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3-5°C temperature rise is now ‘locked-in’ for the Arctic

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Even if the world were to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic would rise 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2080, devastating the region and unleashing sea level rises worldwide, finds a new report by UN Environment.

Meanwhile, rapidly thawing permafrost could even accelerate climate change further and derail efforts to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2°C, warns Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arctic.

Other environmental pressures on the Arctic identified by the paper – released at the United Nations Environment Assembly – include ocean acidification and plastic pollution.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director. “We have the science; now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.”

Even if global emissions were to halt overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would still increase 4 to 5°C by 2100 compared to the late 20th century, the study finds. This increase is locked into the climate system by greenhouse gases already emitted and ocean heat storage.

Arctic societies now must respond to climate change through suitable adaptation actions. Arctic Indigenous Peoples already face increased food insecurity. By 2050, four million people, and around 70% of today’s Arctic infrastructure, will be threatened by thawing permafrost, the report notes.

“The urgency to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement is clearly manifested in the Arctic, because it is one of the most vulnerable and rapidly changing regions in the world,” said the Finnish Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing, Kimmo Tiilikainen. “We need to make substantial near-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, black carbon and other so-called short-lived climate pollutants all over the world.”

The impacts globally would also be huge. From 1979 to the present, Arctic sea ice is estimated to have declined by 40%. Climate models predict that, at the current rate of CO₂ emissions, Arctic summers will be ice-free by the 2030s. The melting of the Greenland ice cap and Arctic glaciers contribute to one third of sea level rise worldwide.

Even if the Paris Agreement is met, Arctic permafrost is expected to shrink 45% compared to today. Globally, these frozen soils hold an estimated 1,672 billion metric tonnes of carbon. Increased thawing is expected to contribute significantly to carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The resulting warming will in turn lead to more thawing – an effect known as ‘positive feedback’. This accelerated climate change could even throw the Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal off track, the report underlines.

Ocean acidification and pollution taking their toll

Ocean acidification is disproportionately impacting Arctic marine species. This is because cold water can hold more dissolved CO2, while melting ice spreads the acidity further. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the world’s ocean has become 30% more acidic. The more acidic the water, the more energy Arctic corals, molluscs, sea urchins and plankton must use to build their shells and skeletons.

Despite its pristine image, the Arctic’s geographical characteristics and cold climate mean the region’s ocean, seafloor and coastline are a sink for contaminants from around the globe. Only 1,000 out of the 150,000 chemical substances in use worldwide are regularly monitored. A global approval system for new chemicals is therefore needed, the report argues. Alternative controls are also seen as necessary for chemicals that fall outside of existing treaties.

On a positive note, the amount of regulated chemicals in humans and animals living in the Arctic was found to be decreasing. These include some Persistent Organic Pollutants regulated under UN Environment’s Stockholm Convention. However, the decrease could be due to changing diets.

UN Environment

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Hands-on e-waste management training

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photo: UNIDO

Over 30 representatives of 13 Latin American countries and international experts have gathered to learn and share experiences on e-waste management, from system design to health impacts.

The second Expert Meeting on the Effective Management and Disposal of E-waste in Latin America under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was convened by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of Costa Rica and with co-financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The UNIDO-GEF project assists 13 countries with tackling the e-waste challenges in the region, with annual expert meetings providing an opportunity for the participating countries and institutions to get together and share knowledge and experiences.

Following the project launch in Quito in March 2018, this year’s Expert Meeting kicked off on 18 March with Project Steering and Technical Committees meetings and a series of presentations by local recycling companies and UN partner organizations.

The E-waste Academy for Managers (EWAM) on 19 March saw a series of panel discussions and group sessions on topics ranging from legal aspects of e-waste management to logistical issues such as collection and transport of e-waste. The Academy is the first of four that will be co-ordinated by the United Nations University (UNU).

The EWAM-Managers Edition is a global forum and training event for stakeholders involved in the practical design and implementation of e-waste management solutions, offering a platform to exchange best practices, discuss existing challenges among practitioners and support better-informed decision-making. It is just one of the examples of capacity-building activities that form part of the project alongside awareness-raising, e-waste policy and regulation advice and financial advice, among other activities.

With presentations from renowned international e-waste experts on plastics, financing and more, the Academy also featured a number of practical sessions with participants learning how to dismantle electrical equipment, including a visit to the Global Electric Electronic Processing plant.

“As the issue of e-waste continues to represent a threat to both the global environment and human health, activities like this are essential for harmonizing and strengthening regional cooperation and knowledge exchange,” affirms UNIDO project manager, Alfredo Cueva.

Currently, the world produces approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year – the equivalent of the total weight of all the commercial airliners ever made. This figure is predicted to rise to 120m tonnes by 2050.

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on the project, including national governments other organzsations and local e-waste recyclers, SC and BC regional centres, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as various other partners, such as Dell, RELAC and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).

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Education critical to ensure future of forests, and reverse their destruction

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The UN drew attention to the vital role that forests play in addressing some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges on Thursday, and the importance of tackling the issues that threaten them, such as deforestation, and land degradation.

The UN drew attention to the vital role that forests play in addressing some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges on Thursday, and the importance of tackling the issues that threaten them, such as deforestation, and land degradation.

Marking the 2019 International Day of Forests, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched new forestry education initiatives aimed at raising awareness amongst young people about their sustainable use and conservation, and some of the major challenges related to forestry education.

Despite the well documented and important role that forests play in keeping the environment healthy and helping to address global challenges such as climate change through the capture of greenhouse gases, many people have little knowledge of the many ways that forests support human life, or the grave dangers many forests face.

As more and more people move to cities, becoming oblivious to the plight of rural areas, says the FAO, this problem is growing.

In a statement, José Graziano da Silva, FAO’s Director-General, said that “education is a critical step to safeguarding natural resources for future generations. It is essential for children to learn about forests at an early age.”Education, however, can challenge and reverse this situation. The FAO has identified deficiencies in the way that forest-related issues are taught, describing forestry education as generally “inadequate,” and failing to address emerging challenges. The opportunities to study forestry at all levels, the Organization says, are few and far between.

As part of the global celebrations marking the day, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) held a special event at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday, featuring remarks by senior UN and government officials, as well as a panel discussion and general discussion by Member States and UN bodies.

Opening the event, Mr. Hossein Moeini Meybodi, Senior Forest Policy Officer at the UN Forum on Forests, was positive about the effect that education, awareness raising measures and improved forestry management can have on the future of forests: “It is our sincere hope that by sharing positive messages on solutions that exist for forests, and the communities that they support, we can learn from each other and together create a greener, more sustainable world for future generations.”

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Tackling e-waste challenges in Latin America

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photo: UNIDO

The issue of e-waste continues to represent a threat to both the global environment and human health, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. E-waste is the quickest-growing waste stream in the world.

Currently, the world produces approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year. This equals the total weight of all the commercial airliners ever made. This figure is predicted to rise to 120m tonnes by 2050.

From 17–22 March, political and technical representatives from 13 countries across Latin America and e-waste experts from around the world will meet in San Jose, Costa Rica, to discuss how to tackle the e-waste landscape in the region.

The second Expert Meeting on the Effective Management and Disposal of E-waste in Latin America under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is being convened by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of Costa Rica and with co-financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF.

The meeting is part of a UNIDO-GEF project to assist 13 Latin American countries both technically and financially, advising on e-waste policies and regulations, suitable management technologies, business models, capacity-building, and awareness-raising.

At the national level, the project seeks to strengthen policies and train technical staff and government officials. At the regional level, the project seeks to harmonize key aspects of e-waste policies and strengthen regional cooperation and knowledge exchange. A key element of this year’s Expert Meeting is the E-waste Academy for Managers with the participation of renowned e-waste management experts.

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on the project, including the United Nations University (UNU), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as various other partners, such as Dell, Microsoft, RELAC and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).

The meeting coincides with Global Recycling Day on 18 March. Launched in 2018, the Day is an initiative of the Global Recycling Foundation to help recognize and celebrate the importance of recycling for preserving precious primary resources.

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