How 28th March Started Changing Everything
We’re living in a broken system: the war on terror, the Great Recession, the climate crisis and a definition of democracy no one believes in anymore. And our generation is living at the tipping point of planetary history.
Rainforests and farmlands are being reduced to desert and acid rains from the sky. Every hour, three species of animal become extinct. Our food, water and air are being polluted. Over the past 40 years, Co2 emissions have skyrocketed by 80% and natural disasters increased fivefold. Of the last 13 years, 12 have been the hottest on record.
Leading scientists are warning that without radical change, entire islands and major cities will be swallowed by the sea while mega-storms, droughts and pollution will make great swathes of the earth uninhabitable, triggering resource wars and a global refugee crisis. Of course this changes everything. The question is how.
“It’s a civilisational wakeup-call. A powerful message, spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions, telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.” – Naomi Klein
That’s the clarion call at the heart of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s also the message that brought a thousand people together with campaigners and academics for a mass participatory gathering last weekend to discuss some of the most urgent questions facing our generation: about the crises we face; what a fair and sustainable alternative might look like; and what kind of movement it will take to get us there.
The event, which took its name from the book, was packed out. It attracted a young and diverse crowd mostly ‘new to politics’ and an international audience for the livestream. People are already planning their own This Changes Everything events in Bristol, Brighton, Nottingham as well as France, Germany and the USA.
Appearing via skype at the beginning of the day, Naomi summed up her argument: “We’re on the road to catastrophic levels of warming. It isn’t too late to get off that road… to do that we have to change everything about our corrupt political system and our profit-driven economic system… our leaders aren’t going to be the ones to grab the wheel and swerve because they’re embedded in that logic, they’re products of it, and so it’s going to have to be social movements that lead from below… the work you guys are doing is why I wrote the book.”
For many of us, September’s People’s Climate March was a catalyst. The sound of 40,000 pairs of feet hitting the streets in London while 400,000 joined the historic march in New York and actions took place in over 160 other countries around the world shattered any notion that the climate movement couldn’t mobilise, that people didn’t care or that it was too late to act.
The Copenhagen Summit’s failure to change anything had renewed commitment to the idea that this fundamental change we were calling for would have to be fought for and won from below; that those who could force the system to change were those disillusioned and exploited by it – not, as some environmentalists would have it, by cupping our hands for concessions from those at the top, who have everything to gain from perpetuating business as usual.
This Changes Everything was organised by a growing, independent network of activists. It brought leading figures from organisations like Friends of the Earth, War on Want and the Green Party around a table with students and activists from groups like Occupy, Join the Dots and Brick Lane Debates. That diversity was echoed on the day itself with a symphony of radical voices: leading environmentalists in Asia and Africa spoke with radical economists and campaigners. The closing session heard from Russell Brand and Francesca Martinez alongside leading voices from the climate justice and trade union movement.
As Mark Sertwotka, General Secretary of the trade union PCS told the assembly: “We will not fall for the lie that says if you are pro environmental issues you are against the interests of workers. If we all unite, if we get on each other’s demonstrations, we can rock them to their core. That’s what my union wants to see.” In the UK, the absence of organised labour on the People’s Climate March was a gaping hole. Also felt was an absence of meaningful political content. There were the people – but where were their demands? We all wanted to save the planet, but how could we actually do it? What was the vision? Who were we holding responsible? In whom should we put our faith? These were the great unanswered questions This Changes Everything set out to ask.
On 28th March the answer was deafening. In the morning a mass, interactive assembly heard from leading progressive voices about the crisis we face and visions of how a fairer, more sustainable and democratic economy could work for both people and planet. In the afternoon, everyone joined in with participatory workshops to share ideas about how we could meet a joined-up crisis with a joined-up movement. In the workshops people talked honestly about the difficulties of uniting different struggles and identified the key strategic fights where we can come together and win. During the final session, key ideas from all the workshops were collated into a single consensus that was presented to everyone and met with applause.
The conclusion, in a nutshell, was this: climate change changes everything, but it’s part of a deeper crisis of the system. And the solution isn’t just about Co2 – it’s about justice, not just for the planet but for people here and across the world who were losing their jobs or their land for the same reason they were losing clean water and clean air, losing access to welfare, healthcare and education; living in fractured communities, working longer for less and feeling evermore disempowered: a system that divides and conquers, cultivates violence, exploits the whole world and puts profit first every single time we let it.
More than anything, that’s what 28th March was about. People weren’t debating the science of climate change. They weren’t debating whether war, inequality or austerity was part of the problem. 28th March was about taking the next step – trying to understand how all these things are linked, to sketch a vision for a common solution and start talking about how we come together to create it.
Now, on the basis of the consensus we reached together, groups of people are coming together throughout London, the UK and beyond. They’ll be working on a broad spectrum of fronts: from media and education to protest and direct action, on a range of related issues from fracking, food sovereignty and fuel poverty to green social housing and democracy in the workplace. For many this is the first time they’ve tried to change anything. For others we hope to create new spaces for joined-up action and mutual support for all the great work already being done in the movement. The door is open for a whole new layer of people to get involved and take ownership of what we’re building.
There is one thing we have in common. We know that justice for people and planet will be won together, or not at all. The democracy movement has become part of the struggle to survive. We know progressive politics has ecology at its heart and that the climate movement needs the courage to get radical, now.
If you want to find out more, you can check out our website, like us on Facebook and follow @TCEuk on Twitter. You can also drop us an email at thischangeseverything2015(at)gmail.com.
Nigeria’s 300,000 tonne e-waste gold mine drives a new circular economy
The Nigerian government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment today launched a new $15 million initiative to turn the tide on e-waste in Nigeria. A global model for a circular electronics system, the project was announced at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2019 and will kickstart a sustainable electronics economy in Nigeria, protecting the environment while creating safe employment for thousands of people.
The initiative will transform Nigeria’s current informal and hazardous recycling into a formally legislated system that benefits all actors by including a small fee on the sale of electronics to subsidise formal recycling.
Speaking at the launch of the programme, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Ibukun Odusote, said e-waste posed a grave danger to both the environment and human health in Nigeria.
“This intervention by Global Environment Facility aims to stimulate the development of a sustainable circular economy for electronic products in Nigeria.” She noted that the project would also support the E-waste Producers Responsibility Organization – a key initiative of the Government of Nigeria to promote sustainable production and consumption by encouraging producers to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products.
With 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore, alongside other scarce and valuable materials such as platinum, cobalt and rare earth elements, a safe and efficient recycling industry has huge economic potential.
According to the International Labour Organization, up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste recycling sector in Nigeria, and over half a million tonnes of discarded appliances are processed in the country every year. Yet waste that is considered to have no economic value is often dumped or burned – releasing pollutants like heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil.
The initiative will develop systems for the disposal of non-usable and toxic waste, aiming to collect, treat and dispose of more than 270 tonnes of e-waste contaminated with persistent organic pollutants and 30 tonnes of waste containing mercury.
The project also aims to have an impact beyond Nigeria through the development of a practical circular electronics model for Africa and beyond, by sharing best practices, promoting regional and global dialogue, and engaging global manufacturers.
The initiative sits within the Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronics Sector in Nigeria project and will be implemented by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency. The $15 million scheme brings together players from government, the private sector and civil society. It is part of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) built by the World Economic Forum, and sees cooperation with recyclers and electronics manufactures Dell, HP, Microsoft and Phillips. PACE is looking for opportunities to scale and replicate the system in partnership with more companies and in other countries.
Dominic Waughray, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods at the Forum said, “This project demonstrates how the circular economy can spur economic growth, create jobs and benefit the environment. As a platform for public-private collaboration, the World Economic Forum is delighted by the teamwork between recyclers and electronics manufacturers working side by side with government and international organizations to reach shared goals”
“The environmental and economic benefits of a circular economy are clear,” said Inger Andersen, UN Environment Executive Director. “This innovative partnership with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Environment Facility is a positive step in the country’s efforts to kickstart a circular electronics system, and one that UN Environment is proud to support.”
As voices for the planet grow louder, we must get the job done
There is something in the air. I am not talking about pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. I am talking about the change humanity needs to address these and other environmental challenges, which have placed our planet and societies in imminent peril.
We can all sense this change: in our workplaces and schools, in our cities and communities, in the boardroom and in the media, in parliaments and city councils, in laboratories and business incubators.
People from all corners of the world are demanding a fundamental redesign of how we – as individuals and as a society – interact with the planet. There is a clear understanding that we must live within the limits of our natural world. In response, we are seeing humanity’s astonishing capacity for innovation and imagination turn towards finding solutions.
Never before has the environmental mandate been more visible, recognized and acted upon. But then again, never before have the stakes been higher.
Pollution of air, land and water is poisoning the planet, from the deepest ocean trench to the highest mountain peak. The latest climate alarm, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told us how little time we have to ward off the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists from many different bodies are warning that human activity is devastating biodiversity – threatening livelihoods, food security and society as we know it.
We have serious work to do. We need to ensure a healthy environment for all, which is essential to development, peace, stability and the eradication of poverty. We need to change our environmental footprint: how we use and discard, how we plan and build, how we power our societies, how we measure growth, and how we share the planet with other species.
Today, as I take up the leadership of the United Nations Environment Programme, I am convinced that we can get this job done, together. Environmental management and sustainability have been at the core of my personal journey since my first job in the 1980s in Sudan, where I worked on drought and desertification issues. I have seen what people can achieve when they work with each other towards an important goal.
In these days of change, the organization I am leading is critical. The United Nations Environment Programme is the link between science and policy action by governments – which is a key driving force for change. The organization’s Medium-Term Strategy (2018-2021) and accompanying Programme of Work informs, supports and assists nations as they work towards a sustainable future. This Programme of Work – which guides every action the organization takes – is fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and many other international processes. We collaborate just as closely with civil society and the private sector, without whom change at the speed and scale we need simply will not be possible.
We also have a long history of horizon watching, of identifying waves that are coming to our shores, and supporting nations as they come to agreements around issues that require coordinated global action. The United Nations Environment Programme hosts the secretariats of many multilateral agreements on environmental themes: from biodiversity and ecosystems to regional seas, from chemical waste management to protecting the ozone layer. I look forward to supporting these agreements so that their ambitious goals can be achieved.
The UN Environment Programme is here to support the wider UN system and every process linked to environmental action. In September this year, at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, countries will showcase a leap in collective ambition. In 2020, at the next meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the world will agree on new and – I hope – ambitious targets to arrest biodiversity loss. Whatever my organization can do to support these encouraging moves, we will do.
Like any organization, though, we must evolve and improve. I have taken to heart the changes demanded of this organization. I will work closely with my dedicated staff, management and Member States to make sure we drive forward, while learning from the past. We will adhere to the high standards expected of an institution with such a powerful global mandate: safeguarding life on earth.
As we work ever harder and better, our success will not be defined by a report or a conference, but by how we support Member States and their people to shift the needle.
Success for us means halting the rapid loss of species. It means preventing seven million people from dying of air pollution each year. It means countries taking action towards sustainable consumption and production. It means a planet powered by clean energy. It means all of humanity reaping the benefits of a healthy and thriving environment for centuries to come.
Today, as I arrive in beautiful Kenya, I will do everything I can to work with staff, Member States and partners to make this happen.
Restoring the Caribbean to the paradise it used to be
When people think of the Caribbean, it’s the turquoise seas, clean beaches, coral reefs teeming with fish, turtles and balmy breezes that come to mind.
For us, this paradise is what we call home. We depend upon its riches for sustenance and, often, to make a living. It is the origin of much of the pride we feel when we say we are from the Caribbean.
Increasingly however, the reality does not live up to expectations—we may arrive at the seashore to find it covered with sargassum, the water cloudy and brown, and the horizon covered in trash; the coral reefs may look faded and tired and with barely enough fish to count on one hand…
For visitors, what version of the paradise they may find is becoming unpredictable and some may never return, depending on their experience.
For locals, it’s a different matter—as seafood prices go up and children develop rashes after swimming in the ocean, and as houses flood after each storm and tourists turn their backs on the islands, the paradise is increasingly looking less idyllic.
Sounding a wake-up call to protect the reefs
More than 100 million people in the wider Caribbean region live on, or near the coast in a complex ecosystem with the highest number of marine species in the Atlantic Ocean.
Shallow-water coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, lagoons, estuaries and beaches as well as coral banks and rocky outcrops in deep waters together make up the coral reef sub-ecosystem, the richest in biodiversity in the wider Caribbean region.
Almost 10 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are found in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and 45 per cent of the fish species and 25 per cent of the coral species are found nowhere else in the world. With an area of 10,429 square kilometres of mangrove forest, the adjacent North Brazil Shelf has the highest mangrove coverage of any large marine ecosystem.
This wide ecosystem supports three of the region’s major fisheries—reef fish, spiny lobster and conch—and is the foundation of the region’s tourism industry. Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds also play an important part in coastal and shoreline protection under normal sea conditions as well as during hurricanes and tropical storms.
A 2016 study by the World Bank put the economic value of the Caribbean Sea alone at US$407 billion per year. Yet this precious ecosystem is at the heart of competing economic and social demands as well as natural stresses and threats.
Pollution from activities on land and at sea degrades and destroys the reef. Many once-abundant species are now threatened or endangered.
Hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more severe, resulting in great destruction and loss of lives, leaving both the coastline and local communities more vulnerable to future shocks.
A strategy to keep it pristine
Since 1981, UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme has been working with the region’s national governments to better manage and use coastal and marine resources.
Following the establishment, in 1983, of the Cartagena Convention—the only legally binding agreement for the protection of the Caribbean Sea—the programme has relentlessly worked to gain acceptance of, and agreement upon, three protocols or agreements to combat oil spills [the Oil Spills Protocol] coastal and marine biodiversity [the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol] and pollution [the Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution Protocol] among its 28 member states and 14 territories.
As a result of the analysis of the wider Caribbean region conducted between 2007 and 2011 by the joint United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Project (2009–2014), the coral reef sub-ecosystem was given priority in a regional strategy to address transboundary problems that compromise the ability of the Caribbean Sea and the region’s living marine resources to support social and ecological well-being and resilience.
In the last two years, the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, together with the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems Project 2015–2020, published the Report on the State of Marine Habitats in the Wider Caribbean, which then became the basis for the Regional Strategy and Action Plan for the Valuation, Protection and/or Restoration of Key Marine Habitats in the Wider Caribbean 2021–2030. The strategy recommends a series of measures to support the people, economies and ecology of the region, targeting coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds in particular.
Using an integrated approach, participating governments and stakeholders from academia, civil society, the private sector, and regional and global agencies are working together to enhance management and conservation of the coral reef sub-ecosystem in support of sustainable development.
UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme, as Secretariat of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, has been working to revamp the Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Managers Network and establish a regional wildlife enforcement network, in efforts to improve marine biodiversity management. Assisting the region and its countries in co-executing the strategic action plan is another important step in this direction. The Caribbean Environment Programme is driving the process, building the alliances needed to ensure the integrity of Caribbean coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, in the hope to bring back the paradise we all expect.
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