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Green Planet

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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Green Planet

Coastal resilience in Seychelles: Charting a path forward

MD Staff

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GFDRR World Bank/Flickr

It is an ordinary Monday morning at Beau Vallon beach, Seychelles. A group of men and women prepare the beach for the soon-to-arrive tourists, cleaning up the plastics and algae washed ashore by the Indian Ocean that do not fit the image of the tropical paradise that the Seychelles projects to the world. Fishermen walk out of the water carrying a fish trap above their heads, delivering the daily catch of reef fish.  On that same reef, researchers and graduate students working for a local NGO have established a coral nursery in collaboration with one of the hotels to restore the degraded ecosystem. Several tourism establishments along the beach have attempted to build their own coastal defenses to halt erosion and flooding without affecting the scenic quality of the beach. Clearly, the Seychelles’ coastal natural resources are essential for resilience, economic development, and the livelihoods of coastal communities, but they are under threat.

A major share of infrastructure, population and economic activities in Seychelles are located in the coastal zone. Seychelles’ coastline has been affected by the 2004 tsunami, several tropical storms, and an ongoing process of erosion. Repeated coral bleaching events have caused a loss of about 90% of the coral cover on Seychelles’ reefs since the 1990s. Coral mortality has changed the shape of reefs, leading to more waves reaching the shore and increased erosion of beaches, processes that are enhanced by sea-level rise. In the absence of a coastal planning framework, ad hoc solutions were applied to manage these risks. In several places across the archipelago, rock armoring was placed on the beaches to prevent erosion, leading to a drop in scenic beach quality and a loss of tourism revenue. Without careful planning, rock armoring and groynes can also move the erosion problem to other areas.

Over the past year, a World Bank technical team has supported the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate in the development of a Coastal Management Plan (CMP), which was officially endorsed by the Cabinet on May 30, 2019. The plan sets out a holistic set of priorities for coastal management including monitoring and research, coastal protection infrastructure, risk-based spatial planning, and capacity needs. The CMP has identified a portfolio of investments in coastal protection infrastructure, nature-based solutions, such as coral reef and dune restoration, and accompanying monitoring and capacity building needs for implementation from 2019 to 2024.

The implementation of the Coastal Management Plan will reduce flood and erosion risk to coastal communities and infrastructure and will help sustain economic activity in the coastal zone. It is estimated that 4,000 buildings and 117 kilometers of infrastructure are currently in flood zones, a share of which would be better protected once the proposed interventions are successfully implemented. The suggested strengthening of monitoring and assessment capacities will allow the Government to better track erosion processes affecting lives and livelihoods in the coastal zone, and take action where needed.

The CMP is a tool to integrate nature-based solutions in strategic coastal planning and policy and presents an approach that is replicable in other coastal and island states. Information from existing studies on coastal processes in Seychelles was supplemented with cost-effective and innovative ways to collect coastal risk data through drone imagery and community mapping of schools and tourism establishments.

As Seychelles’ natural capital has strong economic significance, nature-based or hybrid solutions have great potential for maximizing financing for development. Natural systems such as mangroves, coral reefs, and beaches benefit tourists and fishers, and provide an incentive for co-financing of such solutions. The government, with support from the Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), is currently identifying potential ways to strengthen private sector financing of coastal protection through large-scale coral restoration.

Recognizing the country’s climate vulnerability as a small island state, the government of Seychelles has been at the forefront of advocating for climate action and embracing the blue economy as a concept to boost sustainable development. This is illustrated by initiatives such as the Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan, which was partly funded through the debt-for-nature-swap, and the world’s first sovereign Blue Bond. Seychelles also signed the first loan with a Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option in Africa(Cat DDO), an instrument that provides much-needed financial relief in case of a disaster. The recently endorsed CMP complements these initiatives and aligns with the strategic goals of resilience and sustainable development of coastal and marine areas.     

The development of the Seychelles Coastal Management Plan was supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) through the Nature-Based Solutions Program and the Africa Disaster Risk Financing Initiative.

World Bank

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Green Planet

Smart wastewater management can help reduce air pollution

MD Staff

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“Walk along the Bagmati river in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, and you are hit by a pervasive stench, underlining the fact that poor wastewater management worsens air pollution,” says Birguy Lamizana, a UN Environment specialist on wastewater and pollution.

“The other thing you notice is that it’s the poorest of the poor living along the banks of the river in makeshift shacks: the world over it’s usually the poorest people who are worst affected by pollution,”  she adds.

Kathmandu is not an isolated example of poor wastewater management. All big cities, especially those in developing countries with rapidly expanding populations, face similar problems.

Heavily polluted urban waterways emit toxic gases such as methane and nitrous oxide which are also greenhouse gases, and a recent global study found that concentrations of antibiotics in some of the world’s rivers exceed safe levels by up to 300 times.

No one wants pollution and there is growing awareness about the danger it poses. In September 2017, Member States of the United Nations adopted the report Towards a pollution-free planet.

“While the world has achieved significant economic growth over the past few decades, it has been accompanied by large amounts of pollution, with significant impacts on human health and ecosystems and the ways in which some of the major earth system processes, such as the climate, are functioning,” it says.

For example, 3.5 billion people depend on oceans as a source of food, yet oceans are used as waste and wastewater dumps.

On land, water laden with toxic chemicals from industry pollutes waterways but also the air we breathe. Likewise, fertilizers used in agriculture cause nutrient pollution in the form of run-off into rivers, lakes and wetlands. These ecosystems become polluted in the process, and cause air pollution. One of the consequences of nutrient pollution is algal blooms which suffocate fish and emit noxious gases. Furthermore, intensive livestock production produces high levels of methane. Chemicals used in mining also pollute water sources and the air. As land and ocean are interconnected, these pollutants, in one way or another, will reach groundwater, as well as the coast and the ocean.

“Unsustainable human activities, from farming and mining to industry and infrastructure, are undermining the productivity of vast areas of farmland, forests and other ecosystems across all continents. This degradation threatens food security, water supplies and the biodiversity upon which human development depends. It drives and is exacerbated by climate change. And it will put the Sustainable Development Goals out of reach unless it is urgently addressed,” says the UN Environment Programme policy brief A new deal for Nature – Restore the Degraded Planet.

The fourth United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2019 passed a resolution agreeing to “enhance the mainstreaming of the protection of coastal and marine ecosystems in policies, particularly those addressing environmental threats caused by increased nutrients, wastewater, marine litter and microplastics, in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development…”

High dependence on a limited resource

Humans are critically dependent on clean freshwater for drinking, cooking and for use in agriculture and industry. Only about 2.5 per cent of all the water on Earth is freshwater. And of this freshwater only about 1.2 per cent is readily available as surface freshwater—the rest is groundwater or locked up in glaciers and ice caps. So, when surface freshwater gets polluted we’re in trouble.

Even when groundwater gets polluted, we are also in trouble, as many countries use groundwater for irrigation. And yet, over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released to the environment without treatment.

Wastewater treatment benefits the poor

“There are many measures that can be taken to address pollution,” says Lamizana. “The objective is to select the key measures that can bring most benefits across pollution dimensions (i.e. air, water, soil/land, marine and coastal) and across sectors (e.g. agriculture/food security, industry, transportation, residential, extractive), using a life-cycle approach.”

UN Environment and partners are helping countries identify a manageable number of cost-effective measures to reduce wastewater pollution and make a better case for their adoption and enforcement. But reliable, consistent and trustworthy data sources are needed.

“We need more and better-quality data to assess the status and impact of wastewater pollution, and capacity-building support needs to be provided to countries to improve their ability to develop national statistical systems and use pollution-related statistics to better manage and monitor their water, soil and air quality,” says Lamizana.

“Open source maps using geo-spatial data showing maps of pollution, dynamics of dispersion, combined with population density, protected areas or other bio-physical or socio-economic datasets are urgently needed,” she adds.

In this connection, the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly passed a resolution encouraging Member States “to collect data on economic indicators and those linked to poverty and the environment to enable the tracking of progress towards the eradication of poverty and the management of natural resources and the environment.”

UN Environment

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Green Planet

Carbon market negotiations under the Paris Agreement

Luca Lo Re

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Climate negotiators gathered in Bonn, Germany, in recent weeks for talks aimed at making progress ahead of the COP25 meeting in Santiago, Chile, in December. (Photograph: UNFCCC)

The world’s climate negotiators recently concluded two weeks of discussions about the next steps for the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, with carbon market rules high on the agenda.

The annual mid-year climate negotiations are generally held ahead of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP), the top decision-making body for climate negotiations.

The recent COP24, in Katowice, Poland, was heralded by many as a success in multilateralism and diplomacy. It adopted an almost complete set of rules and guidelines supporting implementation of the Paris Agreement. However, the parties did not ultimately reach a consensus on one specific area: the rules for using carbon markets.

These rules are known in the climate jargon as the “Article 6 rules”, after the Paris Agreement article that mandates them. After the inconclusive talks at COP24, negotiators were tasked to come up with a new proposal for the Article 6 rules that could be adopted at the next COP25, in Santiago, Chile, later this year.

At the recent meeting in Bonn, which concluded last week, countries made good progress on technical discussions and came up with a new negotiating text. But disagreements remain about the status of the text and how to take it forwards. This means that there is everything to play for as we move towards COP25.

Here are some key points for understanding why carbon markets matter so much under the Paris Agreement and what the bottlenecks are in the negotiations.

What is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement?

Carbon markets are aimed at lowering the cost of reducing greenhouse gases emissions. Expanding and linking those markets internationally can help further drive down the cost of achieving emission reduction targets, helping to stimulate the needed investments for clean energy transitions.

By agreeing to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, countries opened the way for a new form of international interaction on carbon markets. Article 6 builds on a long history of market approaches under the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement’s predecessor.

Article 6 is intended to support countries in enhancing the ambitions of their stated climate actions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which collectively contribute to the overarching goal of the Paris Agreement: keeping the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the nature of carbon markets means that robust rules are important to ensure that environmental and sustainable development gains are realised. Article 6 introduces two voluntary market-based paths for international co-operation.

Article 6.2 sets out the principles for voluntary co-operative approaches. One country can transfer so-called “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” (ITMOs) to another country, which can then use them towards its NDC target. These transfers must apply robust and transparent accounting rules to avoid double counting of ITMOs and to ensure environmental integrity. The transfers can take place using various approaches and mechanisms, such as bilateral cooperation programmes between countries, or national or regional emission trading schemes (ETS).

Article 6.4 establishes a mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development, under the oversight of a central UN governance body. Public and private entities can participate in this mechanism if authorised by a country. While the main intention is that emissions reductions from the mechanism will count towards achievement of countries’ NDCs, the mechanism could also be used in other ways. For example, airlines could use credits from the mechanism to comply with the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Other companies could use them to count towards carbon neutrality. However, double counting of these emission reductions must be avoided.

Despite the lack of a formal outcome on Article 6 at the recent negotiations in Bonn, countries made substantial progress and had constructive discussions. Differences remain on several issues ahead of COP25, though. For instance, countries have not yet agreed on an accounting system to avoid double counting and other elements needed to prevent potential environmental integrity risks.

How is the IEA contributing?

The IEA is contributing to the discussions on Article 6 – as well as to the negotiations more broadly – through technical analysis by the joint OECD-IEA Climate Change Expert Group (CCXG). For more than 25 years, the CCXG has been developing and publishing technical papers in consultation with a wide range of countries to inform ongoing climate negotiations.

Through the CCXG, the IEA recently co-published a technical paper that analyses two specific unresolved issues in the negotiations of rules for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement: the accounting system of Article 6.2, and the implications of a potential transition of Kyoto Protocol mechanisms to the Article 6.4 mechanism. The outcomes of the paper were presented at a side event during the Bonn conference and directly informed the negotiations.

The CCXG also convenes two major events per year to promote dialogue among government delegates and experts from developed and developing economies, outside of the formal negotiations. Discussions stretch well beyond carbon markets, also covering the transparency framework of the Paris Agreement and climate finance issues, among others. The next edition of these invitation-only Global Forums on the Environment and Climate Change will be held at the IEA headquarters in Paris on 1-2 October. In addition, the IEA is ramping up its efforts to support countries in implementing and enhancing their NDCs.

IEA

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