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Making the impossible possible

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photo: UN Environment

Sitting at a bus stop one day when she was 16, When Miranda Wang saw someone throw a plastic bottle into a trash bin, even though the recycling bin was right next to it.

“It just made me realize that the problem is so much bigger than the behavior of individual people,” she said. “Globally, only 9 per cent of plastics produced are actually recycled. That’s because as a society, we lack recycling technologies that can make virgin-quality products from plastic waste.”

“My project is a social impact startup developing and scaling up a new technology to recycle unrecyclable plastics. Over the past year, the project has snowballed, and we are seeing massive interest in this area,” she said.

Since starting up her company BioCellection, and winning the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champions of the Earth prize in 2018, twenty-five-year-old Wang and her team have invented a US$ 5 million technology that breaks down plastics into chemical building blocks, upcycling them into higher value materials for manufacturing.

The first engineering drawings for the technology scale-up have been completed, and multiple materials from the resulting purified compounds from breaking down plastics have been tested.

The company has already completed two thirds of a pilot programme to test the technology at scale with the City of San José, California, United States, and other tests have already been completed with Google among others.  

The team has expanded, with eight new hires instead of the projected four, winning grants and prizes including the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Pritzker Environmental Genius Award and MIT Solve.

In addition to refining the recycling technology, Wang has appeared in magazines including TIME, the New York Times, Monocle, Marie Claire, National Geographic and many others over the last 12 months.  

Why not become part of a global movement, and tell us what you are doing to turn the tide on plastic pollution. Take the Clean Seas pledge!

Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Stay tuned here to follow stories of previous winners and changemakers.

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Mobile game aims to bridge gap between citizens and leaders on climate action

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UN staff and their families gather at UN Headquarters in New York in support of the youth-led global climate strike. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Millions of people worldwide will get to share their views on climate action through a UN campaign launched on Thursday aimed at connecting them with Governments and policy makers. 

The Mission 1.5 campaign is built around an internet and mobile video game that educates people about climate policy and allows them to vote on possible solutions. 

The campaign was developed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), alongside experts in game development, climate science and public polling. 

“Together with partners from across the private and public sectors, we have the ability with this campaign to connect millions of people with their governments in an innovative two-way discussion on solutions to the climate crisis, and increase ambition ahead of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow later this year”, said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. 

Mission 1.5 takes its name from the collective effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed by world leaders meeting in Paris in 2015. 

Described as the world’s biggest survey of public opinion on climate change, it aims to give 20 million people a chance to have their say. A previous survey ahead of the Paris talks canvassed 10,000 people in 76 countries. 

Players will take on the role of climate policymakers who make decisions to meet the 1.5 degree goal. 

Afterwards, they will vote on key climate actions that they would like to see adopted. The data will be analyzed and delivered to Governments. 

The hope is that the game will bridge the gap between citizens and governments on climate action.  

“People often feel disconnected from the leaders that must make urgent decisions on the climate crisis,” said Cassie Flynn, UNDP Climate Change Advisor. 

“Mission 1.5 is a way to help people understand climate solutions and make their voices heard. In many ways, it is the People’s Climate Vote.” 

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WWF: US Will Suffer World’s Biggest Economic Impact Due to Nature Loss

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A new World Wildlife Fund report reveals for the first time the countries whose economies would be worst affected over the next 30 years if the world doesn’t act urgently to address the global environmental crisis.

The study, Global Futures, which calculated the economic cost of nature’s decline across 140 countries ranging from India to Brazil, shows that if the world carries on with “business as usual,” the United States would see the largest losses of annual GDP in absolute terms, with $83 billion wiped off its economy each year by 2050 – an amount equivalent to the entire annual GDP of Guatemala.

“This groundbreaking report shows that the U.S. will suffer the world’s biggest economic impact due to nature loss,” said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist, World Wildlife Fund. “We cannot envision a just and stable country, and a prosperous economy, if forests disappear, pollinators vanish, biodiversity collapses and rivers and the ocean are depleted. Continuing with business as usual could lead to disastrous outcomes. We need governments and corporations to halt nature loss and tackle this planetary emergency.”

The Global Futures study used new economic and environmental modeling to assess what the macroeconomic impact would be if the world pursued “business as usual,” including widespread and land-use change, continued increase in emissions of greenhouse gases, and further loss of natural habitats. It found this status quo approach would cost the world at least $479 billion a year, adding up to $9.87 trillion by 2050 – roughly equivalent to the combined economies of the UK, France, India and Brazil.

In contrast, under a scenario in which land-use is carefully managed to avoid further loss of areas important for biodiversity and ecosystem services, which the study terms the ‘Global Conservation’ scenario, economic outcomes would be dramatically better, with global GDP rising by $490 billion per year above the business as usual calculation.

Japan and the UK also stand to lose staggering amounts – $80 billion and $21 billion every year respectively. The projected economic losses in the United States, Japan and UK are due largely to expected damage to their coastal infrastructure and agricultural land through increased flooding and erosion as a result of losses of natural coastal defenses such as coral reefs and mangroves.

Developing countries will also be badly affected, with Eastern and Western Africa, central Asia and parts of South America hit particularly hard, as nature loss impacts on production levels, trade and food prices. According to the report, the top three countries predicted to lose the most as a percentage of their GDP are Madagascar , Togo and Vietnam , which by 2050 are expected to respectively see declines of 4.2 percent, 3.4 percent and 2.8 percent per year.

“It’s difficult for many people to conceptualize the true value of nature and the many benefits it provides to humanity,” says Shaw. “This report translates nature loss into country-specific economic terms – a tangible and powerful way to galvanize action from private sector leaders and government officials.”

This pioneering method of analysis was created through a partnership between WWF , the Global Trade Analysis Project at Purdue University, and the Natural Capital Project, co-founded by the University of Minnesota.

Steve Polasky, Co-Founder of the Natural Capital Project, said: “The world’s economies, businesses and our own well-being all depend on nature. But from climate change, extreme weather and flooding to water shortages, soil erosion and species extinctions, evidence shows that our planet is changing faster than at any other time in history. The way we feed, fuel and finance ourselves is destroying the life-support systems on which we depend, risking global economic devastation.”

Thomas Hertel, Executive Director of the Global Trade and Analysis Project, said: “The science and economics are clear. We can no longer ignore the strong economic case for restoring nature. Inaction will cost us far more than actions aimed at protecting nature’s contributions to the economy. To ensure positive global futures, we need to achieve more sustainable patterns of production and land use, and reform economic and financial systems to incentivize nature-based decision making.”

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Why Australia’s 2019-2020 bushfire season was not normal, in three graphs

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Data from satellite sources assembled by the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) World Environment Situation Room confirms that the wildfires in Australia in the last two months of 2019 and the first six weeks of 2020 were far from normal.   

WESR Global Surface Temperatures

2019 was the second hottest year on record since 1880, and Australia recorded its warmest temperatures ever in December 2019.

The number of fires in New South Wales remained fairly constant from 2003 to 2018, but more than trebled in 2019 (Fires recorded by MODIS (NASA), trend analysis, UNEP/GRID-Geneva).

“The trend is very clear: 37 of the last 40 years were the warmest recorded since 1880, and the six warmest years recorded were the last six years,” says Pascal Peduzzi, Director of UNEP’s Global Resource Information Database in Geneva. “For those who think Australia is always burning, the following graphs clearly show that these fires were exceptional.”

The months of November and December 2019 saw much greater wildfire activity than usual. The data indicates that it was mainly evergreen forest that caught fire. (Fires detected by MODIS, intersected with MODIS landcover and by province. Data sources: NASA, Data Analytics : UNEP/GRID-Geneva)

“This service, accessible via the UNEP’s World Environment Situation Room, is provided for all countries at national and provincial levels. It identifies trends in wildfire activity since 2003, when the data first became available and monitoring began. We have sliced and diced the satellite-based data on wildfires worldwide from 2009 to the present day. We analyse the wildfires’ data by month, type of land cover, protected area, province and nation to produce information products,” Peduzzi adds.

World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). Even protected areas, mostly forests, were affected. The graph shows fires detected by MODIS (NASA), intersected with province, landcover and World Database of Protected Areas information (UNEP/WCMC, analytics. UNEP/GRID-Geneva)

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