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Ghana Becomes First African Nation to Join Ambitious Partnership to End Plastic Pollution

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The Government of Ghana formally joined the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) today, becoming the first African nation to combine forces with this ambitious new initiative dedicated to eradicating plastic waste and pollution worldwide.

Ghana is the second country to partner with GPAP, a public-private platform dedicated to fostering action to combat the plastic pollution crisis. In Ghana, it will work closely with the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) to develop a national roadmap for sustainably managing and reducing the country’s plastic waste challenge, while continuing to boost its economic growth.

The Ghana National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) was announced by His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, at a gathering of more than 250 policy-makers, business leaders, sustainable development advisers, waste management experts, entrepreneurs and youth representatives – all of whom have carried out successful work in different sectors to combat the country’s plastic waste and pollution.

“With this partnership, Ghana is taking a historic step forward in our environmental stewardship, our sustainable growth, and our vision for the future,” said the president. “Our nation is flourishing with an extraordinary wealth of expertise, knowledge, innovations, social enterprise, and willpower to take on this issue. Throughout every sector and level, from local government to waste management pioneers and young student leaders, Ghanaians are actively contributing to the fight against plastic pollution. We are pleased to partner with the Global Plastic Action Partnership to bring together existing efforts, scale up these highly successful initiatives, and fast-track our progress towards a collective goal – to achieve zero leakage of plastic waste into our oceans and waterways.”

The Ghana NPAP will support the country’s public, private and civil society sectors in transitioning to a circular plastics economy, which directly addresses the root cause of plastic pollution by fundamentally reshaping the way plastics are produced, used and re-used. A parallel engagement is currently under way in Indonesia, the first GPAP country partner.

“We are deeply honoured that the Government of Ghana, under the leadership of President Akufo-Addo, has chosen to partner with GPAP in a collective effort to drive forward the country’s plastic action agenda,” said Kristin Hughes, Director of the Global Plastic Action Partnership and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. “As one of Africa’s leading political and economic forces, Ghana has the potential to not only dramatically reduce its own plastic pollution, but also to spark off a wave of unprecedented plastic action across the African continent. We are confident that the findings and achievements from this highly meaningful partnership will serve as a model of success for the rest of the world.”

The Ghana NPAP will also be supported by the Global Environment Facility, which sits on the Governing Council of GPAP and co-chairs the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, a public-private collaboration mechanism dedicated to driving the global circular economy transition.

“The growing menace of plastic pollution is being felt all around the world,” said Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility. “I want to commend Ghana for its leadership in being the first African nation to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership. Ghana is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and its support for a circular plastics economy is an important signal to others across the continent.”

As part of broader strategic efforts to accelerate the reduction of plastic waste and pollution in Ghana, the NPAP will work in close alignment with two key initiatives. The first, a National Plastic Management Policy, championed by MESTI, will transform the management of plastics throughout the value chain, injecting sustainability and reusability into every step of the plastic life cycle.

“By putting standards and policies in place to guide the transition towards a circular plastics economy, we will achieve myriad positive outcomes for Ghana,” said Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. “We will see the creation of new jobs in the sustainable waste management sector; the protection of women, children and other vulnerable communities from the damaging effects of mismanaged plastic waste; and accelerated progress towards many of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

At the same time, the Ghana multi-stakeholder ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform, facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), will accelerate these efforts by creating a one-stop shop solution platform (both in-person and digital) for stakeholders to exchange data, solutions, and technological innovations on waste recovery.

“We are delighted to join forces with the Government of Ghana and the Ghana NPAP to amplify our collective impact,” said Silke Hollander, Resident Representative a.i. of UNDP Ghana. “The ‘Waste’ Recovery Platform is very much owned and driven by traditional and non-traditional stakeholders in the waste management sector and beyond in Ghana. By leveraging the incredible entrepreneurial initiatives underway and creating a space where people can connect, exchange knowledge and share good practices, as well as co-design and partner to find solutions, we are confident that the Platform will help Ghana move towards the circular economy and reduce plastic pollution in the near future.”

“The scope and depth of this partnership in Ghana truly represents a new and remarkable way to tackle the world’s most pressing issues,” added Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. “It’s clear that no single institution or sector can take on the plastic pollution crisis alone. In Ghana and across the world, GPAP is bringing together government, business and civil society organizations – and it’s also working closely with local entrepreneurs, women and young people to ensure that their voices and initiatives are heard. This is how we can achieve an equitable and sustainable future.”

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Landmark decision gives legal teeth to protect environmental defenders

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A 46-strong group of countries across the wider European region has agreed to establish a new legally binding mechanism that would protect environmental defenders, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said on Friday.

“I remain deeply concerned by the targeting of environmental activists”, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, welcoming the rapid response mechanism as “an important contribution to help advance my Call to Action for Human Rights”. 

The agreement will delegate setting up the new mechanism to the United Nations, or another international body.

As the first ever internationally-agreed tool to safeguard environmental defenders, it marks an important step in upholding the universal right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – as recognized by the Human Rights Council earlier this month

“Twenty years ago, the Aarhus Convention entered into force, bridging the gap between human and environmental rights.

Today, as the devastating effects of climate change continue to ravage the world, the Convention’s core purpose – of allowing people to protect their wellbeing and that of future generations – has never been more critical”, spelled out the UN chief. 

A protective eye

The agreement to establish the mechanism was adopted on Thursday by the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, known as the Aarhus Convention. 

“This landmark decision is a clear signal to environmental defenders that they will not be left unprotected”, said UNECE chief Olga Algayerova.

“It demonstrates a new level of commitment to upholding the public’s rights under the Aarhus Convention, as well as Parties’ willingness to respond effectively to grave and real-time challenges seen in the Convention’s implementation on the ground”.   

Vital defence

Whether it is groups protesting the construction of a dangerous dam or individuals speaking out against harmful agricultural practices in their local community, these activists are vital to environmental preservation across the globe, said the UNECE.

The Aarhus Convention ensures that those exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of the Convention shall not be penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way for their involvement.

As such, the mechanism will establish a Special Rapporteur – or independent rights expert – who will quickly respond to alleged violations and take measures to protect those experiencing or under imminent threat of penalization, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Convention.  

As time is of the essence to buttress the safety of environmental defenders, any member of the public, secretariat or Party to the Aarhus Convention, will be able to submit a confidential complaint to the Special Rapporteur, even before other legal remedies have been exhausted.   

Defenders targeted

Although it is crucial for environmental defenders to confidently exercise their rights, cases have been reported in which instead, they face being fired, heavy fines, criminalization, detention, violence, and even death. 

Moreover, incidents of harassment and violence against environmental defenders are far from uncommon

A report to the Human Rights Council by Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, found that one-in-two human rights defenders who were killed in 2019 had been working with communities around issues of land, environment, impacts of business activities, poverty and rights of indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants and other minorities.  

Since January 2017, among the Parties to the Aarhus Convention, incidents of persecution, penalization and harassment of environmental defenders have been reported in 16 countries

In contrast to current existing initiatives, which mainly rely on applying political pressure through the media, the Aarhus Convention’s rapid response mechanism will be built on a binding legal framework, giving it much greater powers to act.

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Plastic pollution on course to double by 2030

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Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water continues to grow sharply and could more than double by 2030, according to an assessment released on Thursday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

The report highlights dire consequences for health, the economy, biodiversity and the climate. It also says a drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic, is crucial to addressing the global pollution crisis overall.  

To help reduce plastic waste at the needed scale, it proposes an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, the removal of subsidies and a shift towards more circular approaches towards reduction. 

Titled From Pollution to Solution: a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, the report shows that there is a growing threat, across all ecosystems, from source to sea. 

Solutions to hand 

But it also shows that there is the know-how to reverse the mounting crisis, provided the political will is there, and urgent action is taken. 

The document is being released 10 days ahead of the start of the crucial UN Climate Conference, COP26, stressing that plastics are a climate problem as well.  

For example, in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent; by 2050, they’re projected to increase to approximately 6.5 gigatonnes. That number represents 15 per cent of the whole global carbon budget – the​​ amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted, while still keeping warming within the Paris Agreement goals. 

Recycling not enough 

Addressing solutions to the problem, the authors pour cold water on the chances of recycling our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. 

They also warn against damaging alternatives, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which currently pose a threat similar to conventional plastics. 

The report looks at critical market failures, such as the low price of virgin fossil fuel feedstocks (any renewable biological material that can be used directly as a fuel) compared to recycled materials, disjointed efforts in informal and formal plastic waste management, and the lack of consensus on global solutions. 

Instead, the assessment calls for the immediate reduction in plastic production and consumption, and encourages a transformation across the whole value chain. 

It also asks for investments in far more robust and effective monitoring systems to identify the sources, scale and fate of plastic. Ultimately, a shift to circular approaches and more alternatives are necessary.  

Making the case for change 

For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, this assessment “provides the strongest scientific argument to date for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans, from source to sea.” 

She said that a major concern is what happens with breakdown products, such as microplastics and chemical additives, which are known to be toxic and hazardous to human and wildlife health and ecosystems. 

“The speed at which ocean plastic pollution is capturing public attention is encouraging. It is vital that we use this momentum to focus on the opportunities for a clean, healthy and resilient ocean”, Ms. Andersen argued.  

Growing problem 

Currently, plastic accounts for 85 per cent of all marine litter. 

By 2040, it will nearly triple, adding 23-37 million metric tons of waste into the ocean per year. This means about 50kg of plastic per meter of coastline. 

Because of this, all marine life, from plankton and shellfish; to birds, turtles and mammals; faces the grave risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, starvation and suffocation. 

The human body is similarly vulnerable. Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks and even common salt. They also penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air. 

In water sources, this type of pollution can cause hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and even cancer. 

Economy 

According to the report, there are also significant consequences for the global economy. 

Globally, when accounting for impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, together with the price of projects such as clean-ups, the costs were estimated to be six to 19 billion dollars per year, during 2018. 

By 2040, there could be a $100 billion annual financial risk for businesses if governments require them to cover waste management costs. It can also lead to a rise in illegal domestic and international waste disposal. 

The report will inform discussions at the UN Environment Assembly in 2022, where countries will come together to decide a way forward for more global cooperation. 

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UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection

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To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings. 

Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species. 

Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez. 

Species under threat 

UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites. 

The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  

Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official. 

Beneath the waves 

UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.  

In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems. 

Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency. 

Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.   

Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”. 

Breaking new ground 

The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.  

For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public. 

All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.  

Sustainability goal 

The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.   

“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin. 

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