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Building Sri Lanka’s Resilience To Climate Change

MD Staff

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38-year-old Sivasidambaram Vasugi is the General Manager of one of the first cooperative-owned seed paddy processing centers in Killinochchi, Si Lanka. The Integrated Farmers Thrift and Credit Cooperative Society (IFTCCS) provides local farmers with high-quality seeds, but these days, there are no buyers walking in the door.

Her community is facing a crippling water shortage following many months of drought. Nearly 18,000kg of processed paddy seed stock sits unclaimed on Vasugi’s factory floor, while weeds sprout in the paddy fields all around.

“Only when the rains come again, they will buy the seeds,” she says. “In the meantime, we have no sales, and we are not making any profits.” Farming households are coming undone thanks to this drought. Vasugi sees local men migrate to work as day laborers, while their families stay behind and fight to make ends meet. Many merely struggle to put food on the table.

Vasugi lives in a climate hotspot.

Areas like this are the focus of the World Bank’s new regional flagship report South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards.

The report examines how 800 million people, or half the population of South Asia, could see their living standards worsen by 2050.

While floods and other extreme weather events can have an immediate and terrible impact, rising temperatures and unpredictable precipitation – what we might consider ‘average weather’ – can prove as devastating.

“These weather events have one thing in common: They affect the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable the most,” said Andrew Goodland, World Bank program leader for Sustainable Development covering Sri Lanka and Maldives.

Speaking at the launch of South Asia’s Hotspots he added: “We need to both scale up actions and strategies to build a more resilient world, and target interventions to help the most vulnerable.”

Climate change could undermine living standards for the poorest

Changes in average weather unfold over months and years. As Vasugi can testify, in such hotspots, rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns can dampen agricultural productivity, leave farming households floundering and drive migration.

Simultaneously, a warmer climate can also increase the propagation of vector-borne and other infectious diseases. For those working outside air-conditioned cubicles, extreme heat takes a toll on productivity and subsequently, income. It doesn’t help that many hotspots are already in socially and economically vulnerable areas

At the frontlines in Sri Lanka are those living in the island’s North, North Eastern and North Central districts, including Jaffna, Puttalam, Mannar, Kurunegalla, Trincomalee and Killinochchi, where the paddy seed processing center is located.

Vasugi’s home has something in common with other hotspots across the region, such as Hyderabad in Pakistan, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and Chandrapur in India. Households in these areas tend to report low household consumption, poor road connectivity, limited access to markets, and other development challenges. Combined, these conditions make them deeply vulnerable to climate change.

These experiences on the ground inevitably impact the national economy. “In Sri Lanka, living standards could go down by around 5 percent, and in the worst-case scenario may decline by around 7 percent,” said Muthukumara Mani, a lead economist in the World Bank South Asia Region and author of the report. “Under the worst-case scenario, GDP will decline by 7.7 percent, an estimated loss of 50 billion dollars.”

19 million Sri Lankans could live in moderate or severe hotspots by 2050

While policymakers are worried by this information, Mani knows it doesn’t necessarily help them prepare. So this report seeks to unpack where exactly changes will occur most, who will be impacted and what can be done to build resilience.

He and his team analyzed two future climate scenarios — one that is “climate-sensitive,” in which some collective action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The other is “carbon-intensive,” in which no action is taken. Both scenarios show rising temperatures throughout the region in the coming decades but it’s no surprise that the carbon-intensive scenario is more worrying.

While policymakers are worried by this information, Mani knows it doesn’t necessarily help them prepare. So this report seeks to unpack where exactly changes will occur most, who will be impacted and what can be done to build resilience.

He and his team analyzed two future climate scenarios — one that is “climate-sensitive,” in which some collective action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The other is “carbon-intensive,” in which no action is taken. Both scenarios show rising temperatures throughout the region in the coming decades but it’s no surprise that the carbon-intensive scenario is more worrying.

According to the report, approximately 19 million people in Sri Lanka today live in locations that could become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario. This is equivalent to more than 90 percent of the country’s population.

Granular details include how effects will differ from country to country and from district to district throughout South Asia. In Sri Lanka, the Northern and North Western provinces emerge as the top two hotspots, followed by the much less densely populated North Central Province.

The highly urbanized and densely populated Western Province, which includes Colombo, is also predicted to experience a living standards decline of 7.5 percent by 2050, compared with a situation without changes in average weather. This is a substantial drop, with potentially large implications for the country, given that the province contributes more than 40 percent of Sri Lanka’s GDP.

Overall, the analysis concludes that Sri Lanka’s average annual temperatures could rise by 1.0°C to 1.5°C by 2050 – even if carbon emission reduction measures are taken as recommended by the Paris Agreement of 2015. If no measures are taken average temperatures in Sri Lanka could increase by up to 2.0°C.

Mani points out that this might not seem like a lot until you consider how just a two-week delay in monsoons can derail a farmer’s harvest, or how a scorching day can drain a construction worker laboring on a scaffolding.

Investing in sustainable development could build resilience

“We need to follow an inclusive green growth path here,” says Mohan Munasinghe, who was the keynote speaker at the launch. He drew on his experiences as Vice Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4) and the Chairman of the Presidential Expert Commission on Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision, saying: “We have to make development more sustainable in a way that is climate-proof and which integrates mitigation and adaptation.”

It is hoped that this information can help build a development blueprint by focusing resilience-building efforts on the most vulnerable locations and population groups. “The report provides the right data and climate simulations to help us put in place incentives, policies and smart solutions to protect communities across the country and boost their future development,” said Anura Dissanayake Secretary of Mahaweli Development and Environment Authority.

In particular, the report explores how three strategies, already essential components of Sri Lanka’s sustainable development programs, could help buffer vulnerable communities.

By increasing non-agricultural jobs by 30 percent relative to current levels, Sri Lanka could reduce the living standards burden from −7.0 to 0.1 percent. Other initiatives like reducing the time to reach a market and increasing average education attainment could also reduce the overall severity of climate-related living standards impacts. The report emphasizes that if these interventions were implemented together, they would likely yield greater benefits than if implemented individually.

In the end, the focus has to be on ensuring that climate change does not undo the considerable progress that South Asian countries have made in alleviating extreme poverty and raising living standards.

The key takeaway may be that governments don’t have to choose between investing in development or climate-resilience – the two go hand in hand. As Mani concluded: “Sustainable development is the best adaptation strategy since it is associated with improved infrastructure, market-oriented reforms, enhanced human capabilities, and stronger institutional capacity to respond to the increasing threat of climate change and natural disasters.”

World Bank

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Nigeria’s 300,000 tonne e-waste gold mine drives a new circular economy

MD Staff

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The Nigerian government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment today launched a new $15 million initiative to turn the tide on e-waste in Nigeria. A global model for a circular electronics system, the project was announced at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2019 and will kickstart a sustainable electronics economy in Nigeria, protecting the environment while creating safe employment for thousands of people.

The initiative will transform Nigeria’s current informal and hazardous recycling into a formally legislated system that benefits all actors by including a small fee on the sale of electronics to subsidise formal recycling.

Speaking at the launch of the programme, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Ibukun Odusote, said e-waste posed a grave danger to both the environment and human health in Nigeria.

“This intervention by Global Environment Facility aims to stimulate the development of a sustainable circular economy for electronic products in Nigeria.” She noted that the project would also support the E-waste Producers Responsibility Organization – a key initiative of the Government of Nigeria to promote sustainable production and consumption by encouraging producers to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products.

With 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore, alongside other scarce and valuable materials such as platinum, cobalt and rare earth elements, a safe and efficient recycling industry has huge economic potential.

According to the International Labour Organization, up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste recycling sector in Nigeria, and over half a million tonnes of discarded appliances are processed in the country every year. Yet waste that is considered to have no economic value is often dumped or burned – releasing pollutants like heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil.

The initiative will develop systems for the disposal of non-usable and toxic waste, aiming to collect, treat and dispose of more than 270 tonnes of e-waste contaminated with persistent organic pollutants and 30 tonnes of waste containing mercury.

The project also aims to have an impact beyond Nigeria through the development of a practical circular electronics model for Africa and beyond, by sharing best practices, promoting regional and global dialogue, and engaging global manufacturers.

The initiative sits within the Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronics Sector in Nigeria project and will be implemented by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency. The $15 million scheme brings together players from government, the private sector and civil society. It is part of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) built by the World Economic Forum, and sees cooperation with recyclers and electronics manufactures Dell, HP, Microsoft and Phillips. PACE is looking for opportunities to scale and replicate the system in partnership with more companies and in other countries.

Dominic Waughray, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods at the Forum said, “This project demonstrates how the circular economy can spur economic growth, create jobs and benefit the environment. As a platform for public-private collaboration, the World Economic Forum is delighted by the teamwork between recyclers and electronics manufacturers working side by side with government and international organizations to reach shared goals”

“The environmental and economic benefits of a circular economy are clear,” said Inger Andersen, UN Environment Executive Director. “This innovative partnership with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Environment Facility is a positive step in the country’s efforts to kickstart a circular electronics system, and one that UN Environment is proud to support.”

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As voices for the planet grow louder, we must get the job done

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There is something in the air. I am not talking about pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. I am talking about the change humanity needs to address these and other environmental challenges, which have placed our planet and societies in imminent peril.

We can all sense this change: in our workplaces and schools, in our cities and communities, in the boardroom and in the media, in parliaments and city councils, in laboratories and business incubators.

People from all corners of the world are demanding a fundamental redesign of how we – as individuals and as a society – interact with the planet. There is a clear understanding that we must live within the limits of our natural world. In response, we are seeing humanity’s astonishing capacity for innovation and imagination turn towards finding solutions.

Never before has the environmental mandate been more visible, recognized and acted upon. But then again, never before have the stakes been higher.

Pollution of air, land and water is poisoning the planet, from the deepest ocean trench to the highest mountain peak. The latest climate alarm, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told us how little time we have to ward off the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists from many different bodies are warning that human activity is devastating biodiversity – threatening livelihoods, food security and society as we know it.

We have serious work to do. We need to ensure a healthy environment for all, which is essential to development, peace, stability and the eradication of poverty. We need to change our environmental footprint: how we use and discard, how we plan and build, how we power our societies, how we measure growth, and how we share the planet with other species.

Today, as I take up the leadership of the United Nations Environment Programme, I am convinced that we can get this job done, together. Environmental management and sustainability have been at the core of my personal journey since my first job in the 1980s in Sudan, where I worked on drought and desertification issues. I have seen what people can achieve when they work with each other towards an important goal.

In these days of change, the organization I am leading is critical. The United Nations Environment Programme is the link between science and policy action by governments – which is a key driving force for change. The organization’s Medium-Term Strategy (2018-2021) and accompanying Programme of Work informs, supports and assists nations as they work towards a sustainable future. This Programme of Work – which guides every action the organization takes – is fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and many other international processes. We collaborate just as closely with civil society and the private sector, without whom change at the speed and scale we need simply will not be possible.

We also have a long history of horizon watching, of identifying waves that are coming to our shores, and supporting nations as they come to agreements around issues that require coordinated global action. The United Nations Environment Programme hosts the secretariats of many multilateral agreements on environmental themes: from biodiversity and ecosystems to regional seas, from chemical waste management to protecting the ozone layer. I look forward to supporting these agreements so that their ambitious goals can be achieved.

The UN Environment Programme is here to support the wider UN system and every process linked to environmental action. In September this year, at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, countries will showcase a leap in collective ambition. In 2020, at the next meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the world will agree on new and – I hope – ambitious targets to arrest biodiversity loss. Whatever my organization can do to support these encouraging moves, we will do.

Like any organization, though, we must evolve and improve. I have taken to heart the changes demanded of this organization. I will work closely with my dedicated staff, management and Member States to make sure we drive forward, while learning from the past. We will adhere to the high standards expected of an institution with such a powerful global mandate: safeguarding life on earth.

As we work ever harder and better, our success will not be defined by a report or a conference, but by how we support Member States and their people to shift the needle.

Success for us means halting the rapid loss of species. It means preventing seven million people from dying of air pollution each year. It means countries taking action towards sustainable consumption and production. It means a planet powered by clean energy. It means all of humanity reaping the benefits of a healthy and thriving environment for centuries to come.

Today, as I arrive in beautiful Kenya, I will do everything I can to work with staff, Member States and partners to make this happen.

UN Environment

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Restoring the Caribbean to the paradise it used to be

MD Staff

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When people think of the Caribbean, it’s the turquoise seas, clean beaches, coral reefs teeming with fish, turtles and balmy breezes that come to mind.

For us, this paradise is what we call home. We depend upon its riches for sustenance and, often, to make a living. It is the origin of much of the pride we feel when we say we are from the Caribbean.

Increasingly however, the reality does not live up to expectations—we may arrive at the seashore to find it covered with sargassum, the water cloudy and brown, and the horizon covered in trash; the coral reefs may look faded and tired and with barely enough fish to count on one hand…

For visitors, what version of the paradise they may find is becoming unpredictable and some may never return, depending on their experience.

For locals, it’s a different matter—as seafood prices go up and children develop rashes after swimming in the ocean, and as houses flood after each storm and tourists turn their backs on the islands, the paradise is increasingly looking less idyllic.

Sounding a wake-up call to protect the reefs

More than 100 million people in the wider Caribbean region live on, or near the coast in a complex ecosystem with the highest number of marine species in the Atlantic Ocean.

Shallow-water coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, lagoons, estuaries and beaches as well as coral banks and rocky outcrops in deep waters together make up the coral reef sub-ecosystem, the richest in biodiversity in the wider Caribbean region.

Almost 10 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are found in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and 45 per cent of the fish species and 25 per cent of the coral species are found nowhere else in the world. With an area of 10,429 square kilometres of mangrove forest, the adjacent North Brazil Shelf has the highest mangrove coverage of any large marine ecosystem.

This wide ecosystem supports three of the region’s major fisheries—reef fish, spiny lobster and conch—and is the foundation of the region’s tourism industry. Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds also play an important part in coastal and shoreline protection under normal sea conditions as well as during hurricanes and tropical storms.

A 2016 study by the World Bank put the economic value of the Caribbean Sea alone at US$407 billion per year. Yet this precious ecosystem is at the heart of competing economic and social demands as well as natural stresses and threats.

Pollution from activities on land and at sea degrades and destroys the reef.  Many once-abundant species are now threatened or endangered.

Hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more severe, resulting in great destruction and loss of lives, leaving both the coastline and local communities more vulnerable to future shocks.

A strategy to keep it pristine

Since 1981, UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme has been working with the region’s national governments to better manage and use coastal and marine resources. 

Following the establishment, in 1983, of the Cartagena Convention—the only legally binding agreement for the protection of the Caribbean Sea—the programme has relentlessly worked to gain acceptance of, and agreement upon, three protocols or agreements to combat oil spills [the Oil Spills Protocol] coastal and marine biodiversity [the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol] and pollution [the Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution Protocol] among its 28 member states and 14 territories.

As a result of the analysis of the wider Caribbean region conducted between 2007 and 2011 by the joint United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Project (2009–2014), the coral reef sub-ecosystem was given priority in a regional strategy to address transboundary problems that compromise the ability of the Caribbean Sea and the region’s living marine resources to support social and ecological well-being and resilience.

In the last two years, the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, together with the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems Project 2015–2020, published the Report on the State of Marine Habitats in the Wider Caribbean, which then became the basis for the Regional Strategy and Action Plan for the Valuation, Protection and/or Restoration of Key Marine Habitats in the Wider Caribbean 2021–2030. The strategy recommends a series of measures to support the people, economies and ecology of the region, targeting coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds in particular. 

Using an integrated approach, participating governments and stakeholders from academia, civil society, the private sector, and regional and global agencies are working together to enhance management and conservation of the coral reef sub-ecosystem in support of sustainable development.

UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme, as Secretariat of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, has been working to revamp the Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Managers Network and establish a regional wildlife enforcement network, in efforts to improve marine biodiversity management. Assisting the region and its countries in co-executing the strategic action plan is another important step in this direction. The Caribbean Environment Programme is driving the process, building the alliances needed to ensure the integrity of Caribbean coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, in the hope to bring back the paradise we all expect.

UN Environment

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