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Science points to causes of COVID-19

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Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. Many are relatively harmless – causing no more than a common cold. Others result in diseases that are new and unfamiliar, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and before that, outbreaks of diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS (2002); Avian Influenza or bird flu (2004); H1N1 or Swine  Flu (2009); Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS (2012); Ebola (2014– 2015); Zika virus (2015–2016); and West Nile virus (2019).

Almost a century’s worth of global trends confirm that coronaviruses are occurring more frequently. A 2016 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report flagged coronaviruses–or “zoonoses­­”–as an issue of global concern. On average, three new infectious diseases emerge in humans every year; and about three quarters of these are zoonotic.

What is causing the spike in these diseases?  Here’s what decades of scientific research has to say: 

Coronaviruses are facilitated by human actions

According to the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us.”

Not all coronaviruses result in disease. Without animal-to-human transmission, the current SARS-CoV-2 virus would not have presented itself in the form of COVID-19.  Indeed, other coronaviruses are circulating in animals and have not yet infected humans.

Coronaviruses are leaping to humans more frequently because we are providing them with more opportunities to do so. In the last 50 years alone, the human population has doubled and the global economy has almost quadrupled. Rapid migration from rural to urban areas and creation of new urban centres has affected demographics, lifestyles and consumer behaviour. 

Environmental changes

Our evolving lifestyles have dramatically altered the land around us. We have cleared forests and other natural areas to create spaces for urban areas and settlements, agriculture and industries. In doing so, we have reduced overall space for wildlife and degraded natural buffers between humans and animals.

Climate change is also a driver of zoonoses.  Greenhouse gas emissions–primarily the result of burning fossil fuels–cause changes in temperature and humidity, which directly affects the survival of microbes.  Scheduled for release next month, a new rapid assessment by UNEP and ILRI on zoonotics suggests that epidemics will become more frequent as the climate continues to change. 

Behavioural changes

Demand for dairy and meat products has led to the expansion of uniform cropland and intense livestock farming in rural areas and near cities.  Livestock often serve as a bridge between wildlife and human infections, meaning pathogens may be passed from wild animals to livestock to humans. 

Of particular concern are informal markets, where live, wild animals are kept and sold, often in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. Viruses and other pathogens may be easily spread among animals that are kept close together; or to the humans who handle, transport, sell, purchase or consume them, when sanitary and protective practices are not followed. 

Pathogen changes

Pathogens are always changing to survive in different animals, humans and environments. With the increase of intensive farming and overuse of antimicrobial drugs in both animals and people, pathogens are becoming more resistant to the very medications that might have been effective in treating zoonotic disease.

What COVID-19 is teaching us

COVID-19 is a reminder that human health and the planet’s health are closely linked. There are about 8 million species of life on the Earth, of which humans are just one. These include an estimated 1.7 million unidentified viruses, recognized as the type that may infect people, existing in mammals and water birds.  Any one of these could be transferred to humans, if we don’t take preventative measures now.

The most fundamental way to protect ourselves from coronaviruses is to prevent destruction of nature, which drives the spread of diseases

Where ecosystems are healthy and biodiverse, they are resilient, adaptable and help to regulate diseases. Pathogens that are passed around among reservoirs in animals are more likely to reach dead–and effectively die off–where there is greater diversity.

Genetic diversity builds disease resistance among animal populations and decreases the chances of outbreaks of high-impact animal diseases, according to a 2017 IPBES report.  Conversely, intensive livestock farming can produce genetic similarities within herds and flocks, reducing resilience and making them more susceptible to pathogens. This, by extension, exposes humans to a higher risk.

Behavioural changes

Demand for dairy and meat products has led to the expansion of uniform cropland and intense livestock farming in rural areas and near cities.  Livestock often serve as a bridge between wildlife and human infections, meaning pathogens may be passed from wild animals to livestock to humans. 

Of particular concern are informal markets, where live, wild animals are kept and sold, often in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. Viruses and other pathogens may be easily spread among animals that are kept close together; or to the humans who handle, transport, sell, purchase or consume them, when sanitary and protective practices are not followed. 

Pathogen changes

Pathogens are always changing to survive in different animals, humans and environments. With the increase of intensive farming and overuse of antimicrobial drugs in both animals and people, pathogens are becoming more resistant to the very medications that might have been effective in treating zoonotic disease.

What COVID-19 is teaching us

COVID-19 is a reminder that human health and the planet’s health are closely linked. There are about 8 million species of life on the Earth, of which humans are just one. These include an estimated 1.7 million unidentified viruses, recognized as the type that may infect people, existing in mammals and water birds.  Any one of these could be transferred to humans, if we don’t take preventative measures now.

The most fundamental way to protect ourselves from coronaviruses is to prevent destruction of nature, which drives the spread of diseases

Where ecosystems are healthy and biodiverse, they are resilient, adaptable and help to regulate diseases. Pathogens that are passed around among reservoirs in animals are more likely to reach dead–and effectively die off–where there is greater diversity.

Genetic diversity builds disease resistance among animal populations and decreases the chances of outbreaks of high-impact animal diseases, according to a 2017 IPBES report.  Conversely, intensive livestock farming can produce genetic similarities within herds and flocks, reducing resilience and making them more susceptible to pathogens. This, by extension, exposes humans to a higher risk.

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Environment

Bernice Notenboom calls for action to tackle “the biggest threat we face – climate change”

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“The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together. But, why do we overrate the pandemic and underrate climate change?,” Noteboom highlighted during The Emergency Plenary of the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020.

Mayors of Florence (Italy), Bergen (Norway) and Tirana (Albania) shared the emergencies they are facing.

 
A number of cities and regions around the world have declared climate emergencies and expressed their commitment to take action on climate change. During the Emergency Plenary of the Mannheim2020 conference, polar explorer Bernice Notenboom shared video footage from her polar explorations to visualise this emergency and asked leaders to take action.

The urgency is bigger than ever,” remarked polar explorer, filmmaker, and climate journalist Bernice Notenboom during the Emergency Plenary of the 9th European Conference On Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020, while presenting the imminent consequences of climate change.

In a compelling presentation addressing the current environmental challenges worldwide, the journalist called on world leaders to keep global warming under controllable levels. “We need good leadership. Climate change doesn’t smell, it doesn’t have a taste, we can’t see it, but it is the biggest threat that we face,” Notenboom said, adding that “everybody will be affected, no matter where they are in the world.”

Comparing the sanitary crisis of the COVID-19 pandemics to the climate emergency, Notenboom highlighted the importance of working together to build a safer world to live in. “The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together, put all the money in it, and even we are able to get our air pollution under control. Why can’t it be like this all the time? Why do we, if you ask me, overrate the pandemic and underrate climate change, which is a much bigger threat to the whole world?,” Notenboom questioned.

Climate change is real. It’s not a slow movie, it comes to us like a tsunami, just like COVID-19 did,” she highlighted.

Notenboom ended her presentation by calling on the over 2,200 registered participants to learn from each other and take action.

Inspired by Notenboom’s call to learn from one another’s experiences, Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence; Marte Mjøs Persen, Mayor of Bergen (Norway), and Erion Veliaj, Mayor of Tirana (Albania) shared insights on the main climate emergencies their cities are facing, and how they are preparing for, and overcoming them.

The Mayor of Florence explained how the city responded to the corona crisis by offering services and supporting the third sector, and remarked that “it is not only time for emergency aid, but it’s also time to rethink things, and to build back better.

The Mayor of Tirana highlighted how a recent earthquake which struck the city provided them with an opportunity to create better neighbourhoods for citizens.

While, Marte Mjøs Persen, Mayor of Bergen, shared her worries “about our planet and our cities’ future”, which are affected by, among other things, more rain, higher temperatures, and rising sea levels, she stressed that “the planet needs our help”.

The conference continued with discussions on the tension between limited global resources, and an economic system that relies on constant growth. Economists, cities and other experts are looking into ways to urgently transform our societies, whilst making sure that no one is left behind.

The 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020


Over 2,200 participants have registered to participate in the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020, the flagship European conference on local sustainable development. These participants joined from 39 countries in Europe, plus an additional 50 countries outside of Europe.

The conference builds on the legacy of the Basque Declaration, and asks, how can we take sustainability transformation forward? It acknowledges that we are in need of profound transformation across all aspects of society, and offers plenaries and policy panels to debate the various facets of this transformation. This is complemented by in-depth Solution and Toolbox Sessions (on Friday, 2 October), which will bring these high-level discussions to the local level, with concrete proposals.

On 1 October at 09:30 CEST, as part of the Green Deal Plenary of the Mannheim2020 conference, the Mannheim Message will be formally presented to the European Commission. The Mannheim Message is a call to involve local governments as real dialogue partners for policy development, not just implementation partners for policies that have been developed without them.

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Achieving gender equality key to restoring economic resilience in Asia

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Business leaders and policymakers in Thailand said today that top priority must be given to empowering women in the workplace if Asia and the Pacific is to recover from the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.

The CEOs of 110 companies in Thailand signed and announced new commitments to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) during a ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the principles. They committed to broaden and strengthen gender-responsive business practices, including gender-equal corporate leadership, inclusive, safe workplaces and equal pay for work of equal value. More than 3,600 companies worldwide have signed the WEPs, established by UN Women and United Nations Global Compact. Before today, only 11 companies in Thailand had signed on.

Narumon Pinyosinwat, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Labour, said today’s event will help boost women’s labour force participation in Thailand. She said women now make up 45 percent of the country’s total workforce. But it is estimated that by 2040, up to 17 million jobs (44 per cent of all jobs) in Thailand could be at risk of automation – and due to gender inequality, women are more likely to lose those jobs. That is why the Ministry of Labour has made women’s economic empowerment a top priority, Narumon said.

“The framework of [UN Women’s] WeEmpowerAsia programme is a leading example through which we can work together, to make our voices heard, and reinforce the gender-inclusive business culture and narrow gender gaps across industries,” she said.

H.E. Pirkka Tapiola, Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand, commended the 110 companies at the event for their collective commitment and presented the EU’s perspective on how gender equality charts a direct path towards inclusive growth: “Seeing more and more companies both in Europe and in Thailand become more gender-inclusive is important progress. The commitment and actions by the private sector help build an economy in which women can participate on an equal footing, with a positive impact not only on economic growth, but our societies as a whole.”

Thailand has done comparatively well in putting women into the highest positions in business. Twenty-four per cent of CEOs/managing directors in Thailand are women, compared to an average of 20 per cent worldwide and only 13 per cent in the Asia-Pacific. Thailand has the world’s highest percentage of female chief financial officers – 43 per cent – and the third-highest percentage of female CEOs.

Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, said the region’s economies can create an opportunity for full recovery by building on the trend towards equality.

“As women make half of the world population, empowering women to achieve gender equality would serve as a key to restoring economic resilience in challenging times,” he said. “UN Women has been at the forefront of the response since the [coronavirus] outbreak, and celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment Principles this year, we are dedicated more than ever to collaborating with our reliable partners in Asia and the Pacific region, including Thailand as well as the European Union.”

During the event, participants also discussed how to measure progress on gender diversity policies and highlighted the importance of transparent data and business accountability. Also, new and emerging entrepreneurs described how their companies were fighting gender bias and promoting women’s leadership.

The event was organized by UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme, which is funded by the EU. The programme supports companies in implementing the WEPs and a gender-inclusive business culture in seven countries in Asia, including Thailand.

More than 250 people attended the event, including members of the Thai private, public and social sectors, as well as representatives of UN Women and the European Union.

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IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower Takes Shape

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Advancing the discussion from June 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) held its second meeting of the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower. With more than 100 attendees from 49 Members and States in Accession, the virtual meeting witnessed a high level of engagement to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise that exists within the Agency and its global Membership. The two-hour session was moderated by H.E. Mr. Jean-Christophe Fueeg, Head of International Energy Affairs at the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications of Switzerland.

Today, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy worldwide, and its development is considered essential in driving the energy transition forward. IRENA Members have, over the years and as recently as the last Assembly, requested IRENA to expand its work on hydropower and facilitate targeted collaboration for the continued deployment of hydropower technologies.

Providing the opening remarks, IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera said: “As an enabler for integrating higher shares of renewable energy into power systems, hydropower is set to play an important role in the energy transition and will be critical to the decarbonisation of economies. Promoting the continued deployment of hydropower has been, and remains, an important part of IRENA’s work.”

IRENA launched the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower to address pressing challenges and seize potential opportunities. During its kick-off meeting in June, Members agreed on the thematic scope of the Collaborative Framework, including the need to ensure the continued development of hydropower in a sustainable manner, the relevance of hydropower as flexibility provider and enabler for the integration of high shares of variable renewables (VRE), the need for adequate remuneration of services through business models and market structures and the role of hydropower in climate resilience. Other topics of interest included innovative solutions and operation and maintenance practices.

Member countries also decided to bring in hydropower stakeholders from the public and private sector as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental actors. In response, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the World Bank were invited to the second meeting to discuss their future engagement in the Collaborative Framework with the IRENA membership.

On the basis of proposals by IRENA, Members agreed on the modalities for future meetings, enabling the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower to take further shape.

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