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New report reveals progress towards eliminating plastic pollution

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The positive scale of global efforts to prevent plastic pollution has been revealed in a new report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This new annual report is being released 12 months after the launch of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which sets out a circular economy vision for plastic.

Launched in October 2018, the Global Commitment now has over 400 organisations committed to eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging, and undertaking innovations so that all plastic packaging is 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable, as well as safely and easily circulated without becoming waste or pollution.

This report aims to provide an unprecedented level of transparency on how almost 200 businesses and governments are changing their plastic production and use to achieve this. It shows promising early progress.

“Around the world people are calling for businesses and governments to take action to stop plastic pollution. Leading businesses and governments stepped forward by signing the Global Commitment and we can now see promising early progress. This includes major commitments to reduce the use of virgin plastic, the introduction of reuse pilot projects, and unprecedented demand for recycled plastic in packaging” said, Sander Defruyt, New Plastics Economy lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “But there is a long way to go and it is crucial these efforts are accelerated and scaled, and more businesses and governments take action to eliminate plastic pollution at the source.”

Examples of corporate progress cited include: Unilever has announced it will reduce its use of virgin plastic in packaging by 50 per cent; Mars, Incorporated said it will make reductions of 25 per cent by 2025; and PepsiCo aims to reduce the use of virgin plastic in its beverage business by 20 per cent by 2025. 

Some of the most commonly identified problematic plastic items and materials are being eliminated at scale. For example, around 70 per cent of relevant signatories are eliminating single-use straws, carrier bags and carbon black plastics, and around 80 per cent are eliminating PVC from their packaging.

Beyond bans, signatories including governments like Rwanda, the UK and Chile, and cities of Sao Paulo and Austin, to name a few, are putting in place a diverse set of policy measures ranging from public procurement and extended producer responsibility schemes to public awareness campaigns, fiscal measures, and incentives for research and development.

“Addressing plastic pollution requires a fundamental system shift from a linear to a circular economy for plastic, which is at the core of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The 2019 Progress Report shows how leading businesses and governments are taking actions in such a systemic way, thus demonstrating this makes business and political sense. The benefits represent a huge opportunity, and the concerted approach leaves no excuses not to act,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director.

“We need all actors to work together in the plastic pollution crises: UN Environment Programme calls on all relevant businesses and governments to join the Global Commitment to fight against plastic pollution as part of the implementation plan ‘Towards a pollution-free planet,’” Andersen added.

Analysis carried out for the report shows that on average 60 per cent of business signatories’ plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable today. Through the Global Commitment they have committed to make this 100 per cent by 2025.

Packaged goods and retail signatories have pledged to increase recycled plastic in  packaging more than five-fold, from four to 22 per cent, by 2025. The signatories’ total demand for recycled content in packaging by 2025 will be more than 5 million tonnes annually, equivalent to keeping 25 million barrels of oil in the ground every year.

While significant investments are being made to achieve these targets, more major investment, innovation, and transformation programmes need to be developed, and more businesses and governments are urged to join the Global Commitment to ensure impact can be made at scale.

Tackling plastic waste and pollution means moving beyond recycling and the elimination of only the most commonly identified problematic packaging. Through innovation, product and supply chain redesign, and new business models, companies may reduce their overall plastic packaging use, while unlocking new economic opportunities.

Additional examples include: plastics producer Indorama Ventures has pledged to invest USD 1.5 billion towards achieving its target of producing 750,000 tonnes of recycled PET per annum by 2025; and the UK Government is mobilising approximately GBP 3 billion towards improving local collection and recycling infrastructure and packaging innovation through public-private finance initiatives. In addition, recycling companies that have signed the Global Commitment have committed to collectively quadruple the amount of recycled plastics they produce by 2025.

While more than 40 signatory companies are piloting reuse schemes, currently less than 2 per cent of plastic packaging in the signatory group is reusable, indicating a significant but underexplored opportunity. Analysis by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has shown that replacing just 20 per cent of single-use plastic packaging with reusable alternatives offers an opportunity worth at least USD 10 billion. In addition, government signatories are supporting reuse schemes in various ways, including through public awareness campaigns and education, extended producer responsibility or public-private collaboration.

The New Plastics Economy will publish the next Global Commitment progress report in Autumn 2020, and every year following up to 2025.

UN Environment

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Environment

How environmental policy can drive gender equality

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Environmental degradation has gendered impacts which need to be properly assessed and monitored to understand and adopt gender-responsive strategies and policies. While designing these, it is essential that measures targeting gender equality and women’s empowerment are adequately formulated and mainstreamed.  

To facilitate experience sharing and learning from good practices, on the 9th of September, the UNECE hosted a webinar on Gender Mainstreaming in Environmental Policies and Strategies. Ms. Astrid Krumwiede, head of the unit in charge of the development and application of gender aspects in environmental policy in the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, shared experiences from Germany, which considers gender equality to be a cross cutting issue for all areas of environmental policy. On the national level, the Ministry for the Environment has sought to integrate gender equality in various ways, such as through dialogues, meetings, guidelines, education and policies. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the fragility of progress made in gender equality, the Federal Government adopted an economic stimulus package that includes measures to provide financial assistance for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Germany has also strived for the implementation of gender mainstreaming in environmental policy at the international level, which is especially true in the field of climate change in the context of measures and strategies concerning the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement.

Despite progress made, there are still some long-standing barriers to implementing gender mainstreaming. These include a lack of political support, a lack of women in decision making and leadership positions, insufficient representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related professions, and outdated stereotypes. Moving forward, capacity building and equality impact assessment trainings need to be gender responsive so that suitable incentives are provided which enable women to participate. Communication and promotion are of vital importance, especially in finding new ways to communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that gender equality remains a focal issue. Incorporating an intersectional approach to gender equality in environmental policy is also essential, since ignoring this in policymaking can create a system that creates and reinforces different forms of discrimination.

Looking to the future, in the words of Ms. Astrid Krumwiede, “it is time for tailor made environmental policies which reflect different needs and requirements for different people”.

The webinar was complemented by perspectives from UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews and the Protocol on Water and Health on the specific examples of gender mainstreaming in environmental reviews and water, sanitation and hygiene.

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Climate Heat Maps Show How Hot It Could Get for Today’s Tweens

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Climate-related impacts such as the wildfires in the western United States will only become more severe if we allow the worst-case scenario to unfold by 2100. A new EarthTime visualization shows just how hot the world may become in 2100, within the life expectancy of today’s tween, 10-12-year olds.

The findings, announced at the fourth World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, place even more urgency on business and government leaders to fast-track solutions and act now to prevent such a scenario unfolding.

Experts attempting to rank the severity of climate change scenarios likely to play out by the year 2100 refer to the worst of them as “RCP 8.5.” This entails more than 4°C in warming above pre-industrial levels, rising emissions, hundreds of millions of people being forced to migrate, and a big increase in forested area prone to the type of fires that have raged this summer (due to a phenomenon dubbed the “moisture deficit”).

The World Economic Forum has used data from the Climate Impact Lab, Climate Central, the Washington Post, and NASA satellites to create a visualization of this worst-case scenario.

The data model shows that by 2100:

Average June-August temperatures reach 38°C (100.4°F) for many parts of the world

New Delhi, India, has eight months a year with temperatures averaging 32ºC (89.6°F) up from six

Phoenix, Arizona, has nearly 200 days a year of temperatures hitting at least 32ºC (89.6°F)

Regions of southern Europe average June-August temperatures of 30°C (86°F)

Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia’s June-August temperatures average more than 30°C (86°F)

Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, disappear under water due to rising sea levels

“Longer-term trends can often seem abstract and intangible,” said Stephan Mergenthaler, Head of Strategic Intelligence at the World Economic Forum. “Visualizing the effects of these trends, based on the latest scientific data, can help people take action and work towards shared goals.”

Experts agree that the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided if we limit global warming to below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. Effective climate policies, fighting efforts to discredit legitimate science, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or offsetting it by planting new forests, and upgrading transportation and energy systems can all be part of the equation.

“To speed up the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals and create change, we need to get as many people involved as possible,” said John Dutton, Head of UpLink at the World Economic Forum. “Anyone can make an impact. We have seen the next generation of change-markers and social entrepreneurs stand up and create action plans on the UpLink platform to make sure we don’t see this visualization come true. Connecting these ideas to funding sources, scaling up impact and creating a community of support will help us address the critical opportunities ahead for this generation.”

Innovative projects on the UpLink platform include how to reduce emissions by buying and selling unused shipping container space, how to use waste management and data analytics to reduce plastic in the ocean, and how to create packaging made from sustainably farmed seaweed. Projects allow start-ups to flag what they need to succeed and connect them with software developers, funders, or resources to deliver impact.

80 EarthTime Stories

The climate visualization is one of nearly 80 EarthTime stories that have so far been published alongside hundreds of related topics on the Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform. They cover a broad range of issues including environmental protection, technology development, intellectual property trends and systemic racism. These visualizations are intended to help illustrate important global trends and dynamics in an easy-to-understand, readily accessible way.

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Rosewood conservation: A success story from Madagascar

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Edmond (right) and Nirina (left) are involved in a UNEP project to replant endangered rosewood trees in Madagascar. So far, the initiative has cultivated more than 2,000 saplings. Photo by Adolphe Lehavana/Missouri Botanical Garden

For Madagascar farmer Edmond, who goes by one name, it was a breakthrough. In 2019 he perfected a complicated technique to grow a rare species of tree known as Dalbergia normandii.

The plants hail from a valuable, and difficult-to-propagate family of trees known as rosewoods, which have been felled near to the point of extinction in many parts of Madagascar.

“This year is one of the happiest years of my life because the time I spent on this technique was not in vain,” said Edmond, 60, who lives in Ambodimanga village on Madagascar’s eastern coast. “This time, luck is with me.”

Edmond is working on a rosewood conservation project coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its aim is to safeguard a group of trees that is the world’s most trafficked wild product by value and volume. From Guatemala to Madagascar to Thailand to Zambia, rosewoods have been targeted by timber traffickers who seek to profit especially from its growing demand in China and Viet Nam, principally for furniture.

“Over the last decade, the share of total rosewood imports to China coming from Africa has steadily increased, with a portion of this share suspected to have been illegally sourced in or exported from Africa,” says a July 2020 report by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  

To help reverse this trend, in 2017 UNEP, Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, and local partners launched a Global Environment Facility-funded project titled Conservation of key, threatened, endemic and economically valuable species. The project, which runs till 2022, seeks to reduce the threats to 21 economically important but threatened species at 18 sites in Madagascar. The production of large quantities of healthy new rosewood plants is critical to the project’s success.

The Pointe à Larrée protected area, on the coast in central-eastern Madagascar, currently managed by Missouri Botanical Garden, is one of the project sites. It’s home to 13 species targeted by the project, including six species of Dalbergia, most of them rosewood. (All species of Dalbergia fall within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix II.)

Rosewood species “threatened for decades”

“These species have been threatened for decades due to commercial exploitation for their very valuable `precious wood’ and habitat loss due to slash-and-burn cultivation,” says Adolphe Lehavana, project manager at Pointe à Larrée and an employee of Missouri Botanical Garden, an international non-governmental organization mandated by Madagascar to manage the protected area.

“Population levels for some species are now critically low and they seemed doomed to local extinction since isolated trees fail to produce seeds.

“For example, within the landscape, including the protected area, researchers have been able to locate just 10 remaining individuals of Dalbergia maritima and just one remaining individual of Dalbergia louvelii – all outside the protected area,” he adds.

Through the project, resources are now being mobilized to prevent the local extinction of these very rare species by reinforcing the wild population as part of an ecological restoration programme.

In 2019 the team produced 2,328 young rosewood plants using the technique developed by Edmond, the farmer. Known as air-layering, it allows conservationists to grow new roots from a plant’s branches which can then be deposited into the ground. The rosewoods have been used, with other native tree species, to enrich around 10 hectares of degraded forest. To date, the survival rate of young rosewoods has been nearly 100 per cent.

The project contributes to the objectives of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework in Madagascar (2015-2019), providing vulnerable populations with employment opportunities and supporting sustainable development. It is also part of the broader effort to conserve biodiversity as set out in The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, published by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Through activities such as forest enrichment and restoration, the conservation of endemic species also contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 15, which aims to safeguard forests and protect biodiversity.

UN Environment

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