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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the TV and Radio Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

WMO: new “Air Quality and Climate Bulletin”

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), presented the new WMO “Air Quality and Climate Bulletin” issued today ahead of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies (7 September). Dr Oksana Tarasova, Chief, WMO Atmospheric Environment Research Division, explained that the new, yearly Bulletin was about the state of air pollution and how it related to climate. A particular focus was on 2020, a year that had been notable for its climate extremes and pollution events.

The Bulletin showed that after measures, such as lockdowns, had been taken by states to reduce the mobility of people and control the spread of COVID-19, improvements in air quality were recorded, especially in the level of particles – up to 40% in South-East Asia. But air quality was also dependent on meteorological influences, and other pollutants, like ozone, had increased. Even with the taking down of transports and of other emissions, in many parts of the world the air quality still not met the requirements of the WMO.

The Bulletin also showed that air quality was also controlled by natural phenomena, especially biomass burning. In 2020, smoke pollution had impacted air quality in Siberia, in the United States, in Australia, with a dramatic deterioration of air quality. Sand- and dust-storms had also affected air quality in 2020 - like the “Godzilla episode”, when dust from the Sahara had crossed the Atlantic and impacted air quality in North America. Intensity and frequency of such events would increase in the future, as the IPCC had warned in its last report. That would, in turn, lead to further deterioration of air quality in many countries.

Dr Tarasova stressed that policy changes seeking to improve air quality had repercussions on policies that seek to limit climate change, and vice versa. She also noted that extreme measures such as lockdowns were no substitute for long-term policies.

Answering questions, Dr Tarasova explained that a decrease in the concentration of PM2.5 particles (smaller than 2.5 microns) had been noticed in most of the cities in South-East Asia, with a maximum at about 40%. In Europe, the lockdowns had had no impact the level on PM10 or other small particles in such countries as Sweden – a factor here was the initial level of pollution, which was comparatively low thanks to the longer-term policies already in place.

It was important to reduce the amount of both cooling and warming particles at the same time, as some particles were detrimental to both human health and the environment: WMO was advising policy makers on how to tackle these two aspects simultaneously.

Situation in Afghanistan

Answering journalists’ questions, Babar Baloch, speaking from Pakistan for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that it was difficult to gather information on the uncertain situation inside Afghanistan as well as at the borders with its neighboring countries. Reports on certain events – such as a reported stampede at the Spin Boldak crossing point, inside Afghanistan – were hard to verify.

Traditionally, there always had been a lot of movement of persons and commercial flows between Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Afghans were still able to come through, but it was a very regulated and managed flow, with ID documents or visas to be shown.

UNHCR had stayed in Afghanistan during many highs and lows in the last 40 years. Over the last two decades, more than six million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan had gone back home – more than had left Afghanistan. Numbers now were much lower, a thousand perhaps. Afghans felt uncertainty and stayed closed to home. Those who came across now were telling that they had left due to insecurity and that they wanted to seek asylum.

So far, HCR was seeing no large influx of refugees trying to cross borders to Pakistan and Iran; HCR was analyzing the reasons behind this phenomenon. A displacement crisis was, in fact, taking place inside Afghanistan. Without the entry of trade and support, this could lead to a major crisis. The international community should not turn a blind eye on Afghans and Afghanistan.

Announcements

Mr. Zaccheo announced that on Wednesday, 8 September, at 10 a.m., Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, would hold a press conference before the opening of the Council’s 48th session (13 September – 8 October 2021).

Also on Wednesday, 8 September, at 3 p.m., the Group of eminent international and regional experts on Yemen would hold a press conference on the launch of its 4th report.

The 88th session of the Committee in the Rights of the Child would open next Monday, 6 September, at the Palais Wilson (ground floor). During this in-person session, the Committee would review the reports of the Czech Republic, Poland, Eswatini and Switzerland.

As for the Conference on Disarmament, it was still reviewing the draft annual report of its 2021 session. The date and time of its next public meeting would be announced at a later stage. The 2021 session would end on 10 September.

On Monday, 6 September, at Quai Wilson, a photo exhibition entitled “From Geneva to the World” (#MultilateralismMatters) would open with a vernissage at 5:30 p.m. The European Union delegation and the United Nations in Geneva had put together the event to affirm that multilateralism was the best way to respond to global challenges. Opening remarks would be made by EU Ambassador Lotte Knudsen, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, WIPO Director General Daren Tang and Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements. The women choir Tao Mousso would accompany the opening ceremony.

Finally, Mr. Zaccheo announced that the exhibition “Divers égales unis” had opened at the Musée Rath (Place de Neuve in downtown Geneva). In exposition would be some of the masterpieces from the Palais des Nations, among other items and activities. Multimedia content was available for journalists wishing to cover the event (assets available here: https://www.unognewsroom.org/story/en/979/un-rath-museum-geneva-03-september-2021

and here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/unisgeneva/

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