UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2022 (IPS) – As much of the world was starting to glimpse recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it now finds itself amid a cost-of-living crisis brought on by disruptions in global energy and food markets that are the result of conflict and climate change.
This again highlights how societal and planetary imbalances reinforce each other, as well as the need for a truly inclusive and green recovery. One that is foundational for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that digital is no longer optional. Countries with existing digital foundations were much better equipped to respond to citizens’ needs, including through the effective delivery of public services such as healthcare, social security benefits, and remote education. Digital will play a similarly important role in shaping a global green recovery.
Beyond building national socioeconomic resilience, digital transformation is also proving a key enabler in advancing global climate commitments. Countries supported by UNDP are leveraging digital in innovative ways to redouble their efforts to adopt renewable energy, transition to a circular economy, and to protect biodiversity.
Whether it’s emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) or more established digital tools like the mobile phone digital can be a fundamental driver of change. It is reshaping the dynamics between the economy, governments, businesses, and civil society and is an important tool in rebalancing our planetary, societal, and economic priorities.
However, digital is fast becoming the global metric of both inclusion and exclusion. With 37 percent of the world’s population still offline, the digital divide, notably, the lack of accessible broadband, gaps in digital skills, and marginalized groups excluded from technology, has become a key barrier for countries wanting to capitalize on the potential opportunities of the increasingly digital economy.
And digital technologies themselves could constrain a Green Recovery. The industry’s carbon footprint could account for about 14 percent of global emissions by 2040. If digital were a country, it would nearly surpass the US as the second largest contributor to climate change. And this impact may worsen, with emerging technologies also contributing to increased emissions.
Digital and a green recovery
Integrating sustainable development in digital is central to ensuring a green recovery – one that drives inclusive digital access and capacity, promotes openness and open data, and fosters innovations that increase the efficiency of digital technologies and mitigates their environmental footprint.
First, we must put people at the centre of innovation. This includes ensuring the availability of foundational digital infrastructure so that everyone can benefit. We must also ensure that the technical standards and explorations of emerging technologies are ‘human-centred’, founded on the local needs and aspirations of populations, but also ‘environment-centred’.
Second, we need to strengthen collaboration between innovation ecosystems. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires an enabling ecosystem comprising policies and regulations, investors, incubators and accelerators; and educational institutions. Digital can be a potent enabler for connecting dispersed national and global innovation ecosystems in pursuit of sustainability.
Third, data is the lifeblood of digital transformation and could be an important equalizer for countries in accelerating their efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, a number of countries lack even foundational data infrastructure, such as data centres, communication networks, and energy grids. We need to accelerate efforts to build data capacity to ensure that existing digital divides are not widened.
Digital is an indispensable enabler for driving a green and inclusive recovery. But it is truly a ‘whole-of-society’ endeavour.
As a platform to showcase innovation, best practice, and to foster partnerships, the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development will continue to convene global discussions, support and align innovation ecosystems around the world, and guide governments in leveraging the potential afforded by digital. Through driving the experimentation, adoption, and scaling of digital, we can shape a Green Recovery that works for both people and planet.
Riad Meddeb is Acting Director, UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development & Senior Principal Advisor for SIDS
These insights were drawn from ‘Digital for a Green Recovery’ – the Flagship Event of the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, held on the sidelines of the World Cities Summit 2022 in Singapore.
ROME, Jan 11 2021 (IPS) – For 2021, Italy has been given chairmanship of the Group of 20, which brings together the world’s 20 most important countries. On paper, they represent 60% of the world’s population and 80% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the shaky Italian government will somehow perform this task (in the general indifference of the political system), the fact remains that this apparently prestigious position is in fact very deceiving: the G20 is now a very weak institution that brings no kudos to the rotating chairman. Besides, it is actually the institution which bears the greatest part of responsibility for the decline of the UN as the body responsible for global governance, a task that the G20 has very seldom been able to face up to.
Let us reconstruct how we arrive at the creation of the G20. It is a long story, that begins in 1975, when France invited the representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, leading to the name Group of Six, or G6. The idea was to create a space where to discuss the international situation, not for decision making. Then it became the Group of Seven, with the addition of Canada in 1997. Russia was added in 1998, so the summit became known as the G8. And then, in 1980, the European Union was invited as a “nonenumerated participant”. In 2005 the UK government initiated the practice of inviting five leading emergency markets – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Finally, in Washington, in 2005, the world leaders from the group recognized the growth of more emerging countries, and they decided that a meeting of the 20 most important countries of the world would replace the G8 and become the G20.
At the meetings the United Nations, the European Union, and the major international monetary and financial institutions are also invited. Spain is a permanent invitee, together with leaders of the Asian, African Union, of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Financial Stability Board, the International Labor Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank Group, and the World Trade Organization.
Plus. The host country can invite some countries that it feels particularly associated with its foreign policy, at its year of presidency. Until now, 38 countries have been invited, from Azerbaijan to Chad, from Denmark to Laos, from Sweden to Zimbabwe. To complete, it is important to mention that Russia was suspended by the G8 in 2014, because of its annexation of Crimea. And was never readmitted. Trump, in his inexplicable deference to Putin, asked for its readmission to the G8, and this was refused by the other countries. The G7 has kept meeting, as “a steering group of the West”. At the same time, the G20 meets regularly, with Russia as part of his members.
So, Italy has the task to invite all those different actors, establish the agenda and planning and hosting a series of ministerial-level meetings, leading up to summit of head of governments. Italy has decided as agenda “The three P”: People, Planet and Prosperity. This imaginative and original agenda will be structured in 10 specialized meetings, like Finance (Venice July 9-10th); Innovation and Research (Trieste Aug. 5-8th); Environment, Climate, Energy (Naples, July 22nd), just to give a few examples. Beside these 10 specialized meetings, there will be 8 “engagement’s groups”, which will go from business to civil society, youth, etc.
The G20 is formed by countries that are involved in different and often contradictory groups. For instance, after Trump killed the TTP, (the Transatlantic Pacific Partnership), that Obama was able to put together excluding China, with a vast range of counters going from Australia to Mexico, from Canada to Malaysia, China was able to reciprocate, and crate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which puts together the same countries plus some others and leave outside completely the United States. This commercial bloc is the largest ever created and has 30% of the world’s population, and 30% of the world GDP. But the European Union, (to which Italy belongs) has explicitly taken a path of European nationalism, to make the EU able to survive in the coming competition between China and the United States. European Union (and therefore Italy) are also members of NATO, where the United States is the indispensable and fundamental partner. And in the G20 China seats with India, which is the only country that has refused to join RCEP, and who is clearly taking an alternative path to China’s expansion in Asia. But this is also Japan’s policy, who is very active in G7, in the G20, and has entered RCEP, and considers, like South Korea, a priority to limit the Chinese expansionism.
Of course, there are a number of other pacts, agreements, treaties and alliances, that would be now boring and useless to enumerate. One country, like Italy, would therefore wear several hats at the same time. The point to make is, that since the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, the multilateral system started to be under attack. Reagan, in Cancun’s Summit for the North-South dialogue, a few months after his election, questioned the idea of democracy and participation as the basis for international relations. Until then, the General Assembly resolutions were considered the basis for global governance. In 1973, the GA passed unanimously a resolution, calling for the reduction of the economic gap between the North and the South of the world, calling rich countries to their duties to establish a New International Economic Order, more just and based on the faster development of the poorer countries. Reagan denounced this as an anti-American maneuver. The US is not the same as Montecarlo, as he famously said (probably he intended Monaco, as Montecarlo is no state), and yet they have a vote each. So, this democracy coming from the UN, was in fact a straitjacket, and the US would proceed on the basis of bilateral relations, and not to be strained by multilateral mechanisms. Reagan was the first to talk of America first, He, together with Margaret Thatcher in Europe, dismantled all the social progress made in the world after the end of the Second World War. The market, with his invisible hand, would be the sole engine of society (that Thatcher said does not exist, only individuals). The State, that he called “the beast”, was the first enemy of the citizen. He declared: the most terrifying words in English are: I am from the Government, and I am here to help”. Any public or social cost was just a brake to the market. Reagan wanted to privatize even the ministry of Education: he and Thatcher left UNESCO, as a symbol of disengagement from the UN. Both he and Thatcher curtailed trade unions, privatized whatever possible, and started the era of neoliberal globalization, whose effect is now widely evident, and that Trump, Bolsonaro and Co. bless every day, because it has created a very large swath of disaffected citizens, who believe they will readdress their destiny.
Is important to note that Reagan did not have any real opposition, from the other rich countries. So, all this fragmentation of the world, with the creation of G7, G8, G20, and other exclusive clubs, was not an exclusive responsibility of Reagan and Thatcher. For forty years, the process of divesting the UN from its responsibility for the world’s peace, development, and democracy went on. Neoliberal globalization was based on finance and trade. Even before the end of the war, finance was delegated to the System of Bretton Wood, by the name of the site where it was founded. Let us just constate a fact: the Financial System was established in a such way, that Finance is the only sector of human activity that has no regulatory body. Today it has clearly separated by the general economy when its original function was to be at its service. And political institutions are not able to control its global structure.
The other engine of globalization was trading. United Nations had the UN Commission on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, which looked to trade as an instrument of development. The creation in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, as an independent organization, envisaging trade as an economic engine, divested the UN from trade too. And more the UN weakens, the easier is to decry its shortcomings.
The stroke of grace to multilateralism has been the arrival of Trump, the heir and an updated version of Ronald Reagan. But with a totally different agenda and vision. His basic idea is not “America First”, but “America Alone”. He pushes Regan’s idea of bilateralism versus multilateralism to the extreme of ignoring the concept of alliances. So, he declared, Europe is even worse than China. But there is a fundamental difference between them: Trump never pretended to be the President of all Americans. On the contrary, he tried immediately to divide and polarize the United States, and he leaves as a legacy the US that will take a very long time to become again a united and pacified country. And his strategy has been taken by several other leaders, from Bolsonaro to Orban, from Erdogan to Salvini.
It will be, therefore, difficult, for the UN to recover its function of the meeting place, to express plans of global governance, based on democracy and participation. It was a vision based on the lessons learned in the Second World War: let us avoid millions of deaths, terrible destruction, and to do so we need to work together. That lesson has been now forgotten. Just compare the kind of political leaders from that time, and the present one, to see the enormous change. Therefore, the expression of national egoisms will continue, with the richest countries in exclusives clubs, like OECD or the G20.
But there is a problem: those clubs are not efficient, because they gather together countries with very different agendas and priorities. Let us take a good example from the last G20, held last November under the very discredited chairmanship of Saudi Arabia. One of the points was the cancellation of the debt from poor countries, evidently urgent, because of the additional burden of the pandemic that is going to bring disproportionate damage. The Pope, the Secretary-General of the UN, Gutierres, pressed for that decision. All that the G20 was able to do, was to freeze the payment of the interest of the debt, for six months. And here, let us divagate for a useful learning exercise of the Third World Debt, and on the nobility of the rich countries.
If you take a loan that you repay over 20 years at 5%, or a mortgage, of 100, at the end you will have repaid 200. And during the first ten years, all you pay are the interest, and only in the second decade, you start to pay back, progressively, the capital. The result is that the poor countries several times renegotiated their debt and every time what they paid where the interest, to start again. And those interests were cumulative. During that process, they paid several times the amount of the capital that they received. But all that they paid went to the interests… At the university, you learn one good example of the perversity of cumulative interests. The old story is that a Dutch settler, Peter Minuit, bought the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin tribe. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pairs of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. If that amount was put in a loan at 5%with composite interest, it would be by now more than the estimated value of all of Manhattan, which exceeds three trillion dollars. So, the decision of the G20 to freeze interests for six months, amount to nothing. It is interesting to listen to insiders’ voices. The loans of the rich countries are computed in the DAC, Development Assistance Committee, established by OECD (the organizations that gathers all rich countries). The OECD engaged itself, in the old good day of multilateralism, to dedicated 1% of the members’ GDP to the development of the underdeveloped countries. This engagement was never kept, except for the Nordic Countries and Nederland. The US never went over 0,3%. Anyhow, any debt condonation goes into the official statistics of the DAC committee. But new loans are made, by countries that are not in the DAC committee, like China, which has made a very extensive number of loans, especially in Asia and Africa in not public conditions. For the OECD countries (basically the West), to cancel their loans could mean to unleash resources that could go to pay China loans, becoming so China funders. This is a good example of how competing interests, block the G20 from concerted actions.
Decisions on this issue are now expected from the next G20 Summit in Rome, in November. But before, the Global Health Summit, called from the G20 together with the EU in May, will be the occasion to verify what will happen. with vaccinations. But in the same month, Portugal has called for the very important Social Summit of the European Union. Portugal has taken the much more substantial chairmanship of the EU, and this is a very positive contribution to a positive 2021. Portugal is today probably the most civilized country of Europe, a place of tolerance, harmony and civic engagement, much like Sweden in the 80s. And is the only credible country on the issue of immigration. In the Social Summit Lisbon will push to strengthen social Europe, after so many decades of a solely economic Europe. The outgoing German chairmanship was fundamental in abandoning the austerity dogma and move to an unprecedented plan of solidarity and institutional strengthening, made also possible by the blessed departure of England, and its anti-European historical bias. The fact that vaccination is a European plan, and not a hotchpotch of national attempts, is great progress in term of vaccination. And if it will continue on the same path, on the issue of climate control, and technological development, it will recover much trust from the citizens, who felt Brussels an unaccountable institution, far from their priorities. Now the EU deals with unemployment, with the economic and social disaster brought by the virus. It is a tribute to the virtues of multilateralism, solidarity and development. And Portugal will try to complete what the German Presidency was unable to conclude.
But if we look to the obvious need for a world’s vaccination, the reality is much dimmer. Until now the rich countries have bought as many as possible vaccines. f. Europe, with 13% of the world population, has bought 51% of the total production. Israel is a case study. With a population of 9 million people, highly registered and organized in the health system, Netanyahu (who will do everything to stay in power), has bought the vaccines at an extra cost but is fast reaching all the population. Certainly, this cannot be the case of India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, and a very primitive system of health… Even the Pope has launched an appeal for distributing a free vaccine in the poor countries, and India and South Africa (which are a member of the G20), have asked the General Assembly of the World Health Organization for free distribution in poor countries. There has been strong opposition from the rich countries, that have financed at the tune of 10 billion dollars the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which now they buy at market prices, several times higher than those of AstraZeneca… And then those two vaccines use a new technology, whose side effects are still unknown, unlike AstraZeneca, which uses a well-experimented technique.
But even if we take the cheaper vaccines, there is a very basic issue: under which ethical and human logic, patents and money can be made over public goods, as the Pope has repeatedly asked? The patent industry has been patenting seeds, rice, plants, which have been existing for hundreds of years, and those new peasants cannot use them without paying a royalty to the company who patented them. And then the pharmaceuticals tried to patent, parts of the human body… Citizens from several parts of the world have been setting up an association, Agorà for Humankind, that is conducting a campaign, for the elimination of patents and profits over public goods, as they belong to humankind. Also, an international alliance has been set up between the public and private sectors, the General Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, GAVI, which has the task to finance vaccination in 93 middle and poor countries. But funding is still far from coming. As things are now, at the end of 2021, only 30% of humankind will be vaccinated, basically from rich countries.
Yet, if there is something that should make all of us aware that we are in the same boat, is this pandemic. Until at least 70% of all humans will be vaccinated, the virus will continue to strike and kill. The British mutation, much more contagious, is a good example. The country with more cases is now Spain, which has no physical contact with the UK. But it went to Gibraltar, the British colony since 1713 in the South of Spain. And from there spread to the surrounding Spanish villages and towns. Did the realization that viruses does not know borders help to make the new treaty for relations between Gibraltar and Spain? The answer is not really: it is trade. Yet, it does not require a virologist to assume that trade spreads the virus…
So, after this long ride among different subjects, its thread should be clear. We have gone from an era when the lessons of the Second World War created a generation of politicians who made of peace and development the common ground for international relations, even during a very dangerous Cold War. Would Trump, Johnson and Putin be at Yalta, instead of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, the outcome would have been very different. Most probably, we would have had no United Nations, no international organizations. Just think that the US, to push for the creation of the UN, agreed in its founding engagement, to pay 25% of its costs.
Then, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, a profound change came. The interests of my country are more important than international cooperation, and the stronger I am, the more so. Multilateralism, cooperation, went under attack, and so the role of the State, its function of guarantor of social progress, equity and participation. Other organizations started to sprout, and weaken the UN, and the instruments of a social pact, like trade unions. From the spirit of the fall if the Berlin’ Wall, in 1989, a number of clubs of rich countries, like the G7, the G8, the G20, started to substitute the UN, and private clubs, like the World Economic Forum of Davos, attracted more important personalities than the General Assembly of the United Nations.
We are now in a third phase, whose symbol abounds: nationalism, xenophobia, and the illusion that sovereignty is more important than cooperation. Brexit is a notable example. But Trump sets up an unprecedented level of legitimacy to what was once considered the betrayal of civism and democracy: exploit and exasperate the divides of a country, racial, cultural, gender, and run without any compliance to rules and traditions. He is accompanied by a variegated assortment of autocratic, populist, and narcists kind of new political generation: Bolsonaro, Orban, Kacynski, Putin, Modi, Sissi, Nehayanu, Duterte, just to cite the most known, while others, like Salvini, are poised to take the power. The virus, instead of uniting citizens, has further divided them. To wear the mask, is a left-wing declaration, like to worry about the climate, which is a survival’ concern. Military expenses are on a continuous increase. In 2019 they have reached an unprecedented amount of 1917 billion dollars. Enough to solve all problems of food, health and education worldwide. The UN is still the only organization able to provide the world with plans of global significance. Its Agenda 2030 gives a plan for the solution of our most significant problems. It costs a fraction of the military expenses. The G20 has paid some lip services, to Agenda 30, but never anything significant. The new generations of politicians are under general scrutiny, and it is not positive at all… I would say that is representative of our crisis, books still get published on a world of conspiracy, like that the virus is used by Bill Gates to inoculate nanoparticles that will make it possible to control all human bodies, Or myths like the one on Bilderberg Club, one of the private’s clubs meeting, as the place where decisions are taken by a small elite on how to run the world. This, when more than ever is clear that the system has lost its compass, and even the tragedy of climate and soon two million deaths are not able to bring back cooperation and multilateralism… but the explosions of conspiracies is a good sign of the decline of democracy…
So, Italy enters now the chairmanship of the G20. It is a position without any significant weight, with the task to realize a coming Summit, of the head of States, from which nobody expects much. If Trump’s defeat has any significant meaning, by November the political situation could have improved, but we will have a Germany without Merkel, probably more nationalist, and the miraculous social engagement of the European Union, could come to a halt. Italy has a very fragile government, and the dubious distinction of having a very young minister of Foreign Affairs, whose only working experience was to be a steward at Naples’ stadium. On the Health Summit, he does not look particularly commanding respect and authority. This will be Italy’s first test. In May, it will be clear that without vaccination in the world, rich countries will not be out of danger. It should be easy to rally the 20 most important countries of the world, which include India and South Africa, to such obvious actions. But in those times, where interests and selfishness are the reality, it is legitimate to nourish many doubts… Anyhow, if 2021 will not be a year of regeneration and creation, we will be on an irreversible slipping decline… time is running out…
But it looks now like the solution to the problems is beyond the reach of the system…
Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.
The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2
The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3
While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.
The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.
In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.
Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.
According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4
Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth
Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5
Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6
Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.
In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.
The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.
The UN World Data Forum
The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.
The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.
These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.
This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.
The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.
The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.
This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.
Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:
• Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level; • Better ways to communicate data and statistics; • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities; • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms; • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection; • How to secure more funding for data.
The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.
Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.
World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.
To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.
The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.
1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard 2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition 3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020 4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/ 5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020 6 The World Bank
Considered essential to the U.S. economy, as Donald Trump himself now acknowledges, Mexico’s seasonal farmworkers are exposed to the coronavirus pandemic as they work in U.S. fields, which exacerbates violations of their rights, such as wage theft, fraud, and other abuses. CREDIT: Courtesy of MHP Salud
MEXICO CITY, Apr 21 2020 (IPS) – As the high season for agricultural labour in the United States approaches, tens of thousands of migrant workers from Mexico are getting ready to head to the fields in their northern neighbour to carry out the work that ensures that food makes it to people’s tables.
But the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, of which the U.S. has become the world’s largest source of infection, threatens to worsen the already precarious conditions in which these workers plant, harvest, process and move fruits and vegetables in the U.S.
Exposed to illegal charges for visa, transport and accommodation costs, labour exploitation, lack of access to basic services and unhealthy housing, Mexican seasonal workers driven from their homes by poverty must also now brave the risk of contagion.
Evy Peña, director of communications and development at the non-governmental Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Migrant Rights Centre – CDM), told IPS from the city of Monterrey that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating violations of the rights of migrant workers.
“Temporary visa programmes are rife with abuse, from the moment workers are recruited in their communities. They suffer fraud, they are offered jobs that don’t even exist in the United States. It’s a perverse system in which recruiters and employers have all the control. There are systemic flaws that will become more evident now,” the activist said.
In 1943, the United States created H2 visas for unskilled foreign workers, and in the 1980s it established H-2A categories for farm workers and H-2B categories for other work, such as landscaping, construction and hotel staff.
In 2019, Washington, which had already declared them “essential” to the economy, granted 191,171 H-2A and 73,557 H-2B visas to Mexican workers, and by January and February of this year had issued 27, 058 and 6,238, respectively.
Two emergencies converge
Now, the two countries are negotiating to send thousands of farmworkers within or outside of the H2 programme, starting this month, to ensure this year’s harvest in the U.S. The Mexican government has polled experts to determine the viability of the plan, IPS learned.
The migrant workers would come from Michoacan, Oaxaca, Zacatecas and the border states. The plan would put leftist President Andres Manuel López Obrador in good standing with his right-wing counterpart, Donald Trump; generate employment for rural workers in the midst of an economic crisis; and boost remittances to rural areas.
For his part, Trump, forced by a greater need for rural workers in the face of the pandemic and under pressure from agriculture, abandoned his anti-immigrant policy and on Apr. 1 even issued a call for the arrival of Mexican migrant workers.
“We want them to come in,” he said. “They’ve been there for years and years, and I’ve given the commitment to the farmers: They’re going to continue to come.”
U.S. authorities can extend H-2A visas for up to one year and the maximum period of stay is three years. After that, the holder must remain outside U.S. territory for at least three months to qualify for re-entry with the same permit.
On Apr. 15, Washington announced temporary changes allowing workers to switch employers and to stay longer than three years.
A Mexican migrant worker works at a vineyard in California, one of the U.S. states most dependent on seasonal labour from Mexico in agriculture, and which has now urged President Donald Trump to facilitate the arrival of guest workers from that country so crops are not lost. CREDIT: Kau Sirenio/En el Camino
The most numerous jobs are in fruit harvesting, general agricultural work such as planting and harvesting, and on tobacco plantations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Migrant workers traditionally come from Mexican agricultural and border states and their main destinations are agricultural areas where there is a temporary or permanent shortage of labourers.
Jeremy McLean, policy and advocacy manager for the New York-based non-governmental organisation Justice in Motion, expressed concern about the conditions in which migrants work.
The way the system works, “it’s not going to be easy to follow recommendations for social distancing. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to come and won’t be able to follow these recommendations, and they will put themselves at risk. It could spell another wave of infection and transmission,” he warned IPS.
“This population group has no health services and no medical insurance. If they fall ill in a remote area, what help can they get?” he said from New York.
On Mar. 26, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico reported that it would process without a personal interview the applications of those whose visas had expired in the previous two years or who had not received them in that time, under pressure from U.S. agribusiness.
Trapped with no way out
The migrant workers’ odyssey begins in Mexico, where they are recruited by individual contractors – workers or former workers of a U.S. employer, fellow workers, relatives or friends, in their hometowns – or by private U.S. agencies.
Although article 28 of Mexico’s Federal Labour Law, in force since 1970 and overhauled in 2019, regulates the provision of services by workers hired within Mexico for work abroad, it is not enforced.
It requires that contracts be registered with the labour authorities and that a bond be deposited to guarantee compliance. It also holds the foreign contractor responsible for the costs of transport, repatriation, food for the worker and immigration, as well as the payment of full wages, compensation for occupational hazards and access to adequate housing.
In addition, it states that Mexican workers are entitled to social security benefits for foreigners in the country where they are offering their services.
Although the Mexican government could enforce article 28 of the law in order to safeguard the rights of migrant workers who enter and leave the United States under the visa programme, it has failed to do so.
“In Mexico there are still many gaps in the mechanisms for monitoring and inspecting recruitment. There is still fraud,” she told IPS. “How often do they inspect? How do they guarantee that things are working the way they’re supposed to?”
There are 433 registered placement agencies in the country, distributed in different states, according to data from the National Employment Service. For the transfer of labour abroad, there are nine – a small number considering the tens of thousands of visas issued in 2019.
For its part, the U.S. Department of Labor reports 239 licenced recruiters in that nation working for a handful of U.S. companies.
Data obtained by IPS indicates that Mexico’s Ministry of Labour only conducted 91 inspections in nine states from 2009 to 2019 and imposed 12 fines for a total of around 153,000 dollars. Some states with high levels of migrant workers were never visited by inspectors.
Furthermore, the records of the federal labour board do not contain any reports of violations of article 28.
Mexico is a party to the Fee-Charging Employment Agencies Convention 96 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which it violates due to non-compliance with the rights of temporary workers.
Peña stressed that there is still a gap between the U.S. and Mexico in labour protection and said workers are being left behind because of that gap.
“Countries like Mexico see temporary visas as a solution to labour migration and allow the exploitation of their citizens. The H2 programme is about labour migration and governments forget that bilateral solutions are needed,” she said.
In response to the pandemic and its risks, 37 organisations called on the U.S. government on Mar. 25 for adequate housing with quarantine facilities, safe transportation, testing for workers before they arrive in the United States, physical distancing on farms and paid treatment for those infected with COVID-19.
Blanco emphasised the lack of justice and reparation mechanisms. “The more visas issued, the greater the need for oversight. Mexico is perceived as a country of return or transit of migrants, but it should be recognised as a place of origin of temporary workers. And that is why it must comply with international labour laws,” she said.
McLean raised the need for a new U.S. law to guarantee the rights of migrant workers, who are essential to the economy, as underscored by the demand reinforced by the impact of COVID-19.
“We pushed for a law to cover all temporary visa programmes so that there would be more information, to avoid fraud and wage theft. But it is very difficult to get a commitment to immigration dialogue in the United States today,” he said.
But the ordeal that migrant workers face will not end with their work in the U.S. fields, because in October they will have to return to their hometowns, which will be even more impoverished due to the consequences of the health crisis, and with COVID-19 in all likelihood still posing a threat.
One of the continuous protests staged at the Social Summit for Climate Action, meeting Dec. 7-13 parallel to the official 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change. The Summit, hosted by the Complutense University of Madrid, is tackling issues such as the controversial trading of carbon credits, human rights in the climate struggle and opposition to the growing production of hydrocarbons. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS
MADRID, Dec 9 2019 (IPS) – As the COP25 deliberations enter the decisive final week, representatives of environmental and social organisations gathered in a parallel summit are pressing the governments to adopt stronger commitments in the face of a worsening climate emergency.
In the debates in the week-long Social Summit for Climate Action, which began Dec. 7 parallel to the Dec. 2-13 United Nations 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change taking place in Madrid, skepticism has been expressed with respect to the results to come out of the official meeting.
“Nothing good is going to come out of it for Central America, only proposals that are going to make it more vulnerable. The damage is going to become more serious,” Carolina Amaya, representative of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit, told IPS, pointing out that the region is one of the most exposed to the climate crisis, facing persistent droughts, intense storms, rising sea levels and climate migrants.
The social summit is taking place at the public Complutense University, in the west of the Spanish capital, about 15 km from the IFEMA fairgrounds which are hosting COP25 after Chile pulled out on Oct. 30 from holding the event due to massive anti-government protests and social unrest.
The alternative activities, which also end on Friday Dec. 13, include a varied menu of issues, such as free trade and its socioenvironmental impacts, oil drilling in indigenous territories, the protection of forests, and opposition to trading reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which cause global warming.
They are also discussing the monetisation of environmental services, increased funding for the most vulnerable nations, climate justice and attacks against land rights activists.
The Madrid Social Summit is also holding sessions in Santiago de Chile, under the same slogan, “Beyond COP25: People for Climate”, although there are fewer representatives of organised civil society than at previous COPs because of the last minute change of venue.
The demands of civil society gained visibility thanks to the mass demonstration held in Madrid on Friday Dec. 6, with the participation of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the reluctant star of the official conference and social summit.
COP25 is the third consecutive COP held in Europe, this time under the motto “Time to act”.
The deliberations, which enter the crucial phase of the adoption of agreements Tuesday Dec. 10, are focusing on financing national climate policies, rules for emission reduction markets, and the preparation of the update of emissions reductions and funding of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, designed to assist regions particularly affected by climate change.
COP25 is the climate summit that directly precedes the 2020 entrance into effect of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted in the French capital in 2015, which left key areas to be hashed out at the current conference, such as the controversial emissions market.
In their statement to the COP, the organisations criticise the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and mass consumption, blaming it for the climate crisis, and complaining about the lack of results in the UNFCCC meetings.
“The scientific diagnosis is clear regarding the seriousness and urgency of the moment. Economic growth happens at the expense of the most vulnerable people,” says the statement, which defends climate justice “as the backbone of the social fights of our time” and “the broadest umbrella that exists to protect all the diversity of struggles for another possible world.”
At the social summit, the first “Latin American Climate Manifesto was presented on Monday Dec. 9, which lashes out at carbon credit trading, the role of corporations in climate change and the increase in production of hydrocarbons, while expressing support for the growth of agroecology, the defence of human rights and the demand for climate justice.
In addition, indigenous peoples are holding their own meeting, the “indigenous Minga“, with the message “Traditional knowledge at the service of humanity in the face of climate change.” They are demanding respect for their rights, participation in the negotiations and recognition of their role as guardians of ecosystems such as forests.
“We are here to raise our voices and offer our contribution to fight” against the climate emergency, Jozileia Kaingang, a chief of the Kaingang people and a representative of the non-governmental Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, told IPS.
Brazilian indigenous groups are in conflict with the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro because of its attempts to undermine their rights and encourage the commercial exploitation of their territories. In fact, the Brazilian government delegation does not include a single indigenous member – unprecedented in the recent history of the COPs.
Faced with this dispute and the critical situation of the Amazon jungle, Brazil’s indigenous people have sent representatives to Madrid to speak out and seek solidarity.
The murder of two leaders of the Guajajara people in northeastern Brazil on Saturday Dec. 7 shook the indigenous delegation. Two murders had already occurred in that native community in the last two months.
In 2017, the States Parties to the UNFCCC adopted at COP23 the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform for the exchange of experiences and best practices, thereby ensuring the participation of these groups in the negotiations of the convention.
“The agreements are only paper. Emissions continue to rise and countries’ voluntary targets are insufficient. The countries have to be more ambitious if they really want to avoid major disasters,” he told IPS.
Social organizations fear that the Paris Agreement, when it replaces the Kyoto Protocol next year, will be stillborn, because countries are failing to keep their promises, even though scientists are warning that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is insufficient.
The Agreement sets mandatory emission reduction targets for industrialised countries and voluntary targets for developing countries in the South.
“The countries need to know that we’re monitoring them. We, the organisations, must prepare ourselves to demand better action,” said Amaya from El Salvador.
For her part, Brazil’s Kaingang argued that the climate struggle would only be effective if it includes indigenous peoples.
COP26 will be hosted by Glasgow, Scotland in November 2020, after pre-conference meetings in Germany and Italy.
This article was supported by the COP25 Latin American Journalistic Coverage Programme.
Family photo at the opening of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change, taking place in Madrid Dec. 2 to 13. Credit: UNFCCC
MADRID, Dec 2 2019 (IPS) – Tens of thousands of delegates from state parties began working Monday Dec. 2 in the Spanish capital to pave the way to comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change, while at a parallel summit, representatives of civil society demanded that the international community go further.
Pedro Sánchez, acting prime minister of Spain – selected as the emergency host country after the political crisis in Chile forced the relocation of the summit – called during the opening ceremony for Europe to lead the decarbonisation of the economy and move faster to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas generated by human activities.
“Today, fortunately, only a handful of fanatics deny the evidence” about the climate emergency, Sánchez said at the opening of the COP, held under the motto “Time to act” at the Feria de Madrid Institute (IFEMA) fairgrounds.
COP25 is the third consecutive climate conference held in Europe. The agenda focuses on issues such as financing for national climate policies and the rules for emission reduction markets – outlined without specifics in the Paris Agreement, which was agreed four years ago and is to enter into force in 2020.
It will also address the preparation of the update of emissions reductions and funding of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, designed to assist regions particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
In the 1,000 square metres where COP25 is being held, 29,000 people – according to estimates by the organisers – including some 50 heads of state and government, representatives of the 196 official delegations and civil society organisations, as well as 1,500 accredited journalists, will gather until Dec. 13.
But the notable absence of U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not give cause for optimism.
These include the leaders of the countries that produce the most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making their lack of interest in strengthening the Paris Agreement more serious.
On Nov. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he submitted a formal notice to the United Nations to begin the process of pulling out of the climate accord.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during the opening ceremony that “The latest, just-released data from the World Meteorological Organisation show that levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high.
“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”
In its Emissions Gap Report 2019, the U.N. Environment Programme warned on the eve of the opening of COP25 of the need to cut emissions by 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030 in order to stay within the 1.5 degree Celsius cap on temperature rise proposed in the Paris Agreement.
Many delegations admitted that the world is off track to achieving the proposed 45 percent reduction in GHG by 2030 and to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
In fact, delegates pointed out on Monday, emissions reached an alarming 55.3 billion tons in 2018, including deforestation.
One of the hopes is that more countries, cities, companies and investment funds will join the Climate Ambition Alliance, launched by Chile, the country that still holds the presidency of the COP, and endorsed by at least 66 nations, 10 regions, 102 cities, 93 corporations and 12 large private investors.
More than 70 countries and 100 cities so far have committed to reaching zero net emissions by 2050.
Parallel to the official meeting, organisations from around the world are gathered at the Social Summit for Climate under the slogan “Beyond COP25: People for Climate”, which in its statement to the conference criticises the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and mass consumption, blaming it for the climate crisis, and complaining about the lack of results in the UNFCCC meetings.
“The scientific diagnosis is clear regarding the seriousness and urgency of the moment. Economic growth happens at the expense of the most vulnerable people,” says the statement, which defends climate justice “as the backbone of the social fights of our time” and “the broadest umbrella that exists to protect all the diversity of struggles for another possible world.”
The first week of the COP is expected to see the arrival of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has unleashed youth mobilisation against the climate crisis around the world.
In terms of how well countries are complying, only Gabon and Nepal have met their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the mitigation and adaptation measures voluntarily adopted, within the Paris Agreement, to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But these two countries have practically no responsibility for the climate emergency.
The plans of Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and the Philippines involve an increase of up to 2.0 degrees, while the measures of the rest of the countries range from “insufficient” to “critically insufficient”.
Latin America “has to be more ambitious: although progress has been made, the measures are insufficient. We need a multilateral response to the emergency. We have only 11 years to correct the course and thus reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and meet the goal of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global head of Climate and Energy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The Marshall Islands already submitted their NDCs 2020, while 41 nations have declared their intention to update their voluntary measures and 68 nations – including those of the European Union – have stated that they plan to further cut emissions.
In its position regarding the COP25, consulted by IPS, Mexico outlined 10 priorities, including voluntary cooperation, adaptation, climate financing, gender and climate change, local communities and indigenous peoples.