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ICEF-UNIDO Exhibition: Fighting climate change through innovation

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A week-long exhibition, Tackling Climate Change through Technological Innovation, organized by the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), opened today at the Vienna International Centre.

Tackling climate change requires industries and institutions to work together and promote innovative mitigation and adaptation solutions and technologies that foster climate-resilient societies and green growth. The exhibition presents “ICEF Top 10 Innovations” in 2017 and 2018, which are the most notable for energy and climate change mitigation. It also celebrates the longstanding partnership between Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) – which is the host of ICEF – and UNIDO.

“Tackling climate change is not an issue for the future but an urgent matter for the present. It is important for all of us to make every effort to promote innovative technologies and innovation in social systems,” said Nobutaka Takeo, Director General of the NEDO Representative Office in Europe, at the opening ceremony. He explained that ICEF serves as an international platform to promote the latest trends concerning climate action through innovation.

Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Deputy Director General and Deputy CEO of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and ICEF Steering Committee member, added: “Industry, government, academia, and investors must come together to realize and promote innovation and create businesses using innovation by facilitating research and development and investment under international collaborative frameworks.”

Innovations selected in the exhibition included: a new process to turn carbon dioxide into concrete, lowering costs and the CO2 footprint and increasing energy efficiency; thin-film solar cells which set a new world record for the highest efficiency topping performance; the world’s first 100 kW class demonstration test of ocean current power generation; a new process to convert waste heat into electricity; the world’s first hydrogen-powered train; the world’s tallest wind turbine integrated with pumped storage hydro; flight powered by biofuel made from residual wood; and 100 per cent bio-based plastics for beverage bottles.

“In order to further promote innovative technologies, all sectors – public, private and academic – must join forces,” said Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna. “In this context, Japan highly appreciates UNIDO’s unique role to facilitate international cooperation and partnerships, by connecting donors, private sectors, recipient countries and other stakeholders.”

UNIDO works to share knowledge, build capacities and foster partnerships to facilitate access to clean energy technologies and deliver prosperity in a climate-friendly manner. Through policy advice and the introduction of technologies, UNIDO promotes cleaner production and industrial energy efficiency, helping businesses leapfrog to sustainable industrial cycles.

“Innovation is central to Sustainable Development Goal 9; UNIDO and Japan jointly provide innovative solutions to shape the future of industry, especially in developing countries, thus contributing to inclusive and sustainable industrial development,” said Philippe Scholtès, Managing Director of UNIDO’s Programme Development and Technical Cooperation.

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Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but not necessarily a risk to human health

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A woman fetches water in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

Tiny plastic particles known as microplastics are “everywhere – including in our drinking-water”, but they are not necessarily a risk to human health, UN experts said on Thursday.

In its first summary of the latest research into the impact of the tiny plastic pollutants on humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they have been found in marine settings, waste and fresh water, food, the air and drinking-water, both bottled and from a tap.

Frequently, microplastics are defined as less than five millimetres long, according to WHO.

Its report notes that the particles most commonly found in drinking-water are plastic bottle fragments.

“Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health. “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water.”

According to WHO’s findings, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres (a micrometre is a millionth of a metre) are unlikely to be absorbed in the human body, while the uptake of smaller particles is likely to be limited. 

Absorption of microplastic particles “including in the nano-size range may, however, be higher”, the WHO report continues, before cautioning that available data in this “emerging area” is extremely limited.

Asked by journalists about how levels of plastic pollutants differ between tap water and bottled water, WHO’s Jennifer de France from WHO’s Department of Public Health, replied that bottled water “in general did contain higher particle numbers”.

Nonetheless, Ms. France also cautioned against jumping to conclusions, owing to the lack of available data.

“In drinking water in general, often the two polymers that were most frequently detected were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene,” she said. “Now these polymers – the polyethylene terephthalate – is often used in producing bottled water bottles, and polypropylene, is often used in producing caps. However, there were other polymers detected as well, so more studies are needed to really make a firm conclusion about where the sources are coming from.”

While citing the handful of available studies into the absorption of microplastics and nanoplastics in rats and mice, which showed symptoms including inflammation of the liver, WHO’s report insists that people are unlikely to be exposed to such high levels of pollutants.

Drinking-water contamination: a million lives lost each year

A much more clearly understood potential threat than microplastics is exposure to drinking-water contaminated by human or animal waste, said Bruce Gordon, from WHO’s Department of Public Health, highlighting a problem that affects two billion people and claims one million lives a year.

One way that Governments can tackle this problem is by putting in place better waste-water filtration systems.

The move would reduce microplastic pollution by around 90 per cent, the WHO official explained, before noting that the report had touched on people’s wider concerns about how to live more sustainably and waste less.

“Consumers shouldn’t be too worried,” Mr. Gordon said. “There’s many dimensions to this story that are beyond health. What I mean by that is, if you are a concerned citizen worried about plastic pollution and you have access to a well-managed piped supply – a water supply – why not drink from that? Why not reduce pollution. Of course, there are times when you need a water bottle when you’re walking around, but please reuse it”, he emphasized.

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Wildlife Demand in Asia Under the Spotlight at International Wildlife Trade Conference

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Demand for illegal wildlife products in Asia is not only driving wildlife population declines in the region, but across the globe. Tigers, elephants and rhino will be some of the species to take the spotlight in relation to the illegal trade in Asia at the upcoming 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva.

Vietnam is now the largest destination for illegal shipments of elephant ivory and rhino horn according to independent analyses presented to the meeting by TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). These wildlife products are either consumed in country, or may be shipped on to other destinations in Asia.

“Vietnam has been a country of great concern for its role in the illegal wildlife trade for many years now and although there have been significant steps forward in relation to improved policy to address illegal trade, it’s clear that much more has to be done. WWF is encouraging CITES to look closely at Vietnam’s compliance,” says Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader.

In addition to Vietnam, its neighbours Lao PDR, Thailand and China are key countries of concern, particularly when it comes to tiger farms. For now, China has banned all trade in tiger parts, but the continued existence of state-run tiger farms, with thousands of captive tigers creates political pressure and economic incentive for trade from captive tigers to be allowed in the future. WWF believes that such trade would be impossible to control and could put the world’s remaining wild tigers at risk. Meanwhile, there is already evidence of tiger parts from farms leaking into markets in the region which by escalating demand, puts the remaining 3,900 wild tigers at increased risk from poaching.

“CITES agreed in 2007 that tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and products,” said Heather Sohl, tiger trade expert. “Yet over 12 years later, we have more tigers, in more tiger farms, in more countries, and more captive tigers and their parts and products entering the illegal trade. It’s high time the governments of the world stood by their commitments to tigers, and hold the defaulting countries accountable.”

This CITES CoP will be the busiest to date with a record number of proposals to discuss the trade in other iconic species such as saiga antelope, lions, rhino and jaguars as well as weird and wonderful creatures like the spider-tailed horned viper. Their fate will be greatly impacted by the outcomes of the trade discussions set to take place over the course of the two weeks.

Whilst marine turtles have survived for 120 million years, six out of seven species are now assessed as threatened with extinction (‘vulnerable’ to ‘critically endangered’) according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. According to the CITES Secretariat, over the last couple of years, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have played a major role in the unsustainable trade of Hawksbill and other turtles. WWF is calling for stronger measures to be directed at range and consumer countries and for CITES to hold these countries accountable over the coming years.

Not blessed as a charismatic creature, but critical for its role in the marine ecosystem, the trade in one type of sea cucumber known as teatfish will be a highly debated topic this year. WWF supports a proposal to add these species – which are prized in Asian cuisine and are extremely vulnerable to overfishing – to the list of species whose trade is regulated by CITES.

As always, elephants feature heavily on the conference agenda. WWF is calling for CITES to prioritise action with regard to countries that, either through lack of capacity or lack of political will, are implicated in the illegal ivory trade. These include Burundi, Gabon, Togo, Nigeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, Lao PDR, Malaysia and – above all – Vietnam.

Finally, underpinning many of the species being discussed, including the near-extinct vaquita porpoise is the important role that Natural World Heritage Sites play in their conservation. These unique places host a high proportion of the remaining populations of such endangered species, and many are menaced by illegal hunting, fishing and logging. WWF is supporting measures to strengthen cooperation between CITES and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

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Climate Crisis Cannot be Tackled Without Shift Away from Damaging Land Use

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The way we currently use land is both a major contributor to climate change and placing unsustainable demands on the land systems on which humans and nature depend, according to an authoritative new report presented in Geneva today.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, explores the relationship between climate, people and land in a warming world. It warns that climate change is placing additional stress on land, increasing degradation, biodiversity loss and food insecurity.

“Tackling climate change will take bold actions that go beyond addressing usual suspect issues of energy, transportation and tightening up emissions from a company’s own operations. We must address food production and supply chains in a world with growing demand. Agriculture is a major driver for land conversion and degradation, and must be part of the solution if we’re going to keep our climate stable and our planet viable,” said Melissa D. Ho, Senior Vice President, Food & Freshwater at World Wildlife Fund. “How we approach the next decade will not only affect future climate scenarios, but will also impact the fate of food production itself — and our ability to feed the future billions — as there are inextricable links between global warming and agricultural productivity. We ignore the limits of nature at our peril.”

Humans use approximately 72% of the global ice-free land surface, with land use contributing around 23% of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through deforestation and habitat conversion for agriculture. The removal of forests, conversion of peatlands, freshwater ecosystems, and other natural habitats releases carbon, while at the same time contributing to unprecedented biodiversity loss and land degradation. The food sector alone is responsible for 75% of deforestation worldwide, with the greatest pressure on forests taking place in the tropics. It is also a major driver of savannah and grassland conversion.

Climate change is already affecting the four pillars of food security — availability, access, utilization and stability — through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and greater frequency of some extreme events.

The report highlights the synergies and trade-offs inherent in our land choices. WWF considers an integrated suite of sustainable land management tools necessary to secure a climate safe future, while supporting food security and nature. Nature-based climate solutions should play a key role. For instance, mangroves help increase climate resilience, while providing a range of ecosystem services to local communities and supporting fish nurseries.

The science presented in the report further underlines that climate, people and nature are fundamentally linked. Efforts to mitigate climate change and halt nature loss must go hand in hand, and be fully integrated with climate adaptation and food security considerations.

Land-based mitigation options make up to a quarter of total mitigation proposed by countries in their country climate plans, submitted to the UN under the Paris Agreement.

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