The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Florencia Soto Niño, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, everyone. Nice to see you.
In a short while, I will be joined by Volker Perthes, our Special Representative for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Khartoum (UNITAMS). He will brief you virtually from Khartoum and answer all your Sudan questions, much better than I can.
Today in Glasgow, Scotland, the Secretary‑General delivered the keynote address at the twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) World Leaders Summit. Mr. [António] Guterres gave a blunt assessment of the status of our efforts to combat climate change as we face the hottest years on record. The world’s addiction to fossil fuels is pushing us to the brink and it is time to stop it before it stops us, he said. Recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around. This is an illusion, the Secretary‑General warned.
The Secretary‑General also identified three areas of action. First, keeping the goal of 1.5°C alive. He called on delegates — from all countries — to show maximum ambition, in terms of mitigation and immediate concrete action to reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Second, he told COP26 attendees to do more to protect vulnerable communities from the clear and present danger. All donors must allocate half of their climate finance to adaptation, he stressed. Third, the Conference, must be a moment of solidarity by making the $100 billion commitment a reality. The Secretary‑General implored the leaders to choose ambition, to choose solidarity and to choose to safeguard our future and save humanity.
And a short while ago, the Secretary‑General held two bilateral meetings. He met with the head of Kuwait’s delegation to the COP, Prime Minister, His Excellency Sabah Al‑Khalid Al‑Sabah, and he discussed Kuwait’s Nationally Determined Contribution and welcomed Kuwait’s efforts to increase renewable energy and nature-based solutions to address climate action. He also met with the Special Envoy for Climate of China, Mr. Xie Zenhua. They had a prolonged exchange on how to organize and provide coalition-based support to help emerging economies accelerate decarbonization as well as on how to phase out coal.
The Secretary‑General also joined a UK event hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson entitled “Action and Solidarity — the Critical Decade.” The event is designed to bring leaders from a small group of developed and developing nations to a roundtable to put solutions on the table and set the course for the two weeks of negotiations. He told the leaders gathered around the table to instruct their Ministers and negotiators to aim high and match ambition with action. We need to leave Glasgow in two weeks with a comprehensive and balanced deal, he added. And later this evening, the Secretary‑General will attend a reception hosted by the UK government for COP26 participants. And tomorrow, he is scheduled to have meetings with five regional groups as well as other bilateral meetings with world leaders, and he will also meet with representatives from civil society, including his Youth Advisory Group.
**Children and Armed Conflict
Staying in the topic of climate. The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, today said that tackling the climate emergency can contribute to the protection of millions of conflict-affected children. The impact of climate change can aggravate fragilities and worsen conflict dynamics, Ms. Gamba said, adding that children are the most vulnerable group in times of crisis. She is also joining calls from other UN Officials to translate climate emergency commitments into actions, and to invest in adaptation and resilience so that children can realize their rights to grow up and to thrive in peaceful societies.
And earlier this morning, you will have seen that we issued a message from the Secretary‑General on the 5 millionth death worldwide due to COVID‑19. He stressed that this is not just a number on a page, but represents lives cut short by a merciless virus that respects no borders. The Secretary‑General called it a global shame that, while wealthy countries are rolling‑out third doses of the COVID‑19 vaccine, only about 5 per cent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated. He also noted that 5 million deaths should also stand as a clear warning that we cannot let our guard down. We are still seeing more deaths, with overcrowded hospitals and exhausted health workers. We also see the risk of new variants spreading and claiming more lives. He once again called on world leaders to fully support the Global Vaccination Strategy he launched with the World Health Organization (WHO) last month. We need to get vaccines into the arms of 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of this year and 70 per cent by mid‑2022. His full message is online and has been sent to you.
Also on vaccines, our UN team in Peru tells us that more than 230,000 doses arrived in the country yesterday. This brings the total number of doses Peru has received from COVAX to more than 4.1 million. And the UN team in Jamaica says that more than 100,000 doses arrived last Friday, with another batch of nearly 370,000 doses donated by Canada expected to land today. This will bring the total number of doses from COVAX in Jamaica to more than 1 million. The Pan‑American Health Organization (PAHO) is supporting these efforts at the regional level.
On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the situation in the northern part of the country is rapidly deteriorating. This is having a severe impact on civilians. Continued fighting and hostilities in and around the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha in the Amhara region over the weekend reportedly resulted in large-scale displacement and increasing humanitarian needs. The two towns were already hosting a large number of displaced people from nearby areas. Humanitarian supplies are reportedly available, but the delivery of urgent assistance has been hampered by the insecurity.
On Tigray, our colleagues tell us that no easing of restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray has been seen. Fuel for the humanitarian response has not entered Tigray since early August, forcing our partners to suspend or significantly reduce their work. The movement of aid workers in and out of Tigray on roads, and since the suspension of United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights on 22 October, has also been hampered. The escalation of hostilities risks worsening the already dire humanitarian situation in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, where millions of people need urgent life‑saving assistance. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to facilitate the free and safe movement of humanitarian supplies and personnel as required by international humanitarian law.
And over the weekend, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for the adoption of the necessary adjustments, including those put forward by the High National Commission for Elections (HNEC), to enable the holding of free, fair, inclusive, and credible parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December. The Mission emphasizes that only an inclusive legal framework will pave the way for a credible and inclusive electoral process, and recalls obligations under relevant international conventions to protecting the rights of citizens to participate in public affairs. In this regard, the Mission calls for the removal of restrictions to participation in the elections to allow Libyans holding public positions to have the opportunity to suspend their duties from the time of submission of their candidacy for presidential elections. The Mission also urges Libyan institutions to ensure the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and youth in the elections and to put in place all the necessary arrangements to protect voters and women candidates. The full press release is online.
Moving on to Afghanistan: Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid delivery and needs assessments continue countrywide. Last week, more than 90,000 people received food assistance across the east of Afghanistan. This includes food-insecure people and Afghan returnees at the Torkham Transit Centre at the border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also provided 8,300 people with winter cash assistance in different parts of the country, and an additional 66,000 people were identified to receive immediate humanitarian assistance in different provinces.
Vaccination campaigns against COVID‑19, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are ongoing in Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, reaching some 30,000 people with a single-dose vaccine since 16 October. And some displaced people are also choosing to return to their places of origin, and as part of an assistance package, UNHCR and partners are providing families with transportation costs, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing them with food in their areas of origin. Our humanitarian colleagues add that the country continues to be affected by the use of improvised explosive devices, with incidents reported recently in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces.
On Myanmar, our UN team there remains deeply concerned over the recent escalation in fighting in the northwest between the Myanmar Military and the local Popular Defense Forces in Chin State, as well as Magway and Sagaing regions. This has led to more people being displaced and property being destroyed, nine months after the military seized control over the Government of Myanmar on 1 February. There have been worrying reports in recent days of the shelling and burning of more than 160 houses of civilians in the town of Thantlang in western Chin. An NGO office was also destroyed. Our humanitarian colleagues say that some 37,000 people, including women and children, are now displaced in the country’s northwest. Many have fled their homes in anticipation of the current fighting, including into India. This is in addition to more than 7,000 people who remain displaced from previous fighting since December 2019.
The UN team repeats its calls for parties to the conflict to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and humanitarians, and reiterates that aid workers and their properties should never be a target. I have also been asked about the trip of U.S. Governor Bill Richardson to Myanmar, and I can tell you that the Secretary‑General was informed about the trip, and Governor Richardson has also said that he will convey the results of his visit to the Secretary‑General.
And finally, we are almost getting there, on Friday afternoon, the Secretary‑General updated staff here at UN Headquarters on our working arrangements. He said that conditions related to the COVID‑19 pandemic here in New York have continued to improve and stabilize, and the host country is further opening up for international travel starting on 8 November. In addition, the overwhelming majority of staff have reported that they have been fully vaccinated. Given this, starting on 15 November, staff members will no longer telework for up to four days a week, but managers have been encouraged to afford flexibility in line with the lessons learned over the past 20 months regarding adaptability and flexibility in our working methods.
While inside premises at UN Headquarters, all personnel will be required to continue to wear masks in common areas, such as corridors, elevators, and restrooms. Masks are also mandatory in enclosed meeting spaces where the vaccination status of all participants has not been confirmed. However, vaccinated staff are no longer required to wear masks while working at their individual workstations. Staff who are not vaccinated will continue to be required, at all times, to wear masks at the UN premises and to observe physical distancing wherever it is possible to do so.
This afternoon at 3 p.m., there will be a hybrid press briefing by Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez, President of the Security Council for the month of November and Permanent Representative of Mexico, my home country, to the United Nations. He will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.
And some good news today. I am happy to report that Sri Lanka has paid its regular budget dues in full. That takes us to 135 fully paid-up Member States. And that is it for me for now, unless you have any questions where we turn it to our guests? Yes, Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Nice to see you up there. A follow-up question on Ethiopia. Is the Secretary‑General, or any of his top officials, in contact with the President of Ethiopia, or members of the TPLF [Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front], to try to arrange any kind of either mediation or efforts for a ceasefire?
Associate Spokesperson: I mean, I think the Secretary‑General has been very clear on what his position is, and his repeated appeal to all the parties to step back from military action. I know that contacts at various levels have continued, but I'll see if I can get any more detail about what recent contacts have been. That's all I have on that. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Florencia. Just to follow up on the Bill Richardson visit to Myanmar. You said the Secretary‑General had been told. Did Bill Richardson reach out to him personally to tell him about that trip?
Associate Spokesperson: I don't know if it was personally or his people reached out to his people, but we were informed.
Question: Before he went?
Associate Spokesperson: Before he went, and he would say he would also report on the results of the trip.
Question: Okay. And did the Secretary‑General ask him to deliver any messages, or?
Associate Spokesperson: Not to my knowledge, no. Over there. Yes, please, Ibtisam?
Question: Thank you. First, do you have any updates on the humanitarian situation in Yemen? And also, what's happening with the Safer Tanker? Any news there? And then on the statement you read about the… about the COVID relaxed rules here, in the house. What about the civil society? Is there any progress on that? Are you going to allow civil societies to enter the building?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage, we have not been informed of any changes to civil society. We will let you know when that happens, because we've also been watching out for it, but at this stage, no. And on Yemen, I did not have any updates on the Safer Tanker, or on anything else. I will ask for you. Over there, Benno?
Question: Thank you, Florencia. Good to see you. Also, a follow-up to the arrangements in the Secretariat's building. You said an overwhelming majority of staffers have been vaccinated. Is there a number to it?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, there is a number. And I think someone in my team will probably send me that.
Question: I have another question about that, as well. As you said, 8 November, New York is opening up for tourists. Is the United Nations opening up for tourists any time soon again?
Associate Spokesperson: Not at this stage, either. And we don't have anything else, other than changes to staff working here. Oh, and I have the number now. And 88 per cent, 88.17 per cent to be exact, of UN staff in New York have been fully vaccinated. Any more questions before we turn it to our guest? No? Okay. Perfect. So… Abdelhamid, sorry. I'm missing the chat. Abdelhamid, yes.
Question: Thank you so much. There are five Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike. One of them reached (audio cutting out) in two days, Miqdad al-Qawasmi, who's now in the ICU unit, and he's expected to die any minute. Do you have any information about that? Do you have any language on the issue? Is Mr. [Tor] Wennesland aware of the five Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike for many, many, many days?
Associate Spokesperson: [Inaudible].
Correspondent: I can't hear you.
Associate Spokesperson: I'm sorry. I don't have anything on their specific cases, but I will see if I can get anything for you and in particular on what the Special Coordinator has to say on that. And with that, we will turn it to our guest, Mr. Perthes. Mr. Perthes, are you there? Yes, I can see you.