United Nations

Water Matters: Understanding the Significance of the UN Water Conference

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The 2023 UN Water Conference, co-hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan, will be held at the UN headquarters in New York from March 22 to 24.

In nearly 50 years, this is the first such conference on water at a time when 3.6 billion people lack enough water for at least one month each year, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

There are 8 billion people on Earth today, and water demand is skyrocketing since the first UN Water Conference was held in Argentina in 1977. The UN 2023 Water Conference is, as the UN says, “the most important water event in a generation.”

This is also the halfway point of the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development,” adopted by the UN General Assembly on World Water Day, March 22, 2018.

With a lot of efforts, the United Nations is hoping that the UN Water Conference in 2023 will mark “a watershed moment” in the pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6: ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

High hopes are placed on the upcoming conference, which will feature high-level, ministerial, multi-stakeholder, and youth events.

The United Nations hopes the meeting could support game-changing solutions for the multifaceted crises of “too much water,” such as storms and floods; “too little water,” such as droughts and water scarcity; and “too dirty water,” such as polluted water.

Among the UN’s goals for the conference are to review and assess the progresses and challenges relating to the implementation of the decade’s objectives, namely those contained in “The United Nations Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Sustainable Development’ (2018-2028).”

The United Nations says that the conference will also mobilize political will, financial resources, and partnerships to accelerate action on water-related issues and contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 as well as other related goals by 2030.

“Without water, there is no life. Water is fundamental to our daily lives and has direct linkages with health, climate, economic development and so on,” Yoka Brandt, permanent representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations, said in February.

“We need a Paris moment for water,” she underscored.

“Our global water system is in crisis. Despite safe water and sanitation being a human right, billions of people lack access to these essentials for life,” according to the United Nations.

Observers believe that the relationship between water and climate change deserves a great deal of attention, which makes the conference even more attracting.

According to the United Nations, climate change affects the water cycle by changing the patterns and intensity of precipitation, melting glaciers and ice caps, increasing evaporation and sea level rise, and altering river flows and groundwater recharge.

These impacts can make water more scarce, unpredictable, polluted or all three. This can threaten sustainable development, biodiversity, human health and well-being, food security, energy production and peace.

At the coming conference, the United Nations is expected to adopt an outcome document that will provide guidance and recommendations for further action on water-related issues at all levels.

UN Human Rights Committee to review Sri Lanka

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The UN Human Rights Committee will hold its upcoming session from 27 February to 24 March, during which it will review Egypt, Turkmenistan, Zambia, Peru, Sri Lanka and Panama.

The six parties are among the 173 members of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They are required to undergo regular reviews by the Committee of 18 independent international experts on how they are implementing the Covenant as well as the Committee’s previous recommendations.

The Human Rights Committee, which has received the respective country reports and other submissions from non-governmental organisations, will discuss a range of issues with the six delegations through public dialogues, the statement issued by the UN asserted.

Nord Stream explosion is Act Global Terrorism

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An investigation by the UN Security Council into the explosions that blew up the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines in September 2022 is a high global priority, said Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned economist, on Tuesday.

“The destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines on Sept. 26, 2022, constitutes an act of international terrorism and represents a threat to the peace,” Sachs told the Security Council in a briefing.

“It is the responsibility of the UN Security Council to take up the question of who might have carried out the act in order to bring the perpetrator to international justice, to pursue compensation for the damage parties, and to prevent future such actions,” he said.

The consequences of the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines that linked Russia and Germany are enormous. They include not only the vast economic losses related to the pipelines themselves and their future potential use, but also the heightened threat to transboundary infrastructure of all kinds — submarine internet cables, international pipelines for gas and hydrogen, transboundary power transmission, offshore wind farms and more, said Sachs, who is the director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

“The global transformation to green energy will require considerable transboundary infrastructure, including in international waters. Countries need to have full confidence that their infrastructure will not be destroyed by third parties. Some European countries have recently expressed concern over the safety of their offshore infrastructure,” he noted.

There is only one detailed account to date of the Nord Stream destruction — the one recently put forward by U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh ostensibly based on information leaked to Hersh by an unnamed source, said Sachs.

Hersh attributes the Nord Stream destruction to a decision ordered by U.S. President Joe Biden and carried out by U.S. agents in a covert operation. The White House has described Hersh’s account as “completely and utterly false,” but did not offer any information contradicting Hersh’s account, and did not offer any alternative explanation, he said.

Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and some other senior U.S. officials made statements before and after the Nord Stream destruction that showed the U.S. animus toward the pipelines, he noted.

The destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines required a very high degree of planning, expertise, and technological capacity, he said, adding that as a number of senior officials have publicly confirmed, an action of this sort must have been carried out by a state-level actor.

Only a handful of state-level actors have both the technical capacity and access to the Baltic Sea to have carried out this action. They include the United States, Russia, Britain, Poland, Norway, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden — either individually or in some combination.

A recent report by The Washington Post revealed that the intelligence agencies of NATO countries have privately concluded that there is no evidence whatsoever that Russia carried out this action. It is also in concord with the fact that Russia had no obvious motive to carry out this act of terrorism on its own critical infrastructure. Indeed, Russia is likely to bear considerable expenses to repair the pipelines, said Sachs.

Three countries have reportedly carried out investigations of the Nord Stream terrorism — Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. These countries presumably know much more about the circumstances of the terrorist attack. Sweden, in particular, has perhaps the most to tell the world about the crime scene, which its divers investigated. Yet instead of sharing this information globally, Sweden has kept the results of its investigation secret from the rest of the world. Sweden has refused to share its findings with Russia and turned down a joint investigation with Denmark and Germany, he said.

“In the interests of global peace, the UN Security Council should require these countries to immediately turn over the results of their investigations to the UN Security Council,” Sachs said.

– Xinhua 

China Urges Sri Lanka to Avoid Default: A Cautionary Tale

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by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

It is well known that Sri Lanka is currently facing a significant debt crisis, with one of its major creditors being China. As such, the recent visit by highly placed delegates from China to Sri Lanka during the tenure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came as no surprise. What was surprising, however, was the strict suggestion made by the Chinese delegation for Sri Lanka not to declare default.

According to reliable sources with knowledge of the issue, China strongly believed that Sri Lanka would lose its grip irreversibly if the country declared default. Furthermore, they warned that such a move would have a series of bad impacts on the country’s future. Despite China’s warning, the Rajapaksa government decided to stand with India and the USA.

India and the USA had promised not only to strengthen cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but also to protect Gotabaya Rajapaksa under any circumstances, reliable sources said. However, “at the last moment, none of those countries came to help Rajapaksa to protect his presidency. Instead, they manoeuvred political scenarios to mark his exit while defaming his political career,” the sources added.

The cautionary tale here is that countries like Sri Lanka should exercise caution when dealing with foreign powers. In particular, the country should not rely too heavily on one country or group of countries, as this can lead to a dangerous dependence.

China’s warning to Sri Lanka not to declare default is a timely reminder of the importance of foreign relations. While it is important for countries to seek out economic opportunities, it is equally important to ensure that they maintain their independence and protect their national interests. Sri Lanka’s experience should serve as a cautionary tale to other countries that may be tempted to rely too heavily on foreign powers.

International Mother Language Day: Languages must be respected and embraced not excluded

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States must be more inclusive in the treatment and use of minority and indigenous languages, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, said today ahead of International Mother Language Day. He issued the following statement:

“Languages are essential tools to communicate and share knowledge, memory, and history, but they are also key to full and equal participation. One of the most effective ways of empowering minorities and indigenous peoples is to guarantee the use of their language in education – particularly as medium of instruction – as long as it is practical, and to provide public services and employments opportunities in these languages.

Language rights are also important human rights matters for both minorities and indigenous peoples. Special Rapporteurs, including my own mandate, have already been critical of the reduction, and in some cases exclusion, of education in minority and indigenous languages which are discriminatory and thinly disguised efforts to assimilate minorities and indigenous peoples.

Rather than reducing or even eliminating the use of minority and indigenous languages in education, States should invest in the development of teaching materials, the training of teachers and the promotion of mother tongue as a medium of instruction – where feasible – to ensure that minority and indigenous children are provided with the literacy and numeracy skills that will be most useful in learning other languages, including official languages. This is the most effective way of guaranteeing equality and non-discrimination with respect to international law.

In celebrating the richness and beauty of the global linguistic tapestry, it is essential to move away from new forms of nationalist majoritarianism that assume that societies and states should have only one language to the exclusion of all others. This is inconsistent with inclusive societies that are respectful of the human rights of linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. International Mother Language Day and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages are opportunities to promote and celebrate the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity – and to fully recognise and protect equally the human rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and their languages.”

ENDS

Dr Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, is Adjunct Professor at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland-Galway, and Visiting Professor at the Université catholique de Lyon, France and Vytautus Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. He is one of the world’s leading experts on minority rights in international law, with more than 200 publications in some 30 languages.

Time to transform care and support systems – UN Human Rights Chief

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For too long, we have relied on women and girls to provide care and support to family and community members, with three-quarters of unpaid care work being done globally by women and girls. This unpaid or underpaid work is socially unrecognized, reinforcing exclusion and discrimination faced by women and girls throughout their lives. At the same time, the voices of those giving and receiving care – older people, those with disabilities, children or the sick – including those who are women, have not been heard, or worse, ignored.

One of the key lessons we learned – and are still learning – from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we need to transform our care and support systems. All of us need support and care that enable us to participate in society, and to live in dignity and with choice. We must honour the incredible work of care and support givers, particularly women, and at the same time ensure their full enjoyment of human rights.

The pandemic exacerbated the inequalities resulting from these deficiencies in care systems and spotlighted those most impacted, particularly those facing discrimination, such as migrants, racial, ethnic and other minorities, indigenous peoples, and those living in rural areas, among others.

Care and support should not merely be seen as an act of charity. It’s a matter of human rights. Both those providing and receiving care and support have rights. That means support and care systems must respect and advance the enjoyment of human rights for all. 

We need to radically reshape our understanding of support and care systems.  The economic and social value of care work must be recognized. Informal care and support should be reduced, and roles and responsibilities redistributed between men and women, families, communities and States.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is time to revisit how we can advance progress on the promise of this milestone document. I call on States to take concrete steps towards establishing support and care systems that are human rights-based, gender-responsive, disability-inclusive and age-sensitive. This commitment is particularly relevant in light of preparations for the SDG Summit in September, where I hope the care and support agenda will be fully reflected as a key lever to sustainable development. 

It is time we transform the existing systems, and ensure that the rights of those providing and receiving support and care everywhere are protected, for their personal well-being and sustenance and those of their families and communities.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) will be marked on 10 December 2023. Written and adopted by representatives from all regions of the world, the UDHR makes it clear human rights are universal, indivisible, and the foundation for peace and development. During the course of the year, we will showcase the UDHR by focusing on its legacy, its transformative power and inspiring energy.

Geopolitics: The driving seat of globalization

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The following article is based on the speech made by the author as the UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan at the opening of the organization’s 13th Debt Management Conference.

We meet in a context of cascading crises, cascading inequalities, and chronic instability. Covid, climate change and the cost-of-living crisis are all increasing poverty and hunger at an alarming speed.

Geopolitics, not economics, is now in the driving seat of globalization.

Funding gaps for SDG investments in developing countries are increasing, and debt burdens are becoming unbearable for many countries of the Global South.

All of these issues will be tackled in this conference, including asking ourselves if we are in a systemic debt crisis, are there enough developing countries today in that distress to allow us to say that the current situation, it is a systemic debt crisis?

Well, the answer depends on the lens you choose.

Through a traditionalist lens, the risk of a systemic debt crisis may appear to be low. Developing countries, excluding China, have a government debt stock of $11.5 trillion at the end of 2021. Countries that are currently classified under the IMF as having unsustainable or distressed debt represent roughly 13 per cent of this amount. Debt distress is therefore largely contained in several highly vulnerable countries, with relatively, until now, small amounts of debt as a share of the total. Most of these countries are low-income countries, although we know that they are middle-income countries that are also suffering debt distress.

So as a result, many may be saying that the possibility of feedback loops and therefore systemic risks remain according to these traditional lenses limited. By limited, I mean for the markets it is limited for them, but not limited for the countries that are in debt distress that are going through high suffering, suffering that has been measured in a decade of loss progress, like we know very well in my region, in Latin America, where we talk about the lost decade because of the debt distress in the eighties and it took us two decades to recover the levels of social indicators that we had before the debt distress.

And we know already that we have two decades in many countries that have been lost in progress seen before COVID-19, before the climate change burden, and before the crisis of the high cost of living. So, this traditional lens could be challenged.

We at UNCTAD prefer the developmental approach that in our research we put centre to our analysis and if you do that the answer is very different. Our key point of departure is to analyze how developing countries can achieve structural transformation together with the SDGs within the bounds of the external and public debt sustainability requirements.

Our guiding principle here is that debts are unsustainable if the only way to pay for them is to compromise sustainable development, using this approach. What we see is that the combination of rising debt levels and the tightening of global financial conditions has already caused a dramatic and systematic reduction of the policy space available for developing countries. In the current context, achieving debt sustainability under the traditional approach is inconsistent with the mobilization of resources required by the 2030 agenda and the Paris Agreement.

Thus, the issue today is not whether enough countries will cease to pay their creditors in the short run, the issue today is that almost all developing countries have been left to face an impossible tradeoff in a context marred by a pandemic, geopolitical instability, and climate distress.

Three sets of figures help to illustrate this point. First, public debt levels.

Government debt levels as a share of GDP have increased in over 100 developing countries between 2019 and 2020. Excluding China, this increase is equivalent to almost $2 trillion.

These are resources that will have to be paid back by governments in developing countries to their creditors in coming years due to two systemic shocks because we are talking about between 2019 and 2021. So, this has not happened because of the bad behavior of one country. This has happened because of systemic shocks that have hit many countries at the same time because there have been global shocks.

Second, debt servicing requirements, higher debt burdens, in combination with rising borrowing costs, are placing an enormous strain on public budget around the world. Fitch Ratings estimates that if the medium increase in rated sovereigns since 2009 were fully reflected in the interest payments governments would pay an additional $1.1 trillion on the global debt stock in 2023. To place these figures in context, $1.1 trillion represents almost four times the annual estimated investment requirements for climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, according to the IFCCC.

Third, the impact of the currency composition on debt, on public budgets in the context of an ever-stronger US dollar.

The IMF estimates that 70 per cent of all the debts in emerging countries and 85 per cent of the debt in low-income countries is in foreign currency.

Since governments in the global south spend in local currency and borrow in foreign currency, this structure leaves public budgets highly exposed to large and unexpected currency depreciations. This year, at least 88 countries experienced a depreciation against the US dollar as of the end of November. In 31 of these countries, the depreciation has been greater than 10 per cent. The Currency Exchange Fund estimates that for most countries in Africa such a depreciation increases debt service requirements by the equivalent of public health spending in the continent.

We have also talked about this with respect to the food insecurity crisis, because, as you know, the crisis in the global market has gone down. But because of the strength of the dollar, domestic prices are still going up, precisely because of the strength of the dollar in the food markets and also because of the depreciation that the countries are suffering because of that. So, the magnitude of these figures shows the systemic nature of the problem we are facing, and systemic problems demand systemic solutions.

At UNCTAD our focus is centered around promoting multilateral solutions in the areas of obviously, policy, capacity-building, debt transparency and debt crisis resolution and relief.

On capacity building, UNCTAD is committed to providing support to countries through our debt management and financial analysis program, what we call DMFAS, one of our most successful technical assistance initiatives. DMFAS offers countries a set of proven solutions for managing debt and producing reliable Data for policymaking purposes. Since its establishment over four decades, DMFAS has supported those 116 institutions in 75 countries. Today 61 countries are using DMFAS software to manage their public debt daily of which nearly three quarters are either low or lower-middle-income countries.

Regarding debt transparency, UNCTAD supports the establishment of a publicly accessible registry of debt data for developing countries following the UNCTAD Principles on Responsible Sovereign Borrowing and Lending. This registry would allow the integration of debt data by both lenders and borrowers at the level of specific transactions. Transparency would strengthen debt management, reduce the risk of debt distress, and improve access to financing.

Finally, UNCTAD aims to create a multilateral legal framework for debt restructuring and relief to facilitate timely and orderly debt crisis resolution with the involvement of all creditors building on the G20 common framework.

Participation in this framework should be incentivized through the provision of debt relief link to a debt sustainability assessment that incorporates long-term financing needs, including for the achievement of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

At the same time, we are proposing to the G20 in the UN Presidency an independent review of the G20 debt agenda, which can boost the promising but stalled discussions around the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and the Common Framework for their treatment.

Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

We are at a systemic debt crisis that has become unsustainable because they have become too onerous and have compromised our sustainable development. Debt cannot and must not become an obstacle for achieving the 2030 agenda and the climate transition the world desperately needs.

These three days will be instrumental in providing solutions to our pressing problems, and I therefore wish you productive, engaging and above all, impactful sessions ahead.

A lot depends on these policy solutions to have a systemic intervention, to have systemic integrated policy options for these crises will be key to avoiding decades of lost progress in many developing countries.

The global human rights system is a common heritage of humankind: UN

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Extraordinary progress has been made to secure the rights of all persons since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, UN experts said today, as the world marks the beginning of a year celebrating the 75th anniversary of the declaration. On the occasion of Human Rights Day 2022, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council issued the following joint statement:

This Human Rights Day, 10 December 2022, marks the beginning of a year celebrating the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Since then, extraordinary progress has been made in relation to the rights of all persons and root causes for systemic violations on human rights have been given visibility and addressed by a vigorous global human rights system that is a common heritage of humankind, a heritage that should unite us, not divide us.

These significant achievements should not lead us to underestimate remaining and emerging challenges, which include but are not limited to discrimination, the erosion of democracy, climate crisis and armed conflict and protracted war. We, the Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups that comprise the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, restate our determination to address these challenges by putting human rights squarely at the centre of our response.

Next year will bring crucial moments and opportunities to jointly solidify our vision for the future of human rights and multilateralism, reinvigorating the immense hope that led to the creation of the human rights system 75 years ago. For these opportunities not to be missed, we urge everyone, State and non-State actors alike, to embrace, support, and sustain multilateralism and its institutions to further human rights, peace, security and development.

We are committed to using the next year for thoughtful and ambitious considerations on our role, and the role of the international community, to shape a next 75 years of furtherance of human rights for all persons. We should put our ambition high and focus on, building and realising a transformative human rights system that will underpin the next 75 years of global history. We also reaffirm our commitment to a multilateralism that is built on the principles of non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and accountability. As the UN has embarked on key processes to shape its future, especially the one leading to its Summit for the Future, we call on all to join us in this endeavour.

Human rights should be our common language to build trust between the UN and the people we serve.

We Provide a Neutral Unbiased Assessment – UNCTAD

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“We provide a neutral unbiased assessment of trends, challenges and opportunities,” Dr Jan Hoffmann who is the Chief of Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in an interview with news.slpa.lk, an exclusive maritime news and views portal run by the Communication and Public Relations Division of Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The interview mainly focused on the just released, annual UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport, co-authored by Dr Hoffmann.

Previously, Jan spent six years with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago de Chile, and two years with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London and Santiago. Studied in Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain, Dr. Hoffmann holds a doctorate degree in Economics from the University of Hamburg.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question (Q):  The world is slowly but steadily overcoming the challenges of the pandemic. But the consequences are still disrupting the global supply chain. Do you see any difference in consequences on Global Supply Chain by this pandemic from what human civilization faced previously?

Answer (A): What was new and different in this crisis, compared to earlier crises which were more about financial and economic growth issues, is that we had a problem on the supply side. Intermodal transport networks were clocked up, ships spent 20% longer in port than pre-covid, and processes that were not paperless slowed down due to the need for social distancing. In that sense, I’d say we had a unique, new type of crisis.

On the positive side, as your question also points to “consequences” and thus the future, we have seen many reforms in digitalization and investment in more agile and paperless procedures.

Now, for the future, I hope that we can “lock in the progress made during lockdown” as regards this modernization achieved in response to the pandemic.

Q: Global population hits all-time higher, 8 billion, last week. This big number is telling us the need for more resilience Global Supply Chains. Tell us the importance of collective responsibility and inclusiveness between ports, shipping lines, and regulatory bodies.

A: Without shipping, the world could not feed 8 billion people, nor provide the necessary fuel and medicine for all of us. While the population grew, seaborne trade grew even faster, reaching 11 billion tons. That’s almost 1.4 tons of cargo per year for each one of us, and twice as much as 50 years ago, when it was about 0.7 tons per person. 

As much as ports and shipping are important for our trade, there is a responsibility for humanity for future generations. We need to ensure that those of us who benefit from the maritime transport services today, ultimately also pay for the negative externalities, notably pollution and green-house-gas emissions. We need a mechanism where a price on pollution and emissions can be used to pay for investments in the energy transition, and also to compensate and help those most vulnerable countries that were not the culprits of climate change. Many of these most vulnerable countries may now also be most negatively affected by climate change, and by measures to mitigate climate change.

Let me clarify this latter point: If we reduce emissions from shipping, the costs of shipping will go up a little bit (less than the costs of inaction), but these additional maritime transport costs will be particularly bad for small island developing States and other vulnerable economies. So, we need to help them find other ways to reduce their transport and trade costs, in addition to helping them adapt to climate change.

Q: All sets to launch this year, Review of Maritime Transports, a key recurrent publication prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat since 1968. Why should all industry stakeholders study this review?

A: We are effectively very proud of this publication. We write it ourselves, i.e. UNCTAD staff and not external consultants. We provide a neutral unbiased assessment of trends, challenges and opportunities.

I would also like to highlight that our Review is part of a broader “package”, which includes regularly updated statistics (http://stats.unctad.org/maritime) as well as 230 country profiles, where you can look up key data and trends for every economy of the world. See for example the maritime country profile for Sri Lanka here: https://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/MaritimeProfile/en-GB/144/index.html

Q: How do you get real-time data and what are the challenges you faced?

A: We benefit from a wide range of partnerships with data providers, who are all duly acknowledged and sourced in the Review.

We do face challenges of obtaining reliable data from member countries. This process is slow and not always reliable.

But we are lucky that every ship in the world has a unique number – a so-called IMO number – and must continuously report its position. Thus, by looking at data about individual ships, we can see where they are built, owned, registered (i.e. their flag), their journeys and port calls. Combining this information with other data sets about prices, trade and freight costs, we have an increasingly comprehensive and reliable picture about the “supply chain” of maritime transport, from building to scrapping, and the participation of different countries in this supply chain.

Q: Beginning of the report is giving us a kind of frightening statement; “maritime trade recovered in 2021, but in 2022 faces a complex operating environment fraught with risk and uncertainty.” Does it mean there is no light at end of the tunnel?  What are you suggesting to overcome this uncertainty and mitigate the risk?

A: In fact, the brunt of the covid-induced supply chain crisis is largely over. Container freight rates are going down. But then we also have the war in Ukraine, which had led to a surge in grain transport costs earlier this year, which is now softened thanks to the Grain Initiative. For the transport of oil and gas, however, shipping costs are now surging, because more cargo has to be carried over longer distances.

And all this is but a precursor to the medium- and long-term challenge of decarbonizing shipping. Here, we do not know what will be the future energy mix for shipping, what will be the price of GHG emissions, and what will be the global regulations. We do highlight the need for a predictable multilateral framework, so as to avoid that investors delay investments in ports, ships, and energy distribution. Such delays could lead to future shortages of maritime transport supply capacity. Such a shortage – we have seen during the 2020-22 supply chain crisis – can lead to very high surges in shipping costs. 

Investments in resilient and sustainable maritime transport systems take time. We need forward-looking investments in reforms and infrastructure from the public sector, and the private sector needs to know under what conditions and prices and regulations port and shipping services will be provided in the future.

Q: The report revealed that “between 2020 and 2021, total emissions from the world fleet increased by 4.7 per cent, with most of the increases coming from container ships, dry bulk and general cargo vessels.” This is alarming. What would you recommend to stakeholders and other relevant parties?

A: The increase of emissions has been less than the increase in the fleet. So, on a positive side, we also report that efficiency has improved, i.e. we have fewer emissions per ton-mile. But then there is another “but”: An important part of this improvement is not due to real technological progress, but rather due to economies of scale and lower speeds. There are some really interesting novel data charts in the report in Chapter 4.

As regards global initiatives towards reductions of emissions, these are led by the IMO – the International Maritime Organization. We at UNCTAD work closely with the IMO in support of this endeavor. For example, we have undertaken a comprehensive impact assessment of what specific short-term measures to reduce green-house-gas emissions would mean for trade costs, trade, and economic development. This assessment helped the IMO membership to advance with decisions in this direction.

Progress is being made also on specific green corridors, and some “first movers” area advancing with investments in ships running on different alternative fuels.

Some stakeholders are – in my view – still too reluctant to take the necessary steps toward more ambitious goals at the IMO. They are afraid of the additional maritime transport costs this might imply. Now, if we see how a shortage of maritime transport supply capacity during the recent supply chain crisis led to significantly higher freight costs, I believe we need to avoid that investments in new port and shipping capacity is delayd. Put differently, the costs of inaction can be higher than the costs of the measures that we need to take to reduce emissions from shipping.

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Climate Change and The Fossil Fuel Paradox

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“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator” ~ Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations

The Secretary-General made the above statement at his opening speech at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP/27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which opened on 7 November in Egypt and was attended by 110 heads of State. He went on to say “ It is the defining issue of our age.  It is the central challenge of our century.  It is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner.  Indeed, many of today’s conflicts are linked with growing climate chaos”.  

This has all been said before at preceding COPs. Only, the rhetoric was stronger this time, perhaps delivered in the hope that it would shock a  quiescent world out of its slumber of ineptitude and feckless insouciance. The Secretary-General called for “a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact.  A Pact in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal.  A Pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition.   A Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040”.

All this is old hat, regurgitated over the years albeit now presented in a new format.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been promised by the developed countries to the developing countries as assistance to face the impending disaster which is threatening their ecosystems, food supplies and their very existence as nations on this planet. That promise has not yet been delivered, but Ibrahim Pam, Climate Expert and Head of the Green Climate Fund expressed enthusiasm at COP/27  that “ there is heavy support for the creation of the Climate Change Support Fund, especially for developing Countries”.

There is no gainsaying that in this Anthropocene, climate change is the most serious natural disaster we are facing and that, as agreed in the Paris Agreement of 2015, the world has to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.  Furthermore, one has to agree that the scientific community has approached this issue with vigour and dexterity.  However, what strikes one in this confederacy of pomp and circumstance is the diversity of opinion and approach.  China and India – two of the biggest users of coal – have given every indication that they intend to keep using coal, let alone reduce their use. Of the big polluters, only Britain and Australia have presented new climate targets. The United States and China have not submitted anything, while the European Union is working on a redefinition of the National Voluntary Contributions to reflect the additional cuts that will result from plans against the energy crisis and to release Russia’s gas.

There is also a paradox in the call for a Solidarity Pact to “end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040.  This raises questions such as: do the advantages and benefits brought to bear by the use of fossil fuels as sources of energy outweigh the damage caused by fossil fuels? what would a world without fossil fuels look like in terms of overall living standards and sustenance of humankind? Alex Epstein – an energy expert and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress – in his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, while claiming that the use of fossil fuel would grow in the future and that fossil fuel use would only be of benefit to the flourishing of humanity far outweighing its negative effects, including negative climate impacts, asserts that fossil fuels provide low-cost, reliable energy that would serve a world which would exponentially need more energy progressively, and be of tremendous use to the billions who do not use energy at present.  Furthermore, low-cost fossil fuels would be needed to power machines which are only increasing in output to cope with the growing existential demands of the world population and to combat climate change, more importantly, fossil fuels would play a role in the technology that would be the impetus for human ingenuity to control vacillations of the climate.  These claims are further buttressed by the anticipated results of the arguments pro-fossil fuels – that instead of destroying the world, the use of fossil fuels would make the world a far better place, where billions could be rescued from poverty, giving them a higher quality of life and safety from the hazards wrought by climate change.

In his second book Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas – Not Less Epstein argues that the rapid elimination of fossil fuel usage, if fully applied would cause “apocalyptic” effects, making people impoverished in a dangerous and miserable world. As food for thought, Epstein goes on to say that, although we should take climate change seriously, the use of fossil fuels per se should not be subject to a moral obligation to eliminate it, saying that historically, there have been instances where the justification by experts of such evils as slavery, racism and eugenics have been since rejected by society as morally reprehensible.   

Whichever way the wind blows at COP/27, one thing is clear: States should put their money where their mouth is and commit, as the Secretary General of the United Nations has said,  to a collaborative solidarity pact towards financing and implementing a global mechanism that would enable the world to reach the target of the Paris Agreement. Whatever pompous, pedantic and pretentious speeches are made, the COP should accept that the system so far has not worked despite pledges, promises and mechanisms. The United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report 2022 Closing the Window says: “Countries’ new and updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted since COP 26 reduce projected global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030 by only 0.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), compared with emissions projections based on mitigation pledges at the time of COP 26. Countries are off track to achieve even the globally highly insufficient NDCs”.

The concern of the world is that there will be serious adverse effects on the world if the global temperature goes above 1.5 c of pre-industrial levels during this century.  Scientists have opined that if this target is achieved the climate change problem will at least be alleviated. However, the problem with the climate change solutions offered so far is that, although the aim of the Paris Agreement of 2015 – which was entered into by States under the auspices of the UNFCCC and which entered into force on 4 November 2016, is to achieve not more than  2 c  above pre-industrial levels this century and most desirably bring it down to 1.5 c – nothing much has been done to implement a concrete global plan to achieve this target.  This makes the characteristics of the Agreement – which are that it is universal and legally binding, fair and differentiated, and sustainable and dynamic – open to question.

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