of innovative Cleantech solutions.

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Rooting for the environment in times of conflict and war

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Eighteen years ago, on 5 November 2001, the United Nations General Assembly declared 6 November the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

Despite the protection afforded by several legal instruments, the environment continues to be the silent victim of armed conflicts worldwide.

Public concern regarding the targeting and use of the environment during wartime first peaked during the Viet Nam War. The use of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, and the resulting massive deforestation and chemical contamination it caused, sparked an international outcry leading to the creation of two new international legal instruments.

The Environmental Modification Convention was adopted in 1976 to prohibit the use of environmental modification techniques as a means of warfare. Protocol I, an amendment to the Geneva Conventions adopted in the following year, included two articles (35 and 55) prohibiting warfare that may cause “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment”.

The adequacy of these two instruments, however, was called into question during the 1990–1991 Gulf War. The extensive pollution caused by the intentional destruction of over 600 oil wells in Kuwait by the retreating Iraqi army and the subsequent claims for US$85 billion in environmental damages led to further calls to strengthen legal protection of the environment during armed conflict.

And there have been other instances in which armed conflicts have continued to cause significant damage to the environment—directly, indirectly and as a result of a lack of governance and institutional collapse. For instance, dozens of industrial sites were bombed during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, leading to toxic chemical contamination at several hotspots, namely in Pančevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor and raised alarm over potential pollution of the Danube River. In another example, an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil were released into the Mediterranean Sea following the bombing of the Jiyeh power station during the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.

More recently, armed conflict in Iraq which began in June 2014, and ended with the capture of the last ISIL-held areas and retreat of ISIS militants in 2017, left a deep environmental footprint in its wake. As the militants retreated, they set fire to oil wells triggering the release into the air of toxic mix of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particulate matter and metals such as nickel, vanadium and lead.

However, despite these challenges, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working with various Member States and other partners to strengthen the protection of the environment before, during and after armed conflict.

“From early 2018, the Iraqi government and UNEP partnered to build a cross-ministry team capable of tackling pollution from the conflict. The initiative is also meant to strengthen the government’s capacity in responding to future environmental emergencies that may result from attacks against critical installations, particularly Iraq’s booming oil sector,” says Hassan Partow, UNEP’s Iraq Country Programme Manager.

In September 2019, UNEP in collaboration with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq organized a workshop on remediation of oil spills, and is assisting the Ministries of Oil and Environment trial cost-effective biological clean-up techniques.

Iraq is also among seven countries selected to participate in UNEP’s Special Programme, an initiative designed to help states meet their chemicals and waste management obligations under the Basel, Rotterdam, Minamata and Stockholm conventions and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. These countries will receive technical know-how and assistance with drafting hazardous waste management legislation. 

Recently, on 8 July 2019 the International Law Commission adopted 28 draft legal principles on first reading to enhance protection of the environment in conflict and war situations. The International Committee of the Red Cross is also set to release a revised version of the Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict.

“Protecting the environment before, during and after armed conflict must rise to the same level of political importance as protecting human rights. A healthy environment is the foundation upon which ​peace and many human rights are realized,” says David Jensen, UNEP’s Head of Environmental Peacebuilding.

Since 1999, UNEP has conducted over twenty-five post-conflict assessments using state-of-the-art science to determine the environmental impacts of war. From Kosovo to Afghanistan, Sudan and the Gaza Strip, the organization has established that armed conflict causes significant harm to the environment and the communities that depend on natural resources. Increasingly, UNEP hopes to leverage big data, frontier technology and citizen science to improve the systematic monitoring and detection of environmental damage and risks caused by armed conflicts in order to improve the protection of human health, livelihoods and security. Building a digital ecosystem for the planet to map, monitor and mitigate environment, peace and security risks is one of the next priority investments.

UN Environment

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