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Meet the Climate Heroes Coming to Davos

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This year’s World Economic Forum 2020 Annual Meeting will be more action-oriented than ever. Or, in the words of Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, a “Do shop, not a talk shop.” Helping bring about systemic change to return our planet to a sustainable path will be an unprecedented number of leaders from across civil society making progress at the community, national and global level, including:

Teenage changemakers

Fionn Ferreira (Netherlands): as a young scientist, Fionn has created a project extracting micro plastics from water and aims to prevent them from reaching oceans.

Ayakha Melithafa (South Africa): this 17 year-old South African advocates for low-carbon footprint in her community and advocates for the inclusion of diverse voices in climate activism.

Autumn Peltier (Canada): Autumn has been advocating for water conservation since the age of 8 and is Anishinabek’s Chief Water Commissioner, representing over 40 First Nations in Canada.

Greta Thunberg (Sweden): Greta is an International climate activist and leader of the school strike for climate movement

Melati Wijsen (Indonesia): with her initiative Bye Bye Plastics that she founded with her sister, she has banned plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam on Bali since 2019.

Civil Society and Academia

Gary Bencheghib (Indonesia): Gary’s film-making has brought home the impact of environmental degradation to millions of people. For example in a film he made navigating the world’s most polluted river in Java in a kayak made of plastic bottles

Kerstin Forsberg (Peru): Kerstin has lead dozens of community-based environmental projects in Peru, engaging hundreds of citizen scientists and over 50 schools in marine education.

Salvador Gómez-Colón (Puerto Rico): after Huricanne Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Salvador developed project ‘Light and Hope’ which supported over 3000 families with solar lamps and manual washing machines.

Jane Goodall (USA): A world-renowned primatologist, Jane’s work has paved redefined the relationship between humans and animals

Krithi Karanth (India): As Chief Conservation Scientist and Director of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Kirithi’s work focuses on human-animal conflict and land use change

Wanjuhi Njoroge (Kenya): A Global Shaper, Wanjuhi founded #SaveOurForestsKE a campaign that raised awareness about the decimation of forests and led to a nine-month ban on national forest logging in the country.

Carlos Afonso Nobre (Brazil): Carlos dedicated his career to the Amazon region and developed pioneer research on the climate impacts of deforestation.

Johan Rockström (Germany): Johan’s work developing the planetary boundaries framework that facilitates human development while defending the planet’s boundaries is regarded as seminal.

Lord Nicholas Stern (UK): Lord Stern’s seminal 2006 study on the economics of climate change was the first of its kind to quantify the cost of climate change.

Holly Syrett (Netherlands): Holly led a grassroots approach in 40 cities for citizens to re-use, re-purpose, buy less, buy second-hand and use their purchasing-power to support items that respect people and planet.

Neel Tamhane (Bangladesh): Neel’s citizen-led tree-planting drive has already planted 9 billion trees in 27 cities in South Asia.

Asha de Vos (Sri Lanka): Asha founded the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project in 2008, the first long term study on blue whales within the northern Indian Ocean

The World Economic Forum is also showcasing a series of installations, including Partnering with Nature, developed in collaboration with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, the Algae Platform by Atelier Luma and Department of Seaweed by Julia Lohmann, two projects exploring the potential of algae as an alternative to conventional materials such as plastic; and Totomoxtle by designer Fernando Laposse which aims to reintroduce native varieties and restore indigenous farming practices in Mexico.

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Biodiversity ‘fundamental’ for global food systems, at “heart’ of development

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Because the production of everything we eat transforms the environment, the United Nations agriculture chief told a high-level UN meeting on biodiversity that careful discussions are needed to decide on the scale of acceptable transformations. 

Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told negotiators on Monday that as agriculture and food systems are “at the heart of the concept of sustainable development”, they are central to deliberations regarding the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, which is expected to be adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference in October. 

“Biodiversity is fundamental for ecosystems, for human beings, and is the basis of food diversity,” said Mr. Qu, opening the second meeting of the Open-ended Working Group established by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which FAO is hosting. 

He spoke about the enormous challenge of feeding more than nine billion people in 2050 – in ways that assure healthy diets while not overexploiting natural resources. 

“I know that the world is eagerly waiting out there for demonstrable progress towards a clear, actionable and transformative global framework on biodiversity,” said the Acting Executive Secretary of the CBD, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. 

The FAO chief signaled his hope for a “robust” outcome at the UN Biodiversity Conference that will be held in Kunming, China. The framework decided there will set the course for the next 10 years and beyond. 

Leading the call 

Mr. Qu noted that FAO has shepherded “many milestones” of UN efforts to achieve biodiversity conservation. 

He highlighted the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as well as knowledge products, such as last year’s The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

He also pointed out that FAO provides keystone functional services, such as data collection and dissemination, standard-setting, policy consultation and capacity building – all useful in protecting biological diversity. 

The FAO Director-General concluded by urging the delegations to ensure that biodiversity is an integral part of the issues discussed at the 2021 World Food Systems Summit, which will be hosted by the UN Secretary General and aims to maximize the co-benefits of a food systems approach across the entire 2030 Agenda and meet the challenges of climate change. 

The CBD, which entered into force in December 1993 and currently has 196 Parties, aims to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. 

 This is a ‘super year’ for the environment – a make or break year in which key international meetings, including on the Ocean (Lisbon) and a proposed ‘Nature’ summit in New York this coming September, will set the tone and agenda for environmental action in the decade ahead. 

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Towards advancing green business and circular economy in Africa

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Policy makers and stakeholders across Africa are meeting to chart green economy opportunities in the agriculture sector under the lead of the Switch Africa Green programme. The forum – under the theme Advancing Green Business and Circular Economy in Africa – is organized by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment.

A regional framework on advancing green business and circular economy is a pathway to the achievement of a green economy, ensuring replication and scaling-up of green business in Africa. It is against this backdrop that the meeting – taking place on 24 and 25 February in Kampala, Uganda – will discuss the avenues and approaches to implementing a circular economy and scaling the continent’s green businesses.

“The Switch Africa Green Programme already promotes circular approaches, including the promotion of biogas technology; E-waste management; promoting organic agriculture, green manufacturing and eco-industrial parks, and through standards and labelling in the hotel industry, among others,” said Frank Turyatunga, Deputy Director of UNEP’s Africa Office. “It is important that the lessons learnt and knowledge shared among countries result in regional harmonization of policies and ensure maximum impact and effective implementation at the national level.”

The forum brings officials from the SWITCH Africa Green partner countries of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda and other stakeholders involved in promoting an inclusive green economy such as policy makers, business associations, the private sector, financial institutions, regional economic communities, development organisations and civil society organisations.

“Tackling emerging environmental challenges may require seizing opportunities like an inclusive green economy that are core to sustainable development and have multiple benefits such as environmental protection, and notably create growth and jobs creation. Key enablers for the transition, include access to green financing, enabling policies and standards, awareness, networking and green businesses with innovative solutions,” said Dr. Tom Okurut, the Executive Director of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority.

SWITCH Africa Green aims to turn environmental challenges into opportunities based on the understanding that an inclusive green economy is at the core of sustainable development and has multiple benefits next to environmental protection, notably growth and jobs creation, poverty reduction, economic diversification, and income generation. The programme focuses on key enablers for the transition, including access to green financing, enabling policies and standards, circular practices, awareness and skills on eco-entrepreneurship and innovative solutions. 

“The New European Consensus on Development – essentially the EU’s response to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – seeks to accelerate transformation by placing an emphasis on cross-cutting elements of development policy such as sustainable energy and climate action, along with investment and trade, employment, gender equality, youth, good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights, migration and mobility,” said Pavlos Evangelidis, head of cooperation, European Union Delegation in Uganda.

Launched in 2014, Switch Africa Green has been steering seven African countries towards sustainable consumption and productions patterns, while also generating economic growth. In the past four years, the programme has achieved widespread success by providing 3,000 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with training, pilot demonstrations and skills-development on sustainable consumption and production practices.

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Afghan youth are helping shape the country’s first national environmental policy

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Photo: UN Environment

Over 40 years of conflict and insecurity have taken their toll on Afghanistan in countless ways. Amongst the casualties, nature. For example, interminable conflict has increased deforestation across the country, exacerbating the risk of landslides, flooding and other disasters. Wildlife has also been punished by the continuous warfare, with rampant poaching and denuded habitats causing a significant degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem health in many parts of the country.

Over the course of time, the complexity of social and security challenges in Afghanistan has often pushed these environmental issues to the backburner.

And now, climate change is impeding the country’s ability to address social and security challenges. Impacts from a hotter planet are accelerating environmental problems that have long been neglected, leading to worsening water insecurity, land degradation and desertification.

Environmental issues have become impossible to ignore. That’s why the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been supporting Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency to develop its first National Environmental Policy.

But just as Afghanistan’s environment has suffered from conflict, so too has its young population, with a significant population of its citizens under the age of 15.

For the youth of Afghanistan, development cannot ignore a healthy environment. As Mustafa Sarwar, a student at Kabul University, explained, “My dream for Afghanistan’s environment is to live in a city without waste, noise, water and air pollution.”

Bringing Afghanistan’s young people into the conversation has been an important part of the development of the National Environmental Policy. Late in 2019, UNEP facilitated several workshops with youth from Kabul, Kandahar, Balkh and Herat provinces to give them a voice in shaping the future of the country’s environmental policies. The project engaged 120 university students, putting an emphasis on gender representation.

Lisa Guppy, UNEP’s Regional Coordinator for Disasters and Conflicts in Asia and the Pacific, said, “Environmental challenges are becoming increasingly crucial to the overall development of Afghanistan. We have been humbled by the input we’ve received from young people in the development of the National Environmental Policy. There’s a great awareness that this policy can improve their well-being and the country’s success down the line.”

Participants in the workshops shared their perspectives on environmental priorities, risks and solutions, with many raising concerns that they are the ones who must face the reality of climate change in their lifetime.

Students from Balkh University expressed concerns regarding the increasing impact of climate change and population growth on the water supply. They noted that over the last few years extensive drought has been the most serious and impactful environmental change.

Students from Kabul University, meanwhile, emphasised the impact of air pollution. Due to the cost of energy, many residents of Kabul turn to burning plastic, cloths, rubber and other cheap alternatives. Air pollution has gotten so bad in Kabul recently that 17 died from hazardous air conditions in the last week of 2019 alone.

Participants were also asked questions around which concepts can best enable a National Environmental Policy given Afghanistan’s challenging context. This included determining practical ways to engage local stakeholders in the policymaking process and how they believe the environmental agenda could be raised as a higher priority. Participants across the board underlined that diversity in religion and traditions should be considered in developing environmental policy. Communities must also be central, they said.

In January 2020, the collected views were presented at the first inter-Ministerial National Environment Policy planning event, led by the National Environment Protection Agency of Afghanistan.

“As we move forward with developing an innovative, climate-smart National Environmental Policy for Afghanistan, the participation and views of these young people are indispensable,” said Guppy. “It’s their future. They must have a say in it.”

UN Environment

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