With rapidly growing competition for resources and increasing waste and pollution, the need to move towards an inclusive circular economic system is growing. A circular economy has the incentives and means to use existing resources in an efficient and sustainable fashion – relying on renewable energy sources, extracting more value from waste products, minimizing food waste, and increasing the quality of life for all segments of society.
Perhaps most importantly, this transition poses tremendous opportunities. While, coupled with rapid technological change and increasing globalization, some existing jobs, economic sectors, and production processes will become obsolete, it will also nurture fertile ground for new and green jobs and new economic sectors. This is already happening: the rapidly growing sharing economy is one example of how we can not only use resources more efficiently, but also make them increasingly affordable.
But we are only getting started and have a long road ahead of us. The Circularity Gap Report presented at the 2019 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos estimates that only 9% of the global economy is circular today. That is not enough. We clearly have to move faster. The problem is that we cannot know in advance what will work and what will not. Instead, we have to try out different solutions and scale up what works. In other words, we need innovation. But innovation does not only mean scientific research and shiny new technologies: the ways we use them, the ways we set the rules of the game, and the ways we create the right incentives matter much more.
This was the central message that emerged from the discussion “The Growth we Want is Sustainable: Harnessing innovation for a circular economy for all”, organized by UNECE and UN Environment on 9 July as a side-event for the 2019 High-Level Political Forum. Speakers from governments, businesses, and civil society shared ideas and experiences from different parts of the UNECE region and beyond.
“The circular economy is a compulsory choice for a sustainable world” said UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. Emphasizing the need for innovative solutions to re-shape linear economies, she highlighted the importance of exploring new channels to move forward: “We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, which is changing the societies and economies in ways we have never imagined before. Therefore, what we need is to enable experimentation – with technologies, policies, governance arrangements, and business ides”.
UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and solar aviation pioneer Bertrand Piccard warned that today’s model of quantitative growth is leading us to environmental chaos, climate change and depletion of natural resources. “Qualitative growth means that we can create jobs and make profit by replacing the old, outdated, inefficient and polluted infrastructures by new modern and efficient ones, ones that can protect the environment. This is the market of the century”, he urged, arguing that “this is the way to speak the language of the people we want to convince”.
Central to the resulting multi-stakeholder dialogue is innovation – the driving force of the transition towards inclusive and circular economic growth. Stakeholders, including representatives of UNECE member States Sweden, Germany, Georgia and Finland, as well the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), discussed challenges, opportunities and best practices of transforming the existing system of production and consumption patterns from a life-cycle perspective.
This mechanism involves applying frontier technologies, such as IT and artificial intelligence, business models that re-shape product life-cycles, and sharing platforms in different sectors which make way for more sustainable consumption. The high cost of experimentation calls for knowledge-based solutions to identify the right partnerships and sources of finance that will enable and promote innovative high-growth entrepreneurship within SMEs towards a new service-based economy. R&D partnerships with academia in less advanced economies will ensure the necessary digital transfer, while developing targeted skills and supporting life-long learning for the jobs of the future, and distributional aspects through bold social protection, will ensure that no-one is left behind.
Stakeholders further expressed their wish to continue the dialogue on inclusive circular economic growth and long-term sustainability, and to look into supporting policies, norms and standards, developed through multilateralism and partnership at the regional and global level, to reach the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.
UNECE fosters cross-sectoral linkages to further accelerate these processes, bringing countries, civil society, and the private sector together towards the common goal of a systemic transition to more sustainable production and consumption practices. To this end, UNECE is pooling its multisectoral expertise through an integrated “nexus” approach to 2030 Agenda delivery. Examples of initiatives to support countries’ shift to the circular economy include a resource management framework that helps make use of valuable resources from mining and landfill, policy recommendations on recycling, the development of a blockchain-supported application to enable a circular approach along garment and footwear sector value chains, and an innovative and unique IT- supported food loss management system to repurpose and bring back into the supply chain food that would otherwise be lost.
Climate Crisis Cannot be Tackled Without Shift Away from Damaging Land Use
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.
Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund to Support ADB’s Green Projects
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) recently formed a partnership to support green project financing through investments in ADB’s green bonds.
“We are pleased to collaborate with GPIF on this important initiative that promotes environment-related investments in Asia and the Pacific and is closely aligned with ADB’s development mandate,” ADB President Mr. Takehiko Nakao said.
ADB issues green bonds to finance projects in the Asia and Pacific region that help its developing member countries mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the consequences of climate change. ADB issued its first green bond in 2015. It has since issued more than $6 billion equivalent green bonds in various currencies. ADB green bonds provide opportunities for institutional investors, including pension funds and asset managers, to achieve their green mandate.
The green bond investment will help GPIF fulfill its stewardship responsibilities for environment, social, and governance (ESG) investments. GPIF, the largest pension fund in the world in terms of assets under management, can support ADB’s green bond program in a substantial way.
“GPIF requires all asset managers to integrate ESG into their investment analysis and decision-making. We regard the purchase of Green, Social, and Sustainability Bonds as one of the direct methods of ESG integration in the fixed income investment. GPIF is committed to promote ESG integration through our investment chain in order to ensure the sustainable performance of the pension reserve fund for all generations,” GPIF Executive Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer Mr. Hiro Mizuno said.
Global CO2 emissions have been increasing since 2018; and Asia produces about 40% of global emissions. “Driven by continuous economic growth, accelerating urbanization, and expanding middle classes, Asia accounts for the majority of rising energy needs worldwide. It is, therefore, essential that the region plays a proactive part in global efforts to reduce emissions from houses and offices, industry, and transport,” ADB Vice-President for Finance and Risk Management Ms. Ingrid van Wees said.
ADB will scale up its support for climate change adaptation and maintain its assistance for mitigation through clean energy and energy efficiency projects and sustainable transport. Under Strategy 2030, ADB will ensure that 75% of the number of its committed operations will be supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation by 2030. Climate finance from ADB’s own resources will reach $80 billion for 2019–2030.
Ethiopia plants over 350 million trees in a day, setting new world record
In a record-breaking day this week, at the Gulele Botanical Garden in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia launched an historic tree planting campaign. Over 350 million trees were planted in an ambitious move to counter the effects of deforestation and climate change.
The event is part of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative. It aimed at planting 200 million trees in a single day in 1,000 sites across the country.
Prime Minister Ahmed congratulated the country for not only meeting its collective Green Legacy goal but also exceeding it.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Innovation and Technology Getahun Mekuria was quoted saying that more than 350 million trees were planted in 12 hours, breaking the world record held by India since 2016, for the most trees planted in one day and which stood at 50 million trees.
The tree planting event was attended by a representative of the UN Environment Programme’s Liaison Office to Africa Union Commission, UN Economic Commission for Africa and representative to Ethiopia, and whose support for this ambitious action was crucial, as well as other United Nations Agencies and various international organizations.
The initiative aims to tackle the effects of deforestation and climate change in the country. The United Nations estimates that Ethiopia’s forest coverage has declined drastically to a low of just 4 per cent in the 2000s from 35 per cent a century earlier.
“Afforestation is the most effective climate change solution to date and with the new record set by Ethiopia, other African nations should move with speed and challenge the status quo,” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Director of UN Environment’s Africa Office.
“Africa has what it takes to spearhead this global push and as the most affected and vulnerable continent, climate change mitigation must be the topmost priority in the coming days. We at UN Environment are taking the lead in helping to build capacity for nations and people to apply themselves to afforestation and climate change mitigation strategies,” she added.
Trees provide many ecosystem services and environmental benefits for the planet as a whole. As they grow, they absorb and store carbon dioxide—a major driver of global heating. In a scientific paper published in the Science magazine, researchers estimate that a worldwide tree planting programme could remove two thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere as a result of human activities.
Researchers found that tree restoration was among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation. They show that the global potential tree coverage stands at 4.4 billion hectares of canopy under the current climate. Planting trees is therefore considered the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis.
Many African countries have recently engaged in massive tree planting campaigns including Kenya who has recently, with support from the UN Environment Programme, launched the “Greening Kenya Initiative” to reverse the declining forest cover.
UN Environment Programme is working with countries across the continent to replicate such initiatives to stop deforestation and increase forest cover. This is crucial in honoring African countries’ commitments to mitigate climate change and contribute to the achievement of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
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