Source: United Nations Environmental Programme
Building upon previous work of the International Resource Panel on Decoupling Natural Resource Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth, this report examines the potential for decoupling at the city level. While the majority of the world’s population now live in cities and cities are where most resource consumption takes place, both the pressures and potentials to find ways to reconcile economic growth, wellbeing and the sustainable use of natural resources will therefore be greatest in cities.
Analysing the role of cities as spatial nodes where the major resource flows connect as goods, services and wastes, the report ‘s focus is how infrastructure directs material flows and therefore resource use, productivity and efficiency in an urban context. It makes the case for examining cities from a material flow perspective, while also placing the city within the broader system of flows that make it possible for it to function.
The report also highlights the way that the design, construction and operation of energy, waste, water, sanitation and transport infrastructures create a socio-technical environment that shapes the “way of life” of citizens and how they procure, use and dispose of the resources they require. Its approach is innovative in that it frames infrastructure networks as socio-technical systems, examining pressures for change within cities that go beyond technical considerations. The importance of intermediaries as the dominant agents for change is emphasized, as well as the fact that social processes and dynamics need to be understood and integrated into any assessment of urban infrastructure interventions and the reconfiguration of resource flows.
A set of 30 case studies provide examples of innovative approaches to sustainable infrastructure change across a broad range of urban contexts that could inspire leaders of other cities to embrace similar creative solutions. Of course, innovations in and of themselves do not suffice if they are not integrated into larger strategic visions for the city, and as each city is unique, interventions need to be tailored to the set of challenges and opportunities present in each case.
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Recent international events have renewed congressional interest in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO is a specialized agency of the U.N. system that promotes collaboration among its member countries in the fields of education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communications and information. With an annual budget of approximately $326 million, it supports more than 2,000 staff members working at its headquarters in Paris and 65 field offices and institutes worldwide. UNESCO activities are funded through a combination of assessed contributions by member states to its regular budget, and voluntary contributions by member states and organizations.
Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation has reported on progress towards achieving Target 7c: reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This report contains the welcome announcement that, as of 2010, the target for drinking water has been met.
Since 1990, more than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources. This achievement is a testament to the commitment of Government leaders, public and private sector entities, communities and individuals who saw the target not as a dream, but as a vital step towards improving health and well-being.
Of course, much work remains to be done. There are still 780 million people without access to an improved drinking water source. And even though 1.8 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world remains off track for the sanitation target. It is essential to accelerate progress in the remaining time before the MDG deadline, and I commend those who are participating in the Sustainable Sanitation: Five Year Drive to 2015.
This report outlines the challenges that remain. Some regions, particularly subSaharan Africa, are lagging behind. Many rural dwellers and the poor often miss out on improvements to drinking water and sanitation. And the burden of poor water supply falls most heavily on girls and women. Reducing these disparities must be a priority.
Rio+20: The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, June 2012 (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The United Nations (U.N.) Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or “Rio+20”) convenes June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This conference marks the 20 th anniversary of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 1992. Governments participating in the 1992 meeting politically endorsed the objective of “sustainable development” as achieving economic, environmental, and social development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Rio+20 begins from the premise and findings that the objectives of the 1992 Rio conference have not been achieved. The U.N.’s fifth Global Environmental Outlook, published in June 2012, found significant progress toward only four of 90 internationally-agreed goals associated with sustainable development. It found back-tracking on eight goals. Stakeholders widely agree that changes in policies and institutions are desirable to improve implementation, but do not agree on means. It seems unlikely that Rio+20 will produce any agreements that would require congressional action or be legally binding. Some proceedings, however, may engender congressional interest in concepts proposed for simultaneously achieving economic, social, and environmental objectives. Rio+20 could influence views and actions internationally on development paths and practices, thereby affecting regional and global economies, demand for development aid, transnational environmental issues, and conflict incidence and resolution. Therefore, Congress may take interest in the conference. In addition, proceedings may reference the non-binding, 1992 Agenda 21, produced at UNCED in 1992; media coverage could raise questions from constituents that Members may wish to address.
The Rio+20 organizers indicate that “[g]overnments are expected to adopt clear and focused practical measures for implementing sustainable development, based on the many examples of success we have seen over the last 20 years.” However, with strongly divergent views among the expected 115 Heads of State and up to 50,000 participants, Rio+20 may be more like a trade show than political negotiations. Indeed, some observers suggest that the conference may yield many deals among private participants. It is not expected to produce a treaty or any other binding commitments of national governments. Some observers wonder whether a meaningful communique can be successfully negotiated. High-level participants will be prompted to address issues that include
- the definition of “green economy,” and whether a definition gives adequate emphasis to social aspects (e.g., “fairness”) of sustainable development;
- whether “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) should replace or supplement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed by the U.N, General Assembly in 2000 and expected to end in 2015, as well as how SDGs might be negotiated, and what priorities might be set among them;
- how to reform international environmental institutions, particularly whether the United Nations Environmental Program should be strengthened;
- what actions, if any, might lead to improved implementation of existing sustainable development goals, given slow progress so far;
- whether governments may commit to greater financial and technological assistance to low-income countries to assist their sustainable development.
Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
A report released today by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows 2011 to have been a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000.
UNHCR’s "Global Trends 2011" report details for the first time the extent of forced displacement from a string of major humanitarian crises that began in late 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, and was quickly followed by others in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. In all, 4.3 million people were newly displaced, with a full 800,000 of these fleeing their countries and becoming refugees.
Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced (26.4 million) or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000). Despite the high number of new refugees, the overall figure was lower than the 2010 total of 43.7 million people, due mainly to the offsetting effect of large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) returning home: 3.2 million, the highest rate of returns of IDPs in more than a decade. Among refugees, and notwithstanding an increase in voluntary repatriation over 2010 levels, 2011 was the third lowest year for returns (532,000) in a decade.
Viewed on a 10-year basis, the report shows several worrying trends: One is that forced displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual level exceeding 42 million people for each of the last five years. Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain as one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location. Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, almost three quarters (7.1 million) have been in exile for at least five years awaiting a solution.
+ Full Report (PDF)
World leaders launch plan to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015
Source: United Nations
World leaders gathered in New York for the 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS have today launched a Global Plan that will make significant strides towards eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive.
Providing pregnant women living with HIV with antiretroviral prevention and treatment reduces the risk of a child being born with the virus to less than 5%—and keeps their mothers alive to raise them. Neither technical nor scientific barriers stand in the way of responding to this global call to action. The plan notes that what is needed is leadership, shared responsibility and concerted action among donor nations, recipient countries and the private sector to make an AIDS-free generation a reality.
In answering the Global Plan’s call to action, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced an additional US$ 75 million to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) efforts. This funding will be on top of the approximately US$ 300 million that PEPFAR already provides annually for PMTCT.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged US$ 40 million, Chevron committed to US$ 20 million and Johnson & Johnson pledged US$ 15 million.
+ Full Document (PDF)
As signatories of the UN Convention of the Right of the Child, EU member states have long been committed to making the best interests of the child a primary consideration for public authorities. The new Treaty of Lisbon further commits the European Union and its member states to protecting the rights of the child in all internal and external policies. In December 2011, the protection of the rights of the child was declared an explicit priority for EU external action and efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the world.Migrant children constitute a particularly vulnerable group. As children and as migrants they face poverty, social exclusion, exploitation and multiple risks, including risks to health. How to translate Europe’s commitment to protecting the rights of children in the context of migration, irrespective of nationality, legal status or social background, remains a particular challenge. Special attention is required to ensure that the rights and principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child apply to migrant children without conditions.While respect for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is one key component of EU policies on migration, repatriation and a credible threat of forced return are held to be indispensable tools in Europe’s fight against illegal migration. Prompted by the lack of child-focused migration research, and concerns about a possible impact of repatriation on children’s psychosocial health, UNICEF decided to explore how repatriation and reintegration realities interact with children’s mental health. Focusing on children repatriated from Germany and Austria to Kosovo, this study aims to provide empirical evidence to allow for a more informed discussion aimed at protecting the best interests of children. How to make the rights of children an integral part of migration and repatriation policies thus lies at the heart of this research.The evidence presented indeed points to an alarming situation: one out of two children describe their return as the worst experience of their lives. Especially foreign-born and minority children experience their repatriation as traumatic. Every third repatriated child suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome; nearly one in two teenagers suffers from depression and one in four reports suicidal ideation. Reintegration realities in Kosovo today are such that key factors that could help these children recover are almost non-existent: many returned children live in abject poverty, 70 percent of minority children drop out of school upon return, and the mental health care system in Kosovo is simply unable to meet the treatment needs identified in repatriated children and parents.Europe’s commitment to act in the child’s best interests is put to the test in every return decision taken. The responsibility to protect children rights, however, does not end at a country’s border. On the contrary, as this study underlines repatriation practices and reintegration realities greatly impact a child’s wellbeing and psychosocial health. As a child’s health is a sine qua non for the exercise of all other rights, health considerations must take precedence over legal and political concerns in sending and receiving countries.