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Mitigating climate change in Asia-Pacific could give region an economic boost

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The urgent need to move towards a low carbon economy and build resilience, would not only mitigate the worst impacts of climate change in the Asia-Pacific, but also lift the region economically, according to the body overseeing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As Asia-Pacific Climate Week (APCW 2019) wrapped up on Friday in Bangkok, a key takeaway was that long-term holistic planning would enable countries there to tap into the huge potential of renewable energy, and new technology while maximizing socio-economic benefits.

Other compelling reasons to rapidly shift to low-carbon and resilience were outlined by high-level speakers who warned that current levels of ambition to tackle climate change are putting the world on a path towards global warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius – that is double the goal of 1.5 degrees.

Participants agreed that in addition to governments, the transformation must be driven by sub-national regions and cities, the private sector and finance.

Noting that over half the global population of 1.8 billion young people live in the vast Asia-Pacific region, UNFCCC said that youth groups played an important role in the week, by engaging with participants and coving discussions on social media.

Key outcome messages will provide “important input to the Climate Action Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General on 23 September in New York”, UNFCCC said in a press release, adding that “the results will also help build momentum” towards the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) that will take place in Santiago, Chile, 2-13 December 2019.

On the table

Countries are currently designing enhanced national climate action plans under the Paris Agreement (Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) and the Summit in New York will be an opportunity for governments and many climate action players to announce new plans and initiatives before the NDCs are communicated to the UN in 2020.

Climate change adaptation planning and finance were also key throughout APCW 2019, with a focus on communities and ecosystems most in need.

On building resilience to climate change, indigenous peoples from the region, academics and others, stressed the need for a mindset shift in the fight against climate change, proposing policies to help transform societies for long-term resilience.  

Carbon pricing, capacity-building and regional climate finance were also discussed, with a spotlight on highly vulnerable nations.

During the week, work began on a new climate strategy for Indian Ocean Island States to access finance for priority projects.

And the UN Climate Change Secretariat is assisting 10 sub-regions involving 77 countries in Asia Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean in preparing strategies to access scaled up climate finance.

Organized every year in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Asia-Pacific, Regional Climate Weeks allow governments and other concerned parties to address the full spectrum of climate issues under one umbrella. The central aim is to bring together the public and private sectors around the common goal of addressing climate change.

APCW 2019 was organized by UNCCC in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and other international and regional organizations. It is the third Regional Climate Week to this year, following one in Accra, Ghana in March and in Salvador, Brazil in August.

Next year, the United Arab Emirates will host a Regional Climate Week for the Middle East and North Africa region.

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‘Green economy’ pioneer Pavan Sukhdev wins 2020 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement

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Pavan Sukhdev, esteemed environmental economist and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, has won the 2020 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. Photo: Leonardo Druscovoch

Renowned environmental economist and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador Pavan Sukhdev was awarded on Monday the 2020 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, recognizing his groundbreaking ‘green economy’ work. 

Mr. Sukhdev, who received the award alongside conservation biologist Gretchen C. Daily, was the Special Adviser and Head of UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative, a major project launched by then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to demonstrate that greening of economies is not a burden on growth but rather a new engine for growing wealth, increasing decent employment, and reducing persistent poverty.  

He was also appointed Study Leader (2008-2010) of the landmark initiative on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity’ (TEEB), a global UNEP-hosted study.  

When the first TEEB report was published, during the peak of the 2008 global financial crisis, news outlets around the world began to dedicate headlines to the staggering cost of deforestation to the global economy. 

The TEEB report would go on to become a foundation for the Green Economy movement – an achievement for which Mr. Sukhdev is being awarded the 2020 Tyler Prize.  

“This award is equally a recognition of UNEP and its vibrant and active TEEB community,” said Mr. Sukhdev.  

But he stressed that: “You don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the environment. Just ask a farmer who now must rent beehives to pollinate his crops, because there are no longer enough bees in wild nature to do the job for free. But bees don’t send invoices, so the value of their services is not recognized.” 

Achim Steiner, former UNEP chief who’s currently the UNDP Administrator, has said: “Pavan Sukhdev and Dr. Gretchen Daily have generated groundbreaking insights into the economic value of our natural environment – prompting decision-makers to implement new measures to protect our planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Having worked closely with Mr. Pavan over many years, Mr. Steiner added that he considered his work on the TEEB to be “truly transformative – it has generated a new narrative on the economic and social importance of nature’s services, and a new community of practice.” 

Mr. Sukhdev currently serves the World Wildlife Fund as President and Chairman of the Board, as well as Board Member for TEEB Advisory Board, Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. 

Often described as the ‘Nobel Prize for the Environment’, the Tyler Prize is administered by the University of Southern California. 

On 30 April 2020, Mr. Sukhdev and Ms. Daily and will deliver a public presentation about their work at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City. 

In a private ceremony on 1 May, the Tyler Prize Executive Committee and distinguished members of the international environmental community will join to honour the two new Laureates during a ceremony at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel in New York City. 

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Making the impossible possible

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photo: UN Environment

Sitting at a bus stop one day when she was 16, When Miranda Wang saw someone throw a plastic bottle into a trash bin, even though the recycling bin was right next to it.

“It just made me realize that the problem is so much bigger than the behavior of individual people,” she said. “Globally, only 9 per cent of plastics produced are actually recycled. That’s because as a society, we lack recycling technologies that can make virgin-quality products from plastic waste.”

“My project is a social impact startup developing and scaling up a new technology to recycle unrecyclable plastics. Over the past year, the project has snowballed, and we are seeing massive interest in this area,” she said.

Since starting up her company BioCellection, and winning the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champions of the Earth prize in 2018, twenty-five-year-old Wang and her team have invented a US$ 5 million technology that breaks down plastics into chemical building blocks, upcycling them into higher value materials for manufacturing.

The first engineering drawings for the technology scale-up have been completed, and multiple materials from the resulting purified compounds from breaking down plastics have been tested.

The company has already completed two thirds of a pilot programme to test the technology at scale with the City of San José, California, United States, and other tests have already been completed with Google among others.  

The team has expanded, with eight new hires instead of the projected four, winning grants and prizes including the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Pritzker Environmental Genius Award and MIT Solve.

In addition to refining the recycling technology, Wang has appeared in magazines including TIME, the New York Times, Monocle, Marie Claire, National Geographic and many others over the last 12 months.  

Why not become part of a global movement, and tell us what you are doing to turn the tide on plastic pollution. Take the Clean Seas pledge!

Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Stay tuned here to follow stories of previous winners and changemakers.

UN Environment

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The effect of wildfires on sustainable development

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With only 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders in September 2019 called for accelerated action in the next decade to deliver at the scale and speed required. Climate change and global heating however, are increasing the likelihood and intensity of wildfires, which could have a growing impact on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

For example, the 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season came at the end of the second hottest year on record, with multiple record high temperatures experienced across Australia at the beginning of its wildfire season. This has created far more flammable conditions than usual, leading to multiple megafires and a total burned area said to be over 18 million hectares (186,000 square kilometres, an area bigger than England and Wales).

In addition to the widely reported impact in terms of immediate loss of life, homes and animals in developed parts of the world, the growing scale of wildfires around the world can also have serious impacts on a number of the Sustainable Development Goals.

GOAL 1: No poverty and GOAL 2: Zero hunger
The poor are often hit hardest by global heating. They are the ones least able to adapt; they also tend to be more heavily reliant on natural resources, such as firewood, forest-based plant food and medicines. Forests provide food and medicines for indigenous peoples and many others. Many people’s livelihoods, especially in developing countries, depend on intact forest resources, and an abnormally large wildfire can be disastrous.

GOAL 3: Good health and well-being
Smoke from wildfires causes air pollution and is bad for your health no matter where you live. Wildfires release harmful pollutants including particulate matter and toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere. Wildfires can cause displacement, stress and anguish to people who have to flee them, beyond those who suffer direct impacts.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on 23 September 2019 that wild forest and peatland fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra, Indonesia, were putting nearly 10 million children at risk from air pollution. In many countries, escape and protection from air pollution is a privilege not everyone can afford or has equal access to. Air purifiers and good quality pollution masks can be expensive. Those who can’t afford to take time off work may not be able to avoid areas cloaked in smoke, for example.

GOAL 5: Gender equality
Women and girls, especially in developing countries, tend to be more at risk during disasters such as megafires. According to the United Nations Development Programme, the poor are likely to live under circumstances that make them less likely to survive and recover from a disaster event. Studies have shown that disaster fatality rates are much higher for women than for men due, in large part, to gendered differences in capacity to cope with such events and insufficient access to information and early warnings.

GOAL 6: Clean water and sanitation
Particulates and black carbon from forest fires are carried in the air and enter water courses. Researchers have quantified and characterized the black carbon flowing in the Amazon. “In aquatic ecosystems, effects of acidity, nitrogen, and mercury on organisms and biogeochemical processes are well documented. Air pollution causes or contributes to acidification of lakes, eutrophication of estuaries and coastal waters, and mercury bioaccumulation in aquatic food webs,” says a study titled Effects of Air Pollution on Ecosystems and Biological Diversity in the Eastern United States.

GOAL 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
When they spread to urban or semi-urban areas, wildfires can damage infrastructure such as power lines, mobile phone masts and homes. Rebuilding may be costly or time consuming.

GOAL 12: Responsible consumption and production
Extravagant lifestyles and unsustainable consumption of natural resources in many countries, and associated pollution, are contributing to global heating which in turn makes wildfires more likely.

GOAL 13: Climate action  
Wildfires release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contribute to global heating when the size of the fire exceeds the CO2 reabsorption potential of re-growth. Particles and gases from burning biomass can be carried over long distances, affecting air quality in regions far away. Particles can also land on snow and ice, causing the ice to absorb sunlight that it would otherwise reflect, thereby accelerating global warming. Wildfires on highly combustible peatland are particularly relevant for climate as they emit far more CO2 than ordinary forest or bush fires. These phenomena are known as climate feedback loops and increase the burden of emissions that must be reduced to limit global temperature increase.

GOAL 15: Life on land
While humans have used fire to manage landscapes for thousands of years, current wildfires, exacerbated by global heating and drought, are growing in scale and impact, destroying houses, infrastructure and wildlife—affecting biodiversity. They can cause economic decline, at least in the short term.

UN Environment

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