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Trending UN News: Week Ending Nov. 11

At COP27, the UN’s 12-day conference on climate change being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Nov. 7, 2022. Overshadowing the conference, which began on Nov. 6, are not only dire predictions about an unbearably hot Earth but also a human-rights crisis in Egypt’s own backyard: a much-publicized hunger strike by an imprisoned British-Egyptian activist, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, whose family and supporters have been using the COP27 setting to beg the Egyptian government to release him. In an informal aside at COP27, Guterres asked Sisi to set el-Fattah free, the UN said, but he remains in prison and is apparently being force-fed. KIARA WORTH/COP27

This week, world leaders are gathering in Egypt to renew their commitments to sustainable climate conditions. 

You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources. This week, we look at conversations led by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at COP27

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PassBlue influence: Dawn Clancy, one of our regular reporters (the Tweet below, bottom right photo) sat down on Nov. 10 with young policymakers from across the globe attending Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s New York Fall Academy in Manhattan for a roundtable talk on what it’s like to report on the UN — such as meeting with ambassadors. When asked whether it’s challenging to be a woman reporter at the UN, where diplomats are overwhelmingly male, Clancy said: “It’s not only challenging, but it can be quite intimidating. One of my first interviews was with Belarus Ambassador Valentin Rybakov. I actually considered wearing a man’s suit for the interview, thinking that it would level the playing field and show that I was someone to be taken seriously.” She didn’t end up wearing a man’s suit and the interview went well. “I did my research and came prepared to do my job, but in all honestly, it’s still something I think about doing sometimes.” As the oldest political foundation in Germany, FES advances the “core ideas and values of social democracy” through programs and scholarships. (See Clancy’s investigation below on the UN’s problematic reliance on Russian aviation services amid the war in Ukraine.)

Sunday, Nov. 6

• At COP27, a “loss and damage” agenda item was adopted on opening day. As chair of the G77+China coalition, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan announced the step to create an independent finance tool to address loss and damage in developing countries caused by climate change. Sustainable World-AirQualityAsia, a nonprofit organization, noted: “Governments, parliamentarians and experts must now lead the world including the private sector away from carbon to green investments.” The group’s analysis and recommendations on the mechanism.

Monday, Nov. 7

The Decline of Women’s Rights Is Inciting More Gender-Based Violence. Solutions Exist: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, signed by 189 countries in 1995, is still a vital path to ending the world’s gender-based violence. Susana Malcorra, a former top UN official from Argentina, looked at the document for solutions and references a new study showing how women in parliaments can make a huge difference in stopping the GBV scourge. (Coincidentally, in the UN General Assembly, on Nov. 10, the committee on human rights “took action” on a resolution titled “Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls,” presented by France and the Netherlands. The resolution is presented biannually; this year, it is focused on gender stereotypes and negative social norms.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: At COP27, Guterres urged all countries to commit to climate sustenance in line with the 1.5- degree goal established by the treaty under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed in 1992 at the Rio summit. He warned that the world is getting close to the point where our lives will be endangered. He said that developed and developing countries must work together in line with global climate commitments.It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact — or a Collective Suicide Pact,” Guterres added. 

• More COP27: To help place the shipping industry “on a pathway to align with the goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the United States and Norway organized the Green Shipping Challenge, the US State Department announced. It encourages governments, ports and companies to commit to spurring the transition to green shipping. Greenhouse gas emissions from the sector are significant, increasing and on a trajectory “that is not compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” the US said. Compared with country emissions, the sector would rank among the top 10 largest emitters globally.

The “family” portrait of global leaders’ attendance at COP27 provoked a Twitter backlash.

Tuesday, Nov. 8 

• For the UN, the Russian Aviation Problem and the Potential Money Losses Haven’t Gone Away: The Russian-leased aircraft by the UN were grounded earlier this year after Russia breached international aviation law. With no progress made on finding a solution, the UN is feeling the pinch of the grounded planes and helicopters, including a possible loss of $17 million in outstanding aviation contracts with Russia. Dawn Clancy looks at the situation in a follow-up to her investigation in August. 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres continued his call for sustainable climate habits at COP27 during the launching of a report of an expert group on “net-zero commitments of non-state entities.” The report focuses on four areas: environmental integrity, credibility, accountability and the role of governments. Guterres was clear: “Let’s tell it like it is. Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.” 

• Meanwhile, Ferit Hoxha, the ambassador of Albania to the UN, and US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield held a joint interview in Tirana on the two countries’ relationships as Thomas-Greenfield traveled to Eastern Europe this week. (See Nov. 9.) “There’re 15 votes in the Security Council and every vote counts,” she said. “So, Albania’s vote is as important as the American vote. And when we’re in the General Assembly, every single vote is equal. So yes, it may be a small country, but it’s a small country punching way above its weight.”

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados said at COP27 about the rich world’s wealth and high carbon emissions having been won at the cost of poor countries: “Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution?” KIARA WORTH/COP27

Wednesday, Nov. 9

Saeid Iravani: What to Expect From Iran’s New Ambassador to the UN: Iravani, the new envoy, appeared at the Security Council stakeout on Nov. 2 to read remarks about the US-Albanian-led meeting that day at the UN on the violent crackdowns in Iran. Kourosh Ziabari examined the statement that Iravani read to reporters and described the envoy’s background.   

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Karim Elkorany, a former UN employee and an American, to 15 years in prison for sexual assault when he worked at the UN. Stephanie Tremblay, a UN spokesperson for Guterres, said, “We take accountability for misconduct very seriously, and it’s also important to note that we’re constantly trying to improve our approach to both prevent abuse and ensure accountability.” The US mission to the UN issued a press release on the sentencing of Elkorany and acknowledged that in addition to his employment at the UN, he worked for a State Department contractor in 2012 and a State Department grantee in 2010-2011 and that the matter has been referred to the Office of Inspector General for review “to ensure a culture of accountability.” The US also called on the UN to do a similar review “that includes a comprehensive examination of the handling of any sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment (SEAH) allegations against Mr. Elkorany during his employment with the United Nations.” Our item on Elkorany. Christian Saunders, a Briton, heads the UN’s office on improving the organization’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse. — DULCIE LEIMBACH

US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield traveled to Albania, Ukraine and Poland this week. In Kyiv, the capital, she met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and their discussions included the premise of potential peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, with Thomas-Greenfield saying to reporters: “And as for the first question, I think the Ukrainian president spoke for himself when he spoke last night and said that he’s willing to have diplomacy with the Russians, but they have to honor their borders. They have to abide by the UN Charter. They have to remove their troops from this country. And the international community is standing with Ukraine. Ukraine has to be in the driver’s seat, but we certainly support their efforts.” (Relatedly, the UN General Assembly will vote on a draft resolution on Nov. 14 titled, “Remedy and Reparation for Aggression Against Ukraine.”) The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council tweeted on Nov. 8:

Thursday, Nov. 10

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Amina Mohammed, Guterres’s deputy, addressed the Security Council on “Counterterrorism in Africa: An Imperative for Peace, Security, and Development.” She said that nowhere has the threat of terrorism been felt more than in Africa, adding that “senseless, terror-fuelled violence” has killed and wounded thousands of people. She called for “effective multilateral responses,” including addressing the climate emergency, armed conflict, poverty, lawless cyberspace and the uneven recovery from Covid-19. Our story and podcast episode on Ghana’s ambitions as president of the Council this month, such as the Nov. 10 meeting

Nana Akufo-Addo and Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey
Press encounter outside the UN Security Council: President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, with Shirley Botchwey, minister of foreign affairs, Nov. 10, 2022. When he was asked about Twitter closing its only African office, in Ghana, recently, Akufo-Addo called it “unfortunate.” JOHN PENNEY/PASSLBUE

Friday, Nov. 11

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, speaking at the Asean-UN Summit, during which he called on Myanmar authorities “to release all political prisoners and to launch an inclusive process immediately to return to a democratic transition.” President Biden of the US is also scheduled to attend the summit. (The UN spokesperson, Stephanie Tremblay, also clarified that the Global Townhall online event called “Sustaining Peace and Development in a Divided World” that is linked to Myanmar: “I can tell you that the UN had no role in determining participation in the event. That was a matter for the organizers. The UN informed the organizers that its senior officials were no longer in a position to participate.” (The Irrawaddy item on the subject.)

COP27: President Biden announced at Sharm el-Sheikh an updated Methane Emissions Reduction Act Plan, which lays out how the US is meeting the pledge, he said, noting: “We’re investing more than $20 billion in domestic methane mitigation to do things like cap orphan wells leaking methane, improving industrial equipment in the oil and gas sectors to reduce emissions.”

Black Sea Grain Initiative note to correspondents on today’s meeting in Geneva with Rebeca Grynspan, the UN’s trade expert; Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian aid boss; and Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Vershinin and his delegation to provide updates on the July 22 grain deal, which is up for renewal on Nov. 18. According to the UN, the meeting focused on “progress made in facilitating the unimpeded export of food and fertilizers, including ammonia, originating from the Russian Federation to global markets.” The UN team also briefed on steps taken “to facilitate payments, shipping insurance, and access to EU ports for grains and fertilizer, among others” and action on “recently issued General Licenses and shipments of fertilizer to developing countries’ destinations and its ongoing engagement with private sector and member states.” It is anticipated that the first shipment of donated fertilizers will depart for Malawi in the coming week, the note read, though it is unclear who the donor is (Russia has said it will give fertilizers away to poor countries). The UN, it added, “remains committed” to addressing the global fertilizer market crunch where farmers, especially smallholder farmers, “are priced out of production due to high costs.” The UN also called on “all actors to expedite the removal of any remaining impediments to the export and transportation of fertilizers to countries most in need.” The parties “held constructive discussions” on the Black Sea deal’s “continuation.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH

Kristalina Georgieva, head of the International Monetary Fund, at COP27: “The best incentive we have for shifting to low emissions activities is to price carbon. Today, the average global price of carbon is around $5 a ton. If we are to have the incentive that changes investment and consumer behavior, this price must go up to at least $75 a ton by 2030.” KIARA WORTH/COP27

ICYMI:

Volker Turk, the new UN high commissioner for human rights, who is based in Geneva, wrote an open letter to Elon Musk on Nov. 5, expressing concerns about his plans as the new owner of Twitter. Turk raised the issue of protecting “free speech across the globe” as well as free speech not being a “free pass” to spread “harmful disinformation.” He also said the platform should not be a “place for hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence. . . . ” He noted:

• The Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialog received a peace award for its conflict-mediation work.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on COP27 so far?

Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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