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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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Climate crisis: ‘Nowhere near the finish line’

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Pointing to its “pioneering legislation and policies”, on Thursday the UN chief hailed the 27-member European Union (EU) as a “a leader on climate action”, that had shown that it was possible to cut emissions while achieving economic growth. 

Secretary-General António Guterres applauded the bloc’s climate action in a virtual address to the European Council on Foreign Relations, while emphasizing that “we are still nowhere near the finish line… and still running behind in the race against time”. 

Encouraging responses 

The UN chief began on an upbeat note, informing that by early 2021, States responsible for more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy, will have made “ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality”.  

“The European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, along with more than 110 other countries”, he elaborated. “China says it will do so before 2060”. 

Heightened climate action needed 

However, the world’s top diplomat stressed the need for “every country, city, financial institution and company” to adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.  

And he called for them to be ready before November 2021, when the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) is scheduled to be held in Scotland, and highlighted the importance of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) required under the 2015 Paris Agreement and long-term strategies towards carbon neutrality. 

He maintained that the G20 wealthiest nations, which are responsible for more than 80 per cent of climate pollution, must show the way and recognized the EU as leading on net zero emissions within the group. 

“I urge you to continue to lead with concrete and ambitious near-term commitments”, said the UN chief, advocating for EU members NDCs to reflect at least a 55 per cent emission reduction by 2030.  

He said that the Climate Ambition Summit, which the UN is co-hosting with the United Kingdom and France on the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement next month, represents “a clear opportunity” for the EU to present its more ambitious climate plan. 

“Enhanced ambition from the G20 also means aligning economic plans and COVID-19 recovery measures with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, he added. “It is essential that the European Union accelerates its transition toward clean energy”.  

Setting ‘a powerful example’ 

Noting that “the EU has been building solidarity with the most vulnerable countries around the world”, Mr. Guterres pointed out that the bloc’s proposals to speed up how it confronts inequality and protects those affected by the transition “can set a powerful example”.  

“The European Union has a crucial role in ensuring that developing countries in need have the necessary support to recover sustainably from COVID-19 and to enhance their own climate ambition – through assistance for mitigation, adaptation and resilience”, the Secretary-General spelled out.  

To this end, he asked the EU and other donor countries to deliver $100 billion in climate finance to developing countries annually. 

Heading towards the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December and COP26 next year, the UN chief signaled that “the world will once again be looking to the European Union for climate leadership”.   

“I urge the European Union to seize these opportunities – and answer this call – for people everywhere, for prosperity and for the planet we all share and depend on”.

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Countries commit to restore global land area the size of China

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Countries have committed to restoring up to 1 billion hectares of land lost to development, an area roughly the size of China, according to a new study released ahead of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).

If implemented, the commitments made under various international agreements could go a long way to addressing climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss as well as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including those on dignified work, and food and water security.

According to the study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 115 countries have made commitments to restoring land under at least one of three major international environmental conventions – the Land Degradation Neutrality targets, Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans – along with the Bonn Challenge, an effort to restore degraded and deforested lands.

Some of the commitments may overlap. Still, the Dutch agency estimates that the area currently earmarked for restoration is between 765 million and 1 billion hectares. Almost half of the area to be restored is in sub-Saharan Africa, with significant commitments also in Asia and Latin America. Restoring forests and farmland accounts for three-quarters of the area pledged. And not all commitments have been quantified or officially announced.

“At the onset of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in 2021, the plans and commitments are there,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.  “Restoration is an idea whose time has come; investing in land restoration is generally economically profitable, socially acceptable and environmentally desirable.”

The upside of restoration

Restoring the health and productivity of land on this scale would bring massive benefits for people and nature. The commitments roughly match an estimate of the global land area that is becoming less productive. And it is double the amount of land that may be converted to agriculture between 2010 and 2050.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is an opportunity to turn existing and new commitments into urgently needed action on the ground. The 10-year effort will involve individuals, communities, businesses, organizations and governments undertaking restoration at all scales and in all types of ecosystems on land or in water. About US$ 1 trillion would be needed between now and 2030 to implement restoration at a truly planetary scale, based on all the existing commitments.

A restoration economy will create millions of green jobs and enhance humanity’s resilience to future shocks and stresses, say experts. Revitalizing terrestrial ecosystems, such as farmlands, grasslands, forests, wetlands and peatlands, rebuilds their ability to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Done well, it can also protect habitat for biodiversity, build soil fertility and reduce water scarcity. Well-functioning natural ecosystems are also key to combating zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19.

“We have seen a spirit of positive competition when it comes to restoration. More countries and people want to grow more and more trees,” said Tim Christophersen, Coordinator of the UN Decade with the United Nations Environment Programme. “But what is important to ensure now is that the right trees are planted at the right time, in the right place, and with the support of local communities. And that we uplift the ecosystems that are still somewhat undervalued in these global restoration commitments – for example our coasts, seas and rivers.”

International Consensus

The Rio Conventions, which emerged from the Earth Summit in 1992, are the main vehicles for international action on our critical environmental problems. In a demonstration of how fixing ecosystems can bring multiple benefits, many countries have made restoration pledges under all three agreements. Below are brief descriptions of the conventions and the Bonn Challenge and how they support the UN Decade’s vision.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The climate convention bundles the massive international effort to slow global warming and adapt to its impacts. After the burning of fossil fuels, emissions from deforestation and unsustainable land use are a main source of greenhouse gas emissions. Restoring healthy and resilient ecosystems is important to our chances of keeping global heating to well below 2°C, a key target of the Paris Agreement, and for adapting to unavoidable climate change.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Under the biodiversity convention, countries work to protect and sustainably use the astonishing diversity of life on Earth, including through the restoration of degraded ecosystems and the protection of natural habitat. Governments are currently negotiating new targets for 2030 that are expected to ramp up international ambition.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

A major focus of the desertification convention is to promote sustainable land and water management practices to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 (SDG target 15.3). The convention helps countries to identify priorities and plan restoration activities that can both prevent land degradation and recover the health of soils, farmlands, forests and other terrestrial ecosystems.

Bonn Challenge

Launched by Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2011, the world’s largest landscape restoration initiative aims to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares into restoration by 2030. The challenge is supported by several regional initiatives, including Initiative 20×20 in Latin America and AFR100 in Africa.

UN Environment

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Backed by space technology, Asia-Pacific countries power sustainable development

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A night Earth observation photograph taken from the International Space Station, as it passes over Japan. Such images provide important information on atmospheric and ground-level conditions. Scott Kelly/NASA

Asian and Pacific nations are increasingly leveraging space technology and geospatial information to respond to challenges on the ground, including in their efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new United Nations report. 

Released on Wednesday, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) report Geospatial Practices for Sustainable Development showcases examples from the region’s countries employing applications of space technology to advance sustainable development.  

“Night-light” satellite images monitoring the impact of lockdowns, “heatmaps” to chart out communities vulnerable to the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences, real-time situational analysis, and dashboards integrating a wide gamut of critical information to support decisions are some of the practices cited. 

The examples, according to the report, show how space applications and geospatial data have played an important role in providing essential location-based and temporal data to make an “overall data map” and snapshots on the COVID-19 pandemic for policymakers and the public. 

Strengthening resilience 

In addition, combining spatial data from contact tracing, quarantining, and social distancing with digital solutions and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven risk analytics can help enhance community resilience. 

Such applications can also help in the recovery phase to build back better, by providing an evidence base for decisions on the easing of lockdown and the resumption of economic and social activities, the report added. 

“The effective integration of geospatial data, with existing statistics and ground-based information, will be key to delivering the timely data needed for governments, businesses, communities and citizens to make evidenced-based decisions”, said Armida Salsiah Alisjahjabana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP. 

The report, issued two years after Asian and Pacific countries endorsed an ambitious plan of action on use of space technologies to support sustainable development also provides a baseline for assessing future progress in the region. 

Importance of partnerships 

In addition to presenting an overview of the status along thematic areas such as disaster risk, natural resource management, connectivity, social development, energy, and climate change, the report also highlights the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships.  

“Many regional and country-based efforts are sparking innovations that attract both public and private capital, supporting start-ups and spinoffs from space applications research and pilots,” said ESCAP.  

The report outlined seven key recommendations for policymakers to integrate applications of geospatial information into their planning and actions towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

These include investments to cultivate national experts; incorporating geospatial information into national institutions and platforms; integrating geospatial data with other data sources; employing geospatial data to create, implement and monitor policies; ensuring privacy, safety and ethics of data; providing open data access; and encouraging local to international collaborations. 

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