Despite the ongoing global response to COVID-19, the world cannot lose sight of the significant public health risk posed by influenza, which affects every country every year and takes its own deadly toll, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Monday.
“As we enter the southern hemisphere influenza season…we must ensure influenza remains a top priority”, the agency chief said during his media briefing. “Co-circulation of COVID-19 and influenza can worsen the impact on health systems that are already overwhelmed.”
Globally, more than 7.8 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 430,000 deaths caused by the virus have been reported to WHO to date, he said. More than 100,000 cases have been reported each day for the last two weeks – almost 75 per cent of them from 10 countries in the Americas and South Asia.
“Countries must stay alert to the possibility of resurgence,” he said. Just last week, China reported a new cluster of cases in Beijing after more than 50 days without a single case in the city. With more than 100 cases now confirmed, the origin and extent of the outbreak are being investigated.
‘Highly Functional’ System
At the same time, he said more than 500 million people are vaccinated against flu each year, based on recommendations made by WHO on the composition of flu vaccines. To know which viruses are circulating, WHO relies on information reported by 125 countries through the Global Influenza Surveillance and Reporting System, which the agency uses to make recommendations for the composition of flu vaccines.
“The infrastructure, people, skills and experience built up through [this system], WHO Collaborating Centres and National Influenza Centres have been the foundation for detecting COVID-19”, Tedros explained. However, the system – in place since 1952 – is experiencing significant challenges, with flu surveillance either suspended or declining in many countries, and a “sharp” decline seen in the sharing of flu information and viruses, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dramatic fall in flu testing
Compared with the last three years, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of specimens tested for influenza globally, Tedros said, along with a 62 per cent drop in virus shipments to WHO Collaborating Centres and a 94 per cent fall in the number of flu viruses with genetic sequence data uploaded to the Surveillance and Response database.
“These decreases due to a combination of issues, including the repurposing of staff and supplies, overburdened laboratories and transport restrictions”, he said. The disruptions could lead to the loss of capacities for detecting and reporting new influenza viruses with pandemic potential.
Tedros pointed to WHO guidance on how to integrate surveillance for COVID-19 into routine influenza surveillance as an efficient a way to track the two respiratory illnesses. “This is not only cost-effective”, he said. “It’s also essential for protecting the world against the next flu season.”
Wenqing Zhang, Director of WHO’s Global Influenza Programme, agreed that there will always be competing disease priorities or threats. “But influenza is always there”, she said. “This is really a very solid and highly functional foundation…to monitor influenza.”
Every COVID-19 case must be tracked
More broadly, Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19, fielded questions on safely handling protests taking place in many countries. It is important to consider whether the area is one of active virus transmission and whether there are ways to keep people physically distanced. If someone falls ill, a system must be in place to quickly detect and monitor any subsequent cases.
“Any opportunity where people are in crowded places and the virus is present, and appropriate proper measures are not in place, the virus can transmit”, she clarified. “Every single case of COVID-19 is significant and must be followed up and cared for appropriately.”
New clusters, always a concern
To that point, Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the emergence of new clusters always raises a concern, especially when the driver is not recognized. WHO recommends taking immediate measures that involve investigating thoroughly, testing, isolating and quarantining contacts. These efforts have led to virus containment, whether related to religious communities, markets, migrant dormitories or other settings.
Beijing is a dynamic and connected city, he added, and the level of concern is reflected in the response of Chinese authorities to the latest outbreak, in the capital. A WHO team based in Beijing, led by country representative and supported by epidemiologists permanently embedded there, are working with China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. WHO may supplement its country office in the coming days as the investigation develops.
As to the risks of air travel, he said WHO is advising the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association and will issue considerations for travellers in the coming days. “There is no zero risk in any environment,” he stressed. If someone falls ill, the ability to track anyone who has been on the plane is essential. “We need to make the air travel experience as safe as possible.”
World Adds Record New Renewable Energy Capacity in 2020
Global renewable energy capacity additions in 2020 beat earlier estimates and all previous records despite the economic slowdown that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data released today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) the world added more than 260 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity last year, exceeding expansion in 2019 by close to 50 per cent.
IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that renewable energy’s share of all new generating capacity rose considerably for the second year in a row. More than 80 per cent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91 per cent of new renewables.
Renewables’ rising share of the total is partly attributable to net decommissioning of fossil fuel power generation in Europe, North America and for the first time across Eurasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation and Turkey). Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW the previous year highlighting a continued downward trend of fossil fuel expansion.
“These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean and just future,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “The great reset offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it.
“Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables,” continued Mr. La Camera. “Costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear. This trend is unstoppable, but as the review of our World Energy Transitions Outlook highlights, there is a huge amount to be done. Our 1.5 degree outlook shows significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals. In this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further,” he concluded.
The 10.3 per cent rise in installed capacity represents expansion that beats long-term trends of more modest growth year on year. At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2 799 GW with hydropower still accounting for the largest share (1 211 GW) although solar and wind are catching up fast. The two variable sources of renewables dominated capacity expansion in 2020 with 127 GW and 111 GW of new installations for solar and wind respectively.
China and the United States of America were the two outstanding growth markets from 2020. China, already the world’s largest market for renewables added 136 GW last year with the bulk coming from 72 GW of wind and 49 GW of solar. The United States of America installed 29 GW of renewables last year, nearly 80 per cent more than in 2019, including 15 GW of solar and around 14 GW of wind. Africa continued to expand steadily with an increase of 2.6 GW, slightly more than in 2019, while Oceania remained the fastest growing region (+18.4%), although its share of global capacity is small and almost all expansion occurred in Australia.
Highlights by technology:
Hydropower: Growth in hydro recovered in 2020, with the commissioning of several large projects delayed in 2019. China added 12 GW of capacity, followed by Turkey with 2.5 GW.
Wind energy: Wind expansion almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 (111 GW compared to 58 GW last year). China added 72 GW of new capacity, followed by the United States of America (14 GW). Ten other countries increased wind capacity by more than 1 GW in 2020. Offshore wind increased to reach around 5% of total wind capacity in 2020.
Solar energy: Total solar capacity has now reached about the same level as wind capacity thanks largely to expansion in Asia (78 GW) in 2020. Major capacity increases in China (49 GW) and Viet Nam (11 GW). Japan also added over 5 GW and India and Republic of Korea both expanded solar capacity by more than 4 GW. The United States of America added 15 GW.
Bioenergy: Net capacity expansion fell by half in 2020 (2.5 GW compared to 6.4 GW in 2019). Bioenergy capacity in China expanded by over 2 GW. Europe the only other region with significant expansion in 2020, adding 1.2 GW of bioenergy capacity, a similar to 2019.
Geothermal energy: Very little capacity added in 2020. Turkey increased capacity by 99 MW and small expansions occurred in New Zealand, the United States of America and Italy.
Off-grid electricity: Off-grid capacity grew by 365 MW in 2020 (2%) to reach 10.6 GW. Solar expanded by 250 MW to reach 4.3 GW and hydro remained almost unchanged at about 1.8 GW.
New project to help 30 developing countries tackle marine litter scourge
A UN-backed initiative aims to turn the tide on marine litter, in line with the global development goal on conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources.
The GloLitter Partnerships Project will support 30 developing countries in preventing and reducing marine litter from the maritime transport and fisheries sectors, which includes plastic litter such as lost or discarded fishing gear.
Protecting oceans and livelihoods
“Plastic litter has a devastating impact on marine life and human health”, said Manuel Barange, FAO’s Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture. “This initiative is an important step in tackling the issue and will help protect the ocean ecosystem as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on it.”
Protecting the marine environment is the objective of Sustainable Development Goal 14, part of the 2030 Agenda to create a more just and equitable future for all people and the planet.
The GloLitter project will help countries apply best practices for the prevention and reduction of marine plastic litter, in an effort to safeguard the world’s coastal and marine resources.
Actions will include encouraging fishing gear to be marked so that it can be traced if lost or discarded at sea. Another focus will be on the availability and adequacy of port reception facilities and their connection to national waste management systems.
“Marine litter is a scourge on the oceans and on the planet”, said Jose Matheickal, Head of the IMO’s Department for Partnerships and Projects. “I am delighted that we have more than 30 countries committed to this initiative and working with IMO and FAO to address this issue.”
Five regions represented
The nations taking part in the GloLitter project are in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.
They will also receive technical assistance and training, as well as guidance documents and other tools to help enforce existing regulations.
The project will promote compliance with relevant international instruments, including the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which contains regulations against discharging plastics into the sea.
Climate Finance: Climate Actions at Center of Development and Recovery
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) called access to climate finance a key priority for Asia and the Pacific as governments design and implement a green and resilient recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Speaking at the United Kingdom Climate and Development Ministerial—one of the premier events leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November—ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said expanding access to finance is critical if developing economies in Asia and the Pacific are to meet their Paris Agreement goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.
“We can no longer take a business-as-usual approach to climate change. We need to put ambitious climate actions at the center of development,” Mr. Asakawa said. “ADB is committed to supporting its developing member countries through finance, knowledge, and collaboration with other development partners, as they scale up climate actions and push for an ambitious outcome at COP 26 and beyond.”
ADB is using a three-pronged strategy to expand access to finance for its developing members as they step up their response to the impacts of climate change.
First, ADB has an ambitious corporate target to ensure 75% of the total number of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation by the end of the decade, with climate finance from ADB’s own resources to reach $80 billion cumulatively between 2019 and 2030. ADB has also adopted explicit climate targets under its Asian Development Fund (ADF), which provides grant financing to its poorest members. ADF 13, which covers the period of 2021–2024, will support climate mitigation and adaption in 35% of its operations by volume and 65% of its total number of projects by 2024.
Second, ADB is enhancing support for adaptation and resilience that goes beyond climate proofing physical infrastructure to promote strong integration of ecological, social, institutional, and financial aspects of resilience into ADB’s investments.
Third, ADB is increasing its focus on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable communities in its developing member countries by working with the United Kingdom, the Nordic Development Fund, and the Green Climate Fund on a community resilience program to scale up the quantity and quality of climate adaptation finance in support of local climate adaptation actions.
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