Paris climate deal could go up in smoke without action: Guterres

NOAA/Jerry Penry
Scientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events.

Unless wealthy nations commit to tackling emissions now, the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” to 2.7-degrees of heating by the end of the century, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Friday.

The UN chief’s remarks came after the UN’s climate agency (UNFCCC) published an update on national climate action plans (officially known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) submitted by the 191 countries which signed Agreement.

The report indicates that while there is a clear trend that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced over time, nations must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent disastrous global heating in the future.

The document includes updates to the NDCs of 113 countries that represent around 49% of global emissions, including the nations of the European Union and the United States.

Those countries overall expect their greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010. “This is an important step,” the report points out, but insufficient, as highlighted by Mr. Guterres at Friday’s Forum of Major Economies on Energy and Climate, hosted by the President of the United States, Joe Biden

“We need a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century…It is clear that everyone must assume their responsibilities”, he emphasized.

70 countries indicated their embrace of carbon neutrality goals by around the middle of the century. If this materializes, it could lead to even greater emissions reductions, of about 26% by 2030, compared to 2010, the report explains.

According to the latest IPCC findings, that would mean that unless climate action is taken immediately, it may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7C, by the end of this century.

“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a code red for humanity. But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree target. We have the tools to achieve this target. But we are rapidly running out of time”, the UN chief highlighted.

The Secretary General highlighted a particular challenge: energy still obtained from coal. “If all planned coal power plants become operational, we will not only be clearly above 1.5 degrees – we will be well above 2 degrees. The Paris targets would go up in smoke”.

UNDP Comoros/James Stapley
Farmers and fisherfolk in the Comoros Islands are needing to adapt to climate change.

Mr. Guterres urged the creation of “coalitions of solidarity” between countries that still depend heavily on coal, and countries that have the financial and technical resources to support transitions to cleaner energy sources.

Without pledges and financial commitments from industrialised nations to make this happen, “there is a high risk of failure of COP26”, Mr. Guterres continued, referring to the pivotal UN Climate summit in Glasgow in six weeks’ time.

“G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Their leadership is needed more than ever. The decisions they take now will determine whether the promise made at Paris is kept or broken”, he warned.

UN Report Tallies Increased Food and Nutrition Insecurity Amid COVID-19; Notes Value of Biofortification as a Response

An influential UN report on global food and nutrition security shows how the combination of conflict, climate change, economic stresses, and the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in global hunger and malnutrition during 2020. The report estimates that nearly 10 percent of the world population (or about 811 million people) was undernourished last year, up from 8.4 percent in 2019. 

The 2021 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report also projects that, if current trends were to continue, the global community would fall well short of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) of ending hunger by 2030, with nearly 660 million people still experiencing hunger by then. Of that total, the report says about 30 million cases would link directly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year’s SOFI also highlights the urgent need to ensure that nutritious diets are both accessible and affordable to everyone. It recommends five policy response areas for doing so—including micronutrient enrichment of staple crops through the process of biofortificationThese micronutrients are now more relevant than ever as they are needed for healthy immune systems – the first line of defense against health threats, including viruses such as COVID-19. 

The SOFI is a flagship publication series that monitors progress towards globally agreed food security and nutrition targets. It is jointly produced by five UN agencies*. and is widely recognized as a valuable resource to drive informed decision-making for policy actors striving to formulate policies on SDG 2, i.e., to end hunger, achieve food security, end all forms of malnutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Regarding biofortification, the SOFI report states that it has been used along with large-scale food fortification as a cost-effective measure to reduce micronutrient deficiencies while increasing the availability—and lowering the cost—of nutritious foods.” 

The report calls for a value chain-based approach “to increase the availability of safe and nutritious foods and lower their cost, primarily as a means to increase the affordability of healthy diets,” using incentives such as diversification of diets toward more-nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and animal source foods, as well as promotion of biofortified crops. 

The report cites the example of Rwanda, where HarvestPlus and partners introduced iron-biofortified beans which were rapidly adopted by farmers. “By the end of 2018, it was estimated that 20 percent of beans produced in the country were iron-biofortified, and 15 percent of the population was consuming these. Regular consumption of fortified beans can provide up to 80 percent of daily iron needs. Iron-biofortified varieties have also produced yields with iron levels that are 20 percent above those of other varieties, turning them into an attractive alternative for farmers,” the report noted. 

HarvestPlus leads a global movement to scale up production and consumption of biofortified staple crops, notably iron beans and pearl millet, zinc rice, maize, and wheat, and vitamin A cassava, maize, and sweet potato. As of the end of 2020, more than 260 biofortified varieties of these crops were available to farmers in 30 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Biofortified crops are designed specifically for smallholder farming families who primarily consumer what they grow themselves and rely heavily on staples for their diets. 

For the first time, the SOFI report shows that recent increases in the unaffordability of healthy diets are associated with increased food insecurity. The report estimates that more than 2.3 billion people (or 30 percent of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food in 2020. This indicator (also known as the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity indicator) increased in one year as much as in the preceding five years combined. This alarming increase reflects the cumulative negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security in 2020.

We are now at a critical moment in time that requires new food system approaches and urgent actions at scale to get back on track towards achieving SDG-2 and other SDGs. Biofortification is a particularly relevant approach now, as the severe disruptions and economic tolls of the COVID-19 pandemic—and efforts to contain it—cut many families’ incomes and force them to rely more on relatively cheap lower-nutrient staples such as rice, wheat, beans, and maize. 

Sierra Leone: President Bio Engages Development Partners on COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout Strategies

President Julius Maada Bio has engaged development partners and the diplomatic community on the successes of Sierra Leone in the fight against COVID-19 and the plan to roll out vaccination throughout the country.

The meeting brought together the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, NaCOVERC, UN Resident Coordinator, European Union, Deputy Head of the United States Embassy, British High Commission, Irish Embassy, Chinese Embassy, Germany Embassy, the World Bank Country Manager, UNICEF Country Representative and WHO Country Representative.

In his welcome statement, Chief Minister Professor David Francis said the second interface and strategic meeting between the government’s COVID-19 response Presidential Task Force and development partners within the DEPAC framework, was timely, adding that they would highlight the successes, challenges, a transition from the COVID-19 Emergency Response to post- emergency recovery and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio said the meeting was of special importance in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the country had fought a good fight.

“Some of the major objectives of our fight have been achieved by reducing mortality and also making sure that livelihoods are not compromised,” he assured, emphasising that science and data had always helped them in the fight against COVID-19.

He further stated that development partners were an integral part of the fight against the scourge, adding that the country was entering into an important milestone in the fight by administering the COVID-19 vaccines. He, therefore, said it was necessary that development partners were informed before the administration of those vaccines.

“We have received vaccines from the People’s Republic of China and another set from COVAX. We cannot roll these out without informing you as partners. On behalf of the people of Sierra Leone and myself, I want to thank you for the many challenges that you have to endure with us in our response to COVID. The support that you have given in terms of PPE and many other technical supports. We are very proud of the partnership between us and our donor community in Sierra Leone,” he said.

Giving out an overview on how the Coronavirus vaccines would be rolled out in the country, Dr Tom Sesay said that Sierra Leone had received 296,000 doses in total, of which 200,000 doses were from the People’s Republic of China and 96,000 doses from the COVAX facility.

“There will be a symbolic launch of the vaccines on Monday 15 March 2021 at State House. It will be for high-profile politicians. We are having a conservative target of 150 people on that day.

“It will be followed by a symbolic launch of the vaccines at the Miatta Conference Hall, where we will focus on the Health Care Workers, even though we will be prioritising those that are above 60 years of age. Vaccination for the rest of the country will start on the 22nd of March 2021,” Dr Sesay said.

Highlighting the many successes in the fight against COVID-19 so far, Minister of Defence and Interim Coordinator of NaCOVERC, Brigadier (Rtd.) Kellie Conteh, said before the outbreak in Sierra Leone government had put in place many structures that eventually helped in the fight. He added that President Bio had visited many areas in the country to assess the existing structures and the level of preparedness.

“Up till today, we have 3,932 positive cases of the Coronavirus, 1,639 of that number are from women, representing 41.6%, while 2,293 are male, representing 58.4% of the total positive cases. Western Area Urban remains the epicentre for infection in the country with 2,244 cases recorded so far.

“We have trained point-of-entry personnel on Coronavirus case detection across all our border entering points, provided a strategic plan for the response, including a transition plan. We are very much pleased with the laboratory successes because we started with three and today we have six functional labs across the country,” he stated.

The NaCOVERC boss also noted that when the virus entered the country in March 2020, they were testing at 100 per day, saying that they had now expanded the number of testing to 1,000 per day.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, thanked the President and the people of Sierra Leone for the opportunity to be a part of the dialogue on the cluster of health issues. He congratulated the country for the success so far achieved in dealing with the fight against Coronavirus.

“Recovering from COVID-19, in our view, is part and parcel of advancing Agenda 2034 Sustainable Development and the progress that can be very rapidly made in achieving the target within the National Development Plan. We still have work to do in terms of risk information and social mobilisation,” he noted.

He encouraged the government to vaccinate a large proportion of the population and encouraged Sierra Leoneans to continue to observe social distancing, hand washing and the use of facemasks.

“United Nations stands ready to continue to work with the Ministry of Health and NaCOVERC and other partners to ensure Sierra Leone is able to put Coronavirus behind us and, in the process of doing that, strengthen the health system to deal with future health emergencies and very quickly return to the path of sustainable national development,” he concluded.

COVID-19 vaccination ‘wildly uneven and unfair’: UN Secretary-General

International partners working to achieve equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines appealed on Wednesday for the UN Security Council to ensure people caught in conflict have access to these lifesaving treatments.  

Addressing the virtual meeting, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the goal of providing vaccines to all as “the biggest moral test before the global community”, underlining that everyone, everywhere must be included.

“Defeating COVID-19, now that we have begun to have the scientific capacity to do so, is more important than ever”, he said

“Yet progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair. Just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines.  Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind”. 

The UN and partners have established the COVAX Facility so that all countries will have access to vaccines, regardless of their wealth.  The global mechanism must be fully funded, the Secretary-General said.  

“But we must do even more”, he added. “The world urgently needs a Global Vaccination Plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities”. 

Mr. Guterres proposed that the world’s richest countries, the G20 nations, form an Emergency Task Force to prepare the plan and coordinate its implementation and financing. 

The task force would work to mobilize pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors, he said, underlining the UN’s readiness to support this effort. 

US decision will provide ‘profound relief’ to millions in war-torn Yemen: UN spokesperson

OCHA/Mahmoud Fadel
An internally displaced child plays at an IDP settlement in Al-Dhale’e governorate, southern Yemen.

The US announcement revoking the previous administration’s terrorist designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement, formally known as Ansar Allah, will provide “profound relief” to millions in the country, who depend on international assistance and imports for their survival, the UN Spokesperson said on Saturday. 

In a note to correspondents, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, welcomed the announcement, which was made by the Biden administration on Friday. 

“The revocation of the designations will provide profound relief to millions of Yemenis who rely on humanitarian assistance and commercial imports to meet their basic survival needs. It will help ensure that much-needed essential goods reach them without significant delays”, Mr. Dujarric said. 

“At a time when Yemen is at significant risk of famine, maintaining commercial imports and humanitarian assistance in adequate quantities is essential”, he added. 

Mr. Dujarric also expressed hope that the move will contribute to UN efforts to resume a Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political process to reach an inclusive, negotiated settlement to the conflict. 

Two billion COVID vaccine doses secured, WHO says end of pandemic is in sight

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is the first vaccine to be made readily available in some parts of the world

The end of the pandemic is in sight but we must not let our guard down, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as he welcomed the news that the global vaccine partnership COVAX has lined up almost two billion doses of existing and candidate vaccines for use worldwide.

The huge vaccine reservoir means that COVAX, a 190-country international initiative that seeks to ensure all countries have equal access to coronavirus vaccines, can plan to start delivering the shots in the first quarter of 2021.

By mid-year it will have delivered enough doses to protect health and social care workers in all participating countries that have asked to get doses in that timeframe. All other participants should get sufficient doses to cover up to 20 per cent of their populations by the end of 2021, and further doses in 2022.

“This is fantastic news and a milestone in global health”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters attending an online press conference.

“This is a time for taking comfort that the end of the pandemic is in sight, but taking care that we do not let down our guard. We are all responsible for taking the measures to keep ourselves and each other safe, including during this holiday season.

“With today’s news the light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter, but we are not there yet. And we will only get there together”, Tedros said

COVID-19 shows ‘urgent need’ for solidarity, UN chief tells Nobel forum

UN Women/Louie Pacardo
Wearing a full protective suit, a women doctor who leads a group of volunteer medical professionals attending to COVID-19 patients and persons under investigation at a community hospital in the Philippines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for global solidarity and greater international cooperation, and must be turned into an opportunity for fundamental change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a keynote address to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum on Friday. 

The event was held the day after the UN World Food Programme (WFP) officially received the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its lifesaving work assisting millions of hungry people across the globe. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown above all the urgent need for human solidarity”, the UN chief said in a  video message for the virtual event. “We can only tackle shared threats through shared resolve.” 

The Nobel discussion focused on multilateralism and global governance in the aftermath of the pandemic, which has affected practically every corner of the planet. 

The ever-growing economic and social fallout means the world is facing the biggest global recession in 80 years, rising levels of extreme poverty, and looming famine.  

The Secretary-General called for a “reset”. 

“We cannot respond to this crisis by going back to what was, or withdrawing into national shells. We need more international cooperation and stronger international institutions,” he stated. 

Nearly a year has passed since COVID-19 first emerged in China. More than 68 million cases have been reported globally, including some 1.5 million deaths, according to latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO).  

 Although countries are facing a common enemy, the Secretary-General said they have not mounted a joint response, and even competed against each other for essential supplies and frontline workers. 

“We cannot let the same thing happen for access to new COVID-19 vaccines, which must be a global public good”, he stressed.