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The importance of sustainable use of wildlife in “biodiversity super year”

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Joining the global celebration of the United Nations World Wildlife Day, representatives of UN Member States, UN System organizations, international and non-governmental organizations, rural communities and youth gathered at the UN Headquarters in New York and Geneva to mark the day at two high-level events.

World Wildlife Day is celebrated this year under the theme “Sustaining all Life on Earth”, highlighting the unique place of wild fauna and flora as essential components of the world’s biodiversity, as well as a key pillar of livelihoods for people, particularly among communities that live close to nature. The events also came as part of what has been dubbed the ‘biodiversity super year’.

Our planet is currently facing the urgent challenge that is the loss of biodiversity: research by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says up to a million species could disappear in the coming decades if unsustainable human activity, climate change and habitat degradation are left unchecked. Raising awareness of this alarming trend and driving discussions towards solutions to bend the curve of biodiversity loss through conservation and sustainable use were the goals of this year’s World Wildlife Day celebrations.

In his message for this World Wildlife Day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “On this World Wildlife Day, let us remind ourselves of our duty to preserve and sustainably use the vast variety of life on the planet. Let us push for a more caring, thoughtful and sustainable relationship with nature. A world of thriving biodiversity provides the foundation we need to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals of a world of dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.”

The Ambassador of India to the United Nations in New York,  the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations,  the CITES Secretary-General, the President of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and a representative of rural communities in Colombia provided opening remarks at the event at the UN Headquarters in New York, stressing the significance of the day and of this year’s theme.

A panel of expert speakers that included Permanent Representatives of the UN missions of Costa Rica and Germany, as well as representatives of UNEP, IUCN’s Sustainable use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), a youth activist, engaged in discussions on the challenges that lay ahead in finding the right balance between use of wildlife and the need to conserve biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems.

For the fifth year running, one of the World Wildlife Day activities was co-organized with Jackson Wild™ and featured a film showcase based on the year’s theme. Attracting nearly 350 entries, the competition saw a wide array of filmmakers with a passion for wildlife bring to the screen some gripping stories centred on biodiversity and the interaction between people and wildlife. Once again, these films will provide a strong tool to mobilize and inspire the public for the cause of conservation and to raise awareness of the threats weighing on our world’s wild fauna and flora.

Another artistic highlight was the second international World Wildlife Day youth art contest organised with the support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and which called on school age and youth artists to illustrate the day’s theme through their art.

Winners of both contests were announced during the high-level event at the UN Headquarters in New York.

The event in New York City was also graced by a moving musical interlude, courtesy of the UN Chamber Music Society, with a wildlife-themed performance.

Earlier that day, representatives of Colombia and Costa Rica spoke at the World Wildlife Day celebrations at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. They joined biodiversity experts from IUCN and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and a representative of the private sector from Swiss luxury group Richemont for an event co-organized by the CITES Secretariat and the Geneva Environment Network.

Beyond these two official events, States, organizations and civil society groups celebrated the day through their own events around the world. Photographic competitions in Accra, Ghana; a symposium in Bhopal, India; a forum on crocodile conservation in the Philippines; reforestation days in Nicaragua; giant billboards promoting World Wildlife Day across the United States on billboards; and the lighting of the Empire State Building in New York, all together honoured the day.  All in all, people around the world passionate about wildlife and biodiversity joined in on the World Wildlife Day celebrations and took the time to show their appreciation for the value of wild fauna and flora for people, planet and prosperity.

Remarks by organizers:

Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary-General:

“As we face a biodiversity crisis of such staggering magnitude, we know that, now more than ever, it is imperative that we remind everyone of the immense value of wild fauna and flora for the planet. Human societies and economies rely on biodiversity in fundamental ways. 2020 is the year to reset humanity’s relationship with nature and to start the transformative changes for both people and our planet. We believe this year’s World Wildlife Day will contribute to raising worldwide awareness of just how essential wildlife is for, as well as their livelihoods.”

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary of CBD:

“We can still reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. This year, the world will come together to act for wildlife and bend the curve on biodiversity loss, as Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are expected to adopt an ambitious and transformative post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China. As governments negotiate the post-2020 framework, increasing the sustainability of wildlife use and management is a priority. In doing so, we must take on the challenge of ending unsustainable exploitation of resources, including wildlife and their ecosystems, while preserving the livelihoods of the communities that depend on them.”

Susan Gardner, Director for Ecosystems for UNEP:

“The evidence is clear – human activity is by far the greatest cause of habitat loss and results in loss of wildlife that require those habitats,” said Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division. “Sustainable conservation must be based on an appreciation of the interdependency of people and wildlife in order to reimagine a future where the livelihoods of farmers are secured while simultaneously reducing the risks to wild animals that share the land.”

Midori Paxton, Head of Biodiversity for UNDP:

“Wildlife and biodiversity underpin the well-being, safety, and resilience of all societies. One million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. Billions of families and communities who depend on wildlife and nature for food, water, and their livelihoods are also at risk, as are our economies. If we’re to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must reverse this trend now and put nature at the heart of development. Through World Wildlife Day we are helping raise awareness of the importance of investing in nature and scaling up solutions through a coaltion of  public, private sector, and civil society partners.”

Lisa Samford, Executive Director of Jackson Wild™:

“It is no longer sufficient to simply raise public awareness about biodiversity loss, media must ignite tangible action to protect and restore our planet and its diverse wildlife. We’re extremely proud of the World Wildlife Day Film Showcase winners because these films go beyond amplifying reasons to care and inspiring awe for our fragile, but resilient planet. They empower the radical changes that will be required to save humanity from ourselves.”

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Environment

Discrimination in the air

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Nine out of 10 people globally breathe polluted air, causing about 7 million premature deaths every year. On 7 September 2020, the United Nations observed the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. This article is part of UNEP’s continuing coverage of air pollution and its impact globally.

Over 40 per cent of the U.S. population – about 134 million people – face health risks resulting from air pollution, -according to the American Lung Association. The burden is far from evenly shared. Studies show that in the United States, people of color and low-income communities face a significantly higher risk of environmental health effects, highlighting that the impacts of air pollution are experienced unequally throughout the country.

People of color are more likely to live in areas affected by pollution and high road traffic density, increasing risks to their health. As prominent American environmental justice activist and leader Robert D. Bullard emphasizes, race and place matter.

For example, along the Mississippi River in the southern United States, there is an area with some of the worst air pollution in the country. In the stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge Louisiana, many people live right next to several high-polluting industrial plants. Residents, who are predominately Black, have seen significant cancer clusters, with cancer risks in the area reaching up to 50% more than the national average. In St. John the Baptist parish alone, an area of about 2 square miles, the cancer rate is about 800 times higher than the American average.

Similarly, New York City neighborhood Mott Haven, home to mainly LatinX and Black families, has a very high level of air pollution from traffic, warehouses, and industry.  Residents in Mott Haven face some of the highest rates of asthma cases and asthma-related hospitalizations in the country, especially among children.

Often, communities experiencing high levels of air pollution are among the most vulnerable, facing poor access to health services, limited economic opportunity, more polluted work environments and racial injustices.  Comprehensive policies are needed to address these interrelated challenges.

“There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic factors and risk of air pollution,” said Dr. Barbara Hendrie, Regional Director for UN Environment Programme North America. “Recognizing this, and the disproportionate impacts of air pollution throughout the United States is a critical part of developing effective solutions.”

On the first-ever International Day of Clean Air for blue skies in September, the UN Environment Programme called upon governments, corporations, to civil society and individuals, to take action to reduce air pollution and bring about transformative change.

Air pollution does not have to be a part of our collective future. We have the solutions and must take the necessary actions to address this environmental menace and provide #CleanAirForAll.

UN Environment

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New strains of rice could address climate change

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Rice is a staple for more than 3.5 billion people, including most of the world’s poor. But it can be a problematic crop to farm. It requires massive amounts of water and the paddies in which it grows emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

To tackle such issues, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working with the Shanghai Agrobiological Gene Center to develop strains of rice that are drought resistant and don’t need to be planted in paddies. The research, say, experts, could help bolster food security at a time when COVID-19 is threatening to propel more people into hunger.

The study, which runs from 2017 to 2021, is funded by the Government of China and falls under the China-Africa South-South Cooperation arrangement.

“China has lots of experience growing rice and this collaboration with China is a first,” says UNEP ecosystems expert Levis Kavagi, who has been closely involved with the project.

Researchers have developed and tested over 50 varieties of rice in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. They evaluated how the grains grow at different elevations and, importantly, how they taste.

WDR 73 also doesn’t need to be planted in a flooded paddy. That’s important for several reasons.

Transporting seedlings into flooded fields is a laborious process. Paddies are breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Water shortages, sparked by climate change, are expected to make filling paddies a challenge in many countries. And paddies themselves vent massive amounts of methane –  up to 20 per cent of human-related emissions of the greenhouse gas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

Growing rice on relatively dry land also reduces the ever-growing quest to open up wetlands, havens for birds and other animals, to farming.

“Usually the most suitable land for growing rice also tends to be next to, or in, wetlands or flood plains,” says Kavagi. “Expanding agricultural land involves draining the wetlands. This leads to loss of biodiversity, and reduced water purification and climate regulation services provided by wetlands.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to get a national certification of WDR 73, allowing it to be broadly disseminated to farmers. The project is part of a larger effort by China, African countries and UNEP to develop better rice varieties, improve livelihoods and bolster food security.

“The project shows that with new rice varieties it is possible to achieve the multiple objectives of food security, biodiversity and nature conservation – and fight against climate change,” says Kavagi.

Technical details of rice trials in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda

In Kenya, trials were conducted over three growing seasons in Mwea (central Kenya), Busia (western), and Mtwapa (coastal area). Rice variety WDR 73 performed well compared with the local Basmati varieties. The growth duration varied from 125 days in Mtwapa, to 150 days in Mwea and Busia, where the altitude is over 1,000m. Average grain yield was 5.1 to 9.0 tonnes per hectare. Plant height was 100-110 cm, which shows that this variety is tolerant to rice blast disease and displays good drought-resistant qualities compared to Basmati varieties.

In Uganda, WDR73 cultivation experiments were conducted in Lukaya, Luweero and Arua. In well-managed farms, grain yield increased from 4.35 to more than 6.0 tons per hectare. In Arua, in 2019 the rain-fed crop was direct sowed from 25-30 August and harvested from 30 November to 5 December. The growth duration was 90-95 days and yielded 4.35 tonnes per hectare. Direct seeded WDR 73 grain yield in Luweero in 2019 varied from 6 tonnes per hectare in rain-fed conditions to 8 tonnes per hectare in irrigated paddy fields.

In Bolgatanga, a drought-prone area in northern Ghana, WDR 73 growth duration was 105 days and plant height 110-120 cm, while the grain yield was 6.0 tonnes per hectare.

UN Environment

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Environment

Vietnam Signs Landmark Deal with World Bank to Cut Carbon Emissions

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Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development signed a landmark agreement today with the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), unlocking up to US$51.5 million for Vietnam’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation between now and 2025. With this Emission Reductions Payment Agreement (ERPA) in place, Vietnam is expected to reduce 10.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from six North Central Region provinces of Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue to receive $51.5 million from the FCPF.

Vietnam has shown tremendous leadership in developing robust programs to deliver forest emission reductions at scale,” saidCarolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for Vietnam, where new and significant incentives for forest protection and improved management are now in place to help the country meet its ambitious climate targets.”

Vietnam’s Emission Reductions Program is designed to address the underlying causes of forest loss in the country’s North Central Region and by so doing reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The program will also support forest restoration. The region was chosen for its critical biodiversity importance and socio-economic status. The program area covers 5.1 million hectares of land (16 percent of the land area of the country), of which 3.1 million hectares are currently forested, and includes five internationally recognized conservation corridors. It is home to approximately 10.5 million people, nearly one third of whom live below the national poverty line.

“Vietnam’s program follows a preparation phase that built our readiness to engage in an emission reduction payment agreement of this kind and is a step towards full implementation of forest carbon services in Vietnam. This agreement highlights the collaboration between Vietnam, FCPF and the World Bank to meet international climate targets laid out in the Paris Agreement,” said Ha Cong Tuan, Standing Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Our program will mobilize important additional financing to invest in our forests and reduce forest degradation while generating income for forest owners and improving sustainable development in the North Central Region.”

Vietnam is the first country in Asia-Pacific and fifth globally to reach such a milestone agreement with the FCPF. ERPAs are innovative instruments that incentivize sustainable land management at scale and help to connect countries with other sources of climate financing. The resources from the FCPF provide new opportunities to conserve and regenerate forest landscapes and biodiversity while simultaneously supporting sustainable economic growth, which is critical for Vietnam’s development going forward.

The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is a global partnership of governments, businesses, civil society, and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations focused on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, forest carbon stock conservation, the sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries, activities commonly referred to as REDD+. Launched in 2008, the FCPF has worked with 47 developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, along with 17 donors that have made contributions and commitments totaling US$1.3 billion.

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