Monday’s Daily Brief: US formally announces climate accord withdrawal, young foreigners stranded in Syria, India toxic smog crisis, Ebola worker death shows frontline risks

4 November 2019

A recap of stories this Monday: UN reaction to US Paris Agreement withdrawal; UNICEF urges repatriation of children stranded in Syria; Public health emergency in India’s New Delhi; Ebola health worker death in DR Congo shows deadly risks; Guinea Bissau crisis, Security Council update; UNEP campaign targets ocean microplastics.

US withdrawal from Paris Agreement to take effect in November 2020

The United States announced on Monday that it was formally beginning the process of withdrawal from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by 193 countries in 2015.

The UN Spokesperson's Office issued a note to correspondents, in reaction to the notice of withdrawal, which came from US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, addressed to the Secretary-General:

“This letter constitutes notification by the United States of America of its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.  Pursuant to Article 28, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement, the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date on which you receive this notification of withdrawal.”

The Spokesperson said the withdrawal of the United States "will take effect on 4 November 2020." President Donald Trump made withdrawal from the Agreement a campaign pledge, although the US signed it in April 2016, and expressed consent to be bound by the deal in September that year.

In a statement from Mr. Pompeo released on Monday he said that in June 2017, President Trump "made the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because of the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement. "

The US is the only one of the signatories to the agreement - to keep CO2 emissions to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels - to announce it is pulling out.  

UNICEF urges governments to repatriate children stranded in Syria

The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is appealing for countries to repatriate scores of foreign children who are stranded in northeast Syria in the wake of the Turkish-launched offensive which began last month.

The agency estimates nearly 28,000 children from more than 60 countries remain trapped in the region, mostly in displacement camps. This includes almost 20,000 from Iraq.

Read our story here.

India’s New Delhi choking on record levels of smog

Unbearable levels of air pollution in India’s capital of New Delhi, declared a public health emergency by the local government as of Monday, have made “the invisible killer, visible”, a UN senior pollution expert has said.  

According to media reports, residents of the capital city are set to suffer record-levels of smog for at least a week, even with emergency measures in place to tackle the problem, with some flights delayed and diverted due to thick smog. 

Valentin Foltescu, Senior Programme Management Officer for the UN Environment Programme in India, UNEP, told UN News that current levels of fine particulate matter, containing unsafe chemicals harmful to human health, are 40 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended level. 

The major contributor is poor farming practices, Mr. Foltsecu explained, with states adjacent to the capital region practicing widespread stubble burning in open fields. In addition, waste mismanagement and heavy traffic are also raising toxicity levels. 

WHO has outlined the detrimental impact of particulate matter pollution, or PM2.5 on humans; stunting children’s brains, and triggering heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease and lung cancers, with an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally linked to ambient air pollution. 

UNEP is working with various sectors in a bid to help reduce the toxic smog in New Delhi and beyond, including Government-led agricultural initiatives, and projects on the ground to eliminate harmful open burning practices.

Ebola emergency chief decries new attacks on frontline staff, after DR Congo worker death

Security measures for staff helping to fight health emergencies need to be stepped up urgently, a UN health agency top official said on Monday, after a frontline Ebola epidemic community worker was reportedly stabbed to death at his home in northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Speaking at a public event in Geneva, Dr Mike Ryan from the World Health Organization (WHO), said that in his 25-year humanitarian career, violence carried out deliberately against health workers and hospitals had never been so bad.

Our full coverage is here.

Council deeply concerned over political developments unfolding in Guinea-Bissau

The UN Security Council on Monday expressed deep concern over Guinea Bissau’s political crisis, following President José Mário Vaz’s decision last week to dissolve the government, including sacking the Prime Minister and appointing new leadership. 

In a Statement, the Council called on all actors to fully respect the response from the regional body of West African States, ECOWAS, which deemed the President’s actions “illegal”, and urged top politicians to reach agreement over a way forward. 

The President’s dismissal and replacement of Prime Minister Aristide Gomes intensified a bitter power struggle between the President and the ruling party just weeks before fresh Presidential elections, set for 24 November. One demonstrator has died, and several have been injured during related political protests.

President Vaz’s term in office expired this June, but under terms agreed with ECOWAS, he will stay in office until this month’s poll, in the hope of being re-elected. 

The Council reiterated its strong support and commitment to the country’s peace process and underscored the urgent need to hold the already-delayed presidential election as agreed and allow for a peaceful transition of power. 

Microplastics, microbeads and single-use plastics poisoning sea life and affecting humans

Each year, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean – equivalent to a full garbage truck dumped into the sea every minute - the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Monday.

Between 60 to 90 per cent of the litter that accumulates on shorelines, the surface and the sea floor is made up of plastic. 

The most common items are cigarette butts, bags, and food and beverage containers. Consequently, marine litter harms over 800 marine species, 15 of which are endangered. And plastic consumed by marine species enters the human food chain through fish consumption.  More here.

Unity, regional cooperation and international support needed for Horn of Africa to develop sustainably

The road ahead “will not be easy” for the Horn of Africa, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said on Monday, briefing the Security Council on her Joint Solidarity Mission with the African Union (AU) at the end of October. 

“The foundations have been laid for a transition from peace to sustainable development”, she said, but building on these “will require unity and cooperation across the region and common ground internationally”. 

Here’s our story.

 

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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Top UN Syria envoy hails ‘impressive’ start to historic talks in Geneva

UN-brokered face-to-face talks between the Syrian Government and opposition – the first to take place in nearly nine years of fighting – to draft a new constitution for the country, will continue into next week, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, said on Friday.

‘Real change’ involving women in peace and security, still too slow, Guterres tells Security Council

The Women Peace and Security agenda must continue to be “one of the top priorities of the United Nations”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Tuesday, in an open debate on how best to accelerate change.