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The transformers: UN Champions who dared to reimagine their worlds

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A corporate titan with an unconventional agenda; the food specialists who looked outside the (takeaway) box; the ocean explorer whose name has become synonymous with conservation: these are just some of the environmental heroes who have dedicated their lives to bringing their audacious visions of a better world to life.

These pioneers are all previous winners of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth award—the world’s flagship environmental honour—and their actions have inspired others to join them in their fight for a cleaner, fairer and more sustainable world.

As the countdown begins to the announcement of this year’s Champions of the Earth, and ahead of a pivotal Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September 2019, the energy and vision demonstrated by previous Champions are needed more than ever as the world races to decisively cut carbon emissions before the worst effects of global warming become inevitable.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres wants world leaders, businesses and civil society to come to the Summit with concrete plans to cut emissions by 45 per cent in the next decade and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

What is required is nothing less than a complete transformation of economies and societies. In short, it’s a job for heroes.

Thankfully, we already have model citizens to lead us forward. The Champions of the Earth have shown year after year that real change is possible if individuals commit to overhaul the way they live so that we safeguard the planet’s resources and ensure our own survival.

Here we look at five Champions of the Earth who transformed their own worlds.

The trailblazing tycoon: Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever

2015 laureate for entrepreneurial vision

During more than a decade as Chief Executive Officer of consumer goods giant Unilever, Paul Polman always dared to do things differently. Long before “sustainability” became a buzzword, he sought to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and increase Unilever’s positive social impact.

Since stepping down last year, Polman has continued his work to put sustainability at the heart of global business. He is chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce and recently co-founded the Imagine foundation to help eradicate poverty and stem climate change by helping companies pursue the Sustainable Development Goals. He announced the news on Twitter, quoting the lyrics of the John Lennon song: “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.”

Polman would like to see “heroic Chief Executive Officers” drive a shift to a low-carbon, more inclusive way of doing business. This call chimes perfectly with one of the six priorities laid out by Guterres for the Climate Action Summit—mobilizing public and private sources of finance to drive decarbonization of all priority sectors and advance resilience.

The Summit’s ambitious agenda finds an echo in Polman’s heart: tweeting out Guterres’ call for urgent action at the meeting, he wrote: “With extreme heat getting worse, nature is telling us what we already know: there’s no time to waste against climate change.”

The food mavericks: Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods

2018 laureates for science and innovation

The role of agriculture in the production of greenhouse gases has led to mounting calls for people to move towards a more plant-based diet. But how can you get hungry, red meat-loving consumers to shift?

The entrepreneurial founders of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, who won the Champions of the Earth award for creating sustainable alternatives to beef burgers, took up that challenge with gusto.

Beyond Meat worked with top scientists to strip down the core components of meat and extract them from plants instead, using ingredients like peas, beetroot, coconut oil and potato starch.

Impossible Foods took a slightly different tack to arrive at a similar result. Chief Executive Officer Patrick O. Brown’s team discovered an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every cell of every animal and plant and that is responsible for the unique flavours and aromas of meat. They used this knowledge to produce a meatless burger.

The two companies have tapped into a growing demand, especially among younger consumers, for products that are good for both planet and people, proving that it makes good business sense to harness this hunger for products that don’t cost the earth.

Their can-do attitude is exactly what’s needed on a global scale to tackle our climate crisis.

As Patrick O. Brown says: “There are huge global problems, but they are solvable and we’re going to solve them. Just wait.”

The Son of the Desert: Wang Wenbiao, Chairman of Elion Resources Group

2017 laureate for lifetime achievement

When Wang Wenbiao bought the Hangjinqi Saltworks in the middle of the Kubuqi desert in Inner Mongolia in 1988, he embarked on an adventure that would see him rise to the top of the country’s largest private green industries enterprise, Elion Resources Group.

His journey began, as most interesting journeys do, with a problem—how to make the saltworks profitable when the creeping desert was swallowing the salt lake, damaging equipment and making it difficult to transport the salt to market?

Wang, who grew up in Kubuqi, partnered with local communities and the Beijing government to fight the advancing sands and give hope to some of the 70,000 people who had been struggling to survive. In doing so, he showed how private industry could contribute to the fight against climate change and environmental degradation, while still turning a profit.

Wang set up a special fund to pay for afforestation and assigned a third of his staff to plant trees around the lake. He also encouraged local people to grow licorice, a hardy plant that grows well in deserts and is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. Elion provided locals with seeds, training and other support, and also bought the harvest at a fair price.

Today, around two thirds of the desert has been greened and Wang, who is known as the Son of the Desert, says he is in it for the long haul.

“Greening the deserts is like a marathon, as long as there is a desert, my marathon will not come to an end,” he said.

The Dutch dreamer: Boyan Slat

2014 laureate for inspiration and action

Dutch inventor Boyan Slat was only 19 when he won the Champion of the Earth award for inspiration and action but he was already a young man on a mission: to clean the seas of plastic waste using a revolutionary floating boom.

Since then, Slat has brought his vision to life with The Ocean Cleanup project and although his team was forced to bring the first prototype back to port, they have now returned to sea, hoping to scoop up some of the trillions of pieces of plastic that are choking our fish, killing marine wildlife, damaging coral reefs and turning beaches into rubbish dumps.

Slat’s ongoing passion for the project reflects growing public concern. In 2017, the UN Environment Programme launched its Clean Seas campaign to inspire governments, businesses and people to take action, including cleaning beaches, cutting plastic use and investing more in recycling facilities.

Slat’s original System 001—a 600-metre-long U-shaped floater with a tapered three-metre-deep skirt attached below to trap the plastic—was launched in September 2018 and towed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gigantic swell of rubbish twice the size of France.

But The Ocean Cleanup team found that the floater was failing to hold onto the plastic. They tried to modify the design at sea, but were eventually forced to tow the system back to port after it suffered a fatigue fracture.

More tests and modifications were needed but in August, Slat said System 001/B had arrived at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We move forward cautiously knowing we may be presented with more unscheduled learning opportunities… Yet it is safe to say that we are closer than ever to having a tool capable of cleaning up these garbage patches for good,” he wrote on The Ocean Cleanup website.

Her Deepness: Sylvia Earle

2014 laureate for lifetime leadership

A renowned pioneer of deep sea exploration and a distinguished marine biologist, Sylvia Earle has dedicated her life to exploring and protecting the oceans. Her philosophy is simple: “We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.”

Earle, 83, has logged more than 7,000 hours underwater across over 100 expeditions—including leading the first team of women aquanauts and setting a record for solo diving to a depth of 1,000-metres. Her list of laudatory titles is impressive: she has been called Her Deepness, a Living Legend, a Hero for the Planet, and the Face of Marine Biology.

Earle was the first woman to serve as the Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and, since 1998, she has been Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society.

She is also the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research Inc and the Sylvia Earle Alliance as well as being the leader of the National Geographic Society Sustainable Seas Expeditions.

In 2009, she founded Mission Blue, a global alliance to ignite public support for the protection of a network of Hope Spots—special places that are vital to the health of the ocean. The alliance aims to bring about a significant increase in ocean protection by 2020.

In 2014, she was awarded the Champions of the Earth prize for lifetime leadership. And that works goes on. Earle is still travelling the world, seeking to inspire others with her passion to preserve our seas.

UN Environment

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Climate Change – call for a united front

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“Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath”-Nathaniel H. Egleston

At the turn of the 20th century, amidst the deteriorating environmental conditions, Nathaniel Egleston –the second Chief of the US Division of Forestry – took to his guilty conscience, awakened by a then-murky threat to existence that loomed large and heavy, and took his woes to the public eye. Through his renowned article for the Harper’s magazine, titled “what we owe the trees”, Egleston expressed his concerns about the influence of the then-pioneering Industrial Revolution on both the landscape and demography. He saw what others could not – capitalism at the expense of survival, veiled in the guise of a better way of living. While humans marveled at the leaps and bound it made, the ‘almighty dollar’ took helm and Mother Nature took the fall. Trees gained superficial economic value, and lumber production became common parlance – money was rolling in the pockets like never before, and the dollar assumed divinity. People took and took whatever they wanted from mother nature without holding their end of the bargain – there was no give-and-take; just take. People had adopted what Egleston pointed out as a “freebooter style”, and he could see what everything was leading up to – humanity at a crossroads with nature. Reforestation was then alien a concept, and there was no sight of karmic justice. Nature did come to settle the bargain once or twice, but it did not awake the human conscience on a global scale. The infamous smog of 1952 capitalized on the remorse of industrialists, but after a series of repeated denials of the correlation between the deaths and the pollution that the coal stations emitted, prompted the British government to reconsider its energy mix and pass the world’s first “Clean Air Act”. But that was it for the rest of the world then, for money had to be made fast and economies had to be built. Profiteering became humanity’s best friend at the expense of the trees – our sincerest compadres. Common wisdom dictates that the value of something is not realized until it is gone, and the same applies to mother nature – trees slowly exacted its vengeance, and the world we lived in changed for the worse. We won the battle but slowly started losing the war without even knowing about it; or how Egleston subtly says:

“The trees are man’s best friends; but man has treated them as his enemies. The history of our race may be said to be the history of warfare upon the tree world. But while man has seemed to be the victor, his victories have brought upon him inevitable disasters”

Humans are creatures of habit – where threats to survival loom in, the conscience breaks free and humanity is pushed to a united front. Lands, weapons and bombs may have reigned supreme for a while, but no more – there’s a new kid on the block, and he is as ruthless and merciless as one can be. Even the monster under the bed falls pale in comparison to the nightmare of our own creation. Climate change – or perhaps more aptly, climate ‘breakdown’ – is the greatest challenge facing humanity in the twenty-first century.2020 bears witness to it – was the world not warned earlier about the impacts of messing with the environment, one of them being an outbreak of zoonotic vector-borne disease? Were red flags not raised on every medium possible (with even Netflix featuring an explanatory episode in its popular infotainment show, “Explained”, on the looming risks of the pandemic)?  Were they not raised high enough? Did we not hold our end of the bargain with nature? It is ironic for the very species that relies on the trees – for the oxygen to breathe in, for the fruits it bears for energy, for the by-products it expels for the profiteering we wag our tails around, and for regulating extreme temperatures that we face (to name a few) – to take it for granted. Did trees change course? No, but humans did. Egleston would be turning in his grave right about now.

So, what has exactly brought humanity to crossroads with nature? What has brought the need to fight for our survival? And the most important questions that one need to ask is: why is unanimity of support a forlorn dream? Why is climate modification not treated as an existential threat in various modicums of the social order? Rational questions with irrational directives, one must say.

“Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time”

(IPCC)

The proof is truly in the pudding. People have started to notice. Glaciers have shrunk; ice caps on water bodies are breaking apart; water body levels are rising and getting warmer; temperature and weather patterns are exhibiting volatile aberrations; species are changing trajectories; the flora and fauna around are slowly counting its days; trees are flowering sooner than expected; agricultural yields are shrinking; water cycles are accelerated in an unhealthy discourse for its inhabitants; coral reefs are bleaching; marine and terrestrial ecosystems are on the brink of destruction; and the list goes on. By 2018, mean warming of about 1.2°C beyond preindustrial baseline has already caused unacceptable impacts, but it does not stop there. The demons are coming sooner than one predicted – as per WMO’s estimates, the mean increase of 1.5°C, expected by 2030, will be here earlier than expected (no more than in the following five years). There’s more – through 2024, nearly every region on Earth is predicted to be hotter than it has been in the “recent past”. The Arctic region will experience the most significant warming by then – it has already witnessed its ‘historic’ loss in ice caps in the year 2020. The Antarctic region will experience the most significant storms by then – something it does not usually bid hello to. Forget horror movies and folklores for the thrills and chills; we’ve set a stage for all the horrors to follow. The climate change models, unlike most models of differing purposes, have remained mostly accurate. The pandora’s box is slowly unravelling, and the wake-up call has never sounded more desperate than now.

“As climate model projections have matured, more signals have emerged from the noise of natural variability that allow for retrospective evaluation of other aspects of climate models — for instance, in Arctic sea ice and ocean heat content. But it’s the temperature trends that people still tend to focus on.”

(Gavin Schmidt)

It is true that temperatures and weather patterns are changing. But what does it mean for the survival of human life, exactly? Well, the more the world stockpiles on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the more we risk the depletion of the protective stratospheric ozone layer – 2020 bears witness to the historic deficit in ozone layer over the Antarctic region. The deficit that, in the preceding year, exhibited the lowest historic contraction ever has left everyone in a flurry of negative emotions, and that too in a year where anything and everything could happen. More harmful ultraviolet radiations (the B- and C- types) are able to easily penetrate all protective layers that the atmosphere harbors. This is where greenhouse gases add insult to injury –if any heat was meant to escape, the entrapment of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, to name a few, will ensure that the lid remains tight. In effect, heat waves become common practice. More people are affected and pushed to the gallows with increasing prevalence of heat cramps and strokes. Rates of melanoma and cataracts cases keep jumping with every day we choose to turn a blind eye to mother nature. Children are resultantly born with genetic mutations. When the human body’s core temperature reaches the temperature of 38.5°C, an adult is exposed to a cascade of symptoms, and healthy organ functioning is, in due process, compromised. Living a healthy life has become a difficult and often dangerous task to fulfill.

“Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is a technology, water, food, energy, [and] population issue. None of this happens in a vacuum”

(David W. Titley)

It takes on a toll on the produce that we eat and the water we drink to surviveon. With trees maturing faster than disposed, the fruits they bear do not necessarily possess the nutrients it ought to carry – in extreme cases, they bear no fruits at all. For the capitalist and profiteers, another perspective might run a chill down the spine: crop yields are falling. Forget biofuels if the crops are not enough to even feed a single person. For the consumers, it equates to undernutrition and malnutrition. Climate modifications will alter the trajectory of migration patterns of harmful insects and pests – the locust infestation (and the economic and social losses it carried with it) should come as no surprise at all for the inhabitants of Kenya, Somalia and some South-East Asian nations (Pakistan included). With an already-domineering situation of global poverty, undernourishment and malnutrition, the developing nations will take the first hit. They already have. Others will follow suit.

“The violence that exists in the human heart is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air, and in living things”

(Pope Francis)

One of the many things that makes humans special from the rest of the animal kingdom is their diverse dietary needs – they rely not just on the fruits of our toil, but also on the flesh and produce of certain animals. While the continuity of various crops dangles on thin ice, the fate of animals (and the animal kingdom, as a whole) also hangs on a balance. Lands are riddled with increasing prevalence of droughts and depleting yields. Eutrophication is accelerating beyond control, and water bodies are deprived of the necessary conditions to regulate life within. In effect, habitats are altered or become inhabitable – the warming ocean bodies are already pushing schools of fish away from their original habitats. Migration carries with it the potential risk of an epidemic outbreak – the fresh wounds from the coronavirus outbreak should be enough to sum up the detriments of the latter. Adding fuel to the fire, the woes of water- and air-pollution are threatening to adulterate the food chain at large – clean water bodies, for instance,are be robbed of the purity and benefit it was meant to offer. The 1956 Minamata outbreak in Japan is as good an example as any.

Breathing nowadays feels like playing with fire – with an abundance of noxious and toxic gases present in the air we breathe, one improves the odds of physiological impairments and mortality. And with the increasing concentration of ozone and greenhouse gases, nature’s self-cleansing protocol is violated – the pollutants are unable to escape even the troposphere (our breathing space). Even in small quantities, this poisonous cocktail of gases poses an existential threat of grave repercussions. These gases silently pile up within the respiratory or circulatory systems, accumulating to the point where they are no more a drop of poison; rather, an ocean of it.

If the aforementioned fails to serve its purpose, then perhaps economic woes might titillate the conscience of the ‘dollar-guided’. Undeterred increments of temperature and climatic detriments would mean a drastically-abridged fertility of the lands that we rely on. Crops will fail to mature efficiently. The products do not command the same value as it used to. The swelling of droughts and siltation has made land unsuitable for any use, let alone agriculture or construction. The livelihoods of people dependent on such lands has gravely contracted, adding to the woes of different socio-economic classes within. Anomalous calamities – acid rains, storms and otherwise – are reigning supreme. Land is losing its value in more ways than just economic ones – the price tag means nothing if it can’t satiate the socioeconomic and necessitated value that it ought to deliver.

“There is one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate”

(Barack Obama)

If something needs to be done, it needs to be done now rather than later. And as common wisdom dictates, if there is a will, there is a way – or better still, if there is a will, there is unity. The existential threat is real. There is no denying the harrowing climate statistics – humans tend to aberrate from the truth, but numbers do not lie. It is time to carry the mantle of change ourselves as well and face the looming threat with a cohesive front. Unity has helped generations, and its time the twenty-first century jumped leaps and bounds itself. The lives of the generations to follow depends on how we act today. Time for more Thunbergs and Gores.

“People need to stop financing denial of climate change”

(Al Gore)

For that to happen, an army needs to be raised. The curtains of ignorance must be removed from the field of sight of as many people as possible. Current technological capabilities make it possible to engage more people with facts and information, especially in the way that is understood by a specific person – there is no one-size-fits-all, and the gap between the knowing and otherwise must be mitigated through the way one understands. This is where a robust, rightly-guided and unbiased media takes the spot light – infomercials and public awareness programs must be tailored to local needs (or, rather, the needs of the viewers it hosts). Governmental and not-for-profit organizations of every country must invest the necessary resources – be it time, finance, human capital, and so on – to embark on educating its citizenry. With a plethora of media to capitalize on, this would not be difficult task.

“We must now agree on a binding review mechanism under international law, so that this century can credibly be called a ‘century of [decarbonization]”

(Angela Merkel)

Shiny enterprises and state-of-the-art legislations might look good on paper, but the entire exercise fails if one does not walk the talk – there is no point of a legislation without legally-binding commitments. The relative successes of the Kyoto Protocol are an example of the wonders compliance can do for the world (though one may argue against its efficacy and shortcomings). Moreover, there is no point for a nation to attend a Convention and sign an MEAjust for the sake of the ‘almighty vote-bank’ and leaving it unratified. Even more baffling is the curious case of advanced economies like the US and Canada rashly pulling out of ratified agreements like the Paris Accord – if the world leaders want to inspire and lead by example, they are not doing a very good job at it. Now is not the time of personal interests; mother nature does not discriminate between the rich and poor, white and dark, man and woman, the affluent and poor-struck, and so on. Its’s tongue is one and not bound by any language, and the message is one and same for all; when such is the case, shouldn’t our response follow suit?

“Be part of the solution, not the problem”

(Stephen R. Covey)

The next steps, on an individual and communal level, are self-explanatory – making amends with mother nature. The adulteration of the environment needs to be curbed. For such to happen, existing and prospective pollution-control policies must be undertaken. Carbon-reduction commitments must be expedited to the maximum possible. The fight against ozone-depleting substances must be won at all costs. Redundant and polluting technology and practices must be phased out – it is heartwarming to see a keen player like Pakistan taking big steps in alternating the traditional brick kilns with the modern-day zig zag kilns, or imposing sanctions on stubble-burning to combat the issue of smog and air pollution. If trees are meant to be cut down, the same (or more) must be given back to the Earth – afforestation and reforestation must become common practice (one is again reminded of Pakistan’s awe-inspiring ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ project).Economic and social incentives must take root if one is to lure the affluent – tax incentives for adopting, or shifting to, green technology is a good start. Appropriate penalties must hold the miscreants at bay. Humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels in its energy mix must cease to exist. Renewable resources must be sought and exploited to the fullest.

It does not stop here. Municipal and household wastes must be properly disposed. Trash must end up in the correct bin. Vehicles should not emit noxious and unhealthy gases, for which battery-operated engines or green-tech (such as catalytic converters) should do the trick. Industries and pollution hotspots must be built far away from residential areas and water bodies. Emissions should be filtered for toxic gases – a plethora of scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators and filtering technologies are available. Sanctuaries must be built to preserve depleting flora and fauna species. Water bodies must be purified of any non-degradable and poisonous litter it harbors. And the list goes on and on.

“We have a single mission: to protect and hand on the planet to the next generation”

(Francois Hollande)

There is so much to do, but so little time to do everything. Climate change must be taken seriously. The time is past when humanity thought it could selfishly draw on exhaustible resources and do as it please. We all know now that Earthis not a commodity. The battle is lost, but the war is not over(yet). And while the damage has been done, it is not too late to make amends. The lives of our children and theirs hangs in the balance. Solutions to the crisis are within reach, but in order to capture them, we must take urgent action today across every level of society. In order to do so, we need to gather our brains and take helm of the battleground. Climate change has united mankind more than ever, and it’s a race against time and odds. No one says it better than Christine Legarde:

“It is a collective endeavor, it is collective accountability, and it may not be too late”

The debate is no more about the legitimacy of climate change. It is about whether we will live to tell the tales of our successes. Will we make history or become a part of it? The victor at the end of the war will surely know the answer to this.

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Researchers unveil roadmap for a carbon neutral China by 2060

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Chinese president Xi Jinping told the UN general assembly on 22 September that China would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The announcement sparked a huge response and gave rise to speculation as to how this would be achieved.

On 12 October, research into a possible route to that target was published by Tsinghua University’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (ICCSD) – the most authoritative roadmap to emerge since the commitment was made. If China follows the recommendations of the report, it could mean tougher energy-saving and emissions-reductions targets for the 14th Five Year Plan (FYP), a more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for 2030, with yet faster and deeper decarbonisation to come from 2030 onwards.  

Decarbonising for the 1.5C target

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit climate warming to 2C (compared to pre-industrial levels) at the end of the century, while pursing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5C. That 1.5C target has been controversial because it requires greater emissions cuts and it was only added to the text of the agreement at the last minute.

Professor He Jiankun, project leader of the new study and chair of the ICCSD’s academic committee, said at a press briefing on the research that “achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 essentially means a long-term deep decarbonisation process oriented at the 1.5C target”. The director of the ICCSD is Xie Zhenhua, formerly China’s special climate envoy. Xie was also overall supervisor of this research project.

According to the roadmap presented in the study, by 2050 China must achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions, with emissions of all greenhouse gases down 90% on 2020 levels, if it is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The authors did not offer a specific roadmap for reducing emissions between 2050 and 2060, but said that emissions cuts should be increased, with negative emissions growth in the energy sector and more capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide using carbon sinks and carbon removal technologies.

The roadmap implies that all greenhouse gases are included in China’s 2060 pledge – something that observers had wondered about. But one expert close to China’s policy on non-CO2 greenhouse gases told China Dialogue that for now it remains an academic assumption, and official documents would be needed to confirm the government position.

Although the recommended roadmap is ultimately closing in on the 1.5C target, this does not mean China will immediately fast-track deep decarbonisation. The roadmap has two stages: before 2030 China will cut emissions according to an “enhanced mitigation scenario”, with a tougher 2030 NDC target and increasing efforts to reduce emissions. But that alone would leave China far from even the 2C target. However, the researchers propose much tougher measures after 2030, which will bring China into line with the 1.5C target. Assuming these recommendations are adopted, China will see a later, but steeper decline in emissions than it would if it set out to hit the 1.5C target immediately, with a carbon peak by 2030, an energy consumption peak around 2035, and carbon emissions approaching zero by 2050.

At the launch, He Jiankun explained that “the economy and the energy sector are hugely complicated systems, with a lot of inertia, so a transition will take time”. Rapid implementation of the absolute carbon cuts needed for the 2C or even 1.5C target would be very difficult, and China still needs to develop. So in the first stage, staving off additional emissions rather than cutting existing emissions should be the priority to bring about a carbon peak. But after 2030, the speed with which China reduces emissions will “far outstrip the developed nations”.

Implications for near-term policy

There is a great deal of interest in how China’s 2060 carbon neutrality target will affect the 14th Five Year Plan (for 2021-2025), which is currently being drafted, with this being seen as a test of China’s level of commitment.

The researchers also make suggestions for energy-saving and emissions-reduction targets in the 14th FYP, such as a 20% share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by 2025, and a carbon emissions cap of under 10.5 billion tonnes (2020 figures for these are expected to be 16% and 10.3 billion tonnes respectively).

“We have to control any rebound in coal use during the 14th FYP and work towards peak coal, or even negative growth,” said He.

The researchers also recommend China toughens and updates its NDC for 2030, lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% on 2005 levels and reaching a 25% share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption.

Speaking at the launch, Wang Yi, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (China’s top legislative body) and vice director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Science and Development, said that 14th FYP targets should remain tough and be expanded: for example, by including overall caps – in particular a carbon cap – alongside existing efficiency targets (such as carbon and energy intensity). Other experts have also called for a carbon cap in the 14th FYP.

Wang also pointed out that a package of legislation will be needed to ensure 14th FYP climate targets are met. This includes an Energy Law currently being drafted, an ongoing revision to the Energy-Saving Law, and a Law on Combating Climate Change being prepared. “The Law on Combating Climate Change will only reach the statute books if a carbon cap is at its core – if not, it loses a raison d’etre as other laws can replace it,” Wang said. Lower level regulations, such as for carbon markets, must also keep up, he said.

From our partner Chinadialogue

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COVID-19 has given a fillip to biodiversity

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The COVID-19 outbreak caused many problems for the world, but in return gave the planet’s environment and biodiversity a chance to breathe. The high mortality rate may be worrisome, but it provided us with the opportunity to think more about how we should treat biodiversity in a better way.

Biodiversity is an important feature of life explained by the vast diversity of plants and animals, which is a non-renewable resource and its loss will be irreparable, Kioumars Kalantari, head of the natural environment and biodiversity of the Department of Environment said.

The growing importance of biodiversity is due to its role in maintaining the stability of ecosystems, because in an ecosystem, the greater the species diversity, the longer food chains, resulting in a more stable environment, he added.

According to him, today the protection of biodiversity, habitats, and natural ecosystems is among the most important indicators of sustainable development in the world.

Fortunately, Iran benefits from rich biodiversity due to special climatic, geographical, and topographic conditions and characteristics, and more than 8600 species of plants and 1300 species of vertebrates live in the country, he highlighted.

Unfortunately, the environment faces a variety of threats and challenges, including pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, sand and dust storms, natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and increasing disease outbreaks, he noted.

He went on to say that despite all the efforts that have been made nationally as well as internationally worldwide, the environment today is no better than it was in the early twentieth century.

The sudden prevalence of COVID-19, followed by lock-downs and restrictions around the world, reduction in human activity, the evacuation of highways, reduction in travel, air, and land transport, and a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, has benefited the nature much, he explained.

It greatly improved air quality and reduced the risk of lung and cardiovascular diseases, key environmental indicators that have been steadily deteriorating for more than half a century, remained fixed, or moved towards improvement, he emphasized.

The extent of the disease and the human casualties may be so painful that it does not give us a chance to rejoice in the healing process of nature and the environment, but the good condition of climate and nature can be a fillip for each of us on this planet, especially those in charge, to think more about our past actions and slow down our exponential pace of unsustainable development and the destruction of valuable biological resources, he also highlighted.

Perhaps changing our plans and behaviors to use more of renewable energy, while increasing the use of telecommunications facilities such as video conferencing, webinars, online meetings, can greatly reduce travel as well as greenhouse gas emissions and thus help preserve nature and valuable biodiversity treasures, he said.

Biodiversity conservation is in fact the protection of ourselves and the resources without which we cannot survive, he stated, adding, human health depends on the health of other creatures and the environment in which they live.

The outbreak of the coronavirus and its pathogenic consequences highlights the importance of the dependence of the health of all organisms on the planet on each other and the environment.

“Our Solutions Are in Nature” which expresses the importance of nature in responding to the challenges we face in terms of sustainable development and the necessity of comprehensive cooperation to achieve a future in harmony with nature, he added.

According to experts, “the most important and largest public asset of any country is the environment”, unfortunately, due to the wrong approach and underestimation of its vital importance, its capacity is declining every day, and it cannot be exchanged or bought, although some officials, especially economists, suggest ways to price these environmental resources, they are invaluable, he stated.

Kalantari further expressed hope that by living in harmony with nature, humans will be able to benefit as much as possible from the valuable resources and to protect and preserve the biological richness of the world in the best possible way.

Why human absence prospers nature?

Pointing out that protecting the planet is important to humans, and we need to maintain the best conditions on Earth after Coronavirus, Mohammad Darvish, a member of the National Security Council for the environment, said that the pandemic has caused the earth to breathe deeply, and now the wise man is faced with the question that “why, when human activity as a member of the ecosystem decreases, not only does nothing happen, but the condition of nature improves.”

Think of bees being removed from nature. In this case, the integrity of the Earth’s environmental property, the reproduction of many species and humans themselves will be damaged, or if brown bears are removed, soil fertility will decrease, or if wild boars are removed, water permeability will decrease and floods will increase, he explained.

Therefore, there have been wise in the creation of all plant and animal species or even insects, and have contributed to the earth’s resilience, he emphasized.

Why has it now happened that man, who considers himself the best of creatures, that must be more responsible, has behaved in such a way that his absence is in favor of nature and the earth?

Such happening should give us a lesson to change our development programs in favor of nature and try to understand the laws of nature, instead of spending budgets on warfare, larger and more horrific weapons, he noted, implying that environmental research and health is now more essential as well as improvement of the education system so that in the post-corona crisis world we can appear wiser, more knowledgeable, and more responsible.

From our partner Tehran Times

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