The Palestinians see a few bright spots

Last week, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour hosted a reception for diplomats from 40 countries the Palestinians are encouraging to get involved in their negotiations with Israel, effectively downgrading Washington’s role as the premier broker.

He accompanied Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to a meeting with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who reiterated his support for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees. Mansour also helped collect $118 million in pledges to partially make up for U.S. funding cuts to UNRWA.

On Thursday, Mansour was elected to the presidency of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of developing nations. The position, which speaks for countries representing 80 percent of the world’s population, gives the Palestinians a notable voice at a time when their relations with the United States are virtually nonexistent.

“It was only a few years ago that we raised the flag of the state of Palestine before the United Nations. And it was only yesterday that the state of Palestine is chairing the largest negotiating voting bloc in the history of the United Nations. Shouldn’t I be hopeful?” said Mansour.

So far, support for Palestinian causes at the United Nations has done little to improve prospects for peace with Israel or living conditions for most Palestinians, particularly those in the Gaza Strip. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closer than ever to the Trump administration, and the administration is a staunch defender of Israel at the United Nations.

In the past year, the United States has dropped out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing its “unrelenting bias” against Israel. It recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the contested city. It closed down the PLO office in Washington, citing its lack of progress in joining negotiations with Israel. And it cut financial aid to Palestinians, including $300 million to UNRWA that helped fund secular schools in Gaza.

Mansour cited a December vote in the General Assembly in which 128 nations condemned the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while only seven countries besides the United States and Israel opposed the measure. He also noted that a U.S. draft resolution in the Security Council in June condemning Hamas for the violence in Gaza was rejected 14 to 1, with only the United States favoring it.

[Washington Post]

UN Court orders US to lift Iran sanctions linked to humanitarian goods

The United Nations’ highest court, located in The Hague, on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must “remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from” the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

The court also told both the United States and Iran to “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.”


Indonesia tsunami devastation mounts

Over 1,300 people are confirmed to have been killed by a Tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last Friday. The global international crisis response system is kicking into high gear right now, but relief efforts are in a race against time.

Speaking from the island’s main city Palu, a relief worker with Mercy Corps sent an message to reporters stating: “The situation in Palu remains grave. Food and water is scarce and many of the people I have spoken with haven’t eaten in days — and that is the situation in Palu, a city which is receiving support. People at the epicentre of the quake are still largely cut-off from the aid effort.”

“Critical roads remain closed, destroyed or blocked by the quake, and a lack of fuel means that even if the roads were open, we might not be able to reach those affected. In such a geographically challenging context as Indonesia, fuel is of critical importance: it powers the diggers that are needed to clear roads, the generators in hospitals and displacement camps, and the trucks that are needed to cover the hundreds of kilometers of affected area. Without fuel, there won’t be aid deliveries.”

The Tsunami was triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and swept through a Palu bay, the terminus of which is the city of Palu, which has a population of 380,000.

This is a system coordinated through the United Nations, in which NGOs, governments and UN agencies take on specific tasks necessary in an emergency like this.  It already appears that the logistical challenge of importing relief items will be immense.

Aid could be delivered via a “humanitarian land bridge” from Jakarta to Sulawesi, [a spokesperson for the UN Migration Agency] said, noting that the idea had been implemented following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, from Jakarta to Aceh and from Medan to Aceh.

Delivering aid to Sulawesi through the port of Palu, continues to be a major challenge, however, the IOM spokesperson explained. “The port itself has not been damaged (but) the cranes and gantries and the equipment you would use to remove goods from vessels have been badly damaged,” he said, adding that in some case they had been “completely knocked down, and access to the port itself is very difficult.”

[UN Dispatch]

Impact Investing

Three years after Amit Bouri’s birth in Northern California, his parents divorced. His mother returned to school to study accounting. She and her son would be on public assistance for the next six years, until she finished her degree and started her career. Bouri’s social conscience, and his awareness of the value of a social safety net, date back to those days. Now, the former strategic consultant runs the Global Impact Investing Network, an organization of investors seeking to achieve social and environmental impact as well as competitive returns. Some excerpts from our conversation with Bouri, 40, about the landscape for impact investing:

Q: What exactly are impact investments?         A: They’re investments made in funds, companies, or projects with the intention of generating a positive social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. The investments can be in any range of sectors and across asset classes, around the world.

Q: What kinds of returns are we talking about?     A: Over 90% of impact investors are either meeting or exceeding their financial-return expectations. It’s not an act of charity or philanthropy, but rather a strategy that belongs in an individual or a firm’s investment portfolio.

Q: So many big firms have created impact funds lately. Why?     A: Large institutional investors, as well as individual clients, are seeking opportunities to put their capital to work to build a more sustainable world. …The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 was very successful in gathering private-sector interest in managing climate risk and opportunities to invest in a sustainable energy economy. The adoption of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals drove a lot of interest among CIOs and CEOs of major institutional investors and asset managers.

In a generation, impact investing will be widespread, and it will be business as usual to think about impact across your investment portfolio, from the largest institutions to everyday individuals who want to ensure they have the money to retire—but also to invest in the world they want to retire in.


US yogurt billionaire’s ‘Humanity first’ solution to immigration

Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurd who built yogurt empire Chobani after immigrating to the US in the mid-90s, is challenging Americans to rethink the way they view immigration.

Ulukaya has sought to keep his mission of assisting refugees above the political fray. But on occasion he has denounced the administration’s immigration policies and the way it enforces them. The issue is deeply personal for Ulukaya — a self-made billionaire who grew up tending goat and sheep in rural Turkey.

Ulukaya said, “I have nothing against ‘America first’, but ‘humanity first’ too.”

Ulukaya started recruiting immigrants and refugees to work at Chobani in 2010 — a strategy that drew vicious attacks from far right-wing conspiracy theorists who have spread lies about the company, including allegations Chobani embarked on a secret plot to increase America’s Islamic population.

About 30 percent of Chobani’s employees are immigrants or refugees. He says his employees and suppliers are worried. “They ask, ‘What’s gonna happen to me, will I be able to see my mother, or if they’re gonna come and visit me?’ ”

Ulukaya calls America a “magic land,” alluding to its historic standing as a beacon of hope and opportunity. “Above and beyond all, I hope the idea of magic land doesn’t get damaged,” said Ulukaya.


Mobilizing resources to meet the needs of international refugees

Over the last several years, Hamdi Ulukaya has been making a passionate pitch to assist refugees through Tent Partnership for Refugees, Ulukaya’s nonprofit dedicated to helping improve the lives of refugees. He argues that resources, especially from corporate America, should grow to match a historic migration crisis that has displaced over 65 million people worldwide, including 25 million refugees.

Ulukaya, who launched Tent in 2016, has successfully urged companies to develop solutions by “mobilizing resources, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community.”

This week, Tent added 20 brands to a growing list of partners pledging to hire refugees or help them build a better life. The latest companies to commit to the cause include Hilton, pasta maker Barilla, Microsoft and Uniqlo. In total, Tent has secured promises from more than 100 companies.

Ulukaya is alleviating the plight of refugees at a time when the US government is reducing foreign aid and lowering the number of refugees the US will admit. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a refugee cap of 30,000 in 2019 — the lowest level since 1980.

“Even if governments were stepping up to do the right thing, which many, including the US government, are not, the crisis is too big for government,” said Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, as she presented Ulukaya the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award this week.


Flood-prone cities look to sustainable urban design for solutions

As nations set ambitious climate goals, many consider urban design as a potential solution to flooding and other natural disasters.

Copenhagen has taken the lead, with a brand-new neighborhood designed to promote green modes of transportation. Since, 2007, architect Rita Justesen has been tasked with transforming the former industrial harbor in Denmark’s capital into a brand-new neighborhood and ensuring its 3.5 million square meters of residential and commercial floor space is financially viable and climate-smart.

Around the world, with rapid urbanization, more than two-thirds of people will live in cities by 2050, the UN projects. And cities use more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the UN.

That is why cities are seen as key to meeting the commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement of reducing emissions to keep the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. A 1.5-degree Celsius rise would give vulnerable populations a chance of surviving climate shocks like flooding, cyclones, droughts, and higher sea levels, experts say.

Worldwide, sea levels have risen 10 inches since the late 19th century, driven up by melting ice and a natural expansion of water in the oceans as they warm, United Nations data show. A UN panel of climate scientists said in 2014 that sea levels could rise by up to a meter by 2100.

The sea level around Copenhagen’s harbor city is expected to rise by up to one meter over the next century, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. Copenhagen council estimated that if there were no form of protection from flooding due to storm surges, the damage over the next century would cost up to $3.14 billion. By comparison, it would cost up to $627 million to prevent this from happening.

Apart from future-proofing itself from the sea-level rise and flooding – from green roofs and parks that absorb rainwater, to large barriers that can curb flooding – the city is also on a mission to become the first capital to cut climate-changing emissions by 2025.


Syrian refugees in Turkey showcase their new skills at fashion shows

Fashion shows are not often associated with development projects, but it made perfect sense as a group of Syrian women refugees in Turkey showcased the skills they acquired through a vocational training in apparel manufacture. The project was funded by Japan and implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The event was however much more than a display of fashion creations. It was an opportunity to reflect on how the training has helped Syrian refugees regain the sense of pride and hope that has been washed away by the events that forced them to flee their country to find refuge in Turkey.

“When the war started in Syria …the Turkish people approached us in a brotherly manner and we felt very close,” said Mecid Abdulkrem, a graduate of the vocational training, at the event. “We started living in camps and times were difficult. This course was very important for its psychological and vocational contributions. Now we have hope for the future and we would like to thank all stakeholders of the project.”

The  project aims to improve the livelihoods, social stability and resilience of Syrian refugees living in Turkey – in particular women and youth – by providing them with skills to help them find work so they can provide for themselves and their families. The training course focused mainly on sewing machine operation, equipment maintenance, pattern-making and production management. Around 1,000 people graduated from the course, out of which 350 attended a seminar on how to set up a business and apply for work permits. All the graduates were also registered for the employment pool, run by the Turkish Labor Agency, an important step in finding a job.

The Ankara event was the second of two fashion shows organized this week. The first one was held in the Kahramanmaraş refugee camp where the vocational training center was established as part of the project. Combined, vocational centers have trained more than 2,100 refugees, making a real difference to their lives and that of their families.


China sets new renewables target of 35 percent by 2030

China is stepping up its push into renewable energy, proposing higher green power consumption targets and penalizing those who fail to meet those goals to help fund government subsidies to producers.

The world’s biggest energy consumer is aiming for renewables to account for at least 35 percent of electricity consumption by 2030, according to a revised draft plan from the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) seen by Bloomberg. Previously, the government has only set a goal for “non-fossil fuels” to make up 20 percent of energy use by 2030.

The standard — which sets minimum consumption levels of electricity produced from renewable sources — is among efforts to ease the nation’s reliance on coal and combat pollution that blights the world’s most populous nation.

The NDRC also increased non-hydro power consumption targets for some provinces, including requiring Inner Mongolia to increase its use to 18 percent this year from a previous goal of 13 percent. Targets for regions such as Yunnan and Xinjiang have also been raised.

The latest document also called for non-compliant firms to pay compensation fees to grid companies, which will be used to cover government subsidies for renewable projects.

In recent years, China has pumped more money into renewable energy than any other country, leaving the government with a hefty subsidy bill.


Becoming a Water Warrior

High School freshman Fiona is a warrior. A water warrior, that is!

With the science fair coming up, Fiona had chosen water filtration as her project. Fiona studied in-depth the effectiveness of different water filters, performing experiments with lake water and other contaminated water sources. To her surprise, all of them worked – some better than others.

After completing her science fair project, Fiona’s parents encouraged her to think bigger. To not just think about how this water impacts herself but the world around her.

At World Concern, Fiona learned about the need for clean water in some of the world’s poorest, most remote places. A spark ignited. Returning home, Fiona began a campaign for water filters – herself being the first donor.

The desire to help was infectious. Before she knew it, Fiona’s classmates organized bake sales and collected spare change in jars to raise money for water filters. So far she and her fellow fundraisers have raised almost $2,000.

“Just do it – it will be worth it,” she said without missing a beat. “You can’t really mess up. However much money you raise, it’s helping! Even just one water filter helps.”

Click here to visit water filter campaign and learn more about the impact of clean water