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UN Environment and Google announce ground-breaking partnership to protect our planet

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UN Environment and Google announced today a global partnership that promises to change the way we see our planet. Combining environmental science, big data and unprecedented accessibility, this joint effort aims to expand what the world knows about the impacts of human activity on global ecosystems.

When completed, the platform will leverage Google’s cloud computing and earth observation public catalogs and for the first time enable governments, NGO’s and the public to track specific environment-related development targets with a user-friendly Google front-end.

“We will only be able to solve the biggest environmental challenges of our time if we get the data right,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said. “UN Environment is excited to be partnering with Google, to make sure we have the most sophisticated online tools to track progress, identify priority areas for our action, and bring us one step closer to a sustainable world.”

Too often, when a country seeks to implement real-time environmental action, they find their efforts halted by gaps in critical data needed to direct those actions safely and effectively. Through this partnership, and Google Earth Engine’s analysis and visualization tools, the world can finally begin to fill those gaps, enabling decision makers to better invest in environmental services.

“This partnership announcement builds on a common shared vision between our organizations,” said Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Earth Outreach. “We are excited to enable all countries with equal access to the latest technology and information in support of global climate action and sustainable development.”

Long term, the partnership hopes to establish a platform for open-source data and analysis of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As an entry point to development, the partnership launches today with an initial focus on fresh-water ecosystems including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.

These areas account for 0.01% of the world’s water but provide habitat for almost 10% of the world’s known species and evidence suggests a rapid loss freshwater biodiversity.

Google will periodically produce geospatial maps and data on water-related ecosystems by employing massive parallel cloud computing technology. Satellite imagery and statistics will be generated to assess the extent of change occurring to waterbodies, and made freely accessible to ensure nations have the opportunity to track changes, prevent and reverse ecosystem loss.

Other areas of collaboration include advocacy and capacity building activities as well as the development of partnerships with organizations like the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The partnership was launched during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in at UN Headquarters in New York, where world leaders are gathering to review of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a set of clear, measurable goals for global development – as well as best practices and progress towards implementation.

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Green Planet

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

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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

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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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Caspian littoral states agree to start neighbourhood watch for the environment

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Littoral countries to the Caspian Sea have made a groundbreaking commitment to evaluate the likely impact that development projects will have on the environment in each other’s states.

High-level representatives from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan today signed the Environment Impact Assessment Protocol under the Tehran Convention.

Under the Protocol, countries must follow a set of harmonized practical procedures for assessing the impact that a project will have on the environment in another state.

Impacts on human health, fauna, water and soil are among factors to be accounted for when installing oil refineries, building major power plants or undertaking major deforestation, for example.

Countries that stand to be affected by a project will have the opportunity to comment on plans underway. They will then be entitled to receive an explanation as to how these comments were taken into account if the development goes ahead.

“It’s fantastic to see the Caspian Sea’s littoral states come together and commit to the future well-being of this jewel of the region and unique ecosystem. I’m convinced this will be a big win for the region’s environment, economy and long-term security,” said UN Environment Head Erik Solheim. “It also sends a strong message around the world that sustainable development is one issue that we can all get behind together.”

UN Environment hosts the interim Secretariat of the Tehran Convention. The treaty aims to protect and preserve the Caspian Sea and its natural resources and is the only international environmental treaty signed between the Sea’s littoral countries.

The Caspian Sea’s varied levels of salinity between north and south means it hosts a unique ecosystem. Yet this is also highly threatened, with oil and gas production being one of the main factors taking a heavy toll on the environment. The Sea’s fossil fuel reserves are estimated to be one of the planet’s largest – underlining the importance of the Environment Impact Assessment Protocol. The Sea is still the source of the majority of the world’s caviar, but its sturgeon population has steadily declined, while the Caspian seal is listed as endangered.

Today’s signing took place in the margins of an extraordinary Conference of the Parties to the Tehran Convention. The Protocol will enter into force three months after being ratified by the signatory countries’ parliaments.

UN Environment

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