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New UN framework to protect environment from harmful chemicals

Agreed at the fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), in Bonn, Germany, the Global Framework on Chemicals sets concrete targets and guidelines across the lifecycle of chemicals.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), welcomed the new framework.

“Everyone on this planet should be able to live and work without fear of falling sick or dying from chemical exposure. Nature, free from pollution, should be able to thrive and support humanity for millennia to come,” she said.

“This is why this framework provides a vision for a planet free of harm from chemicals and waste, for a safe, healthy and sustainable future.”

Concrete targets

The framework is based around 28 targets, designed to improve responsible management of chemicals and waste. These targets also aim to establish stronger connections with other important global agendas, including climate change, biodiversity, human rights and health.

Governments have committed to setting up policies and regulations aimed at reducing chemical pollution by 2030 as well as promoting safer alternatives. Industries also pledged to managing chemicals in a manner that reduces pollution and its adverse impacts.

By 2035, the framework aims to phase out highly hazardous pesticides in agriculture where the risks have not been managed.

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Bonn Declaration

In addition to the Global Framework, the Conference also adopted the Bonn Declaration.

The Declaration aims to “prevent exposure to harmful chemicals, and phase out the most harmful ones, where appropriate, and enhance the safe management of such chemicals where they are needed.”

It also encourages countries to support the transition to circular economies, fostering the development of safe alternatives and substitutes for chemicals.

This approach aims to not only safeguard health and the environment but also reduce waste and enhance recycling efforts.

Act immediately

Ms. Andersen urged all parties to start acting immediately.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that direct chemical pollution of the air, land, water and workplace is causing two million deaths per year,” she said.

“As any athlete will tell you, beating a target is better than meeting a target, so I call on governments, the chemicals industry and everyone involved to go above and beyond what has been agreed to protect people and the planet upon which we all depend.”

World News in Brief: Aid workers under attack, DR Congo food crisis, Niger floods

OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva that out of 71 aid worker deaths recorded so far this year, 22 had been working in South Sudan and 19 in Sudan.

The victims are overwhelmingly local humanitarians working on the front lines of the response, Mr. Laerke said.

He stressed that attacks on aid workers and aid facilities are violations of international humanitarian law and insisted that perpetrators must be held accountable. 

Rules of warfare

“Parties to conflict have an obligation to respect the laws of war without exceptions,” he said.

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Mr. Laerke highlighted the dire humanitarian needs in both countries and the funding gaps. The humanitarian response plan for Sudan remains only 32 per cent funded while the response in South Sudan has received 53 per cent of the required funds. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also sounded the alarm about the situation in the South Sudan, where three in four people need humanitarian assistance and two in every three are facing crisis levels of hunger.

Over 25 million Congolese in food crisis: UN agencies

More than 25 million people continue to face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the latest international food security report (IPC) released on Friday.

The country continues to be one of the world’s largest food crises, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Despite high levels of hunger, DRC boasts fertile lands and abundant water resources that should make it self-sufficient – if not a net exporter.

However, various underlying causes such as intensifying conflict in the restive east and a lack of investment in rural development, are preventing the country from producing enough supplies. 

“I am alarmed by the number of people who continue to face hunger across the country,’’ said Peter Musoko, the World Food Programme’s Country Director and Representative in the DRC.

“In such a fragile context, the cost of inaction is truly unthinkable. Together, we need to work with the government and the humanitarian community to increase resources for this neglected crisis.”

Niger floods cause death and destruction as rains continue

As heavy rains continue in Niger, UN humanitarians are growing increasingly concerned by flooding which is hitting the south of the country hard.

“Last week alone, 13,000 people were affected and since July, according to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, some 160,000 people have been impacted by the floods with more than 14,000 houses that have collapsed and over 50 deaths”, said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters in New York on Friday.

Military leaders seized power in Niger in July, ousting the democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum, who has remained in detention ever since. Some western nations and regional powers have imposed sanction on the new military rulers.

The de facto authorities and aid agencies continue to support the aid response for Nigeriens impacted by the severe flooding and have distributed mattresses, mosquito nets, blankets and other essential supplies, said Mr. Dujarric. 

More than 13,000 families have also received food support. 

“Humanitarian colleagues are warning that major gaps persist, particularly in the areas of shelter, water and sanitation, and health. We are also working with communities on flood preparedness”, added the Spokesperson. 

World News in Brief: Sustainable tourism boost, record Antarctic sea ice melt

That’s the message from UN chief António Guterres on World Tourism Day observed on Wednesday.

According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism employs one in every 10 people on Earth. 

To protect tourism jobs, Mr. Guterres said that governments and businesses must invest in sustainable and resilient practices, embrace renewable energy, and better protect the “biodiversity and ecological balance” of all destinations.

The UN chief stressed that targeted investments can deliver jobs and support local businesses and industries while mitigating the environmental impacts of tourism.

“Investing in sustainable tourism is investing in a better future for all,” he said.

UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2023

Maritime transport must decarbonize ‘as soon as possible’: UNCTAD

Action is urgently needed to combat surging carbon emissions in the shipping industry, the UN trade and development body UNCTAD said on Wednesday.

Ahead of World Maritime Day on 28 September, UNCTAD called for cleaner fuels, digital solutions and clear and universal carbon regulations in an industry accounting for over 80 per cent of the world’s trade volume, in which emissions have risen by one fifth over the past decade. 

The trade body’s Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan insisted that maritime transport needs to decarbonize “as soon as possible”, while ensuring economic growth. 

“Balancing environmental sustainability, regulatory compliance and economic demands is vital for a prosperous, equitable and resilient future for maritime transport,” she said.

Investment in green technologies is urgent as nearly 99 per cent of the global shipping fleet still relies on conventional fuels, and commercial vessels are on average over 22 years old.

UNCTAD reports that up to an additional $28 billion will be required annually to decarbonize ships by 2050 and up to $90 billion will be needed each year to develop infrastructure for entirely carbon-neutral fuels by 2050.

Full decarbonization could double annual fuel expenses, potentially affecting small island developing states and least developed countries that rely heavily on maritime transport.

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Antarctica sea ice falls well below previous record low: WMO

And in another climate alert, Antarctic sea ice has fallen well below its previous record low of lasts year, according to data from the United States Government monitoring service, said the UN weather agency late on Tuesday.

Having reached its maximum level during winter in the southern hemisphere, it has dipped below 17 million square kilometres for the first time since records began in 1979.

That is a full million km² below 2022, said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) – an area greater than the size of Egypt.

One of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center scientists issuing the alert said it was far outside anything seen before and “almost mind-blowing”.

The consequences of continued ice melt could have far-reaching consequences for long-term seasonal evolution, said WMO. 

Scientists with WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch are on alert to see if this is the start of a new worrying trend due to rising emissions in the atmosphere and ocean.

“The 2023 Antarctic sea-ice deficit has direct impacts on the climate- and ecosystems, both nearby as well as far field, including at lower latitudes, which are home to the majority of human population and their economic interests,” said Dr Petra Heil, an expert from the Australia Antarctic Division and part of WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch.

“There is growing concern about rapid changes in the cryosphere – melting sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers,” says Omar Baddour, chief of climate monitoring at WMO. 

“The drop in Antarctic sea ice this year has been really dramatic. What happens in Antarctica and the Arctic affects the entire globe,” he added.


Pakistan floods a ‘litmus test’ for climate justice says Guterres

They also underscored the need to slash carbon emissions and bolster early warning systems to safeguard nations across the world which are becoming increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather.

Speaking at the UN Headquarters, in New York, Secretary-General António Guterres said how the world responds now to Pakistan’s struggles is a “litmus test” for climate justice.

‘Double victim’

“Pakistan needs and deserves massive support from the international community,” he said.

Despite contributing less than one per cent of global emissions, Pakistan’s people face a staggering 15 times higher risk of dying from climate-related impacts.

“Pakistan is a double victim – of climate chaos, and of our outdated and unjust global financial system that prevents middle-income countries from accessing much needed resources to invest in adaptation and resilience,” he stressed.

Epochal disaster

Triggered by torrential monsoon rains, the floods submerged one third of Pakistan, claimed over 1,700 lives, destroyed two million homes, critical infrastructure, and affected 33 million people – half of them children.

In the immediate aftermath, the Government, supported by the UN launched a flood response plan, requesting $816 million to support 9.5 million of the most affected people. That appeal is about 69 per cent funded.

Even today, the response continues as UN and partners assist people in flood-ravaged areas, after further punishing rains fell this summer and Pakistan’s economy struggles to recover. Agencies such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are also helping people rebuild livelihoods.

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‘Step forward’

Dennis Francis, President of the General Assembly, urged Member States and the broader UN system to maintain their steadfast support for recovery and reconstruction endeavours.

“I urge Member States and stakeholders to step forward and fill the funding gaps needed to mobilize resources,” he said, emphasizing the need to address funding shortfalls for both climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

According to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), around eight million people (half of them children) in flood-affected areas, remain without access to safe water, 3.5 million children remain out of school, and about 1.5 million require lifesaving nutrition assistance.

“The situation facing many people in flood-affected areas is dire, and it comes on top of other pre-existing problems and inequities,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.

“But the challenges are not insurmountable … we have a real opportunity to drive lasting positive change for Pakistan’s children.”

Beating down the door

Mr. Guterres reiterated his warning that climate chaos is knocking on everyone’s door, adding that today, however, it’s beating that door down, from the Horn of Africa to Canada.

“Carbon emissions are heating our planet, killing people, destroying communities and devastating economies,” he said. 

From the Field: Greening tourism in Malaysia

A school of fish gathers off Lang Tengah Island, Malaysia.
Coral Reef Image Bank/Yen-Yi Lee

In Malaysia, tourism is a major economic sector and generated over $18 billion in revenue in 2019.

After revenues plummeted by 72 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malaysian authorities, with the help of UNDP’s sustainable tourism recovery project, looked to reinvigorate the industry by putting out a greener welcome mat for global visitors.

On World Tourism Day, marked annually on 27 September, find out how they did it here.

‘It’s crunch time’ to reach the SDGs, Mohammed tells Global Citizen Festival

“Come rain or shine, we’re here because we are committed to our planet”, said Amina Mohammed, addressing the Global Citizen Festival, against the backdrop of the UN General Assembly High Level Week, taking place down the road.

All to play for at halftime

She highlighted the race to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), end the climate crisis, and push for real gender equality.

“What happens today is a reflection of leaders meeting all week, promises made seven years ago, and today we’re recommitting to what the great Al Pacino said, tell it like it is: it’s halftime, and we’re down…but we’re not out!”

She asked the crowd assembled in the green heart of Manhattan if they felt like they were changing the world: “Well at the United Nations, we’re joining you, we are mobilizing people around the world.”

Global Citizen’s main mission is to end extreme poverty, through goals that align fully with the UN and the SDGs.

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At the Festival, global leaders pledged $240 million for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), promised to protect a further 900,000 hectares of land in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and secured promises from nine members of the US Congress, and the leader of the Labour Party in the UK, Kier Starmer, to follow through on national climate commitments.

Struggling to keep promises

The Deputy Secretary-General acknowledged that many around the world are hurting both in “mind and body”, with wars raging, and the planet not just warming – but boiling.

“Leaders are really struggling to use their power to keep the promises of the Global Goals and they risk breaking that promise to billions of people”, she said.

The good news is with seven years remaining to 2030, the game can still be won in the second half, but “we can’t win unless we stop our world from heating up.”

Bridge the divide

“We need leaders to bridge the digital divide – because we can’t win if billions of people especially girls are left offline and left behind.”

She said if women and girls are left on the sidelines of the collective effort, that means half the team isn’t even on the field.

“So New Yorkers, it’s crunch time. But crunch time is when champions are made”, she said.

“Let’s unite and fight together – inch by inch – to keep the promise of achieving the Global Goals by 2030.”

Human rights experts: Humanity facing ‘unprecedented global toxic emergency’

The fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-5), organized by UN environment programme UNEP and hosted by Germany, kicks off in Bonn on Monday.

“ICCM-5 is expected to be a watershed moment for international cooperation on chemicals and wastes”, said a statement released by the group of more than 30 experts.  

‘Once in a generation’ chance

“It is a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a robust outcome to confront the global toxic tide.”

They urged those attending the conference to be guided by human rights principles in line with a “post-2020 global policy framework on the sound management of chemicals and wastes.”

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According to the experts, “the threats of infertility, deadly illnesses, neurological and other disabilities resulting from exposure to hazardous chemicals and wastes, reveal the widespread and systematic denial of basic human rights for countless persons and groups in vulnerable situations.”

The experts went on to list people who are mostly exposed to these toxic environments, including workers, women and children, the poor and Indigenous Peoples.

‘Toxification’ must stop

“Humanity cannot afford to further aggravate the toxification of the planet,” the experts added.  

“For ICCM-5 to deliver the ambition and strength needed to overcome the global toxic emergency facing humanity, it needs to explicitly embrace a human rights-based approach,” the group of UN experts warned.

Special Rapporteurs and other UN experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work. 

‘World's breadbaskets’ are sinking, General Assembly chief warns

Addressing a special summit meeting, Dennis Francis – a veteran diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago – said he was determined to make sure the issue gets the attention it deserves during his presidency.

With the climate crisis unfolding rapidly, the need for more inclusive and innovative approaches to slowing climate change, including rising seas, has been resonating throughout High Level Week, in particular, at the Climate Ambition Summit. 

No exaggeration 

For many countries, especially the Small Island Developing States, the matter at hand represents an existential threat. 

“This is not a speculation or over-exaggeration. It is real,” explained Mr. Francis, substantiating his words with data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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The UN body assessing the science related to climate change, estimates that under current conditions the global-mean sea level is likely to rise between eight and 29 centimetres by 2030, with equatorial regions suffering the most. 

The rise is mainly driven by thermal expansion, aggravated by the melting of mountain glaciers and the ice cap, with a further rise anticipated of up to 70 cm by 2070.

Extreme sea level events which used to occur once every century could become an annual phenomenon by the close of this century. 

Not just our problem

A staggering 900 million people living in low-lying coastal zones are at risk of losing their homes due to rising sea levels and other climate effects, Mr. Francis warned, adding that the issue extends far beyond coastal communities. 

No one is immune to a potential catastrophe, he said, “fertile river deltas like the Mississippi, Mekong, and Nile – the world’s breadbaskets – are sinking.”  

Collective ambition needed

Beyond the crushing impacts on livelihoods and communities, sea-level rise carries further implications, spanning environmental, legal, political, technical, economic, cultural, and human rights dimensions.  

“Not only do we risk losing land, but also the rich cultural and historical heritage of these islands and regions that have helped to shape people’s identities,” alerted Mr. Francis the dignitaries, who gathered at the early morning event.

Mr. Francis called on leaders to raise their ‘collective ambition’ and take much-needed action, and move it up the agenda at the forthcoming COP28 convening on November 30 and the SIDS (Small Island Developing States) Conference planned for 2024.  

On UNGA margins, world leaders bolster bedrock of international law

Heads of State, Foreign Ministers, and other top representatives are converging to endorse multilateral treaties which form the bedrock of international legal frameworks.

“Multilateral treaties are essential tools for Member States to achieve the objectives of the UN Charter,” emphasized David Nanopoulos, Chief of the Treaty Section at the UN Office for Legal Affairs (OLA).

The remarkable reversal on ozone, driven by the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, serves as a testament to the potency of such multilateral agreements.

“Universal participation in these treaties is absolutely fundamental to their success,” Mr. Nanopoulos added.

Treaties in focus

This year, two landmark treaties are in focus: the Convention on the International Effects of Judicial Sales of Ships, and the Agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction, commonly known as the BBNJ treaty or high seas treaty.

The former, focused on trade and signed by 15 nations as of Tuesday, aims to shore up international law regarding ship sales.

The landmark BBNJ treaty was agreed in June, following nearly two decades of negotiations, and strengthens the legal regime in the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, in over two-thirds of the world’s ocean.

Other treaties open for signature include those relating to environment, human rights, disarmament, and combatting transnational organized crime.

Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, signs the BBNJ treaty at the UN Treaty Event.
United Nations/Paulina Kubiak

Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, signs the BBNJ treaty at the UN Treaty Event.

Long legacy

The Treaty Event, established in 2000 by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, capitalizes on the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level week to garner global leader support for multilateral treaties and the rule of law.

This initiative has seen substantial success, with over 2,000 treaty actions secured.

As the depository of multilateral treaties, the UN Secretary-General plays a pivotal role in their administration, ensuring transparency and facilitating cooperation among Member States, thereby upholding international law and principles of diplomacy. 

‘Humanity has opened the gates to hell’ warns Guterres as climate coalition demands action

Front and centre was an urgent call to action, to prevent cascading climate disasters through a just and equitable energy transition – before it’s too late.

In his impassioned address on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to politicians, business, activists and civil society leaders, Secretary-General António Guterres issued a stark warning about the dire consequences of inaction.

With extreme weather events accelerating, “humanity has opened the gates to hell,” said the Secretary-General, describing distressing scenes of farmers helplessly watching crops washed away by floods, the emergence of virulent disease due to rising temperatures, and the mass exodus of people fleeing historic wildfires.

Race for solutions

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“Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent”, he said.

He warned that climate action was being “dwarfed by the scale of the challenge”, with humanity heading towards a 2.8°C temperature rise, increasing danger and instability.

But “the future is not fixed” he added and the Paris Agreement target of limiting temperature rise as close as possible to 1.5°C is still attainable.

“We can still build a world of clear air, green jobs, and affordable clean power for all,” he said, addressing the high-level gathering of “first movers and doers”.

Driving force for change

Activists are refusing to be silenced, Indigenous Peoples are rallying to defend their ancestral land, and corporate executives are transforming how they do business. 

The UN chief is calling for a Climate Solidarity Pact that will hold major emitters more to account, and calling on wealthy countries to support emerging economies so they can weather the crisis. 

The Acceleration Agenda calls on governments “to hit fast forward”, he added. 

Anger rising

The Secretary-General spoke of the need for more climate justice, recognizing the anger felt by many of the world’s poorest nations disproportionately affected by a crisis they did not cause. 

“Many of the poorest nations have every right to be angry,” he added, explaining that promised finance had not materialized while the costs of borrowing remain sky-high. 

“All parties must operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28,” he urged and reminded the developed countries must meet the $100 billion commitment, replenish the Green Climate Fund, and double adaptation funding.

Creating early warning systems for everyone by 2027 is a must, too. 

Rebuilding trust

The Acceleration Agenda also calls for businesses and financial institutions to embark on true net zero pathways, with a focus on transparency and credibility in emission reduction plans. 

“Every company that truly means business, must create just transition plans that credibly cut emissions and deliver climate justice,” the Secretary-General said.

He called for action beyond the meeting rooms of New York. 

“We can – and we must turn up the tempo,” he concluded, to loud applause around the room.

Responding to the call, Kenyan President William Ruto, which recently hosted the Africa Climate Summit, spoke about the continent’s huge potential.

With about 30 per cent of the world’s mineral resources and vast biodiversity, it is capable of “green global manufacturing” at scale, given the necessary financial support. 

“Unlike other regions, Africa does not have to choose between satisfying new demand and decarbonizing existing capacities, because our existing capacity is very low,” he explained, adding that the continent can “leapfrog into fully green industrial paradigm”.

Climate justice

Financing and environmental justice were themes running throughout the discussions. 

Lidy Nacpil is Coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, an NGO advocating for the transition to renewable energy.

New agreements are needed to make the shift “without loopholes or excuses”, she said. An international treaty on the non-proliferation of fossil fuels and a global phase-out plan are needed to reach “real zero” by 2050.

“We, the people of the Global South are not asking for aid or assistance. Climate finance is an obligation and a part of reparations for historical and continuing harms and injustices,” she asserted the right “not just to survive, but to build a better home and future for our children.”

No buy out

Developed countries at the Summit said they were prepared to contribute their fair share. President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen, for example, announced an additional €220 million for tackling climate change between 2023 to 2026. 

“€50 million will be used to support programmes and projects related to loss and damage,” he assured. The country will also increase its contribution to the Green Climate Fund by a quarter, for a total of €160 million. 

However, the Austrian president said, “we cannot buy ourselves out of the climate crisis. We must curb emissions at home.” 

His country aims to achieve the ‘net zero’ target by 2040.

Summit goers later held a special session to discuss the thorny but crucial issue of loss and damage.

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