US move to free half of $7 bln in frozen Afghan funds for aid: UN Chief

World must ‘change track’ to protect oceans from climate crisis: UN Chief

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UNITED NATIONS: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “encouraged” by Friday’s US decision to free up half of $7 billion in frozen Afghan assets to help the suffering people while holding the rest to satisfy lawsuits against the Taliban from victims of terrorism, a UN spokesman said.

“I think we have said on several occasions and we’ve called for many times the release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets, and I think we’re encouraged by the step taken today in this regard,” Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in response to a question at the regular noon briefing in New York.

However, “it’s also important to reiterate that humanitarian assistance alone will be insufficient to meet the tremendous needs of Afghan women, men, and children over the long term,” he said.

“It is critical that the Afghani economy is able to restart in order for these needs of the Afghan people to be met with a sustainable and meaningful manner,” the spokesman added.

On Friday, President Joe Biden signed an executive setting in motion a plan to make $7 billion in Afghan funds held in the United States available to compensate victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and to provide humanitarian relief and other support to the Afghan people.

The funds were deposited by Afghanistan’s central bank in the United States before the Taliban took over last year and have since been made unavailable to the Taliban. Much of the money comes from U.S. and other international donations over the past 20 years.

Washington is also working closely with the UN to ensure the world body’s agencies and aid groups have the liquidity needed to support critical humanitarian assistance programs, the White House said.

The Taliban were quick in rejecting the U.S. plan. Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s designated U.N. representative, told that “the frozen funds are the reserves of the Afghan central bank. This should be totally unfrozen and transferred to (the) Afghan bank as reserves. We don’t want what the (United States) is planning.” Abdullah Azzam, Secretary to Taliban acting first deputy prime minister Abdul Ghani Baradar, said on Twitter that “Biden doesn’t have the right to pay from Afghans’ assets the ransoms of those whom the Afghans have not killed. American President should not prove his generosity by paying from others’ wealth.” Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the international community to “change track” in protecting the ocean from the climate crisis. Global warming, biodiversity loss, and pollution are a triple crisis facing the planet, he said in a video message to the One Ocean Summit taking place in the northern French coastal city of Brest., warning that the ocean “shoulders a great deal of the burden”. As the ocean serves as a giant carbon and heat sink, it is growing warmer and more acidic, causing its ecosystems to suffer. “Polar ice is melting and global weather patterns are changing”, the UN chief told the conference on Friday. The communities who rely on the ocean are hurting as well, he added: “More than three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods”.

He painted a grim picture of dwindling marine species; dying coral reefs; coastal ecosystems turned into “vast dead zones” as they serve as dumping grounds for sewage, and nutrients and seas choked by plastic waste. Moreover, fish stocks are being threatened by over and destructive fishing practices, along with illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. “We must change tack”, the Secretary-General stressed.

Pointing out that it is 40 years since the signing of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN chief said, “The importance of legal certainty in the ocean is paramount”.

He upheld that the second UN Ocean Conference, which will be held in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July this year, is “an opportunity to cement the role of the ocean” in global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The UN chief stressed that intensified efforts must be made to protect the ocean, saying that a “sustainable blue economy can drive economic progress and job creation” while protecting the climate.

“We need more, and more effective partnerships, to address land-based sources of marine pollution…urgency in the deployment of offshore renewable energy, which can provide clean power and employment, and…[less] fossil fuels in the ocean economy”, he said.

Guterres welcomed “encouraging steps” taken by some countries, including France, to end single-use plastics and urged others to follow suit.

With some 90 percent of world trade transported by sea, he said that shipping accounts for nearly three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The shipping sector needs to contribute to the necessary 45 percent cut in emissions needed by 2030, and zero emissions by 2050, in the effort to keep alive our hopes of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius”, spelled out the UN chief.

A breakthrough on adaptation and resilience for coastal communities whose lives, homes, and livelihoods are at risk is also imperative. “We must capitalize on the opportunities that nature-based solutions, such as mangroves and seagrasses, provide”, he added.

To promote a sustainable ocean economy, the Secretary-General highlighted the need for global partnerships and investment along with increased support to ocean science “so our actions are based on knowledge and understanding of the ocean”. “Too much remains unmapped, unobserved and unexplored”, he said.

Throughout the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, Guterres encouraged concerned citizens everywhere to “deliver on our collective promise of a healthy blue planet for future generations”.

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