Tuesday November 21, 2017

‘Humans Have Caused Pollution and Humans Can Fix It too’, Says UN Environment Head; Asserts Asia Must Lead Efforts for a Pollution-Free Earth

World Health Organization figures show Asia has 25 of the world's 30 most-polluted cities in terms of fine particles in the air that pose the greatest risks to human health

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Asia-Pacific
People wear protective masks during a polluted day in Shanghai (VOA)

Bangkok, September 9, 2017 : Asia-Pacific — home to more than half the world’s population and some of its fastest-growing economies — is a key battleground in the fight against pollution, one of the biggest threats to the planet and its people, the U.N. environment chief said.

An estimated 12 million people die prematurely each year because of unhealthy environments, 7 million of them due to air pollution alone, making pollution “the biggest killer of humanity,” Erik Solheim told the first Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment in Bangkok this week.

ALSO READ Air Pollution expected to Cause 60,000 Deaths in 2030 and 2,60,000 in 2100 Globally: Study

Humans have caused pollution and humans can fix it, said Solheim, executive director of UN Environment, in an interview with Reuters at the four-day summit.

“The struggle for a pollution-free planet will be won or lost in Asia — nowhere else,” said the former Norwegian minister for environment and international development.

The sheer size of Asia-Pacific, as well as its continued economic growth, put it at the heart of the challenge, he added.

The region’s development has been accompanied by worsening pollution of its air, water and soil. Its emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide doubled between 1990 and 2012, and the use of resources such as minerals, metals and biomass has tripled, according to the United Nations.

Asia-Pacific
A man carries a sack of vegetables as he walks past a polluted canal littered with plastic bags and other garbage, in Mumbai. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) (VOA)

World Health Organization figures also show Asia has 25 of the world’s 30 most-polluted cities in terms of fine particles in the air that pose the greatest risks to human health. The pollution comes largely from the combustion of fossil fuels, mostly for transport and electricity generation.

Solheim said Asia is also a major contributor of plastic polluting the world’s oceans — and solutions can be found in the region. He pointed to a huge beach cleanup campaign in Mumbai that inspired Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overhaul the country’s waste management system.

“There’s enormous environmental opportunity,” Solheim said. “Asia has by and large strong governments, and they have the ability to fix problems.”

Coal no longer king?

Solheim said fighting pollution by moving toward renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would also benefit efforts to curb climate change, which scientists say is stoking more deadly heatwaves, floods and sea-level rise around the world.

But environmentalists worry that Asia’s demand for coal, the most polluting of the major fossil fuels, is likely to grow for years to come.

Figures from a forum organized by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Singapore earlier this year show that some 273 gigawatts of coal power are still being built, although much more has been put on hold.

In July, analysts told Reuters that Japan, China and South Korea are bank-rolling coal-fired power plants in Indonesia despite their pledges to reduce planet-warming emissions under the Paris climate deal.

Asia-Pacific
Workers operate machines at a coal mine at Palaran district in Samarinda, Indonesia (VOA)

The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement seeks to limit the rise in average world temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Experts say curbing or ending the use of coal is required if this goal is to be reached.

Globally, many countries — including China — are shutting down or suspending plans for coal-fired power plants as costs for wind and solar power plummet.

Solheim is optimistic, noting that the International Energy Agency significantly raised its five-year growth forecast for renewables led by China, India, the United States and Mexico.

“There are very, very few people in the world who believe that the future is coal,” he said. “I think we will see the shift [to renewables] happening much faster than people tend to believe.”

ALSO READ Paris climate pact: The play of words

On U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull his nation out of the Paris Agreement, Solheim sees a silver lining.

“The surprising judgment of history may be that Donald Trump did a lot of service to this fight against climate change by withdrawing, because he galvanized the reaction of everyone else,” said Solheim.

“All the big, iconic companies of modern capitalism — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon — they immediately said, ‘We will move into the green economy.'” (VOA)

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Dalveer Bhandari re-elected as the judge of ICJ

Bhandari has also served as the judge of Supreme Court of India

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The judge of the international court of justice.
Dalveer Bhandari got 121 votes in a 193 members assembly. IANS

Arul Louis

United Nations, November 21

Judge Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Tuesday as the General Assembly rallied behind him in a show of strength that made Britain bow to the majority and withdraw its candidate Christopher Greenwood.

“I am grateful to all the nations who have supported me,” Bhandari told IANS in the Assembly chamber after the election. “It was a big election as you know.” The withdrawal of its candidate by Britain, which had the backing of its fellow permanent members, was a setback for the Security Council that had been locked in a test of wills with the Assembly.

A candidate has to win a majority in both the chambers. Bhandari won majorities in the Assembly in the first 11 rounds of voting over two meetings, while the Council blocked his election by giving majorities to Greenwood in the ten rounds of balloting it held.

“The British ultimately had to bow down to the will of the majority,” a diplomat said. “The Indians stared them down.” The Council’s permanent members have traditionally had a judge in the ICJ, assuming it to be a matter of right. This time the 193-member Assembly asserted itself, forcing the Council to back down and put at risk the continuation of the ICJ perk of the permanent members.

In letters written to the Presidents Miroslav Lajcak of the Assembly and Sebastiano Cardi of the Council, Britain’s Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft said that his country was withdrawing Greenwood’s candidature keeping “in mind the close relationship that the United Kingdom and India always enjoyed and will continue to enjoy”.

Bhandari’s election was a dramatic face-saving turn of fortunes for India, as he lost the Asian seat on the ICJ to Lebanese lawyer-turned-diplomat Nawaf Salam, who had been campaigning for two years and had the backing of the powerful Organisation of Islamic Cooperation with 55 members in the UN.

Bhandari got a second chance only because an unpopular Britain could not get an Assembly majority for a remaining judgeship requiring a runoff where the two chambers of the UN split in their voting.

Bhandari’s cause became a rallying point for the nations not a member of the Council, who were chafing under the domination of the unrepresentative Council to make a popular show of force.

India hammered home the representative character of the Assembly compared to the Council and insisted that the UN members follow democratic principles and re-elect Bhandari by accepting the global majority he has received in the Assembly.

In the last round of voting on November 13, Bhandari received 121 votes, just short of a two-thirds majority in the 193-member Assembly, while Greenwood received nine in the Council.

“The precedent is clear,” India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin said at a reception for Bhandari attended by representatives of over 160 countries on Thursday.

“As is expected in the 21st century, the candidate who enjoys the overwhelming support of the General Assembly membership can be the only legitimate candidate to go through.” Diplomats familiar with behind-the-scenes manoeuvres said Britain indicated late last week that it would withdraw Greenwood, but over the weekend changed course with the backing of some fellow permanent members and came up with a plan for the Council to call for ending the balloting and set up a joint conference to resolve the deadlock.

The statutes of the ICJ provides for a joint conference made up of three members each from the Council and the Assembly to resolve a deadlock that persists after three election meetings.

India feared the outcome and campaigned resolutely to avoid it, pointing to the precedents in the elections in 2011 and 2014 and earlier when the candidate leading in the Council withdrew in favour of the candidate with the majority in the Assembly even though in those cases permanent members were not involved.

Bhandari’s election upsets what has become a traditional balance in the ICJ. Besides a permanent member going unrepresented, four Asian countries will be represented on the ICJ bench instead of the usual three.

Three incumbent judges of the ICJ — President Ronny Abraham of France, Vice President, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, and Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade of Brazil – were elected along with Salam in the first four rounds of voting on November 9.

Bhandari and the others elected will start their term in February next year. (IANS)

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Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter Join The Trust Project to Help Users Combat Fake News

In their bid to combat fake news and help readers identify trustworthy news sources, Facebook, Google, Twitter and several media organisations have joined the non-partisan "The Trust Project"

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To Combat Fake News
To Combat Fake News Facebook, Twitter , Google have joined 'The Trust Project'. PIxabay.

San Francisco, Nov 19: In their bid to combat fake news and help readers identify trustworthy news sources, Facebook, Google, Twitter and several media organisations have joined the non-partisan “The Trust Project”.

“The Trust Project” is led by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics.

Starting from Friday, an icon will appear next to articles in Facebook News Feed.

When you click on the icon, you can read information on the organisations’ ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work.

“Leading media companies representing dozens of news sites have begun to display ‘Trust Indicators’. These indicators, created by leaders from more than 75 news organisations also show what type of information people are reading a” news, opinion, analysis or advertising,” the university said in a statement.

Each indicator is signalled in the article and site code, providing the first standardised technical language for platforms to learn more from news sites about the quality and expertise behind journalists’ work.

“Google, Facebook, Bing and Twitter have all agreed to use the indicators and are investigating and piloting ideas about how to best to use them to surface and display quality journalism,” the university said.

German press agency DPA, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, the Independent Journal Review, Mic, Italy’s La Republica and La Stampa, Trinity Mirror and The Washington Post are among the companies starting to go live with “Trust Indicators” this month.

The Institute for Non-profit News has developed a WordPress plug-in to facilitate broader implementation by qualified publishers.

“An increasingly sceptical public wants to know the expertise, enterprise and ethics behind a news story. The Trust Indicators put tools into people’s hands, giving them the means to assess whether news comes from a credible source they can depend on,” Lehrman explained.

The eight core indicators are: Best Practices; Author Expertise; Type of Work; Citations and References; Methods; Locally Sourced; Diverse Voices and Actionable Feedback.

New organisations like the BBC and Hearst Television have collaborated in defining the “Trust Indicator” editorial and technical standards, and in developing the processes for implementing these.

“Quality journalism has never been more important,” said Richard Gingras, vice president of news products at Google.

“We hope to use the Type of Work indicator to improve the accuracy of article labels in Google News, and indicators such as Best Practices and Author Info in our Knowledge Panels.”

“The Trust Indicators will provide a new level of accessibility and insight into the news that people on Facebook see day in and day out,” said Alex Hardiman, Head of News Products at Facebook.

A growing number of news outlets are expected to display the indicators over the next six months, with a second phase of news partners beginning implementation work soon. (IANS)

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Sulabh International unveils World’s biggest Toilet Pot model

The NGO gave 95 new household toilets to the residents of the village.

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Sulabh launched biggest pot toilet models
Sulabh International in working towards improving sanitation. Wikimedia Commons

Sulabh International on Sunday launched the “world’s biggest” toilet pot model in Haryana’s Marora village — popularly known as ‘Trump village’ — on the occasion of World Toilet Day.

As per a release by the non-profit, the mega Indian-style pot, made of iron, fibre, wood and plaster of Paris, measuring 20×10 feet, was unveiled to create awareness about the use of toilets in the village dedicated to US President Donald Trump.

Sanitation expert and founder of Sulabh International, Bindeshwar Pathak, also dedicated 95 new household toilets to the residents of the village.

“This large pot replica will be shifted to Delhi’s Sulabh Toilet Museum,” the release quoted Pathak as saying.

He said the idea behind naming a village after Trump was to highlight the issue of sanitation and cleanliness globally.

Puneet Ahluwalia, a member of the ruling Republican Party in the US, said that such an initiative would go a long way to motivate masses towards cleanliness and safe sanitation. (IANS)