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UNIDO and CUTS look to e-commerce to counter economic impact of COVD-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and impacted the daily lives of people and hampered economic activities in many countries across the world. The coronavirus’s continuing spread requires global stakeholders to collaborate, support each other and find innovative solutions together in order to address the core challenges that countries are experiencing.

In this context, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) have signed an agreement to empower consumers to contribute to the global development agenda as well as support their respective governments in times of global crisis. 

CUTS is an India-based institution, established in 1983, working to achieve “consumer sovereignty in the framework of social justice, economic equality and environmental balance – within and across borders”. The core engagement areas of CUTS are promoting good governance, rules-based trade and effective regulations.

CUTS facilitates good governance through grassroots capacity-building, networking, and awareness, leading to government engagement to bring marginalized voices to the table and ensure accountability of policy practices. The organization collaborates with an existing network of more than 60 research and civil society institutions all over the world to assist stakeholders across in developing countries to establish ecosystems that promote rules-based trade for consumers – enabling them to enjoy the benefits of liberalization and integration into the world economy. Furthermore, CUTS also engages with advocacy partners to ensure regulations are implemented to ensure that consumers can have better access to quality goods and services at affordable prices.

The Director General of UNIDO, LI Yong, and the Secretary General of CUTS, Pradeep S. Mehta, have signed a memorandum of understanding for five years, which aims to initiate joint technical co-operation projects to support ongoing activities in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

CUTS has expressed a strong interest in supporting UNIDO in promoting e-commerce as a platform to accelerate Member States’ transition to the digital economy and adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. UNIDO and CUTS plan to develop and implement a BRICS e-commerce project that will build upon the success of UNIDO’s pilot e-commerce project implemented in the BRICS countries between 2016 and 2018.

E-commerce is one sector that can contribute to the economy during the COVID-19 emergency. Many lockdowns implemented across the world have required consumers to explore online purchasing options. This clearly indicates that e-commerce has an opportunity to grow as well as expand its attractiveness in countries that have yet to jump on the “e-commerce bandwagon”. E-commerce can also support the implementation of social distancing measures due to the limited amount of physical contact involved in this activity. However, it is also important to note that there are also challenges that enterprises need to address due to specific restrictions. For example, there are ongoing issues with increasing strains on existing IT infrastructure and reduced supply-chain capabilities.

The proposed BRICS e-commerce project that UNIDO and CUTS intend to implement will encourage governments of these countries to understand different aspects of national and international regulations negotiations with respect to e-commerce. This project will also encourage MSMEs to use e-commerce platforms to reach consumers needs. It is also envisioned that UNIDO and CUTS will develop online capacity building courses to support enterprises’ capacities to take advantage of different e-commerce platforms, as well as target consumers by increasing awareness of consumer welfare and sovereignty.

CUTS has also been invited by UNIDO to contribute to the on-going development of its “Culture of Quality Tool” which will support UNIDO Member States establish a strong quality infrastructure to promote increased access to global value chains. Both organizations will continue to explore other sectors where joint collaboration can be initiated under the purview of UNIDO’s mandate of promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial development and CUTS mandate of promoting consumer sovereignty which includes the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Health & Wellness

Vaccine inequity triggers ‘huge disconnect’ between countries

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Although COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to decline globally for a second consecutive week, the UN health agency chief said on Monday that “a huge disconnect” is mounting between some highly vaccinated countries, which see the pandemic as largely resolved, while huge waves of infection continue to grip others where shots are scarce. 

“The pandemic is a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) told journalists once more, at the regular press briefing in Geneva. 

Still under threat 

Tedros pointed to “dramatic increases” in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, in places where the coronavirus had previously been contained and added that new variants, fragile health systems, relaxed public health measures – and shortages of oxygen, dexamethasone and vaccines – were compounding the problem. 

“But there are solutions”, he said, urging people to adhere to physical distancing, continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings. “Even where cases have dropped, genetic sequencing is critical so that variants can be tracked and measures are not eased prematurely”. 

Urgent financial support needed 

Although WHO has been responding to the surge in India and other flashpoints, immediate additional funding is required to sustain support in all countries experiencing new waves of cases. 

The 2021 response plan is already underfunded, and the vast majority of it is “ring fenced” by donors for specific countries or activities, which is constraining WHO’s ability to provide “an adaptable and scalable response in emerging hotspots”, Tedros said. 

Urgent and flexible funding would allow the UN health agency to scale up support for countries and the ACT Accelerator.  

Set ambitious goals ‘collectively’ 

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) outlined a 190 million dose shortfall in the UN-backed COVAX vaccine initiative for equitable COVID inoculations. 

While COVAX has delivered 65 million doses to 124 countries and economies to date, the WHO chief called on manufacturers to publicly commit to sharing their vaccines with COVAX by lifting contractual barriers “within days not months”. 

He also pressed manufacturers to give the right of first refusal to COVAX on any additional doses and encouraged them to make deals with companies willing to use their facilities to produce COVID-19 vaccines. 

“We need to collectively set ambitious goals to at least vaccinate the world’s adult population as quickly as possible”, Tedros underscored. 

Road safety priorities 

Although pandemic lockdowns and telecommuting has led to fewer car journeys and road crashes, the WHO chief pointed to a converse problem caused by drivers’ speeding. This has meant the number of deaths had not decreased proportionately.  

Kicking off UN Road Safety Week, Tedros asked for national and local policy commitments “to deliver 30 kilometre per hour speed limits in urban areas and generate local support for low speed measures overall”. 

Addressing the risk of road traffic deaths is also fundamental to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically those affecting health security, sustainable cities and reducing inequalities among and within countries.  

And policies that tackle the of impact road traffic, and create environments for safe, sustainable and inclusive transport options, also unlock action for protecting the climate and gender equality.  

A paradigm shift in how streets are designed can make streets safe, accessible and equitable for all road users – delivering multiple benefits while accelerating action across interlinking SDGs, according to WHO.

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Environment

Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2021 to focus on climate, food and nature

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A resilient and abundant ocean is essential to tackling climate change and key to providing sustainable food and jobs that boost recovery around the world. Half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, according to the World Economic Forum, and more than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. As countries recover from the economic and social impacts of COVID-19, the ocean can be a major part of the solution.

To fast-track the innovations necessary for a healthy ocean, Friends of Ocean Action and the World Economic Forum are convening the second Virtual Ocean Dialogues event. On 25-26 May, government representatives, leaders from business, members of civil society and scientific communities will gather at this virtual global summit to highlight how a healthy ocean is critical to the sustainable development agenda. A healthy ocean is increasingly being seen as a solution to the many development challenges society is facing.

“It has never been more critical to fast-track solutions for a resilient and thriving ocean. A range of major global summits and forums in the coming months offer a moment to acknowledge the ocean’s transformative role in tackling climate change, supporting global food systems and rebuilding the health of the natural world,” said Kristian Teleki, Director of Friends of Ocean Action at the World Economic Forum. “I invite anyone with an interest in our shared future on this blue planet to tune into the livestreamed sessions and join the conversation.”

Sessions address the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, UN Food Systems Summit, UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), WTO negotiations to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit all taking place in 2021.

During the event, ideas and innovations for ocean health will also be shared on UpLink, the digital platform to crowdsource innovations to accelerate delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A new UpLink Ocean Challenge will be launched, to seek out new ideas to boost sustainable food from aquatic sources.

“Following the outstanding success of last year’s event, the Virtual Ocean Dialogues have become a key waymarker in global efforts to secure the ocean’s health,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action. “I am delighted to see this second iteration take to the airwaves.”

The 2021 Virtual Ocean Dialogues are part of a 3-day high-level virtual forum convened by the World Economic Forum, the Mission Possible Partnership and Friends of Ocean Action, together with the United Kingdom’s Presidency of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), the UN High-Level Champions for COP26 and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. The Climate Breakthroughs on 27 May seek to mobilize progress and sector breakthroughs to realize a 45% reduction in annual emissions by 2030 and net-zero global emissions before 2050, including a session on decarbonizing shipping with the Getting to Zero Coalition.

Friends of Ocean Action is a coalition of 65 ocean leaders who are fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Its members come from business, civil society, international organizations, science and technology. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the World Resources Institute.

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Tech News

Ensure digital technologies are ‘a force for good’

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Although the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across the planet, millions worldwide still lack Internet access, the UN Secretary-General said on Monday, highlighting why information and communication technologies (ICTs) must be “a force for good.”

In his message for World Telecommunication and Information Science Day, celebrated annually on 17 May, the UN chief called for action to conquer both the pandemic and the digital divide.

Innovative and protective

“Digital technologies sustain life, work, health and learning for billions of people. In the face of COVID-19, businesses, governments and the digital community have proven resilient and innovative, helping to protect lives and livelihoods. These challenging times have accelerated the transformation everywhere,” he said.

However, the Secretary-General reported some 3.7 billion people, or nearly half the world’s population, remain unconnected to the Internet.  Most are women.

“They, too, must be included if we are to make the possibilities of 5G, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, digital health and other technologies truly transformative and sustainable,” he said.

“We must also protect against the dangers of digital technologies, from the spread of hatred and misinformation to cyberattacks and the exploitation of our data.”

Encouraging investment

World Telecommunication and Information Science Day marks the signing in 1865 of an agreement to form the International Telegraph Union (ITU), making it the world’s first modern international organization.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said the UN agency will use the Day to unite the world in pursuit of digital transformation in all areas of business and life. 

“It will be an opportunity to strengthen national strategies on ICT development, implement smart policies and effective measures to encourage investments in ICTs and digital skills, and upgrade our services with new technologies ranging from AI (Artificial Intelligence) to 5G that are central to the digital economy,” he said in a video message.

Inclusive and affordable for all

Last June, the UN launched a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation that lays out eight key actions, including achieving universal connectivity by 2030.

Mr Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, said the Roadmap, together with the vital work of the ITU, aims to make the digital transformation equitable, safe, inclusive and affordable for all, while also respecting human rights. 

“On World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, let us commit to work together to defeat COVID-19 and ensure that digital technologies are a force for good that help us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind.” 

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