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UPDATING LIVE: Small island States meet in Antigua and Barbuda charting new course to sustainable prosperity

09:14 AM

We were just treated to a performance from the Antigua and Barbuda Symphony Orchestra. Now its a theatrical performance focused on the dangers of climate change for the vulnerable nations gathered in the hall. We have trees, tropical sounds and a warning that the ecosystem is way off balance…

08:45 AM – It all gets going in a few minutes’ time with a cultural opening event. Luckily the sun is shining this morning, in comparison with yesterday’s debilitating rain storms that reminded everyone here of the unpredictability of increasingly extreme weather that will be one of the chief talking points this week.

You can find full coverage of the entire week and special features leading up to the conference, on our landing page here.

‘Resilient prosperity’

More than 20 world leaders, together with representatives from the private sector, civil society, academia and youth – close to 4,000 participants in all – have gathered at the verdant conference venue in the American University of Antigua close to the capital St John’s, to tackle critical issues impacting the future of SIDS. 

Under the theme Charting the course toward resilient prosperity, the four-day Conference (27-30 May) will showcase new innovations and develop practical solutions to address critical SIDS-specific challenges driven by the climate emergency, spiralling debt and health crises. 

For more on the conference, check out our curtain raiser story here, and UN News was at one of the high level events over the weekend organized by more than 80 young changemakers from across the globe and you can check out their demand for action here.

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The Conference will adopt The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) – a Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity, which sets out the sustainable development aspirations of small islands over the next decade and the support required from the international community to achieve them.

The SIDS across the Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea are home to approximately 65 million people. They manage 19.1 per cent of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones and the resources they hold.

Accounting for 14 per cent of the world’s coastlines, SIDS boast a high degree of biodiversity. SIDS have pioneered renewable energy solutions, championed sustainable tourism while spearheading conservation efforts and making major strides in developing ocean-based economies. 

In Antigua, island youth build ‘wall of commitment’ to turn tide against climate crisis

The SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit taking place this weekend on the University of the West Indies campus of the beautiful island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which is hosting SIDS4, bonded together 80 or so young people from all three official SIDS regions – the Caribbean, Pacific and AIS (Indian Ocean and South China Sea) over 3 days of brainstorming.

They noisily and excitedly hunkered down in a large and airy university hall on Saturday to write down their own personal commitments to action.

The “wall of commitment” built by delegates from the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit ahead of the SIDS4 conference in Antigua and Barbuda.
UN News/ Matthew Wells

The “wall of commitment” built by delegates from the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit ahead of the SIDS4 conference in Antigua and Barbuda.

Another brick in the wall

One of the cardboard “bricks” even featured an empty plastic bottle – the scourge of many of their island homelands – taped inside with a rallying cry for “plastic-free islands, sustainable islands.”

The powerful event was the brainchild of Ashley Lashley, a lifelong activist who, after being crowned Miss World Barbados in 2018, set up the Ashley Lashley Foundation to build awareness of major social, environmental and health issues, especially through the prism of small island States like her own.

UNICEF Youth advocate and co-organizer of the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit Ashley Lashley.

UNICEF Youth Advocate Ashley Lashley.

She’s convinced some powerful partners to join her crusade and advocacy mission, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) organizing the youth summit along with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.

The pioneering UNICEF Youth Advocate has been working for months on a “commitment to action” involving in-person and online consultations, which culminated in Saturday’s presentation and wall building initiative. 

“The focus is four overarching themes that are also linked to the SIDS4 conference: resilient recovery; environmental integrity and planetary sustainability; a secure future and safe and prosperous societies”, she told UN News.

UN reproductive rights agency UNFPA, the Caribbean Development Bank, and the Governments of Malta and Australia have also backed the summit, plus the Global Environment Facility, she added.

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Show and tell

On Friday youth delegates saw for themselves some of the environmental damage wrought by climate change on the shores and hills of Antigua, including the alarming die-off of coral reefs due to warming tropical waters.

On Saturday they took master classes in advocacy, communication, movement building and policy negotiating, culminating in the monumental wall. On Sunday they developed action projects to last ten years within their own regions.

“We are hoping that the projects can receive technical and financial assistance…We are in the middle but there is still a long way to go”, to unleash the full power in the room, she said.

Noah Herlaar-Hassan, 17, from the tiny southern Caribbean diving oasis of Bonaire, said vulnerable low-lying SIDS “are the first to feel the effects of many things”, especially the climate crisis.

“What people that don’t live on SIDS need to realise is that even if they might not feel the direct effects, they do have a large say in changing the eventual results…It’s our generation that will have to pay the biggest price and that’s why we are here today, to see how we can be stronger as a collective.”

Future in our hands

Adelaide Nafoi, 25, from the Pacific island of Samoa, told UN News she was at the summit doubling up as a Pacific delegate to SIDS4 to envision a better future for her country, region and the whole world.

Youth voices “hold the future of all our nations”, as “the changemakers of today”.

“To all the youth around the world simply remember that your voices are not merely echoes in the wind. Your voice changes the future of you, your siblings, your cousins, your families and your country.”

“I urge you to recognise the immense power that resides within each of you. It’s the power that brings change and can bring us to a better future…To anyone that is afraid to talk, now is your time to speak up because if you don’t – nobody will speak up for your youth and your nation.”

SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit delegate Renee Smith (left) after completing her section of the “wall of commitment” to be presented to the SIDS4 conference.
UN News/ Matthew Wells

SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit delegate Renee Smith (left) after completing her section of the “wall of commitment” to be presented to the SIDS4 conference.

Sharing and caring

Renee Smith, 28, from the Caribbean island of Grenada, added her brick in the wall by committing to ocean protection “through awareness and responsible behaviour among youth and communities.”

She said they shared the burden of being disproportionately affected by climate change and were together at the summit “so that the developed nations can hear our concern and assist to mitigate the impacts that we face.”

Sharing awareness across all generations is key, she added, imploring youngsters especially to continue preserving and protecting the ecosystems around them.

Once the SIDS4 conference ends, Ms. Lashley is determined that the energy generated in the youth summit will not dim, following through to the UN Summit of the Future and COP29.

“We’ll be developing a youth action taskforce…to really ensure that commitments to action and the action projects are being developed and monitored. 

“We as young people often speak about accountability of our leaders but the basis behind this summit is that we as young people and children are actually willing to be accountable for the actions that we are taking for future generations to come.”

Private sector role in mobilizing resources ‘essential’: UN chief

In his first major speech since arriving on Sunday in Antigua and Barbuda for the SIDS4 conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said a sustained commitment was needed from the international community to shore up vulnerable island nations “and public money will not be enough.”

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Multistakeholder partnerships, including with the private sector, will be essential”, he continued, addressing the SIDS Global Business Network Forum on Sunday.

Financing renewable energy, sustainable tourism and climate resilience will have to include private sector funds, expertise and innovation, he told investors.

Governments must take the lead with regulations and policy through strong and accountable public institutions, while development banks mobilize private funds at reasonable cost.

Private sector plan

He said there were three ways the private sector can play its part most effectively.

“First, by taking deliberate, time-bound action to align your activities with the Sustainable Development Goals, across all dimensions of your businesses.”

Secondly, prioritizing climate action with credible and verifiable net zero carbon emission reduction plans. 

“This means addressing emission reductions across the board, with a view to marine protection and decarbonization of the shipping sector”, the UN chief spelled out.

Third, he called on executives to push for greater ambition to reach the ambitious 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – particularly climate action. 

The SIDS Global Business Network Forum has helped mobilize the private sector and “provides a clear entry point for the private sector into the SIDS agenda”, he said. 

Going digital

Now the network can expand digital connectivity and ensure accessibility and affordability, Mr. Guterres added, which is key to improving access to education and healthcare and enhancing disaster preparedness, prevention and response.

A “digital transformation” also means more diversification, particularly for women and young people. 

The global financial system is outdated, dysfunctional and unjust

“Strengthening the Global Business Network, together with the SIDS Partnership Framework, will help to support implementation of the ideas expressed today.”

He said financial challenges faced by small island States were also “symptomatic of financial turmoil in the developing world” overall. 

“The global financial system is outdated, dysfunctional and unjust, and is failing to provide a safety net for many developing economies mired in debt”, he added. “The United Nations is pushing for deep reforms to make it more representative of today’s world, and more responsive to today’s challenges.”

He ended with a call to work towards a better, more resilient, more sustainable future for all.

“Together let’s raise our voice for the reforms that are needed for a more fair and a more effective international financial and economic system able to provide to the SIDS the resources and capacities that they deserve and they need.”

WMO warns of up to seven major hurricanes in North Atlantic in 2024

Typically, an average year sees 14 named storms with wind speeds exceeding 65 kilometres (40 miles) per hour. However, this year, 17 to 25 storms are expected, with four to seven of them potentially becoming major hurricanes, characterized by winds of at least 178 kilometres (111 miles) per hour. However, this year, 17 to 25 storms are expected, with four to seven of them potentially becoming major hurricanes, characterized by winds of at least 178 kilometres (111 miles) per hour. The usual average is three major hurricanes per year. 

“It takes just one landfalling hurricane to set back years of socio-economic development. For example, Hurricane Maria in 2017 cost Dominica 800 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product,” explained WMO Deputy Secretary-General Ko Barrett.

The forecasted above-average hurricane season, lasting from 1 June to 30 November, is attributed to high ocean heat and the anticipated development of La Niña weather phenomenon, which leads to significant cooling of waters.

Monitoring and early warning benefits

WMO tracks hurricanes though its Tropical Cyclone Programme. There have been eight consecutive years of above-average activity, with the last below-normal season occurring in 2015. Improved early warnings and disaster risk management have significantly reduced hurricane-related fatalities. 

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However, Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean remain disproportionately affected, according to the WMO Deputy Chief.

The WMO and its partners have prioritized early warning initiatives for small islands under the international Early Warnings For All initiative. They will advocate for more coordinated and targeted investment in early warning systems at the International Conference on Small Island Developing States taking place next week in Antigua and Barbuda.

From 1970 to 2021, tropical cyclones – including hurricanes – were the leading cause of reported human and economic losses globally, accounting for over 2,000 disasters. Despite this, the death toll decreased from more than 350,000 in the 1970s to fewer than 20,000 between 2010 and 2019. Reported economic losses for 2010-2019 amounted to $573.2 billion.

What’s in a name?

Naming tropical cyclones simplifies tracking and discussing specific storms, especially when multiple storms are active at the same time. This practice helps avoid confusion among meteorologists, the media, emergency management agencies, and the public.

The WMO has established strict procedures for naming tropical cyclones, which vary by region. In the Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere, cyclones are named alphabetically, alternating between male and female names. In other regions, names follow the alphabetical order of the countries.

“We need to be especially vigilant this year due to near-record ocean heat in the region where Atlantic hurricanes form and the shift to La Niña conditions, which together create the conditions for increased storm formation,” said Ms. Barrett.

‘All hands on deck’ in Antigua and Barbuda as small island States chart course to resilient prosperity

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The Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) will bring together governments, the UN, civil society, the private sector and leading youth voices to turn new ideas into action, raise new pledges of support and discuss the key challenges that lie ahead for the vulnerable group of nations.

Living on the edge

There are 39 SIDS, from conference hosts Antigua and Barbuda to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, which were recognised as a special case for support during the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the game changing first Earth Summit.

They are located in some of the world’s most disaster-prone regions, acutely vulnerable to sea level rise, climate shocks and natural disasters. SIDS have small domestic markets and are vulnerable to economic shocks and downturns.

Other challenges include rapid population growth putting pressure on basic services and job availability, while they are literally on the frontline of climate change and prone to environmental fragility.

Many SIDS lack sufficient resilience to deal with the rising incidence of natural disasters, something which the people of Antigua and Barbuda are all too aware of having suffered the devastating impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria which barrelled across the Caribbean in 2017.

Survival at stake

In an interview with UN News, the country’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, said they were among the worst of the external shocks “literally decimating our economies and damaging our infrastructure, our buildings, our homes”.

He insisted that global collaboration to drive down global warming was essential if small island States are to survive the decades ahead:

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Other common challenges include high import and export costs, limited natural resources, population density that is significantly higher than the global average, high debt and limited access to low-cost borrowing.

In 2014, SIDS met and agreed on The SAMOA Pathway for action, expanding the UN body that stands up for the interests of landlocked developing countries and least developed nations to include small island States.

Time to deliver

The UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States in charge of that Office, UN-OHRLLS, Rabab Fatima told UN News ahead of SIDS4 – which runs from 27 to 30 May – that it will “deliver a bold new plan of action to build the resilience of 39 small island nations in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges and achieving the SDGs”.

She highlighted the consensus that has already formed around an agreed programme of action which delegates will take back to their respective capitals when they leave Antigua and Barbuda at the end of next week.

This new agenda will set out the sustainable development aspirations of small island States for the decade ahead.

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viola Samuel is able to grow vegetables in her backyard thanks to a WFP-supported Government training programme.
© WFP/Alexis Masciarelli

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viola Samuel is able to grow vegetables in her backyard thanks to a WFP-supported Government training programme.

Renewed vows

We are going there to renew our commitment to strengthen resilience and foster prosperity, collectively,” said Ms. Fatima, who is also Special Adviser to the SIDS4 conference.

We need all hands on deck,” she added. “Therefore, NGOs, civil society, government and the private sector, all of them have a role to play.”

She said the new strategy would help build resilience, scale up climate action, mainstream disaster risk reduction, strengthen safe and healthy societies, promote science, technology, innovation and digitalisation, increase prosperity, employment, equality and inclusivity and build partnerships.

To do this, there needs to be more support from the international community assembly in Antigua and beyond.

NGOs, civil society, government and the private sector, all of them have a role to play.
— Rabab Fatima

Fighting climate change on the frontline

But, with limited resources and greater vulnerability, how can SIDS think long-term when transitioning to renewables from fossil fuels, for example, might not be in their short-term interests?

Ms. Fatima said that island nations had been at the forefront of setting ambitious targets to make that transition.

“Many island nations have launched roadmaps towards meeting 100 per cent energy generation from renewable resources by 2030,” including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Antigua and Barbuda.

In the Pacific, countries like Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Federated States of Micronesia have made major investments in solar, wind and hydropower projects with support from financial institutions, including the Asian Development Bank.

Caribbean islands Jamaica and Grenada have seen growth in rooftop solar, wind farms and other renewable energy projects.

A woman harvests salt in a mangrove in Timor-Leste.
UNDP/Yuichi Ishida

A woman harvests salt in a mangrove in Timor-Leste.

Hope over fear

So, what are the positive takeaways the top UN official for small island State development would like to see emerge from Antigua and Barbuda?

“In addition to furthering the global agenda for sustainable development, my overarching hope is that the SIDS4 conference acts as a catalyst for good change, resulting in noticeable transformation in the lives of those who reside in small island developing States,” said UN-OHRLLS chief Ms. Fatima.

My overarching hope is that the SIDS4 conference acts as a catalyst for good change, resulting in noticeable transformation in the lives of those who reside in small island developing States. 
— Rabab Fatima

She called for concrete action plans to address the urgent problems that SIDS face and the strengthening of partnerships among international organisations, development partners, civil society and SIDS.

Policy commitments are also on the wish list from other nations and organisations taking part to help SIDS reach the 2030 SDGs, “which could entail pledges to offer funding, technical assistance and capacity building”.

Ms. Fatima hopes that SIDS will be empowered to take charge of their own development plans and given the tools and support needed to put resilient and sustainable plans into action.

“I think judging the success of SIDS4 will be based on its capacity to spur significant action, gather resources and promote constructive change for the benefit of the people living in small island developing States.”

Solar panels being maintained by a worker at a photovoltaic farm in Mauritius.
UNDP/Stephane Belleros

Solar panels being maintained by a worker at a photovoltaic farm in Mauritius.

UN News will have a team in St. Johns, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, to give you a front row seat to all the action. From your mobile phone or computer, follow the key events and discussions as the delegates SIDS4 work towards an agreed, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political outcome document.

‘Be part of the plan’ to end nature loss on Biodiversity Day

The appeal on the International Day for Biological Diversity urges governments to fully implement a landmark agreement to halt and reverse nature loss by mid-century, adopted by 196 Member States in 2022. 

Safeguarding nature

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework aims to restore ecosystems while creating jobs, building resilience, and spurring sustainable development.  

Named for the cities in China and Canada where negotiations were held, it is also known as the Biodiversity Plan. 

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Concrete measures include protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s lands, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030.

Biodiversity ‘web’ unravelling 

In his message to mark the International Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the “complex web of biodiversity” which sustains all life on Earth is “unravelling at alarming speed – and  humanity is to blame.” 

“We are contaminating land, oceans, and freshwater with toxic pollution, wrecking landscapes and ecosystems, and disrupting our precious climate with greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. 

The UN’s biodiversity chief, David Cooper, added that a whole range of species are increasingly in danger.

One example is amphibians, particularly in some tropical areas, where they are confronting a combination of land use change, climate change and disease. 

Coral reefs under threat 

“Another major category that’s really threatened are coral reefs… because of climate change interacting with coastal development, overfishing and the like,” he told UN News.   “We are losing coral reefs through coral bleaching and other problems related to climate change.”  

Many important insect species responsible for pollinating fruits and vegetables could also disappear. 

“Already for those animal pollinated crops, the yield potential, the production potential, is a third less than it would be because of declines in the abundance and in the diversity of pollinators,” he added.  

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The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework offers a pathway to recovery, and on the International Day, the UN urged people everywhere to ‘Be part of the Plan’ by supporting its implementation. 

Speaking at a celebration in Nairobi, the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, emphasized that “biodiversity is not just a word, it’s life”. 

“And this plan…that Member States have designed is the plan for life, and therefore implementing that plan is everything,” she said. 

Harmony with nature 

As Mr. Cooper noted, young people have been major advocates for the plan, and they were critical to the negotiations that led to its adoption. 

Along with other vulnerable groups such as children, women, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent communities, they suffer most from the negative impacts of nature loss, said Heitor Dellasta of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), speaking at the event in Nairobi. 

He said the Biodiversity Plan “can set us on course towards a world that’s living in harmony with nature, but only if it’s implemented fully, implemented by all, and leaves no one behind.” 

Droughts and floods threaten ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ across southern Africa

The droughts have destroyed harvests in areas where 70 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for survival.

Executive Director McCain said what she has seen has been both alarming and heartbreaking.

“I met farmers who usually grow enough to feed their families and communities. This year they harvested nothing. Now imagine a similar scenario for millions of people throughout Southern Africa, and we have a humanitarian catastrophe,” Ms. McCain said.

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El Niño’s impact 

Though the latest El Niño weather pattern is nearing its end, droughts caused by the weather-changing cycle will have repercussions for months ahead.

Temperatures have dramatically increased resulting in the driest February in decades in the region which caused a 20 per cent reduction in rainfall necessary for crop growth.

According to WFP, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi have been impacted the hardest and have all declared states of drought disaster. They risk significant crop loss with 40 and 80 per cent of their maize harvests decimated.

‘Step up now’: McCain

Recognising that 61 million people were affected by El Niño, Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at an Extraordinary Summit launched a humanitarian appeal for US$5.5 billion that will complement the internal resources of the impacted countries.

The team is calling for support to meet these humanitarian needs. Ms. McCain echoes the call for support. 

I’m asking the international community to join us and step up now. We can’t ask millions to wait for the next harvest season – a year from now – to put food on their tables. These families need our support today while we help to build a more resilient future,” she said.

 Major funding shortfall

Though WFP has responded to this crisis, the programme still needs $409 million for six months of aid to benefit 4.8 million people in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

WFP has been working with governments and partners to help prepare communities for climate disasters before they hit. WFP “unlocked over $14 million of anticipatory finance” to aid over 1.2 million people expected to be impacted by El Niño in August 2023.

They have also offered support to communities in Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe by providing early warning alerts on

“weather risks, anticipatory cash transfers, drought-resistant seeds, agricultural training, and improved water sources.”

WFP continues to work with governments to protect communities affected by climate shocks and in just a few weeks, will distribute about $10 million in insurance payouts to nearly 280,000 affected people over the coming six months.

Accelerating extinction rate triggers domino effect of biodiversity loss

The issue is in the spotlight ahead of the International Day for Biological Diversity, observed annually on 22 May, and covered in the most recent edition of UNU’s Interconnected Disaster Risks report.

Among the animals at risk is the gopher tortoise, one of the oldest living species on the planet. This tragic story of biodiversity loss is unfolding at the heart of the coastal plains of the southern United States. 

Ecosystem ‘architect’ 

Their reduced number is not just problematic for the survival of the tortoise as a species, however, as these charismatic creatures also play a vital role in preserving the delicate balance of their coastal realm.  

Gopher tortoises are not merely occupants of their habitat; they are architects, sculpting ecosystems and providing sanctuaries for over 350 other species. With their front legs functioning like shovels, they dig burrows that range in size from 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 metres) long and from 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.5 metres) deep.  

From small insects to larger amphibians, each organism plays a vital role in the ecosystem’s intricate web of life these burrows provide. For some, the burrows of the gopher tortoise are a safe haven for breeding and nurturing offspring, while for others, they offer respite from predators and the elements.

Should the gopher tortoise vanish, it is likely a domino effect would be felt throughout the ecosystem.  

Among the most vulnerable is the critically endangered dusky gopher frog, a species already teetering on the brink of extinction. Reliant on the tortoise’s burrows for shelter and survival, the disappearance of the tortoise would most likely put the frog’s survival at risk too. 

Now protected in most locales, the gopher tortoise was once eaten widely in the southern United States..
© Wikimedia/Birdphotos.com

The role of humans 

In shedding more light on co-extinctions, UNU said that intense human activities, such as land-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and the introduction of invasive species, is causing an extinction acceleration that is at least tens to hundreds of times faster than the natural process of extinctions.  

In the last 100 years, over 400 vertebrate species were lost, for example. The report therefore includes accelerated extinctions among its six interconnected ‘risk tipping points’.  

Such points are reached when the systems that humanity relies on cannot buffer risks and stop functioning like expected – mainly as a result of human actions.  

Extinction breeds extinction 

Ecosystems are built on intricate networks of connections between different species, as the gopher tortoise-dusky gopher frog example indicates.  

The domino effect could lead to more species going extinct and eventually even to the collapse of entire ecosystems.  

With nearly one million plant and animal species currently under threat, the ripple effect of the extinction of a single species can affect countless others, disrupting vital ecological functions. 

The endangered sea otter provides another example of intricate dependencies within ecosystems. Calling the Pacific kelp forests their home, they were once plentiful, but are now locally endangered due to being relentlessly hunted for their fur in the past.  

In a finely tuned ecological dance, sea otters prey on sea urchins, halting the unrestrained growth of sea urchin populations. Without the presence of otters, these spiky grazers run rampant, transforming lush kelp forests into desolate ‘urchin barrens’.  

But the demise of sea otters would have impacts that extend far beyond the disappearance of kelp alone, UNU said. Over1,000 species– including sharks, turtles, seals, whales, birds, and a multitude of fish– rely on these underwater havens for their very existence.  

Creating the future we want 

Addressing the biodiversity crisis demands a multifaceted approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of risks and solutions.  

The theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity calls for everyone to support implementation of the Biodiversity Plan, adopted in 2022, which sets goals and concrete measures to stop and reverse the loss of nature by 2050. 

One of the goals includes reducing the extinction rate of all species tenfold by mid-century and increasing the abundance of native wild species to healthy and resilient levels, said Zita Sebesvari, Deputy Director of UNU’s Institute for Environment and Human Security and lead author of the Interconnected Disaster Risks report.  

“While adaptation strategies, such as restoring and protecting green corridors between animal habitats offer some respite, tackling underlying drivers of extinction remains crucial, because this goal cannot be reached as long as we risk accelerating extinctions,” she explained. 

In the long term, avoiding extinctions and co-extinctions will be the only realistic solution to halt biodiversity loss, which requires a shift of mindsets.  

“Conservation efforts must extend beyond individual species to encompass entire ecosystems”, Ms. Sebesvari said.  

“Urgent and decisive action is needed to preserve the resilience of ecosystems and ensure the survival of our planet’s diverse web of life. Embracing nature as an integral part of our culture is essential to secure a sustainable future, recognizing that our fate is inevitably intertwined with the fate of the natural world.” 

 

INTERVIEW: Developing countries risk missing out on net-zero benefits, but fairer future is possible

The lead author of the World Economic Situations and Prospects mid-year update, the flagship report from DESA released on 16 May, outlines the main findings in an interview with UN News.

Hamid Rashid Inflation has come down significantly from the 2022 peak, but not to the extent that central banks can say that they have won the war. There’s still room for improvement. 

At the launch of the report, we mentioned that the US Federal Reserve targets “personal consumption expenditure inflation”, which is not about what you buy, but what you consume, and includes rent, including “imputed rent” [what homeowners would pay if they were still renting, and how much it would have gone up]. 

Those numbers are pretty slow moving, and that really make it difficult for the number to come down very quickly. 

Some developing countries still have very high inflation, but, overall, the trend is very positive. 

Hamid Rashid, economist and lead author of the World Economic Situations and Prospects Report, UN DESA

UN News And the reason we care about this is because there’s very often a lag between the cost of things and how much wages go up?

Hamid Rashid Exactly. It boils down to standard of living. If prices are going up higher than your wage growth rates, you are basically worse off in real terms. 

When inflation is very high, people feel very nervous because they are not able to spend as much. And that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They spend less, so the economy slows down even more. And that’s the challenge. 

UN News The Ukraine war has been going on for over two years, and now we have a catastrophic war in Gaza. What effect does conflict have on the global economy?

Hamid Rashid When the war in Ukraine started, we saw a huge spike in commodity prices. Oil prices shot up. Grain prices shot up. But they have normalized. Similarly, when the Gaza war began last October, we saw some increases in oil prices and some commodity prices but, again, they stabilized.

The global market is responding to this crisis more efficiently, and alternative sources are emerging, so we haven’t seen a severe effect on prices from the Gaza war. However, we are seeing other effects; freight prices have gone up because the Red Sea route is restricted.

In the early months of the Ukraine war, shipping was disrupted, causing a huge spike in grain and other commodity prices (file August 2022)
© UNOCHA/Levent Kulu

In the early months of the Ukraine war, shipping was disrupted, causing a huge spike in grain and other commodity prices (file August 2022)

UN News Because ships can’t travel through that area? 

Hamid Rashid Yes. And when you’re diverted around the Cape of Good Hope, you’re adding another 15 days of travel time, which really adds up a lot of costs. 

In general, the biggest headwind right now is geopolitical risk, which is why we have adjusted downward the growth forecast for the majority of the countries in Africa. 

UN News Turningto the impact of COVID, your report graph shows that, when COVID hit, the global economy almost comes to a standstill. But then there’s quite a sharp rebound after that. Are we getting back to where we would have been if there hadn’t been a pandemic? Or is it still going to be several years before we fully recover? 

Hamid Rashid There’s an illusion there in terms of a huge spike in 2021; it’s what we call the base effect. For example, if you have a massive drop, to minus 10 per cent growth, and the next year you have three per cent growth, it looks amazing. 

We absolutely have not gone back to the pre-COVID trajectory of global growth. 2023 was a very slow year. Trade is a major driver of economic growth, especially for developing countries that are very dependent on exporting their commodities or manufactured goods, and trade is not back to normal.

UN News And many countries ended up cutting back on public spending and basic services?

Hamid Rashid Yes, and we have always been very critical of austerity measures, especially when an economy is on a recovery path, because then you slow down the recovery. That goes for developed and developing countries: we saw this in Greece, Argentina and many other countries.

Governments have to spend to keep the economic momentum going, because it brings in private investment. For example, when you build a new road, a company can build a factory: if there’s no road, no one can get to the factory. So, public investment is often a critical catalyst for private investment and economic activities. 

A technician installs solar panels on a health centre in Burundi.
© UNICEF Burundi

A technician installs solar panels on a health centre in Burundi.

UN News The UN is urging the international community to speed up the transition to an economy that is no longer based on burning the fossil fuels which are driving the climate crisis. One of the consequences is a massive ramping up of the mining of the rare earth minerals that are needed to, for example, power an electric car. In the report, you say that this could create a new version of the so-called resource curse, meaning that those who mine these minerals we will need to power this cleaner economy, won’t necessarily benefit from the wealth they create.

Hamid Rashid Yes, but this is not inevitable, and we suggest that, if countries have the right policies in place, they can avoid this consequence. Many are actually moving in the right direction, because they’ve learned from past mistakes. 

For example, in many African and Latin American countries, the goal was to get as many minerals out of the earth and export it as raw ore and minerals. But this model is not very sustainable because you don’t get much value.

A ton of copper ore doesn’t give you much money, but if you can turn it into copper wires and other materials, you can add a lot more value. And that’s what countries are trying to do, with innovation and industrial policies. 

You have to bring the technology and the right investment. We are more optimistic about the strategic decisions that governments can make. 

Find out more about the state of the global economy on UN Weekly, an engaging and entertaining guide to the fascinating, little-known and often misunderstood world of the United Nations.

World News in Brief: Myanmar violence intensifies, praise for Brazil refugee response, Baháí detainees in Yemen

“Our team on the ground is deeply alarmed by the latest reports of further escalating violence and destruction taking place in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships,” said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters at UN Headquarters on Monday.

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Renewed violence and the destruction of property in Buthidaung has resulted in the displacement of potentially tens of thousands of civilians, mostly Rohingya. The Myanmar military has stoked tensions between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, said UN rights chief Volker Türk in a statement on Sunday.

“This is a critical period when the risk of yet further atrocity crimes is particularly acute,” he said, calling for rebels from the Arakan Army and Government forces to pause the fighting.

Food running out

In Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe, there are reports of food and cash shortages, soaring market prices, water scarcity and the spread of waterborne diseases. Humanitarian assistance and essential services have been heavily interrupted, said Mr. Dujarric.

“We call on all military and political leaders as well as community influencers to do their part to de-escalate and defuse attempts to reignite intercommunal tensions, particularly between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya, and to avoid the repetition of past human rights atrocities that we have seen in Rakhine State,” said Mr. Dujarric.

Mr. Türk called on Bangladesh “to once again extend protection to vulnerable people seeking safety and for the international community to provide all necessary support.”

That call was echoed by head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Filippo Grandi who said conflict and violence stemming from the brutal military crackdown by the ruling junta was “dramatically worsening”.

“I appeal to all parties to ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarians,” he said on X.

Brazil’s refugee response wins praise from senior UNHCR official

Brazil’s unified and inclusive refugee response, which focuses on protection and finding solutions for refugees, won praise from Assistant High Commissioner for Operations at UNHCR Raouf Mazou in a statement on Monday.

During a week-long visit to the country, he said “Brazil’s commitment to inclusive refugee policies shows that documentation, asylum and other forms of protection, combined with access to jobs, livelihoods, education and health, are the best way to arrive at solutions.”

The Assistant Commissioner’s trip included visits to “innovative projects” in São Paulo and Manaus that focus on employing refugees and assisting them in integrating into local communities. 

In Brasilia, the capital city, he met national authorities to open the second Cartagena+40 Process consultation – a process to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees – emphasising inclusion and integration.

Deluge in Rio Grande do Sul

Mr. Mazou’s visit occurred while the south of Brazil experienced heavy rains and floods leaving more than two million people affected, based on official data, including more than 100 fatalities.

The flooding has devastated areas in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, leaving some 43,000 refugees in need of international protection. 

UNHCR is working with authorities to deliver “relief items, technical assistance on shelter management and provision of reliable information to refugees and migrants”.

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Yemen: Rights experts call for release of Baháí detainees

Top rights experts called on Monday for the urgent release of five people belonging to the Baháí faith one year after their abduction by de facto authorities in Yemen. 

The five detainees “continue to be at serious risk of torture”, said the independent rights experts, who include Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion.

In a statement alleging the “targeted persecution of religious minorities in Yemen”, the rights experts said the Ansar Allah movement – also known as the Houthis – were responsible.

History of hate speech

Other Baháí believers who have been released have faced severe pressure to recant their religious beliefs, the rights experts maintained, before warning that hate speech against minorities, including by the Houthi Grand Mufti of Sana’a, had made matters worse.

Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They do not receive a salary for their work and serve in their individual capacity.

Crimes against nature: UN agency puts environmental legislation under scrutiny

“Stronger legislation can help deter potential and repeat offenders and expand the range of investigative tools and resources for law enforcement to stop crimes that affect the environment,” said Angela Me, Chief of Research and Analysis at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), presenting the report.

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Launched in Vienna, ‘The Landscape of Criminalization’ is Part One of the first-ever Global Analysis of Crimes that Affect the Environment report. UNODC examines how all 193 UN Member States define crimes against nature and the punishments they set for violating environmental laws.

Serious violations

The study covering nine areas of nature-related offenses – deforestation and logging, noise pollution, fishing, waste management, wildlife protection, and pollution of air, soil, and waste – established that no less than 85 per cent of UN Member States criminalize offenses against wildlife.

At least 45 per cent of countries impose penalties of four or more years in prison for some environmental offenses, categorizing them as “serious” crimes under the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), a universally recognized standard.

“Our review shows progress globally in advancing environmental protection laws,” said Angela Me. However, she noted that legislation and enforcement remain uneven, creating “opportunities for criminal groups to exploit gaps in responses.”

Wildlife and waste are the areas where most countries (164 and 160, respectively) include at least one related criminal offense in their national legislation. In contrast, soil and noise pollution (99 and 97, respectively) are the areas where the fewest countries have criminal provisions.

Regional variations

The level of criminalization and penalties varies by country and region. For example, in Oceania, 43 per cent of countries regard illegal fishing as a serious crime (resulting in four or more years in prison), whereas in Europe, only two per cent of countries classify it as such. Meanwhile, 12 out of 18 countries in Eastern Africa consider wildlife offenses to be serious crimes.

A man fishes on the banks of the Mithi River in western India that has become an open dump for sludge oil and hazardous chemicals.
© UNICEF/Magray

A man fishes on the banks of the Mithi River in western India that has become an open dump for sludge oil and hazardous chemicals.

Africa and Asia have the highest average percentage of Member States with penalties meeting the serious crime definition, indicating that the legislation is not necessarily weak but that there is a lack of enforcement.

Wildlife crime

Of the nine areas surveyed, offenses against wildlife are most frequently covered by criminal legislation, with 164 Member States maintaining such provisions. 

Many countries’ national legislation even exceeds the requirements of CITES, the international convention regulating the transboundary trade in endangered species.

Globally, wildlife crime penalties span from a few days to life in prison, while fines can range from a few US dollars to three million.

Next to wildlife, crimes related to waste are highly criminalized, with 160 countries considering improper waste dumping a crime and including at least one related criminal offense in their legislation.

In contrast, soil and noise pollution are the least protected, with only 99 and 97 countries, respectively, considering these violations serious.

Legislative gaps

The report highlights discrepancies in how laws are applied to individuals versus enterprises, with businesses often getting away with fines, while individuals may face imprisonment. 

The authors suggest that countries could improve legislation to allow for the confiscation of means used to commit environmental crimes or proceeds from these offenses. The current lack of such provisions often leads to the prosecution of minor offenders rather than the large economic players committing environmental crimes.

According to the UNODC experts, there are several areas for improvement in environmental legislation and penalties. Member States could consider increasing penalties and expanding the use of international cooperation tools such as extradition or mutual legal assistance.

There is also a need for more data collection on these crimes, better enforcement of legislation, and more research on the penalties administered and their effectiveness, they said, adding that such information will help in understanding which extents of criminalization are most effective in preventing environmental crimes.

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