Article by Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis in the newspaper “TA NEA Savvatokyriako” on the occasion of the Ministerial Meeting of EU-MED (12.06.2021)

The Ministerial Meeting of Athens heralds a new Euro-Mediterranean policy

The Ministerial Meeting of the Mediterranean Countries of the European Union that Athens had the honor to host yesterday was the first one to have been attended with physical presence in the post-Covid era. We succeeded in agreeing on a Joint Statement, which paves the way for the Summit to be held in September in Chania. At the same time, we have noted that greater cooperation between countries with traditional ties and common challenges is required. Our ambition is to make the Mediterranean dimension of the EU a strong political trend in Europe.

EU-Med brings together powerful, political and naval forces, island countries and states on the continent’s borders.

Representing almost 200 million Europeans, we can make our voices heard louder in Brussels, express and enhance the southern dimension in European policies as well as shape the Future that our peoples demand and deserve.

This future should primarily preserve the marine environment of the Mediterranean. By adopting sustainability policies, we must protect its rich ecosystem from climate change. The answer to its degradation should not be postponed any longer. To this end, a special session was included in the Ministerial Meeting, aimed at the integrated management of its resources through Sustainable Blue Economy.

At the same time, we must ensure that we emerge from the pandemic smoothly, effectively, with joint coordination. We should see to it that vaccination programs be completed successfully and that tourism fuel our countries’ economies again. The Green Digital Certificate – originally proposed by the Greek Prime Minister – was embraced by all Mediterranean countries, as it promotes a strategy for extroversion towards a resilient economic recovery

This recovery should be immediate and without social exclusions. It should guarantee the transition to a resilient Green Digital Economy and allow young people to stay in their own countries. It should strengthen the competitiveness of the Union. The tools are there/ are at our disposal, starting with the emblematic Recovery Fund, which the Southern countries have fought hard for.

The Southern countries should also jointly address security issues. Jointly committed to common political and democratic principles, we should turn the Mediterranean into a place of peace and political stability, based on International Law, the Law of the Sea and good neighbourliness. And that is something that Turkey must also respect. We should demonstrate our solidarity towards Cyprus for a sustainable solution/settlement on the basis of the bi-communal, bi-zonal Federation.

And, of course, we are called upon to guard Europe’s external borders through an integrated migration policy, so that they do not turn into “human landfills”. Europe must primarily set rules at its maritime borders, increase its forces, conclude agreements with third countries for the return of those who are not entitled to international protection, and then show solidarity with refugee host countries. Otherwise, no Immigration Pact could be accepted.

So now it’s time for Europe to invest in its Mediterranean neighbourhood. Greece, as an ancient naval nation situated in the middle of the Mediterranean and in the core of the European Union, has a strategic interest to play a leading role in the new Euro-Mediterranean policy. The first chapter was written in Athens while the next step will be taken in Chania.

‘Demystify’ albinism and end discrimination – UN chief

On International Albinism Awareness Day, Sunday, the UN chief reiterated his “solidarity with persons with albinism”.

Albinism, a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition found in both men and women, presents as a lack of melanin pigmentation in hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light.

As a result` almost all people with albinism are visually impaired and are prone to developing skin cancer.

Secretary-General António Guterres said that this year’s theme, Strength Beyond All Odds, reflects the “resilience, perseverance and achievements” of people with albinism in the face of pervasive “misconceptions, discrimination and violence”. 

Shining a spotlight
While numbers vary, the UN estimates that in North America and Europe one in every 17,000 to 20,000 people have some form of albinism, but in sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is higher.

One in 1,400 Tanzanians have the condition, and in Zimbabwe and select populations in other specific ethnic groups in Southern Africa, the prevalence rises to as high as one in 1,000.

Profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically, people with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide.

They are often the object of superstitious beliefs and myths, which not only foster their marginalization and social exclusion but also lead to various forms of stigma discrimination and violence.

Some centuries old erroneous mythologies still exist in cultural attitudes and practices globally, putting the security and lives of persons with albinism at constant risk.

“Despite these obstacles to well-being and security, leaders of organizations representing persons with albinism continue to work hard to support the most vulnerable”, said Mr. Guterres.

Protect persons with albinism
Meaningful commitments, such as the Plan of Action on Albinism in Africa and the work of the UN independent expert on albinism in promoting the rights of persons with albinism, have encouraged the UN chief that those with the condition are “increasingly taking their rightful place in decision-making platforms around the world”.

Yet, recognizing the “deep need to demystify the condition and end discrimination”, he acknowledged, “much remains to be done”.

The Secretary-General urged all nations and communities to “protect and fulfil the human rights of all persons with albinism and provide necessary support and care”.

In her statement marking the day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, echoed the UN chief’s call for protection.

As the pandemic exacerbates the challenges faced by people with albinism, she pointed out that in some countries, they have been “smeared with names such as ‘corona’ and ‘COVID-19′”, and some have even been “banished from their communities”.

“I call on States and the international community to continue to build and strengthen partnerships with persons with albinism and organizations representing them, to ensure they are included in decision-making that concerns them and to promote their enjoyment of all human rights”, said Ms. Bachelet.

Source: UN News Centre

Turning to sustainable global business: 5 things to know about the circular economy

Due to the ever-increasing demands of the global economy, the resources of the planet are being used up at an alarming rate and waste and pollution are growing fast. The idea of a more sustainable “circular economy” is gaining traction, but what does this concept mean, and can it help save the planet?

1) Business as usual, the path to catastrophe
Unless we make some major adjustments to the way the planet is run, many observers believe that business as usual puts us on a path to catastrophe.

Around 90 per cent of global biodiversity loss and water stress (when the demand for water is greater than the available amount), and a significant proportion of the harmful emissions that are driving climate change, is caused by the way we use and process natural resources.

Over the past three decades, the amount of raw materials extracted from the earth, worldwide, has more than doubled. At the current rate of extraction, we’re on course to double the amount again, by 2060.

According to the International Resource Panel, a group of independent expert scientists brought together by the UN to examine the issue, this puts us in line for a three to six degree temperature increase, which would be deadly for much life on Earth.
2) A circular economy means a fundamental change of direction
Whilst there is no universally agreed definition of a circular economy, the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly, the UN’s flagship environment conference, described it as a model in which products and materials are “designed in such a way that they can be reused, remanufactured, recycled or recovered and thus maintained in the economy for as long as possible”.

In this scenario, fewer resources would be needed, less waste would be produced and, perhaps most importantly, the greenhouse gas emissions which are driving the climate crisis, would be prevented or reduced.

This goes much further than simply recycling: for the circular economy to happen, the dominant economic model of “planned obsolescence” (buying, discarding and replacing products on a frequent basis) would have to be upended, businesses and consumers would need to value raw materials, from glass to metal to plastics and fibres, as resources to be valued, and products as things to be maintained and repaired, before they are replaced.
3) Turn trash into cash
Increasingly, in both the developed and the developing world, consumers are embracing the ideas behind the circular economy, and companies are realising that they can make money from it. “Making our economies circular offers a lifeline to decarbonise our economies”, says Olga Algayerova, the head of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, (UNECE), “and could lead to the creation of 1.8 million net jobs by 2040”.

In the US, for example, a demand for affordable, high-quality furniture, in a country where some 15 million tonnes of discarded furniture ends up in landfill every year, was the spur for the creation of Kaiyo, an online marketplace that makes it easier for furniture to be repaired and reused. The company is growing fast, and is part of a trend in the country towards a more effective use of resources, such as the car-sharing app Zipcar, and Rent the Runway, a rental service for designer clothing.

In Africa, there are many projects, large and small, which incorporate the principles of the circular economy by using existing resources in the most efficient way possible. One standout initiative is Gjenge Makers in Kenya. The company sells bricks for the construction industry, made entirely from waste. The young founder, Nzambi Matee, who has been awarded a UN Champion of the Earth award, says that she is literally turning trash into cash. The biggest problem she faces is how to keep up with demand: every day Gjenge Makers recycles some 500 kilos of waste, and can produces up to 1,500 plastic bricks every day.
4) Governments are beginning to step up
But, for the transition to take hold, governments need to be involved. Recently, major commitments have been made in some of the countries and regions responsible for significant resources use and waste.
The US Government’s American Jobs Plan, for example, includes measures to retrofit energy-efficient homes, electrify the federal fleet of vehicles, including postal vans, and ending carbon pollution from power generation by 2035.

In the European Union, the EU’s new circular economy action plan, adopted in 2020, is one of the building blocks of the ambitious European Green Deal, which aims at making Europe the first climate-neutral continent.

And, in Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa founded the African Circular Economy Alliance, which calls for the widespread adoption of the circular economy on the continent. The Alliance supports African leaders who champion the idea, and creates coalitions to implement pilot projects.
5) Squaring the circle?
However, there is still a long way to and there is even evidence that the world is going backwards: the 2021 Circularity Gap Report, produced annually by the Circle Economy thinktank, estimates that the global circularity rate (the proportion of recovered materials, as a percentage of overall materials used) stands at only 8.6 per cent, down from 9.1 per cent in 2018

So how can the world be made “rounder”? There are no easy answers, and no silver bullet, but Ms. Algayerova points to strong regulation as a big piece of the puzzle.

“I am proud that for the automotive sector, a UN regulation adopted at UNECE in 2013 requires 85 per cent of new vehicles’ mass to be reusable or recyclable. This binding regulation influences the design of around one quarter of all vehicles sold globally, some 23 million in 2019.”

“It’s a step in the right direction, but these kind of approaches need to be massively scaled up across all sectors”, she adds. “Shifting to the circular economy is good for business, citizens and nature, and must be at the heart of a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Source: UN News Centre

Landmark G7 agreement pledges 870 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, half by end-2021

A senior UN official welcomed on Sunday, the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations’ commitment to immediately share at least 870 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, supporting global access and helping to end the acute phase of the pandemic.

“Equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines represents the clearest pathway out of this pandemic for all of us — children included, and commitments announced by G7 members…are an important step in this direction”, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said in a statement.
Building on the momentum of the G20 Global Health Summit and the Gavi COVAX AMC Summit, in a landmark agreement at the G7 Summit – underway in Cornwall, United Kingdom – the global leaders made the pledge, with the aim of delivering at least half by the end of 2021

Secretary-General António Guterres had previously said that despite “unequal and very unfair” access to inoculations, “it is in the interest of everybody that everybody gets vaccinated sooner rather than later”.

The G-7 leaders also reaffirmed their support for the UN-led equitable vaccine distribution initiative COVAX, calling it “the primary route for providing vaccines to the poorest countries”.

Prompt action, please
The COVAX alliance, meanwhile, welcomed the G7’s commitment, including their continued support for exporting in significant proportions and for promoting voluntary licensing and not-for-profit global production.

The partners look forward to “seeing doses flowing to countries” as soon as possible.

COVAX will work with the G7 and other countries that have stepped up to share doses as rapidly and equitably as possible to help address short-term supply constraints currently impacting the global response to COVID-19 and minimize the prospect of future deadly variants.

“We have reached a grim milestone in this pandemic: There are already more dead from COVID-19 in 2021 than in all of last year”, lamented Ms. Fore. “Without urgent action, this devastation will continue”.

Aligning interests
Noting the need for a “ramp up”, in both the amount and pace of supply, the top UNICEF official attested that when it comes to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, “our best interests and our best natures align. This crisis will not be over until it is over for everyone.”

The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, underscored that many countries are facing a surge in cases, without vaccines.

“We are in the race of our lives, but it’s not a fair race, and most countries have barely left the starting line”, he said.

While grateful for the generous announcements of vaccine donations, he stressed, that “we need more, and we need them faster”.

Time of the essence
As many high-income countries begin to contemplate post-vaccination life, the future in low-income countries appears quite bleak.

“We are particularly worried about the surges in South America, Asia and Africa”, said the UNICEF chief.

Moreover, as the pandemic rages, the virus mutates and produces new variants that could potentially threaten the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.

“Donating doses now is smart policy that speaks to our collective best interests”, she continued, adding that in addition to vaccine pledges, “distribution and readiness need clear timelines” as to when they will be available, particularly in countries with poor health infrastructure.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of children, affecting every aspect of their lives: their health, education, protection and future prosperity. Now, more than ever, what we do today will have significant and lasting impact on our collective tomorrows. There is no time to waste”, she concluded.

The G7 is made up of Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, UK and United States.

COVAX was set up by WHO, GAVI the vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to equitably provide COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to all people globally, regardless of their wealth.

Source: UN News Centre