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Five New Year resolutions with a green twist

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As the new year dawns, this is the perfect time to reset and rethink.

As you make your New Year’s resolutions, keep the environment in mind.

“The amount we consume to meet our needs and live our aspirations is increasing exponentially for some. Yet many do not have enough to survive. We need to rethink how to live better and lighter,” says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sustainable Lifestyles Officer Garrette Clark.

“Why not take this new year to reboot what you want out of life. Consider what is really important to you, what you really want and need. Think about experiences, being close to family and friends, and buying products that contribute to these goals and that may last longer, can be used multiple times, or enhance everyone’s well-being.

“Young entrepreneurs are showing the way. Inspired by creativity and available resources, they are creating new business models to change the world.” 

If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. UNEP’s change-maker community is happy to lead the way. Read on for inspiration so that you can kick off 2020 as a more sustainable global citizen!

Think about what you’re buying

Be conscious of what you buy. Be aware of how and where your purchases were produced by checking supply chains. Ask where your food is sourced if you are not sure. Speak up if you are served with unnecessary plastic cutlery when washable options may be available. Ask for paper and leave behind that plastic coffee lid!

These are small things you can do. But sometimes it can be hard to keep track. What can help you with this is the app Evocco, founded by Young Champion Hugh Weldon. The app aims to educate the user on the environmental impact of their food purchases. Take a photo of your food shopping receipt to receive instant information on the environmental impact of your purchases.

Specifically be aware of fast fashion—go slow

The fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global wastewater and 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

Luckily, there are alternatives. Consider an option like the 100 per cent sustainable clothing line Green Hug, founded by young change-maker Jorge Eduardo Lomeli Carrillo. He makes clothes out of garbage, consisting of 50 per cent PET bottles and 50 per cent recycled clothing. Compared to conventional clothing, the environmental impact is reduced by up to 90 per cent.

Treat yourself to plastic-free personal care products

Each year, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean. Did you know that personal care products are a major source of microplastics? They get washed away into the oceans through our bathrooms. Look for plastic-free facewash, day cream, makeup, deodorant, shampoo and other care products in 2020.

There are many eco-friendly sustainable alternatives to the traditional plastic-polluted products. Batoul El Hakim, finalist for Young Champions in 2018, founded Savvy Element. Her company aims to design safe and green chemical solutions while reducing the use of harsh substances that contribute to emissions and hazardous waste. The active ingredients and materials are native to their country of origin, extracted and produced using eco-friendly, low-energy and with low-water intensive techniques.

A good example of plastic-free personal care products are LastSwab’s q-tips, which are incredible alternative to cotton swabs. LastSwab is created to decrease the pollution of our planet and reduce our carbon footprint. It’s very easy to use LastSwab’s q-tips since you only need to wash them with soap and water after every usage. Additionally, they come in two various models and you can use them about 1000 times.

Carry your own reusable bag if you go shopping

Many shops and supermarkets provide their customers with single-use plastic bags to carry their goods. However, these bags end up harming the environment as a major source of plastic pollution. By bringing your own bag, you decrease your plastic waste.

Young change-maker Alhaji Siraji Bah found his own way to fight single-use plastic bags. He creates eco-friendly biodegradable paper bags from banana leaves to tackle plastic pollution. He has produced more than 250,000 eco-friendly bags already.

Bring utencils when you travel

Whether you eat out or order in, you will probably get disposable utensils with your meal. Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year.

An easy solution is to turn down plastic cutlery and plastic bottles when eating out or travelling. Pack your own utensils kit and water bottle when you travel or know you will be eating and drinking on the road.

You can also ask for sustainable alternatives at restaurants. Ipsita Gupta, regional finalist for Asia and the Pacific, started Project Patradya which provides 100 per cent bio degradable bio-edible bowls and cutlery.

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Serving up sustainable food

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Along with a vow to return to exercise, upping personal intake of fruit and vegetables tops the list of New Year’s resolutions for many. But what if this year’s resolution didn’t end with the eating – and extended to reducing the amount of healthy, nutritious produce that gets trashed?

That’s a commitment that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is banking on to help achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Global estimates suggest that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted every year. Those 1.3 billion tons of fruits, vegetables, grains and roots are lost through spillage or spoilage in the harvest-to-market chain, or to spoilage and discard once products hit retailers and, eventually, consumers.

In a world where malnutrition is a contributing factor to roughly 45% of deaths of children under age five in developing countries, and where consumption of highly processed foods is pushing obesity rates ever higher, remaining accountable to those New Year resolutions isn’t just personal – they’re critical for humanity.

They are also critical for the survival of the planet. Food production, consumption and waste – and how they impact the environment – will be a key topic of discussion at this year’s United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA-5), taking place online on 22-23 February 2021.

UNEP and partners are developing the world’s most comprehensive data analysis and modelling on food waste, which will be launched at the Assembly. Titled the ‘Food Waste Index’, the document will be released at UNEA-5. It offers new estimates of food waste at household, retail and food service sectors at country level, and provides a methodology that enables countries to measure and track progress on Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which aims to halve retail and consumer food waste and reduce food loss by 2030.

Food systems for the future

Agriculture and the pressure to produce cheaper, faster commodities are among the primary drivers of biodiversity loss. Resource-intensive food production that depends heavily on the use of inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and complex irrigation and energy systems means fewer wild spaces for the other creatures we share nature with, whether it’s birds, mammals, insects or microbial organisms. Meanwhile, political and economic structures are pricing farmers off their land.

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the obstacles and blockages in our global food system. We have a timely opportunity to build back better and redesign the way we grow, harvest, sell and eat the bounty of nature’s production,” said Clementine O’Connor, from UNEP’s Sustainable Food Systems Programme.

Transforming our food systems will not only help restore biodiversity and habitat but can also strengthen market opportunities for smallholder farmers – many of whom are women on the road to economic self-sufficiency through sustainable production of fruit and vegetables.

A fruitful year?

At UNEA-5, the virtual convening of representatives of UN member states, the private sector, civil society, scientists and other leaders will be an opportunity to share and adopt best practices for transforming food systems. Momentum toward sustainable food production and consumption that is generated by the Assembly will be built upon going forward in 2021, with the historic first-ever UN Food Systems Summit.

The year 2021 has also been marked by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021 to highlight the role of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, livelihoods, food security and health.

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2020, one of three warmest years on record

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The COVID-19 pandemic was not the only long-term crisis the world will remember from 2020. In terms of climate change, the year was also one of the three warmest on record, and rivalled 2016 for the top spot, the UN weather agency said on Wednesday. 

“The confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet”, said Secretary-General António Guterres

He pointed out that at 1.2 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, the world is already witnessing unprecedented weather extremes in every region and on every continent.  

“We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century”, he warned. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.”  

Powerful force 

La Niña, which began in late last year, is expected to continue into the early-middle part of 2021.   

“The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Niña event, which has a temporary cooling effect”, said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.  

La Niña and El Niño effects on average global temperatures are typically strongest in the second year of the event. 

“It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Niño warming events on record”, he added. “This is a clear indication that the global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature”.  

The extent to which the continued cooling effects of La Niña this year may temporarily diminish the overall long-term warming trend remains to be seen.  

Following atypical patterns  

WMO pointed to sustained heat and wildfires in Siberia, diminishing Arctic sea ice and record-breaking hurricanes in the Atlantic as being among the climate events that most stood out in 2020.  

The UN weather agency also reminded that temperature is just one climate change indicator. Greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content, global mean sea level, sea ice extent and extreme events are also factors. 

Backed by science 

WMO’s consolidated global temperature update incorporates information from five leading international sets of data.  

It also uses datasets that combine millions of meteorological and marine observations, including from satellites, with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmosphere.  

“The combination of observations with models makes it possible to estimate temperatures at any time and in any place across the globe, even in data-sparse areas such as the polar regions”, according to WMO.  

Looking to the future  

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels. 

However, the global average temperature in 2020 had already approached the lower limit of the temperature increase that the Agreement seeks to avert.  

Moreover, there is at least a one-in-five chance that the average global temperature will temporarily exceed 1.5 °C by 2024, according to WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, led by the United Kingdom’s Met Office. 

The 2021 Met Office annual global temperature forecast also suggests that next year will again be one of the earth’s hottest years.  

Updating its provisional December report, WMO will issue its final publication in March, which will incorporate temperature figures, information on all leading climate indicators and selected climate impacts. 

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Step up action and adapt to ‘new climate reality’-Report

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Though countries have made progress in planning for climate change adaptation, there are significant financing shortfalls in getting them to the stage where they provide real protection against droughts, floods and rising sea levels, a new UN environment report has found. 

According to the 2020 Adaptation Gap Report, released on Thursday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), as temperatures rise and climate change impacts intensify, nations must urgently step up action to adapt to the new climate reality or face serious costs, damages and losses. 

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, said in a news release announcing the findings. 

“Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest, even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing 1.5 degree Celsius.” 

Global commitment needed 

Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion, but the figure could reach up to $300 billion in 2030, and $500 billion in 2050. Almost three-quarters of nations have some adaptation plans in place, but financing and implementation fall “far short” of what is needed, according to the UNEP report. 

Stepping up public and private finance for adaptation is, therefore, urgently needed. 

“As the Secretary-General has said, we need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year … this will allow a huge step up in adaptation, in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions,” Ms. Andersen added. 

Adaptation is a key pillar of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It aims to reduce countries’ and communities’ vulnerability to climate change by increasing their ability to absorb impacts.  

Nature-based solutions 

The UNEP report also underscored the importance of nature-based solutions as low-cost options that reduce climate risks, restore and protect biodiversity, and bring benefits for communities and economies. 

Its analysis of four major climate and development funds: the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Adaptation Fund, and the International Climate Initiative (IKI), suggested that support for green initiatives with some element of nature-based solutions has risen over the last two decades.  

Cumulative investment for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects under the four funds stands at $94 billion. However, only $12 billion was spent on nature-based solutions, a tiny fraction of total adaptation and conservation finance, it added. 

Cutting emissions will reduce costs 

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the impacts and costs associated with climate change, according to the report. Achieving the 2 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement could limit losses in annual growth to up to 1.6 per cent, compared to 2.2 per cent for the 3 degrees Celsius trajectory. 

UNEP urged all nations to pursue the efforts outlined in its December 2020 Emissions Gap Report, which called for a green pandemic recovery and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that include new net-zero commitments.  

“However, the world must also plan for, finance and implement climate change adaptation to support those nations least responsible for climate change but most at risk,” the UN agency added. 

“While the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to hit the ability of countries to adapt to climate change, investing in adaptation is a sound economic decision,” it said. 

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