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22 April 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Climate

Good afternoon.  I have a statement from the Secretary-General on the conclusion of the opening session of the Leaders Summit on Climate.

The Secretary-General thanks [United States] President [Joseph] Biden for convening today’s Leaders’ Summit.  The commitments and actions announced, provide a much-needed boost to our collective efforts to address the climate crisis ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow later this year.

The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement of new and enhanced nationally determined contributions including by the United States of America, Canada and Japan, the commitment of Brazil to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, as well as the announcement by the Republic of Korea that it will end all external financing of coal and submit a more ambitious nationally determined contribution this year.  The leadership of all major emitters will be critical to securing success at Glasgow.  It is now urgent that all countries — especially other major emitters — present their 2030 climate plans well before COP26.

The upcoming Petersberg Climate Dialogue, the Partnership for Green Growth and the Global Goals Summit and the Summit of G7 Leaders will be crucial moments for leaders to deliver vital climate finance commitments especially on the $100 billion goal in support of developing countries’ climate action promised over a decade ago.  The world will be watching carefully, particularly those already experiencing severe climate impacts and the ongoing economic crisis.  Delivering on finance and adaptation is a prerequisite for success, and the Secretary-General is encouraged by the announcements made today by President Biden.

Today’s Summit shows the tide is turning for climate action, but there is still a long way to go.  To avert a permanent climate catastrophe, we must now urgently build on the momentum delivered today, in this make-or-break year for people and planet, the Secretary-General said.

He adds that he is looking forward to convening leaders in September to make that final push towards COP26.

That statement, which will be in first person, is being shared with you right now.

And some of you may have seen that the Secretary-General spoke at the Summit earlier today.  He said that we need a green planet, but the world is on red alert.  He called on leaders to take action by putting a price on carbon, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, ramping up investments in renewable energy and green infrastructure, as well as stopping the financing of coal, and ensuring a just transition for affected people and communities.

And he underscored that the pandemic cannot be used to continue polluting the planet, adding that we cannot burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.

**Earth Day

As you know, today is International Mother Earth Day and in his message, the Secretary-General said we must end our war on nature and nurse it back to health.  That means bold climate action, stronger steps to protect biodiversity and reducing pollution by building circular economies that drive down waste.  He added that these steps will safeguard our only home and create millions of new jobs.

On a related note, today also marks the entry into force of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as the Escazú Agreement.

The Agreement is Latin America and the Caribbean’s first regional environmental treaty.  It is also the first such treaty to include specific provisions for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in environmental matters.

In his message, the Secretary-General said the Escazú Agreement’s entry into force provides hope and inspiration and sets the stage for sustainable and resilient recovery.  He commends Latin American and Caribbean States that have ratified the treaty and urges all countries to join them as soon as possible.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan:  Our Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that the UN Envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, has concluded several days of consultations in Doha with Afghan parties and international partners.  They discussed the best way forward to strengthen and add impetus to intra-Afghan peace negotiations.

The UN Mission said there will be no pause in work to support Afghan peace negotiations.  We are continuing our engagement with both Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Taliban representatives, to maintain a focus on peace efforts and the path to a just and durable peace settlement.

The Mission notes that the Istanbul Conference postponement provides another opportunity for the Afghan parties to demonstrate progress in the current Doha Afghan peace negotiations framework.

And also in Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that La Niña weather patterns that may result in drought are compounding food insecurity in the country.  According to the latest figures from the Integrated Phase Classification Food Security analysis, one third of Afghanistan’s estimated population of 40 million people — and that is more than 14 million human beings — are now facing acute food insecurity due to conflict, COVID-19, high food prices and rampant unemployment.

Out of this number, 4.2 million people are facing emergency food insecurity levels requiring an urgent response to save lives and protect livelihoods.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that while this represents a slight improvement in the food security situation, the full impact of low rainfall at the start of this year will be clearer later this year.

In 2021, we, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, need $1.3 billion to help 15.7 million of the 18.4 million people in need.  Only 9 per cent of the funding has been received so far forcing some aid agencies to consider cutting back or even discontinuing critical activities.

**Myanmar

Also on the subject of food, but this time on Myanmar, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it will launch a new operation to reach up to 2 million vulnerable people in poor townships in the country’s main cities and other areas where people have recently been uprooted.

WFP says the triple impact of pre-existing poverty, COVID-19 and the current political crisis have led to hunger and desperation rising sharply in Myanmar.

WFP estimates that, within the next six months, up to 3.4 million more people will be hungry.

Despite the volatile situation, WFP has maintained its humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people and other vulnerable populations impacted by the long-running conflict in parts of Myanmar.  In March, WFP reached 374,000 people in southern Chin, Kachin, Rakhine and northern Shan states.

In the coming months, the number of people WFP assists in Myanmar will nearly triple — from 1.3 million to 3.3 million people.  To do this, the agency urgently needs $106 million.

And also on Myanmar, UN-Women says the political violence in the country continues to take a deadly toll on women.  More than 45 women and girls have reportedly been killed, the agency says, since the beginning of the coup.

**Libya

The UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) today expressed its concern regarding the recent shutdown in oil production at the Marsa al-Hariga plant and indications that other shutdowns may be imminent.  The uninterrupted production of oil remains a vital cornerstone to the economic, social and political stability of Libya.

The Mission says it is incumbent on all parties to ensure that the National Oil Corporation remains an independent, technocratic and well-resourced institution and to ensure the transparent and equitable management of resources to combat corruption.  It added that Libya is also now emerging from a very costly conflict, and there are multiple urgent needs that should be addressed to improve the quality of life of Libyans throughout the country.

**Ukraine

Turning to Ukraine, I can tell you that a UN-organized humanitarian convoy today delivered 23 tons of hygiene items to the Donetsk oblast through the Novotroitske crossing point.

This is the second UN convoy through the Novotroitske, the only operational crossing point in the Donetsk oblast, since it reopened for the delivery of humanitarian cargo on 15 April.

The crossing point was closed for humanitarian cargo movement from 24 February to 15 April due to security concerns.

Some 1.67 million people need humanitarian assistance in non-Government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.  The elderly, people with disabilities, households headed by women, and children are among the most vulnerable.

Restrictions on humanitarian access to non-Government-controlled areas have a direct impact on our capacity to help people in need.

**Middle East

You will have seen that back here, Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, spoke to the Security Council via videoconference and he mentioned the need for holding of credible Palestinian elections is a crucial step towards renewing the legitimacy of national institutions and re-establishing Palestinian national unity.  He encourages international support for this effort.

He noted that the UN has engaged regularly with the Palestinian parties and the Central Elections Commission to facilitate preparations for the elections and will continue its support for the election process, adding that he is seriously concerned by the significant rise in active COVID-19 cases in Gaza.

For his part, Rein Paulsen, the Acting Director of OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Coordination Division, said that cases in Gaza have increased by 150 per cent in April, with 187 deaths.  Gaza now has 66 per cent of all active cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, despite being only 30 per cent of the population.

**Colombia

Yesterday afternoon, the Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed the Council.  He said that in the fifth year of implementation of the Peace Agreement, it is essential that all parties remain committed to building on the achievements made, resolve pending challenges, and move forward — with the support of all actors in Colombian society — in solving structural problems, particularly considering the challenges of overcoming the pandemic.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu also called for a cessation of hostilities, to help advance the [pandemic recovery efforts], saying that we have seen the positive impact that these gestures can have on the lives of vulnerable communities in conflict-affected regions.

**Girls in ICT

Today is the International Girls in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Day.

In his message, the Secretary-General said that information and communication technologies have been invaluable during the pandemic.  They help us to stay connected, and to keep vital services and businesses going.  However, almost half the world is still offline — and most of those who lack access to digital technology are women and girls in developing countries.

He said that making these technologies available to all is an essential part of building back better.

**General Assembly

This morning, remarks were delivered on the Secretary-General’s behalf at the General Assembly’s High-level debate on urban safety, security and good governance.  Ghada Waly, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), read a message on his behalf.

The Secretary-General said that a comprehensive urban design and planning approach is essential to crime prevention and the development of safe cities.  The solutions start with participatory, accountable and transparent decision-making; reliable delivery of basic public services; and effective rule of law grounded in strong, people-centred institutions.

**COVID-19 Recovery

I want to flag that there is a new UN High-Level Advisory Board on economic and social affairs, which will look into the socioeconomic challenges in the wake of the pandemic and propose solutions for a sustainable recovery, and they began round-table discussions today.

The Board is made up of 20 globally renowned intellectual leaders, including Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate; former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos; and Brazil’s former Minister of Environment, Izabella Mônica Vieira Teixeira.

The round table has been convened by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).  Members of the Board are expected to provide recommendations including on strengthening resilience against future economic, social and climatic shocks.

**Press Encounter Today

Lastly, following the Security Council Meeting today on the Middle East, there will be a virtual stakeout by current EU members of the Security Council — Ireland, France and Estonia, along with former EU Security Council members Germany and Belgium.  They will read out a statement on the Middle East.

And… voilà.

**Questions and Answers

James?

Question:  Yes.  So, question on climate and a question on Chad.  Let me start with climate.  The climate activist Greta Thunberg has been on Twitter.  She… and let me quote:  “Let’s call out their bullshit” — her words, not mine — “The gap between what we’re doing and what needs to be done is widening by the minute.”  The Secretary-General says this is a much-needed boost.  Does he accept her point that this goes nowhere near far enough?

Spokesman:  Look, we all have different roles to play in achieving the same goal on climate action.  The voices of the young, the voices of activists like Greta Thunberg, are incredibly important and should be listened to.

The Secretary-General also has a role and has a voice.  He is part of a diplomatic and political process.  I think we’re all working towards the same goal, perhaps using different language, using different methods, but everyone has a role to play and everyone has a valid voice.

Question:  Chad, and let me use another quote, if I can, from a slightly less slightly less controversial person; it was yourself on Tuesday.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Different person… [cross talk]

Question:  “There is a constitutional order which should be respected.”

Well, most constitutional experts and the opposition in Chad believe the constitutional order says that the Speaker of Parliament should be the President in these circumstances, not someone who happens to be the son of the former President.  Is the Secretary-General concerned that the Constitution of Chad is not being followed?

Spokesman:  We are… our focus… well, let me just say that, obviously, the situation is evolving.  We’re following it closely, to use language that we often use.

Our focus right now is on helping to defuse tensions, sustain peace as part of our conflict prevention mandate.  We’re going to be consulting closely with African partners on the best way to support the country in the coming days.

I think it’s important that all political and other actors in Chad remain calm, refrain from any additional violence that could harm civilians and further complicate a difficult situation.

We also look forward to supporting Chadian stakeholders to work towards a peaceful and inclusive election leading to the appointment of a new civilian leadership.

And we are working with our African partners, notably the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), on a concerted position on how to best support the country.

Question:  But in this interim period, should — I quote again — the constitutional order be respected, your own words on Tuesday?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, I think I stand by my own words, and I will add that we look forward to supporting Chad and all political leaders in Chad towards peaceful and inclusive elections and the appointment of a new civilian leadership.

Betul and then Célhia.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A follow-up question on the climate Summit.  The Secretary-General, obviously, welcomes any positive step, but does he think that the commitments he has heard at today’s Summit are as bold and ambitious as he’s been asking for?  Is he satisfied with what he heard?

Spokesman:  Look, it’s not… he welcomes what he heard, as I mentioned in the statement, from a number of Member States.  I think he was pretty clear that there are a number of other stops on the road that will… to Glasgow.  There are a number of other Summits, a number of other meetings.  He will convene a meeting here in September.

These are very important steps, and of course, more could always be done.  But I think he is… as I said in the statement, he very much… he welcomes what was already decided today.  And I think it’s also important to remind people that when… the commitments are always welcomed, but it is also very important that the commitments be implemented.

Madame de Lavaréne?

Question:  Following on Chad remaining calm, the rebel [inaudible] right now.  So, do you think that the UN team [inaudible] in asking the people to remain calm?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we have… we, of course, continue with our humanitarian work and providing and helping the people… and I will remind you that we do not have a political or security mandate in Chad, as we have in other countries in the broader region.  So, our focus now is on working with the African partners because this is something that is, first and foremost, a regional issue, a subregional issue.  We will work closely with the Economic Commission for Central African States, the African Union.

And I think, again, this is a situation where different actors in the international community have different roles to play.  They have different levers of power, but the important thing is to ensure calm in Chad and a return to civilian rule.

Ray and then the gentleman here.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you may know, the Palestinians insist to organize the elections in their… in all their territories, including East Jerusalem.  However, the Israelis refuse that, and the Palestinians are saying either elections in all territories or no elections.  Any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I would refer you back to what Mr. Wennesland said very clearly in his remarks to the Security Council not too long ago, is that it is very important that Palestinians, in all parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, are able to participate in this very important democratic process.

Question:  However, the Palestinians are saying, if there will be no elections in East Jerusalem, there will be no elections at all… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think we’ve seen different public statements.  First of all, these are elections organized by the Palestinian Authority through its central electoral commission.  We’ve been in touch with the commission.  It is very important that everyone who is entitled to participate, every Palestinian in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is able to cast his or her vote.

Yes, sir, and then we’ll go to the screen.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question regarding Yemen.  A number of journalists in Yemen have been kidnapped by the Houthis.  One of them is Abdel Bari al-Kut [phonetic].  Four of them are sentenced to death.  Is the United Nations aware of that?  And I’m asking if there is any action regarding this.

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of these particular cases, but what I can tell you is that it is critical that journalists everywhere, whether in Yemen or any other country, be allowed to exercise their craft un-harassed, un-threatened.  And I think this is especially true in conflict zones where journalists provide an essential service to the local population and to the world at large about bringing news from the front lines, and they need to be able to do their work.

Okay.  Iftikhar, please.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I was going to ask you about the terrorist attack in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, but I’m told that a statement is in the works.

Spokesman:  Yeah, but I can… I mean, I can tell you that, obviously, the Secretary-General condemns the attack that took place in Quetta on the Serena Hotel.  He conveys his condolences to the families and the victims and the people and the Government of Pakistan.  And we, of course, reiterate our solidarity with the people of Pakistan and the Government in their efforts to address terrorism.  But a formal statement is expected to be issued, hopefully expressing the same sentiments.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You’re welcome.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My first question about the incident that took place today when missile was fired from Syria toward the Dimona nuclear plant in Israel.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  We’re aware of the reported missile strikes in both… in Israel and Syria earlier today.  We continue to be concerned about these developments and again urge the parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any risk of escalation.  And this… we also remind all the parties of their obligations and to respect the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement.

Question:  My second question, if I may.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Go ahead.  You may.  You may.

Question:  Yeah.  A child — his name is Yazan al-Balbeesi — 12-year-old, he was arrested yesterday in the gates of Jerusalem called Damascus Gate.  Is Mr. Wennesland aware of this incident?

Spokesman:  I can check.

Toby and then Rick Gladstone.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Two questions for you today.  First one, on the climate, everybody’s talking about price on carbon, carbon tax, some agreement on what this pricing scheme is going to be that will affect producers and consumers.

Where is the UN handbook on the… UN’s position on what this pricing mechanism should be, since this looks like where we’re going?  Is there something definitive on that?  And where can we find it?

Spokesman:  That’s a technical question, which I need to give you a technical answer on.  I just… I’m not… I don’t have the intellectual capacity to answer that question offhand.

Question:  Okay.  And second is just a smaller question on Libya on the National Oil Corporation, which the UN says needs to be technocratic.  That’s an interesting work, “technocratic”. What does it specifically mean in the context of Libya?

Spokesman:  “Technocratic” means free of political interference.  That entity is critical to Libyan… the Libyan economy in the immediate.  it needs to be run in a way that is free from political, secure… or any other interference.  So, that’s how I would interpret “technocratic”.

Mr. Gladstone?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Apologies if this question has been raised before recently.  We and maybe others reported that Biden… President Biden’s going to announce on Saturday that the United States is now going to consider the events of more than 100 years ago, the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire to be a genocide.

And I wondered if you could tell me, specify to us, what precisely is the Secretary-General’s position on whether this was a genocide?  Is that somewhere in a document, or has he stated this clearly in any way?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, this is a question that has come up a number of times over the last few years or more that I’ve been here under different administrations.  We have no comment, as a general rule, on events that took place before the founding of the UN, and genocide as… and as we’ve said this in different occasions for different circumstances, genocide needs to be determined by an appropriate judicial body, as far as the UN is concerned.

Okay.  Let me… well, while I look at the chat, James is always ready for a question, so go ahead, James, and then we’ll go to Mr. Sato.

Question:  Okay.  I’ve got three actually.  The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, has said Afghanistan is now more than half controlled by the Taliban.  You have UNAMA there on the ground.  They… I remember the time when they used to produce maps showing control before the Americans stopped them and found that rather uncomfortable.

Does the UN believe that Afghanistan is controlled more than half by the Taliban currently?

Spokesman:  It’s not a question I’m able to answer at this time.

Question:  Protests… further deterioration in Ethiopia.  Protests in Amhara state seem to be growing.  In fact, some of the protesters on the same issue of… outside 47th Street in the Plaza there right now.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment about the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia and particularly those claims from those people in that state that they are under attack?

Spokesman:  I mean, we’re… we continue to be concerned, not only about the humanitarian situation in Tigray, but as you mentioned, the demonstrations that we’ve seen in other parts of Ethiopia.  And it is something we continue to watch closely, and we would not want to see any violent repression of people expressing their fundamental rights to express themselves.

Question:  Last one is something I’ve asked you about before, but I’m going to try again.  The Secretary-General, I assume, for all jobs that are up in this organization, wants the recruitment process that is fair and transparent.  Is he beginning to get frustrated that the process that he himself is involved in, the Secretary-General race, is not fair and transparent?  That the President of the Security Council, the President of the General Assembly have not come up with clear guidance and there are at least six… what, six we know of applicants for the same job as the Secretary-General who have been left in limbo?  That is not either fair or transparent.  Is the Secretary-General getting frustrated as he’s involved in this process?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General… well, António Guterres is involved in this process as a candidate.  He is in the hands of the Member States on how this process is run.  He will make himself available and submit to any procedure that the Member States put together.

Question:  He doesn’t think it’s unfair on those other six people?

Spokesman:  Again, he is a candidate.  He… and he is a man who has run for election in… throughout his 40-year-plus career, and he is always open to running against… running in competitions where others are present, but it is not his process.

Okay.  I… sorry.  Mr. Sato and then Liling.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question on Myanmar to you, do you have any update on the Special Envoy [Christine Schraner] Burgener’s move?  Has she already reached in Jakarta?  Is there any schedule for her to have any bilateral or some other format for the meeting?

And also, you just announced the food insecurity situation is very severe in Myanmar.  Does WFP have any… some objection or some difficulty in access to the humanitarian assistance to the region?

Spokesman:  Well, we had… humanitarian access in different parts of Myanmar was a challenge even before.  It remains a challenge, though I think, as I’ve said, WFP was able to deliver food in a number of states.  It is important to underscore, again, the fact that the UN is continuing, to the best of its ability, its very important humanitarian operations in Myanmar, and we will continue to do so.

I mean, in March alone, I think WFP, as I mentioned, reached over 370,000 people in different states.  So, we’re trying to overcome any obstacles that may be there, but we are able to reach some of the people that need assistance.

One of the major hurdles in Myanmar, as it is in a lot of other places, is the lack of funds and the fact this these humanitarian appeals are critically and chronically underfunded.

Oh, on Ms. Schraner Burgener, she’s expected in Jakarta over the weekend.  I don’t know if she’ll get there… likely tomorrow.  We’ll double-check.

She’ll be having meetings on the side-lines of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting.  She will not be participating officially in the meeting.  I think, as she has meetings, we’ll be able to update you, but I don’t want to prejudge who she will be able to meet.

Liling?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question also is on Myanmar.  Can you give us an update on what exactly the Secretary-General hopes will come out of this summit on Saturday?  And realistically speaking, how much is really riding on ASEAN’s role at this juncture to resolve the crisis?

Spokesman:  So, I heard about every third word, but I’m guessing what your question was.  [laughter]

The Secretary-General is hopeful of a very strong, unified voice from ASEAN.  ASEAN, as a… sort of as a unit, has a very important role to play in helping us achieve the goal that we all want, which is a return to civilian rule in Myanmar.  Different ASEAN countries individually also have important voices and important roles to play.  So, we hope to see a strong message come out of the meeting.

Okay.  Thank you, all.  I will leave you now in the hands of Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.