Monday, 30 June 2014

Global Calling for Comprehensive Ocean Governance

With the fate of the Earth’s marine environment hanging in the balance and human-induced challenges accelerating, ocean champions from around the globe – including His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco and the former Heads of State, Ministers and business leaders of the Global Ocean Commission – have joined forces in a clarion call for comprehensive and integrated ocean governance.

The urgent appeal was issued during the first-ever United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, as Prince Albert, an award-winning environmental activist, addressed the myriad challenges facing the oceans – including pollution, overfishing and, increasingly, climate change.

An estimated 350 million jobs around the world are linked to the oceans, and as much as 40 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the shoreline. Nevertheless, human impacts have destroyed an estimated 20 per cent of mangroves and 30 per cent of seagrass beds, and threaten 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs – a major source of income for some 850 million people.

Land-based human activities have also resulted in more than 500 oxygen-poor ‘dead zones’, which cover an estimated 245,000 square kilometers of coastal zones. Greenhouse gas emissions are raising sea-levels and threatening the very existence of some island states.

“The Earth’s marine environment provides humanity with a number of important services, ranging from the air we breathe, to food security and storm protection. These in turn underpin lives and livelihoods around the globe,” said Prince Albert.

“However, with a population set to rise from seven billion today to nine billion by 2050, threats to the ocean – including pollution from land-based sources, over-fishing and unmanaged coastal development – are likely to intensify. The International community must build on the Future We Want, adopted in Rio in 2012 and seize the opportunity of a Blue Economy. There cannot be social economic development without resilient and productive oceans,” he added.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), stressed that stricter adherence by states to the existing regime of regional oceans governance – led for the last 40 years by the UNEP Regional Seas Programme – was critical to reversing the rapidly accelerating degradation of the oceans.

The Regional Seas Programme, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is the world’s only legal framework to address marine issues at the regional level. Its network of 18 regional Conventions and Action Plans aim to engage neighbouring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to protect their shared marine environment.

Africa should heavily invest in agricultural development

Equatorial Guinea’s President, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, asked African countries to invest heavily in their agricultural sector to decrease their dependence on the developed world, ensure food security, and significantly reduce hunger in their countries. He made his remarks at the closing session of the Assembly of Heads of State of the African Union (AU).



Equatorial Guinea’s President, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the AU Summit

President Obiang said that Africa should reorient itself to ensure its independence and security of African states through the safe production of its own consumer goods. “Africa cannot be content to continue with the current dependence on the economies of the developed world. Africa is sailing upstream against a dependency that prevents them from moving toward sustainable development. Africa should rethink its relationship with the developed world to reduce as far as possible the gap that prevents access to development,” said Obiang.


“The development of agriculture can greatly reduce this dependence,” he said. “Africa can ensure food security and significantly reduce hunger in our countries. Africa should heavily invest in agricultural development to transform itself in order to accelerate growth to increase production and productivity,” said Obiang.


President Obiang proposed to the African Union the establishment of a program that focuses on the organization and exploitation of markets to promote trade and food security and to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty. This will also reinforce the fight against climate change and agriculture.


He said that Equatorial Guinea is already investing in its agricultural sector. “As part of our diversification plan, Equatorial Guinea currently focuses on [agricultural] production to achieve these goals. It is imperative to ensure the security and stability of our states, since agriculture is the most vulnerable sector in times of instability, war and terrorism.” said Obiang

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Historic UN Environment Assembly Calls for Strengthened Action on Air Quality By Ayo Okulaja

The inaugural UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) concluded its five-day deliberations in Nairobi on Friday with 16 decisions and resolutions that encourage international action on major environmental issues ranging from air pollution and the illegal trade in wildlife, to plastic debris in the oceans, chemicals and waste. 

“The air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that grows our food are part of a delicate ecosystem that is increasingly under pressure,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the closing session late Friday. “We need to act decisively to change humanity’s relationship with our planet.” 

“This is just the beginning. Change is in the air. Solutions exist,” he added. “We are now poised for the crucial next phase of human development,” he said. 

The international community participated in the Assembly in record numbers—with high-level delegations from 160 UN Member and Observer States and stakeholders from multiple sectors present.   

UNEA sessions were attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; the President of the Republic of Kenya, H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta; the President of the UN General Assembly John Ashe as well as chief executives of the UN system – among them the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark and Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Mukhisa Kituyi. 

The sessions were presided over by Mongolia’s Minister of Environment and Green Development Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren. 

The High-Level Segment, which began on Thursday, focused among other things, on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including Sustainable Consumption and Production. 

“The resolutions agreed by Member States at UNEA will help shape the global environmental agenda into the future and will determine collaborative action on priority issues from marine plastic debris and micro plastics to the illegal trade in wildlife,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. 

“These resolutions, including the one on air quality, provide a clear indication that, in its successful and ambitious first session, UNEA is providing a robust policymaking platform that truly places the environment at the heart of sustainable development,” he added. 


Air pollution, responsible for 7 million deaths annually—according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO)—was identified as a top issue that requires immediate action by the international community. 

“Poor air quality is a growing challenge, especially in cities and urban centres, compromising the lives of millions worldwide. Action to reduce air quality will save lives and provide co-benefits for the climate, ecosystem services, biodiversity and food security,” said Mr. Steiner. 

The delegates unanimously agreed to encourage governments to set standards and policies across multiple sectors to reduce emissions and manage the negative impacts of air pollution on health, the economy, and overall sustainable development. 

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was mandated to step up its support to governments through capacity building, the provision of data and assessments and periodic reporting on progress made. The decision on air pollution is expected to strengthen existing work by UNEP in areas related to transport emissions, indoor air pollution, chemicals and sustainable consumption and production through programmes such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles. 


UNEA called for reinforced actions and enhanced international coordination to counter the illegal trade in wildlife, which poses threats to the environment and sustainable development. The resolution strongly encourages governments to implement their commitments to fight the illegal trade through, among other things, targeted actions to eradicate supply, transit and demand for illegal wildlife products. It promotes zero-tolerance policies and the development of sustainable and alternative livelihoods for communities adversely affected by the illegal trade. 

According to a report by UNEP and INTERPOL titled The Environmental Crime Crisis, released during UNEA, global environmental crime is worth up to US$213 billion each year and is helping to finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations. 

UNEP was requested to undertake a number of activities to further efforts in this area, including: providing an analysis of the environmental impacts of the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products to the next UNEA session and to raise public awareness about the issue and to work closely with the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), INTERPOL , CITES, UNDP and the Secretary General’s Rule of Law Group. UNEP was also requested to support governments to develop and implement environmental rule of law mechanisms at the national level. 

UNEA also featured a Ministerial Dialogue on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife, during which participants moved beyond the current attention focused on the poaching crisis facing African elephants and rhinos, to address a wider range of threats from illegal harvesting and trafficking including timber, fish, tigers, pangolins, great apes and a broad range of birds, reptiles, and other plants. 


A resolution on marine plastic debris and microplastics noted with concern the impacts of such materials on the marine environment, fisheries, tourism and development—calling for strengthened action, in particular by addressing such materials at the source. The resolution called for the strengthening of information exchange mechanisms, requesting UNEP to present scientific assessments on microplastics for consideration by the next session of the Assembly. Governments were urged to collaborate through relevant Regional Seas Conventions and River Commissions with a view to adopting action plans in their regions. 

According to new reports launched by UNEP and partners at UNEA, there is growing concern over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year. 


The UN Environment Assembly emphasized the sound management of chemicals and waste as an essential and integral cross-cutting element of sustainable development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.   

Chemicals are an integral part of everyday life, with over 100,000 different substances in use. 
While chemicals are major contributors to national economies, they require sound management throughout their life cycle. Otherwise, in addition to the benefits, they also pose significant risks to human health and the environment and result in significant costs to national economies. 

Environmental effects of the unsustainable use of chemicals and hazardous waste range from effects on sensitive species and ecosystems, to large scale issues such as eutrophication of water bodies and stratospheric ozone depletion. 

The continued growth pattern of global production, trade and use of chemicals exerts an increasing chemicals management burden on the developing countries and those with economies in transition that have the least capacities to deal with such complex challenges. 

UNEA welcomed an integrated approach to address the financing of the sound management of chemicals and waste, underscoring that the three components of an integrated approach—mainstreaming, industry involvement and external finance—are mutually reinforcing and essential. 


UNEA reaffirmed the commitment of Member States to the full implementation of the Rio+20 outcome document, The Future We Want—in particular the section on the environmental pillar in the context of sustainable development and paragraph 88 on strengthening and upgrading UNEP. 

It emphasized the historic importance of convening the first universal session of UNEA, as the leading global environmental authority, to address global environmental challenges and provide overarching policy guidance within the UN-system. It recognized the fundamental role of UNEA in promoting the full integration and coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development and its role in advancing solutions for the global environmental agenda. 

Fed in part by a Ministerial Plenary on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda including Sustainable Consumption and Production, UNEA also called for the full integration of the environmental dimension into the sustainable development process, acknowledging that a healthy environment is an essential requirement and key enabler for an ambitious, universal and implementable post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. 

The Assembly also called on Member States to accelerate and support efforts for the promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns, including through resource efficiency and sustainable lifestyles. 

“UNEA is a historic event for all of us, set to define not only the future of UNEP, but to support further the institutional framework and programmatic platform for sustainable development and set the environmental agenda for the world to follow,” said Ms. Sanjaasuren.

As World Convenes for First United Nations Environment Assembly, UN and World’s Insurers Unite to Tackle Natural Disaster Risk

A ground-breaking alliance between the United Nations and insurance companies from across the globe launched a drive to tackle natural disaster risk by identifying the most effective measures to combat disasters and helping communities implement them. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) FI Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) Initiative brings together insurers from around the world to help communities manage risk. The PSI Initiative’s Global Resilience Project represents a phased approach to protecting communities from natural disasters. 

“As we transform the global economy into one that is low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive – a key topic under discussion this week at the first United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi as we look for ways to bring in more capital investment to finance this transition – we must also adapt and invest in making our communities and economies climate and disaster-resilient,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Under-Secretary-General of the UN. “The Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative harnesses the wealth of risk management expertise in the insurance industry and is putting it to work to find solutions for global sustainability challenges.” 

The PSI Global Resilience Project, which is led by Insurance Australia Group, has just completed its first phase. This assessed the effectiveness of a range of disaster risk reduction measures across the three most devastating types of natural hazard—cyclone, earthquake and flood. The findings are outlined in a new report, Building disaster-resilient communities and economies. 

“There is a lot we as insurers can bring to the table,” said Leona Murphy of Insurance Australia Group, Co-Chair of the PSI Initiative’s Board. “We work with communities to help them recover from disasters, so we have a deep understanding of the risks they face at a local level, and we know what works when it comes to reducing the impact of disasters.” 

“It makes economic, social and environmental sense to focus on reducing the risk of disasters happening, rather than pouring all resources into disaster relief and recovery,” she added. 

The global report was presented at a UN event in London convening insurance industry leaders and key stakeholders. 

UNEP: Plastic Waste Causes Financial Damage of US$13 Billion to Marine Ecosystems Each Year as Concern Grows over Microplastics

Concern is growing over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year, according to two reports released on the opening day of the first United Nations Environment Assembly. 

The eleventh edition of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Year Book looks at ten issues flagged as emerging by previous reports over the past decade, including plastic waste in the ocean. The UNEP Year Book 2014 gives an update on each issue and provides options for action. Other areas covered include the environmental impacts of excess nitrogen and marine aquaculture, air pollution’s deadly toll, and the potential of citizen science. 

Valuing Plastic, a UNEP-supported report produced by the Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) and Trucost, makes the business case for managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry. It finds that the overall natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector each year is US$75 billion—financial impacts resulting from issues such as pollution of the marine environment or air pollution caused by incinerating plastic. 

The report says that over 30 per cent of the natural capital costs of plastic are due to greenhouse gas emissions from raw material extraction and processing. However, it notes that marine pollution is the largest downstream cost, and that the figure of US$13 billion is likely a significant underestimate. 

“Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. “These reports show that reducing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits—from reducing economic damage to marine ecosystems and the tourism and fisheries industries, vital for many developing countries, to bringing savings and opportunities for innovation to companies while reducing reputational risks.” 

“Our economies are still largely fossil-fuel based, with the environmental, economic and health costs hidden,” he added. “For example, in the polar regions, scientists have recently found tiny pieces of plastic trapped in sea ice. Transported by ocean currents across great distances, these contaminated particles eventually become a source of chemicals in our food. The key course of action is to prevent plastic debris from entering the environment in the first place, which translates into a single powerful objective: reduce, reuse, recycle.” 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Investigative Reporters Exposing Public Health Dangers in Nigeria and Mexico Win Premier International Journalism Award


A Nigerian editor and a Mexican freelance journalist whose investigative reports exposed companies that seriously endangered public health have won the 2014 Knight International Journalism Award, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)announced. The award recognizes outstanding news coverage that makes a difference in the lives of people around the world.


Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye, the editor of Nigeria's Sunday Punch newspaper, revealed that a manufacturing plant's fumes were making its neighbors seriously ill. Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab, a freelance reporter in Mexico, showed how companies flagrantly violated the law, in some cases causing massive deaths and injuries. 


"These journalists went the extra mile to expose health dangers," said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. "Their coverage forced governments to take strong action to protect the public well-being."


The award is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funds ICFJ's Knight International Journalism Fellowships program. The fellows seed new ideas and services that deepen coverage, expand news delivery and engage citizens in the editorial process.


"The winners exemplify the intent of the award, which recognizes innovative journalists who are focused on informing people and uncovering the truth as a way to build stronger communities," said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation, vice president of journalism and media innovation.


Ogunseye is the youngest and first female editor in the 40-year history of Sunday Punch, a widely read Lagos newspaper. In a three-part series, she proved that residents in a well-to-do community in Lagos had high levels of toxins in their blood caused by pollutants from a nearby steel plant. The coverage prompted the government to shut down the plant, and to allow it to reopen only under strict new regulations.


In another report, she disclosed that a nuclear power plant was about to be built in a poor neighborhood. After her piece ran, citizens mobilized, sued the government and stopped construction.


Her investigation into the death of a student who fell into a pit latrine resulted in a government initiative to replace the dangerous facilities. And her coverage of newborn babies dying at a top hospital in Lagos forced the hospital to buy more incubators for high-risk infants.


In Mexico, von Bertrab is known for hard-hitting reports. One investigation revealed that fumes from gas leaking into Guadalajara sewers posed an imminent danger. Shortly after her story ran, the gases exploded, killing at least 200 people, destroying 26 city blocks, and leaving as many as 20,000 homeless.


Last year, von Bertrab became the first Mexican reporter to win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. She and a New York Times reporter revealed that Wal-Mart of Mexico was paying bribes to expand its dominance in the country. The story prompted the company to commit to anti-corruption measures in other developing nations.


A prestigious panel of judges selected the winners. Ogunseye and von Bertrab will be honored at ICFJ's 30th Anniversary Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10.

Culled from ICFJ