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Afghanistan: Civilian casualties exceed 10,000 for sixth straight year

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More than 10,000 civilians in Afghanistan were killed and injured last year, according to a new United Nations report that details record-high levels of civilian harm in the ongoing conflict.

“Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),  said  on Saturday. 

The report, entitled Afghanistan Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2019, documents 3,403 civilians killed and 6,989 injured – with the majority of the civilian casualties inflicted by anti-Government elements. 

It is the sixth year in a row that the number of civilian casualties has exceeded 10,000.

Grim milestone

After more than a decade of systematically documenting the impact of the war on civilians, the UN found that in 2019 the number of civilian casualties had surpassed 100,000.

“It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are underway”, stressed Mr. Yamamoto.

The figures outlined in the report, released jointly by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office, represent a five per cent decrease over the previous year, mainly due to a drop in civilian casualties caused by the terrorist group ISIL. 

However, civilian casualties caused by the other parties rose, including a 21 per cent increase by the Taliban and an 18 per cent surge by the international military forces, mainly due to an increase in improvised explosive device attacks and airstrikes. 

Protect civilians

“All parties to the conflict must comply with the key principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution to prevent civilian casualties,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

To ensure accountability, the report calls on all conflict parties to conduct prompt, effective and transparent investigations into all allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. 

“Belligerents must take the necessary measures to prevent women, men, boys and girls from being killed by bombs, shells, rockets and improvised mines; to do otherwise is unacceptable”, concluded the High Commissioner.

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Rosewood conservation: A success story from Madagascar

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Edmond (right) and Nirina (left) are involved in a UNEP project to replant endangered rosewood trees in Madagascar. So far, the initiative has cultivated more than 2,000 saplings. Photo by Adolphe Lehavana/Missouri Botanical Garden

For Madagascar farmer Edmond, who goes by one name, it was a breakthrough. In 2019 he perfected a complicated technique to grow a rare species of tree known as Dalbergia normandii.

The plants hail from a valuable, and difficult-to-propagate family of trees known as rosewoods, which have been felled near to the point of extinction in many parts of Madagascar.

“This year is one of the happiest years of my life because the time I spent on this technique was not in vain,” said Edmond, 60, who lives in Ambodimanga village on Madagascar’s eastern coast. “This time, luck is with me.”

Edmond is working on a rosewood conservation project coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its aim is to safeguard a group of trees that is the world’s most trafficked wild product by value and volume. From Guatemala to Madagascar to Thailand to Zambia, rosewoods have been targeted by timber traffickers who seek to profit especially from its growing demand in China and Viet Nam, principally for furniture.

“Over the last decade, the share of total rosewood imports to China coming from Africa has steadily increased, with a portion of this share suspected to have been illegally sourced in or exported from Africa,” says a July 2020 report by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  

To help reverse this trend, in 2017 UNEP, Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, and local partners launched a Global Environment Facility-funded project titled Conservation of key, threatened, endemic and economically valuable species. The project, which runs till 2022, seeks to reduce the threats to 21 economically important but threatened species at 18 sites in Madagascar. The production of large quantities of healthy new rosewood plants is critical to the project’s success.

The Pointe à Larrée protected area, on the coast in central-eastern Madagascar, currently managed by Missouri Botanical Garden, is one of the project sites. It’s home to 13 species targeted by the project, including six species of Dalbergia, most of them rosewood. (All species of Dalbergia fall within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix II.)

Rosewood species “threatened for decades”

“These species have been threatened for decades due to commercial exploitation for their very valuable `precious wood’ and habitat loss due to slash-and-burn cultivation,” says Adolphe Lehavana, project manager at Pointe à Larrée and an employee of Missouri Botanical Garden, an international non-governmental organization mandated by Madagascar to manage the protected area.

“Population levels for some species are now critically low and they seemed doomed to local extinction since isolated trees fail to produce seeds.

“For example, within the landscape, including the protected area, researchers have been able to locate just 10 remaining individuals of Dalbergia maritima and just one remaining individual of Dalbergia louvelii – all outside the protected area,” he adds.

Through the project, resources are now being mobilized to prevent the local extinction of these very rare species by reinforcing the wild population as part of an ecological restoration programme.

In 2019 the team produced 2,328 young rosewood plants using the technique developed by Edmond, the farmer. Known as air-layering, it allows conservationists to grow new roots from a plant’s branches which can then be deposited into the ground. The rosewoods have been used, with other native tree species, to enrich around 10 hectares of degraded forest. To date, the survival rate of young rosewoods has been nearly 100 per cent.

The project contributes to the objectives of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework in Madagascar (2015-2019), providing vulnerable populations with employment opportunities and supporting sustainable development. It is also part of the broader effort to conserve biodiversity as set out in The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, published by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Through activities such as forest enrichment and restoration, the conservation of endemic species also contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 15, which aims to safeguard forests and protect biodiversity.

UN Environment

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Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism: Top Global Companies Take Action on Universal ESG Reporting

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The World Economic Forum today released a set of universal environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures to measure stakeholder capitalism that companies can report on regardless of their industry or region. Organized around the pillars of principles of governance, planet, people and prosperity, the identified metrics and disclosures align existing standards, enabling companies to collectively report non-financial disclosures.

Announced at the fourth annual Sustainable Development Impact Summit, this open and multi-stakeholder initiative delivers on a commitment from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in January. Since then, 120 members of the Forum’s International Business Council have shown strong support for ESG metrics, with some companies expected to begin incorporating them into their reporting immediately.

The report, “Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism: Toward Common Metrics and Consistent Reporting of Sustainable Value Creation”, comes at a pivotal moment. The social unrest, economic inequalities and racial injustice exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated demand from business, governments, standards bodies and NGOs for a comprehensive, globally accepted corporate reporting system.

“This is a unique moment in history to walk the talk and to make stakeholder capitalism measurable,” says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. “Having companies accepting, not only to measure but also to report on, their environmental and social responsibility will represent a sea change in economic history.”

The stakeholder capitalism metrics and disclosures, developed in collaboration with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, reflect an open consultation process with corporates, investors, standard-setters, NGOs and international organizations, and are designed to provide a common set of existing disclosures that lead towards a coherent and comprehensive global corporate reporting system.

In parallel to this work, the World Economic Forum has also collaborated with the Impact Management Project to bring together the efforts of the five leading independent global framework and standard-setters (CDP, CDSB, GRI, IIRC and SASB) to work towards a comprehensive corporate reporting system and a statement of intent which works as a complement to the common metrics released today.

Companies see the importance of social, climate and other non-financial factors as critical for their long-term viability and success. Some 86% of executives surveyed by the Forum agreed that reporting on a set of universal ESG disclosures is important and would be useful for financial markets and the economy.

Expert views

“Companies have to deliver great returns for shareholders and address important societal priorities,” said Brian Moynihan, Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, and Chairman of the International Business Council. “These metrics will provide clarity to investors and other stakeholders and ensure capital is aligning to drive progress on the SDGs. That’s stakeholder capitalism in action.”

“As the UK works in partnership with Italy towards hosting the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2021, I welcome the work of the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council in creating a set of common metrics for reporting sustainable value creation,” said Mark Carney, Finance Advisor to the UK Prime Minister for COP26 and United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. “Through this work you are demonstrating to shareholders, stakeholders and society at large that the private sector is committed to measuring and improving its impacts on the environment as part of the transition to a low carbon future. I encourage governments, regulators, the official accounting community and voluntary standard setters to work with the IBC towards creating a globally accepted system of sustainability reporting based on this project’s groundbreaking work.”

“The disruptions of 2020 have underscored the critical importance of organizations managing and reporting their impact on the economy, the environment and society, and their increasing connection to long-term enterprise value creation,” said Punit Renjen, CEO, Deloitte Global. “Deloitte is pleased to have led the development of the Principles of Governance pillar and collaborated on this project with so many respected organizations. We hope our work supports organizations as they move towards consistent reporting of ESG metrics and disclosures in mainstream annual reports, as ultimately, this is how the business community will make greater progress against the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“The time is now for companies to broaden their engagement with stakeholders,” said Carmine Di Sibio, EY Global Chairman and CEO. “The combined impacts of climate change, COVID-19 and economic inequality contribute to the urgency for businesses to embrace long-term, sustainable value creation and prioritize the needs of people and planet and the creation of broad-based economic prosperity.”

“As businesses become more acutely aware of their role in addressing societal and environmental issues, moving toward a common set of ESG-focused metrics will help ensure that we all collectively make a difference where it counts,” said Bill Thomas, Global Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, KPMG International. “Reporting on ESG factors like carbon emissions and human rights and other key metrics will not only help inform investors while helping companies control their full corporate value, it has the power to realign capitalism for the benefit of broader society.”

“Robust non-financial reporting is a crucial element of the systemic economic reform the world needs to address issues like climate change and social inclusion, and we were pleased to be able to collaborate on this initiative and lead on the Planet pillar of this work,” said Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC. “Stakeholders – including investors, but also policy makers, consumers and employees – need more rounded, comparable and robust information to make decisions. Get that information flowing, align market incentives against performance on these metrics, and a better tomorrow becomes possible.”

Companies are encouraged to report on the full set of metrics in their mainstream reporting. “Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism: Toward Common Metrics and Consistent Reporting of Sustainable Value Creation” recommends a “disclose or explain” approach when certain metrics are not feasible, not relevant, or difficult to implement immediately. The report also recommends that each company apply its own view of dynamic materiality, reporting on what is deemed material to its business and stakeholders. The metrics are centred on four pillars:

People

  • Reflects a company’s equity and its treatment of employees. Metrics include diversity reporting, wage gaps, and health and safety.

Planet

  • Reflects a company’s dependencies and impacts on the natural environment. Metrics in this pillar include greenhouse gas emissions, land protection and water use.

Prosperity

  • Reflects how a company affects the financial well-being of its community. Metrics include employment and wealth generation, taxes paid and research and development expenses.

Principles of Governance

  • Reflects a company’s purpose, strategy and accountability. This pillar includes criteria measuring risk and ethical behaviour.

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Two paths before Latin America: Democracy or dictatorship

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The Latin American region is at a crossroads, with a choice not between the political left or the right; between socialism or capitalism, it is in fact between democracy and dictatorship, between freedom and oppression, the President of Bolivia told world leaders, gathered virtually for the United Nations General Assembly. 

In her address, via a pre-recorded video, President Jeanine Añez Chávez said that the dilemma before the region is whether “we have created States to oppress, or have we created them to ensure freedoms … we must now choose.” 

The region, in general, has not overcome authoritarianism and the threat of oppression driven by dictatorial populism, with dictators and cronies aiming at complete capture of the political sphere, culture, economy and ultimately people’s freedom, she added. 

“It is the system for a few, a certain caste or political clan.” 

Bolivia’s focus: return power to people 

Bolivia, said the country’s leader, is focused on returning power to the people after over a decade of authoritarianism, and she pointed to “clean and transparent elections” scheduled for 18 October, despite an attempt to halt them with brutal violence just a few weeks ago. 

The Bolivian people stopped that attempt, she continued, as they no longer want to watch Governments building palaces or museums for dictators.  

Her Government is investing 10 per cent of the national budget on health, including jobs and free healthcare for those suffering from the pandemic. 

“This is a Christian value for us,” said President Chávez, to care for our neighbour and those we see as our brother and it includes giving cash to Bolivian families in need. 

Denouncing ‘abusive attack’ against Bolivian people 

The Bolivian leader chided Argentina, for what she called, its “abusive attack” against the institutions and people of Bolivia, an attack by a Government, dictators and their cronies who use abusive methods to hold onto power.   

She asked what authority Argentina has to meddle in the affairs of Bolivia or to protect and offer impunity to former Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is been accused of serious violations of human rights and abuses of women and girls. 

“The Bolivian nation is not the private property of anyone, we are a sovereign and respectable people,” stressed President Chávez, adding “Bolivia respects itself, Bolivian democracy is respected, and Bolivian people respect themselves.” 

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