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How countries can trade their way to climate resilience

MD Staff

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In the winter of 2014, the Finistère area of Brittany in northwestern France was hit with violent storms, bringing torrential rain, heavy wind and flooding. Winter floods in this part of France are common; in 2014, however, the heavy rainfall caused the river to rise to record levels – 2.5 times higher than average – threatening people and infrastructure.

As the storm intensified, 55,000 households across the region lost power, and, as rivers breached their banks, the towns of Quimper, Morlaix and Quimperlé were submerged under as much as one metre of water. Homes and schools were evacuated and city centres were closed.

Pictures of water masses that blur over landscapes and cities are gradually becoming recurring features of the television news as the changing climate brings on more violent weather events. According to the World Bank, floods are the most frequent natural disaster and the one that costs most in terms of human life and material damage. Because of this, governments are increasingly seeing the need to implement solutions for building more resilient communities.

Trade can play an important role in response, recovery and building resilience to natural disasters, particularly through the implementation of technologies that help to reduce emissions and protect livelihoods from the impacts of climate change. Many companies are seeing this trend, and are producing innovative technologies to meet the challenges of the future.

NoFloods, a Danish company, have created a mobile flood protection barrier system to protect people, infrastructure and the environment from the impacts of flooding. When this system was deployed in two towns in Brittany, significant damage was prevented and risk to residents was minimized.

During the Brittany floods, the cities of Redon and Pontivy deployed NoFloods barriers, protecting their infrastructure from damage and their residents from danger. For the local authorities, the benefits were clear: the system is up to 40 times quicker to deploy than sandbags, and it costs roughly the same amount. The NoFloods barriers are also more effective than sandbags, and they can be used again in future crises.

Globally, the economic cost of natural disasters is around $520 billion. The prudence of encouraging and investing in environmentally sound technologies to promote climate resilience is becoming clearer and clearer. UN Environment’s Environment and Trade Hub works with governments around the world to help them identify opportunities for trade in environmental goods and services, open up trade in environmental goods and services, and encourage the diffusion of environmentally sound technologies.

“We know that resilience-building is a key focus of many of our government partners. We believe that trade is key to diffusing the technologies that will help vulnerable countries build their climate resilience,” says Anja von Moltke, head of the Environment and Trade Hub. “Encouraging this sort of innovation also helps to create fair, green jobs and build prosperity.”

Based on the system’s success in managing the floods of 2014, the French Ministry of the Interior has invested in 10km of NoFloods barriers, and the system has been sold globally in five other countries. By reducing unnecessary trade barriers, the provision of and access to vital goods and services, including adaption technologies like NoFloods barriers, can be improved, thus enhancing countries’ ability to build resilience and respond to the effects of climate change.

UN Environment

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Green Planet

The Plight of Birds and Human Responsibility in the Sixth Mass Extinction

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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As birds become fewer, wildflowers vanish, butterflies disappear, and animals in the wild are threatened, extinction and a grim future haunts.  How often does Rumi write about birdsong … there is a reason.  Nature revives the spirit.

World Environment Day has come and gone.  It was June 5th.  A UN outreach program hosted by a different country each year, it is designed to draw attention to the country’s environmental challenges and to offer it support.  This year the host is India and the theme is beating plastic pollution.  But plastics are not just a blight on the landscape, they are in the seas destroying coral and the species it shelters, painfully killing whales and other creatures … including birds.

Yet, it is far from the only cause of bird distress and their sharply declining numbers.  One example comes from the Arctic, where receding ice has taken with it the nutritious cod, which favor cold waters, and has endangered the black guillemot now forced to feed chicks on the bony and difficult-to-digest fourhorn sculpin.

When the EU commissioned a State of Nature report, they expected bad news but not quite as dire a result.  Prepared by the European Environment Agency and sourced from EU-wide data, it found one in three bird species threatened and only a little over half secure.  It also drew a bleak picture of European habitats finding over half of those studied to be unfavorable.  Habitat loss, pesticides particularly neonicotinoids, even excessive hunting, notably in southern Europe, are all to blame.

Earlier, a comprehensive study conducted by University of Exeter (UK) professor Richard Inger and colleagues had analyzed avian biomass across 25 countries over 30 years.  Using data from Birdlife International and the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme, they discovered a surprisingly large and troubling loss:  from 1980 to 2009 the estimated total avian population had declined by 421 million birds.

Meanwhile, new research in the US with far-reaching consequences places blame squarely on human action.  It examines avian consequences of noise pollution.  If certain constant noises irritate us — think of road repair and a pneumatic drill — then birds are no exception.  Noise from oil and gas operations is stressing out birds and harming reproduction.  They exhibit signs of chronic stress, lay fewer eggs or fewer eggs hatch, and nestling growth is stunted.

So reports a study by Nathan Kleist and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (unfortunately not available to the general public without a fee).  The authors study three species of cavity nesting birds (the ash-throated flycatcher, the mountain bluebird and the western bluebird) breeding near oil and gas operations — located on Bureau of Land Management property in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin .

The researchers placed 240 nest boxes on 12 pairs of sites, close to and at varying distances from the drilling pads where loud compressors operated non-stop.  The team took blood samples of adult females and nestlings from all the nest boxes for three years.  They examined nestling body size and feather length and found them to be less well developed in both noisy and lower noise areas, suggesting any level of irritating noise is disruptive.

Baseline levels of a key stress hormone, corticosterone, showed high stress in birds nesting closest to the noise.  In addition, when subjected to a test of being held for 10 minutes, nestlings in noisy areas produced significantly greater stress hormones than those in quiet areas.

It also turned out that the western bluebird was the only species willing to nest in the sites closest to the compressors.  Such behavior had cultivated a belief it was immune to noise.  Not so, the study results revealed.

That environmental stress is increased by noise pollution, and that it degrades avian reproductive success is thus the conclusive message of this study.  With background noise constantly increasing in the US, even protected areas are no longer immune.  On the face of it, there is also the distinct possibility other species could also be affected.

If the anthropocene is our age, it is also our look in the mirror to see what the human footprint has wrought, even if unwittingly.  Global warming, extreme weather events becoming more severe, plastic pollution and stressed wildlife, record extinctions, insect declines … all appear to be portents of an impaired future warning humans repeatedly of urgency.  The sixth mass extinction is underway but it will take centuries if not thousands of years, and man can help by alleviating global warming and increasing preservation efforts.  Clearly related to CO2 levels, global warming has been the culprit in the previous five.  CO2 levels are already in excess of 0.04 percent perilously close to the 0.05 percent calculated to melt icecaps through temperature rise causing serious flooding of coastal areas.

Are leaders and decision-makers listening?

Authors note:  This article appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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One step ahead of climate change, a ‘scorecard’ for Pacific Islands

MD Staff

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The Pacific Islands are among the most fragile in the world when it comes to climate change, rising sea levels and declining ocean health. To create greater understanding of how exactly climate change impacts the marine environment in the region, and help Pacific Islanders understand how to respond, UN Environment launched the first ever Pacific Marine Climate Change Report Card today.

Coinciding with World Oceans Day, the report card outlines what action is already being taken in the region and what further responses are needed, based on the research of 60 Pacific climate change experts and marine scientists.

“Climate change is a multifaceted issue,” said Sefanaia Nawadra, Head of the UN Environment Pacific Office. “A region-specific report that summarises the current situation, recommends management options and provides guidance for action is exactly what the region needs to build  climate change resilience.”

The report card recommends measures for addressing the projected impacts, including significantly reducing existing pressures from pollution, marine waste, population growth, overfishing and coastal development. It further urges to ensure coastal planning and management are adaptable and can be further developed with time, and bringing scientists and local communities together to develop a better understanding of localised climate impacts.

“We believe this report card will be valuable to our Pacific islands in helping to form policies and decisions at the national, regional and international level,” Kosi Latu, Director General, SPREP said. “Pacific people are strongly interlinked with our ocean and as our Pacific islands live on the frontlines of climate change, we know all too well the impacts and risks it brings.”

The Report Card initiative is a product of a dynamic collaboration that includes the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), UN Environment, the University of the South Pacific, the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) and Climate Analytics Impacts project.

UN Environment

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In Seychelles, an innovative approach to marine protection

MD Staff

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Photo: The Ocean Agency

In February 2018 the Government of Seychelles announced the creation of two new areas for marine protection covering 16 per cent (210,000 square kilometres) of its ocean:

74,400 square kilometres of mostly deep and some inshore waters surrounding the Aldabra Group, an archipelago 1,100 kilometres west of Seychelles’ main islands where endangered marine species live and breed, or migrate through.

136,000 square kilometres of deep waters stretching between the Amirantes Group and Fortune Bank, a swathe of Seychelles’ central ocean that includes areas important for biodiversity conservation, tourism and fishing industries.

The first area is a new Marine National Park that restricts almost all human activities in one of the world’s most ecologically important habitats, the waters around the Aldabra Group, home to the Indian Ocean’s only dugongs, critically endangered turtles, and spawning grounds for rare and economically vital species including tuna.

The second area is a brand new category in Seychelles and is called a Marine Protection & Sustainable Use Area. The area introduces significant new conditions and restrictions that balance the need for sustainable economic activities like fishing and tourism to drive this small island economy, with the need to safeguard the environmental resources those businesses rely on, for example, abundant fish stocks, clean waters, and healthy coral reefs.

These new marine protections are the first milestone in creating a Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan that will cover the second-largest area of ocean in the world (after one in Norway), and is the first Marine Spatial Plan in the Indian Ocean.

Phase 2 of the project — to be completed by 2020 — will identify the remaining waters for marine protection, taking the total to 410,000 sq km or 30 per cent of Seychelles’ waters. The remaining 70 per cent will be zoned for multiple uses and management plans developed or updated for all economic activities.

Putting 16 per cent of its territory into two levels of marine protection status means Seychelles will have significantly exceeded, three years early, both the UN Convention of Biological Diversity target for 10 per cent marine protected areas, and UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 – for 10 per cent coastal and marine protection.

Why is a marine spatial plan needed?

Although there are various existing laws, international agreements, and regulations governing the management of these areas, there has been no unified process to direct sustainable development in the context of a changing climate that will also ensure ecological protection and support Seychelles’ Blue Economy.

That’s why a Marine Spatial Plan is needed.

The Plan followed a February 2016 “debt-for-conservation” deal that Seychelles signed with The Nature Conservancy. This raised funding to buy $21 million of Seychelles’ sovereign debt to refinance it, and then direct a portion of repayments to fund climate change adaptation and marine conservation projects.

Partners involved

The Nature Conservancy – facilitating the process to identify new protection areas; provides all technical and scientific support; is helping the Government create the Marine Spatial Plan

The Global Environment Facility and the UN Development Programme – supporting the Government in the Program Coordinating Unit

Seychelles’ citizens, experts, scientists, conservationists, policy consultants, fisheries businesses, tourism operators, oil and gas geologists, coast guard and public utilities, who took part in more than 100 consultations to inform the design and location of the marine protections and develop allowable activities and management considerations for the two new areas

Seychelles’ Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), an independent public-private trust responsible for managing debt conversion proceeds including disbursing blue grants and investment assets funded by the debt conversion deal

A number of private funders are also supporting the initiative.

UN Environment

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