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Addressing the climate emergency and advancing the SDGs through circular economy

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Accelerating the adoption of circular economy principles, policies and practices is essential if we are to make the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and fully implement the Paris Agreement.

This was the key message from more 300 representatives of national governments, United Nations entities, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the private sector and academia brought together by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in a series of regional meetings on the circular economy held virtually between 13 and 20 November 2020.

These regional meetings, convened for the African Group, the Asia-Pacific Group, the Eastern European Group, the Latin American and the Caribbean Group, and the Western European and Other States Group, focused on exchanging experiences and sharing knowledge, identifying benefits, challenges and barriers, and considering ways and means to enable the transition to a circular economy.

While addressing the African Group, Stephan Sicars, Managing Director of Environment and Energy at UNIDO, quoted one of the world’s most inspirational leaders and prominent change-makers, Nelson Mandela: “I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. We must never forget that it is our duty to protect this environment.” Sicars stressed the urgency of these words and pledged the continued support of UNIDO to foster partnerships, conceive initiatives and mobilize stakeholders for action on the circular economy in developing countries. 

Ornela Çuçi, Deputy Minister of Tourism and Environment, Albania,emphasized that “Nature is the biggest asset in Albania. We must preserve our environment to be able to build a strong and resilient economy. We are therefore working on legislation on the circular economy that will integrate this concept into our reality”.

Ilan Fluss, Deputy Head of the Economic Division of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “Cooperation between governments, the private sector and civil society is critical for promoting a circular economy. To close gaps between countries and societies, it is important to create partnerships, share best practices and exchange experiences.”

Noting that despite the opportunities, challenges remain, Claude Koutoua, President of the Environment, Quality, Hygiene, Security and Energy Committee, General Confederation of Enterprises, Côte d’Ivoire,said, “One of the main challenges is making technological innovations available, especially those that allow for carbon-free processes. We are in a world of competition and if we do not have a sufficiently attractive cost factor, it may happen that industries will not find the necessary enabling environment. What is more, we need support to make sure there is a political will to effectuate transformational changes”.

Van Keaheak, Director General for Industry at Cambodia’s Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy,stressed “that stakeholders are very important. Stakeholders involved should be the government, United Nations agencies, NGOs, the private sector and consumers. They all should be aware of the importance of the circular economy to deal with the environmental impacts. The circular economy is an opportunity to green our society”.

Alex Saer, Director for Sectorial and Urban Environmental Affairs at Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, explained that “as a successful case, we have worked with UNIDO on eco-efficient industrial parks. We believe that this is a very important way to promote industrial symbiosis in the country, as industry is an essential part of a circular economy”.

The outcomes of the regional meetings will inform UNIDO-led global consultations on circular economy, scheduled for January-February 2021. The global consultations aim to develop a set of policy recommendations to advance the work of Member States and various stakeholders on the circular economy, thereby promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial development in the framework of the United Nations’ Decade for Action.

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Calls for Collaboration and Rebuilding Trust Set Tone for The Davos Agenda

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Setting the tone for the meeting, the key themes of the first day of the World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 2021 proved to be “trust”, “solidarity”, “respect”, “transparency” and “collaboration”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, making the first special address of the event, called for both greater global efforts in the fight against an unprecedented public health crisis and a renewed commitment to multilateral cooperation.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, set out his priorities for an inclusive and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. In a wide-ranging address, he asserted that vaccines – “people’s vaccines” – should be regarded as a public good, pressed developed nations to offer their poorer counterparts debt relief because “no country should be forced to choose between basic services and serving debt”, and called for increased fairness in the world of work.

He made a call for a “truly global coalition for carbon neutrality” and suggested the need for adaptation, renewed confidence and a need to drastically change policy. He pressed business to operate “in line with the Paris Agreement”, called on asset managers to “decarbonize their portfolios” and asked all businesses to “align with the UN Global Compact”. In addition, Guterres announced the need for a new social contract, one “between governments, peoples, civil society, businesses and more, integrating employment, sustainable development, social protection, and based on equal rights and opportunities for all”.

Collaboration was the overriding message that came from Anthony Fauci, Director at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and other participants discussing how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and future such outbreaks. Fauci reflected on how divisiveness had hobbled the US approach to the disease, saying: “When public health issues become politically charged – like wearing a mask or not becomes a political statement – you can’t imagine how destructive that is to any unified public health message.”

He called on China to provide the World Health Organization (WHO) with information about the origin of COVID-19, arguing that without it, scientists and doctors faced a “big black box”. He also registered the US’s renewed support for the WHO and said that with reform, it will become the multilateral organization that deals with disease preparedness. His overall message, however, was one of the need for greater global health security, transparency, collaboration and solidarity, without which he announced “it becomes extremely problematic to address an outbreak”.

In other sessions during the day, President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde said economic recovery in 2021 will progress in two phases. In the first, there will be a high level of uncertainty as vaccines are produced and rolled out, and lockdown measures may become more stringent because of the emerging COVID-19 variants. She described it as “crossing the bridge to recovery, but the journey is delayed, not derailed”.

The second phase is where the economy is reopening, something that will bring its own challenges and positive developments. As part of the recovery, Lagarde underlined the need to bring more women to the table to help the recovery, saying: “Progress can be made and women can do the job just as well as men.”

Also considering a two-pronged approach was Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, Finance and the Recovery of France, who argued that while pursuing a policy of fiscal support during the pandemic, nations should also consider the future. “We have to think about the kind of economy we want to build; we want to build a sustainable economy and reduce the inequalities,” he said. Le Maire also called on states to learn lessons from each other during the crisis. As he pointed out, for the first time in its history, the member states of the Eurozone have all taken the same measures.

Peter Altmaier, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany, said that there needs to be greater reliance on open markets and multilateralism. In the post-COVID-19 recovery, he sees opportunities for synergies, such as greater investment in clean energy solutions to help tackle climate change.

Speaking about his new book, Stakeholder Capitalism, Schwab said the pandemic has shown that companies that commit to stakeholder capitalism perform much better than others because they invest in the long-term viability of the company. He called for a much wider definition of capital, one that includes “human, social and natural capital” because all those aspects of capital combine to create wealth and prosperity.

Underlining the day’s theme – Designing cohesive, sustainable and resilient economic systems – the meeting saw the launch of the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative, which sees a coalition of almost 50 organizations committed to improving racial and ethnic justice in the workplace. The Forum released a report revealing that upskilling has the potential to boost GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030. Also covered during the day were topics ranging from gender parity and restoring economic growth to addressing mental health in the workplace, building crisis-resistant healthcare systems and creating a new social contract.

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Pandemic disruption to learning is an opportunity to reimagine, revitalize education

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Students at a primary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the second day after their school reopened. The students, teachers and school administrators wear masks while at the school and maintain physical distancing. UNICEF/Seyha Lychheang

To mark the third International Day of Education on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to the resilience of students, teachers and families in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic that, at its peak, forced almost every school, institute and university to close its doors.

“When education is interrupted, it affects everyone”, he said, and “all of us pay the price”, stressing that education is the foundation for expanding opportunities, transforming economies, fighting intolerance, protecting our planet and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Although this disruption has led to learning innovations, he said, it has also dashed hopes of a brighter future among vulnerable populations.

Avert generational catastrophe

With that in mind, the UN chief said that as the world continues to battle the pandemic, education – as a fundamental right and a global public good – must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe.

Even before the pandemic, some 258 million children and adolescents were out of school, the majority of them girls. Indeed, more than half of 10-year-olds in low and middle income countries were not learning to read a simple text.

“In 2021, we must seize all opportunities to turn this situation around. We must ensure the full replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education fund, and strengthen global education cooperation”, the Secretary-General explained.

“We must also step up our efforts to reimagine education – training teachers, bridging the digital divide and rethinking curricula to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to flourish in our rapidly changing world”, he said, adding: “Let us commit to promote education for all — today and every day.”

Struggling at home

Volkan Bozkir, the President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, commended all teachers, who have adapted their classrooms and undertaken remote lessons in order to ensure continuity in education. He also applauded parents, who have done their utmost to facilitate learning at home.

“Above all, I am thinking of all students around the world who are struggling to learn at home, perhaps missing their friends, feeling frustrated or despondent about the future. Do not despair. You will get through this difficult period and you will pursue your dreams”, the Assembly President said in a video message.

He said that it is up to UN Member States to ensure this becomes a reality.

“We need to take urgent action in this Decade of Action and Delivery to invest in our education systems, including improving access to technology so that we can recover from this tumultuous period”, Assembly President Bozkir said.

He explained that if the UN and wider international community are to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, “we need to build resilient, inclusive education systems that allow all students to return to school.”

“To do so, we must meet the needs of those at risk of being left behind. Including children with disabilities and those living in conflict-affected areas, as well as the 11 million girls who are at risk of not re-entering the classroom.”

‘Recover and Revitalize Education’

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will co-host an event on Monday, 25 January, planned around three main segments: learning heroes, innovations, and financing.

The agency says that as a new year begins, now is the time to step up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of the recovery and the transformation towards more inclusive, safe and sustainable societies.

In a concept note on the event, UNESCO says it is the time to invest in better gearing education systems everywhere to the reality of interdependence that the pandemic has made necessary, and to making education a vehicle to foster social justice, peace, respect for diversity, human rights and democratic values.

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Xi Jinping’s Speech at Davos Agenda is Historic Opportunity for Collaboration

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Chinese President Xi Jinping called for both greater global efforts in the fight against an unprecedented public health crisis and a renewed commitment to multilateral cooperation, in a special address on Monday to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, The Davos Agenda.

“The pandemic is far from over and the recent resurgence in COVID cases reminds us that we must carry on the fight,” Xi said. “There is no doubt that humanity will prevail over the virus and emerge even stronger from this disaster.”

“We should stay committed to keeping up with the times instead of rejecting change. Now is the time for major development and major transformation.”

Xi outlined several objectives required for a better future. They include the need to work together to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, to close the gap between developing and developed countries as a prerequisite for global prosperity, and to strengthen global cooperation in addressing the big common challenges, namely COVID-19 and climate change.

On cooperation

“We hope these efforts will bring more cooperation opportunities to other countries and give further impetus to global economic recovery and growth,” he said.

“We have been shown time and again that to beggar thy neighbor, to go it alone, and to
slip into arrogant isolation will always fail. Let us all join hands and let multilateralism light our way toward a community with a shared future for mankind.”

“Zero sum game or winner takes all is not the philosophy of the Chinese people.”

“We should stay committed to international law and international rules, instead of seeking one’s own supremacy”

On climate

“We need to deliver on the Paris Agreement on climate change and promote green development,” he said. “We need to give continued priority to development, implement the Sustainable Development Goals, and make sure that all countries, especially developing ones, share in the fruits of global development.”

Xi reiterated China’s commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and promoting a green, low-carbon way of life and production, and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.

“The earth is our one and only home. To scale up efforts to address climate change and promote sustainable development, bears on the future of humanity.”

On the economy

“Despite the trillions of dollars in relief packages worldwide, global recovery is rather shaky and the outlook remains uncertain. We need to focus on current priorities, and balance COVID response and economic development. Macroeconomic policy support should be stepped up to bring the world economy out of the woods as early as possible.”

On COVID-19

Containing the coronavirus is another pressing task for the international community, he said, stressing that closer solidarity and cooperation, more information sharing and a stronger response are what is needed to defeat COVID-19. He said China is committed to sharing its experience with other countries and assisting those less prepared for the pandemic and work for greater accessibility to COVID vaccines in developing countries.

On globalization

He also said China will continue to promote economic globalization and advance technology and innovation, and is committed to following through on its policy of opening up and continuing to promote trade and investment liberalization.

On technology

“Science, technology and innovation is a key engine for human progress… China will create an open, fair, equitable and non-discriminatory scientific environment that is beneficial to all.”

Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, thanked China for taking an active part in global efforts to combat COVID-19 and to implement the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

“2021 will be the critical year to re-establish trust in our ability to shape our common future in collective and constructive ways,” Schwab said. “We must win the fight against the virus, we must reinvigorate global economic growth and make it more robust, resilient, inclusive and sustainable, and at the same time, we must accelerate the transition to a net zero economy.”

He added: “We must come together to ensure that we capture the moment and move into the age of collaboration to build a better world.”

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