The very uneasy & unbearable weather and the overall deteriorating environmental conditions in coastal areas all over the world have become the new trend of our planet’s environment. The economic & military rivalries among different countries around the world are to be blamed.
Such rivalries have been causing excessive industrialization and increasing trend of production & usage of military hardwares for conflicts & wars that are further causing environment of our planet to deteriorate drastically.
The global & regional economic rivalries are pushing the rival states to thrust for an unprecedented & unchecked militarization of different geopolitical hotspots of our globe and to propel for producing, acquiring & using destructive weapons. Such economic & military rivalries have been the reason behind worsening weather conditions in victim countries with flat & low-lying coastal areas.
Geo-economic rivalries & the resulting pollution
The “industrialized” countries had already done enormous damage to our planet’s environment in each of their attempt to supersede the other in industrial revolution and in terms of the size of economy. The same is happening in case of “young industrialized” economies and in case of the current “industrializing” economies. In the race of economic might, the victims have always been the environment and the human beings.
The effects of industrial competition among the economic powers are far reaching and liable to affect the eco-system for many years to come. One particularly damaging effect is the dumping of harmful used-water from industrial sites into open oceans, seas or rivers, damaging many of the water sources around the globe and, thus, causing health issues to the people who use such water for different purposes. For instance, the same water is used by the farmers for irrigation purpose which affects the quality of food that is produced, causing health issues to the people who consume those foods. Moreover, industrial competition among the economic powers have pushed them to increase their industrial capacities to an excessive level and, thus, causing immense air pollution which has taken toll on the environment and the health of the human being. The human and the environment are at risk from exposure to radiation from different sources, including radioactive materials, accelerators, electrical installations, mobile broadcasting centres etc. The most alarming effect of this economic competition among the economic powers is the global warming, which result from the smoke and greenhouse gases that are being released by industries into the air.
Environmental impacts of militarization
The heavy economic competitions among the global & regional economic powers are resulting in geopolitical rivalries among themselves. These countries, therefore, are resorting to heavily arming their arsenals with weapons, from light firearms to heavily destructive firearms, to barrel bombs and chemical weapons, to nuclear missiles. Some state-players are also resorting to wars & proxy wars.
The wars around the globe have been seriously impacting the natural environments of not only the war-torn countries, but also most of the countries around the globe. The weaponry & military vehicles used in the war zones have been producing many hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and sulphur dioxide – all of which are immensely injurious to our planet’s environment. Air pollutions from weaponry & military vehicles have, over the years, adversely affected human health. Increase in cancer, birth defects, and other adverse health conditions are associated with war-related environmental damage.
Rise in temperatures & sea-level
The urge for economic supremacy among the powerful economies around the globe has increased the human activities of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Such a trend is altering the relatively stable and liveable environmental conditions of our planet. Such burning of fossil fuels, which release carbons that have previously been locked up in coal, oil and natural gas for millions of years, cause gradual rise in average global temperatures. Such gradual rise in average global temperatures (global warming) poses a number of threats: (i) the threat to human health increases by many times, (ii) ecosystem is damaged due to higher temperatures, (iv) changing weather patterns cause irreversible damage to agriculture, (iv) coastal areas are vulnerable to the lethal combination of “rising sea level” and increasing number of severe ocean storms that are caused by the melting of mountain-ice and polar glaciers.
The effects of the continuation of the rise in sea-levels are deep. It would submerge under water many areas around the globe, especially the coastal ones; and perhaps it will not take decades for the coastlines to change. The rise in sea-levels has been causing more floods, especially during storms. Higher sea-levels have increased the size of the flow of water that the super-storms generally bring into inland from the ocean. Some short term impacts of rise in sea-level are regularly experienced these days by many victims around the globe. The Tsunami is an ideal example of what sort of disaster the rise in sea-level could lead us up to.
Developing countries with flat & low-lying coastal areas
The global & regional economic & military rivalries have been causing environmental deterioration around the globe and developing countries having flat & low-lying coastal areas are among the victims of such deteriorating environmental conditions. Besides the major problems of poverty and illiteracy, these countries’ vulnerability to environmental deterioration is very alarming. The overall economic developments of these countries have been troubled to a considerable extent by the adverse effects of deteriorating global environmental conditions.
With flat and low-lying landscape, the coastal areas of these countries are highly vulnerable to floods and storms. Among the major impacts of the environmental deterioration – particularly of the global warming – the increasing rise in sea-level every year has been the most alarming one so far, with the possibility of submerging a substantial percentage of the total coastal landmass of these countries under water.
A prediction made in 2007 by the UK Department for International Development suggests that there is the possibility that 6-8% of ‘flood-prone’ Bangladesh may be submerged under water by 2030. From the 4th assessment report published by the International Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, it appears that a substantial portion of coastal areas of Myanmar is predicted to be submerged under water by 2050.
In long run, the coastline and coastal cities of many developing countries having flat & low-lying landscape will be lost because of rise in sea-level. But in the short term, sea-level rise will cause more damage through floods and powerful storms that might bring water into inland with them, causing devastation like that of the Tsunami. Substantial portion of the total population of these countries live in the coastal areas, where majority of the population are affected, directly or indirectly, by coastal floods or tidal flows, salinity, tropical cyclones, erosion of river-bank etc. With the rise of sea-level “even by a metre”, these countries could lose a substantial percentage of their total landmass under water, turning millions of inhabitants living in the coastal areas into climate refugees.
German scholars from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PICIR) warned that if incentives of the global warming are not reduced immediately worldwide, a series of unstoppable events will be triggered, causing dramatic rise in sea-levels and the total annihilation of coastal cities inhabited by millions of people. Therefore, in line with the suggestion from PICIR, the incentives of global warming, which, among others, includes the worldwide economic & military competition, must be reduced. Otherwise, millions of coastal inhabitants around the globe would face a survival threat.
Developing countries with flat & low-lying coastal areas are likely to experience more ‘immediate’ adverse impacts of environmental deterioration. Agriculture, industry, school, hospitals, roads, bridges, livelihoods, marine resources, forestry, biodiversity, human health and other utility services will suffer severely.
All in all, it is high time for “affected” & “to be affected” countries to start working together on real solutions with utmost urgency in the global & regional level.
Diving into a cleaner blue ocean in 2019
When Miao Wang started diving, she was shocked at the deterioration of the ocean ecosystem around her. Now, three months after winning the Young Champions of the Earth prize for Asia and the Pacific, she has made great strides in addressing ocean protection.
“About eight million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, causing 15 million deaths among marine life,” she explains. “Divers, who as a group stay long enough with the ocean, witness the degradation of the ecosystem while touched by its beauty.”
Her Better Blue initiative has already forged relationships with new donors, and she has signed agreements with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the watch manufacturers Rossini and The Paradise Foundation.
As well as looking for further funding to support her projects going forward, she has trained many others to become divers and was selected to participate in a “speed incubator programme,” which trains young people in diving and collecting information about the ocean.
Wang has also developed a prototype for an education programme on sustainable consumption, which can be shared among people visiting popular cafes. Already, she has implemented the education programme in 10 cafes across Shanghai.
The cooperation among various popular cafes in Shanghai and soon other cities in China too, will advocate for providing alternatives to single-use plastic straws, and encouraging the cafes to replace their plastic cups with degradable ones.
Miao and Better Blue also attended the Xiamen Marathon – the first international marathon to join UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign – and had a stand in the exhibition hall during the week leading up to the marathon.
“We continue to focus on the most essential job of organizing ourselves internally to handle operations and logistics. We are a small team and need to constantly prioritize to ensure we can deliver on all our goals. Going forward in 2019, this is an aspect of our business that we aim to strengthen, to keep Better Blue heading in the right direction.”
“Next year, we hope to engage in more cross-border collaboration, especially with some major brands, to convey key messages about sustainable living, turning marine protection into a way of life. We also hope to inspire other people to protect the ocean too, as that is where all life begins,” she said.
“The Young Champions of the Earth prize has been a major support for Better Blue, helping us to take our mission from strength to strength.
“In addition to participating in the Professional Association of Diving Instructors annual gala and providing trainings to diving centers, Better blue will continue to work on its development strategy and financial risk management, as we look forward to a successful 2019,” she said.
Lessons from China on large-scale landscape restoration
In the 1980s, the hilly Qianyanzhou region in Jiangxi Province, southern China, faced severe soil erosion due to deforestation and unsustainable farming practices. Fertile red soil was being washed away causing crop yields to tumble.
But a remarkable change has taken place in the last 30 years thanks to a government-backed land-use plan which has seen the upper hills reforested, citrus orchards planted on moderate slopes, and rice paddies in valley bottoms. Within a few years, this mosaic of sustainable land use was yielding higher incomes. Biodiversity and environmental quality, as well as the microclimate, improved.
In early November 2018, the head of UN Environment’s freshwater, land and climate branch, Tim Christopherson, together with his colleague Xiaoqiong Li, visited several sites in the area to better understand how large-scale ecological restoration works.
Huimin Wang, the director of an ecological research station in Ji’an, Qianyanzhou region, briefed UN Environment on the problem and the centre’s role in restoring the landscape.
“Thirty years ago, this area was denuded of trees and vulnerable to landslides. Erosion gullies washed fertile red soil away,” says Wang.
“We set up this ecological research station to work out how best to restore the land. We brought together experts from around the world, including from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Germany.”
Research focused on forest structure optimization and how to improve ecosystem services from the forest; the structure and functions of forest ecology; carbon, water and nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems under climate change; and the Qianyanzhou upgrade model to be achieved by improving ecological and economic benefits in the watershed.
Another key element of the restoration process was agroforestry, supported by the local government: farmers continued to grow cash crops such as peanuts, sesame and vegetables among the restored orchards, and breed Silkie chickens (black-boned with fluffy plumage) in orchards and forest plantations. This ensured economic returns in the early stages of the project and helped improve soil fertility. As well as building dams and ponds, government agencies provided loans to households to help them get started.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 21.9 per cent, or 206,861,000 hectares of China, was forested in 2010. In just one decade, the Qianyanzhou restoration drive has increased China’s total forest area by 74.3 million hectares. Qianyanzhou’s forest coverage has increased from 0.43 per cent to nearly 70 per cent.
Qianyanzhou restoration efforts have helped the region and the country take a big step towards implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 1 (No Poverty), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth), 12 (Responsible Consumption), and 15 (Life on Land), as well as the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests, all of which fall under UN Environment’s programme of work.
Forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against catastrophic climate change, thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one-third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests, therefore, could provide up to 30 per cent of the climate solution.
The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (The UN-REDD Programme) was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme and UN Environment.
Plastic recycling: An underperforming sector ripe for a remake
While there is no silver-bullet solution to the toxic tide of plastic surging into our oceans, recycling must form part of the answer. The problem, many experts say, is that current processes are not fit for purpose.
The world produces around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. To date, only 9 per cent of the plastic waste ever generated has been recycled, and only 14 per cent is collected for recycling now.
The reasons are complex. Not all plastic can be recycled and a lack of public awareness means plastic collections are often contaminated. This can increase the cost of recycling.
In the United States, for example, the introduction of single-stream recycling—where recyclables are not separated in household collections—led to a huge surge in recycling rates, but as plastics became more complex, people started placing the wrong things in their bins. Waste Management, the largest processor of residential recycling in North America, says that one in every four items in recycling bins today is not recyclable.
“Chemicals added to plastic polymers, products made of mixed materials and food packaging contaminated with food waste make recycling difficult and costly,” wrote the authors of UN Environment’s The State of Plastics report.
The need to rethink recycling became more apparent when China, which has imported nearly half the world’s waste since 1992, stopped taking foreign plastic waste this year. China’s decision exposed weaknesses in recycling facilities in many other countries.
There are financial reasons for the shortfalls. Depending on the oil price, it is often cheaper to make virgin plastic while the market for recycled plastic is notoriously volatile, making investors reluctant to commit to the sector.
For years, activists have argued that packaging producers and retailers should pay more to cover the cost of dealing with their waste. While many brands have committed to using more recycled plastic, the pressure is growing for them to do more.
In Britain, the government is said to be planning to charge supermarkets, retailers and major drinks brands tens of millions of pounds more towards the cost of recycling. The strategy would include plans to increase contributions from retailers and producers from an average of about 70 million pounds a year to between 500 million pounds and 1 billion pounds a year. There are also plans to include smaller producers.
The European Commission unveiled a Plastics Strategy in January, saying that its drive to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 could create 200,000 jobs but only if recycling capacity was multiplied fourfold. The European Union recycles less than 30 per cent of its 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and half of that used to be sent to China.
As part of its strategy, the European Union will develop new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics and increase demand. It wants to see improved and scaled up recycling facilities and a more standardized system for the separate collection and sorting of waste.
UN Environment, which started its Clean Seas campaign in 2017 to push for the elimination of unnecessary single-use plastics, also supports the implementation of integrated waste management systems through its International Environmental Technology Centre in Japan.
There is clearly a need to support waste management strategies in poorer countries, where municipal authorities often do not have the capacity to implement suitable policies. Some of these countries are also among the biggest marine polluters: 90 per cent of the plastic in our oceans comes from just 10 rivers, with eight of those in Asia.
Some of the industry’s top players have spotted the gaps. In October, waste management company Veolia and consumer goods giant Unilever said they would work together to invest in new technologies to increase recycling and move towards a circular economy.
The three-year partnership will focus, at first, on India and Indonesia where the firms will work to scale up waste collection and recycling infrastructure.
Circulate Capital, an investment management firm dedicated to preventing ocean plastic, said in October that it expected US$90 million in funding from some of the world’s leading consumer good groups and chemical companies, including PepsiCo, P&G, Dow and Coca-Cola.
Created in collaboration with Closed Loop Partners and the Ocean Conservancy, Circulate Capital aims to demonstrate the value of investing in waste management and recycling in South and Southeast Asia. It uses philanthropic and public funds, as well as technical assistance, to support and develop public and nonprofit entities to implement new approaches and build capacity that can support large institutional capital commitments.
“We have recognized that financing is a key barrier—as people always want to know ‘who is going to pay for it?’ By removing capital for infrastructure and operators as a barrier, we believe we can accelerate solutions to policy, education, supply chains and more,” said Rob Kaplan, the founder and CEO of Circulate Capital.
Big name corporations are not the only players. In many developing economies, recycling is carried out by millions of waste pickers, often women, children, the elderly and the unemployed. They may be on the frontline of sustainability but their own lives are often marred by unhealthy working conditions, lack of rights and social stigma.
The World Bank said in its What a Waste 2.0 report that when waste pickers are properly supported and organized, informal recycling can create employment, improve local industrial competitiveness, reduce poverty and decrease municipal spending.
Citizens also have a role to play but education and information are essential. The World Bank cites the example of Jamaica, where environmental wardens, employed by the National Solid Waste Management Authority, teach their neighbours about environmentally friendly disposal of waste. The communities involved collect plastic bottles and remove plastic litter from shared spaces and drains. They then sell the collected bottles to recyclers.
“There is no silver bullet to solving ocean plastic and scaling global recycling—investing in public education without infrastructure won’t achieve results, and vice versa,” said Circulate Capital’s Kaplan. “It is a systems challenge that requires systems solutions.”
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