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Champions of the Earth: Inspirational environmental leaders from Chile, China and United States

MD Staff

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Six inspirational environmental leaders today received the United Nations’ highest environmental honour, the Champions of the Earth award, during the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, Paul A. Newman and his team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, American filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, bike-sharing startup Mobike, Chairman of Elion Resources Group Wang Wenbiao, and the Saihanba Afforestation Community were all lauded for actions that had a significant positive impact on the environment.

“As we face unprecedented threats to our environment, strong leadership at all levels is more important than ever,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “This year’s Champions embody the commitment, vision and energy we so desperately need.”

The awards were presented during the third UN Environment Assembly, which brings together over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials and civil society representatives to tackle the global menace of pollution.

The 2017 winners received the awards for action in the following categories:

POLICY LEADERSHIP

Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile, for outstanding leadership in creating marine protected areas and boosting renewable energy.

In October 2015, President Bachelet established the marine park Nazca-Desventuradas in San Ambrosio and San Felix Islands, and a range of protected areas and marine parks in the Juan Fernandez Islands. She also extended protected areas in Easter Island. The total coverage is now over 1 million km2, the largest in the world. Aside from marine environmental protection, her policies have seen renewable energy production surge from 6 to 17 per cent of Chile’s energy mix in just 4 years.

“Chile has shown the world that you don’t need to be a rich country to preserve the environment,” said President Bachelet. “I feel honored to be included in this outstanding group of people and grateful for being acknowledged as one of this year’s Champions of the Earth, the UN’s highest environmental recognition.”

SCIENCE AND INNOVATION

Paul A. Newman & NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, for outstanding contributions to the Montreal Protocol – which has phased out 99 per cent of ozone-depleting substances and led to the healing of the ozone layer.

The first satellite instrument to measure ozone was put into space by the Goddard centre in 1970, and the first Antarctic ozone hole pictures were made using Goddard satellite data in 1985. Since the early 90s, the center has been instrumental in leading updates to the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, looking at how policies impact the atmosphere and setting a new high-water mark for international scientific cooperation. The ozone layer is now healing and will return to 1980 levels by mid-century. As a result, up to 2 million cases of skin cancer may be prevented each year by 2030. The Kigali Amendment to the protocol, signed in 2016, is now targeting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are climate-warming gases with significant global-warming potential. Action in this area can help avoid up to 0.5° Celsius in global warming by the end of the century.

“Ozone is our unseen natural sunscreen,” said Mr. Newman. “It’s crucial to understand and carefully watch this vital Earth resource.

ENTREPRENEURIAL VISION

Mobike, for exploring market-driven solutions to air pollution and climate change.

Mobike is the world’s largest smart bike-sharing company. After two years of operation, the platform claims over 100 million registered users across more than 100 cities globally, servicing over 20 million rides a day.

Air pollution is a massive problem, particularly in countries like China and India, claiming an estimated 6.5 million lives each year. Bike sharing is a crucial alternative to motorized transport, and companies like Mobike are leading the way in cutting out journeys that contribute to air pollution and climate change.

According to figures collated by the company, Mobike users have cycled more than 18.2 billion kilometres, avoiding 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking 1.24 million cars off the road for a year.

Every Mobike bike has a GPS tracker, and the company collects bikes that don’t move or are unused – although they are designed to be maintenance-free for four years. The company also has an incentive/disincentive scheme, giving bonus points for proper parking to encourage users to leave their bikes in designated areas.

Mobike has also teamed up with US chemical firm, Dow, to conduct research on creating more eco-friendly bikes after reports of unsustainable manufacturing practices.

 “It is a tremendous honour to receive this award,” said Mobike’s Founder and President, Hu Weiwei. “Combating climate change, through [pursuing] the United Nations sustainable development goals, is one of the world’s most important priorities, and we commit to using our technology and innovation to help governments and businesses join us in creating a pedal-powered green economy.”

INSPIRATION AND ACTION

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, for his work on spreading powerful environmental messages to a global audience

Orlowski is the founder of Exposure Labs, which uses the power of storytelling to create impact. In 2012, he directed the climate-focused documentary, Chasing Ice, which has been screened in over 172 countries, 70 universities, over 75 film festivals, the White House and the UN.

His latest film, Chasing Coral, looks at the effects of ocean warming coral bleaching on these vulnerable ecosystems. The award-winning documentary is the result of 500+ hours underwater, the creative application of cutting-edge technology, submissions of footage from volunteers from 30 countries, and support from more than 500 people around the world. It won the Sundance US Documentary Audience award.

Chasing Coral’s impact campaign is driven by a central mission to inspire a new wave of climate champions in unexpected places, calling on people to arrange screenings of the film and take action to protect coral reefs that are dying across the world.

“The collapse of our reefs is an early, yet urgent warning of the threat posed to all ecosystems,” said Orlowski. “I hope this award can help reveal this elusive story hidden in our ocean to the world.”

Saihanba Afforestation Community, for transforming degraded land into a lush paradise.

Saihanba, which covers 92,000 hectares and borders the southern edge of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, had by the 1950s become barren due to excessive logging, allowing sand to blow into Beijing from the northern deserts. In 1962, hundreds of foresters began planting trees in the area. Three generations of these foresters have increased forest cover from 11.4 to 80 per cent. The forest now supplies 137 million cubic meters of clean water to the Beijing and Tianjin areas each year, while discharging c. 550,000 metric tons of oxygen. It has spurred economic growth with green sectors, generating USD15.1 million in 2016 alone.

“In the 55 years the farm has existed, people have been growing trees and protecting the forest like their own children,” said Liu Haiying, director of Saihanba Afforestation Community. “I believe that, as long as we continue to promote ecological civilization, generation after generation, China can create more green miracles like Saihanba and achieve harmony between humans and nature.”

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Wang Wenbiao, Chairman of Elion Resources Group, for a lifetime of leadership in green industry.

Better known in China as the “Son of the Desert”, Wang, 61, is the chairman of China’s largest private green industries enterprise, Elion Resources Group, with total assets of over USD 1.6 billion.

Wang bought the Hangjinqi Saltworks in the middle of the Kubuqi desert in 1988. He quickly realized that the saltworks’ financial woes, and the problems with livelihoods in the region, were down to the desert: sand interfering with production and making it difficult to transport products out.

He partnered with local communities and the Beijing government to combat desertification in the desert, which covers around 18,600 sq km in Inner Mongolia. Centuries of grazing had stripped the land, leaving around 70,000 people struggling to survive. Now around two-thirds of the desert has been greened and local communities have jobs and a more pleasant environment. UN Environment research estimated the project has a net value in ecosystem services of $1.8 billion dollars over 50 years.

The project shows how private industry can both turn a healthy profit and make a massive positive contribution to climate change, sustainable development and many other environmental issues.

“My only life goal is to combat desertification for a greener world, with more lush mountains with clear water, which I always value as silver and gold mountains,” Wang said.

In November 2007, Wang was elected as the Vice Chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, and in 2008 won the China Charity Award. In January 2012, he won the title of ‘Chinese Model Worker in Green Work’ for the second time.

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Proof of Human Impotence and Agency in Climate Change While Disasters Multiply

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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To be rational is to know that weather events cannot be causally related to climate change, although exacerbation is another issue.  Yet when the news is full of record setting fires in California and Greece and Australia, temperature records tumbling, and typhoons and hurricanes relentless in their intensity, one might be forgiven for wondering.

Those who are not climate scientists can only interpret research done by others for the general public and form opinions colored by their work.  That sum of work as it develops becomes more frightening by the day, with a strong fear the predictions will come true earlier than anticipated.

Now there is new climate research on the troposphere, a region extending from the surface of the earth to 16 km (10 miles) at the tropics and 13 km at the poles.  Researchers have studied the amplitudes of the annual cycle of tropospheric temperatures, the highs and the lows, and how these have changed over time.  Above all, they have examined human agency.

The news, as they say, is not good.  Their results the authors state, “provide powerful and novel evidence for a statistically significant human effect on earth’s climate.”  They call it ‘anthropogenic forcing’.

As a consequence we have “pronounced midlatitude increases in annual cycle amplitudes in both hemispheres.”  These are repeated in satellite data.  It means higher tropospheric temperatures in summer and lower in winter.

Not only is there “seasonality in some of the climate feedbacks triggered by external forcings” (read human fingerprint), say the authors, but worse “there are widespread signals of seasonal changes in the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species.”  In other words, we are screwing up wildlife, both plant and animal.

It is as if the air in the earth’s attic is warmer in summer and colder in winter.  And its air conditioner, the tropical rainforest is on the blink.  Greed for hardwoods and farmland has resulted in serious depletion.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels continue to soar, exceeding 412 ppm on May 14, 2018.  The last time the earth reached a 400 ppm threshold was several million years ago.  The human footprint here is proven through the negative delta13C levels caused by fossil fuel use because plants are lacking in the 13C isotope of carbon.  Combining the CO2 rise with increasing tropospheric temperature cycle amplitudes can only magnify the problem.  A new report in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences lays out a scenario for a self-reinforcing feedback loop, a ‘hothouse earth’ at which point no human action could prevent catastrophe.

A quick glance at recent weather disaster reports, several within a week, should satisfy skeptics of the exacerbation of extreme events:

The Mendocino Complex fire in California is the largest in the state’s history.  It is uncontrollable and expected to burn through August.

Record breaking rains in Western Japan have resulted in floods causing over 150 fatalities and mudslides knocking over and destroying homes.  “We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before,” said a weather official.

Floods in France have led to the evacuation of 1600 people.  The flooding comes after the area and much of Europe suffered extremely hot weather.  Thus in July, devastating wildfires in Greece killed 92 people.  And as warning in Southeastern Australia, the bushfire season has been brought forward two months from October due to excessively dry hot weather.

Extremely heavy rains in Toronto have flooded the city.  Two men trapped in a basement elevator were rescued through the heroic efforts of first responders, who swam to the elevator and used a crowbar to open the doors.  There was just a foot of breathable air when the men swam out.

The climate story is not new; from Svante Arrhenius, the Swedish scientist who foresaw global warming from the use of fossil fuel (and thought it to be fortunate for Northern Europe) to James E. Hansen the climate scientist who, in historic Senate testimony on June 23, 1988, gave clear warning of the greenhouse effect that was changing the earth’s climate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established later that year, although the Montreal Protocol a year earlier had set the stage.  The Fifth IPCC Assessment was published in 2014 and the next one is due in 2022.  Yet, what have we learned?

On July 19, 2018, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution, H.Con.Res.119, denouncing a carbon tax as detrimental to the U.S. economy.  As we march to climate self-destruction, the president wants to increase the use of coal and has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement.

So there we are …  the ostrich syndrome in full effect.

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To beat hunger and combat climate change, world must ‘scale-up’ soil health

MD Staff

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Healthy soils are essential to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’ – and other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – peace and prosperity, the United Nations agriculture agency chief underscored in Brazil at the World Congress of Soil Science.

On Sunday, more than 2,000 scientists gathered in Rio de Janeiro under the theme “Soil Science: Beyond food and fuel,” for a week of exploring the increasingly complex, diverse role of soils; grappling with resilient agriculture practices to address environmental and climatic changes; and confronting threats to food security and sovereignty.

“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty,” said José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organizaation (FAO), in a video message noting that approximately one-third of the Earth’s soil is degraded

The FAO The Status of the World’s Soil Resources report had identified 10 major threats to soil functions, including soil erosion, nutrient imbalance, acidification and contamination.

Mr. Graziano da Silva stressed the importance of sustainable soil management as an “essential part of the Zero Hunger equation” in a world where more than 815 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

Soils and climate change

“Although soils are hidden and frequently forgotten, we rely on them for our daily activities and for the future of the planet,” the FAO chief said, underscoring the important support role they play in mitigating or adapting to a changing climate.

Mr. Graziano da Silva specifically pointed to the potential of soils for carbon sequestration and storage – documented in FAO’s global soil organic carbon map.

“Maintaining and increasing soil carbon stock should become a priority,” asserted the UN agriculture chief.

He also noted how soils act as filters for contaminants, preventing their entry into the food chain and reaching water bodies such as rivers, lakes and oceans, flagging that this potential becomes limited when contamination exceeds the soils’ capacity to cope with pollution.

In his message, Mr. Graziano da Silva noted the Global Soil Partnership in which FAO works with governments and other partners to build technical capacity and exchange knowledge on sustainable soil management through the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management.

“Let us make soils a vehicle of prosperity and peace, and show the contribution of soils to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” concluded the FAO Director-General said.

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Caribbean Aims to Become World’s First Climate-Smart Zone

MD Staff

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A ground-breaking partnership to support the Caribbean’s ambition to become the world’s first ‘climate-smart zone’ launched today. 8 Times Olympic Gold Medal Winner Usain Bolt was in attendance to help fire the starting pistol for the Caribbean ClimateSmart Accelerator, which will be led by the Caribbean leaders to create the world’s first climatesmart zone.

The Accelerator has created an unprecedented coalition including 26 countries and over 40 private and public sector partners which will implement climate solutions for resilience, renewable energy, development of sustainable cities, oceans and transportation. This climate-smart zone will not only protect the region but create jobs and a new economy in climate-smart infrastructure.

The Caribbean Accelerator has a vision which builds from the strategies of regional governments and agencies, including CARICOM and OECS. Although it has only just launching, it has already started to lay the foundations for success with initial Caribbean Climate-Smart projects including:

IDB’s US$1billion commitment to climate-smart investments: The Inter-American Development Bank announced that it will partner with the Accelerator to program and implement the additional $1 billion in funds that it pledged for climate smart-investments across the Caribbean region at the Paris One Planet summit. This additional funding will build on an existing portfolio of over $200 million to support innovative solutions focusing on low carbon emissions, sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency projects in the wake of natural disasters, drawing from low-cost blended finance and contingent credit facilities.

The IDB also announced that they will provide $3 million as start-up funds to the Accelerator to help get this important initiative successfully up and running, with the first $1.5 million available this year.

Grenada Climate Smart City: The Government of Grenada announced the start of the implementation of a $300m project to create the world’s first “climate-smart city” with initial support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help catalyse the project. Closely following a recent GCF investment into Grenada for a $48.7m climate-smart water project

Ocean Resiliency: An anonymous entrepreneur is investing $2m to support the Belize government’s ocean protection efforts, ocean advocacy across the Caribbean, and entrepreneurs deploying business solutions to benefit the ocean like Algas Organics, which is turning the sargassum nightmare into a business opportunity creating fertilizer to support a thriving agricultural sector in the Caribbean.

The World Bank Group: The World Bank announced a three-year commitment of $1 million annually in in-kind services for the Accelerator, and is supporting Caribbean countries with an almost US$2 billion portfolio focused on strengthening resilience and financial protection against disasters – including US$1 billion in concessional financing from the International Development Association (IDA).

Airbnb: In partnership with the Accelerator, Airbnb is helping to weave a community of hosts who are ready to respond and build a more resilient Caribbean. The company is doing this by allowing hosts to open their homes to disaster survivors and relief workers free of charge.  Hosts waive their fees and Airbnb waives theirs. To date, over 11,000 people in need have been housed through the Open Homes program and it’s now expanded to the Caribbean.

Zero Mass Water, a member of Breakthrough Energy Coalition, are solving the drinking water problems for the pediatric wards of 2 major hospitals in Jamaica, through the installation of 20 of their Source Hydropanls, which will make clean, filtered drinking water out of air for the next fifteen years.

Accelerator Speed Award: Usain Bolt announced an annual climate-smart “Speed Award”.

Identifying the best initiatives across countries, companies, communities and individuals.  The first winners will be announced in June 2019.

Sean Paul a Grammy award winning Jamaican Musician, was announced as an official Ambassador of the Accelerator, with a focus on Oceans.

The TIDES Foundation announced a generous grant of $200,000 to the Accelerator.

Caribbean institutions and agencies – including governments, CARICOM and the OECS – have already started to use the Accelerator’s unique platform of public and private stakeholders to make a difference.

Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness said: “Being climate-smart means putting the people of the Caribbean at the centre of all we do – to protect them from the challenges of climate change. The Caribbean Accelerator will also encourage job creation, social inclusion and economic growth. These benefits will only come when Governments, the international community and the private sector work together to overcome barriers and generate the investment that will benefit us all. That is why I am excited by the potential of the Accelerator to join the Caribbean with global partners who share our vision to see investment grow in the years ahead.” Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank has played a key role in bringing together a multinational coalition of public and private partners to fast track public and private investments over the next five years.

Luis Alberto Moreno, the President of the Inter-American Development Bank, stated: “The IDB Group reaffirms its continued and historical commitment to the Caribbean and will work with leaders of the region to improve lives by creating climate-smart and vibrant economies, where people are safe, productive, and happy. We hope that through this Climate Smart Coalition, in addition to offering new affordable financing, we will use the IDB’s extensive regional experience and presence on the ground to work closely with the people of the region to design their Caribbean of the future, today.”

Speaking at the event today Sir Richard Branson said: “Our goal is ambitious and bold: we are creating the world’s first climate-smart zone. We have a vision of a Caribbean which is greener, stronger and more resilient than ever before – built on innovation, powered by clean, sustainable energy and accelerated by public and private investment.”

Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “We are committed to a stronger, more resilient, and climate-smart Caribbean.  Working together, bringing in international partners and increasing private sector participation will be key to maximize financing for development and create opportunities for all.”

The coalition was first announced in Paris last December (https://www.caribbeanaccelerator.org/)  and since then it has grown from 11 to 26 Caribbean countries, with over 40 private sector partners to implement informative climate action across the Caribbean region.

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