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Innovation continued despite COVID-19: New UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 20 September 2021, Economic Development - Despite the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, the new technology sector continued to thrive and prosper last year, the UN’s intellectual property agency said in a new report published on Monday.

According to the findings of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) latest Global Innovation Index, (GII) governments and enterprises in many parts of the world scaled up investments in innovation, demonstrating an acknowledgement that new ideas are critical for overcoming the pandemic.

“We expected a harsh slump in 2020 of around 3 per cent, however, the GII shows there are reasons to be optimistic… with governments showing foresight and not cutting spending,” Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, WIPO Composite Indicator Research Section and GII co-editor, said at the launch of the report in Geneva.

Uneven impact

WIPO warned however that the impact of the crisis has been highly uneven across industries and countries.

In its annual ranking of the world’s economies on innovation capacity and output, the GII showed that only a few economies, mostly high income, consistently dominate the ranks.

However, the Republic of Korea joined Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, and Britain, to make the top 5 of the GII for the first time in 2021, while four other Asian economies feature in the top 15: Singapore (8), China (12), Japan (13) and Hong Kong, China (14).

Selected middle-income economies, including Turkey, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, are also catching up and progress made last year by France (11) and China (12) are confirmed, as both are now knocking at the door of the GII top 10. 

Showing resilience

According to a new GII feature - the Global Innovation Tracker - technology, pharmaceuticals and biotech industries, boosted their investments during the pandemic and increased their research and development (R&D) efforts.

Top technology companies like Apple, Microsoft and Huawei, increased investment on average about 10 per cent last year, and venture capital investment surged, a trend which is continuing this year, Mr. Wunsch-Vincent said.

In contrast, the transport and travel sectors were heavily hit by containment measures and cut back their outlays. The GII 2021 also shows that technological progress at the frontier holds substantial promise, with the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines being the greatest example.

"In spite of the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many sectors have shown remarkable resilience – especially those that have embraced digitalization, technology and innovation", said WIPO Director General Daren Tang. “As the world looks to rebuild from the pandemic, we know that innovation is integral to overcoming the common challenges that we face and to constructing a better future.” 

Global innovation landscape

The index ranks 132 countries, plus sub-economies such as Hong Kong, and comes a year after WIPO reported that investments in innovation had hit a record high in 2019, showing an average annual profit of 8.5 per cent.

Northern America and Europe continue to lead the global innovation landscape, but, the Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania have been the most dynamic in the past decade and are the only regions closing the gap with the leaders.

According to the report, China is still the only middle-income economy that makes it to the top 30. Bulgaria (35), Malaysia (36), Turkey (41), Thailand (43), Vietnam (44), the Russian Federation (45), India (46), Ukraine (49), and Montenegro (50), do feature in the top 50.

However, only Turkey, Vietnam, India and the Philippines are systematically catching up, Beyond China, these larger economies have the potential to change the global innovation landscape for good, it said.

“The GII shows that although emerging economies often find it challenging to steadily improve their innovation systems, a few middle-income economies have managed to catch up in innovation with their more developed peers", former Dean and Professor of Management at Cornell University, Soumitra Dutta said.

“These emerging economies, among other things, have been able to successfully complement their domestic innovation with international technology transfer, develop technologically dynamic services that can be traded internationally, and ultimately have shaped more balanced innovation systems,” he said.


UNESCO hails return of looted ancient Gilgamesh tablet to Iraq

INTERNATIONAL, 20 September 2021, Culture and Education - The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet - one of the oldest surviving literary works in history - is to be returned to Iraq by the United States later this week, the UN agency for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), said on Monday.

Made of clay and priceless, the Gilgamesh Tablet features inscriptions in Sumerian, a civilisation of ancient Mesopotamia.

The 3,500-year-old treasure was taken from a museum in Iraq after the start of the Gulf War in August 1990.

In 2007, it was introduced fraudulently into the US art market. According to news reports, the artefact was acquired in 2014 by the craft retail chain, Hobby Lobby, for display at the Museum of the Bible, in Washington DC – which is funded by the family of Hobby Lobby’s owner.

The US Department of Justice announced in July, that it was ordering the official handing over of the tablet, as it had entered the US “contrary to federal law”, noting that federal agents had seized the tablet from the museum, in September 2019. 

'Major victory'

It will now be formally returned to Iraq at a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC this Thursday.

“By returning these illegally acquired objects, the authorities here in the United States and in Iraq are allowing the Iraqi people to reconnect with a page in their history”, said UNESCO’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, in a celebratory message. “This exceptional restitution is a major victory over those who mutilate heritage and then traffic it to finance violence and terrorism.”

The Gilgamesh Tablet, a 3,500-year-old tablet from what is now Iraq, is one of the world's oldest works of literature.
The Gilgamesh Tablet, a 3,500-year-old tablet from what is now Iraq, is one of the world's oldest works of literature.

First impressions

The tablet, with its distinctive wedge-like cuneiform impressions, contains sections of a Sumerian epic poem in which the hero, Gilgamesh, recounts his dreams to his mother.

Some of the stories are mirrored by the Old Testament – for instance the reference to the Great Flood - making it one of the world’s oldest known religious texts, UNESCO said.

The UN agency said that another 17,000 artefacts will be returned to Iraq from the US after Thursday’s ceremony.

Destructive approach

According to Interpol, there has been a considerable global increase in the destruction of cultural heritage owing to armed conflict in the past decade.

UNESCO noted that the authorities in the United States, which represents an estimated 44 per cent of the global art market, have made significant progress in tackling stolen artefacts in recent years.

With the help of improved legislation and the assistance of key cultural institutions, the US Antiquities Trafficking Unit has helped to return valuable items to the people of Pakistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka already this year, the UN agency said. 

“The United States deeply values the cultural heritage of Iraq,” said Stacy White, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State, who will speak at the Smithsonian event.

“We have worked for nearly 20 years with Iraqi counterparts and American academic and non-profit institutions to protect, preserve and honour the rich cultural heritage of Iraq.”



Week talks fail to reach breakthrough on forming a new coalition

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Talks on forming a new government will resume a week on Monday after informal meetings this weekend failed to produce concrete results.

Chief negotiator Johan Remkes told reporters on Sunday that the talks between the VVD, D66 and the CDA had been ‘good’, but complicated by the events of last week.

D66 leader and foreign affairs minister Sigrid Kaag stood down on Thursday after MPs passed a motion of censure against her, for her role in the shambolic Dutch evacuation from Kabul.

Dozens if not hundreds of people were left behind, who should have been brought out. CDA defence minister Ank Bijleveld, who first said she would stay on the job, resigned a day later, which CDA officials saying they had been taken by surprise by Kaag’s decision.

Remkes he said he still felt the three parties could work together fruitfully but that there had not been a breakthrough. ‘If I had been full of confidence that this would take off, then I would have been standing here differently,’ he said.

‘It is all taking too long.’ Remkes has been charged by parliament with looking into the option of a minority cabinet.

Concrete plans

Prime minister Mark Rutte said after the talks that they had been ‘very intensive’ and that the atmosphere was ‘excellent’. The three parties wanted to work together but they had not yet managed to make concrete agreements, he said.

“We still have to talk about the precise form and the conditions,’ the prime minister told reporters.


During the coming week, Sophie Hermans, who leads the VVD in parliament, will hold talks with other parties in the ‘political middle’ about potential changes to the caretaker government’s budget, which will be submitted on Tuesday.

The budget is a holding one, given the government is acting in a caretaker capacity but ‘everyone realises that the door to GroenLinks, the Labour party and ChristenUnie must remain open,’ Rutte said.

MPs will debate the budget, and submit their own proposals for change, on Wednesday and Thursday.



UN chief's message to world leaders: ‘Wake up, change course, unite’

INTERNATIONAL, 19 September 2021, UN Affairs - In a wide-ranging interview with UN News, Secretary-General António Guterres is calling on world leaders to ‘wake up’, make an immediate course correction at home and abroad, and unite. 

“The institutions we have, have no teeth. And sometimes, even when they have teeth, like in the case of the Security Council, they have not much appetite to bite”, the UN chief said. 

With only a few days until the 76th session of the General Assembly kicks of its high-level week, Mr. Guterres sat down with UN News to answer questions on a host of topics, from the COVID-19 pandemic, to gender equality.  

He called for an equitable global vaccination plan, with variants continuing to appear, that at some point, might become resistant to current innoculations. “And on that day, nobody will be safe, in the south and in the north, not even in the countries where everybody was vaccinated,” he said.  

On Afghanistan, he argues that the situation is “unpredictable” and warned: “What happened in Afghanistan, might embolden now, terrorist groups or other rebel movements to become more aggressive.” 

The UN Chief also highlighted climate change, saying the world is “on the verge of the abyss” and asked all Member States to make the next UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, a success.  

The interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

UN News: In your recent report on Our Common Agenda, you singled out multilateralism as the best tool for rebuilding a sustainable world in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why do you hold this strong conviction that multilateralism is the only sure way forward for our world today? 

António Guterres: Well, look what has happened to our world; a virus has defeated the world. More than one year and a half after everything started, we still have the virus spreading everywhere. And we see a dramatic impact on the lives of people, a dramatic increase of inequalities, economies in extremely difficult situations, and of course, the most vulnerable suffering enormously. 

The world was not able to come together and to define a global vaccination plan, and bring the countries that can produce vaccines together, with the World Health Organization, with the international financial institutions, to then deal with the pharmaceutical industry and double the production, and make sure that there is an equitable distribution at the production. This cannot be done by a country alone; it needs to be done by all. 

The problem is that the multilateral institution we have now - which is essentially WHO - WHO has not even the power to obtain information about the situation. It does not have the power to investigate the origins of a disease. 

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited the low-lying island of Tuvalu in May 2019 to see how Pacific Ocean nations would be effected by the rise in sea levels.
UN Photo/Mark Garten
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited the low-lying island of Tuvalu in May 2019 to see how Pacific Ocean nations would be effected by the rise in sea levels.

So, we need to solve the problem multilaterally, bringing everybody together, but we need to have multilateral institutions with a stronger capacity of governance in order to be able to prevent, and in order to be able to solve the challenges that we face. 

If you talk about climate, it is the same. We are on the verge of the abyss. The truth is that our objective is very clearly fixed by the scientific community, that temperature should not go above 1.5 degrees until the end of the century.  

We are risking not to be able to do it, because countries are not cooperating among themselves. There is a lot of mistrust between developed countries, developing countries. There is a north-south divide that is making it difficult for all to assume commitments, to reduce emissions, in order to have a drastic reduction the next decade or two and reach carbon neutrality in 2050. 

So, we need a strengthened multilateralism, it's clear that only cooperating we can solve the problems. But the institutions we have, have no teeth. And sometimes, even when they have teeth, like in the case of the Security Council, they have not much appetite to bite.  

We need a multilateral group of institutions network working together, because everything now is interlinked, and with more authority in order to be able to mobilize the whole international community to solve the problems that we face. 

And that is exactly one of the objectives of the Common Agenda – to detect the global commons and the global public goods that need improved governance and to work with member states to find mechanisms in order for that governments to be more effective for us to be able to prevent future pandemics, for us to be able to defeat climate change, for us to be able to address the dramatic inequalities in today's world. 

UN News: Let us now focus on COVID-19. You have been insisting that no one is safe until everyone is safe, but the reality is different, especially in Africa, where less than 2% of the people are vaccinated and in many parts of the world vaccines are not being used. What must be done for developed or richer nations to accept and act on the fact that the fight against COVID-19 can only succeed as a common global enterprise? 

António Guterres: Well, as I said, we need the global vaccination plan, and we need to be able to bring together all those that produce or can produce vaccines and double the production and then have an equitable distribution. 

This has been clearly our appeal, unfortunately, not yet met. And the result is what you said. 

It is mutating, it is changing and there is a risk that, at a certain moment, one of these mutations will bring a virus that is able to resist the vaccines that now are applied.  

I mean, my country [Portugal], that has been very successful, now has 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.  In Africa, as you mentioned, there are countries with less than two per cent.  

And the problem is this virus is spreading like wildfire in the global south. It is mutating, it is changing and there is a risk that, at a certain moment, one of these mutations will bring a virus that is able to resist the vaccines that now are applied.  

And that day, nobody will be safe in the south and in the north, not even in the countries where everybody was vaccinated. 

So this is a reason to understand that the priority must be to vaccinate everybody everywhere. And that is why we made an appeal for all the measures to be taken in order to guarantee that 70 per cent of the population of the world will be vaccinated in the middle of next year. 70 per cent in an equitable way, not one percent in one place and 20% in another. 

UN News: Let's turn now to Afghanistan where the situation is a huge concern, especially for women. The new Taliban [leadership] does not have a single woman in it and most ethnic groups have also been left out. What broad strategy do you think the UN and its partners should adopt to best help the people of Afghanistan now? 

António Guterres: Well, the situation is unpredictable. We all want Afghanistan to have inclusive government. 

We all want Afghanistan to respect human rights especially of women and girls. We all want Afghanistan never to be again a centre for terrorists, to have a safe haven; we all want Afghanistan to fight drug trafficking, but it is difficult to forecast what's going to happen. It's still unclear what's going to happen.  

I think that UN has a duty, and our duty is to engage, to engage based on what we can deliver, and what we can deliver is essential humanitarian aid, at the present moment, and to engage in order to explain to the Taliban how important it is for them to have an inclusive government of all the different ethnicities, and,  of course, with women, to have women and girls’ rights respected. 

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, discusses humanitarian issues with the leadership of the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, discusses humanitarian issues with the leadership of the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Women must be able to work, girls must be able to have all levels of education, and, at the same time, to cooperate with the international community fighting terrorism in an effective way. So, we need to engage with the Taliban, and that's what we have done. 

As you know, we have sent Martin Griffiths, our Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to go to Kabul and to speak with the Taliban leadership on how can we deliver humanitarian aid or how it can be done in a safe environment or in an equitable way in which there are no discriminations of any kind? And, at the same time, to engage with them on the other aspects that I mentioned, about human rights and other forms of cooperation that are essential? So, we need to engage. We don't know how things will develop, but we know that if we don't engage, they will probably go in the wrong direction. 

And then we need to mobilize international community to provide humanitarian aid. The Afghan people are suffering so much. It is vital to bring to the Afghans, food, medicine and other basic forms of support to avoid a catastrophic situation in the country.  

And the other concern we have is, because of all the different measures and sanctions that exist, that there is a risk of completely strangling the economy.  

So, I think the international community must find ways to inject some cash in the Afghan economy in order to avoid the collapse of the economy, that will have devastating consequences in relation to the life of Afghans, and also provoking a massive exodus that, of course, will be a factor of instability in the whole region. 

Power today in the world is still essentially concentrated on men and with the male dominated culture.  

UN News: In many countries around the world, women are still left behind on multiple fronts. You've done a lot to advance the issue of gender parity here in the United Nations. But many critics charge that the UN should be driving this agenda more forcefully. What actions do you wish to see implemented to ensure that gender equality is a reality by 2030? 

António Guterres: Well, there are many dimensions. Of course, the representation of women in the different organs of the UN, and also at a national and international level; the questions of a support to women entrepreneurs and the economic empowerment of women fighting gender-based violence. That is still, as you know, a terrible situation in conflict areas, but at home, in many, many circumstances, abolishing all discriminatory legislation that still exists in many countries where full equality between women and men are not in the law. 

So, all these things are priorities for us, but there is a central question, which is a question of power. Power today in the world is still essentially concentrated on men and with the male dominated culture.  

And power is usually not given, power is taken. So, we need women to fully fight for their rights and we need men that understand that only with full gender equality, the world will improve and the problems we solved. 

We need those men, to engage effectively in the fight for gender equality. And on this question of power in the UN, as you know, we have now parity, equal number of women and men in 180 high ranking offices of the UN and in the leaders of our teams around the world, because we feel that if in the organs where the power exists, there is parity, this will inevitably have consequences, down the line. 

So, we must have the same in governments, we must have the same in parliaments, we must have the same in all bodies.  

We need to have women and men in full equality where decisions are taken, where power exists, to make sure that we change this unbalanced power relationship, that is the result of centuries of male domination and patriarchy. 

UN News: Another marginalized group is youth, and you have been calling for everyone to provide youth a seat at the table, as nation strive to build an inclusive and equitable world for all. What would you like to see the youth themselves do to make sure that they get that opportunity? 

António Guterres: I think young people now have enormous instruments to come together and to make their voice heard. 

Young people dominate social media much more than my generation. Young people have an enormous capacity of mobilization as we have seen in the movements against racism, against climate change, against inequalities of different sorts, the movement for gender equality, where the young generation is extremely progressive in relation to the older ones. 

So, we need to create the institutional mechanisms to allow for the voice of young people to be more present where decisions are taken. 

And that is the reason why, again, in the Common Agenda, we have a number of important measures to give young people voice and influence in the way the UN works. 

UN News: Let's focus now on Africa, on the issues of conflict. You've warned recently that events in Afghanistan could also influence what happens next in certain volatile hotspots in Africa, in particular where extremist ideology is driving conflict. Could you please explain how you see this? 

António Guterres: If one looks at a situation like the Sahel, I am very worried. We see a reduction of the French presence. We have seen Chad moving troops from the most dangerous area. 

We see the terrorist groups emboldened by the situation in Afghanistan, the victory of the Taliban. And so, I think it's time to really rally efforts, to make sure that we create an effective security mechanism in the Sahel. 

What happened in Afghanistan, might embolden terrorist groups now, or other rebel movements to become more aggressive

That is why I've been always advocating for a strong African force by the African union together with the regional organizations, with support from the Security Council and a Chapter 7 resolution [the means by which the Security Council can authorize the use of force], and with contributions, mandatory contributions, to guarantee that force will be effectively supported. 

But then we also know that military force is not enough. We need to have development, we need to fight the impact of climate change, and we need to do everything to improve the governance of the area. 

So, we need really to boost our efforts and I appeal to the international community to fully support it in the different dimensions. 

In the security dimension, in the development dimension, in the humanitarian dimension, in the governance and human rights dimensions. And if we do it, we will be able to defeat terrorism in the Sahel. 

But if we keep the same situation we have today, I'm very worried about that development. And the same can be said about other parts of Africa, where what happened in Afghanistan, might embolden terrorist groups now, or other rebel movements to become more aggressive. 

UN News: And on global security, as the world continues to grapple with more security threats - of course, you spoke about the issue of extremism, and other forms of conflicts, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. What more can the UN do to make the world a more secure place? 

António Guterres: Well, the biggest problem today is the lack of trust. And especially the lack of trust among the big powers. You see that in the difficulties of the Security Council to take adequate decisions with the rest of the different crisis in the world. 

And so, with this division, with this divide among the big powers with this lack of trust, what we see is an environment of impunity, people think they can do whatever they want.  

UN Secretary-General António Guterres holds a virtual conversation about climate action with youth activists Paloma Costa from Brazil (left on screen) and Marie Christina Kolo from Madagascar.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
UN Secretary-General António Guterres holds a virtual conversation about climate action with youth activists Paloma Costa from Brazil (left on screen) and Marie Christina Kolo from Madagascar.

So, we need to rebuild trust, and we need to rebuild trust among those that have more influence in world affairs to be able to cooperate in order to make sure that we are able to unite the international community in addressing the crises that are multiplying now. 

We see more coup d’états, we see new situations of conflict, we see social instability and unrest. 

We need to have a Security Council that is united, that is strong. And for that, we need a serious dialogue among the big powers to try to find common ground. 

UN News: The general debate is next week, Mr. Secretary-General, what is your key message the world leaders as they're coming next week? 

António Guterres: My main message: It's time to ring the alarm bell. We are on the verge of a precipice and we are moving in the wrong direction. 

Look at [COVID-19] vaccination, look at the difficulties in bringing together all countries to make sure that we make COP26 a success. 

Look at the multiplication of conflicts we have witnessed in the last few months. We need to change course, and we need to wake up. So, my message to the leaders: Wake up, change course, unite, and let's try to defeat the enormous challenges we are facing today. 


Struggling economies, widening inequality and millions vulnerable: the urgent need for vaccine equity

INTERNATIONAL, 19 September 2021, Health - Health leaders agree that a world without COVID-19 will not be possible until everyone has equal access to vaccines. More than 4.6 million people have died from the virus since it swept across the globe from the beginning of 2020, but it’s expected that the rate of people dying will slow if more people are vaccinated. 

Developed countries are far more likely to vaccinate their citizens, which risks prolonging the pandemic, and widening global inequality. Ahead of a dialogue at the UN on Monday between senior United Nations officials UN News explains the importance of vaccine equity.

What is vaccine equity?

A 76-year-old man shows his vaccination card after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Kasoa, Ghana.
© UNICEF/Francis Kokoroko
A 76-year-old man shows his vaccination card after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Kasoa, Ghana.

Quite simply, it means that all people, wherever they are in the world, should have equal access to a vaccine which offers protection against the COVID-19 infection.

WHO has set a global target of 70 per cent of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid-2022, but to reach this goal a more equitable access to vaccines will be needed.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said vaccine equity was “not rocket science, nor charity. It is smart public health and in everyone’s best interest.”

Why is it so important?

The mother of a family from an indigenous group in Brazil receives a COVID-19 inoculation.
The mother of a family from an indigenous group in Brazil receives a COVID-19 inoculation.

Apart from the ethical argument that no country or citizen is more deserving of another, no matter how rich or poor, an infectious disease like COVID-19 will remain a threat globally, as long as it exists anywhere in the world.

Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving millions or billions of people vulnerable to the deadly virus, it is also allowing even more deadly variants to emerge and spread across the globe.

Moreover, an unequal distribution of vaccines will deepen inequality and exaggerate the gap between rich and poor and will reverse decades of hard-won progress on human development.

According to the UN, vaccine inequity will have a lasting impact on socio-economic recovery in low and lower-middle income countries and set back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UNDPeight out of ten people pushed into poverty directly by the pandemic are projected to live in the world’s poorest countries in 2030.

Estimates also suggest that the economic impacts of COVID-19 may last until 2024 in low-income countries, while high-income countries could reach pre-COVID-19 per capita GDP growth rates by the end of this year.

Is it working?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 (15 September, 2021)
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 (15 September, 2021), by WHO

Not according to Dr Tedros, who said in April this year that “vaccine equity is the challenge of our time…and we are failing”.

Research suggests that enough vaccines will be produced in 2021 to cover 70 per cent of the global population of 7.8 billion. However, most vaccines are being reserved for wealthy countries, while other vaccine-producing countries are restricting the export of doses so they can ensure that their own citizens get vaccinated first, an approach which has been dubbed “vaccine nationalism”. The decision by some nations to give already inoculated citizens a booster vaccine, rather than prioritizing doses for unvaccinated people in poorer countries has been highlighted as one example of this trend.

 Still, the good news, according to WHO data, is that as of September 15, more than 5.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide, although given that most of the available vaccines require two shots, the number of people who are protected is much lower.

Which countries are getting the vaccines right now?

Put simply, the rich countries are getting the majority of vaccines, with many poorer countries struggling to vaccinate even a small number of citizens.

According to the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity  (established by UNDP, WHO and Oxford University) as of September 15, just 3.07 per cent of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose, compared to 60.18 per cent in high-income countries.

The vaccination rate in the UK of people who have received at least one vaccine dose is around 70.92 per cent while the US is currently at 65.2 per cent. Other high-income and middle-income countries are not doing so well; New Zealand has vaccinated just 31.97 per cent of its relatively small population of around five million, although Brazil, is now at 63.31 per cent. However, the stats in some of the poorest countries in the world make for grim reading. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo just 0.09 per cent of the population have received one dose; in Papua New Guinea and Venezuela, the rate is 1.15 per cent and 20.45 per cent respectively.

Find more country specific data here.

What’s the cost of a vaccine?

A nurse holds a dose of vaccine at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
© UNICEF/Raphael Pouget
A nurse holds a dose of vaccine at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Data from UNICEF show that the average cost of a COVID-19 vaccine is $2 to $37 (there are 24 vaccines which have been approved by at least one national regulatory authority) and the estimated distribution cost per person is $3.70. This represents a significant financial burden for low-income countries, where, according to UNDP, the average annual per capita health expenditure amounts to $41.

According to the vaccine equity dashboard, without immediate global financial support, low-income countries would have to increase their healthcare spending by a staggering 57 per cent to meet the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of their citizens.

What has the UN been doing to promote a more equitable access to vaccines?

A delivery of COVID-19 vaccination doses provided through the COVAX Facility is checked in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
© UNICEF/Arlette Bashizi
A delivery of COVID-19 vaccination doses provided through the COVAX Facility is checked in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

WHO and UNICEF have worked with other organizations to establish and manage the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, known as COVAX. Launched in April 2020, WHO called it a “ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines”.

Its aim is to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world based on need and not purchasing power.

Currently, COVAX numbers 141 participants according to the UN-supported Gavi alliance, but it’s not the only way that countries can access vaccines as they can also make bilateral deals with manufacturers.

Will equal access to vaccines bring an end to the pandemic?

Students at a school in Cambodia are studying despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
© UNICEF/Antoine Raab
Students at a school in Cambodia are studying despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a crucial step, obviously, and in many richer countries, life is getting back to some sort of normality for many people, even if some pandemic protocols are still in place. The situation in less developed countries is more challenging. While the delivery of vaccines, provided under the COVAX Facility, is being welcomed across the world, weak health systems, including shortages of health workers are contributing to mounting access and distribution challenges on the ground.

And equity issues don’t disappear once vaccines are physically delivered in country; in some nations, both rich and poor, inequities in distribution may still persist.

It’s also worth remembering that the imperative of providing equal access to health care is, of course, not a new issue, but central to the Sustainable Development Goals and more precisely, SDG 3 on good health and well-being, which calls for achieving universal health coverage and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

SDG Moment

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Achim Steiner, the head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP, and Vera Songwe, who runs the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) will take part in a conversation on vaccine equity as part of the SDG Moment. Watch here on UN Web TV.


Giant eco-friendly artwork set to inspire world leaders during the UN General Assembly

INTERNATIONAL, 18 September 2021, SDGs - The 11,000 square meters ‘ephemeral fresco’ was created by Swiss artist Saype. It shows two children building the world of the future and represents, among other messages, the participation of young people in the United Nations. 

World in Progress II is perfectly suited to our time and place. First, it is, in all senses, a big picture.  Both its execution and its subject are monumental and ambitious.  We have to take several steps back, just to view it in its entirety.  Then we understand that it shows two children, designing their ideal world together”, said on Saturday UN Secretary General during the unveiling ceremony.

Antonio Guterres explained that, just like the artwork, the United Nations’ mission extends far beyond what we can see around us. “Most of it lies out of our view. Our work is multilateral, and multi-generational. And each of us plays an essential part in creating the whole”, he added.

The giant fresco made by artist Saype represents peace and youth participation.
Valentin Flauraud for Saype
The giant fresco made by artist Saype represents peace and youth participation.

Earth-friendly art

Guillaume Legros, or “Saype”, an artist name inspired by the contraction of the words “say” and “peace”, is famous for its invention of an eco-friendly painting process. His special technique allows him to create huge frescoes directly on the grass.

“In two weeks, there will be nothing left due to the regrowth of the grass. This makes the work disappear, even more than the rain”, he explained to UN News, adding that he spent more than a year finding the right pigments for his ephemeral art.

Saype had already shared one of his creations at UN premises before. Last year, World in Progress I was unveiled during the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary in Geneva, Switzerland.

“In the centre, there is a dove that symbolizes peace. The basic idea is that on the one hand when talking about children, we ask ourselves what responsibility we have towards them. But, on the other hand, they are the ones who will have the world of tomorrow in their hands. This means that we must really learn to live together in a world that is also hyper-connected”, he said.

Swiss-French artist Saype (Guillaume Legros) poses in his giant ephemeral landart painting.
Valentin Flauraud for Saype
Swiss-French artist Saype (Guillaume Legros) poses in his giant ephemeral landart painting.

A call to world leaders

For the UN chief, the children depicted in World in Progress II are designing our shared future. 

“This year’s General Debate will take up this theme, focusing on the world we are building together. My recent report on Our Common Agenda recommends new ways for today’s decision-makers to better serve both young people, and future generations”.

Mr. Guterres said he was hopeful that world leaders will take inspiration from Saype’s art to consider how “we can look beyond our immediate surroundings, while respecting nature and our planet”.


FROM THE FIELD: Haiti’s gruelling post-quake road to recovery

INTERNATIONAL, 18 September 2021, Humanitarian Aid - Thousands of Haitians continue to take refuge in neighbours’ houses, makeshift shelters, chapels or informal displacement sites, a month after a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the west of the Caribbean island where they live. That’s according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) which has been assisting in recovery efforts. 
Thousands of people have been displaced after tens of thousands of homes collapsed or were damaged.
Thousands of people have been displaced after tens of thousands of homes collapsed or were damaged., by IOM/Monica Chiriac

According to official figures, more than 2,200 people died and over 12,000 were injured in the quake. Nearly 53,000 buildings collapsed, and another 77,000 were severely damaged, while key transport infrastructure was also badly impacted. All this as Haiti continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The country is suffering from a series of crises; the assassination of its sitting president in July has caused political instability and widespread insecurity, while thousands of people had already been displaced before the earthquake by gang violence and devastating tropical storms. 

Read more here, about how IOM is working alongside the Haitian Government to provide for those most in need. 


First Person: A life dedicated to indigenous rights in Brazil

INTERNATIONAL, 18 September 2021, Human Rights - For almost 30 years, Brazilian activist Joenia Wapixana, has been fighting for indigenous land rights and against “institutionalized discrimination” in Brazil. In a special interview with UN News, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, she says it’s time to dedicate more resources to this fight.

“My name is Joenia, I am a member of the Wapixchana indigenous tribe. 

My second education, as I always say, was the indigenous movement, working with indigenous organizations. And, above all, fighting for the collective rights of communities. 

Society needs to understand that discrimination against the indigenous has always existed in Brazil. 

There is discrimination against indigenous people who are not recognized or even respected. 

You can look through the available data on discrimination. Most of it is just about the Afro-descendant population, but not about the indigenous people. There is no data on this. Most studies do not address the issue of discrimination [against indigenous peoples]. 

So, when you see someone, such as a minister saying that indigenous people cannot wear Nike because that would conflict with indigenous customs; or criticizing an indigenous woman who uses an iPhone, as if this would take away her indigenous identity; or not recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples as Brazilian citizens, this is a kind of institutionalized discrimination. 

Joenia Wapixana:

Joenia Wapixana With a law degree from the Federal University of Roraima, Ms. Wapixana has been advocating on behalf of indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon since the 1990s.

In 2018, at the end of a long campaign, financed at the grassroots level by crowdfunding, she became the first indigenous woman elected to Brazil’s federal parliament.

In that same year, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Prize, a high profile award whose previous winners have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.

After taking the “Raposa Serra do Sol” land dispute to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Wapixana became the first indigenous lawyer to argue and win a case before the Supreme Court of Brazil.

I believe that when a person has suffered racial discrimination, or is suffering from racism, it is necessary to protect them with the fullest extent of the law. Report the incident, even if nothing comes of it. It is important for us to create a record of this phase that we are going through. 

The Conference should also hold discussions on the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the debate on public policy, because it is essential to include in the fight the specific needs of the various groups. 

Resources and not just legislation [should be made available]. Because from the moment you recognize the problem, but you don't have the structure in place to solve it with the financial resources to implement [the policy], you will end up suffering from the same discrimination, and in the same situation that you faced at the first Conference.”   

This article is one of a series of multimedia features published as part of the commemorations surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the UN’s Durban Declaration, considered to be a milestone in the global fight against racism. 


Counting on youth, for an ‘equitable and sustainable world for all’

INTERNATIONAL, 17 September 2021, Peace and Security - At a virtual event on Friday commemorating the International Day of Peace, the UN chief saluted the “voices, vision and commitment of young people in shaping a more peaceful world”.

You are leaders, changemakers and advocates in our societies”, he told assembled youth online, “speaking out against violence, discrimination and inequalities” and calling for an end to conflicts worldwide, while also “leading the charge for urgent action on climate”.

Secretary-General António Guterres was attending the virtual 2021 Youth Observance, on the theme of Recovering Better for a Sustainable and Equitable World.

The UN’s asks

Mr. Guterres asked young people to support the UN’s call for a global 24-hour ceasefire, “and for all parties to conflict to commit to a lasting, sustainable peace”.

He also urged youth to “keep pushing governments and other leaders to close the vaccine gap between rich and poor countries”.

And finally, to keep sounding the alarm on the climate emergency engulfing our planet.

“As we seek peace among and within nations, we need to seek peace with our planet, too”, he said. “Extreme weather, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and polluted air and water threaten our very existence”.

In closing he asked for young people to help the world “recover better and stronger”.

“Thank you for celebrating peace with us today, and every day. I count on your continued support as we work together to build a more equitable and sustainable world for all”, concluded the UN chief.

Voices of youth

After delivering his message, Mr. Guterres spoke online to youngsters from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), United States and Central African Republic (CAR).

Dyuthi Vasupal, from the UAE, noted the negative repercussions that COVID has had for education, especially for girls, and asked how school systems can bridge the many challenges still being faced, and help young people with “the means, access and opportunities”, to create an equitable society.

Mr. Guterres answered that because education is “the most important equalizer” in the world, it must be a priority for all governments and international organizations and that schools must be able to “adapt, to be able to change and be successful in a world that is in constant progress”.

Messengers of Peace

UN Messengers of Peace took the floor, including celebrated Japanese American violinist Midori, and students from the Chamber Music Institute performed a stirring rendition of Vivaldi’s “Spring” from the Four Seasons.

Award-winning Brazilian author Paulo Coelho emphasized that “respect is the most important thing that we have”. In an upbeat assessment, he acknowledged that while the world “cannot change overnight…little by little” it will get back on track.

British conservationist and ground-anthropologist, Jane Goodall, said that in a world full of conflict and suffering, young people are her “greatest hope”.

“They understand that nature is suffering, that we must find ways to protect forests and other ecosystems…to ban wildlife trafficking…reduce the unsustainable lifestyles of the wealthy and alleviate”, she said.

Ms. Goodall maintained that when millions of people make even small ethical choices in how they live every day, this cumulatively moves us towards a better world.

“We are all part of one human family…We need to get together and take action now, before it’s too late”, she added.

Crisis point for humanity

In a broader message marking the International Day of Peace, Mr. Guterres warned that humankind faces “a stark choice between peace and perpetual peril”, saying “we must choose peace”.

He painted a grim picture of COVID-19 turning the world “upside-down” and conflicts “spinning out of control” amidst a worsening climate emergency and deepening inequality and poverty.

The UN chief upheld however, that the world can tackle these issues “by working in solidarity for a lasting, sustainable peace every day”.

We need peace to level the playing field and reduce inequalities…to renew trust in one another — and faith in facts and science – and we need to make peace with nature to heal our planet, build a green economy, and achieve our net-zero targets”, he spelled out.

The Secretary-General said that “peace is not a naïve dream” but “a light in the darkness”, guiding us to “the only pathway to a better future for humanity”.

Let’s walk the pathway of peace as if our lives depended on it. Because they do”, he added.

‘Peace, harmony and prosperity’  

Speaking at the annual Peace Bell ceremony, rung each year by the Secretary-General to pray for World Peace, Mr. Guterres urged everyone to “recommit to each other…and to the best of humanity”. 

The newly installed President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, observed that the “human need for sanctuary is in our genes”. 

“Peace is, after all, one of our very reasons for being here. It is a pillar of the Charter, it is why we talk, why we deliberate, why we come together each year”, he said. 

Mr. Shahid upheld that everyone can be “instruments of peace”, to change the world into “one of cooperation and constancy” and vowed to work hard to “bring together the best of humanity…[and] showcase the best examples of peace, harmony and prosperity”. 

“Together, we are nations united in greater purpose”, he stated.   

The General Assembly established the International Day of Peace in 1981. Two decades later, in 2001, it unanimously voted to designate the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres rings the UN Peace Bell Ceremony on the 40th Anniversary of the International Day of Peace
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
UN Secretary-General António Guterres rings the UN Peace Bell Ceremony on the 40th Anniversary of the International Day of Peace

Paris climate deal could go up in smoke without action: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 17 September 2021, Climate and Environment - Unless wealthy nations commit to tackling emissions now, the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” to 2.7-degrees of heating by the end of the century, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Friday.

This is far beyond the one to 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, agreed by the international community as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The UN chief's remarks came after the UN’s climate agency (UNFCCC) published an update on national climate action plans (officially known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) submitted by the 191 countries which signed Agreement.

The report indicates that while there is a clear trend that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced over time, nations must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent disastrous global heating in the future.

Not enough

The document includes updates to the NDCs of 113 countries that represent around 49% of global emissions, including the nations of the European Union and the United States.

Those countries overall expect their greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010. “This is an important step,” the report points out, but insufficient, as highlighted by Mr. Guterres at Friday’s Forum of Major Economies on Energy and Climate, hosted by the President of the United States, Joe Biden

“We need a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century…It is clear that everyone must assume their responsibilities”, he emphasized.

70 countries indicated their embrace of carbon neutrality goals by around the middle of the century. If this materializes, it could lead to even greater emissions reductions, of about 26% by 2030, compared to 2010, the report explains.

Scientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events.
NOAA/Jerry Penry
Scientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events.

Code Red

However, with national plans staying the way they are right now for all 191 countries, average global emissions in 2030 compared to 2010, instead of decreasing, will increase by around 16%.

According to the latest IPCC findings, that would mean that unless climate action is taken immediately, it may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7C, by the end of this century.

“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a code red for humanity. But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree target. We have the tools to achieve this target. But we are rapidly running out of time”, the UN chief highlighted.

A thermal power plant in Port Louis, Mauritius is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions on the Indian Ocean island.
UNDP Mauritius/Stéphane Bellero
A thermal power plant in Port Louis, Mauritius is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions on the Indian Ocean island.

The challenge

The Secretary General highlighted a particular challenge: energy still obtained from coal. “If all planned coal power plants become operational, we will not only be clearly above 1.5 degrees - we will be well above 2 degrees. The Paris targets would go up in smoke”.

Mr. Guterres urged the creation of “coalitions of solidarity” between countries that still depend heavily on coal, and countries that have the financial and technical resources to support transitions to cleaner energy sources.

Without pledges and financial commitments from industrialised nations to make this happen, “there is a high risk of failure of COP26”, Mr. Guterres continued, referring to the pivotal UN Climate summit in Glasgow in six weeks’ time.

“G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Their leadership is needed more than ever. The decisions they take now will determine whether the promise made at Paris is kept or broken”, he warned.

Farmers and fisherfolk in the Comoros Islands are needing to adapt to climate change.
UNDP Comoros/James Stapley
Farmers and fisherfolk in the Comoros Islands are needing to adapt to climate change.

There’s still time

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, clarified during a press conference that countries can submit or update their national plans “at any time”, including in the run-up to COP26.

The agency highlighted some good news. The new or updated plans included in the report, show a marked improvement in the quality of information presented, for both mitigation and adaptation, and tend to be aligned with broader long-term, low-emission development goals, the achievement of carbon neutrality, national legislative/regulatory/planning processes, and other international frameworks such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN chief was clear that by COP26, all nations should submit more ambitions plans that help to place the world on a 1.5-degree pathway.

“We also need developed nations to finally deliver on the US100 billion commitment promised over a decade ago in support to developing countries. The Climate Finance report published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that this goal has not been reached either”.

A sizeable number of national climate plans from developing countries, which define targets and actions to reduce emissions, contain conditional commitments which can only be implemented with access to enhanced financial resources and other support.

Stop ignoring science

For Mr. Guterres, the fight against climate change will only succeed if everyone comes together to promote more ambition, more cooperation and more credibility.

No more ignoring science. No more ignoring the demands of people everywhere. It is time for leaders to stand and deliver, or people in all countries will pay a tragic price”.

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