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11 December 2019

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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everyone.

**Climate Change

The Secretary-General is back in Madrid at the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP25.  Today he spoke at the high-level event on Global Climate Action, where he called on the world’s biggest emitters to do much more on climate, warning that “if we do not reach carbon neutrality by 2050, all our current efforts to promote sustainable development will be undermined”.  The Secretary‑General stressed that in 2020 “we must deliver what the scientific community has defined as a must, or we and every generation that follows will pay an unbearable price”.

He also laid out his 10 priorities to tackle the climate crisis which include:  securing commitments from the main emitters of more ambitious national commitments by 2020; ensuring that all governments follow the example of the 75 countries that committed to coming forward by next year with net zero emissions strategies for 2050; and ensuring that national commitments include a just transition for people whose jobs and livelihoods are affected as we move from the grey to the green economy.  He urged the participants at COP25 to stand firm, work together and refuse to relent in this fight for our lives.

The Secretary-General also spoke at the high-level event on Caring for Climate, organized by the Global Compact, where he called on businesses to unite behind the science by taking rapid and ambitious action to tackle the climate crisis.  He also urged private sector leaders to challenge their Governments to enable businesses and the financial sector to invest decisively in a net-zero future.  And at that same event, it was announced that the size of the Business Ambition Alliance has increased from 90 businesses at the Climate Action Summit in September to 177 now.  These businesses comprise almost 6 million employees.  In addition, there has been a major jump in investors in the Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance, from $2.4 trillion at Climate Summit to nearly $4 trillion now.  And the Secretary-General has continued to meet with ministers at COP25 and will continue to do so over the next few days.

**Ukraine

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will visit Ukraine from 12 to 13 December.  In Kyiv, Ms. DiCarlo will hold talks with Ukrainian authorities, representatives of United Nations agencies and partner civil society organizations, including groups representing internally displaced persons, women and youth.

**Normandy Four Summit

And yesterday, we issued the following statement, saying:  The Secretary-General welcomes the outcomes of the meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine (Normandy Four) held on 9 December in Paris.  He reaffirms the strong support of the United Nations for the lead role of the member countries of the Normandy Four, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Trilateral Contact Group, and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine in the framework of the Minsk Agreements.  The Secretary-General calls on all concerned to redouble their efforts to build on recent progress towards a resolution of the conflict.  He reiterates his full support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Government of Palestine, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations today launched the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which seeks $348 million to provide assistance to 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said that half of all Palestinians living in the area are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, and the plan for 2020 prioritizes aid to those in greatest need.  About 76 per cent of the requested funds target Gaza, where the situation remains extremely fragile — with almost half the population unemployed and an estimated 62 per cent of households facing food insecurity.  Meanwhile, in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, settlement activity and related violence, loss of land, destruction of property and movement restrictions, impede access to basic services and livelihoods for Palestinians.

**Burkina Faso

We have an update from Burkina Faso, where people are facing an unprecedented protection crisis, as a result of spiralling insecurity and the erosion of access to basic services in regions along the borders with Mali and Niger.  Currently, nearly one third of the population is affected by the crisis.  Next year, some 2.2 million people will require life-saving humanitarian assistance, nearly double the 1.2 million people in need at the start of 2019.  Burkina Faso has become one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in Africa.  From January to October, the number of internally displaced persons has increased by 934 per cent, from 87,000 to 486,000 people.  Last week alone, some 7,000 people were displaced from one community in the eastern part of the country.  The UN and humanitarian partners are supporting the response by providing emergency food to the displaced.  The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan for Burkina Faso is requesting $295 million to assist 1.8 million people.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council held a debate on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.  At 3 p.m.  this afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting on non-proliferation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The number of children whose births are officially registered has increased significantly worldwide, yet 166 million children under five, or 1 in 4, remain unregistered.  According to a new report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today, which analyses data from 174 countries, the proportion of children under five registered globally is up around 20 per cent from 10 years ago, increasing from 63 per cent to 75 per cent.  Global progress is driven largely by great strides in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.  By contrast, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind the rest of the world, with Ethiopia, Zambia and Chad recording the lowest levels of registered births globally.  The full report is available online.  I would also like to congratulate UNICEF, which is celebrating its seventy-third anniversary today.  Happy birthday, UNICEF.

**International Mountain Day

And today is International Mountain Day.  This UN observance aims to highlight that mountains are home to the 15 per cent of the world´s population and a quarter of the world’s land animals and plants and providing freshwater for everyday life to half of humanity.  Their conservation is therefore a key factor for sustainable development and is part of Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  However, mountains are under threat from climate change and overexploitation.  This year’s theme is “Mountains Matter for Youth” to highlight that for rural youth, living in the mountains can be hard.  Migration from the mountains leads to abandoned agriculture, land degradation and a loss of ancient cultural traditions.

**Financial Contribution

And today we thank Bangladesh for its full payment to the UN’s regular budget.  This payment takes us to 140 fully paid-up Member States.  That’s it for me.  Do you have any questions?  Yes, please.  Betul.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was at the court… International Court of Justice, defending her country and the army, which is accused of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas.  And I was wondering if the UN has any reaction or anything to say on that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have already expressed our views concerning the situation of the Rohingya, and now the matter is in the hands of the International Court of Justice, and we trust and expect that our colleagues in the International Court of Justice will give this matter a full hearing.

Question:  Can I just follow up?  She also said that the case against her country was incomplete and incorrect.  What do you have to say on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is a matter that is before the judges of the International Court of Justice, and we'll leave the matter in their hands for this moment.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes.  Farhan, can you tell us if the Secretary‑General received the letter from Athens, from the Greek Government, concerning the legal maritime agreement between Turkey and Libya?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can confirm that we received that letter on 9 December, and it's being studied.  Regarding the Secretariat's views, the Secretariat doesn't take a position or provide comments in relation to matters concerning the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction of Member States over their maritime spaces.  However, in certain areas, such as enclosed or semi‑enclosed seas, particular attention needs to be paid to the interests of third parties.  We're confident that all parties concerned recognize the need for continued dialogue on these sensitive matters.  Needless to say, that, in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all differences should be resolved by peaceful means.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  So, first, do you agree that… does the SG feel that this agreement reached between Turkey and the National Council of Libyan… national… Government of National Accord is legal and binding?  Does Mr. [Fayez] Serraj have the authority, in the view of the SG and the UN, to reach… to conclude such an agreement?  Is there any illegal about it?  Is there any…?

Deputy Spokesman:  You heard, I just said, regarding the fact that, in certain areas, such as in enclosed or semi‑enclosed seas, particular attention needs to be paid to the interests of third parties.  To repeat, we are confident that all parties concerned recognise the need for continued dialogue on these sensitive matters.  And of course, we want it to be resolved through peaceful means.

Question:  The issue that was raised by a number of countries, including Egypt, that this agreement is illegal and Mr. Serraj has no authority to conclude such an agreement.  What is the view of the Secretary‑General, on this agreement, I mean… the bilateral agreement between Turkey and the National Accord Government of Mr. Serraj?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're studying the information that we've received.  For now, what I have to say is what I've said.  Yes, please?

Question:  Can I ask another question?  Is the Secretary‑General going to accept this illegal document as legal?  It's very important to tell us.

Deputy Spokesman:  You and your colleague should have a conversation with each other.  I seem to be hearing completely different views about the legality of this, which neatly sums up the position we're in right now.  Yes, Maggie?

Correspondent:  Farhan, yesterday, you read out some stuff on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and you said that Mr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] from WHO [World Health Organization] was concerned about the safety of health workers related to the Ebola in Congo and he wanted better security for them.  I think that was the bottom line of your statement yesterday.  There has been some criticism of WHO and the humanitarian community, and the wider humanitarian community, because they've allegedly been paying armed security escorts to help them in Congo, including, in some cases, armed groups.  And I wondered if the Secretary‑General has any opinion on that or any guidelines, because other humanitarians are saying it's compromising everybody's impartiality.

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, we do want to stress, as we have done repeatedly, the impartiality of the health workers in the area.  Their priority — and their only priority — is to make sure that all people, regardless of the activities of different groups in the area, that all people are kept safe from the threat posed by Ebola.  And it is to that end that they are doing the activities that they're doing, including contact tracing and vaccinations and other, both preventative and curative, actions.  For that, they need to be protected.  Obviously, in their effort to ensure there's staff protection, we implore all groups not to attack these humanitarian workers and health workers.  And beyond that, I would refer you to the World Health Organization.  Sherwin?

Question:  Farhan, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to Greta Thunberg being named Time person of the year?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General is, as you've seen from what he's said in recent months, very proud of Ms. Thunberg and the work she's done, but it's not just her.  As I understand it, this is a recognition of the effect that youth have been having on this debate, and the Secretary‑General has been very clear about the need for the world's leaders to listen to youth.  It is their world that we are currently damaging through our inaction and our delayed action.  One day, they will be the inheritors of the world that we have left for them, and we need to make sure that we have done right by them.  And it's good to see recognition, both of the powerful role they can have when they make their voices heard and of the importance of listening to them.  Yes, Maria?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held negotiations with American authorities, including American President.  So, one of the points of discussions was the extending of New START Treaty, and it seems there is no… still no understanding if it can be extended or… bilaterally or if there will be needed participation of China, France, German… Britain… sorry, not Germany.  So, what's… is there any SG comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you're aware that we have, in the past, voiced our support for the existence of this treaty and wanted to see its terms continued.  If there can be any progress between Russia and the United States in their discussions in terms of making sure that this agreement and its principles can be upheld, that would be a welcome step forward.  Yes?

Question:  Back to Libya.  I mean, Mr. Ghassan Salamé, yesterday or the day before, I think he tweeted, saying that General [Khalifa] Haftar is determined to occupy the capital of Tripoli by force and that will be catastrophic.  What is the action of the United Nations and the Secretariat of this warning coming from his Special Envoy to Libya?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has made clear his views about this, including in his remarks to the Security Council in his briefings.  So, Mr. Salamé has been trying to forestall any violence happening in Tripoli, and we continue to call on all parties to exercise their influence on the various groups on the ground in Libya to make sure that such violence can be prevented.

Question:  As far as you know, the Berlin meeting on Libyan affairs is still going on, and is there any date had been determined?

Deputy Spokesman:  As of now, the talks are under way, and we'll see what happens at the end of those.  Okay.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.