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How China’s ban of plastic waste imports can help us beat pollution

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When China decided to ban imports of plastic waste at the end of last year, it left major exporters of plastic waste unprepared. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the average North American or European consumes 100 kilograms of plastic every year. Globally, only 14 per cent of our plastic waste is being recycled. Current recycling machines are unable to separate plastics into reusable forms, so plastic waste has previously been pressed into bales and sent to China, where recyclable plastic was manually picked and reused.

The imports of plastic waste have had disastrous impacts on the environment and people’s health in China. Batches were often contaminated with hazardous materials, such as medical trash, endangering workers in the recycling facilities.

Approximately 8 million tons of waste, the amount China imported in 2016, now needs to be processed somewhere else. This could mean shifting the waste to neighbouring countries, but less developed treatment industries give rise to a growing informal recycling sector and its related environmental and social damages. For now, the United Kingdom and the United States have turned to landfilling and incineration to rid themselves of their growing piles of plastic waste, meaning that resources are not only being wasted, but are also polluting air and land.

China’s policy decision should not mean that the “problem” of plastic waste is relocated to other countries or buried on landfill sites. Instead, this moment should be seen as a trigger-point to develop sustainable plastic waste management practices and boost recycling rates in waste exporting countries.

Green industrial policies allow governments to leverage this opportunity to cut off plastic waste where it starts. Plastic waste regulations show how green industrial policy can directly impact our daily lives. But it is only one piece in a set of different policies that can help transform our economies into drivers of sustainability. While research into the field of green industrial policy is still relatively limited, UN Environment and the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) are at the forefront of delivering the data, the theoretical information and concrete advice to policymakers, enabling them to pilot this transformation in their countries.

On 22 February, PAGE is hosting an event on green industrial policy for transformative change, discussing the links between theory and practice. The event will launch the trilogy of PAGE publications on green industrial policy: “Practitioner’s Guide to Strategic Green Industrial Policy”, “Green Industrial Policy: Concept, Policies, Country Experiences” and “Green Industrial Policy & Trade: A Tool-Box”.

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Green Planet

The Collapse of the Climate Change Cult

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Despite the attempts by the media coverage and attendees at the COP27 Climate Change Summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt touting  the creation for a loss and damage fund where developed countries who are allegedly responsible for the planet’s demise will pay reparations to countries who are seemingly impacted by our climate warming sins, there was significant turmoil as the Summit went into two-days of overtime to come up with a watered down agreement. The cracks are becoming more evident in the collapse of the politically driven climate agenda that is exposing the folly, hypocrisy, and an emerging suffering caused by the climate policies. 

Ask people in developed nations if the summit is of any concern when survival for their family is top of mind. People can’t afford the 30% increase to heat their homes or fill their vehicle with enough gas to get to work. Then add inflation on food from rising supply-chain costs and a carbon tax veneer on consumer items. No wonder we are seeing people choose between food, medicine, and heat. Some are turning to burning dirtier coal and wood to weather the ensuing frigid winter with energy blackouts. The most obvious and immediate fallout from the past decade of climate action and unreliable green energy is just beginning to come home to roost.

COP27 opened with the tiring end-of-the-world doomsday rhetoric by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ stark warning that the world is losing the fight against climate change, “We are in the fight for our lives…our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible…we are on a highway to climate hell”. He added, “Humanity has a choice, cooperate, or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact or a Collective Suicide Pact”. One might add ‘a loss of Sovereignty Pact too’ by relinquishing power to the climate zealots.   

Questions remain from the summit as to who will pay into the climate justice fund, how much, who will receive our personal taxes, and how will the down payment be deployed? One might ask why some 400 private jets spewing carbon lined the airports in Egypt where attendees ate lavishly in an air-conditioned luxury resort town could not have sailed or biked to a summit in tents or just go on a call and allocate the millions of dollars into their justice fund. It is estimated that the Summit will emit well over 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases.   

The summiteers came away with no deal to phase out or eliminate fossil fuels and they hinged their hopes on their science to limit a global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees -referencing to 2015’s Paris Agreement, which aims to cut man-made carbon dioxide to net-zero by 2050. In all reality, only a handful of countries are keeping their promises and attaining their climate plan. If the 1.5-degree target is even a proven fact, some estimates would require global emissions to be cut 43% by 2030 where we are currently on track to dip by 1%. A reduction of this amount would tailspin the world into economic collapse resulting in wars, famine, deforestation, and societal failure unparalleled to the greatest extermination of humans.         

There have been many prophetic end-of-the-world climate dates from scientists, politicians, and celebrities claiming we have a limited number of years remaining. One that sticks out was the cinematic release of ‘An Inconvenient Truth (2006) featuring former US Vice President Al Gore who convinced moviegoers the world was warming because human activity. The movie cited food crop failures, CO2 concentrations rising, and catastrophic super hurricanes. Gore, himself, predicted in 2009 there would be a 75% chance that the ice in the Arctic could vanish within 5-7 years.

These predictions all fell well short. Seventeen years following the movie, new technology and smart farming has resulted in bountiful harvests, super-sized hurricanes have not materialized although there has been significantly more collateral damage with the increasing number of homes and communities built along the coastal waters, CO2 concentrates have increased but not near the modeling, and the Arctic ice has not disappeared. We do know for sure that Gore got very rich by scaring the public into thinking there was an impending climate apocalypse.

There is no denying climate has ebbed and changed over time. This could be attributed to the core of the earth’s volcanic eruptions ejecting ash into the atmosphere, huge forest fires releasing carbon over centuries, and the impact of solar winds surging 150 million kilometers from a medium-sized Sun. Perhaps man-made actions have marginally impacted the climate relative to the big players; and who’s to say we could not ebb back into the big freeze that we found ourselves in during the 70’s.

In February 2022, the Fraser Institute in Canada took an in-depth look at the doomsday predictions from climate models provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -widely considered to be the authority on matters related to the climate. The IPCC determines the number of years to the catastrophic tipping points on models of greenhouse gases, atmospheric warming, and ecological impact. According to the Fraser Institute Fraser Institute, the periodic assessments by the IPCC are flawed scenarios not based on actual real data. They stated that with each passing year, there are discrepancies from the IPCC projected climate warming exceeding actual observations over the past 35 years.

Essentially these findings undercut the current narrative at the annual COP Climate Summits that we are on ‘the highway to climate hell’ rather than taking a more balanced approach to addressing climate concerns. One cannot overlook the IPCC’s funding is derived from governments who leverage the data in their political pursuits while disregarding opposing scientific positions as climate terrorism or deniers.

Why not cheaper, reliable, and cleaner energy. Why not collaborate on nuclear energy and much cleaner natural gas through advanced technology to trap carbon? Why not work to get the world off dirtier coal and wood. Should we also question solar farms requiring massive swaths of land cleared of animals and vegetation to erect mineral-laden panels made from scorched earth mining that will generate diluted energy at high costs. What about the non-degradable hazardous panels filling landfills when decommissioned after a 20-year life span. Aside from ground species being wiped out, tens of thousands of birds are igniting in midair as they fly overhead the garage-size mirrors. Workers call them “streamers”, for the smoke plume that comes from their incineration.

It is unrealistic to believe the world will stop using oil-based energy, and bi-products and lubricants over the next century. Mandating EVs without having the charging infrastructure in place; let alone the massive amounts of energy required to power millions of chargers could result in grid-failing blackouts when people crank up the A/C.

If COP27 was more serious beyond the world’s leaders parachuting in with sound bites and empty promises, they might want to turn their attention to pressuring China whose large coal-powered industries cause air quality to threaten the health of tens of millions of people. With the enormous boom in manufacturing and huge surge in motorized vehicles, China’s CO2 emissions in 2021 rose above 11.9 million tonnes accounting for 33% of the global total. It is appalling COP27 gave China a pass on contributing to their loss and damage fund whereas America, who has lower emissions, will be coughing up billions of dollars.

Rather than claiming the planet is in the emergency room with a decade to live and denying opposing voices as a political insurgency, would it not be more advantageous to win the hearts and minds of both competing visions of climate responsibility by producing the cleanest, most reliable, and most affordable energy on the planet. We have a choice to see through the political rhetoric to support cleaner and diverse energy with greener technology where the energy industry is not under the knife and unwilling to invest in a future where people do not suffer and can afford to live a better life.   

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Russia’s war on Ukraine at COP27 -And Energy Security

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Simon Stiell, head of UNFCCC, speaking at the official opening of COP27. Photo: Momoko Sato/ UNIC Tokyo

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—known as COP 27–was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The goal of the COP 27 is to achieve the outcomes of the COP26, which was held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12, 2021, and its goal was to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius, one of its important goals was also to adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, to try to make and prepare at least $100 billion in climate finance per year, countries must work together to finish the Paris agreement rulebook in order to take action.

The COP27 aims to achieve the previously mentioned COP 26 agenda; more than 193 countries from around the world participated in the COP 27, and the main slogan of the COP27 was “Act Now and Together for Implementation.” Climate change is a priority on the United Nations’ agenda, and it always calls on all countries around the world to band together to fight climate change and save lives, putting all political problems aside. The climate change crisis has emerged as one of the most pressing issues occupying the attention of world leaders and policymakers around the world, affecting human lives, and necessary measures must be taken to address climate change in light of an unstable world caused by wars and disputes in many regions and countries around the world.

During COP 27, world leaders discussed wars and their impact on climate change. They also discussed the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict and its impact on energy. It is worth noting that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine can be traced back to 2014 when an armed conflict occurred in eastern Ukraine as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Russia’s president Putin stated that the reason for annexing Crimea is to protect the people who speak Russian in Crimea, as well as Russian citizens there. As a result, there were some clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces. Some countries, including Germany and France, attempted to use diplomatic ties to end the conflict between the two sides through the so-called “Minsk Accord,” but their efforts were futile.

NATO announced in April 2016 that it would deploy four troops in four Eastern European countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, with the goal of deterring future Russian aggression in the region. Following NATO’s announcement of troop deployments in Eastern Europe the following year, the United States announced it would send two army tank brigades to Poland in order to strengthen NATO’s presence in Europe The provocation of America and NATO pushed Russia to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Russia launched a just war to prevent the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in eastern Europe, as well as to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO because joining NATO poses a direct threat to Russia’s survival and security.

During COP 27, the participating countries discussed the invasion of Ukraine as an example of the environmental and humanitarian disaster that the world is experiencing. The Russian war on Ukraine increased energy prices, particularly in many European countries that rely heavily on Russia’s fossil fuels. It is worth mentioning that European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands are attempting to take a chance on the war by accelerating their transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. The European Commission has also presented a strategy to quickly transition EU countries away from Russian energy, which includes increasing renewable energy and supporting the manufacture of hydrogen.

Some country leaders expressed their concern about the war, and President El-Sisi, the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, mentioned the Russian and Ukrainian crises in his speech at the COP27 opening ceremony of the Climate Conference, and called on the two sides to end and stop the war, saying: “Please stop this war,” and mentioning that Egypt is willing to mediate to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

At COP27, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres stated, “the war in Ukraine, conflict in the Sahel, and violence and unrest in so many other places are terrible crises plaguing today’s world.” War could be one of the most damaging factors affecting climate change, energy security, and food security. The invasion of Ukraine may draw more attention to food security research. According to the UN General Secretary, conflict could cause one-fifth of humanity’s estimated 1.7 billion people to suffer from extreme poverty and starvation.

Many countries expect COP27 to produce fruitful results in ending Russia’s war on Ukraine and addressing climate change. And to achieve COP27 goals, countries must act now to take climate change seriously, stop wars and conflicts, and protect the climate and the environment. Leaders and policymakers must start taking action now and sit together around one table, putting politics aside, to implement the plans presented by the UN, to save our plants and protect the climate for the next generation, and to provide a good life; otherwise, it will be too late.

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Connecting The Dots Between Climate Action and Education

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We are headed for a cliff. Rising seas, devastating droughts, spiking temperatures and a notable increase in the severity and frequency of natural disasters are forcing children, families and communities into displacement, disrupting the education of millions and, and putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

At this year’s COP27 Climate Talks in Egypt, world leaders are discussing how we can adapt our economies, our societies and our world in the face of a changing climate.  Given the critical importance of education to withstand climate-change and prevent further deterioration, we must connect the dots between climate action and education.

We all know now that none of the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved and sustained without an educated new generation. The same applies to ensure that we have an entire generation of responsible stewards for our planet in peril.

This year’s climate talks provide us with a unique opportunity to boldly and squarely establish the link between climate change and education – especially for the world’s most vulnerable children and youth who suffer the brunt of climate-induced disasters.

The numbers tell a story of a crisis within a crisis. In 2016, we estimated that 75 million crisis-impacted children were in need of urgent educational support. Today, that number has tripled to 222 million. This is simply unacceptable in modern times when we face such enormous challenges for our Mother Earth.

Millions are impacted by horrific climate-driven disasters like the droughts in the Horn of Africa and the floods in Pakistan. In Pakistan alone, nearly 27,000 schools were destroyed or damaged, affecting 2 million children and adolescents.

Globally, nearly half of the world’s children – approximately 1 billion girls and boys – are living in countries that are designated at “extremely high-risk” from the impacts of climate change. Some estimates indicate that as many as 140 million more people could be displaced by climate change by 2050 across South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

This could cost the global economy US$7.9 trillion in lost gains. This is a devastating loss financially and even more so for the future of our planet.

The developing world will feel the impact the most. Cost to GDP in Africa by 2050 is estimated at 4.7%, followed by Latin America (3.8%), the Middle East (3.7%), Eastern Europe (3%) and Asia Pacific (2.6%).

The growing body of evidence that links climate change with escalations in armed conflict is even more terrifying.

The world’s most marginalized and vulnerable children and youth have the most to lose. Without the safety and protection of a quality education, they live will not be prepared to successfully manage the impacts of a changing climate. Their plight is doubled by the fact that they are at a high risk of sexual exploitation, child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, child labour, recruitment by armed forces and other human rights abuses. The climate and humanity are linked and can be destroyed at the same time, unless we recognize and act upon this inextricable correlation.   

So how can we act as part of our climate action? We can and must ensure that every child and adolescent who today suffers from climate-induced disasters are empowered through an education to reduce the current climate disaster and steer their communities and countries towards saving the earth. We can invest financially in their education and in a protective learning environment that withstands the shocks of climate change and prevents reoccurrence. Education is the pathway to a more sustainable future for the planet.

Girls and women, as the stewards of our planet, will need to be front and center. The time for action is now, given recent Malala Fund estimates that climate-related events prevented at least 4 million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education in 2021.

Ensuring girls’ access to education is a sustainable and cost-effective mechanism to improve resilience to climate change. Countries that have invested in girls’ education have suffered far fewer losses from droughts and floods than countries with lower levels of girls’ education. A 2013 study analysing the links between girls’ education and disaster risk reduction projected that if 70% of women ages 20–39 received at least a lower-secondary education, disaster-related deaths in 130 countries could be reduced by 60% by 2050.

With our global donors and strategic partners, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – is deploying an extensive portfolio of investments in some of the countries hit hardest by the climate crisis.

When disasters strike in places like Bangladesh, Cameroon or Pakistan, ECW’s rapid funding protects children and supports the resumption of education with new schools, provides access to safe water and nutritious meals, and ensures a safe place to learn and grow.

In places like Chad, teachers are integrating preparedness, disaster risk reduction and resilience into educational programing. The indispensable correlation between climate change and education is a center-piece in our new Strategic Plan 2023-2026.  

In just a few months, world leaders will gather at the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference on 16-17 February in Geneva. Hosted by the Government of Switzerland and ECW – and co-convened by Colombia, Germany, Niger, Norway and South Sudan – the conference will provide a unique opportunity to take the lessons learned from COP27 and connect the dots between climate resilience and educational resilience, between climate change and education.

With an education, the leaders of tomorrow are empowered to receive the baton from the current generation and responsibly address the single greatest threat to the human species in our brief history on this planet.

The earth will abide, but will humanity? By investing in humanity today, we can ensure that both will survive and thrive tomorrow.

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