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Mitigate climate risks, build resilience, UN chief says in message celebrating world’s cities

In his message for World Cities Day on Sunday, the UN chief called for renewed resolve to confront urban challenges, mitigate risks and forge lasting solutions. 

The theme this year focuses on ‘Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience’. 

Hubs of innvoation 

“Cities are hubs of innovation and human ingenuity – and potential centres for transformative action to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and build a zero-carbon, climate-resilient and socially just world,” said Mr. Guterres. 

However, he noted that over one billion people now live in informal settlements, with 70 per cent highly vulnerable to climate change. 

Currently, just nine per cent of climate finance to cities is allocated for adaptation and resilience, with cities in developing countries, receiving far less than their wealthier counterparts. 

Adapt and protect 

Mr. Guterres said this must change, and reiterated his longstanding appeal for half of all climate finance to be dedicated to adaptation. 

“We need a people-centred and inclusive approach to planning, building and managing cities,” he added.  “Resilient infrastructure, early warning systems and financial instruments to mitigate risks, are crucial tools as cities seek to adapt and protect the lives and livelihoods of their residents.” 

The UN chief said cities have been epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic and are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, but they can lead the way in recovering better from the pandemic, reducing emissions, and securing a resilient future for billions. 

At G20, UN chief calls for global leadership towards full, equitable post-pandemic recovery

Attending the official opening of the G20 Summit in Rome, Mr. Guterres addressed the leaders during the first session, entitled ‘Global Economy and Global Health.’ 

Save lives, prevent further suffering

In his remarks, the UN chief called for vaccine equity an urged the leaders to show leadership to save lives, prevent further suffering, and enable a full global recovery.

He also reiterated the importance of the G20 to adopt and coordinate action to support the global vaccination strategy led by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which aims to get vaccines into the arms of 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of this year, and 70 per cent by mid-2022.

The WHO launched its strategy earlier this month to help bring an end to what has become a two-track pandemic: people in poorer countries continue to be at risk while those in richer countries with high COVID-19 vaccination rates enjoy much greater protection.

Further in his remarks to the working session, the Secretary-General encouraged the leaders to pursue a post-pandemic path that can simultaneously relaunch the global economy while fighting inequality, as well as restoring trust between developing and developed countries.

On the sidelines of the session, Mr. Guterres had the opportunity to speak informally to a number of world leaders.

Next stop, Glasgow

After he wraps up his meetings and discussions at the G20 Summit, the Secretary-General heads to Glasgow, Scotland, for the next UN Climate Conference, known by the shorthand COP26, which is hosted by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy.

At a press conference on Friday after he arrived in Rome, Mr. Guterres warned that even with recent national commitments, the world still faced a dire climate emergency.

As such, he said that at COP26: “If we want real success…we need more ambition and more action. That will only be possible with a massive mobilization of political will.And that requires trust among the key actors.”

UN News has prepared a handy explainer, here, with all the details about COP26, what’s at stake and how the conference can set the stage for more effective climate action.

Traffickers abusing online technology, UN crime prevention agency warns  

Research conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows how victims are being targeted and recruited via social media and online dating platforms, where personal information and details of people’s locations are readily available. 

Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are taking place virtually and photos and videos sold further on different platforms to customers worldwide, resulting in even more money for the traffickers at no additional cost. 

New strategies

This week, experts from around 100 countries met online and in Vienna, Austria, to discuss strategies to combat this phenomenon and make the best use of technology to prevent human trafficking and investigate cases of this crime.  

The discussion formed part of the annual intergovernmental Working Group of Trafficking in Persons and centres around an in-depth background paper  on this topic produced by UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.  

Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are taking place virtually
Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are taking place virtually, by Unsplash/Priscilla du Preez

“Traffickers are quick to adapt their business model to suit their needs and increase their profits, so of course they follow online trends,” explains Tiphanie Crittin, a UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer.  

Dark web exploitation 

“Traffickers are currently using technology to profile, recruit, control and exploit their victims as well as using the Internet, especially the dark web, to hide illegal materials stemming from trafficking and their real identities from investigators.”  

The illicit proceeds from this highly profitable crime are also being laundered online through crypto currencies, which makes it easier for traffickers to receive, hide and move large amounts of money with less risk of being detected.   

Today, the Internet provides easy access to a much larger group of potential victims because traditional physical and geographical limitations no longer exist.  

Traffickers create fake websites or post advertisements on legitimate employment portals and social networking websites. 

Live chat scams 

Some of these sites feature the option of a live chat. This gives the trafficker immediate contact and the opportunity to obtain personal information, such as passport details, enhancing their power over the targeted victims.   

Victims can be repeatedly exploited through live streaming on multiple websites, and there is no limit on the number of times videos of their abuse may be viewed and by how many people.  

The global nature of human trafficking and the abuse of technology makes it even more difficult for law enforcement authorities to tackle this crime, explains Ms. Crittin.  

“When a crime is planned in one country, with victims in another country, and a customer in a third one, law enforcement authorities face practical challenges such as finding and securing evidence, as any investigation requires cooperation across borders and a certain level of digital expertise,” she says. 

Remote control 

Traffickers use technology to control their victims remotely, sometimes without having to ever met them in person. 

For over a decade, online advertising has been the main tactic used by traffickers to solicit buyers for commercial sex

Location-tracking applications and use of global positioning systems in mobile phones can be used to know the victim’s location, while cameras in smartphones used during video calls enable traffickers to see their victims and their surroundings.  

Traffickers also maintain control over their victims by threatening to release intimate photos or videos of them to families and friends if they do not comply with their demands.  

One of the panellists at the Working Group, Alexandra Gelber, the Deputy Chief for Policy and Legislation at the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the United States’ Department of Justice, highlighted the links between trafficking and online technology in her country. 

Online marketplace 

“Data shows that in the United States approximately 40% of sex trafficking victims are recruited online, making the Internet the most common place where victim recruitment takes place,” she says.    

“For over a decade, online advertising has been the main tactic used by traffickers to solicit buyers for commercial sex. In 2020, over 80% of the [Justice Department’s] sex trafficking prosecutions involved online advertising.”  

Ms. Gelber adds that technology is also being used to commit “virtual child sex trafficking” which takes place when an offender in the United States sends a digital payment to a trafficker in another country.  

“The trafficker will then sexually abuse a child in front of a web camera, while the offender in the United States watches a livestream of the abuse.” 

COVID factor 

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided further opportunities for traffickers due to the increased use of the Internet, in particular social networks and online video gaming sites.  

Governments in a growing number of countries intentionally disrupt internet or electronic communication, exerting control over the flow of information.
Traffickers create fake websites or post advertisements on legitimate employment portals and social networking website, by Unsplash/Avi Richards

“Containment measures to control the spread of the virus meant that people spent much more time online, especially children since schools were closed. We have seen an increase in child sexual exploitation materials created and shared online during the pandemic,” says  Tiphanie Crittin.  

Despite the increasing criminal uses of technology by traffickers, technology can also be used to identify victims and support police investigations and prosecutions. 

Stricter frameworks needed 

“However, when investigators enter the digital world of citizens, they have access to personal information. It is crucial to have strict frameworks around such access and use of  data to make sure that the right to privacy and human rights are respected,” says UNODC’s Ms. Crittin.  

The UNODC background paper shares numerous examples of existing or promising partnerships and tools which countries are using or developing. These include digital forensics, data scanning tools, smartphone apps and successful collaborations with technology, social media and Internet companies.   

UNODC has also co-organized “DataJams” with computing giant IBM and the Colombian non-governmental organization Pasos Libres, in which students compete online to develop technology-based solutions to identify and protect victims of trafficking and support prosecutions.  

First Person: Telling the tragic story of mercury poisoning in Japan

As a storyteller at the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum, Mr. Ogata helps to keep alive the memory of what is considered to be one of the most serious Japanese pollution incidents of the Twentieth Century.

The incident was caused by the release of toxic chemicals from an industrial plant, which accumulated in shellfish and fish, and were then eaten by the local population.

More than 2,000 people have been recognized as victims, many of whom, including Mr. Ogata, had to fight for recognition and compensation: around 20 members of his family were affected by the disease, which causes muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and hearing and speech impairment.

Masami Ogata, a storyteller at the Minimata Disease Municipal Museum in Japan, who lives with the disease.

Minimata Disease Municipal Museum
Masami Ogata, a storyteller at the Minimata Disease Municipal Museum in Japan, who lives with the disease.

“Minamata disease first caused damage to my family in September 1957. When I was nearly two years old, my grandfather Fukumatsu Ogata suddenly developed an unexplained illness, which worsened day by day, with convulsions and drooling, difficulty walking, speech problems, and other symptoms.

Minamata Disease is a neurological disease caused by severe mercury poisoning.

Minimata Disease Municipal Museum
Minamata Disease is a neurological disease caused by severe mercury poisoning.

Two months later, he passed away in the isolation and infectious diseases ward at the Minamata City Hospital. That was the first tragedy caused by Minamata disease in the Ogata family. However, we were never told what caused the illness. My sister Hitomi, who was born a week before her grandfather developed the illness, was born with a disability, again without explanation, then other members of the Ogata family started falling ill one after another.

When I became an adult, I noticed that I had very little sensation in my limbs. I work as a joiner and, when I was younger, would often cut my finger on the whetstone when sharpening knives, because my finger would droop.

We came to understand that it was caused by methylmercury poisoning but we couldn’t really make it public that we were victims, because people thought that Minamata disease was contagious.

Rumours spread though, and people would say that no one should marry a member of the Ogata family. I got married at the age of 20, but on the day of our engagement, my wife had a phone call. Naming me, the person said to her, “the man you are trying to marry is a Minamata disease victim. The whole family will be annihilated. Are you okay to go to such a place as a bride?”

When I was younger, I hid my disease from others. I would change the subject if it came up, and say that it had nothing to do with me. It was my daughter who said to me that I had to live honestly. Her words stuck in my chest, and I chose to stop hiding, at the age of 38.

For 10 years, my application to be officially declared a Minamata disease victim was rejected until, on March 15, 2007, the Governor of Kumamoto Prefecture declared that she would recognize me as a Minamata disease patient.

After receiving the certification, I asked myself how I would live in the future, then I decided to become a storyteller, so that I could tell people all over the world about the disease.

Minamata, which has suffered so much, helped the world create the UN Convention named after the city, which will save the lives of many people around the world. The people of Minamata suffered a lot from the disease and were torn apart, but from that we gained a wonderful power, in the form of the Minamata Convention.

Minamata disease is by no means over but, by showing people around the world what victims can do and achieve,  I think the world can take courage.”

Masami Ogata, a storyteller at the Minimata Disease Municipal Museum in Japan, who lives with the disease.

Minimata Disease Municipal Museum
Masami Ogata, a storyteller at the Minimata Disease Municipal Museum in Japan, who lives with the disease.

Minamata Convention on Mercury

  • The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
  • The Convention includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
  • The Convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues.

‘Serious risk’ COP26 may not deliver, warns Guterres, urging more climate action

Secretary-General António Guterres warned that current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), formal government commitments to progressively ambitious climate actions, still condemn the world to a “calamitous” 2.7 degrees Celsius increase in global warming.

“Even if recent pledges were clear and credible, and there are serious questions about some of them, we are still careening towards climate catastrophe”, he said.

More ambition, action needed

Under the best-case scenario, temperatures will rise well above two degrees, which Mr. Guterres called “a disaster”.

If we want real success…we need more ambition and more action”, he said.

This will only be possible with a “massive mobilization” of political will and that requires trust, he said, which, amidst “serious questions of credibility”, is in “short supply”.

The UN chief said there were “dangerous levels of mistrust” among the G20 bloc, and between developed and developing countries, including emerging economies. 

The most important objective of this G20 Summit must be to re-establish trust – by tackling the main sources of mistrust – rooted in injustices, inequalities and geo-political divides”, he underscored.

Bridge trust gap

The Secretary-General appealed to the G20 for decisive steps to “bridge the trust gap”, beginning with vaccine inequality.

Because of divisions, he said that a G20-led COVID-19 vaccination plan never materialized as “global coordinated action has taken a backseat”, to vaccine hoarding and nationalism.

He joined the World Health Organization (WHO) in supporting its new Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy to get 40 per cent of people in all countries vaccinated by year’s end, and 70 per cent by mid-2022.

“I urge G20 countries to fully support this strategy and coordinate their actions for success”, he said. “That is the only way to end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere”.

Amplifying inequalities

As advanced economies are investing nearly 28 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product into pandemic economic recovery, middle-income nations can devote only 6.5 per cent and least developed States, less than two per cent – a vast disparity that Mr. Guterres said, adds to the trust deficit.

Secretary-General António Guterres briefs journalists at a press conference before the opening of the G20 Summit in Rome.

Calling it “immoral”, he observed that “recovery is amplifying inequalities”.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that over the next five years, cumulative economic growth per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa will stand at a staggering 75 per cent less than the rest of the world.

Countries should not be forced to choose between servicing their debt or serving their people”, said the UN chief, urging the G20 to extend the Debt Service Suspension Initiative into next year and making it available to all highly indebted vulnerable and middle-income countries that request it.

Climate ambition from all

Trust is also being undermined by a lack of climate action, he upheld, calling for greater ambition on mitigation to get the world on a credible pathway to 1.5 degree Celsius – a target that science maintains is the only sustainable future for the planet.

This requires concrete action now to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, said the Secretary-General, noting that as they represent around 80 per cent of emissions, G20 countries must shoulder the responsibility for keeping the 1.5-degree goal alive.

However, emerging economies must also “go the extra mile” to achieve effective global emissions reductions in this decade, he asserted.

We need maximum ambition, from all countries on all fronts”, according to Mr. Guterres. “Ambition on adaptation means donors…allocating at least half of their climate finance towards adaptation and resilience”.  

We need maximum ambition, from all countries on all fronts — UN chief

Financial far cry

Ambition on climate finance includes making good on the commitment to provide $100 billion each year to developing countries.

Amidst delays and without clear guarantees, the UN chief said that the message to developing countries is essentially: “The check is in the mail”.

“On all our climate goals, we have miles to go.  And we must pick up the pace. Scientists are clear on the facts. Leaders must be as clear in their actions”, he stated.    

Maintaining that Glasgow, where COP26 begins officially on Sunday, can be “a turning point towards a safer, greener world”, the Secretary-General concluded saying, “It is not too late. But we must act now”.

World leaders urged to prioritize action on water and climate

They appealed for governments to prioritize integrated water and climate action, for the benefit of people and the planet, to ensure availability, and sustainable management, of water and sanitation for all. 

“Climate change is dramatically affecting the water cycle, making droughts and floods more extreme and frequent and decreasing the natural water storage in ice and snow. Rising temperature and variability in flow patterns of water bodies also strongly affect water quality both in surface and groundwater,” they said. 

The ‘climate connector’ 

The letter listed additional impacts, as changing precipitation patterns are already affecting agriculture, food systems, and livelihoods, as well as ecosystems, and biodiversity.  Meanwhile, rising sea levels threaten communities, infrastructure, coastal environments and aquifers. 

The partners cited a recent report by the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which found that over one third of the world’s children, some 920 million boys and girls, are currently severely exposed to water scarcity. 

They added that the 2020 UN World Water Development Report further emphasized that water is the “climate connector” that allows for greater collaboration across the majority of global targets for climate response, sustainable development, and disaster risk reduction. 

Action for governments 

The letter was signed by the heads of WMO, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the World Health Organization (WHO); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the UN Environment Programme (UNEP); the UN University (UNU); the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the Global Water Partnership (GWP). 

They outlined several urgent priorities, such as integrating water and climate through adaptation and resilience planning at the national and regional level, and promoting and financing global water monitoring systems to provide timely information about current and future water availability. 

Other recommendations include supporting technical, political and scientific cooperation, and promoting “a proactive approach” to flood and drought management centred around the pillars of monitoring, forecasting and early warning; vulnerability and impact assessment; and preparedness, mitigation and response. 

With crisis deepening in Mali, UN top envoy says ‘all is not lost’  

“However, all is not lost”, El-Ghassim Wane cautioned.  

He highlighted the Council’s visit to the country last week and the tribute paid to the 243 fallen peacekeepers who’ve been killed serving the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA), saying it was “a stark reminder of the sacrifices made over the last eight years in the search for peace.” 

“It further enhanced our resolve to ensure that every one of those lives lost, was not in vain”, he added.  

A challenging situation  

According to the Special Representative, the situation in Mali, remains extremely challenging, with insecurity growing in the north, centre, and now also the south.  

Attacks targeting both Malian and international forces, including MINUSMA ‘blue helmets’, have continued. Just this Thursday, the camp in Aguelhok came under indirect mortar and rocket fire.  

The humanitarian situation is also worrying, with 4.7 million people in need of assistance and some 400,000 internally displaced persons. 

For Mr. Wane, it is “needless to reiterate that, in this context, MINUSMA remains crucial in Mali.” 

Increasing needs   

The Special Representative, who also acts as head of MINUSMA, informed that the mission is doing its best to support national authorities.  

Between May and October, the Mission responded to “a myriad of requests” from the Government and the Defence and Security Forces, in terms of rations, fuel, ground and air transport and engineering services.  

Mr. Wane warned, however, that the Mission is currently “overstretched.”  

“All of these activities are being undertaken within existing resources.  It is in this context that the Secretary-General recommended an augmentation to our operation”, he informed.  

Peace negotiations  

The Special Representative believes that the answer to all these challenges “cannot be purely military”, requiring a political response.  

Regarding the 2015 peace agreement, he called the progress “frustratingly slow”, in key aspects such as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, institutional reforms and development. 

He also pointed to some “encouraging evolutions” in the last few weeks. According to him, the transition “has reached a critical stage.” 

Following a military coup in August 2020, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) agreed to an 18-month political transition to civilian rule. 

Now, according to Mr. Wane, the transitional authorities believe that improving the security situation and initiating some fundamental reforms “are key to the holding of credible elections and ensuring that the return to constitutional rule and stability is not short lived.”  

‘Barbaric’ attacks, condemned by UN rights experts 

Highlighting insecurity and impunity in Mali, a group of UN human rights experts denounced on Friday a series of “barbaric” attacks against hundreds of people born into what they describe as nothing less than modern-day slavery.  

“These unspeakable abhorrent acts have gone on far too long, committed by some Malian nationals who openly defend descent-based slavery”, the experts said in a statement. 

“The whole world is watching and losing patience. We have condemned this heinous practice many times before. Now the Malian Government must take action, starting with ending impunity for attacks on ‘slaves’”, they added.  

Series of attacks 

The latest attacks happened at the end of September in the Kayes region, some 500 km northwest of the capital Bamako. The area has been the site of seven previous attacks since January, in which one person was killed, at least 77 injured and more than 3,000 “slaves” displaced. 

“The fact that these attacks occur so often in this area shows that descent-based slavery is still socially accepted by some influential politicians, traditional leaders, law enforcement officials and judicial authorities in Mali,” the experts said. 

Some people are born into slavery in Mali because their ancestors were captured into slavery and their families have “belonged” to the slave-owning families – so-called “nobles” – for generations. “Slaves” are compelled to work without pay, can be inherited, and are deprived of basic human rights. 

Slavery can no longer be tolerated. Those who continue to support it must understand they cannot attack with impunity people who claim their legitimate rights

Noting that Mali does not have a specific law against the ancient practice, the experts said outlawing it, is long overdue.  

“Slavery can no longer be tolerated. Those who continue to support it must understand they cannot attack with impunity people who claim their legitimate rights”, they concluded. 

All independent UN rights experts are appointed by the Human Rights Council, and work on a voluntary basis. They serve in their individual capacity, and are neither UN staff, nor do they receive a salary from the Organisation.   

Fact-finding visit 

Also on Friday, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, announced she will be paying a six-day visit to the country, starting 1 November. 

She will meet with senior government officials, the Head of the African Union Mission to Mali and the Sahel (MISAHEL), senior officials from the G5-Sahel, members of the diplomatic community, as well as national human rights institution and other entities. 

The Assistant Secretary-General will also hold discussions with the leadership of MINUSMA.  

She will engage with various human rights and civil society organizations, community leaders and youth associations, as well as with religious and traditional authorities.   

Security Council adopts ‘first of its kind’ resolution on protecting classrooms from conflict

While the 15-member Council has issued previous statements decrying attacks on schools, this is its first resolution to explicitly focus on the link between education and peace and security.

‘Invaluable role’ of education

Through resolution 2601 (2021), delegates emphasized the invaluable role education plays for individuals and society, including as life-saving safe spaces.  They noted that providing, protecting and facilitating the continuation of education in armed conflict, should remain a key priority for the international community.

The Council also urged countries to develop domestic legal frameworks to ensure respect for their relevant international legal obligations – including comprehensive measures to prevent attacks against schools, children, teachers and other related civilians.

Among other elements of the text, members requested the establishment of strategies and coordination mechanisms for the exchange of information on the protection of schools and education, including among States, the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and UN peacekeeping and political missions.

Escalating attacks

The issue of education in conflict settings has gained prominence in the Security Council and the UN more broadly in recent years, as devastating attacks on schools and related civilians have escalated around the globe.

According to UN data, more than 22,000 students, teachers and academics were injured, killed or harmed in attacks on education during armed conflict or insecurity over the past five years.

The Secretary-General’s 2020 and 2021 annual reports on children and armed conflict also spotlighted the increase in attacks against schools.

On 10 September 2020, the delegation of Niger convened an open Security Council debate on attacks against schools, during which members adopted a presidential statement reaffirming the right to education and its contribution to peace and security.  It also called on countries to take steps to prevent attacks and threats of attacks against schools.

‘First of its kind’

Council members, speaking after Friday’s vote, roundly welcomed the resolution’s adoption, which is the first uniquely dedicated to the protection of classrooms and schools.

The representative of Norway – one of its co-facilitators, along with the representative of Niger – said the text will help the Council make its voice heard against the growing disruption of education in conflict.  She noted that schools, teachers or students were attacked in 93 countries between 2014 and 2019.

Niger’s delegate added that more than 75 million children around the world have seen their education disrupted by conflict, as attacks on schools and school infrastructure have grown alarmingly.

Ahead of Sudan protests, UN chief asks military to ‘show restraint’ 

“People must be allowed to demonstrate peacefully, and this is essential”, António Guterres added, speaking to journalists in Rome on Friday morning, ahead of this weekend’s G20 Summit in the Italian capital.  

Mr. Guterres reaffirmed his “strong condemnation of the coup”, which saw civilian leaders detained, stressing “the need to reestablish the transition system that was in place.” 

Pro-democracy demonstrations have been held across the country’s capital, Khartoum, since the army dissolved the transitional government and detained civilian Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, and his cabinet on Monday.  

According to news agencies, at least 11 people have died. Latest reports suggest that Mr. Hamdok may be willing to negotiate the formation of a new government, if the military reverses its power grab, and releases detainees. 

Peaceful protests 

In light of tomorrow’s planned protests, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, Volker Perthes, reminded everyone of the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. 

“I reiterate my call for the military and security forces to respect the rights of the protestors, to show restraint, and to refrain from excessive use of force”, he said in a statement. 

The Special Representative urged those coming out to demonstrate “to do so peacefully, and to remain committed, as in the past, to the spirit of silmiye”, using the Arabic expression for peacefully. 

Mr. Perthes, who also serves as the head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), continued to call for a return to constructive and inclusive dialogue among all stakeholders, to get the transition back on track in line with the Constitutional Document. 

“UNITAMS remains ready to offer its good offices in this regard”, he concluded.  

Political and humanitarian crisis 

Long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by the military following months of popular protest in April 2019. A transitional government was set up comprising both military and civilian leadership, after a power-sharing agreement, that was due to lead to full democratic elections in 2023.  

The country is also going through a humanitarian crisis. 

This year, humanitarians have been seeking $1.9 billion for Sudan, but their appeal is only 30 per cent funded.  

Aid agencies reached 7.4 million people across the country with protection and humanitarian assistance, during the period from January to June.   

COP26 – what we know so far, and why it matters: Your UN News guide

“Without decisive action, we are gambling away our last chance to – literally – turn the tide”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said ahead of the meeting. But why could it be our last chance?

Here’s some answers we’ve found to the most common questions you might have about what’s coming up.

Let’s start with the basics, what is COP26?

To keep it simple, COP26 is the biggest and most important climate-related conference on the planet.

In 1992, the UN organised a major event in Rio de Janeiro called the Earth Summit, in which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.

In this treaty, nations agreed to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system. Today, the treaty has 197 signatories.

Since 1994, when the treaty entered into force, every year the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits or “COPs”, which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’.

This year should have been the 27th annual summit, but thanks to COVID-19, we’ve fallen a year behind due to last year’s postponement – hence, COP26.

Former United States Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by his grand-daughter, signs the Paris Agreement at UN headquarters in April 2016.

UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
Former United States Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by his grand-daughter, signs the Paris Agreement at UN headquarters in April 2016.

So, what happens at COP26? Don’t we have enough meetings about climate change already?

Various “extensions” to the UNFCCC treaty have been negotiated during these COPs to establish legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, and to define an enforcement mechanism.

These include the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which defined emission limits for developed nations to be achieved by 2012; and the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all countries of the world agreed to step up efforts to try and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and boost climate action financing.

So, here’s where COP26 gets interesting: during the conference, among other issues, delegates will be aiming to finalise the ‘Paris Rulebook’, or the rules needed to implement the Agreement. This time they will need to agree on common timeframes for the frequency of revision and monitoring of their climate commitments.

Basically, Paris set the destination, limiting warming well below two degrees, (ideally 1.5) but Glasgow, is the last chance to make it a reality.

In Bangladesh, efforts are undertaken to improve coastal protection from flooding caused by storms and a rise in sea level due to climate change.

IMF/K. M. Asad
In Bangladesh, efforts are undertaken to improve coastal protection from flooding caused by storms and a rise in sea level due to climate change.

So, this bring us to our initial question: why is it the last chance?

Like a boa constrictor that slowly squeezes its prey to death, climate change has gone from being an uncomfortable low-level issue, to a life-threatening global emergency, in the past three decades.

Although there have been new and updated commitments made by countries ahead of COP26, the world remains on track for a dangerous global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century even if Paris goals are met.

The science is clear: a rise of temperatures of that magnitude by the end of the century could mean, among other things, a 62% increase in areas scorched by wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere during summer, the loss of habitat of a third of the mammals in the world, and more frequent four to 10 month-long droughts.

UN chief António Guterres bluntly calls it “climate catastrophe”, one that it is already being felt to a deadly degree in the most vulnerable parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa and Small Island States, lashed by rising sea levels. 

Millions of people are already being displaced and killed by disasters exacerbated by climate change.

For Mr. Guterres, and the hundreds of scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scenario of 1.5°C warming, is the “only liveable future for humanity”.

The clock is ticking, and to have a chance of limiting the rise, the world needs to halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

This is a gigantic task that we only will be able to do if leaders attending COP26 come up with bold, time-bound and front-loaded plans to phase out coal and transform their economies to reach so called net zero emissions.

Emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute to air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

ADB/Ariel Javellana
Emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute to air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Hmm, but didn’t countries like China and the United States already committed to net zero?

The most recent UN Emissions Gap Report explains that a total of 49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a net zero target.

This covers over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, over half of global GDP and a third of the global population. Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12 per cent of global emissions.

Sounds great right? But there’s a catch: many of the commitments delay action until after 2030, raising doubts over whether these net zero pledges can actually be achieved. Also, many of these pledges are “vague” and inconsistent with the officially submitted national commitments, known as NDC’s.

This again explains why COP26 is so important: “The time has passed for diplomatic niceties…If governments – especially G20 governments – do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering”, warned Guterres in the UN General Assembly this week.

Friday for Future demonstration at COP25

Friday for Future demonstration at COP25

So, what exactly is COP26 hoping to achieve (practically speaking)?

The official negotiations take place over two weeks. The first week includes technical negotiations by government officials, followed by high-level Ministerial and Heads of State meetings in the second week, when the final decisions will be made – or not.

There are four main points that will be discussed during the conference according to its host, the United Kingdom:

1.     Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

To do this, countries need to accelerate the phase-out of coal, curb deforestation, speed up the switch to greener economies.  Carbon market mechanisms will be also part of the negotiations.

2.     Adapt more to protect communities and natural habitats

Since the climate is already changing countries already affected by climate change need to protect and restore ecosystems, as well as build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure.

3.     Mobilise finance

At COP15, rich nations promised to channel $100 billion a year to less-wealthy nations by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature.

That promise was not kept, and COP26 will be crucial to secure the funds, with the help of international financial institutions, as well as set new climate finance targets to be achieved by 2025.

4.     Work together to deliver

This means establishing collaborations between governments, businesses and civil society, and of course, finalising the Paris Rulebook to make the Agreement fully operational.

In addition to formal negotiations, COP26 is expected to establish new initiatives and coalitions for delivering climate action.

Glasgow in the United Kingdom will host the international climate meeting COP26

Unsplash/Adam Marikar
Glasgow in the United Kingdom will host the international climate meeting COP26

How, when and where?

The main event will be held at the Scottish Event Campus, from 31 October to 12 November, with the possibility of negotiations spilling over an extra day or two. So far, there are over 30.000 people registered to attend representing governments, businesses, NGOs, and civil society groups.

The 197 Parties to the UNFCCC treaty, often get in groups or “blocs” to negotiate together such as the G77 and China, the Africa Group, the Least Developed Countries, the Umbrella Forum, the Small Island Developing States, and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The negotiations also include observers, which have no formal part in them but make interventions and help maintain transparency. Observers include United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, faith-based groups, and the press.

But besides the official negotiations, there will be a conference, a pavilion, and thousands of side events happening, divided over thematic days, on topics like finance, energy, youth and public empowerment, nature, adaptation, gender, science and innovation, transport, and cities. 

The conference will happen across two zones – The Blue Zone (Scottish Events Campus), and the Green Zone located at the Glasgow Science Centre.

The Blue Zone is a UN-managed space where negotiations are hosted, and to enter all attendees must be credited by the UNFCCC Secretariat. 

The Green Zone is managed by the UK Government and open to the public. It will include events, exhibitions, workshops and talks to promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments on climate change.

Anyone famous attending?

Several heads of state and government including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden are expected to attend. Other famous faces in Glasgow will include Sir David Attenborough, the COP26 people’s advocate, activist Greta Thunberg, the famous Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams and singer-songwriter and UNEP ambassador Ellie Goulding. The Queen announced with regret, on Tuesday, that she would not be travelling to the event’s main reception after all.

The United Nations newest SDG ambassadors K-pop superstars BLACKPINK will be also joining the event. The Korean all-girl group released a video before their appearance, sharing a sneak peek of their heartfelt message to inspire climate action.

A man wears a face mask and gloves while sitting in a cafe in Glasgow, Scotland.

Unsplash/Ross Sneddon
A man wears a face mask and gloves while sitting in a cafe in Glasgow, Scotland.

And with such a big conference, are there any special COVID-19 measures?

While COVID-19 continues to be a huge challenge across the world, tackling the climate crisis cannot wait according to the COP26 hosts.  

In-person negotiations are preferred over online ones, to ensure inclusive participation by high and low-income countries as well as ensuring scrutiny and transparency.

Fully vaccination is encouraged for those attending the conference, and the United Kingdom ran a programme ahead of time, to deliver vaccines to participants living in countries unable to get one.

There will also be strict COVID-19 testing protocols in place, including daily testing for everyone entering the Blue Zone to ensure the health and wellbeing of all those involved and the surrounding community.

There are also COP-specific arrangements for the COVID Travel Regime people will encounter as they enter England and Scotland, with some countries requiring quarantine (which will be funded by the UK Government for attendees in difficult circumstances.

How can I follow the discussions and events from home?

  • Subscribing to the COP26 YouTube channel.
  • Subscribing now to our daily COP26 climate newsletter
  • Subscribing to the Lid is ON COP26 special edition podcast
  • Following UN News on Twitter @UN_News_Centre

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