Study Highlights Potential Clinical Value of ePlex® Blood Culture ID Panels

CARLSBAD, Calif., Feb. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — GenMark Diagnostics, Inc. (NASDAQ:GNMK), a leading provider of automated, multiplex molecular diagnostic testing systems, announced today the publication of a manuscript in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology that highlights strong performance and the potential clinical impact of the ePlex Blood Culture Identification (BCID) Panels. The study, "Evaluation of Microbiological Performance and the Potential Clinical Impact of the ePlex Blood Culture Identification Panels for the Rapid Diagnosis of Bacteremia and Fungemia," looked prospectively at the identification of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance genes, as well as retrospectively analyzing clinical outcomes, based on ePlex BCID Panel results compared to standard of care.

Key Study Findings

In an analysis of 158 bloodstream infection episodes, the ePlex Blood Culture Identification Panels were utilized to assess potential therapeutic interventions in a timelier manner compared to conventional microbiology. With an overall sensitivity of 98%, the rapid result from the ePlex BCID Panels would have allowed the clinical team to modify treatment in 45% of patients. Moreover, lack of an ePlex BCID result was considered a loss or a probable loss of opportunity for modification of therapy in 28% of patients.

"Acceleration of the diagnosis of bacteremia using new rapid assays should become the new gold standard to improve the management and the prognosis of septic patients," said Yvan Caspar, PhD, PharmD, Hospital–University Practitioner, Bacteriology Laboratory, National Reference Center for Francisella, Grenoble Alpes University Hospital. (Full citation: Bryant, S. et. al. (2020) Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. Doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2020.594951). Dr. Caspar will be presenting these and other findings in a webinar hosted by XTalks and sponsored by GenMark on February 23, 2021. For more information or to register for the webinar visit: https://xtalks.com/webinars/rapid–blood–culture–identification–a–retrospective–clinical–analysis/

About ePlex BCID Panels

The trio of ePlex BCID Panels (Gram–Negative, Gram–Positive and Fungal Pathogen) can save days over conventional methods in the identification of pathogens that cause bloodstream infections (BSI) and sepsis. The ePlex BCID Panels are the broadest FDA–cleared panels on the market with 60 organism targets and 10 resistance genes, allowing clinicians to rapidly identify the causative agent(s) of BSI and sepsis for more patients. The panels also include identification of more organisms that are often considered contaminants, potentially leading to faster de–escalation of unnecessary antimicrobial treatment. Since unnecessary overuse of antibiotics is the primary driver of antibiotic resistance today, rapid de–escalation of therapy can help reduce the proliferation of further resistance while also saving patients from unnecessary adverse effects.

About GenMark Diagnostics
GenMark Diagnostics (NASDAQ: GNMK) is a leading provider of multiplex molecular diagnostic solutions designed to enhance patient care, improve key quality metrics, and reduce the total cost–of–care. Utilizing GenMark's proprietary eSensor detection technology, GenMark's eSensor XT–8 and ePlex systems are designed to support a broad range of molecular diagnostic tests with compact, easy–to–use workstations and self–contained, disposable test cartridges. GenMark's ePlex: The True Sample–to–Answer Solution is designed to optimize laboratory efficiency and address a broad range of infectious disease testing needs, including respiratory, bloodstream, and gastrointestinal infections. For more information, visit www.genmarkdx.com.

Forward–Looking Statements
This press release includes forward–looking statements regarding events, trends and business prospects, which may affect our future operating results and financial position. Such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results and financial position to differ materially. Some of these risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the particular clinical value of our BCID Panels in respect of a particular institution or patient population, the impact of our BCID Panels on antimicrobial stewardship outcomes, our ability to satisfy the supply demands of our customers, and other risks and uncertainties described under the “Risk Factors” in our public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We assume no responsibility to update or revise any forward–looking statements to reflect events, trends or circumstances after the date they are made.

Media Contact
Lauren Martin
(815) 592–6296
lmartin@pcipr.com

Investor Relations Contact
Leigh Salvo
(415) 937–5404


Lithium Werks Elects Jack Perkowski to Board of Directors as a Non-Executive Director

AUSTIN, Texas and ENSCHEDE, The Netherlands, Feb. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Lithium Werks BV is proud to announce the election of Jack Perkowski as a non–executive director to the Lithium Werks Board of Directors. Perkowski joins founders T. Joseph Fisher, III and Christian R. Ringvold as directors of the company.

Perkowski brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in fields of corporate strategy, raising capital and assembling management teams.

Perkowski founded ASIMCO Technologies in 1994, and from 1994 to 2008, served as the Chairman of ASIMCO's Board of Directors and the company's Chief Executive Officer. Under Perkowski's leadership, ASIMCO became one of the most important players in China's automotive components industry and gained a reputation for developing local management and integrating a broad–based China operation into the global economy.

In 2009, Perkowski founded JFP Holdings, a merchant banking firm focused on China, where he now serves as Chairman. JFP Holdings was established to help integrate the world's greatest providers of technology and know–how with China's rapidly growing economy by helping foreign companies gain access to the China market and helping domestic companies develop global footprints.

Perkowski currently also serves on the China Advisory Council of Magna International Inc., one of the world's largest auto suppliers; the Board of Advisers for the Center for Emerging Markets at Northeastern University; the International Advisory Board of Management and Economics (IABME) at Tianjin University in China; and as a member of the Board of Directors for ADOMANI, Inc., a publicly traded electric vehicle company.

Widely recognized as an expert on doing business in China, Perkowski authored Managing the Dragon: How I'm Building a Billion Dollar Business in China. Perkowski is a frequent speaker and commentator on the subject of China to the broadcast media.

"We are thrilled to welcome Jack to our Board. His international contacts and global business acumen will be of great benefit to Lithium Werks as we continue to grow and expand our international presence," commented T. Joseph Fisher, III, who is co–founder and Chief Executive Officer.

Lithium Werks possesses the world's most comprehensive portfolio of Lithium Iron Phosphate materials, cells, intellectual property LFP patents and products. Lithium Werks operates in China, Europe, and the United States. For more information, please visit us at www.lithiumwerks.com.

Contact:
lwmarketing@lithiumwerks.com


India Glacier Disaster: In a Warming World is there no Less Lethal Way to Power Development?

Studies show that glaciers in India are permanently losing ice, not only owing to higher temperatures from global warming but also in response to “deprived precipitation conditions” High siltation as the Teesta, a Himalayan glacier-sourced river which rises from the Eastern Himalayas, is dammed at the Teesta barrage at Siliguri, West Bengal. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Studies show that glaciers in India are permanently losing ice, not only owing to higher temperatures from global warming but also in response to “deprived precipitation conditions” High siltation as the Teesta, a Himalayan glacier-sourced river which rises from the Eastern Himalayas, is dammed at the Teesta barrage at Siliguri, West Bengal. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Feb 16 2021 – On Sunday morning, Feb. 7, as most of the working-class in India’s Himalayan State of Uttarakhand went about their chores, the glacier-fed Rishi Ganga river started rising. Two hours later, swollen with rock debris and snowmelt, its waters rose 53 feet — the height equivalent of a five-storey building.

The Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS), part of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), estimates that approximately 2 to 3 million cubic metres of water was released in the surrounding rivers.

As the brown-grey, monstrous body of water crashed down the steep river path, hilltop residents first to see it lost no time. Mothers called their sons working on the construction of the 480 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad hydro-power project and dam and urged them to flee.

“Flee for your mother’s sake”, they pleaded. Several people on high ground recorded the disaster, posting it immediately as an alert on social media. Frantic shouts from brothers and friends to those in harm’s way to “climb up somewhere, anywhere,” echoed down into the valley and saved lives.

But not everyone’s.

Even before the echoes of their calls had died down the water mass had smashed through the construction of the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydro-power project and the functional 13.2 MW Rishiganga project as if they were Legos.

It swept 30 workers into the dam’s 1,500-metre tunnel and carried others downstream.

Rescue workers entered the muddy waters, waded in knee-deep muck and searched for bodies stuck in boulders and tree roots downstream. Bodies, rescuers said, were found 150 kilometres downstream from the Tapovan dam site, many mutilated beyond recognition.

The missing people include around 120 workers from the dam construction and villagers whose homes were washed away. Even those out in the grazing pastures and working on farms got caught up in what appeared to be a glacial lake outburst flood. These floods are characterised by a sudden release of a huge amount of lake water that rushes along the channel downstream in the form of dangerous flood waves.

As of today, Feb. 16, 20 bodies and 12 human limbs have been cremated after DNA sampling; 58 bodies have been recovered and 164 are still missing.

What really triggered the flash-floods?

The day after the disaster the government’s IIRS put out a notice on its website stating, “it is observed from the satellite data of Feb. 7, 2021 in the catchment of Rishi Ganga river at the terminus of the glacier at an altitude of 5,600m a landslide triggered a snow avalanche covering approximately 14 sq.km area and causing a flash flood in the downstream of Rishi Ganga river.”

But the story of what generated the flood is the story of a warming climate.

“Satellite images do not show the presence of a lake,” Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist and Professor of Environmental Science at Nichols College in Massachusetts, told IPS via a Skype call.

It raised the question of why there had been such a large flood of water.  

“The likely explanation is that the landslide blocked a glacial stream and subsequently the stream burst through after being dammed. This is what I would look for — a temporary blockage of maybe for an hour. Even a 15-minute blockage could pile up a lot of water (from large glaciers streams),” Pelto said.

An ISRO satellite image taken on Feb. 6 shows a crack developing on the Trishul rock glacier. On the morning of Feb. 7, the mountain face shows the block of rock, with some ice, had dropped from about 5,600 m to about 3,800 m, crashing almost two kilometres and fragmenting to generate a huge rock and ice avalanche. It barrelled down the steep glacier with huge speed generating heat and gathering more ice, water and rocks into itself each every millisecond.

A study by the Divecha Centre for Climate Change (DCCC) of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, using modelling studies, said that when the stone and snow avalanche came crashing from 5,600m down the mountain side, the impact could have breached subglacial lakes. Subglacial lakes are bodies of water that form beneath ice masses when meltwater is generated evading satellite capture.

This, they said, was the bulk water source of the flash floods.

Scattered settlements at the foothills of the Himalayas with a glacier-fed river meandering close in Nepal. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Scattered settlements at the foothills of the Himalayas with a glacier-fed river meandering close in Nepal. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

How much was climate change responsible?

“This event occurred after a post-monsoon season featuring high snowlines (Glacier snowlines are indicators for the elevation where melting predominates) on Trishul and adjacent glaciers and the warmest January in the last six decades in Uttarakhand,” said Pelto, who since 1984 has directed the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project that monitors the mass balance and behaviour of glaciers in North America.

“By mid-October 2020, the snowline had risen to 5,800 – 6,000 metres above sea level on Trishul and an adjacent seven glaciers as seen in Landsat and Sentinel satellite imagery. This rising snowline indicates warmer temperature and a height above which the freezing line rose frequently in 2020. This also indicates that the freezing line rose frequently above the Trishul landslip/ collapse point at 5,600m frequently enough in 2020. Here melting exceeded snowfall,” he explained.

“After the October 2020 warmth, by Jan.11, snow blanketed the glaciers down to 4,400 m, but again a subsequent warm period led to widespread melting and snow cover loss climbed up to at least 5,000 m on the Trishul Glacier,” Pelto explained.

“Three coincidences are aligned here: Right at this very warm year, right at the elevation where unusual melting occurred, you have a landslide. Why would it happen now? There is an answer in the alignment,” he told IPS, explaining that the answer was climate change.

Supporting this explanation is research published in Science Direct in July 2020, which assessed the impact of climate change on glaciers in the same region – the upper Rishi Ganga catchment, Nanda Devi region in Central Himalaya from 1980 to 2017. It found 10 percent of glaciated areas had been lost – from 243 square kilometres in 1980  down to 217 in 2017.

Another significant finding from this research is that glaciers here are permanently losing ice, not only owing to higher temperatures from global warming but also in response to “deprived precipitation conditions” since 1980. Deficient winter rains, which glaciers largely grow on, is in fact starving them.

Pelto said glaciers here are more thinning than retreating, particularly in the glacial area between the snowline and someplace below the top region, which is debris covered.

This would eventually lead to an increased number of glacial lakes spread over more area. The potential for a glacial lake outburst disaster thus spreads and endangers more places and more communities.

Worse could happen. According to a study published this January in The Cryosphere, meltwater from ice avalanches in the Himalayan western Tibetan Plateau have been filling downstream lakes in a way that may cause previously-separated lakes to merge within the next decade.

As the glacier retreats it leaves a large void behind. Ponds occupy the depression earlier occupied by glacial ice. The moraine walls composed of large rocks, sediment (glacier debris) that were in the glacier act as a dam but are structurally weak and unstable and undergo constant changes and there exists the danger of catastrophic failure, causing glacial lake outburst floods.

The propagation of these flood surges trigger landslides and bank erosion that temporarily block the surge waves and result in a series of surges as the landslide dam breach.

Earthquakes may also be one of the triggering factors depending upon its magnitude, location and other characteristics. Discharge rates of such floods are typically several thousand cubic meters per second.

“In the recent event we see snowlines lines rising higher and on the other hand there was no retained snow on glaciers. If this happens the glaciers cannot survive,” Pelto said.

Of the Trishul rock face that cracked and collapsed, Pelto said, “All mountain faces are living with lot of cracks. Over time they may widen. Ordinarily the cracks are held together by the ice covering. Take the ice away and they are not held together anymore, vulnerable to rock slips.

“These are preconditions to the disaster. I expect to see more of such (Chamoli tragedy) events,” he told IPS.

A glacier, in Uttarakhand state, India. On Feb. 7, a block of rock with some ice had dropped from the Trishul rock glacier from about 5,600 m to about 3,800 m, crashing almost two kilometres and fragmenting to generate a huge rock and ice avalanche. It barrelled down the steep glacier with huge speed generating heat and gathering more ice, water and rocks into itself each every millisecond. Courtesy: Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA.

A glacier, in Uttarakhand state, India. On Feb. 7, a block of rock with some ice had dropped from the Trishul rock glacier from about 5,600 m to about 3,800 m, crashing almost two kilometres and fragmenting to generate a huge rock and ice avalanche. It barrelled down the steep glacier with huge speed generating heat and gathering more ice, water and rocks into itself each every millisecond. Courtesy: Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA.

Too many hydropower projects, too many lost lives

With steep slopes that make river electricity generation possible, government sources said Uttarakhand is being developed as an ‘energy state’ to tap an estimated hydropower electric potential of over 25,000 MW.

About 77 percent of the capacity owned by state utilities is based on hydropower. According to sources, while Uttarakhand’s hydropower installed capacity is 3,177 MW from about 40 operational projects, a total 87 more projects are being developed by the Uttarakhand government, government of India and private power producers.

But in a sensitive, somewhat unstable river bed region, even if it is clean energy production, the risk of avalanche, flash floods, loss of life and costly infrastructure is to be carefully weighed against development gains, activists have been saying. 

After the massive 2013 floods in Uttarakhand caused by high-intensity rainfall over days and seen as the worst extreme climatic disaster in 100 years in the Himalayan region, India’s highest court banned further hydropower installation in the state. The court had stated in its ruling that no proper disaster management plan was in place. But the Indian and state governments have found ways to circumvent the ban, aiming to export electricity beyond the state.

Over 2013 to 2015, Uttarakhand lost an astounding 268 sq. km of forest cover as documented by the bi-annual India State of Forest Report. Much of the cleared land was for development projects, including roads, hydropower projects and distribution lines, hotels, and mining. In 2019 some forest cover was regained.

“When you need to produce a lot of electricity locally and hydropower is the easiest available method, run-of-the-river where pipes or weirs extract water at a height and drop it over a turbine would get sufficient output even while returning the water back to the river,” Pelto said. This echoes the majority voices advising small and micro hydro projects that can power several villages clusters, instead of large or medium projects.

“When you invest in a structure all across a river’s width you spend a lot, what are the chances it will last 50 years?” Pelto cautioned.

Families of the 58 dead shudder to imagine their loved ones taken over by the ferocious sludge-waters, choking them deep inside the 1,500-metre Tapovan-Vishnugad dam tunnel, carrying others like straw dashed against rocks. And the families of the 164 missing wait with hope dimming. They have every right to ask the governments “is there really no less-lethal way to generate electricity for development?”

 


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Making the UN Tax Committee More Effective for Developing Countries

The UN Tax Committee shapes the rules through which Multinational Enterprises are taxed. Here we provide practical recommendations on how the Committee can be reformed to be made more effective, especially for the interests of developing countries.

By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary
GENEVA, Feb 16 2021 – The United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (UN Tax Committee) is an important and influential subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that shapes standards and guidelines on international taxation. These are the rules through which Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) are taxed.

Its role post-COVID has become even more important as countries struggle to raise revenue. Despite being under-resourced, it has produced valuable guidance, especially on the crucial question of the digital economy. As a new Membership of the Committee is about to be selected, this brief provides practical recommendations on how the Committee can be reformed to be made more effective, especially for the interests of developing countries.

If foreign MNEs do not pay the rightful taxes due, owing to tax evasion or avoidance, then it results in a higher burden on domestic firms, leading to competition concerns. Foreign firms end up with more funds at their disposal through which they can carry out predatory pricing or buyout rivals

The United Nations is the foremost international organization, setup in the aftermath of the Second World War to help build a new world. One of its six principal organs is the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), tasked with advancing the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. In that sense it plays a major role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the world has committed to.

Nestled within ECOSOC is a little-known but vitally important subsidiary body with the somewhat archaic and lengthy title of “Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters”, popularly known as the UN Tax Committee (UNTC).

The UNTC is responsible for nothing less than reviewing and recommending standards on international taxation, notably the rules through which non-residents, particularly Multinational Enterprises (MNEs), may be taxed.

As is well known, in today’s world there is a growing concentration of wealth and corporate consolidation, with one company even reaching a staggering market valuation of USD 2 trillion. This is juxtaposed with an estimated $427 billion in tax revenue lost each year to international corporate tax abuse and private tax evasion. This makes the taxation of these MNEs (and non-residents more generally) an important source of revenue for the countries where they operate. 

There is also the aspect of a level playing field, because if these foreign MNEs do not pay the rightful taxes due, owing to tax evasion or avoidance, then it results in a higher burden on domestic firms, leading to competition concerns. Foreign firms end up with more funds at their disposal through which they can carry out predatory pricing or buyout rivals.

The disruption of local businesses has many negative effects, with one of them being reduced consumer demand owing to job losses. This is harmful even for the foreign MNE as it means less demand for their goods and services. Thus, non-payment of taxes leads to a vicious cycle of economic slowdown, while tax compliance means fairer competition, higher consumer demand and more capacity of governments to provide public goods, leading to a virtuous cycle of prosperity.

Thus, international tax standards are of critical importance, as they enable countries to effectively tax MNEs and raise the revenue needed for providing public goods and financing the SDGs. Improved capacity for tax collection is in fact target 17.1 of the SDGs.

The UN Tax Committee, housed within ECOSOC, hence has a crucial role to play for the world at large. It is also the only standard shaping body on tax that is within a genuinely universal organization, the UN. The other major body, the OECD, remains to this day an organization ultimately controlled by 37 of the world’s richest countries. Hence the UNTC is the only body where developing countries have something close to a level playing field and the Committee’s membership is almost evenly divided between developed and developing countries.

Though far less resourced than the OECD, the UNTC has performed admirably, producing standards such as the UN Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries, Manual for the Negotiation of Bilateral Tax Treaties between Developed and Developing Countries, Practical Manual on Transfer Pricing and Handbook on Selected Issues for Taxation of the Extractive Industries by Developing Countries. These documents provide much-needed guidance to countries, particularly developing countries, in strengthening their international tax policy frameworks.

The recent sessions of the Committee have seen a spurt of activity as some of the more active Members, all from developing countries, have taken the lead in finding solutions to some of the burning issues of the day. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the taxation of the digitalized economy, arguably the single most important issue in international tax today.

The digitalized economy can no longer be hived off into a sector; it is increasingly a part of the ‘real’ economy and as such calls for major changes to international tax rules. The OECD has been trying for years to find a solution through its “Inclusive” Framework on BEPS, but there is no end in sight as discussions continue endlessly. Meanwhile developing countries are ever more stressed for funds, particularly in these times of recession and COVID-19.

While the OECD, with its enormous resources and Secretariat, continues to struggle to find a practical and acceptable solution, the more modest UNTC, in its 20th and 21st Session has come out with a simple and realistic proposal for taxing income from Automated Digital Services, one that has been prepared entirely by developing country members. That the Committee could provide such a solution in a relatively short period of time with all its constraints is a testament to its relevance, but more importantly unfulfilled potential.

These outcomes have happened not because of the UNTC’s structure but rather despite it and can be attributed to the individual drive and initiative of some Members. However it is unwise to rely on such individuals and what is needed is a system that facilitates and encourages such outcomes as a matter of course. Hence, this article seeks to examine how the structure of the UNTC can be improved so it does precisely this and is better able to fulfil its mandate.

 

Issues Relating to Committee Members

Appointment

The first and most important aspect of the UNTC’s functioning is the selection of Members, especially those from developing countries. Having passive Members who do not or cannot perform their duties effectively means that their engagement is reduced to simply approving Committee  documents on various issues without substantively contributing to them.

This is an unfortunate outcome because even though the Members are individuals serving in their expert capacity, they are nevertheless nominated by countries and the reality is that they to an extent reflect national experiences. Further, the UNTC is meant to be a Committee-driven body and the Members must have as much control as possible and should be able to drive the Committee’s work. For this, members must be selected who are capable, committed and supported.

 

Capability

The Members must have the capacity to perform their duties. For this domain knowledge is essential; candidates must have expertise in international tax matters such as exchange of information or transfer pricing. Practical experience in tax treaties should also be a necessary qualification. This will ensure that at minimum they have the capacity to substantively contribute to the Committee’s work.

 

Commitment

The Members must also have a track record which proves their commitment to the issue. This is especially important in the case of Members hailing from developing countries.

 

Support

Members of the UNTC are tax officials working with their governments but are nominated in their expert and individual capacity, hence their work is not counted as “official” in the eyes of their governments. Working for the UNTC is seen as a personal responsibility and something that eats into their official duties. Several times this trade-off means that they are unable to devote adequate time to their obligations as UNTC Members.

The way out of this is to ensure that the Committee Members have support from their governments in their work as UNTC Members and the time spent in this is important work is given due recognition and support by their governments.

It would be good if the domestic tax administrations can provide additional resources and staff to their Members. This will enable them to provide better inputs and manage their Committee work along with their official responsibilities.

Thus, it is recommended that Member States, especially those from developing countries, take these criteria into account when making nominations, so that they are putting forth the best candidates possible. They must also assess whether their respective tax administrations will be able to provide them with the requisite support so that they are able to do their best. The UN can issue guidelines encouraging countries to follow this approach.

 

Re-appointment

Sometimes Committee Members are re-appointed for the next term. All the aforementioned points are equally applicable when it comes to such reappointments. At present however the process is not transparent. Given the importance of being on the Committee, some criteria and procedures should be developed in this regard.

Only those Members should be reappointed who have demonstrated their contributions to the Committee’s functioning. A feedback mechanism can be devised which also takes into account the opinion of Observers, civil society and the UNTC Secretariat itself. The UN can share this assessment with countries when requesting them to nominate or re-nominate candidates.

 

Induction

New members should be given an introduction to the committee and how it works. They have no time to learn the ‘rules of the game’ and as a result cannot function with full efficiency. Often times they join to find that many things have been already pre-decided, such as the agenda and composition of sub-committees. To prevent this and to ensure that they are informed of how things work, it is recommended that outgoing members do some handholding for them and share their experiences. This is especially important for Members from developing countries.

 

Issues Relating to Committee functioning

 

Agenda 

The agenda should be decided by the Members. It is recommended that the inputs of UN Member States should be solicited in preparing the UNTC agenda.

 

Number of Meetings

One of the compromise outcomes of the 2015 Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development was to increase the number of Committee meetings from two per year instead of just one. However this is not at all enough for the work to get done. As a result decisions on many pending issues tend to get delayed and their resolution is dragged out. Hence, the number of Committee meetings need to be increased, with the flexibility to have additional Sessions if the work so requires.

 

Staffing of the Secretariat

The composition of the Secretariat is very important as it works full-time and continuously on the Committee’s work, unlike the Members who also have official responsibilities. So far, the Secretariat staff, especially for the core work of the Committee, comprises largely former OECD officials or officials from developed countries. The reality of this means it is easier for OECD standards proposed by developed country Committee Members to find their way into the UN Committee. To balance this, the Secretariat staff should have much larger representation from developing countries. There is no dearth of talent. 

 

Another measure in this regard is to lower the emphasis given to knowledge of multiple UN languages when hiring candidates. It should be enough for eligible candidates to know only one language. Many nationals of the developing world do not have the luxury of learning multiple UN languages, which those in the developed world do. The hiring policy should be therefore rational and flexible in this regard with a focus on subject knowledge to prevent over-representation of nationals of former colonial powers.

 

Conclusion

 

These are some concrete recommendations for improving the structure of the UNTC so it is better able to discharge its responsibilities. The reforms required are not major but nevertheless have the potential to greatly improve the Committee’s functioning, which in turn means more balanced and efficient international tax standards for a world in dire need of funds to combat COVID-19 and finance the recovery.

 

Abdul Muheet Chowdhary is Senior Programme Officer with the South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI), part of the South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental organization of developing countries.

 

This article was originally published by the South Centre.

Climate Change & Policy Making in Nepal

Rural woman farmer Chandra Kala Thapa works in the fields near Chatiune Village, Nepal. Over $39 million has been earmarked by a UN-backed fund to combat effects of climate change in Nepal. Credit: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Feb 16 2021 – Raju Pandit Chhetri is one of the most acclaimed climate change policy experts in Nepal and South Asia. As Director of the Prakiriti Resource Centre, an action focused think tank based in Kathmandu, Pandit Cheetri shares his opinion on the latest climate focused policies being undertaken by the Government of Nepal, especially the 2nd Nationally Determined Contribution NDC that was recently submitted by the Government.

Q: Before discussing the second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) released by the Government in December, what is your assessment of the first one published in October 2016?

Raju: The first NDC was much more inclusive as it tried to balance between the adaptation, mitigations and means of implementation. It was done it a short period of time and no proper format existed then. It was prepared to demonstrate Nepal’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Q: Coming now to the second NDC, it states that “Nepal is formulating a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy by 2021 with the aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050”. Given the fact that Nepal’s emissions are minimal, were you expected such goal?

Raju: Given the emission scenario and context of Nepal, achieving net-zero GHG by 2050 is doable, if there is political commitment and actions, we can achieve this even earlier. It’s great that Nepal has this vision and wants to implement it via a strategy. Given Nepal’s forest coverage, potential for renewable energy and low per capita emission this is a realistic target. Nationally we need to do more.

Q: Shouldn’t the NDC be already providing a roadmap to achieve this goal? Do we need another strategy just because the NDC document is fairly a generic one?

Raju: I guess for now, the NDC is more of a visioning paper for next five to 10 years. It would have been good if the details were presented but, in any case, for a least developed country (LDC) country with insignificant amount of carbon emission, it isn’t a bad thing. The current version does give the vision if not every detail of the targets. However, it is true that Nepal just loves preparing policies, plans and strategies rather than focusing on implementation. We have great policies not actions, unfortunately.

Q: There has been skepticism about net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050, especially in relation to the financial contributions that Nepal is committing itself (we are talking only of mitigation measures here) through what are called the unconditional commitment that will amount to $ 3.4 billion, resources that Nepal is pledging to mobilize on its own. Is it feasible?

Raju: The total cost gives at US$ 25 billion for mitigation and Nepal’s own share is arbitrary (don’t know where this is coming from). There is no basis for accounting and detail analysis. Principally, it would have been better if the numbers with commitments from Nepal were not there, after all Nepal’s emission is very low and with no historical responsibility.

However, there is no harm in submitting the second NDCs, it’s great to demonstrate that even a country like Nepal is serious on climate actions and would pressurize the rich responsible countries to come forward. But I do agree that this rush did not help in making the NDC preparation process inclusive and participatory. This is a fundamental drawback. This process would have avoided many of the shortcomings such as finance targets and making it mitigation centric.

Q: Do you think that Nepal’s proposed graduation from the group of LDCs (to the status of a middle income country) in 2024 can have a negative impact for the country’s efforts to find the needed external resources to implement the 2nd NDC?

Raju: When Nepal graduates, it will lose some of the privileges which it enjoyed as a LDC country. However, this may not matter in the short term because there is also transitional period, which it can enjoy for a few more years. Having said that if development process advances to making it a developing country from LDC then it also comes with responsibility and enhanced ability, which it must embrace. It must find other avenues and create opportunities for itself. The good thing is Nepal is often one of the favorites to donors hence, the politics must work on this favorable condition in the short and long run.

Q: Between adaptation and mitigation, how to strike the right balance? In a recent interview, you highlighted that this second NDC should have been more focused on adaptation. Why not being ambitious developing a greener economy as well?

Raju: I am always for developing a greener economy, I would even go further to say that we need much more concrete actions to reduce air pollution, import less fossil fuel and adopt a green development pathway. However, given the global scenario, Nepal is one of the lowest carbon emitting countries but highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This is being clearly seen in the areas of climate induced disasters like landslide and floods. Nepal suffers from food insecurity, poverty, water issues and many other development issues hence in this context- adaptation should not be less prioritize. Nepal’s NDC fails to realize this current reality. NDC is an international document that we submit to international organization (UNFCCC) hence in that context adaptation is always Nepal’s priority. My comment was not that we should not do mitigation but rather give due weightage to adaptation actions reflecting the reality of the county.

Q: What should we expect from the upcoming National Adaptation Plan, NAP?

Raju: There is also a huge adaptation gap in Nepal and we are way behind in fulfilling this gap. NAP should clearly state the current situation of country’s adaptation need and areas of vulnerability. In this context, provide adequate information and focus areas where adaptation is a dire need. It should help prioritize the areas of intervention, partners, identify issues, and ways to address them. Currently, NAP is in the process of making in Nepal, hope this is soon completed and this can be a basis for adaptation actions in the country.

Q: In terms of mitigation in the NDC, there are ambitious forestry targets like maintaining 45% of total area of the country under forest cover in addition to bold announcements on reducing pollution in the transportation sector. Do you remain hopeful the targets will be met?

Raju: It is good that Nepal is having some bold targets but this is not easy for Nepal to meet with the current priorities and enabling environment. There are lots of conflicting aspects when it comes to what is in the policy and what is done in practice. For sure, there is need to maintain our forest cover, address pollution in the cities, manage growing waste and significantly replace the imported fossil fuel by renewable energy. However, this is not possible merely putting it in NDC without actions. Political commitment should ensure partnership between the government, private sectors, financers and other partners to achieve these targets.

Q: Prakriti Resources Centre was one of the leading forces behind the Climate and Development Dialogue in 2019. How useful are such stakeholders ‘meetings?

Raju: We do regular meetings and gathering to share ideas and experiences from the policy to the implementation level. There are about 12 members in the dialogue who regularly exchange information on climate and development issues. We also make policy suggestions and inputs to the government. Many of our inputs have been incorporated into the policy documents. We continue to advocate for the affective implementation of these plans and policies.

Q: With the 2nd NDC being published, what should the government do now? What is the civil society planning to do? Are you going to play a role in shaping the formation of the numerous new “climate” institutions, including the Inter-Ministerial Climate Change Coordination Committee (IMCCCC) and the Climate Change Resource Center? In addition, the NDC says that by 2030, all 753 local governments will prepare and implement climate-resilient and gender-responsive adaptation plans. Is this realistic?

Raju: We will continue to be vigilant on what government does on climate actions – both in terms of policy implementation and raising new issues. We will support where needed but also push on what needs to be done.

There are a lot of things that the government needs to do both in terms of climate adaptation and mitigation. We have not even entered into the debate of loss and damage. A few months back ICIMOD and UNDP produced a report that 25 glacial lake in the Himalayas are at the risk of out-bursting. This is a huge issue for a country like, imagine one lake out bursting and it causing harm in the downstream. This is a case of loss and damage.

Government cannot just make policies and promise, it needs to acts through appropriate institutions, allocating finance and ensuring that the actions are taking place at the local level. Government has promised to make adaptation plans in all the 753 local governments and this cannot merely be an empty promise. It needs to fulfil the promise to meet the expectation of the climate vulnerable communities. But for this high degree of political commitment is a must. It needs to start from awareness building of the local governments and supporting them with technical inputs.

Q: What do you hope Glasgow 2021 will achieve? The Prakriti Resources Centre together with its peers within the Climate Finance Advisory Service, extensively analyzed the disbursement pledge of USD 100 billion goal in annual commitments from the developed countries. Where are we?

Raju: COP26 should help raise the climate ambitions so that the world is in track to achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Currently, we are heading to 3 degree world or beyond. By COP26 every country should submit an ambitious NDCs. In order to achieve this, climate finance will play a major role. Developed countries are falling short in fulfilling their promise of meeting the climate finance targets of US$100 billion per year by 2020. This gap should be filled in only then the developing countries will be able to take climate actions. The money should be balance both for mitigation and adaptation, while also prioritizing loss and damage. Developed countries have been double counting their ODA as climate finance, this should not be the case but sincere effort must be made to support climate vulnerable countries like Nepal.

Q: Last but not the least, what are your suggestions to a young graduate in Nepal that would embrace the work you are doing?

Raju: Working in the area of climate change looks appealing but without perseverance it does not last long. This is a wide open and multisectoral area hence focus is imperative. It is not easy as it sounds otherwise, we would have long back solved the problem, in fact we are nowhere near it. No doubt, more young people should join the movement and work on climate change because this is the issue about their future. However, the work must be backed by keen interest to build one’s knowledge, motivation and dedication.

To have more information about Prakiriti Resource Centre, please visit www.prc.org.np
To have more information about Climate Finance Advisory Service, please visit https://www.cfas.info/en
E-mail: simone_engage@yahoo.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simone-galimberti-4b899a3/

 


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IP, Vaccine Imperialism Cause Death and Suffering, Delay Recovery

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 2021 – Vaccine developers’ refusal to share publicly funded vaccine research findings is stalling broader, affordable vaccinations which would more rapidly contain COVID-19 contagion. The pandemic had infected at least 109 million people worldwide, causing over 2.4 million deaths as of mid-February.

Anis Chowdhury

Avoidable delays in preventive vaccination are imposing terrible burdens on the world economy and human welfare, with economic disruption demanding more relief and recovery measures. They have cost US$28 trillion in lost output globally, with developed countries contracting by 7% in 2020.

Avoidable vaccination delays
National capacities to cope with the pandemic have been largely determined by means and power. Thus, access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, personal protective equipment and other pandemic supplies has been severely lacking in most African and other poor countries.

At current vaccination rates, it would take “not one or two years, but six years” to reach 75% global coverage, currently considered the minimum to achieve ‘herd immunity’ against COVID-19.

Patent protections, vaccine production constraints and the rich country scramble will deprive more than 85 poor countries of public access to vaccines before 2023. As of 5 February, not a single dose had been administered in 130 countries with 2.5 billion people.

Of the more than 131 million doses available by 8 February, the US, China, the EU and the UK had 78%, while Africa had 0.2%! Meanwhile, the African Union has only ordered less than half of what it needs to reach herd immunity, i.e., just 670 million doses. Meanwhile, besides Brazil, other Latin American countries only have 150 million doses for less than a quarter of their population.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Supply shortfalls
By the end of 2021, total global capacity of the 13 leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers would still be well short of the needs of the world’s almost 7.7 billion people. Even if they all produce at maximum capacity, a fifth of the world’s population would not have access until 2022.

Rich countries continue to oppose the South African-Indian proposal to temporarily suspend relevant provisions of the 1994 World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to effectively block rapid scaling up of generic vaccine production.

The resulting “catastrophic moral failure” is thus mainly due to vaccine suppliers’ profit maximisation, also limiting supplies and access. Meanwhile, rich countries’ grossly excessive vaccine purchases can vaccinate their residents several times over.

The US will soon have enough to vaccinate its population twice over, while Canada and Australia have booked enough to protect residents several times over. Exceptionally, New Zealand – which has also ordered several times its population’s needs – plans to freely share vaccines with its Pacific island neighbours.

Manufactured scarcity and prices
Global needs now greatly exceed available supply. Middle-income countries have joined the scramble, making onerous direct deals with vaccine suppliers, typically on worse terms than if they had bargained collectively. Unsurprisingly, vaccine prices vary considerably, by more than 12-fold, from US$6 to US$74 per dose.

As countries have not published contract details, acceding to vaccine suppliers’ terms, lack of transparency has enabled abuses. And when forced to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests, documents are heavily redacted before release.

Such limited transparency enables ‘vaccine imperialism’ as big power ‘vaccine nationalism’ impairs others’ access. Thus, following its spat with AstraZeneca, the European Commission (EC) banned vaccine exports to most countries outside the EU.

Double standards rule
In fact, cross-border enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs) is relatively recent. Big Pharma successfully lobbied their governments for TRIPS inclusion in the 1994 WTO founding documents. This greatly strengthened and extended IPRs transnationally.

Now, as these non-transparent deals are disputed, European politicians are threatening ‘patent grabs’. EU President Charles Michel has warned of “urgent measures” demanding compulsory licensing, provided for by the European Treaty.

This would require vaccine developers to facilitate generic production, which the developing country-backed TRIPS temporary waiver proposal seeks for all countries. Nevertheless, the EU, other rich countries and their allies still oppose the request to enable rapid scaling-up of affordable vaccine supplies.

Publicly financed vaccine development
To accelerate vaccine development, expenses and risks have been mainly borne by governments, rather than by developers or private finance. The six top candidate vaccine developers have already received over US$12 billion of public money, sometimes with little to show for it.

Of the more successful, Moderna received US$955 million for research and development plus a premarket purchase commitment of US$1.53 billion. In Europe, Pfizer/BioNTech got €375 million from the German government and another €100 million for debt refinancing from the European Investment Bank.

Yet, despite massive public financing, vaccine developers retain the IP monopoly right to profit. Thus, the prospect of huge gains from 2021 vaccine sales revenue of almost US$40 billion is delaying progress against COVID-19.

Greed kills, unless…
AstraZeneca promised Oxford University not to profit off any COVID-19 vaccines “for the duration of the pandemic”. However, its contracts allow it to declare the pandemic over as early as mid-2021. It could then charge higher prices for vaccines developed with public money for the university.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was ‘trialed’ on the South African population. Yet, it is paying 2.4 times more than the EU – US$5.25 compared to US$2.16. This makes a mockery of “benefit-sharing” and priority “post-trial access” promises. Meanwhile, turning ‘ability to pay’ on its head, Uganda is paying 20% more than South Africa!

Having the greatest vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world by far, the Serum Institute of India has several contracts to produce the Astra-Zeneca vaccine for different countries. In India, it will sell 90% to the government and 10% to the private sector at a higher price.

Waiver can end pandemic
Vaccines produced generically at greater scale will be far more affordable, enabling more rapid containment of the contagion, infections, deaths and disruptions. Until herd immunity is achieved nationally and globally, priority in allocation should be on the basis of urgent need, rather than ability to pay or political muscle.

The best way forward now is the TRIPS waiver proposal, still blocked by rich country governments at the WTO. It would enable all countries to affordably make or buy ‘generic’ vaccines. This would most effectively expedite containing the pandemic with the least loss of lives and livelihoods.

 


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LeddarTech Partners With Seoul Robotics to Deliver Robust Solid-State LiDAR-Based Perception Solutions

QUEBEC CITY and SEOUL, Korea, Feb. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — LeddarTech , an industry leader in environmental sensing solutions for autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems from Level 1 to Level 5, is proud to announce that Seoul Robotics, the leading 3D computer vision company using AI and machine learning to power the future of mobility, has joined the Leddar Ecosystem. The Leddar Ecosystem comprises leading technology companies that have partnered with LeddarTech through the contribution of their expertise in various technologies that enhance ADAS and AD solutions.

Seoul Robotics, headquartered in Seoul, South Korea, has demonstrated expertise in LiDAR perception technology utilizing its proprietary SENSR 3D software. This platform analyzes and processes LiDAR data with high accuracy, enabling more industries, including retail, logistics, and smart cities, to apply 3D insights. Seoul Robotics has garnered much attention in recent years, with the company earning the "No. 1 Tech Startup" spot for South Korea by DB–Stars in 2019.

LeddarTech and Seoul Robotics are collaborating to develop real–time advanced perception solutions to complement LeddarTech's Leddar Pixell, designed for shuttles, robotaxis, ADVs, buses, and heavy commercial vehicles. The Leddar Pixell, a 3D flash solid–state 180–degree sensor, is considered the most robust LiDAR available. The product recently received the Outstanding & Innovative Product Award by the Shenzhen Automotive Electronics Industry Association and Best of Innovation Award Honoree recognition at CES 2020. The partnership of LeddarTech and Seoul Robotics harnesses the technical expertise of both to provide customers with an enhanced LiDAR–based solution that will increase performance and robustness while shortening time–to–market and reducing costs.

"Robust LiDAR sensors like the Leddar Pixell require the most advanced 3D perception software to process and interpret data in real time," shared Mr. HanBin Lee, co–founder and CEO of Seoul Robotics. "Our industry–leading perception platform, SENSR, enables stronger understanding and interpretation of 3D data, better serving the market with highly detailed, LiDAR–based perception. Through our collaboration in the Leddar Ecosystem, we will provide object detection and classification, as well as speed measurement, direction, and location information without a need for map data, all while reducing cost and increasing efficiency."

"By partnering with Seoul Robotics, a respected leader in 3D perception software for LiDAR sensors, LeddarTech and our customers benefit from Seoul Robotics' advanced and innovative LiDAR–based perception technology," said Charles Boulanger, CEO of LeddarTech. "The collaboration yields a solution to greatly ease and accelerate the integration of the Leddar Pixell in a wide range of applications in mobility and industrial markets," concluded Mr. Boulanger.

About Seoul Robotics

Seoul Robotics is a 3D computer vision company building a perception platform that uses AI and machine learning to power the future of mobility. Founded in 2017, Seoul Robotics has partnered with OEMs, system integrators, and government agencies around the world to diversify the use of 3D data. The company has developed its own proprietary software, which is compatible with nearly all LiDAR and 3D data sensors, to increase accuracy and efficiency and to ensure safety across a range of industries and applications. Seoul Robotics has offices in Seoul, Silicon Valley, Munich, and Detroit and is backed by leading global financial institutions. For more information, visit www.seoulrobotics.org.

Contact: LaunchSquad for Seoul Robotics at seoulrobotics@launchsquad.com.

About LeddarTech

LeddarTech is a leader in environmental sensing platforms for autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems. Founded in 2007, LeddarTech has evolved to become a comprehensive end–to–end environmental sensing company by enabling customers to solve critical sensing and perception challenges across the entire value chain of the automotive and mobility market segments. With its LeddarVision sensor–fusion and perception platform and its cost–effective, scalable, and versatile LiDAR development solution for automotive–grade solid–state LiDARs based on the LeddarEngine, LeddarTech enables Tier 1–2 automotive system integrators to develop full–stack sensing solutions for autonomy level 1 to 5. These solutions are actively deployed in autonomous shuttles, trucks, buses, delivery vehicles, smart cities/factories, and robotaxi applications. The company is responsible for several innovations in cutting–edge automotive and mobility remote–sensing applications, with over 95 patented technologies (granted or pending) enhancing ADAS and autonomous driving capabilities.

Additional information about LeddarTech is accessible at www.leddartech.com and on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Contact:
Daniel Aitken, Vice–President, Global Marketing, Communications, and Product Management, LeddarTech Inc.
Tel.: + 1–418–653–9000 ext. 232
daniel.aitken@leddartech.com

Leddar, LeddarTech, LeddarEngine, LeddarVision, LeddarSP, LeddarCore, VAYADrive, VayaVision, and related logos are trademarks or registered trademarks of LeddarTech Inc. and its subsidiaries. All other brands, product names, and marks are or may be trademarks or registered trademarks used to identify products or services of their respective owners.