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No end in sight to COVID crisis, and its impact will last for ‘decades to come’

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A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a patient at a hospital in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

Expressing “appreciation for WHO and partners’ COVID-19 pandemic response efforts”, the emergency committee convened by the UN health agency’s chief, made it clear that there is not yet an end in sight to the public health crisis that has so far infected more than 17 million and killed over 650,000 people.

The committee convened by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), held its fourth meeting on 31 July.

Sustained effort needed

In its statement following the meeting, published on Saturday, it highlighted the “anticipated lengthy duration” of the pandemic, noting “the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.”  

After a full discussion and review of the evidence, the Committee “unanimously agreed” the outbreak still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Tedros accepted the advice of the Committee.

The Director-General declared a PHEIC – WHO’s highest level of alarm – on 30 January, at a time when there were fewer than 100 cases in total, and no deaths outside China.

‘Once-in-a-century health crisis’

The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come”, Tedros told the Committee in his opening remarks on Friday. 

“Many countries that believed they were past the worst are now grappling with new outbreaks. Some that were less affected in the earliest weeks are now seeing escalating numbers of cases and deaths. And some that had large outbreaks have brought them under control.” 

Recommendations

The Committee made a range of recommendations to both WHO and Member States. 

It advised the agency to continue to mobilize global and regional multilateral organizations and partners for COVID-19 preparedness and response and to support Member States in maintaining health services, while also accelerating the research and eventual access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. 

Fair access

It advised countries to support these research efforts, including through funding, and to join in efforts to allow equitable allocation of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines by engaging in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, an unprecedented global collaboration between countries, philanthropists and business.

The committee also advised countries to strengthen public health policies to identify cases, and improve speedy contact tracing, “including in low-resource, vulnerable, or high-risk settings and to maintain essential health services with sufficient funding, supplies, and human resources.” 

Countries were also advised the committee to implement proportionate measures and advice on travel, based on risk assessments, and to review these measures regularly.

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The right to a clean and healthy environment: 6 things you need to know

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On 8 October, loud and unusual applause reverberated around the chamber of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. A battle fought for decades by environmental activists and rights’ defenders, had finally borne fruit.

For the first time ever, the United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world, passed a resolution recognising access to a healthy and sustainable environment as a universal right.

The text also calls on countries to work together, and with other partners, to implement this breakthrough.

“Professionally that was probably the most thrilling experience that I ever have had or that I ever will have. It was a massive team victory. It took literally millions of people, and years and years of work to achieve this resolution”, said David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, who was in the room when President Nazhat Shameem from Fiji, brought down her gavel, announcing the voting results.

43 votes in favour and 4 abstentions counted as a unanimous victory to pass the text that cites the efforts of at least 1,100 civil society, child, youth and indigenous people’s organizations, who have been campaigning for global recognition, implementation and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  

But why is this recognition important, and what does it mean for climate change-affected communities?

Here are six key things you need to know, compiled by us here at UN News.

1. First, let’s recall what the Human Rights Council does, and what its resolutions mean

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.

The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States which are elected by the absolute majority in the General Assembly and represent every region of the world.

Human Rights Council resolutions are “political expressions” that represent the position of the Council’s members (or the majority of them) on particular issues and situations. These documents are drafted and negotiated among States with to advance specific human rights issues.

They usually provoke a debate among States, civil society and intergovernmental organisations; establish new ‘standards’, lines or principles of conduct; or reflect existing rules of conduct.

Resolutions are drafted by a “core group”: Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland, were the countries who brought resolution 48/13 for its adoption in the council, recognising for the first time that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is indeed a human right.

2. It was a resolution decades in the making

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, which ended with a historical declaration, was the first one to place environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns and marked the start of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries on the link between economic growth, the pollution of the air, water and the ocean, and the well-being of people around the world.

UN Member States back then, declared that people have a fundamental right to “an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being,” calling for concrete action. They called for both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly to act.

Since 2008, the Maldives, a Small Island Developing State on the frontline of climate change impacts, has been tabling a series of resolutions on human rights and climate change, and in the last decade, on human rights and environment.

In the last few years, the work of the Maldives and its allied States, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment and different NGOs, have been moving the international community towards the declaration of a new universal right.

Support for UN recognition of this right grew during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was endorsed by UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, as well as more than 1,100 civil society organisations from around the world. Nearly 70 states on the Human Rights Council also added their voices to a call by the council’s core group on human rights and environment for such action, and 15 UN agencies also sent a rare joint declaration advocating for it.

“A surge in emerging zoonotic diseases, the climate emergency, pervasive toxic pollution and a dramatic loss of biodiversity have brought the future of the planet to the top of the international agenda”, a group of UN experts said in a statement released in June this year, on World Environment Day.

3. It was a David vs Goliath story…

To finally reach the vote and decision, the core group lead intensive inter-governmental negotiations, discussions and even experts’ seminars, over the past few years.

Levy Muwana, a Youth Advocate and environmentalist from Zambia, participated in one of the seminars.

“As a young child, I was affected with bilharzia, a parasitic disease, because I was playing in the dirty water near my household.

A few years later, a girl died in my community from cholera. These events are sadly common and occurring more often.

Water-born infectious diseases are increasing worldwide, especially across sub-Saharan Africa, due to the changing climate”, he told Council members last August.

Muwana made clear that his story was not unique, as millions of children worldwide are significantly impacted by the devastating consequences of the environmental crisis. “1.7 million of them die every year from inhaling contaminated air or drinking polluted water”, he said.

The activist, along with over 100.000 children and allies had signed a petition for the right to a healthy environment to be recognised, and they were finally heard.

“There are people who want to continue the process of exploiting the natural world and have no reservations about harming people to do that. So those very powerful opponents have kept this room from going forward for decades.

It’s almost like a David and Goliath story that all of these civil society organizations were able to overcome this powerful opposition, and now we have this new tool that we can use to fight for a more just and sustainable world”, says David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment.

4. But what good is a non-legally binding resolution?

Mr. Boyd explains that the resolution should be a catalyst for more ambitious action on every single environmental issue that we face.

“It really is historic, and it really is meaningful for everyone because we know right now that 90% of people in the world are breathing polluted air.

“So right off the bat if we can use this resolution as a catalyst for actions to clean up air quality, then we’re going to be improving the lives of billions of people”, he emphasizes.

Human Rights Council resolutions might not be legally binding, but they do contain strong political commitments.

“The best example we have of what kind of a difference these UN resolutions make is if we look back at the resolutions in 2010 that for the first time recognized the right to water. That was a catalyst for governments all over the world who added the right to water to their constitutions, their highest and strongest laws”, Mr. Boyd says.

The Rapporteur cites Mexico, which after adding the right to water in the constitution, has now extended safe drinking water to over 1,000 rural communities.

“There are a billion people who can’t just turn on the tap and have clean, safe water coming out, and so you know, for a thousand communities in rural Mexico, that’s an absolutely life-changing improvement. Similarly, Slovenia, after they put the right to water in their constitution because of the UN resolutions, they then took action to bring safe drinking water to Roma communities living in informal settlements on city outskirts”.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the global level will support efforts to address environmental crises in a more coordinated, effective and non-discriminatory manner, help achieve the Sustainable Developing Goals, provide stronger protection of rights and of the people defending the environment, and help create a world where people can live in harmony with nature.

5. The link between human rights and environment is indisputable

Mr. Boyd has witnessed firsthand the devastating impact that climate change has already had on people’s rights.

In his first country mission as a Special Rapporteur, he met the first community in the world that had to be completely relocated due to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and increased intensity of storm surges.

“You know, from this beautiful waterfront paradise on a Fijian island, they had to move their whole village inland about three kilometers. Older persons, people with disabilities, pregnant women, they’re now separated from the ocean that has sustained their culture and their livelihoods for many generations”.

These situations are not only seen in developing countries. Mr. Boyd also visited Norway where he met Sami indigenous people also facing the impacts of climate change.

“I heard really sad stories there. For thousands of years their culture and their economy has been based on reindeer herding, but now because of warm weather in the winters, even in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, sometimes it rains.

“The reindeer who literally for thousands of years had been able to scrape away snow during the winter to get to the lichens and mosses that sustained them, now can’t scrape away the ice – and they’re starving”.

The story repeats itself in Kenya, where pastoralists are losing their livestock because of droughts that are being exacerbated by climate change.

They have done nothing to cause this global crisis and they’re the ones who are suffering, and that’s why it’s such a human rights issue.

“That’s why it’s such an issue of justice. Wealthy countries and wealthy people need to start to pay for the pollution they’ve created so that we can help these vulnerable communities and these vulnerable peoples to adapt and to rebuild their lives”, Mr. Boyd said.

6. What’s next?

The Council resolution includes an invitation to the UN General Assembly to also consider the matter. The Special Rapporteur says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the body will pass a similar resolution within the next year.

“We need this. We need governments and we need everyone to move with a sense of urgency. I mean, we’re living in a climate, biodiversity, and pollution crisis, and also a crisis of these emerging diseases like COVID which have environmental root causes. And so that’s why this resolution is critically important because it says to every government in the world ‘you have to put human rights at the centre of climate action, of conservation, of addressing pollution and of preventing future pandemics’”.

For Dr. Maria Neira, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) environment chief, the resolution is already having important repercussions and a mobilizing impact.

“The next step will be how we translate that on the right to clean air and whether we can push, for instance, for the recognition of WHO’S Global Air Quality Guidelines and the levels of exposure to certain pollutants at a country level. It will also help us to move certain legislation and standards at the national level”, she explains.

Air pollution, primarily the result of burning fossil fuels, which also drives climate change, causes 13 deaths per minute worldwide. Dr. Neira calls for the end of this “absurd fight” against the ecosystems and environment.

“All the investments need to be on ensuring access to safe water and sanitation, on making sure that electrification is done with renewable energy and that our food systems are sustainable.”

According to WHO, achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement would save millions of lives every year due to improvements in air quality, diet, and physical activity, among other benefits.

“The climate emergency has become a matter of survival for many populations. Only systemic, profound and rapid changes will make it possible to respond to this global ecological crisis”, says the Special Rapporteur.

For Mr. Boyd, the approval of the historical resolution in the Human Rights Council was a ‘paradoxical’ moment.

“There was this incredible sense of accomplishment and also at the exact same time a sense of how much work remains to be done to take these beautiful words and translate them into changes that will make people’s lives better and make our society more sustainable”.

The newly declared right to a healthy and clean environment will also hopefully influence positively negotiations during the upcoming UN Climate Conference COP26, in Glasgow, which has been described by the UN chief as the last chance to ‘turn the tide’ and end the war on our planet.  

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AutoFlight presents V1500M – an autonomous passenger eVTOL aircraft

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Shaping the future of urban air mobility: The tech company AutoFlight shows an autonomous passenger eVTOL aircraft: the V1500M. It will change the face of personal air transportation. AutoFlight debuted its autonomous fixed-wing passenger electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (“eVTOL”) to the world at the China Airshow in Zhuhai.

With its sleek looks and innovative technology the V1500M doesn’t rely on runways and airports. It can vertically take-off and land anywhere anytime. Virtually any rooftop or flat surface becomes a vertiport. When it reaches a certain altitude, the power system turns on the dual prop pusher, so that V1500M is able to cruise at speeds of a fixed-wing airplane. And in low-altitude airspace, the all-electric design enables the aircraft to operate at a very low noise level. 

As the energy consumption in the fixed wing mode is much lower than in the multirotor mode the V1500M can fly much further than any pure multicoptor eVTOL.

Being able to fly without a pilot, the V1500M’s uses eight lifting motors to take off and land vertically like a multi-rotor aircraft, and fly as far as 250 km when carrying up to four passengers. At the moment, a safety pilot is still mandatory. Yet as technology advances and regulations become increasingly refined, that space can later be allocated to another passenger or extra luggage. 

“The V1500M is a milestone – not only for AutoFlight but also for the global development of the urban air mobility“, so Tian Yu, founder and CEO of AutoFlight. “Our company is committed to developing safe and reliable passenger eVTOL aircraft and helping to create a better mobility future.”

In terms of safety, AutoFlight with its rich experience in aircraft design, manufacturing and its dedication to make reliable flying cars, following aviation industry’s standards. The lifting rotor’s and prop pusher’s redundant power system guarantees that the aircraft could hover safely when two of the rotors malfunction. In case of one propeller failure, the other still ensures safe flight and landing. The V1500M also has an whole-aircraft parachute, which is designed to act as the last line of safety to protect passengers so they enjoy safe flying.

V1500M will accomplish its first flight in the near future. The goal is to certify the aircraft with the aviation authorities by 2024.

Tian Yu: “AutoFlight will keep contributing to the eVTOL industry. Through building safe, efficient, systematic R&D and AC processes, leveraging domestic and international resources and establishing partnerships across industries, AutoFlight strives to accelerate the practical implementation of eVTOLs in commercial applications and lead us into a better future with UAM.”  

With its tradition and the experience, AutoFlight aims to create cost-effective, safe, and reliable eVTOL

AutoFlight is one of the earliest tech companies in China to start making autonomous eVTOL, including large payload logistic and autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Logistic UAVs were introduced first. They have now accumulated over 10,000 hours of flight time and been tested in all kinds of extreme conditions.

AutoFlight owns proprietary intellectual property rights in key technologies such as flight control systems, electrical systems or other core components. They have obtained over 200 domestic and international patents for its self-developed modules including highly efficient electric motors, electronic control systems, and durable lightweight carbon-fiber composite materials. 

“Following our cargo-to-passenger-strategy we go ahead step-by-step but very straight forward“, says Tian Yu. 

V1500M’s Key Specifications
Aircraft length10.3 m
Wingspan12.8 m
Fuselage height3.1 m
Maximum take-off weight (MTOW)1500 kg
Typical seating 3 – 4 
Cruise speed200 km/h
Flight range (fully seated)250 km

About AutoFlight

AutoFlight is a global high-tech startup, born in China, specializing in developing and manufacturing autonomous aerial vehicles. AutoFlight’s mission is to provide safe and reliable aerial logistic systems and urban air mobility solutions for human society. By leveraging new technologies in aviation, new material, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and 5G, AutoFlight actively drives development in eVTOL (electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) industry.

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Critical Decarbonization Technologies Need at Least “10x” Investment

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Breakthrough technologies such as hydrogen-based fuels, bioenergy and carbon-capture storage solutions are needed to hit the global goal of zero emissions by 2050.

To scale these technologies and take them to market, at least a tenfold increase in investment is needed, according to the How to Finance Industry Net-Zero report.

Released by the World Economic Forum and Oliver Wyman, the report outlines how to address the supply-and-demand-side gap and take these technologies to the next level.

Part of the Forum’s Financing the Transition to a Net-Zero Future Initiative, the report brings together input from over 50 financial institutions and the public sector. Their focus is on how to steer capital to breakthrough technologies and drive a more sustainable future.

Key findings:

· The innovative blending of capital supported by an enabling ecosystem is needed, where different sources of public and private capital are brought together in technology-specific financing blueprints. To do this effectively, mechanisms that activate collaboration among multiple stakeholders are necessary.

· Transformative business models are essential, where industry participants and capital providers work together to establish new contracts and ways of doing business to increase the probability of commercial success.

· Targeted public intervention is critical, focused on the design of incentive schemes rewarding early movers adopting innovative technological solutions and de-risking schemes to mitigate investment risks unique to these innovative solutions.

The challenge ahead is significant, but not insurmountable,” said Derek Baraldi, Head of Sustainable Finance and Investing, at the World Economic Forum. “If executed thoughtfully, the mobilization of finance to breakthrough technologies presents a tremendous investment opportunity. This study found that there is a real appetite from industry for thoughtful partnership and collaboration between private and public capital providers.”

“Organisations have announced ambitious pledges to finance the transition to net-zero but the progress made to date is not enough,” added Ted Moynihan, Managing Partner and Global Head of Industries, Oliver Wyman. “There is a huge gap in financing of early-stage decarbonization technologies, which will be absolutely critical to achieving our targets from 2030 to 2050. With more research breakthroughs coming, we are now in a vital moment to accelerate the mobilization of capital towards decarbonization technologies in hard-to-abate industries.”

By proposing an initial set of financing approaches and de-risking solutions, the report seeks to initiate an important discussion on how to rapidly accelerate the deployment of capital towards breakthrough technologies.

The report launched at the Mission Possible Partnership event Supercharging Industrial Decarbonisation. It brought together public and private sectors from shipping, aviation, and steel. The Mission Possible Partnership will share learnings across these critical industrial sectors and present sector-specific blueprints for industrial decarbonisation.

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