Cuba Accesses US$23.9 Million Grant From Green Climate Fund For Coastal Resilience Project

Cuba

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved US$23.9 million in finance for a coastal resilience project along Cuba’s southern coastline.

GCF financing will be provided during the project’s first 8 years and will complement US$20.3 million of dedicated financing that will be provided by the Government of Cuba for the implementation of an ecosystem-based adaptation approach for coastal protection. The 30-year ‘Mi Costa’ project will enhance climate resilience for over 440,000 Cubans and protect vulnerable coastal habitats.

Delivered by the Environment Agency of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the innovative project will accelerate the ambition of the Cuban Government’s contribution to the Paris Agreement, enhancing ecosystem-based adaptation approaches for 1,300 kilometers of coastline across 24 municipalities. It will also provide an important basis of support for the implementation of the “State Plan to Manage Climate Change ‘Tarea Vida’ (Life Task).”

The island nation of Cuba is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. And while the Cuban Government has made impressive gains towards sustainable development, coastal erosion, flooding, saline intrusion, drought and sea-level rise, threaten these hard-won economic and social gains.

“Impacts from these climate drivers pose an existential threat to coastal settlements and communities. With funding from the Green Climate Fund and support from UNDP, this new project will provide valuable inputs to the Government’s work under Tarea Vida. Together these efforts will help vulnerable populations adapt to risks brought on by climate change,” said Dr. Odalys Goicochea, Director, General Environment Directorate of CITMA.

Projections show that if no intervention is made by the end of the 21st Century, up to 21 coastal communities will disappear entirely in Cuba, with 98 more severely affected by climate-related threats.

Hurricanes have also extensively damaged infrastructure across the island. Hurricane Matthew crossed the eastern end of Cuba in October 2016, causing over US$97 million in damages (2.6 percent of GDP). Hurricanes Ike (2008) and Sandy (2012) cost US$293 million (12.05 percent of GDP) and US$278 million (9.53 percent of GDP) respectively.

“By taking cost-effective ecosystem-based approaches, this innovative project will protect and restore natural habitats, reefs, seagrasses and mangroves, and help communities to protect their environment from the present and future risks posed by these severe tropical storms and hurricanes, sea-level rise and other climate change related risks. A key aspect of the project will be its focus on working with communities and local authorities to fully understand the value of ecosystems to their own resilience and livelihoods,” said Dr. Maritza García, President of the Environment Agency.

In all, the project will restore over 11,000 hectares of mangroves, 3,000 hectares of swamp forest and 900 hectares of grass swamp. These steps will improve the health of over 9,000 hectares of seagrass beds and approximately 134 kilometers of coral reef crests – essential protections from rising seas and storm surges. The project’s integrated ecosystem-based approach will allow coastal ecosystems to act as a layer of protective barriers to climate change impact seen in the form of coastal erosion and flooding while managing saline intrusion.

“The interventions on ecosystems and with the participation of communities will be reflected in the benefit of more than 1.3 million of inhabitants. “Mi Costa” will be a critical contribution to Cuba’s efforts in achieving the Sustainable Developments Goals set in the 2030 Agenda,” said Ms. Maribel Gutiérrez, the UNDP Cuba Resident Representative.

“Mi Costa” builds on the impacts of a highly successful coastal resilience project financed by the Adaptation Fund and implemented also with the support of UNDP and Environment Agency.

This new project will enhance adaptive capacity for vulnerable coastal communities on Cuba’s southern coast by rehabilitating coastal land and seascapes, and their interlinked ecosystems and hydrology, replanting and restoring mangroves and reefs, and strengthening local climate governance and approaches for communities living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. It will be benefitted by leveraging the support of local centers for environmental education, capacity building centers as well as local and national coordination mechanisms as part of the project’s long-term approach to manage climate change.

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Europe’s Order-to-Cash Leader Sidetrade Acquires Major Order-to-Cash Player in North America, Amalto

Company

● An accretive acquisition for $16m.

● The acquisition will provide a perfect synergy with Sidetrade’s Order-to-Cash offer and gives Sidetrade a decisive growth gas pedal in North America.

 

Sidetrade – publisher of an AI powered platform, dedicated to the management of the Order-to-Cash (O2C) cycle – has announced today conclusion of a firm acquisition agreement covering 100% of the capital and the voting rights of Amalto, one of the main players in the dematerialisation of inter-company financial transactions in North America, for an amount of $16m. With this deal, Sidetrade enriches its O2C offering, and accelerates its penetration of the North American market.

Sidetrade’s offer is at $16m in cash for 100% of Amalto’s equity. In addition, the directors could receive an earn-out at the end of 2024 depending on the growth of Amalto’s revenues at that date. Two months after the launch of its Fusion 100 plan aiming for revenue of $100m by 2025, acquiring Amalto allows Sidetrade to reach an important milestone in the execution of its plan with a cumulative revenue that could approach $43m in 2021, including $7m in North America.

Sidetrade plans to finance the operation through bank debt in order to preserve cash for other possible acquisitions. The current cash position is €24m ($28.6m), including treasury stock.

Amalto has offices in Houston (USA), Calgary (Canada) and Paris (France), and is the North American integration specialist for the exchange and automation of O2C documents in the Oil and Gas industry. The business helps companies in a variety of industries where companies face a very high Day Sales Outstanding (DSO); and Environmental, where vertical markets present different business processes. Amalto does 90 percent of its business sales in North America and employs 21 people, including 15 in North America. 

Each year, millions of transactions, representing billions of dollars, are made via Amalto cloud technology. Amalto’s customers include multinational giants such as Chevron, General Electric, and Schlumberger. The company has been able to build sustainable partnerships with its customers who renew their trust over the long term with an attrition rate below 2.5%. It has been rated by global IT advisory firm Gartner as one of three ‘Cool Vendors of Platform and Integration Middleware’.

In 2020 Amalto had revenues of $4.3m and recorded high growth and profitability with EBITDA above 20%. As of 31st December 2020, Amalto had a net cash position of over $1.2m.

Olivier Novasque, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Sidetrade, comments:

“The Amalto deal is a powerful gas pedal for Sidetrade’s international business growth. Amalto’s innovative solutions will enrich our B2B AI platform, and the intention is this will be rapidly available to all Sidetrade customers. Sidetrade’s Cloud has recorded more than $2.4 trillion in business-to-business transactions over the past three years. Combining the technologies and talents of Sidetrade and Amalto will support our mission to be positioned as a true world-class leader in the O2C market.”

“We have been incredibly impressed by Amalto’s expertise in the dematerialisation of financial flows. Their solution has a considerable technological lead, with a unique capacity to automatically integrate invoices in the main accounting systems and purchasing portals. Amalto is a champion of electronic B2B document exchange, with a unique position, focused on management of the entire O2C cycle. Amalto’s experienced teams in Houston and Calgary, and their loyal US and Canadian customer base, made up of large industrial and business service groups, will give Sidetrade great leverage in the North American market.”

Amalto’s shareholder-directors are fully supportive of this operation and expect to pursue the adventure with Sidetrade until at least 2024. To facilitate synergy and carry out the strategic plan, Sidetrade intends to set up a new organisation from day one, resulting in:

  • Emmanuel Thiriez, Co-Founder and CEO of the Amalto group, joining the Sidetrade Executive committee as Chief Customer Officer, and being fully involved in the implementation of the Fusion 100 strategic plan
  • Bryan Pederson, CEO of Amalto Corp, becoming AVP Customer Success, responsible for customer loyalty in North America and reporting to Emmanuel Thiriez
  • The Amalto sales team immediately joining Sidetrade’s US salesforce
  • Sidetrade establishing their US headquarters at Amalto’s Houston office
  • Sidetrade expanding their Canadian business, and setting up their third Tech Hub in Calgary (after those in Birmingham, UK and Boulogne-Billancourt, France)
  • Sidetrade counting on Amalto’s current senior management team to ensure the continuity of product development and customer service.

Amalto shareholder-directors can expect an earn-out by the end of 2024, based on revenue growth of Amalto solutions.

Emmanuel Thiriez, Co-Founder and CEO of Amalto, adds:

“We are very pleased with the prospect of pursuing our adventure with Sidetrade. Being part of the Sidetrade family will allow us to realise our ambition of integrating the best of AI in our solutions and reaching the greatest numbers of businesses. By joining forces, we will strongly accelerate sales development in a buoyant market.”

“Sidetrade presents an impressive value proposition, built on innovation, customer value and growth. Our two firms are perfectly complementary in terms of solutions and geographic coverage. Our clients and products will benefit from synergy very easily due to seamless integration. Together, we will develop innovative solutions to meet the needs of businesses across the globe.”

Digital transformation is gaining momentum in global businesses. The number of organisations looking to invest in O2C platforms and paperless transactions has been growing exponentially, and yet, only 5% of businesses have already found the solution they need. The market is ripe, and the potential for international sales is enormous. The acquisition of Amalto permits Sidetrade to expand its footprint in a booming global market and fits perfectly with its Fusion 100 strategic plan in three ways:

 

1. Innovation

Sidetrade will enrich its augmented cash platform for the entire O2C cycle, with two new, high valued added modules:

  • Augmented Order dematerialises all incoming customer orders and automatically integrates them into information systems, regardless of format (e.g. PDF, XML, EDIFACT). This significantly saves time, and increases reliability in revenue management
  • Augmented Invoicing dematerialises, manages and strengthens the reliability of all customer invoices, automatically integrating them into accounting and purchasing systems. The solution enhances customer relations and ensures that billing fully conforms with the customer’s requirements to avoid payment disputes and reduce DSO.

The market launch of these two new modules in Sidetrade’s Augmented Cash platform will give Sidetrade a real competitive edge, with a multitude of new sales opportunities throughout their customer base.

 

2. Regulatory environment

A growing number of countries are expected to make e-invoicing mandatory, as is now the case in the EU, where member countries must adapt their legislation to Directives 2010/45/EU and 2014/55/EU, which seek to facilitate cross-border business transactions through common invoicing standards. Several EU countries have already been e-invoicing obligatory in public sector transactions to simplify tax compliance and cut costs. 

 

3. Geographic expansion

Sidetrade already has a toehold in North America, working with big-name firms such as Expedia, Tech Data, Hearst Magazines and Talend. Now it is time for their North American business to really take off! For Sidetrade, conquering the North American market is fundamental to their ambitious development plan, called Fusion 100. The kick-off operations on North American soil, with sales management recruitment starting in February 2021, is the first step in this plan. Onboarding the members of Amalto’s Houston and Calgary teams is a tremendous opportunity. The Houston operation is a chance for both to raise Sidetrade’s position in the US, and to promote other Sidetrade solutions to Amalto customers. The American market for O2C platforms is estimated at $5bn, which represents 50 percent of the global market, according to Midcap Partners.

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Bank of America and Wells Fargo Most Impersonated in Phishing Cyberattacks

Bank of America
  • Bank of America received 70 complaints of phishing impersonations last year, Wells Fargo received 68
  • Financial services in top 5 most target sectors by phishing attacks

Phishing is a type of cyberattack that uses email, SMS, phone, or social media to entice a victim to share personal information – such as passwords or account numbers – or to download a malicious file that will install viruses onto their device. 

In short, attackers “fish” for a victim by setting a hook and waiting for someone to take the bait. The financial sector is a lucrative target for phishing scammers as users can be more easily persuaded to give up sensitive personal information. 

But which financial organization is the most impersonated in the U.S and what does the public need to be most cautious of?  

To find out, the CrowdStrike data science team submitted an FOIA request to the Federal Trade Commission and asked for the number of phishing scams reported for the largest 50 brands and all U.S. federal agencies.   

According to the CrowdStrike study, Bank of America, one of the world’s leading financial institutions, received 70 complaints for phishing impersonations last year.  

This was closely followed by Wells Fargo, who received 68 complaints last year.

This is particularly concerning, given that Bank of America and Wells Fargo have over 66 million and 70 million customers respectively – these customers rely on their bank for discrete and secure service.  

Elsewhere, retail is the most targeted sector overall (1,335 incidents). Amazon was a big contributor to this and was the most impersonated organization across all sectors (1,262 incidents).  

This comes off the back of Amazon sales soaring as consumers switched to online shopping to protect their personal safety or for convenience while their local stores were forced shut.  

Phishing, as an attack method, is nothing new – it goes back to the mid-1990s when criminals first began stealing passwords from an early online-services website America Online, now known as AOL.  

But the scale of the phishing phenomenon is new. Recently released FBI data shows phishing is now the most popular attack method used by cyber criminals in the U.S., totaling 241,342 victims in 2020 alone. That’s 814 percent more victims than in 2018. 

The 2021 CrowdStrike Global Threat Report put this down to, in part, COVID-19 which has given cyber criminals a unique opportunity to use social engineering techniques to exploit our basic human emotions like greed, curiosity, fear and the desire to help. All of which have been heightened during the pandemic. 

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IFC and Neolpharma Unite Efforts to Increase Accessibility to Medicines in Low Income Population and Finance Climate Change Mitigation Projects

Mexico pharmacy medicine

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), member of the World Bank Group, will provide a US$30 million to Neolpharma, a Mexican pharmaceutical group focused on R&D, manufacturing, distribution, and commercialization of high-specialty generics for the private and public health system, to satisfy the growing demand of high-specialty medicines for the middle to low income population in the region.

The loan will finance Neolpharma’s growth plan which includes expansion of its production facilities of high-specialty products and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), the most important raw material in the production of medicines.

Juan Gonzalo Flores, Country Manager of IFC México, said: “Budget constraints have increased due to the Covid-19 crisis and other macroeconomic factors.  By financing Neolpharma’s expansion plan, IFC will contribute to increase the access and affordability of high-quality medicines in Mexico and the LAC Region for the middle to low income population in important therapeutic areas such as cardiovascular, oncology, central nervous system and diabetes.”  

Efrén Ocampo, CEO for Neolpharma group said: “We are eager to collaborate with IFC in accelerating our expansion plans, while also focusing efforts towards sustainability and long-term growth. By investing on production capabilities, we aim to bring more resilience to our production supply chain. Neolpharma remains strongly committed on improving accessibility of high-quality medicines to benefit underserved populations.”

The US$30 million financing package is composed of a US$15 million loan of IFC’s own account, and a US$15 million loan from Canada-IFC Blended Climate Finance Program (BCFP). This is the first transaction of IFC in Pharmaceutical sector that includes funding from BCFP. At least US$15mn of the Loan is earmarked for climate investment. The operation will contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 11,400 tons per year and the implementation of climate change mitigation projects, such as waste heat recovery for efficient cogeneration in production sites, rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) with battery storage and green buildings certified under Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE).

Neolpharma will be one of the first EDGE certified pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

Globally, 100 million people fall below the poverty line every year as a result of healthcare costs. IFC works with generic pharmaceutical companies and global medical technology companies to bring the latest standard of care to emerging markets affordably.

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World Leaders To Meet On Strengthening financial Measures To Boost Efforts To Cope with COVID-19 Fallout

Covid global impact

With many countries continuing to struggle to overcome the human and economic devastation from COVID-19, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has convened a meeting of world leaders on Monday, 29 March from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EDT to urge the international community to take additional and urgent action to ensure a robust recovery.

The high-level virtual meeting organized by the Secretary-General together with the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and the Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness aims to underscore the urgency of the need for bolder and concrete action to provide liquidity and address debt vulnerability in developing countries.

The meeting followed up on a series of meetings and roundtables held last year to mobilize action to assist the economic recovery from the pandemic that resulted in a series of measures by the international community, but still not sufficient to meet the continuing and deepening crisis that many countries face.

“We are on the verge of a debt crisis. Six countries have already defaulted. One-third of emerging market economies are at high risk of fiscal crisis. And the situation is even worse for least-developed and low-income countries,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

“We need now, to allocate new special drawing rights and encourage countries with strong reserve positions to reallocate unused SDRs to countries that need it; extend the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative into 2022; and expand it to include all highly indebted, vulnerable middle-income countries affected by the crisis. We also need to expand the Common Framework for Debt Treatment to other vulnerable countries and provide additional, targeted debt relief and to tackle long-standing weaknesses in the international debt architecture. Otherwise, we risk spiralling deeper into the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, said, “It has now been over a year since the COVID-19 global health crisis began and it has wreaked tremendous havoc on lives, livelihoods, and the global economy.”

“The COVID-19-induced contraction in economic activity,” he said, “is severely impacting debt sustainability, particularly in low and middle-income countries. In addition to providing critical debt relief and liquidity support, we must create a new international debt architecture that ensures sustainability and encourages the private sector to integrate sustainability into its investment decisions to ensure a faster, stronger and more resilient recovery.”

Prime Minister Holness added, “With the availability of vaccines, we are now able to see a path towards global recovery even as we note that all countries must have sufficient amounts and capacity to vaccinate their populations if we are to achieve inclusive recovery. Let us continue through robust cooperation and coordination to take deliberate actions to reverse the devastating economic effects of the pandemic as we prepare for a future of sustainable growth and development.”

“The world must come together to protect people, save lives, and defeat COVID-19,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Our progress has been remarkable, but we know we can’t defeat this virus and build back better at home unless all countries have the resources to respond to and recover from this global challenge. Only through a coordinated global response, can we address the impacts of the pandemic and create jobs, economic growth, and new opportunity for our people and businesses.”

 

New United Nations policy brief on debt crisis

In a new policy brief issued today, “Preventing Debt Crises in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond: The Time to Act is Now,” the Secretary-General says that while many steps taken to date have been significant, they have not been sufficient to help restore economic health. Risks remain high for more countries to tip into a debt crisis, especially if the COVID-19 shock is more protracted and deeper than forecast.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more than 2.7 million deaths and more than 125 million confirmed cases worldwide, has gone beyond a health and humanitarian crisis to also become an unprecedented global development emergency.

More than a year into the pandemic, the Secretary-General says the fiscal impacts of the crisis are triggering debt distress in a growing number of countries and is severely limiting the ability of many countries to invest in recovery and the Sustainable Development Goals, including urgently needed climate action.

He said, “Unless we take decisive action on debt and liquidity, we risk another ‘lost decade’ for many developing countries, putting the SDGs definitively out of reach.”

 

COVID-19 highlights increasingly unequal world

The current economic situation has highlighted growing inequalities between and within countries that pose significant threats to global efforts to build back better.

COVID-19-related economic shocks have already led credit rating agencies to downgrade the credit worthiness of 42 countries since the start of the pandemic, including six developed countries, 27 emerging market economies, and nine least developed and low-income countries.

Unprecedented health, social and economic measures over the last year have helped control the spread of the deadly virus, save lives, and mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. These emergency policies succeeded in flattening the curve of contagion and saved lives, but they also resulted the first increase in extreme poverty since 1998, a 4.3% drop in global GDP and the loss of an equivalent of 144 million jobs in 2020 alone.

Many countries responded with extraordinary fiscal support measures, taking advantage of low borrowing costs, with developed countries accounting for the overwhelming share, around US $18 trillion. The international community has mobilized a strong response including emergency financing from international financial institutions, support for humanitarian partners, and access to medical countermeasures such as vaccines. Many developing countries, and least developed countries, in particular, which suffered from high debt levels before the pandemic, seeing their fiscal and external financing position further deteriorate in the course of 2020, have not been able to provide much needed stimulus support in adequate measure.

While some middle-income countries have returned to international bond markets since April 2020, only two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been able to access markets; and some countries, including least developed countries with very high refinancing needs in 2021, will not have access to financial markets at affordable rates. In addition, many of these countries have already seen access to foreign currency curtailed through non-resident capital flight, and contractions in trade, tourism, remittances and foreign direct investment.

The rapid growth of financing needs and the collapse in revenues and GDP growth associated with the pandemic have exacerbated debt burden risks across the globe. More than half of the least developed and low-income countries that use the IMF World Bank Debt Sustainability Framework are now assessed at a high risk of debt distress or in debt distress and, according to some estimates, more than a third of emerging market economies are at high risk of fiscal crises.

 

Need for debt relief

Debt relief will be needed to create space for investments in recovery and for achieving the SDGs, including climate action. Even in cases of elevated debt, new borrowing can lead to improved creditworthiness if it finances productive investments. Debt relief can also free up resources, create conditions under which countries can return to voluntary market access, and may lower a country’s overall borrowing costs, with positive impacts across the whole economy.

 

Call for action on ODA, new financing and liquidity

The Secretary-General, in the new UN policy brief, calls on governments to provide fresh concessional financing for developing countries, especially LDCs and SIDS, recapitalize multilateral development banks and accelerate the timetable for replenishing the funds, meet ODA commitments and provide long-term financing to developing countries for investment in long-term growth and development.

In support of recent endorsements from the G7, the brief also calls for a new general allocation of special drawing rights (SDRs) reiterating the need to combine a voluntary reallocation of SDRs from developed to developing countries.

And the brief calls on the G20 to extend the World Bank’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) until the end of June 2022 and include middle-income countries, notably small island developing states that have been gravely affected by the crisis.

The policy brief also calls on the G20 to extend the eligibility to debt relief under the Common Framework for Debt Treatment Beyond the DSSI to other vulnerable countries on a case-by-case basis; and consider other mechanisms that would allow countries to access the Common Framework without creating a stigma or compromising the credit rating of the beneficiaries, including funds and other instruments within existing institutions.  Finally, the brief calls on countries and the international financial institutions to seize the moment to address long-standing weaknesses in the international debt architecture.

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Industry Groups Raise Alarm About Deteriorating U.S.-Mexico Trade Relationship

Mexico trade

27 leading food and agriculture associations have sent a letter communicating growing concerns over the rapid deterioration of the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

The letter calls attention to alarming recent developments with regard to the food and agriculture trade relationship with Mexico and urges action to address these challenges.

Together, the group of associations represent much of the food and agriculture sector that is responsible for roughly one-fifth of the country’s economic activity, directly supporting more than 23 million jobs — constituting nearly 15% of total U.S. employment.

Signers include the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean AssociationCorn Refiners AssociationInternational Dairy Foods AssociationNorth American Meat InstituteNational Grain & Feed Association, and the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

The letter reads, in part:

“Mexico is one of America’s most important food and agriculture trade partners.

NAFTA has yielded strong benefits to both countries, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) promises to build upon those gains.

“Yet, the food and agriculture trade relationship with Mexico has declined markedly, a trend USMCA’s implementation has not reversed.

“We respectfully urge your attention to this important, but quickly deteriorating, trade relationship.”

Leading concerns highlighted by the group include a ban on glyphosate and genetically modified corn, increased obstacles to dairy trade, an organic export certification requirement, a state-sponsored campaign disparaging corn sweeteners from the United States, a cessation of review and approval of biotechnology applications, implications from meat industry market access and geographical indications, a potato export ban, and a new front-of-pack labeling regulation.

These issues, along with a large number of investigations on Mexico’s fresh produce exports to the United States, hamper the competitiveness of U.S. farmers, ranchers, and other members of the food and agriculture sector.

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New Report Analyses the Socioeconomic Repercussions of COVID-19 in the Caribbean

Covid economy

The large-scale and long-lasting effects of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), combined with the possible impact of other hazards and recent events, threaten to damage or destroy vital infrastructure and the life-support systems of large parts of societies and economies. That is why it is urgently necessary to move towards a systemic approach to disaster risk, primarily in the Caribbean, which is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with economies dependent on foreign tourism and heavy debt burdens. So indicates a document released today, which was produced by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

The report entitled The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: an opportunity for a systemic approach to disaster risk for the Caribbean emphasizes that disaster risk is systemic and generates complex interactions between human, social, political and economic systems on the one hand, and natural systems on the other. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the extent to which a single hazard has the potential to trigger a series of cascading effects, impacting the life-support systems of societies and economies worldwide.

“This crisis underscores the need for disaster risk management to be incorporated into national planning, in order to guarantee a comprehensive response to disasters. At the global and regional levels, it is crucial that those of us who work in international organizations seek ways to promote and foster a new development model and a global framework that would enable us to provide a coordinated and adequate response to the next pandemic,” Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, affirmed.

Meanwhile, Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, indicated that “now is the time for multi-stakeholder dialogue and action to understand and manage systemic risk. Progress towards risk-informed sustainable development will only be accelerated by incorporating systems-based approaches into the design of policies and investments across all sectors and regions, and at all levels.”

The document indicates that the duration of COVID-19 increases the likelihood that the risk of disasters originating from other threats occurs simultaneously, or that post-disaster reconstruction be delayed. The effects and impacts of the Eta and Iota hurricanes in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua – combined with those of COVID-19 – are proof of this, as is the delay prompted by the pandemic in reconstruction efforts after the disaster caused by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

It specifies that the selection of the Caribbean to exemplify the potential effects of systemic disaster risk is no coincidence. “This region was chosen because it is highly vulnerable to hydrometeorological or extreme climate phenomena, it has more than 90% of the population living in coastal areas and its economies are dependent on foreign tourism and are highly indebted,” the report emphasizes, adding that the economic and social effects of COVID-19 have been devastating for the Caribbean and will last for several years.

According to the report, the pandemic has brought to light the cracks in current development models and highlighted their limitations, both globally as well as in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean in particular. Until recently, orthodox economists agreed that maintaining fiscal balance, limiting State intervention in the economy as much as possible, and fostering trade and financial openness would suffice to generate growth and redistribution. There was unfettered confidence that liberalizing markets for goods, services and capital would be the right formula for ensuring prosperity. This ideological framework sustained a system of international governance whose main objective was to minimize national barriers to trade and investment.

“It is now recognized that the State must play a much more important role, regulating and coordinating markets and promoting social protection and equality. Building back better in the Caribbean must be rebuilding with equality and resilience, for instance by implementing active fiscal policies with a gender approach to mitigate the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and by forging political compacts at all levels based on feminist principles of redistribution of power, time, work and resources. The aim is to move towards a development model that has equality and environmental sustainability at its center. In the Caribbean, which is threatened by multiple hazards, a systemic approach is required to reduce disaster risk and vulnerabilities,” the document states.

The report concludes that the complexity of these situations demands an approach that transcends traditional and compartmentalized methods of disaster risk reduction. It asserts that, in order for efforts to reduce disaster impact to be effective, it is necessary to abandon the simplistic model that ignores the systemic characteristics of extreme phenomena. This applies to institutional arrangements for risk governance, community organizations, research initiatives and policymaking. Thus, development planning can play a fundamental role, helping to incorporate a systemic approach into risk governance.

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Don’t Call Green A Trend: Why environmentally responsible building methods will become the standard in construction

sustainable building

By John Fitzgerald, Project Director, Linesight

Before the pandemic, environmentally responsible building was a rising trend. This increased focus on more sustainable approaches in construction reflects the fact that in 2019, residential and commercial sectors accounted for a combined 39 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in buildings. Now, with ongoing COVID health concerns and the new U.S. administration rejoining the Paris Agreement, green building methods are now true differentiators that can be a deciding factor for would-be occupants. They’re also critical in enabling the construction industry to respond to today’s pressing environmental challenges. For building owners and contractors grappling with a COVID-induced downturn, sustainable building practices can also provide a clear path forward.

 

The impact of the Paris Agreement

Everyone knew that an incoming Biden administration would mean significant change for the United States, but many were still surprised at how quickly those changes started to take shape. One of the biggest about-faces comes in the rejoining of the Paris Agreement, a global treaty on combating climate change.

The Paris Agreement calls for countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and meet other green initiatives, with an overall goal of limiting global warming. Now that the U.S. is back on board, energy-efficient construction and sustainability goals will be supported by federal policies. It’s still unclear exactly what sort of green certifications will be required, or what the new emissions standards will be, but it’s safe to say that greener regulations will be implemented. Bolstered by the federal government, environmentally responsible building practices will be further strengthened and enforced as the new norm.

 

Reducing operating costs and increasing value

The incoming U.S. administration’s new regulations will likely manifest as updates to current LEED and WELL certifications.  The economic benefits of these certifications have been well-documented. Most notable among those benefits is the fact that initial investments in green building improve the value of properties, with owners reporting an increase of 10 percent or more in asset value. As for operational costs, LEED certified buildings have demonstrated maintenance costs that are nearly 20 percent lower than other commercial buildings, while green retrofits have been shown to reduce operating costs by almost 10 percent per year.

Adhering to LEED and WELL will put building owners in favorable standing when new policies are established as a result of the re-entry into the Paris Agreement. And with an estimated 6.5 percent contraction in the US GDP, almost every organization across all industries is looking for ways to cut expenses and recoup costs. Combine that with the nearly year-long work-from-home situation that has many organizations looking to reduce their physical office space permanently, and it’s clear that budgets for commercial properties in 2021 and beyond will be smaller than they have been in the past. The construction industry should be ready to meet this demand for smaller, more cost-effective office spaces with green initiatives.

 

Calculating the hidden costs of carbon

One of the biggest misconceptions in the construction industry today is how much of an impact embodied carbon has on the environment, and the positive impact that can be made to greenhouse gas emissions by managing them. Embodied carbon is the carbon released into the atmosphere during the production and transportation of concrete, glass, steel, and other construction materials. It’s a “sunk cost” in that it’s already been incurred by the time the material makes it to the build site. And the cost is a substantial one: 11 percent of total energy-related CO2 emissions come from embodied carbon. The building sector as a whole accounts for 39 percent of total energy-related CO2 emissions, with the other 28 percent coming from operational carbon. Clearly, embodied carbon has a significant impact on the environment and needs to be taken as seriously as operational carbon, which is why major multinational firms are using the embodied carbon in construction calculator (EC3) to report and reduce emissions on projects.

 

Improved air quality and HVAC systems

The COVID crisis reminded the world of the importance of adequate ventilation and air filtration, and has significantly impacted building requirements as a result. Because HVAC considerations are one of the primary focuses for both LEED and WELL certifications, builders already have a strong foundation of knowledge to work from when addressing these COVID-related concerns.

These certifications also emphasize adequate insulation, natural lighting and other elements that affect quality of life. In the post-COVID world, these attributes can be critical deciding factors in building designs. Imagine being able to market a new build with cost-cutting and emissions-reducing insulation, along with a HVAC system with virus-fighting filtration and UV sanitation. These features might have been little more than footnotes to owners pre-pandemic. Now, they are exactly the sort of additions that set one commercial space apart from another in attracting occupants. While these aren’t revolutionary technologies, they represent existing solutions for creating a greener office space that address COVID-19 health concerns by ensuring proper ventilation and air filtration. 

 

An emphasis on quality of life

In the past, the focus of LEED and WELL certifications was to create spaces that were environmentally sustainable, as well as providing plenty of natural light, fresh air, and personal space for their occupants. These conditions aimed to improve the overall environmental quality inside the building, and the coronavirus has demonstrated just how important that can be moving forward. Expect to see stricter regulations around maximum occupancy, ventilation, and other ’quality of life’ categories, as policymakers take actions to slow future outbreaks. Meeting stricter quality of life certifications now will prevent the need to retrofit buildings later, should regulations change as expected. But being adept at such upgrades could also prove to be a valuable income stream, as offices look to improve their floor plans, HVAC systems and filtration units.

 

The growing role of AI in sustainability

Now that the Paris Agreement codifies America’s intent to mitigate climate change, expect to see artificial intelligence play a larger role in sustainability practices. Neural network AI has already proven useful in monitoring emissions at Xcel Energy’s coal plants, making real-time recommendations for reducing harmful emissions and keeping the plant at optimal efficiency. As advances in AI lower the price of entry and make more targeted applications possible, we could see similar neural networks working to improve indoor air quality, water filtration and usage, overall power consumption, and other important factors in sustainable buildings. In all of these cases, improved sustainability practices mean improved profitability through lower operating costs.

 

Supporting ongoing recovery efforts

The construction industry is feeling the economic effects of this virus, with nearly 40 percent of construction firms experiencing layoffs over the past year. A green building initiative can help spur recovery by reducing operational costs and increasing the value of assets. There is also an opportunity to promote these building practices as being not only good for the environment, but crucial in preventing and slowing future viral outbreaks.

It should come as no surprise that recovery in the construction industry will take some time, but building green now will put owners and contractors in the best position to meet the needs of both businesses and individuals. As the Paris Agreement rolls out requirements on sustainable building practices, going green may no longer be a choice, but a business imperative that will positively impact revenues, and more importantly, human health.

 

John Fitzgerald is a Project Director at Linesight, specializing in project and cost management. John has extensive experience supporting design and construction projects in both Europe and North America, for a multitude of sectors. His current focus is leading a team of project controls specialists on one of the largest commercial projects in North America.

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Hobby Lobby Exposed 138GB of Data

Data leak

Hobby Lobby, the American arts and crafts giant that also happened to purchase thousands of ancient artifacts looted from modern-day Iraq, exposed a large amount of data online, including customer names, phone numbers, physical and email addresses, and the last four digits of their payment card, as well as source code for the company’s app, according to a security researcher.

The data was as recent as 2020, impacted more than 300,000 users, and totaled at around 138GB in size, the independent and pseudonymous security researcher known as “boogeyman” who discovered the leak, told Motherboard in an online chat.

Boogeyman provided multiple screenshots of the data to Motherboard for verification purposes. Those images indicate the information was hosted on an open AWS bucket, a common source for inadvertently exposed data. The data also included Hobby Lobby employee names and email addresses, Boogeyman added.

“We identified the access control involved and have taken steps to secure the system,” Hobby Lobby told Motherboard in an email. Boogeyman said they previously tried to warn Hobby Lobby of the issue but received no response.

It is unclear whether Hobby Lobby is going to notify impact users.

Hobby Lobby was the driving force behind a 2014 Supreme Court ruling which found that the government cannot force employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control if that would run against the employer’s religious beliefs, radically changing how women can obtain the pill or other contraception. Hobby Lobby’s owners founded the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

Hobby Lobby is suing auction house Christie’s for selling an antique that authorities later said was looted.

Commenting on the news is Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4: “Many organisations are taking advantage of cloud storage offerings such as AWS buckets. However, security always remains the users responsibility, regardless of what measures the cloud provider puts in place. This includes ensuring settings are applied correctly so that private information is not inadvertently exposed.

Fixing these issues doesn’t require a great deal of technical knowledge, because the features are built into the platforms. What it does need is a culture of security where processes are put in place to ensure people can correctly identify which data needs to be secured, put in place the right controls, and validate they are working as expected.”

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Coalition Raises $175M to Build the Future of Commercial Insurance

Business insurance

Coalition, the leading cyber insurance and security company, today announced it has raised $175 million to accelerate its rapid growth and global expansion. Index Ventures led the funding with participation from General Atlantic and the company’s existing investors, valuing Coalition at $1.75 billion.

“We founded Coalition four years ago with a mission to solve cyber risk, introducing a technology-led approach to risk management and insurance underwriting, pricing, and distribution,” said Joshua Motta, CEO and co-founder of Coalition. “Our ambitions now extend beyond cyber insurance. Nearly one in ten Fortune 500 companies is an insurance company, yet most were founded before World War II. With this funding, we plan to bring our technology-driven approach to other lines of commercial insurance as we seek to build the digital insurance company of the future.”

With this funding, Coalition plans to invest in three key areas:

Build the digital insurance company of the future. “The future of insurance will be defined by technology, and we will continue to invest in building a leading technology company focused on innovation across all aspects of the insurance value chain,” said Motta.

Expand to new product lines. Following its explosive growth in cyber and technology insurance, Coalition plans to imminently launch new insurance products to address a range of risks facing the modern enterprise — many of which are not well covered by standard business insurance policies.

International expansion. Following its expansion into Canada in 2020, Coalition plans to expand its offerings into multiple new international markets.

“Coalition is the clear leader in this space and we’re excited to support their vision to reimagine commercial insurance,” said Shardul Shah, Partner at Index Ventures. “Not only does Coalition provide peace of mind after a loss, but also peace from mind: their risk management platform, predictive analytics, and incident response services help organizations decisively and affirmatively remain resilient to risk.”

“Despite a surge in cyber attacks and ransomware, Coalition has delivered industry-leading loss performance by leveraging differentiated technology across the policy lifecycle,” said Paul Stamas, Managing Director and Global Co-Head of Financial Services at General Atlantic. “We’re excited by the innovation that Coalition is driving in cyber insurance.”

Coalition has raised $300 million in equity funding from leading global technology investors, including Index Ventures, General Atlantic, Ribbit Capital, Vy Capital, Hillhouse Capital, and Valor Equity Partners, among others. Founded in 2017 by Joshua Motta and John Hering, Coalition is one of the largest cyber insurance and security providers in the United States and Canada. Today, Coalition serves over 42,000 customers, providing no-cost cybersecurity tools to prevent losses, security and incident response services to contain them, and comprehensive insurance to help organizations recover from failures and breaches. The investment follows long-term capacity commitments from leading global insurers Swiss Re and Arch Insurance.

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