• Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers meet to discuss COVID-19, vaccines and climate change

    Foreign Affairs Ministers from across the Commonwealth met yesterday for the 21st annual Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting (CFAMM). The meeting was held virtually for the second year in a row due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    The agenda of the meeting focused on the Commonwealth’s role in recovering from the global COVID-19 pandemic and building back better, including on health and vaccine equity, trade issues, and climate change, in particular the upcoming COP26 summit.

  • Commonwealth health ministers demand equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for the world

    Commonwealth health ministers have issued a joint statement after their annual meeting in which they called for swift and equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for everyone around the world.

    In the statement on behalf of the 54 Commonwealth member countries, they expressed deep concern over the stark gaps in access and delivery of doses, especially in poor countries, and called for “fair and transparent” pricing for the vaccine. Only 0.3 per cent of the life-saving vaccine doses have been administered in 29 poor countries. About 84 per cent of shots have been given in high and upper-middle-income countries.

    Speaking at the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC said: “The science is clear: vaccination works and is the clear and only sustainable route out of this pandemic for the whole world.

    “The rise of new variants shows that until everyone is safe no one is safe. No plan to tackle this virus will work until everyone agrees to work together. We must talk with each other to move away from some stockpiling vaccines, while many low-middle income countries still do not have access to the much-needed vaccines supplies for the vulnerable populations in their countries.

    “So, co-operation to develop a global immunisation plan to deliver equal access to vaccines must be a top priority.” Health ministers appreciated the global vaccine equity initiative ‘COVAX’ and encouraged all partners to support government efforts on boosting vaccine confidence and immunisation drives.

    Recognising the acute gaps in research and development of new tests, vaccines and therapies in the Commonwealth, they stressed enhanced collaboration with scientists, academics and business leaders.

    In his guest address, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Vaccines are reducing severe disease and death in countries that are fortunate enough to have them in sufficient quantities, and early results suggest that vaccines might also drive down transmission.

    “The shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic. We seek the support of the Commonwealth in solving the global vaccine crisis by funding the ACT Accelerator, advocating for greater sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property, and sharing doses with COVAX.”

    Ministers further backed a potential treaty on the fight against pandemics and a Commonwealth mechanism to share and distribute extra medical supplies such as ventilators and medicines. They called on Heads of Government to allocate resources for strengthening health systems, especially through primary health care, towards attaining universal health coverage.

    Chairing the meeting, India’s Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said: “Accelerating coordinated action for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and building resilient global healthcare systems is the need of the hour.

    “In our closely interlinked world, we need greater transparency to quickly identify and contain emerging health threats. Sharing best practices, strategies and solutions shall ensure preparedness against all future challenges.”

    Health ministers welcomed the creation of a technical group to share practical solutions and policy advice on helping countries with the pandemic response and recovery. New data shows 60 immunisation campaigns for other health threats are currently suspended in 50 countries due to COVID-19. Such delays could cause significant avoidable mortality.

    Disruptions to HIV/AIDS services, for instance, could lead to five thousand excess deaths globally.
    Ministers, therefore, committed to keeping essential health services running and sustaining the gains made towards tackling threats such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, avoidable blindness and non-communicable diseases while dealing with an influx of COVID-19 cases. In their statement, they further voiced their support for a common framework for sovereign debt treatments, co-operation with the WHO and improved compliance with the International Health Regulation - international laws for preventing the spread of disease.

    This is the second time that Commonwealth health ministers met virtually for their annual gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting, hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, took place on 20 and 21 May.

  • Commonwealth launches new ocean funding database

    The Commonwealth Secretariat has launched an online database to help member countries be aware of and access more than US$170 million of international funding available for ocean-related projects.

    Accompanying this new web tool is a handbook containing valuable guidance on how to navigate the database, as well as match and pitch projects to the most suitable funders. Both the website and handbook were designed specifically to support the work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, a historic commitment made in 2018 by all 54 Commonwealth member nations to work actively together to solve ocean challenges.

    Welcoming the initiative, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “Despite the central role of the ocean in our natural ecosystems, climate systems, economies and cultures, funding for ocean conservation is equivalent to less than one percent of global philanthropy, and an even smaller fraction of foreign aid.

    “The Commonwealth Blue Charter Ocean Funders Database represents a major step forward for ocean action in the Commonwealth, which aims to support member countries to navigate the funding that is currently available internationally, understand the goals, criteria, and application processes for different prospective funders, and develop successful multilateral partnerships for greater ocean action.”

    Under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, countries collaborate through voluntary ‘action groups’ on 10 key ocean issues: marine plastic pollution, coral reef protection, mangrove restoration, climate change, ocean acidification, ocean observation, marine protected areas, sustainable aquaculture, sustainable coastal fisheries and the sustainable blue economy.

    Over the past year, the 10 action groups have been setting out priorities and shared action plans, taking into account regional and resource needs. The new funding database will support them in finding resources and partners to implement joint projects across these action areas, such as developing legal frameworks for progressive ocean policies, conducting sought-after capacity building programmes and training courses, and supporting innovation.

    Since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the action groups have ramped up efforts to network and share solutions, through research, virtual dialogues and training, with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

  • Commonwealth observers urge patience as Ghana awaits final results

    The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG), which has been on location in Ghana observing the recent elections has today issued an interim statement calling for peace as they await full results.

    The Group’s interim statement noted the voting exercise was held successfully, despite unprecedented circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Results are yet to be released by the Ghana Electoral Commission but speaking on the release of the COG’s interim statement its Chair, former President of East Africa Court of Justice, Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, said: “The electoral process is yet to be concluded and the greatest test of leadership is called for now. All parties must exercise patience and restraint while Ghanaians await the announcement of full results. We urge the Ghana Electoral Commission to continue to expedite the collation of all election results, with the transparency and professionalism which they demonstrated on election day.”

    The COG interim statement commended all stakeholders in the electoral process for their commitment to democracy and peace - and the maturity of President Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP and John Mahama of the NDC for signing a pact in which they reaffirmed their commitment to peace ahead of the elections.

    The Group, deployed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General is led by Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, former President of East Africa Court of Justice, and included eminent persons from across the Commonwealth, supported by a six-person team from the Secretariat.

    While issuing the statement in a press Conference in Accra, the Chair noted that the Group was impressed by the professionalism, confidence, and enthusiasm of polling officials, and that voting proceeded steadily with the assistance of biometric verification.

    Some concerns and challenges were identified at some polling stations and they were promptly addressed by the officials.

    The statement commended the transparent counting process at the polling stations and noted that officials adhered to prescribed procedures.

  • Commonwealth pays tribute to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

    The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, paid tribute to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as follows:

    “It is with deep sorrow that I have learnt of the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

    “Through over seventy years of marriage, His Royal Highness supported Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in fulfilling her duties as Head of the Commonwealth.

    “The Duke shared with Her Majesty a high view of what humanity can achieve through cooperation and working together. His questioning mind and sense of adventure, combined with an engaging informality and forthrightness, enabled him to communicate huge positivity and faith as to what could be achieved through individual and international connection.

    “His Royal Highness had experienced camaraderie and comradeship during World War II and service in the Royal Navy. Following his marriage in 1947, he sought out ways of bringing this spirit to the institutions and organisations of the Commonwealth, so that they would reap the dividends of collaboration in peacetime too – including for remote and marginalised communities.

    “It was the Duke who in 1952, during their stay in Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand, gave Princess Elizabeth the sad news that her father King George VI had died, and that she was Queen.

    “Their Coronation tour of the Commonwealth in 1953, during which they covered 40,000 miles, took place in a world far less connected than it is today by swift travel and instant communications technology.

    “At the time of her coronation, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were tremendously glamorous and remarkably young. They symbolised hope for the future, and the spirit of goodwill and optimism rooted in a sense of belonging together as members of a worldwide family – not just of nations, but of people.

    “Their tours were important expressions of Commonwealth inclusiveness, bringing together countries and communities which – although far apart on the map – were made to feel close because of shared inheritances and their continuing Commonwealth identity, made real in a special way through the physical presence of The Queen and the Duke.

    “His Royal Highness had a farsighted understanding of the potential of Commonwealth connection, and his approaches to bringing people together from a wide range of backgrounds to develop leadership skills were regarded as innovative and brave.

    “With vigour and vision, the Duke of Edinburgh carved out an immensely valuable role for himself within Commonwealth networks, with a focus on projects and programmes through which he could build on his distinctive philosophy of cultivating understanding and self-reliance, and thereby complement Her Majesty’s official responsibilities and duties as Head of the Commonwealth.

    “His Royal Highness described the Commonwealth Studies Conferences, which he founded in 1956, as “an extraordinary experiment". They were a pioneering forum for bringing together emerging leaders and talented men and women from the management of industrial corporations, trade unions, the professions and civil society. His vision and prescience in creating this movement at this time was a striking demonstration of a depth of understanding of what would be needed to meet the challenges of the next millennium.

    “Similarly, his determination through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to offer opportunities for young people to stretch themselves, to gain confidence and develop resourcefulness, was important in nurturing social progress and innovation throughout the Commonwealth.

    “These were ground-breaking initiatives when first established, and continue – more than sixty years later - to offer valuable opportunities for people throughout the Commonwealth.

    “His Royal Highness was associated as patron or president with a range of Commonwealth charitable bodies and civil society organisations, taking a keen interest in their activities. He also made notable contributions as an early and prominent advocate for international action on the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats.

    “During a period of unprecedented change and technological progress, the Duke of Edinburgh supported The Queen with energy and imagination. They will each of them forever remain inextricably connected to the period when the Commonwealth developed and grew in stature.

    “Past, present and future generations of Commonwealth citizens owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Philip for remaining constant and steadfast in his commitment to the Commonwealth, and his assuredness and vision of its global importance.

    “When meeting His Royal Highness, I always found him charming and witty, and he showed real kindness making every effort to put me at ease.

    “In mourning his passing, we each share in some measure the far greater sense of loss and bereavement Her Majesty The Queen and members of the Royal Family will be feeling at this time of such sadness.

    “It falls to me, on behalf of the Commonwealth family which he served so long and so faithfully, to offer Her Majesty and all those close to His Royal Highness Prince Philip our heartfelt condolences and sympathy.”

  • Commonwealth Says NO MORE - launches initiative to prevent domestic and sexual violence in 54 countries

    The Commonwealth Secretariat and NO MORE Foundation are launching a new “Join The Chorus” initiative to help the 54 member countries tackle an alarming rise in domestic and sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic while urging leaders to make prevention a top priority in rebuilding efforts.

    Unveiled today at a virtual event on the margins of the 2021 UN General Assembly (UNGA) session, the initiative, part of the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign, offers governments, non-profits and the public new tools and strategies to expand coordinated action to prevent and stop domestic and sexual violence in their countries, communities and homes across the world.

  • Commonwealth Secretary-General pays tribute to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

    Following the death of Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, paid her own tribute saying: “It is with deep sorrow that I have learnt of the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Through over seventy years of marriage, His Royal Highness supported Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in fulfilling her duties as Head of the Commonwealth.

    “The Duke shared with Her Majesty a high view of what humanity can achieve through cooperation and working together. His questioning mind and sense of adventure, combined with an engaging informality and forthrightness, enabled him to communicate huge positivity and faith as to what could be achieved through individual and international connection.

    “His Royal Highness had experienced camaraderie and comradeship during World War II and service in the Royal Navy. Following his marriage in 1947, he sought out ways of bringing this spirit to the institutions and organisations of the Commonwealth, so that they would reap the dividends of collaboration in peacetime too – including for remote and marginalised communities.

    “It was the Duke who in 1952, during their stay in Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand, gave Princess Elizabeth the sad news that her father King George VI had died, and that she was Queen. Their Coronation tour of the Commonwealth in 1953, during which they covered 40,000 miles, took place in a world far less connected than it is today by swift travel and instant communications technology.

    “At the time of her coronation, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were tremendously glamorous and remarkably young. They symbolised hope for the future, and the spirit of goodwill and optimism rooted in a sense of belonging together as members of a worldwide family – not just of nations, but of people.

    “Their tours were important expressions of Commonwealth inclusiveness, bringing together countries and communities which – although far apart on the map – were made to feel close because of shared inheritances and their continuing Commonwealth identity, made real in a special way through the physical presence of The Queen and the Duke. His Royal Highness had a farsighted understanding of the potential of Commonwealth connection, and his approaches to bringing people together from a wide range of backgrounds to develop leadership skills were regarded as innovative and brave.

    “With vigour and vision, the Duke of Edinburgh carved out an immensely valuable role for himself within Commonwealth networks, with a focus on projects and programmes through which he could build on his distinctive philosophy of cultivating understanding and self-reliance, and thereby complement Her Majesty’s official responsibilities and duties as Head of the Commonwealth. His Royal Highness described the Commonwealth Studies Conferences, which he founded in 1956, as “an extraordinary experiment".

    They were a pioneering forum for bringing together emerging leaders and talented men and women from the management of industrial corporations, trade unions, the professions and civil society. His vision and prescience in creating this movement at this time was a striking demonstration of a depth of understanding of what would be needed to meet the challenges of the next millennium.

    “Similarly, his determination through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to offer opportunities for young people to stretch themselves, to gain confidence and develop resourcefulness, was important in nurturing social progress and innovation throughout the Commonwealth. These were ground-breaking initiatives when first established, and continue – more than sixty years later - to offer valuable opportunities for people throughout the Commonwealth.

    “His Royal Highness was associated as patron or president with a range of Commonwealth charitable bodies and civil society organisations, taking a keen interest in their activities. He also made notable contributions as an early and prominent advocate for international action on the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats.

    “During a period of unprecedented change and technological progress, the Duke of Edinburgh supported The Queen with energy and imagination. They will each of them forever remain inextricably connected to the period when the Commonwealth developed and grew in stature.

    “Past, present and future generations of Commonwealth citizens owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Philip for remaining constant and steadfast in his commitment to the Commonwealth, and his assuredness and vision of its global importance. When meeting His Royal Highness, I always found him charming and witty, and he showed real kindness making every effort to put me at ease.

    “In mourning his passing, we each share in some measure the far greater sense of loss and bereavement Her Majesty The Queen and members of the Royal Family will be feeling at this time of such sadness. It falls to me, on behalf of the Commonwealth family which he served so long and so faithfully, to offer Her Majesty and all those close to His Royal Highness Prince Philip our heartfelt condolences and sympathy.”

    Secretary-General Patricia Scotland

  • Commonwealth Secretary-General says Covid-19 threatens girls’ access to education

    Ahead of Human Rights Day, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland wrote the following opinion piece for publication:

    Covid-19 has robbed people around the world of loved ones, livelihoods and so many of the usual certainties and comforts of everyday life. It is also threatening to steal from millions of girls their right to an education.

    These are girls who could grow up to develop vaccines for diseases, tackle social injustices or lead the fight against climate change. But the global pandemic is depriving them of the benefits which education and training confer on individuals, their communities and the wider world.

    Girls generally experience more barriers to education than their male counterparts, and this has been exacerbated yet further by the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary restrictions imposed to limit its spread. Schools have closed and students have been forced to learn from home as a result of lockdown measures. Evidence suggests girls are returning to school at a slower rate than boys, or sometimes not at all.

    The international organisation Girls not Brides reports as few as 12 per cent of households in the poorest countries have internet access at home, while access to mobile internet is 26 per cent lower for women and girls than for their male peers.

    In addition to limitations to access to education, women and girls disproportionately take up unpaid care work, even during times of relative calm. According to UNESCO, women and girls are being expected to undertake even more care-taking responsibilities in the home during the pandemic. This has detrimental impacts both for the education workforce, in which women predominate, and for the many girls who as a result are unable to continue their formal learning.

    Furthermore, schools and colleges often provide a safe space from violence in the home or family members. Without this haven, girls are more likely to be subjected to abuse or forced into marriage. Organisations across the globe have seen calls to hotlines for victims of abuse and demand for support services rise from between 25 and 300 per cent during Covid-19 lockdowns.

    Education is a pathway to socio-economic development, and we must not allow this pathway to be blocked. If girls have greater access to education and remain in school, they are able to make better and more informed choices about their future lives. Better educated girls will be key participants and contributors in the formal economy, earn higher wages and therefore develop their communities.

    Legislation and policies are needed to support action through the provision of targeted mechanisms and programmes to ensure that wherever possible girls remain in school. Where in-person schooling is not possible, governments should ensure girls are able to access distance learning. It is also critical that when girls are forced to work or learn from home, every effort should be made to ensure that they are protected from all forms of gender-based violence.

    Respect and protection of human rights is at the centre of the work of the Commonwealth, in accordance with the values and principles of our Commonwealth Charter, to which Heads of Government have committed all our member countries. The charter declares that ‘equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds are the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies’. 

    Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realising other human rights. It is vital in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, and protecting the environment.

    Education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. It is one of the best financial investments governments can make.

    Covid-19 has taken so much from us already. We cannot let it take this precious right to an education too. All our young people, including girls, should have the assurance of opportunities to reach their potential and enjoy the fulfilling future they deserve.

  • Commonwealth Secretary-General says world must continue to fight invisible infection of corruption

     
    Countries’ response to Covid-19, their long-term development and the meeting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are all threatened by the “invisible infection” of corruption, the Commonwealth Secretary-General has warned.
     
    Speaking to the annual conference of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies (CCAICACB), Patricia Scotland laid bare the devastating impact criminal acts such as fraud bribery and theft have in both financial terms and in their human cost.
     
    In her speech to the conference she highlighted that:

    It is estimated that every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes globally, while an estimated $2.6 trillion is stolen annually through corruption, a sum equivalent to more than five per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product.
    Illicit financial flows cost developing countries $1.26 trillion per year, enough money to lift 1.4 billion people out of poverty and keep them there for at least six years. While the United Nations Development Programme estimates, that in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are 10 times the amount dispersed in official development assistance.
    Transparency International states corruption in the health sector alone costs US$500 billion every year, more than the amount needed for worldwide universal health coverage.

    The Secretary-General said corruption would not only undermine efforts to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic but also deprive vulnerable communities of vital funding for social and economic development.
     
    Speaking to the conference, she said the “corrosive cancer” of corruption is one of the major impediments to achieving the SDGs.
     
    She also called for “swift and decisive action” to improve transparency and accountability, and to build confidence that institutions and systems are corruption-free, adding: “Our Caribbean region is now confronted with the triple impacts of the global pandemic, climate crisis and a potential economic tsunami because of the lockdown measures necessary to fight coronavirus.
     
    “As we mobilise to adapt to climate change and work to withstand its impacts and those of the natural disasters which bring devastation to our islands, there is this invisible infection of corruption which the world must also continue to fight.”
     

     
    The Secretary-General outlined how the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work is crucial in the battle to curb corruption.
     
    The approach attacks criminal financial activities on three fronts - research, capacity-building and networking. This is delivered through regional anti-corruption agency networks and training centres, backed up by closer co-operation and learning. The CCAICACB was created by the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2015. 
     
    The Secretariat’s work has seen significant success, with recent data showing Commonwealth Caribbean countries are perceived as less corrupt than their non-Commonwealth neighbours.
     
    Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Benchmarks have also been developed as the latest tool designed to help governments and public sector bodies with measuring anti-corruption laws, procedures and actions against international good practice.
     
    Dale Marshall, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs in Barbados, explained the challenge his country faces in combatting the dual threat of corruption and the pandemic.
     
    He said: “Barbados has had to divert all of its available resources to keeping our economy afloat.
     
    “At a time when we are almost in a position to establish an integrity in public life commission, when we are just about to establish a special agency to fight corruption, the resources that we would have made available are now having to be diverted to ensuring that we have ventilators, that those people who have been thrown on the unemployment line have food.
     
    “We are faced with a choice. Do we focus on the issues of keeping Barbados afloat or do we take some of those resources and dedicate them towards the fight against corruption? It is an impossible choice.”
     
    The CCAICACB conference is being held in a virtual format for the first time due to the Covid-19 situation.
     
    Two further session of the meeting will be held over the next two weeks, with members presenting and reviewing their recent anti-corruption initiatives as well as sharing ideas and best practice for use across the region.

  • Commonwealth to champion climate-vulnerable small states at COP26

    The Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland called for urgent action to ensure improved climate resilience of small states and promised to amplify the concerns of small and other vulnerable states around climate change at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow this November.

  • Company projects 5,500 jobs, US$1.5 billion in earnings over the next 10 years

    Jamaica is well on its way to operating the first and only dedicated bamboo market pulp mill in the Western Hemisphere.

    Bamboo Bioproducts Ltd (BBP) is advancing its investment in local bamboo with plans to build on lands in Frome, Westmoreland, and will focus on pulp for paper production. The company projects to spend approximately US$300 million to establish the project with an estimated return on investment of 22 per cent with conservative projections of US$1.5 billion in revenue during the first 10 years.

    In addition, BBP anticipates that 500 jobs will be created directly within the facility and up to 5,000 jobs indirectly. Currently, Asian manufacturers are the primary producers in the US$24-billion global bamboo market which fuels a variety of industries including paper manufacturing, agriculture, health and wellness, construction, textiles, and furniture, among others.

    Jamaica’s proximity to western markets, as well as its deep history in sugar cane production (which has strong similarities to growing bamboo) means that BBP’s Frome facility offers game-changing national economic development opportunities. In emphasising the importance of this project to Jamaica’s economy, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said investments like these, anchored on a sustainable environmental and economic model could lead to a rethink of how we might achieve our development.

    “This is an example of what is needed to help drive growth in our economy. The use of bamboo and its by-products has the capacity to be a catalyst in building a new sustainable industry by utilising the value that Jamaica can provide with arable lands, availability of skilled and semi-skilled labour as well as our ideal geographic location for logistics,” said Holness recently.

    “I applaud and welcome this group for responding, through this initiative, to the Government’s continued call for the take-up of former sugar lands for the planting of alternative and more economically viable crops,” added Holness. The pulp will be sold to multi-national corporations partnering with BBP to fulfil the growing market demand for sustainable ‘non-wood pulp fibre’ of globally recognised brands of consumer tissue and personal hygiene products.

    In order to meet its obligations, the Frome mill will have the capacity to process in excess of 250,000 metric tonnes of bamboo pulp annually. The manufacturing process will feature state-of-the-art machinery from one of the world’s leading technology suppliers. It will produce a sustainable product efficiently, whilst simultaneously meeting world-class environmental standards.

    The project’s execution team includes international pulp and paper experts, as well as lead fund-raiser/equity partner Delta Capital Partners Ltd, headed by Co-founder and Executive Chairman Zachary Harding. According to Harding, Delta Capital Partners and Stocks and

    Securities Ltd are actively progressing with the capital raise.

    “This is, by far, one of the most significant projects to be undertaken in Jamaica in recent decades. Bamboo pulp as an outright export product will generate significant returns in hard currency.

    “It checks all the boxes including several sustainable development goals and the mill will be eco-friendly using a mix of clean and renewable energy sources. Additionally, market demand is considerably higher than what we will be supplying when fully operational, so we have an excellent opportunity for long term expansion. Most importantly, we will create thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly,” said Harding.

    British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, who has been an avid supporter of this venture from its earliest inception, stated it is great to see the progress made so far. “This is a clear example of what can be achieved here when committed partners from Britain, Europe and Jamaica put in a combined effort to invest in an export-focused project,” said Ahmad.

    The bamboo will be farmed on a large scale in Westmoreland as well as smaller farms across the island of Jamaica to satisfy the mill’s annual demand for more than one million tonnes of green Vulgaris bamboo. This is expected to help transition of idle sugar cane lands to bamboo cultivation. BBP is working closely with Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings Limited to finalise the necessary lands and is also in talks with private landowners to supplement its land demand.

    “This project has the full support of the Government of Jamaica and the provision of land, for the siting of the mill and the cultivation of bamboo, is a priority project for SCJ Holdings Limited, as it will enhance the country’s foreign exchange earnings and provide a lifeline for the thousands of persons who have suffered from the decline of the sugar industry,” said Joseph Shoucair, managing director at SCJ Holdings Limited.

    JAMPRO, who is the lead facilitator for the project has been working closely with the relevant Government agencies to ensure a smooth investment and execution process and president of the agency, Diane Edwards, said the bamboo project embodies all the characteristics of a well-planned, public-private sector project.

    “It will go a long way in helping to move the economy forward, getting us closer to hitting our projected foreign direct investment targets. It has our full support,” she said.

  • Concerns as China takes full control of Port o Kingston

    It has been confirmed that China Merchants Port Holdings have taken full control of Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL), the entity that manages the Port of Kingston under a 30-yearconcession agreement with the Jamaican government.

    This was made possible by the international French-led shipping and port management company – CMA CGM selling its interest in KFTL to a subsidiary company, Terminal Link, which was up to that point a joint venture of CMA CGM (51%) and China Merchants (49%).

    The effect of the change is that CMA CGM has sold its shares in the 30-year concession agreement for KFTL, meaning that China Merchants now has full control of the entity.

    Kingston Freeport was the company used by the Terminal Link-CMG CGM consortium to operate, Kingston Container Terminal under the 30-year deal signed with The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ in April 2015 to finance, expand, operate and maintain the Port of Kingston.

    The overall deal involved more than just the Kingston Freeport, as China Merchant Port Holdings announced recently that the company had completed the initial closing of the proposed acquisition with respect to eight target terminals, including Kingston Freeport, worth US$814.78 million.

    On the move, Jamaica’s opposition PNP (People’s National Party) spokesperson on national security, Peter Bunting, said: “The move is a form of economic colonialism by Chinese businesses in Jamaica.

    “The Jamaican people are well aware of the long history of fraternal between our two peoples. However, we believe that the concerns that arise from the existing situation could be problematic if they remain unaddressed”.

    It follows his appearance in a video, called ‘Chinese Take Over?’, where he made several anti-China statements.

    In response, the Chinese Embassy said that it was offended by the “unsubstantiated claim” by Bunting.

    The company said that the eight terminals assets include 50 per cent of Odessa Terminal Holding Ltd (Ukraine), 49 per cent of CMA CGM-PSA Lion Terminal Pta Singapore), 100 per cent of Kingston Freeport Terminal Ltd. (Jamaica), 30 per cent of Rotterdam World Gateway (Netherlands), 24 per cent of Qingdao Qianwan United Advance Container Terminal (China), 47.25 per cent of First Logistics Development Company (Vietnam), 14.5 per cent of Laem Chabang International Terminal Co. Ltd. (Thailand) and 100 per cent of CMA CGM Terminal Iraq SAS.

    Regarding the change of ownership, of KFTL, authorities there reported that “CMA CGM notified the Jamaican government about the intended transfer before action took place”.

    According to the PAJ, the potential transaction was complete and approved, with several similar agreements highlighted as proven successes – with PAJ, KFTL investing over US$250m to dredge the access channel to the harbour, as well as upgrading facilities and equipment.

    The investments is set to allow larger vessels carrying up to 14,000 20-foot container units (TEUs) which now transit the expanded Panama Canal, to enter Kingston Harbour and to be processed efficiently at the container terminal.

    Previously vessels that were processed at the terminal averaged 3,500 TUEs.

  • Coral mapping technology to accelerate reef restoration and protection in the Commonwealth

     
    The Commonwealth Secretariat is joining forces with Vulcan Inc. to help member countries manage their ocean spaces via cutting-edge mapping technology. 

    Commonwealth countries are responsible for more than a third of the world's coastal ocean, and 45 percent of its coral reefs. 

    The new tool will use satellite technology to create country-specific data and generate high-resolution images to help map, manage and monitor coral reefs in the Commonwealth. 

    Announcing the initiative in time for World Reef Awareness Day, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “The threats confronting our ocean are numerous and can be perceived by governments as overwhelming, with 90 percent of coral reefs at risk of disappearing within the next few decades due to climate change.

    “That is why Commonwealth leaders launched the Commonwealth Blue Charter in 2018, which is a shared commitment from all 54 member countries to tackle urgent ocean issues together. Our partnership with Vulcan Inc, as well as others in the private sector, academia and science networks, will work to translate our vision into meaningful on-the-water actions.”

    Building on the technology behind Vulcan’s Allen Coral Atlas – a public platform that converts data from a range of sources to generate detailed maps, images and alerts on coral reefs – a dynamic interactive coral reef map will be hosted online on the Commonwealth Innovation Hub. The information it contains will support marine ecosystem planning, management, governance and community action in member countries.

    Chuck Cooper, Managing Director of Government and Community Relations at Vulcan said: “We have already lost 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs which support the safety, well-being, and economic security of hundreds of millions of people. 

    The Allen Coral Atlas is helping to provide foundational data which inform critically important conservation efforts. Working with Commonwealth countries, we can change the trajectory of the coral reef crisis.”

    The joint project will be unveiled with a special virtual presentation on World Oceans Day, June 8. 

    This event, titled ‘Mapping the Commonwealth one coral reef at a time,’ will also feature presentations from three Blue Charter Action groups, focusing on: Coral Reef Protection and Restoration, Ocean and Climate Change, and Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods.

    The Commonwealth Blue Charter is implemented by 10 country-driven action groups that share experiences and coordinate action to tackle ocean challenges. The presentations will highlight how the groups work together and the importance of accurate and live data to support management decisions.

  • Costa Rica creates an innovative proposal to mitigate deforestation by using Google Earth Engine

    Costa Rica has recently submitted a pioneering proposal to reduce deforestation through the use of technology and space information generated by satellite imagery from the GEO-Google Earth Engine License Programme.  
     
    The initiative, called ‘Tackling deforestation and forest degradation in Costa Rica using Google Earth Engine’, was submitted to the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) as part of a programme in partnership with Google. The two organisations will offer 25 licenses for the sustained use of Google Earth Engine (GEE) for projects using Earth observation data to address global challenges related to climate change, sustainable development and disaster risk reduction, among others.
     
    The 2-year, full-access licenses aim to empower public sector and commercial recipients to tackle significant societal challenges and improve understanding of our planet.
     
    Costa Rica’s Environment and Energy Minister, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, said that the proposal is aimed at improving the ability of the country’s institutions to estimate deforestation and forest degradation by using satellite information and imagery offered by Google Earth Engine. The proposal also focuses on combating deforestation by developing an early warning system as well as improving the estimates of forest restoration and carbon emissions linked to these activities.
     
    Rafael Monge, Director of Costa Rica’s National Centre of Geo-environmental Information (CENIGA), added that the development of an early warning system will generate useful information that will be used to take quicker decisions that help stop and anticipate illegal activities linked to deforestation.
     
    The proposal is supported by a great number of organisations, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations; Costa Rica’s National Forestry Financing Fund (Fonafifo); Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and the National Meteorological Agency (IMN) of Costa Rica, amongst others.
     
    Costa Rica offers visitors an abundance of unique wildlife, landscapes and climates. The country shelters approximately 6.5% of the world’s biodiversity and currently holds the United Nation’s ‘Champions of the Earth’ award for its commitment to ambitious policies to combat climate change.
     

  • Costa Rica looks to restart its tourism industry

     

    Costa Rica looks to restart its tourism industry with the development of 16 health protocols

    The Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) and representatives of the local private sector have unveiled a list of 16 health protocols for the safe reopening of some of the country’s most popular tourism areas that were affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic.
     
    The protocols relate to tourism companies in the following industries: accommodation; restaurants; aerial and aquatic recreational activities; travel agencies; tour operators; car rentals; meetings and conventions; tourism transport; adventure tourism; and spa and wellness tourism, amongst others. Further industries are expected to be added gradually.
     
    The easy-to-implement protocols establish guidelines on the use of face masks in public and private transport; the cleaning and disinfection of the equipment in tours and sports such as water sport activities; and how to apply social distancing rules when kayaking or white water rafting, for example – two of Costa Rica’s most popular water activities.
     
    Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister, María Amalia Revelo Raventós, said: “These protocols are a great step for the country to start getting ready to welcome visitors again. Although the reactivation of the tourism sector will be gradual and linked to the recommendations of the Ministry of Health, having these 14 protocols in place will allow business to safely plan, prepare and get ready to reopen.”
     
    Gustavo Alvarado, Director of Tourism Management at the Costa Rica Tourism Board, mentioned: “These protocols are easy to implement as they were designed to generate the lowest economic cost to those companies who have struggled the most during the pandemic.”
     
    The 16 protocols were agreed among by a committee of 68 professionals from the country’s both public and private sectors. In Costa Rica, the public and the private sectors have been deeply engaged in tourism policy design and implementation since the 1980s. Their cooperation frequently takes the form of co-governance, in which an autonomous institution in charge of policy for a particular economic sector is created, with a board of directors comprising representatives from both the public and the private sectors. This way of working has proved to be very successful for the country, as tourism measures are agreed by a majority and no changes are introduced if a change of Government takes place.
     
    The Costa Rica Tourism Board has also been organising regular online trainings and webinars with the country’s tourism partners to keep them up to date on the government’s measures on Covid-19 and to discuss how to implement the health protocols in their businesses.
     
    Costa Rica received 78,562 visitors from the UK in 2019.
     

  • Costa Rica publishes a list of Covid-19 testing facilities for visitors returning to their countries

    The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) has published a list of clinics and medical premises where international visitors can book a Covid-19 test before returning to countries that require a negative result, such as the UK. Over 100 medical practices spread all over the country are included in the document approved by the Ministry of Health.

    These medical practices can carry out two types of Covid-19 testing: PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and lateral flow antigen tests; and some of these practices can do the testing at hotels. Results of the PCR tests will be delivered by email within 48 hours and within two hours for the antigen tests. Costs of the PCR tests vary from $100 (approximately £75) in and around the country’s capital city of San Jose – where the main international airport is located – to $150 (approximately £110) elsewhere.

    Gustavo Segura Sancho, Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister, said: “Costa Rica is a safe destination to visit in 2021. The country has an exemplary healthcare system; easily accessible from the whole country; compulsory Covid-19 insurance to enter the country; reliable testing data; and clear protection protocols in place. We are really looking forward to welcoming our British friends again.”

    Last year, Costa Rica’s sector-wide Covid-19 recovery efforts were recognised by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), who gave Costa Rica its Safe Travels stamp, which allows travellers to identify destinations and businesses which have adopted the global standardised health and hygiene protocols.

    Visitors from the UK and all over the world can enter Costa Rica as long as they complete a digital epidemiological form and have travel insurance that covers accommodation in case of quarantine and medical expenses due to Covid-19 illness – this insurance can be also acquired at the airport in Costa Rica. A negative result of the PCR Covid-19 test is not necessary for passengers who enter the country by air.

  • Costa Rica, recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council for its efforts on sustainability

     

     

    Costa Rica has been recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for the continuous efforts in developing and strengthening its sustainable tourism. The ‘GSTC-Recognised Standard’ status is related to the country’s Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST) and further strengthens Costa Rica’s position as a global leader in sustainability.
     
    Launched by the Costa Rica Tourism Board in 1997, the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST) was created to provide guidelines for hotel properties and service providers to build their business model based on sustainable tourism practices. The CST is backed by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and, now, also by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
     
    “As global leaders in sustainability, we are very pleased to receive GSTC’s recognition for the Certification of Sustainable Tourism Standard. Established more than 20 years ago, the CST is the result of the public and private sector’s collaborative efforts to recognise tourism companies for their sustainable practices,” said Gustavo Segura Sancho, Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister, who was a key player in the implementation of the CST in the country.
     
    Costa Rica is well known as a global leader in sustainability – the country produces nearly 99% of its electricity from renewable resources and it is currently home to over 6.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Costa Rica also aims to become one of the first countries to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
     
    Achieving the GSTC-Recognised status means that a sustainable tourism standard has been reviewed by GSTC technical experts and the GSTC Accreditation Panel. “CST is a well-established certification programme with a clever scheme of market incentives for participating businesses,” said Randy Durband, GSTC CEO.
     
    Today, more than 400 tourism companies across Costa Rica are CST certified. The scheme is valid for two years. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all certificates will remain in place until January 2021 to support businesses during this extraordinary time, as long as companies keep up with their standards.

  • Countries send aid to ease oxygen emergency in India

    International efforts are under way to help India as the country suffers critical oxygen shortages amid a devastating surge in Covid cases.

    The UK has begun sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices. EU members are also due to send aid. The US is lifting a ban on sending raw materials abroad, enabling India to make more of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

    India's capital Delhi has extended its lockdown as overcrowded hospitals continue to turn patients away. The government has approved plans for more than 500 oxygen generation plants across the country to boost supplies.

    Meanwhile neighbouring Bangladesh has announced that it will close its border with India from Monday to prevent the spread of the virus. India reported 349,691 more cases in the 24 hours to Sunday morning and another 2,767 deaths, however the true figures are thought to be much higher.

    The first consignment of aid has left the UK and is due to arrive in India on Tuesday. Further shipments will take place later in the week. The aid includes 495 oxygen concentrators - which can extract oxygen from the air when hospital oxygen systems have run out - as well as 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators.

    In a statement UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We stand side by side with India as a friend and partner during what is a deeply concerning time in the fight against Covid-19.” The spike in infection has led to the cancellation of a planned visit by Mr Johnson to India and to a travel ban.

    Other nations, including the UAE, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands have also banned flights from India. The White House says it will immediately provide raw materials for vaccines to Indian vaccine manufacturers.

    "Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need," said President Joe Biden. It follows calls by Indian officials and the Serum Institute of India (SII) for the US to lift export controls on raw materials for vaccines that were put in place in February.

    Washington has also been criticised for delaying a decision on sending surplus vaccine doses abroad. The US will also provide medical equipment and protective gear. France meanwhile says it will provide oxygen.

    In Brussels, the European Commission said it planned to send oxygen and medicine too. Its head Ursula von der Leyen said the organisation was "pooling resources to respond rapidly to India's request for assistance". India's neighbour Pakistan - which has tense relations with Delhi amid territorial disputes - offered medical equipment and supplies and its Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted prayers for a "speedy recovery".

    The country's Edhi foundation has also offered to send a fleet of 50 ambulances to India.

  • Covid infections on the rise across South Asia

    As India battles a major coronavirus wave, there's concern about rising infection levels in neighbouring countries.

    Travel and other restrictions have been introduced amid fears that poorly resourced local health services will be unable to cope. In India, daily case numbers and deaths began rising in March and then surged dramatically.

    India's immediate neighbours have also seen numbers rising - although on different trajectories. There's particular concern about Nepal, which saw sharply rising infections in April.

    Nepal shares a 1,880km (1,168 mile) land border with India, and many people regularly cross it for business, tourism and family reasons. It was reported that the country's former king Gyanendra had tested positive after making a visit to India, although it's not clear where he caught the virus.

    In March, the Nepalese authorities brought in additional health checks at border crossings, finally closing more than 20 crossing points on May 1. Restrictions were imposed in the Kathmandu valley area on April 29.

    Bangladesh saw case numbers rising from early March, and brought in a national lockdown on April 5 (which has now been extended to May 16). The land border with India was also closed to passenger traffic for two weeks from April 26, although some people are still being allowed to cross.

    Daily reported cases in Bangladesh have come down significantly since then. In Pakistan, cases and deaths have also risen sharply, leading to fears about the strain on the health service. Border restrictions have been imposed for travellers from India, and from Afghanistan and Iran

    .

    Sri Lanka has also seen a sudden surge in case numbers since mid-April, leading it to close schools in some areas, restrict religious gatherings and ban travel from India. There are fears that India variants may be partly to blame for growing case numbers in neighbouring countries.

    Health experts are looking at whether one of these types of variant might be more transmissible. But it's also possible that new infections could be linked to variants from elsewhere, such as the UK one.

    Nepal sent 15 samples collected two months ago to a WHO-certified lab in Hong Kong, which discovered the UK variant in nine of them and the India variant in one. And in Pakistan, genome sequencing in April found the UK variant was present in a majority of samples.

    The health authorities in the southern province of Sindh have also identified the presence of the South Africa and Brazil variants. The South Africa variant has also been found in Bangladesh.

    The limited testing and relatively high positive numbers coming back means the true extent of infection is not being mapped. Doctors, health experts and others have also pointed out that public adherence to Covid safety measures has slipped over time, with mixed messages coming from political leaders.

    In Pakistan, doctors struggling with growing case numbers and limited hospital facilities have even spoken of their relief that the army was being used to help enforce social distancing and other measures. The slow rate of vaccinations is a major concern.

    Countries in the region began rolling out vaccines in January, but they are not yet widespread enough to make a real difference.

    Nepal has administered about 7.2 doses per 100 people, Bangladesh 5.4, Sri Lanka 4.8, Pakistan one, and Afghanistan 0.6, according to the latest data. In the UK, it's about 76 doses per 100, in the US about 75, in the European Union nearly 37 and in China more than 20.

    Nepal and Sri Lanka had to stop their vaccination drives at one point until they received donations of the Sinopharm vaccine from China. Pakistan has also turned to both Chinese and Russian vaccines to try to boost its vaccination programme.

  • Covid vaccine shortage in India reaches desperation point

    Covid cases and deaths in India are spiking across the country with only about 26 million people having been fully vaccinated out of a population of 1.4 billion. And, about 124 million have received a single dose.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has cancelled exports, reneging on international commitments. Worse, vaccine stocks in the country have nearly dried up, and no-one is sure when more will arrive.

    Just as millions of Indians were trying to register online for a Covid jab - the vaccine portal and its accompanying apps have crashed. From May 1, India is opening up vaccination for roughly 600 million more people, to cover 18-44 year olds. But CoWin, as the platform is known, couldn't handle it.

    Experts say the government should have finished vaccinating people above 45 before opening it up further, especially when supply was low. In fact, this appeared to be the plan until as recently as 6 April, when the health ministry said the drive could not simply be accelerated and that it was not yet considering expanding it to all adults.

    It's likely the rapid, unrelenting surge in cases and reports that younger people were increasingly being admitted to hospital with severe symptoms led to the decision.

    Economist Partha Mukhopadhyay said: "They should have held their nerve and focused on the vulnerable. Now the 45 and above have to compete with 600 million new demanders."

    Those who have received no doses or a single dose so far have been queuing up at centres before supply runs out, raising the risk of infection. But that's not the only factor that has thrown India's vaccine drive into chaos.

    Until now, India's federal government had been the sole purchaser of the two approved vaccines - Covishield, developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University and manufactured by SII (Serum Institute of India); and Covaxin, made by a local firm Bharat Biotech. But it's now thrown open the market to not just 28 state governments, but also private hospitals, all of whom can directly negotiate and buy from the two vaccine makers. And they have to pay far more.

    The federal government still gets 50% of stocks for 150 rupees ($2; £1.40) per dose, but states have to pay double that, and private hospitals eight times as much - all while competing for the remaining half. The different prices are concerning, says Srinath Reddy, a public health expert who advises federal and state governments on tackling Covid-19.

    "All vaccination should be free, it's for public good," he says. "And why should states pay a higher price? They are also using tax payer money."

    He fears that it's now a seller's market, where the poorest Indians are likely to be last in line.