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Caribbean sees first regional launch of global plan on early warning systems

The event aimed to mobilize Prime Ministers to support the Early Warnings for All initiative (EW4ALL) in the face of mounting climate hazards. 

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2021 was the region’s fourth costliest hurricane season on record, with 21 named storms, including seven hurricanes.  

Protecting vulnerable communities 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced EW4ALL at the COP27 climate change conference in Egypt in November. 

The initiative calls for investment across disaster risk knowledge, observations and forecasting, preparedness and response, and communication of early warnings, with particularly priority placed on vulnerable communities

It outlines initial new targeted investments of $ 3.1 billion between now and 2027, equivalent to a cost of just 50 cents per person per year.  

Saving lives, reducing losses 

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) are co-leads in the plan’s implementation.  

In a report last year, they noted that less than half of all countries are not protected by multi-hazard early warning systems, which are among the most proven, cost-effective climate adaptation measures

Not only do they save lives, reducing disaster mortality by a factor of eight, but they also reduce economic losses in the aftermath of climate catastrophes.  

“The number of weather-related disasters around the world has risen fivefold over the past 50 years, yet not all countries in the Caribbean have end-to-end early warning systems,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO Secretary-General. 

Cooperation and investment 

At the regional launch in Barbados’s capital, Bridgetown, leaders outlined practical measures to ensure EW4ALL is incorporated in disaster risk management strategies, while also highlighting work already underway, including by entities such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). 

“The Early Warnings for All initiative offers us an opportunity to strengthen cooperation around investment in multi-hazard early warning systems to ensure the safety of the people of the Caribbean,” said Elizabeth Riley, Executive Director of CDEMA. 

While 19 States and territories participate in CDEMA, only 30 per cent have established roadmaps for multi-hazard early warning systems. 

WMO stressed that it is vital to support the Caribbean in building climate and disaster resilience so that countries can take early action. 

“Launching Early Warnings for All in the Caribbean is a critical first step toward coalescing the national, regional, and global cooperation needed to ensure everyone on Earth, especially the most vulnerable populations, are protected by multi-hazard early warning systems,” said Mami Mizutori, Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of UNDRR.

The launch also coincided with a WMO conference for the region, themed: Increasing weather, water and climate resilience in North America, Central America and the Caribbean

That event is taking place in Kingston, Jamaica, through Thursday. 

#Barbados hosts #EarlyWarningsForAll initiative regional launch for Caribbean today.
Only one-third of Small Island Developing States have a multi-hazard early warning system.
We can and must change this.
🔗https://t.co/FGcjMwOK8G https://t.co/dOZ7BZdtq8

Reduce pollution to combat ‘superbugs’ and other anti-microbial resistance

The study focuses on the environmental dimensions of AMR, which occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines. 

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It calls for strengthening action to reduce the emergence, transmission and spread of “superbugs” – strains of bacteria that have become resistant to every known biotic – and other instances of AMR, which are already taking a serious toll on human, animal, and plant health. 

Another example of inequality 

“The environmental crisis of our time is also one of human rights and geopolitics – the antimicrobial resistance report published by UNEP today is yet another example of inequity, in that the AMR crisis is disproportionately affecting countries in the Global South,” said Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who chairs a UN-backed initiative of world leaders and experts examining the issue. 

AMR is among the top 10 global threats to health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

In 2019, an estimated 1.27 million deaths globally were directly attributed to drug-resistant infections.  Overall, nearly five million deaths were associated with bacterial AMR. 

It is expected that some 10 million additional direct deaths annually by 2050 will occur, which is equal to the number of deaths caused globally by cancer in 2020. 

Food and health at risk 

AMR also affects the economy and is expected to cause a drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of at least $3.4 trillion annually by the end of the decade, pushing some 24 million people into extreme poverty. 

The pharmaceutical, agricultural and healthcare sectors are key drivers of AMR development and spread in the environment, together with pollutants from poor sanitation, sewage and municipal waste systems. 

Inger Andersen, the UNEP Executive Director, explained that the triple planetary crisis – climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss – have contributed to this. 

“Pollution of air, soil, and waterways undermines the human right to a clean and healthy environment. The same drivers that cause environment degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of anti-microbial resistance could destroy our health and food systems,” she warned. 

One Health response 

Tackling AMR requires a multisectoral response that recognizes that the health of people, animals, plants and the environment are closely linked and interdependent

This is in line with the One Health framework developed by UNEP, WHO the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). 

The report was launched at the Sixth Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on AMR, chaired by Prime Minister Mottley. 

It contains measures to address both the decline of the natural environment and the rise of AMR, with focus on addressing key pollution sources from poor sanitation, sewage, and community and municipal wastes. 

Recommendations include creating robust governance, planning, regulatory and legal frameworks at the national level, and increasing global efforts to improve integrated water management. 

Other measures suggested are establishing international standards for what constitutes a good microbiological indicator of AMR from environmental samples, and exploring options to redirect investments, including to guarantee sustainable funding. 

 

📢 JUST OUT

New UNEP report explores environmental dimensions of #AntimicrobialResistance – one of the top health threats facing humanity today – and what needs to be done to stop its spread.
https://t.co/SP7xeQtYqB

Revive and restore wetlands, home to 40 per cent of all biodiversity

On World Wetlands Day, observed this Thursday, the United Nations is calling for urgent action to revive and restore these ecosystems, which are disappearing three times faster than forests. 

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Wetlands cover roughly six per cent of the Earth’s land surface and are vital for human health, food supply, tourism and jobs.  

Fighting climate change 

More than a billion people worldwide depend on them for their livelihoods, while their shallow waters and abundant plant life support everything from insects to ducks to moose. 

Wetlands also play a crucial role in both achieving sustainable development and in the fight against climate change.   

They provide essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, reducing the impact of flooding, for example.

Peatlands, a particular type of vegetated wetland, store twice as much carbon as forests. 

Loss accelerating 

However, over the past 200 years, wetlands have been drained to make way for farmland or infrastructure development, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

Roughly 35 per cent of all wetlands globally disappeared between 1970 and 2015, and the rate of loss has been accelerating since the year 2000. 

Depending on the amount of climate-related sea level rise, some 20 to 90 per cent of current coastal wetlands could be gone by the end of the century, UNEP warned. 

Wetlands have also suffered more biodiversity loss than other land and marine ecosystems. 

An aerial view of wetlands in China.
UNDP China

An aerial view of wetlands in China.

Invest in restoration 

Leticia Carvalho, head of the agency’s Marine and Freshwater Branch, urged governments to end policies and subsidies that incentivize deforestation and wetlands degradation, and urgently focus on restoration. 

“At the same time, we must guide and drive investments to protect priority ecosystems, such as peatlands, and encourage the private sector to commit to deforestation and peatland-drainage-free supply chains,” she added. 

Landmark protection deal 

Recently, governments have been stepping up efforts to protect wetlands.   

At the UN Biodiversity Conference in December, countries agreed a landmark deal to protect a third of the planet’s lands, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030.  

Action to restore wetlands is gathering momentum around the world. For example, China is developing the “sponge cities” concept, in the face of rapid urbanization and intensified climate hazards, including flooding. 

Initiatives include “green” rooves, constructed wetlands and pavements that capture, slow down and filter storm water. 

Financing for nature 

In a report published last year, UNEP stressed the need to increase investments in nature-based solutions to meet global climate, biodiversity and land degradation goals. 

Currently, $154 billion is spent per year but this figure should more than double to $384 billion by 2025. 

“We’re running out of chances to protect the services provided by wetlands that societies depend on for a sustainable future,” said Ms. Carvalho.  

“We must ramp up international solidarity, capacity-building and funding without further delay.” 

The red-crowned crane, rarest cranes in the world, breeds in the Daxing’anling area in spring and summer and nests in wetlands and rivers. The loss of wetlands due to climate change and human activities threatens their survival.
UNDP China/2018

The red-crowned crane, rarest cranes in the world, breeds in the Daxing’anling area in spring and summer and nests in wetlands and rivers. The loss of wetlands due to climate change and human activities threatens their survival.

Conserving and restoring wetlands is key to achieving the #GlobalGoals through protecting biodiversity and countering the climate crisis.

Here are the different #GenerationRestoration actions being taken #ForWetlands.

#WorldWetlandsDay
https://t.co/8P1eHS0v2S

Climate change: WMO unveils plans for sustainable monitoring of greenhouse gases

The WMO initiative would create a network of ground-based measurement stations that can verify worrying air quality data that’s been flagged by satellites or airplanes, potentially in the next five years.

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“At present, there is no comprehensive, timely international exchange of surface and space-based greenhouse gas observations,” the UN agency said, as it urged “improved (international) collaboration” and data exchange to support the 2015 Paris Agreement, which provides a roadmap for reduced carbon emissions and climate resilience.

Methane mystery

“It’s not just anthropogenic emissions (that will be monitored), but what the forests are doing, what the oceans are doing,” said Dr. Oksana Tarasova, a Senior Scientific Officer at WMO. “We need this information to support our mitigations, because we have no time to lose.”

In 2022, Dr. Tarasova continued, WMO reported the largest-ever observed increase of methane “and the reasons of this increase are still not known, so one of the functions of this new proposed infrastructure would be to help fill in the gaps which we have in our knowledge regarding the observations and regarding the use of these observations.”

Climate of understanding

Cooperation between governments, international organizations and the private sector will be essential, if the proposed Global Greenhouse Gas Monitoring plan is to be viable, WMO has stressed.

Just as important will be increased coordination between surface-based, airborne and space-based observation networks.

“With more precise and more long-term data, we will gain a better understanding of our changing atmosphere,” the UN agency said. “We will be able to make more informed decisions and we will understand if the actions we have taken are having the desired effect.”

Some governments and international organizations already carry out specific atmospheric monitoring and maintain datasets, but “there is no overall steering mechanism and there is undue reliance on research funding”, WMO explained, in support of the creation of a single and internationally coordinated atmospheric monitoring body.

More electric vehicles on the road will mean less pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
IMF/Crispin Rodwell

More electric vehicles on the road will mean less pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Trace race

The Earth’s atmosphere is mainly made up of nitrogen and oxygen, but there are also many different trace gases and particles that have a substantial impact on life and the natural environment.

Since industrialization, emissions of greenhouse gases have changed atmospheric composition dramatically.

In particular, WMO has warned repeatedly that increasing levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are contributing to global warming and driving climate change.

These and other pollutants are also affecting air quality for humans, agriculture and ecosystems, which is why accurate measurements of the air we breathe is so important, climate scientists believe.

“Accurate, reliable data and knowledge about the levels of pollution and atmospheric deposition also help us to better understand their impacts on the environment, human health, biodiversity loss, ecosystems and water quality, and to either mitigate those impacts or put protective measures in place,” the UN agency said.

We’re wrapping up WMO symposium on Global #GreenhouseGas Monitoring Infrastructure to coordinate surface and satellite observations and support #ClimateAction and #ParisAgreement.
“If we cant measure it, we can’t mitigate and adapt.”
🔗https://t.co/5cmTmouFWW https://t.co/PZIwX9l5Hx

Climate crisis and migration: Greta Thunberg supports IOM over ‘life and death’ issue

António Vitorino, and Ms. Thunberg said they had “found much common ground” during a recent discussion about the impact of global climate change on human mobility.

The Greta Thunberg Foundation has donated 275,000 Euros (around $269,000) to support IOM’s emergency response to the historic floods in Pakistan and the crippling drought in Somalia.

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‘Chain of events’

“We need to support people before they move, we need to support people while they move, and afterwards, it’s a chain of events,” Ms. Thunberg said. “We need to think holistically like in any other emergency.”

Mr. Vitorino said he was “fully aligned with the Swedish activist, adding that her generation was “a source of inspiration and of resilience and being relentless in addressing this huge challenge from our experience in the field.”  

With 20 million people displaced every year due to climate change, there is an urgent need to prevent global environmental crises and address the impacts of climate migration, said IOM.

‘Life and death’: Thunberg

“This is a question of life and death for countless of people having to flee because of the climate crisis,” Ms. Thunberg said.

Climate migration can’t be dismissed, the pair agreed, and finding solutions for people to stay, for people on the move, and for people to move, is crucial.   

“The ones who are being more seriously hit by climate change are the populations that have less contributed in the past for the problems that we are confronted with,” said the IOM chief.

“And therefore, there is a need of solidarity and co-responsibility for the fate of those populations that are already today experiencing in their daily lives the human suffering attached to climate change.”  

More than 15 million people in Somalia and Pakistan alone need humanitarian aid due to the recent extreme weather events, IOM estimates.

The donation from the Greta Thunberg Foundation is helping the UN agency continue its emergency response to affected communities in both countries.

Raising awareness

“IOM is thankful for the generous contribution from the Foundation, and we are proud to cooperate with Greta to raise more awareness about the impact of climate on migration,” said Mr. Vitorino.   

Ms. Thunberg highlighted the complementary actions of IOM and young climate activists.

“Everyone has a different role to play. Organizations like IOM are vital in supporting people impacted by climate change, and those of us who can help you [IOM] in your work should do so. And those of us who can raise our voices to speak up for migrant justice and climate justice should do so,” she said.  

Here’s a link where you can learn more about IOM Migration, Environment, Climate Change and Risk Reduction activities.  

Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg , speaks at the opening of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019.
UN Photo/Cia Pak

Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg , speaks at the opening of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019.

#ClimateMigration is our reality. 

As we face the effects of climate change, providing solutions for
🔵people to stay,
🔵people on the move,
🔵people to move
remains crucial. Its a question of life and death.  

We call for urgent #ClimateActionNow

👉https://t.co/ukQpE9cJDm https://t.co/3DC36mEmcd

‘Let’s all become the champions the ocean needs’ – UN chief Guterres

“And by working as one, it’s a race we can win. Let’s all become the champions the ocean needs. Let’s end the ocean emergency and preserve this precious blue gift for our children and grandchildren,” urged the UN chief.  

The Secretary-General was speaking from the Ocean Science Centre Mindelo, in São Vicente, a state-of-the-art facility that hosts large marine scientific equipment such as deep-sea robots, as well as electronics workshops, and cutting-edge laboratories.  

On Monday morning, as the building opened its doors to the participants of the Summit, it served as a visible manifestation of the bet Cabo Verde is making on boosting the archipelago’s blue economy.  

Looking through the huge doors opening onto the Port, the same harbor that allowed many Cabo Verdeans to leave in search of a better life, the Prime Minister noted how the ocean used to describe a feeling of longing and melancholy. 

Today, Ulisses Correia e Silva explained, “it represents tourism, desalinated water, blue economy, submarine fiber optic cables, clean energy, biotechnology, aquaculture, canning industry for export, a competence center and nautical events such as the Ocean Race.” 

Cabo Verde’s development projects supported by the United Nations are helping to transform the agricultural sector of Santo Antão, the westernmost island of the country.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

‘The ocean is a matter of survival’ 

Speaking to UN News, the UN Special Adviser on Africa, Cristina Duarte, noted that as Cabo Verde is a 10-island chain that sits off West Africa’s Atlantic coast, some 99.3 per cent of the nation’s territory is water. 

Ms. Duarte, who is Cabo Verdean, was the country’s Minister of Finance, Planning and Public Administration from 2006 to 2016. “We might be more creatures from the ocean than from the land,” she said. “For Cabo Verde, the oceans are a matter of survival.”  

“So, its conservation [must be done] in a context of management of a natural resource, because we have to take from it what Cabo Verde needs to develop. Preserve it, but not forget that, for Cabo Verde, it is an economic resource,” Mrs. Duarte explained.  

At the Mindelo Ocean Summit, Secretary General António Guterres signs the Ocean Race Wall alongside José Ulisses Correia e Silva, the Prime Minister of Cabo Verde.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Racing for the ocean 

The Ocean Race first set sail in 1973, taking sailors around the world every three or four years.  

For the last four decades, as ocean health activist Danni Washington noted today at the Summit, sailors would see these islands on the distance, or race through the middle of them. Sometimes they were even rescued by Cabo Verdeans, but the race had never made a stop in the archipelago. 

On Friday night, the country became the first ever West African nation in the competition’s history to host a stopover. 

Addressing the Summit, the competition’s Chairman, Richard Brisius, assured the UN Secretary-General of the participants’ commitment to the cause of the oceans. 

“You have all of us at Ocean Race in your crew,” he said. “We are ocean people; we care for the ocean, and we are passionately doing our best.” 

For his part, the Mr. Guterres hailed “the inspiring courage of women and men sailing this grueling six-month race around the world.” 

Moreover, he said, it’s “also inspiring” to know that every boat is carrying special equipment to gather scientific data to help ensure a healthy ocean for the future. 

A key resource at risk 

For the UN Secretary-General, the Summit was also an opportunity to sound the alarm: “The ocean is life. The ocean is livelihoods. And the ocean is in trouble.”  

The UN chief explained that some 35 per cent of global fish stocks are over-exploited, global heating is pushing ocean temperatures to new heights, fueling more frequent and intense storms, rising sea levels, and the salinization of coastal lands and aquifers.  

“Meanwhile, toxic chemicals and millions of tons of plastic waste are flooding into coastal ecosystems – killing or injuring fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, making their way into the food chain and ultimately being consumed by us,” Mr. Guterres stated. 

According to UN estimates, by 2050, there could be more plastic in the sea than fish. 

Secretary-General António Guterres (3rd left) with some participants after delivering opening remarks at the Ocean Race Summit, held in Cabo Verde.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

From ‘super year’ to ‘super action’ 

Against this backdrop, the Secretary-General does believe the world took some important steps to correct course last year. 

These advances included a “historic agreement” in Nairobi to negotiate a globally binding treaty to control plastic pollution, the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, where countries made hundreds of new voluntary commitments and pledges, and the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, that ended with countries agreeing on a target to protect 30 per cent of land, water, coastal and marine ecosystems by 2030.  

“Some have called 2022 the ocean’s ‘super year.’ But the race is far from over. We need to make 2023 a year of “super action,” so we can end the ocean emergency once and for all,” noted Mr. Guterres. 

For the UN chief, the world needs urgent action in four fundamental ways: sustainable maritime industries; delivering massive support for developing countries; winning the race against a changing climate; and, lastly, deploying science, technology and innovation on an unprecedented scale.  

Turning to the finance sector, Mr. Guterres said that “developing countries are victims of a morally bankrupt global financial system, designed by rich countries to benefit rich countries.”  

“Bias is baked into the system. It routinely denies developing countries – particularly vulnerable middle-income countries and Small Island Developing States like Cabo Verde – the concessional financing and debt relief they need,” he argued.  

To fight climate change, Mr. Guterres called on ocean-based industries to follow the lead of the Ocean Race and limit their carbon footprints. As an example, he said that the shipping sector must commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and present credible plans to implement it. 

Closing the event, the UN chief participated in a Relay4Nature ceremony, receiving a baton, which started travelling around the world in May of 2021, passing hand to hand, from one ocean advocate to another, as a symbolic call on world leaders to radically increase their ambitions to protect the seas. 

The initiative started with the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, was then passed the ‘Nature Baton’ to politicians like French President Emmanuel Macron, celebrities like Jason Momoa, and arrived in Cabo Verde by boat, all the way from Alicante, in Spain, in the hands of Boris Herrmann, the skipper of Team Malizia.   

As he held the iconic baton, the Secretary-General said that he represented “a generation thar has largely failed the oceans.” 

Before handing it to Odara dos Santos Brito, a student from Liceu Jorge Barbosa, in São Vicente, Mr. Guterres said he was “very, very grateful” that he could give it to a generation that he trusts to “reverse the wrongs that we did, rescue the oceans, defeat climate change, rescue the planet and rescue us all.” 

Accepting the baton, the young Cabo Verdean didn’t flinch. “We accept that commitment,” she said. 

In drought-stricken Cabo Verde, UN chief finds hope for creating sustainable oasis

For hours, António Guterres’ car had moved along a sinuous road, which opened against an arid landscape, but then one last curve, and a few hundred feet up a hill, the view outside his window bursts into myriad shades of green, as small terraces supported by stone walls filled with banana trees, palms and sugar cane, came into view, with silvery water streams flickering in the distance.   

The lush Paúl Valley can be found in the mountainous island of Santo Antão, the westernmost island of Cabo Verde, and represents an oasis in an archipelago where only 10 per cent of the land is arable. Of that already small area, close to 18 per cent was lost between the years 2000 and 2020.   

As Mr. Guterres visited one of the terraces, on the second day of his visit to the country, he was welcomed by a group of farmers. With them, an expert from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Katya Neves, explained that they were in the middle of an experimental garden, where men and women are trying out new plant varieties and learning about sustainable techniques.  

Santo Antão, one of the greenest and most mountainous islands of Cape Verde, is host to several UN system climate resilience and sustainable development projects.
UN NEws/Mark Garten

Muitos Parabéns,” or “great work”, the Secretary-General congratulated the group in Portuguese, pointing to a colorful table overflowing with coffee beans, cabbage, tomatoes, yams, cassava and other products. The locally grown bounty is a rarity in a country that needs to import 80 per cent of the food it needs to feed its population.  

The UN chief was told how some of the plants growing in the garden are a new type of cassava, that experts are hoping will prove to be more resilient to the drought that has affected the country for the last five years. He also heard about how the farmers have learned new ways to irrigate or fertilize their land.  

The initiative is benefiting around 285 farmers and is part of a large number of projects led by UN agencies and other partners that hope to transform agriculture in the country to feed more people and be more sustainable for the planet as a whole. 

Assistant Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Katya Neves, helps bolster sustainable development on Santo Antão, Cape Verde.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

  Managing water amidst drought  

‘Gota a gota’ is one of the initiatives, and it has been making drip irrigation more accessible to hundreds of farmers. “Only 3,000 hectares spread across the 10 islands are irrigated, but studies show that this number could increase to 5,000,” explained Mrs. Neves, Assistant Representative at FAO. 

Angela Silva, who lives nearby, also met the Secretary-General. She is one of the beneficiaries that hopes to start installing the drip system soon.   

“I was born in a family of farmers, my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents. But until I got separated from my husband he took care of the land,” she explained.  

Two years ago, the full-time teacher decided to start working the plots of land she had inherited.  

“I’m still learning, but I want to learn more and be able to turn this into a way to earn money,” she said. “My dream is to transform it into a forest of food, that can be enjoyed by my kids and grandkids.”  

Her land was mostly taken over by sugar cane production, a crop that is not very profitable or sustainable, so she has started to replace it with banana and papaya trees and a variety of other vegetables. This was one of the lessons she learned in a training course supported by the UN.  

UN supported projects include drip irrigation in drought-stricken areas, like this one in Casa do Meio, municipality of Porto Novo, on the island of Santo Antão.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

With the new irrigation system, she hopes to avoid some of the worst consequences of the drought and make better use of the water during an average year. Studies show that, even when it rains in Cabo Verde, approximately 20 per cent of the water is lost through surface runoff, 13 per cent infiltrates, while 67 per cent evaporates.   

This is one of the challenges for Dairson da Cruz Duarte, the young local farmer that brought the coffee that surprised the Secretary-General – he didn’t know the island produced it.   

Pointing towards the bottom of the valley, near a creek filled with yams, the farmer explained that the beans are grown all the way up in Santa Isabel, a locality at the top of the highest mountain the eye can see, a ragged edge where the green of the land meets the blue of the sky.  

You can only access this 100-person town on foot, and all agriculture is rainfed. That has made the last five years of drought especially hard on the population.  

When the rains stopped, the young people were the first to leave.   

“I don’t know if 10 young people live there right now,” Mr. Cruz Duarte explained. “The other ones all left for other places, because of the lack of jobs, rain, drought. Sometimes, even if you have livestock, you don’t have enough forage to feed them. There is no other livelihood, so they left to look for a better life.”  

A UN system climate resilience project in Cape Verde's mountainous island of Santo Antão.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Spike in food insecurity  

After years of unrelenting drought, the production was zero for the farming season of 2021-2022. By then, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and socio-economic fallout from the war in Ukraine had all combined to create a perfect storm for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and the Cabo Verde Government was forced to make a difficult decision. In June of last year, the executive authorities declared a social and economic national emergency.   

Until very recently, the archipelago, which sits in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa, could have been considered a champion in poverty reduction efforts among Sub-Saharan countries. Estimates from the World Bank show that poverty rates declined by six percentage points between 2015 and 2019, from 41 per cent to 35 per cent.  

But by last June, the number of people affected by food insecurity was set to spike, according to data from UN World Food Programme (WFP). More than 46,000 women, men and children – almost 10 per cent of the overall population of Cabo Verde – were facing an acute deterioration in food security between June and August.   

This represents a threat to the country’s hard-won development gains in recent years. Cabo Verde has committed to eliminating extreme poverty until 2026, and on Saturday, the Prime Minister of the country reassured the Secretary-General that the country is sticking to that goal. But, he admitted, the last few years have made it much more difficult.  

Echoing that sentiment, the Secretary-General said at the same event: “I know that for Cabo Verde – just like other Small Island Developing States – which are a priority in the partnership and action of the United Nations – faces major challenges, such as the consequences of the pandemic and, above all, the increase in the cost of living, which always has a devastating impact on the population.”

The UN chief added, that “sea level rise and biodiversity and ecosystem loss pose existential threats to this archipelago, like to many other archipelagos.”

Katya Neves, the expert from FAO, tells UN News that last year’s crisis has given a new sense of urgency to the efforts by the UN and its agencies. “We can achieve these goals, and we can do this by improving the way agriculture is done.”  

Back in the valley, Mr. Cruz Duarte is also not giving up. Even after seeing most of his friends leave his little town, he did the opposite – after years in a neighboring island, São Vicente, the farmer returned to work the land of his ancestors. “Agriculture is my calling,” he says.   

He has two kids, who had to stay on the other island, because the remote locality closed its school a few years, but he’s been able to provide for them since then. He’s proud to list all the crops he grows – sweet potatoes, beans, pumpkins, the coffee that is sold in other islands for a high price – and how they change with the seasons. “I now know how to do it. I can keep it up,” he says.  

That is no easy task in these islands. But even after a successful crop, there is still a long road ahead.   

From farm to school cafeteria   

For Amilcar Vera Cruz, “the biggest difficulty is to sell it,” he says of the crops se grows.  

Sara Estrela, a Sustainable Development Assistant at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), explains that, historically, farmers are not usually organized in associations or cooperatives in Cabo Verde.   

“With the rule being subsistence farming or small family businesses, it becomes hard when the moment to sell for a fair price comes,” she said.   

One of the projects the UN system has supported is the formation of an Association of Producers in this valley. The agencies have also supported the construction of two commercial warehouses where the crops can be gathered, washed and prepared for sale.  

For Mrs. Estrela, the “bigger goal is targeting the whole sector and trying to organize the whole chain, from putting the seed on the floor to putting the food on the plate.”  

“We are empowering the producers with knowledge and equipment,” she added.  

Mr. Vera Cruz has received this support and, after decades of struggling with the sale of his crops, he hopes “the association is a way to open new horizons in terms of markets.”  

“We have other difficulties, but that’s what has delayed the agricultural development, the selling of the products, the changes in prices. Sometimes you don’t make enough to cover the production costs,” he said.   

The farmer has thought about this day for a long time. He has big dreams, that see his produce travelling well beyond the big town on the island, Porto Novo, to far countries, when the word about the quality of these products gets out. A combination of government and UN sponsored projects, he says, might help turn this into a reality.  

For many years after the country’s independence, in 1975, WFP was responsible for the meals for all students in Cabo Verde. But the country graduated out of the UN’s Least Developed Country category to a lower middle-income country in 2007 and, a few years later, the government took over that task. One of the decisions it made was that 25 per cent of all food in schools used should be bought locally.   

With that decision came the first big test for the recently formed Association of Producers of Vale do Paúl. For the whole school year of 2021-2022, these producers sold all the bananas that were consumed in the schools of the islands of Santo Antão and São Vicente. The initiative reached 20,000 students.  

Now, the association is gearing up and, later this month, will hold its first assembly. Later in March, a final test will arrive.   

The food grown by these farmers, the same as the Secretary-General tried today, will be washed and packaged in the new warehouses, loaded into boats, and eventually reach children in all islands. In just a few weeks, the oasis of Paúl will help feed around 90,000 students, almost 20 per cent of the country’s population.   

Cabo Verde ‘on the frontlines’ of climate crisis, says Guterres ahead of Ocean Summit

The answer goes back to 2015, when the national Government detailed a strategic plan on how the blue economy would be a central part of the island nation’s future, as well as to a series of investments that have been made since then.  

But this evening, looking out at nearly a dozen boats participating in the Ocean Race docked in the port of Mindelo, their 10-storey high masts slicing the sky above the island of São Vicente, Mr. Guterres was witness to one of the most visible payoffs of this bet.  

The Secretary-General called the blue economy “a fundamental opportunity to promote sustainable development in the archipelago” and said the UN looks forward to working with its government and people to “translate this ambition into reality.”  

The Prime Minister of Cape Verde, José Ulisses Correia e Silva, said that his country wants to be “better known and have more relevance” in the international arena, and the Ocean is the sector where they want their voice to be heard.   

“It makes sense to position ourselves in this specific area and to do it with relevance. It makes sense that this message is coming from here,” he said.   

In the past five years, as part of this effort, the country has held an ‘Ocean Week’ every year and, on this coming Monday, Cabo Verde is partnering with the Ocean Race to hold a summit that will feature speakers from all over the world, including the Secretary-General. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres participates in a discussion series with José Ulisses Correia e Silva, Prime Minister of Cabo Verde.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

An existential threat   

Cabo Verde’s commitment might not be enough. As Mr. Guterres warned, the country is “on the frontline of an existential crisis” – climate change.   

“Sea level rise and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems pose existential threats to the archipelago,” he explained. “I am deeply frustrated that world leaders are not giving this life-and-death emergency the necessary action and investment.”  

Some of these consequences can already be felt at the port hosting the Race, one of the best in all of Africa’s west coast, the reason it attracted merchants and pirates centuries ago and now welcomes sailing’s greatest around-the-world challenge.  

In the last few years, Cabo Verde fishermen have noted a drop in the capture of black mackerel, one of the most popular fish among the locals. In 2022, the packaging industry reported a reduction in the capture of tuna and absence of black mackerel, raw material for the industry.    

According to the preliminary results of a UN-led assessment that should be presented and discussed with key national stakeholders early this year, by 2100, the biomass of large pelagic fish – those that live in the pelagic zone of ocean or lake waters, being neither close to the bottom nor near the shore – such as albacora, a species of tuna, is expected to decrease by up to 45 per cent. In the neighboring Senegalo-Mauritanian basin, the reduction will be even greater.   

Changes like this can have a profound impact on the islands’ economy. In 2018, the fishing sector provided employment to 6,283 people, and was a touchstone in the diet of the 588,00 population. These products also accounted for almost 80 percent of the country’s exports.  

“Climate change is an obvious threat to the future of fishing, but also all biodiversity,” said the Secretary-General later in the evening, as he participated in the Speaker Series promoted by the Prime Minister, at the Cabo Verde National Center for Art, Crafts and Design.   

“The fact is, there is a very clear connection between the fishing industry and climate protection. Experience has shown that when you protect a certain region, it has a multiplying effect in other areas, and everyone benefits,” added the Secretary-General.  

UN Secretary-General António Guterres joins José Ulisses Correia e Silva, Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, in visiting the Oceans Race grounds.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Fighting back  

The two men sat against an extension of the National Center, its facade covered in the circular shapes of lids from oil barrels painted in primary colors.  

The installation is a statement on the country’s commitment to sustainability, but also a nod to its large diaspora of over one million people; these barrels are often used by immigrants to send gifts to their families.   

“The climate challenges are getting stronger and more frequent, but we have always faced difficulties and always found a way to overcome them,” said the Prime Minister.   

According to Mr. Correia e Silva, the loss of species can affect Cabo Verde in yet another way.  

The archipelago has been considered one of the top 10 marine biodiversity hotspots in the world and, for decades, the 24 species of whales and dolphins recorded in these waters – almost 30 per cent of all the cetacean species – have attracted many of the visitors that make tourism a stronghold of the country’s economy.  

In 2022 alone, after a couple of years dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the islands received close to 700 thousand tourists, raising the sector contribution to around 25 per cent of its GDP.  

Secretary-General António Guterres holds a joint press conference in Cabo Verde with Prime Minister José Ulisses Correia e Silva
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Climate justice for Cabo Verde   

Cabo Verde has started fighting back against these changes.  

The Secretary-General said the country “has shown climate leadership in words and in actions” and has highlighted the “efforts to convert debt into climate projects, including in the blue economy.”  

Up to 20 per cent of Cabo Verde’s energy production now comes from renewable sources – one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa – and the goal is to increase renewable energy use by up to 50 per cent by 2030.  

The Prime Minister said his country needs to “reconcile the needs of the economy, the environment, the communities” because it needs “these resources producing wealth to the country.”  

Mr. Correia e Silva shared an example of how this can be done. In the community of São Pedro, in São Vicente Island, a part of the population has transitioned in recent years from fishing to providing a service where tourists can safely swim with turtles.  

He went on to highlight a series of initiatives to fight plastic pollution and promote the circular economy. He also recalled how the country approved a “demanding” new law governing fishing and is working to extend the protected area from six to 30 per cent.  

“We do want to go further, but we need resources to do that,” he said.   

“We need justice for those who – like Cabo Verde – did little to cause this crisis, but who are paying a heavy price,” agreed the Secretary-General.   

As the conversation came to an end, a few blocks away, at the port, the crews from the Ocean Race were taking a break. In just a few days, they start the second leg of the competition, which will take them out of Cabo Verde, across the Equator, down the coast of South America, and into Cape Town on the southern tip of South Africa.   

A couple hours earlier, as the sailors had met Mr. Guterres, who shared how his son, just a few years ago, had joined three friends on a sailing trip crossing the Atlantic.  

This story prompted one of the skippers, Kevin Schofield, to ask him: “Would you ever do something like that?”  

“Maybe one day,” he quipped. “When I’m retired.” 

Ukraine war: No chance for serious peace negotiations yet, says UN chief

Following that sobering assessment, António Guterres also told the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, that he remained committed to alleviating the suffering of Ukrainians and vulnerable people in the wider world, still reeling from the conflict’s “dramatic, devastating impacts” on the global economy.

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“There will be an end…there is an end of everything, but I do not see an end of the war in the immediate future,” Mr. Guterres said. “I do not see a chance at the present moment to have a serious peace negotiation between the two parties.”

Tragic chopper crash reaction

In a related development, the UN’s top humanitarian official in Ukraine expressed her deep sadness at the helicopter crash close to a kindergarten, in a Kyiv suburb on Wednesday morning, which claimed the lives of at least 18 victims, including the country’s Interior Affairs Minister.

“I am deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrskyi, First Deputy Minister Yevhen Yenin and State Secretary Yurii Lubkovych,” said Denise Brown. The UN Resident Coordinator for Ukraine confirmed that other unnamed Government officials and residents, including children, had been killed and injured in the incident at Brovary.

A man mourns his deceased best friend at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine.
© UNICEF/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

A man mourns his deceased best friend at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine.

Worlds apart

Reiterating that the February 24 Russian invasion violated international law and the UN Charter, the Secretary-General underscored the difficulty of ending the violence, when the two sides continued to have “two different ideas about what the Russian empire was, what the nationalities were”.

He added: “This makes it more difficult to find a solution, but that solution needs to be based on international law and needs to respect territorial integrity…I don’t see conditions for that to happen in the immediate future.”

With Ukrainian and Russian fighters entrenched in a war of attrition, Mr. Guterres insisted that the UN had nonetheless helped to secure the support of Kyiv and Moscow to ship desperately-needed grain and fertilizer to countries either facing or trying to ward off spiralling food insecurity.

To date, 17.8 million tonnes of commodities have been shipped under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, to countries including Afghanistan, China, Israel, Kenya and Tunisia, with corn, wheat and sunflower meal or oil delivered in the greatest quantities.

UN committed to peace

The UN has also remained engaged with Ukrainian and Russian representatives on several other flashpoint areas in the interests of peace, the Secretary-General insisted.

These included discussing prisoners of war exchanges with both sides, to supporting the work of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in its efforts to secure the stricken Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and all other plants in the country. “We are doing everything we can…to limit the damage, to reduce the suffering”, guided by the twin tenets of international law and territorial integrity, Mr. Guterres maintained.

Mr. Guterres said that with the world facing the gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust “in generations”, leaders at Davos and elsewhere needed to bridge divides and restore cooperation to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights.

Mountain communities in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, including the municipality of Mustang in Nepal above, are already feeling the effects of biodiversity loss, increased glacial melting, to less predictable water availability, as climate change hits..
UN Nepal

Mountain communities in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, including the municipality of Mustang in Nepal above, are already feeling the effects of biodiversity loss, increased glacial melting, to less predictable water availability, as climate change hits..

Climate crisis reminder

In a wide-ranging speech to global leaders at Davos covering everything from a looming US-China clash to the growing disconnect between the Global South and the Global North, the UN Secretary-General issued a fresh call for the world’s leaders not to ignore the climate crisis.

“Every week brings a new climate horror story,” he said, in a call to industrialised nations to “finally deliver” on their $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries. “Greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels and growing. The commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is nearly going up in smoke. Without further action, we are headed to a 2.8-degree increase.” 

Unless tough political decisions are made to tackle the climate crisis, Mr. Guterres warned that “for many, it would mean a death sentence”.

Private industry needed to do more to help the climate too, he insisted, before calling on corporate leaders attending Davos to abide by UN-backed net-zero guidelines, and not “dubious or murky” benchmarks.

“Without creating the conditions for the massive engagement of the private sector, it will be impossible to move from the billions to trillions that are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” the Secretary-General maintained.

On Civil Society and Energy Day at COP27, activists protest against oil and gas exploration in Africa.
UN News/Laura Quiñones

On Civil Society and Energy Day at COP27, activists protest against oil and gas exploration in Africa.

‘Big Oil’ challenge

The UN chief also tackled major fossil fuel producers, highlighting recent reported revelations that some “were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking” the planet.

“Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie,” the UN chief continued, “yet we know the ecosystem meltdown is cold, hard, scientific fact”.

In an appeal for greater international cooperation and trust-building to solve so many interlinked problems, Mr. Guterres warned that divisions between the United States and China risked decoupling the world’s two largest economies.

Such a split – costed at $1.4 trillion to the global economy by the International Monetary Fund – would lead to “two different sets of trade rules, two dominant currencies, two internets and two conflicting strategies on artificial intelligence. This is the last thing we need,” the Secretary-General said.

And although it was to be expected that US-China relations differ on human rights and security issues, it is essential that both continue to engage meaningfully on climate, trade and technology, “to avoid the decoupling of economies or even the possibility of future confrontation”.

North-South divide

The UN chief also warned that the North-South divide “is deepening”, because of “frustration and anger about the gross inequity of vaccine distribution in the recent past (and) about pandemic recovery”, which had seen support “overwhelmingly concentrated in wealthier countries that could print money”. 

Trillions of dollars had been printed in the global North, Mr. Guterres explained, while developing countries “could not print money because their currencies would go down the drain”.

The Global South was also being crippled by the climate crisis – despite contributing least to global heating – and the lack of the financial resources to respond to the challenge, the UN chief continued.

Repeating his call for multilateral development banks to “change their business model”, the Secretary-General explained that emerging countries really needed is access to a “massive inflow of private finance at reasonable rates of interest.

“International financial institutions are too small and the capacity to increase Overseas Development Assistance is not to be seen in the short term,” he said.

We are facing the gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations.

At Davos, I urged leaders to bridge divides and restore cooperation to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights.

UN chief calls for renewable energy ‘revolution’ for a brighter global future

“Only renewables can safeguard our future, close the energy access gap, stabilize prices and ensure energy security,” he said in a video message to the 13th Session of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly, taking place this weekend in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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“Together, let’s jumpstart a renewables revolution and create a brighter future for all.”

‘Death sentence’ for many

The world is still addicted to fossil fuels and the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is fast slipping out of reach, the UN chief warned.

 “Under current policies, we are headed for 2.8 degrees of global warming by the end of the century. The consequences will be devastating. Several parts of our planet will be uninhabitable. And for many, this is a death sentence,” he said. 

Renewable energy sources currently account for about 30 per cent of global electricity.

Mr. Guterres said this must double to over 60 per cent by 2030, and 90 per cent by mid-century.

Global public goods

His Five-point Energy Plan first calls for removing intellectual property barriers so that key renewable technologies, including energy storage, are treated as global public goods.

Countries also must diversify and increase access to supply chains for raw materials and components for renewables technologies, without degrading the environment.  

“This can help create millions of green jobs, especially for women and youth in the developing world,” said Mr. Guterres. 

In Belarus,UNDP helped build the country’s biggest wind-farm. Wind energy could help Belarus become energy-independent by 2050.
Sergei Gapon / UNDP Belarus

In Belarus,UNDP helped build the country’s biggest wind-farm. Wind energy could help Belarus become energy-independent by 2050.

Subsidize the shift

The Secretary-General urged decisionmakers to cut red tape, fast-track approvals for sustainable projects worldwide and modernize power grids.  

His fourth point focused on energy subsidies.  He stressed the need to shift from fossil fuels to clean and affordable energy, adding “we must support vulnerable groups affected by this transition.”

The final point highlighted how public and private investments in renewables should triple to at least $4 trillion dollars a year.   

Noting that most investments in renewables are in developed countries, the Secretary-General urged countries to work together to reduce the capital cost for renewables and ensure that financing flows to those who need it most.  

Multilateral development banks must also invest massively in renewable energy infrastructure, he added, while richer nations must work with credit agencies to scale up green investments in developing countries.  

Strengthening energy sovereignty

The President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, underlined how success in climate protection depends on the transition to clean energy.

“But the energy transition we have foreseen was a peace time agenda,” he said in a pre-recorded message.   “How will it work in times of major political confrontations when energy supplies are turned into a tool of conflict?”

Although setbacks might occur in the short term, along with a probable rise in the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming, Mr. Kőrösi pointed to the long-term benefits of green energy.

“If we look into the investment trends, the long-term impact of the conflict might be the opposite. From solar to wind, wave, and geothermal, renewable energy sources are available for every climate. Their use has a potential of strengthening energy sovereignty,” he said.

Weather and climate-related disasters - extreme floods, heat and drought affected millions of people and cost billions in 2022, as tell-tale signs and impacts of climate change intensified.
© WMO/Kureng Dapel

Weather and climate-related disasters – extreme floods, heat and drought affected millions of people and cost billions in 2022, as tell-tale signs and impacts of climate change intensified.

‘Desperate race against time’

The General Assembly President outlined steps that must be taken for renewable energy to comprise 60 per cent of global power generation by 2030.

They include investing in scientific tools of measurement, creating a follow-up mechanism to assess progress, removing intellectual property barriers, and bolstering partnerships for sustainable energy initiatives.

Mr. Kőrösi stressed the urgency to act now.

“We are in a desperate race against time. We need bold transformative action to curtail climate change,” he said. “We have the knowledge. We have the means. We should only have the will.”

 

If we want to avert climate catastrophe, renewables are the only credible path forward.

Only renewables can safeguard our future, close the energy access gap, stabilize prices and ensure energy security.

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