Governments must act swiftly to salvage biodiversity UN report finds

10 May 2010A new biodiversity report released today by two United Nations environmental bodies concluded that unless radical and creative action is taken quickly to conserve the variety of life on Earth, natural systems that support lives and livelihoods are at risk of collapsing. “We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes in the forward of the report produced by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).“To tackle the root causes of biodiversity loss, we must give it higher priority in all areas of decision-making and in all economic sectors.”Based on scientific assessments, some 110 national reports and future scenarios for biodiversity, Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) shows that world leaders failed to deliver on their commitment to reduce the global rate of biodiversity loss by this year.The five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss – habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change – are either constant or increasing in intensity, according to the report. “Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, calling the report “a wake-up call for humanity.”The authors point out that for a fraction of the money summoned up instantly by the world’s governments in 2008-09 to avoid economic meltdown, they can avoid a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems. For example, destruction of the Amazon forest caused by climate change, deforestation and fires has consequences for global climate, regional rainfall and widespread species extinction. “Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP.The report will be part of the discussions at the General Assembly’s high-level debate in September in New York. Its conclusions will also likely be discussed at the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit in October, attended by the 193 parties to the CBD, which entered into force at the end of 1993 and addresses threats to biodiversity and ecosystems. read more

World must boost efforts to protect Somali civilians UN expert says

“I am deeply disturbed by the continuing endless reports of civilian casualties – many of them women and children – caused by ongoing fighting in [the] south-central region and in [the capital] Mogadishu,” Shamsul Bari, the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights, said in a news release.One hospital alone in Mogadishu has reported 1,400 war-wounded people in the first half of this year, said Mr. Bari, who has just wrapped up visits to Somalia, Kenya and Uganda.“Many children and young people risk being recruited by armed groups and used in the front lines and there are generations who have known nothing but violence and conflict,” he warned.The death toll in the first seven months of this year is higher than of the same period last year, with reports of nearly 1,000 civilians having died and more than 2,500 others having been injured. Most of the casualties resulted from shelling by warring groups in the capital.Somalia is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today, with one in every seven Somali children dying before the age of five and one in very five children in the south-central region being malnourished, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).The Independent Expert called on the international community to “explore all possible means” to stop many scourges: summary executions, including the beheadings of innocent people; amputations; flogging; whipping; forcible marriage of young girls to militiamen; use of civilians as human shields; the imposition of strict dress codes on women; prohibition on the use of public mass media; and bans on listening to music and public gatherings.For his part, Augustine Mahiga, the top UN envoy to the Horn of Africa nation, voiced hope today that the increased representation of the UN Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) will help to further the peace process in the country.The Office, which is headed by Mr. Mahiga, has been based in Nairobi due to security concerns.Within the next few months, UNPOS will have increased numbers of both international and national staff in Garowe and Hargeisa in the self-declared autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland, respectively, to join national staff already on the ground, he said.“After this, UNPOS will crucially need to be in Mogadishu although for security reasons we will have to take a cautious approach,” noted Mr. Mahiga, who is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative.He noted that there are many tasks, including collecting information and interacting with the Somali Government, the African Union’s peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) and other partners, which can only be done on the ground.Currently, there are more than 60 international UN staff based inside Somalia’s borders, as well as nearly 800 national staff from various UN agencies delivering humanitarian aid and implementing recovery and development schemes.The world body has continued to deliver relief – including health and nutrition activities – to 3.2 million people in the country. Although the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has temporarily suspended its distributions in parts of southern Somalia, it continues to feed 340,000 people in Mogadishu.“The UN works hard to be as close to those suffering the effects of the conflict as possible,” Mr. Mahiga stressed. 10 August 2010An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on the international community to step up efforts to protect civilians in Somalia, where the world body is hoping to boost its presence in a bid to advance the peace process in the war-torn country. read more

Canada ranks among worlds best places for corporate taxes

OTTAWA — Canada has moved up three places to eighth in a global comparison of the most advantageous place to pay corporate taxes, placing the country in the top 10 for the first time.The annual study by PwC, in conjunction with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, shows Canada moving sharply up in a 185-country comparison.Canada placed 28th as recently as 2010, but continuing reductions of the corporate rate both federally and provincially, as well as reduced red tap, has dramatically improved its standing.The advance, from a business point of view, coincides with the federal government’s efforts to brand a 25% national corporate tax rate, harmonization of sales taxes in Ontario, and improvement in the easy of filing taxes.“As far as most countries are concerned, we’re actually a pretty friendly jurisdiction,” said Jason Safar, a partner with PwC’s tax service in Toronto.“Canada’s current tax laws have attractive tax regimes, which impact all companies — in particularly small-medium sized domestic companies.”The new study, which is being issued early Monday, is not the only one to have judged Canada’s corporate tax regime favourably from a business viewpoint.Last year, Forbes magazine ranked Canada the best country in the world to do business, citing its dropping tax rate, sound banks, investor protection and relative lack of red tape.The PwC comparison looks at three specific metrics — tax rates, the average number of hours businesses devote to paying taxes each year, and how many times a year they must file. The latter two relate to the ease of operating in the country, and PwC says it is more important than many believe.“The economic analysis to compare the paying taxes indicators with gross domestic product and foreign direct investment suggests that while higher business taxation can be linked to slower economic growth and international investment, reducing the administrative burden and complexity of the tax system can potentially be linked to a greater change in overall growth,” the report states.“The implication is that minimizing the time and effort which businesses need to spend on complying with the tax system is equally important for governments when considering how best to stimulate and sustain economic growth.”Safar said the tax ease indicator may simply be measuring the efficiency of a country’s economy.Africa and South America score poorly on the measures, while North America is near the top of the class.PwC said it took on average 131 hours for a typical Canadian company to comply with its annual tax obligations, just over half the global average. As well, while a typical Canadian firm makes six payments a year, the world average is 27.In the overall comparison, the United Arab Emigrates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia place in the top three. Ireland, at six, is the only other designated industrial country in the top 10.Among Canada’s direct economic competitors, the United Kingdom scores the closest at number 16, followed by France at 53, the United States, 69, Germany 72, Japan, 127 and Italy, 131.Canada’s total average tax rate on medium-sized domestic companies is listed as 26.9%, the U.K.’s at 35.5% and the United States at 46.7%.Safar said the amount individual companies pay in specific jurisdictions may vary — but in the real world most firms pay less taxes in Canada than comparable companies in the U.S.“And that’s different from what it was in the 1990s. Canadian corporate rates used to be up in the low to mid-40s, now the top corporate rate is in the mid-20s,” he said.Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, against opposition criticism, has pushed lowering corporate rates since coming to office in early 2006, arguing that the more money left in company hands, the greater the benefits in terms of investment and job creation.Critics argue that Canada has now reached a level of diminishing returns. Even Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has taken the corporate community to task for sitting on about $500 billion of “dead money,” when the country needs firms to invest on efficiencies and expand.The report does not try to settle the issue, although Safar said there are probably good reasons firms don’t feel now is a good time to radically ramp up investment, particularly given the uncertainty about the economy.“If you are a little bit unsure where things are headed, you are not going to jump in with both feet and furthermore, you are not going to spend the money because you have it,” he said. read more