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Are Nature Based Solutions the key to Africa’s climate response?

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While the UN climate talks are celebrating their 25th year, carbon emissions around the world have continued to climb. For many, that is where natural solutions could play a key role in managing a dramatic climate transition.

Nature-based solutions or the process of working with and around natural ecosystems to deliver real-world benefits for climate resilience and sustainable development, took center stage on day 4 of COP25 in Madrid).

The African Development Bank has three main approaches to nature-based solutions; namely, restoring damaged ecosystems (land, forests and water bodies), conserving biodiversity, and integrated natural resources management.

Vanessa Ushie, Manager of the Policy Analysis Division at the Bank’s African Natural Resource Centre, briefed delegates at COP 25 about the Centre’s work during a panel discussion on Tuesday.

“Nature-based solutions are easy to use, and very effective in improving community livelihoods and resilience to climate change. The AfDB is scaling up the use of nature-based solutions to address climate impacts on critical ecosystems and biodiversity in Africa,” Ushie said.

UN biodiversity expert Valerie Kapos described a range of natural solutions being implemented across Africa, and around the world. These included protecting rivers, forests, and marine solutions, to benefit local economies.

“We need to be applying that argument to whichever solutions we are choosing,” said Kapos, Head of Climate Change and Biodiversity at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

This is definitely true for the Seychelles, which has been appointed by the African Union to be the champion of the blue or ocean economy across the continent. While the continent is known for its deserts and jungles, a blue economic transition will be essential for the 48 coastal states that collectively make up the world’s longest coastline.

“We have protected 47% of our land, and are moving toward 50%. But our ocean territory is 3,000 times bigger than our land territory, and we are on track to protect 30% of that area,” said Ronald Jumeau, Permanent Representative of the Seychelles at the UN.

This was made possible by one of the world’s biggest debt-swap programs. The debt-for-nature deal was made possible through The Nature Conservancy, which bought the island nation’s $400 million sovereign debt at a discount. That money will be re-invested in nature conservation programmes.

“Through this program we have funded mangrove restoration and climate education programmes,” said Angelique Pouponneau, who runs a Seychelles-based trust fund focusing on climate adaptation and conservation.

Ushie from the African Development Bank pointed out that “one thing we are looking at is changing the way in which lending is being channeled to Africa, and how nature can be integrated in the measurement of national wealth and sovereign credit ratings for African countries.”

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‘Lifeline’ of renewable energy can steer world out of climate crisis

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Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rises, ocean heat levels and acidification, all set new records during 2021, while some glaciers reached the point of no return, according to the latest flagship report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), published on Wednesday.

The State of the Climate 2021 indicates that extreme weather – the day-to-day face of climate change – wreaked a heavy toll of human lives, triggered shocks for food and water security, and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses last year.

The report, which describes yet more clear signs that human activity is causing harm on a planetary scale – to our land, ocean and atmosphere – also confirms that the past seven years have been the warmest on record, with global temperature in 2021 reaching about 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.

It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record. Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come”, warned WMO chief Petteri Taalas. “Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented”.

A plan for renewables

Calling the report, a “dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that while time is running out to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, there is a ‘lifeline’ right in front of us.

“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition before we incinerate our only home… Transforming energy systems is low-hanging fruit”, he emphasized in a video message.

Highlighting that renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar are readily available and in most cases, cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels, the UN chief proposed five critical actions to jump-start the energy transition, which he called the “peace project of the 21st century”.

1.    Treating renewable energy technologies as essential global public goods

This means removing obstacles to knowledge sharing and technological transfer, including intellectual property constraints.

Mr. Guterres called for a new global coalition on battery storage led by governments and bringing together tech companies, manufacturers and financiers to fast-track innovation and deployment.

2.    Secure, scale up and diversify the supply components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies

Supply chains for renewable energy technology and raw materials are concentrated in a handful of countries, and more international coordination is needed to overcome this obstacle.

3.    Build frameworks and reform fossil fuel bureaucracies

The UN chief is calling for governments to fast-track and streamline approvals of solar and wind projects, modernize grids and set ambitious renewable energy targets that provide certainty to investors, developers, consumers and producers.

4.    Shift subsidies away from fossil fuels

Each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels – more than triple the subsidies given to renewables.

“While people suffer from high prices at the pump, the oil and gas industry is raking in billions from a distorted market. This scandal must stop”, Guterres highlights.

5.    Private and public investments in renewable energy must triple

The UN chief is calling for and adjustment to risk frameworks and more flexibility to scale up renewable finance.

“it’s time to jump-start the renewable energy transition before it’s too late”, the Secretary-General urged.

Climate emergency

The UN chief’s plan is long overdue, at a time when extreme weather continues to impact the lives of millions in recent weeks, as seen with the drought emergency in the Horn of Africa, the deadly floods in South Africa, and the extreme heat in India and Pakistan.

The WMO State of the Global Climate report complements the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which only included data up to 2019, and it will be used as a negotiation document during the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Egypt (COP 27) later this year.

Here are some of its key findings:

·       Greenhouse gas concentrations

Levels reached a new global high in 2020 and continued to increase in 2021, with the concentration of carbon dioxide reaching 413.2 parts per million globally, a 149% increase on pre-industrial levels.

“We have broken records in main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide and especially the record in carbon dioxide is striking; we haven’t seen any improvement despite of the lockdowns caused by COVID in 2020, so the concentrations continue growing”, explains WMO chief Petteri Taalas.

·       Ocean heat

Another record high. The upper 2,000m depth of ocean water continued to warm in 2021 and it is expected that it will continue to warm in the future – a change which is irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales, and affects deeply marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.

·       Ocean acidification

Because of the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) the ocean is absorbing (some 23% of annual emissions), its waters are increasingly acidifying.

This has consequences for organisms and ecosystems, and also threatens human food security and tourism.

The decreasing PH level also means the ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere also decreases.

“90 per cent of the excess heat that we have produced to the planet, they are stored in ocean”, informs Prof. Taalas.

Sea-level rise

Sea level increased a record of 4.5 mm per year over the period 2013-2021, mainly due to the accelerated loss of ice mass from the ice sheets.

This has major implications for hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers and increases vulnerability to tropical cyclones.

 ·       Cryosphere

The world’s glaciers that scientists use as a reference have thinned by 33.5 meters since 1950, with 76% happening since 1980.

In 2021, glaciers in Canada and the US Northwest had a record ice mass loss because of heatwaves and fires in June and July.

Greenland also experienced an exceptional mid-August melt and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point.

·       Heatwaves

The heat broke records across western North America and the Mediterranean in 2021.  Death Valley, California reached 54.4 °C on 9 July, equalling a similar 2020 value as the highest recorded in the world since at least the 1930s, and Syracuse in Sicily reached 48.8 °C.

A heatwave in British Columbia, Canada caused more than 500 deaths and fuelled devastating wildfires.

Flooding and Droughts

Flooding caused economic losses of US$17.7 billion in Henan province of China, as well as 20 billion in Germany. It was also a factor leading to heavy loss of life.

Droughts affected many parts of the world, including the Horn of Africa, South America, Canada, the western United States, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.

The drought in the Horn of Africa has intensified through 2022. Eastern Africa is facing the very real prospect that the rains will fail for a fourth consecutive season, placing Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia into a drought of a length not experienced in the last 40 years.

“These [climate] impacts are unevenly distributed. If you’re living in Central America, South America, Central, East or West Africa, South Asia or in a Small Island Developing State, you’re 15 times more likely to die from climate-related impact or a climate-related weather extreme”, explains Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action, Selwin Hart. 

·       Food security

The compounded effects of conflict, extreme weather events and economic shocks, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, undermined decades of progress towards improving food security globally.

Worsening humanitarian crises in 2021 have also led to a growing number of countries at risk of famine. Of the total number of undernourished people in 2020, more than half live in Asia (418 million) and a third in Africa (282 million).

“There’s a component coming from this COVID crisis, and there’s a high risk now because of the war in Ukraine that we will see major hunger problems”, adds Prof. Taalas.

·       Displacement: 

Hazards related to water events continued to contribute to internal displacement. The countries with the highest numbers of displacements recorded as of October 2021 were China (more than 1.4 million), the Philippines (more than 386,000) and Viet Nam (more than 664,000). 

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World Migratory Bird Day illuminates the dark side of light pollution

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Governments, cities, companies, and communities around the world are taking action to address a significant and growing threat to wildlife, including many species of migratory birds – light pollution.

The issue is the focus for World Migratory Bird Day, observed this Saturday, 14 April, under the theme “Dim the Lights for Birds at Night.”

Light pollution is increasing, with artificially lit outdoor areas rising by 2.2 per cent per year from 2012 to 2016, according to one study cited by the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a UN environmental treaty.

Currently, more than 80 per cent of the world’s population is estimated to live under a “lit sky”, and the figure is closer to 99 per cent in Europe and North America. 

Altering natural patterns

“Natural darkness has a conservation value in the same way as clean water, air, and soil. A key goal of World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is to raise awareness of the issue of light pollution and its negative impacts on migratory birds,” said Amy Fraenkel, the CMS Executive Secretary. 

Artificial light alters natural patterns of light and dark within ecosystems, and contributes to the deaths of millions of birds each year.

Light pollution can cause birds to change their migration patterns, foraging behaviours and vocal communication, resulting in disorientation and collisions.  

Disorientation and death

Migrating birds are attracted to artificial light at night – particularly when there are low cloud conditions, fog, rain, or when flying at lower altitudes –  luring them to dangers in cities.

Birds become disorientated and, as a result, may end up circling in illuminated areas. With their energy reserves depleted, they risk exhaustion, or worse.

“Many nocturnally migrating birds such as ducks, geese, plovers, sandpipers and songbirds are affected by light pollution causing disorientation and collisions with fatal consequences,” said Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), another UN treaty.

“Seabirds such as petrels and shearwaters are attracted by artificial lights on land and become prey for rats and cats.” 

Safer skies

Two years ago, countries that are party to the CMS endorsed guidelines on light pollution covering marine turtles, seabirds, and migratory shorebirds.

The recommendations call for Environmental Impact Assessments to be conducted for projects that could result in light pollution.  

Projects should consider the main sources of light pollution at a certain site, the likely wild species to be affected, and facts about proximity to important habitats and migratory pathways.

New guidelines focused on migratory landbirds and bats are currently being developed and will be presented for adoption at a CMS conference next year.

Solutions to light pollution are readily available, said Ms. Frankel. More and more cities worldwide are taking measures to dim building lights during migration phases in spring and autumn, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Call to action

World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice a year, on the second Saturday in May and October, in recognition of the cyclical nature of bird migration and the different peak migration periods in the northern and southern hemispheres.

It is organized by a collaborative partnership among the two UN wildlife treaties and the non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA).

“World Migratory Bird Day is a call to action for international migratory bird conservation,” said Susan Bonfield, the EFTA Director. 

“As migratory birds’ journey across borders, inspiring and connecting people along the way, it is our aim to use the two days in 2022 to raise awareness of the threat of light pollution and the importance of dark skies to bird migrations.”

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UN focus on plant health, crucial for boosting food security worldwide

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On the very first International Day of Plant Health, marked on Thursday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for more investment in innovation to boost food security, especially for the billions worldwide living close to the bread line.

Plants under threat

Healthy plants have the power to help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development. But even though plants make up 80 per cent of the food we eat, and provide 98 per cent of the oxygen we breathe, threats to their survival in many cases, are piling up.

According to recent data, up to 40 per cent of food crops are lost due to plant pests and diseases every year, and this affects both food security and agriculture, the main source of income for vulnerable rural communities.

Climate change and human activities are also altering ecosystems and damaging biodiversity while creating new niches for pests to thrive in. 

Furthermore, FAO says that protecting plants from pests and diseases is far more cost effective than dealing with plant health emergencies. That is because once established, plant pests and diseases are often difficult to eradicate, and need to be controlled through sustainable pest and pesticides management.

Human health depends on plants

“On this very first International Day of Plant Health, we reflect on plant health innovations for food security,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, adding that investments are needed in research to find more resilient and sustainable additions to the human diet.

“We need to continue raising the global profile of plant health to transform agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable”, he continued.

The protection of plants is essential for people and for the planet, and that is why the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has mapped several priorities for plant health, coinciding with the inaugural Day.

Focusing on sustainable pest management and pesticides through promotion of green and digital plant protection; and creating enabling surroundings for plant health by enhancing the health of soils, seeds, and pollinators, are among the main priorities.

FAO is calling on governments to prioritize plant health and its sustainable management in formulating policies and legislation, and on academia and research institutions to deliver science-based solutions.

Why an International Day?

Having been established as a key legacy of the International Year of Plant Health 2020, the International Day of Plant Health (IDPH) was designated to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity and the environment, and boost economic development.

Championed by Zambia, it was unanimously adopted in a General-Assembly resolution co-signed by Bolivia, Finland, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania.

Following the first IDPH this year, FAO will organize celebrations for the Day every 12 May at global, regional, national levels, and even potentially, down on a farm, near you.

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