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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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GHG emissions from pyrolysis are nine times higher than in mechanical recycling

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New study published today by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) finds that greenhouse gas emissions from pyrolysis of plastic packaging are nine times higher than that of mechanical recycling. The “Climate impact of pyrolysis of waste plastic packaging in comparison with reuse and mechanical recycling” study is based on the estimated future recycling content targets in plastic packaging.

BACKGROUND: In the context of the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), the European Commission (EC) assigned the independent consultancy Eunomia to consider the possible introduction of recycled content targets for plastic packaging by 2030. Based on the estimated future recycling content targets in plastic packaging, Eunomia determined to recycle quantities that must come as outputs from chemical recycling or mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling, in this case, means thermo-chemical (i.e. pyrolysis) recycling.

With this study, commissioned by ZWE and Rethink Plastic alliance to Öko-Institut, we calculated the impact of Eunomia’s proposed scenario regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon loss. The study compares seven scenarios to meet the projected recycled content target by 2030, and puts them into perspective with the Paris Agreement commitments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The study found that: 

  • Pyrolysis GHG emissions are nine times higher than those in mechanical recycling – in all scenarios considered over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to chemical recycling;
  • Over half of the carbon content of plastic is lost in the pyrolysis process and has to be replaced by new plastic;
  • Mechanical recycling must be prioritised over pyrolysis wherever possible –  shifting 30% of the production attributed to chemical recycling by Eunomia to mechanical recycling would reduce GHG emissions by 31%;
  • Combining shit to more mechanical recycling together with a reduction of 20% of packaging would result in a 45% reduction of GHG emissions compared to the “chemical recycling scenario”.
  • Combining mechanical and chemical recycling to transform plastic waste into recyclate avoids the GHG emissions associated with the use of primary plastic.


ZWE’s Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuel Policy Officer, Lauriane Veillard says: “The revision of the PPWD should serve as a lever to make the packaging sector more circular and be in line with European climate commitments to limit Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius. There are other ways than pyrolysis for contact-sensitive materials. The climate impact of the managing pathways should be considered when setting targets. The revision is the opportunity to rethink the overall volume and the use we make of plastic packaging.“

With this in mind, ZWE urges the European Commission (EC) to consider the reports’ findings in the upcoming revision of the PPWD and to:

  • Introduce legal safeguards to prioritise mechanical recycling over pyrolysis;
  • Consider the climate impact of different recycling technologies when settings targets for recycled content;
  • Incentivise measures such as design for recycling and innovations along the plastic packaging value chain to facilitate mechanical recycling.

Lauriane Veillard adds: “If we are serious about achieving net-zero emission economy, mechanical recycling must be preferred over pyrolysis. However, this cannot be achieved unless legal safeguards as part of the P&PWD revision are introduced to prioritise mechanical processes for recycling packaging waste complemented with ambitious prevention and reuse targets”. 

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UN spotlights transformational potential of family farming for world food supply

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María Fernanda Masís and her family are the owners of the hot sauces brand Xoloitzcuintle, named after their farm. Photo: UNEP

A Global Forum highlighting the UN’s Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF) got underway on Monday, aimed at identifying priority policies to boost support for family farmers and agricultural development worldwide.

The UNDFF runs through the end of 2028, and the Forum is being convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, pointed out in his video address to the Global Forum’s opening that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition.

Growing hunger

He said the number of people facing hunger increased in 2021, and it risks rising further especially among the most vulnerable, of which almost 80 percent live in rural areas and are small-scale, family farmers.

Family farmers around the world are also subject to the new challenges to food systems everywhere, created by the climate crisis, as well as conflict. The war in Ukraine has added further pressure, to already fragile agrifood systems, UN agencies said.

Mr. QU said the forum provides a way, firstly, to discuss “the unique role of family farmers in transforming our agrifood systems; two, take stock of achievements and challenges in the implementation of the UN Decade; and three, strengthen collaboration to ensure global food security, enhance livelihoods and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

80 percent

Family farmers need to be at the centre of efforts to transform agrifood systems if we are to make real progress towards ending hunger,” Mr. Qu said.

He added that “family farming is the main form of agriculture in both developed and developing countries and is responsible for producing 80 percent of the world’s food,” in terms of value.

Family struggle

He noted that often, these family farmers struggle to feed their own families.

Since its launch three years ago, the UN Decade of Family Farming has been promoting integrated policies and investments to support family farmers, and FAO has been assisting national implementation of international tools and guidelines to strengthen family farming, Mr. Qu told the virtual forum.

He also noted that FAO hosts the Family Farming Knowledge Platform to facilitate the exchange of experience, innovation and specialised knowledge.

In addition, the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 includes a priority area of work aimed at better supporting small-scale food producers and delivering concrete results.

Push for the future

The main objectives of the Global Forum are to provide a general overview of policy trends and the relevance of family farming to the global push towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals; highlight the main outcomes of the first three years of implementation; and re-orient the UNDFF agenda through the practical lessons learned so far.

Participants include representatives from national governments, governmental agencies, UN agencies, family farmers and their organizations, civil society organizations, as well as NGOs; the private sector, the media and academia.

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Microalgae promise abundant healthy food and feed in any environment

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By Sofia Strodt

Feeding a growing world population that will reach 9.8 billion by 2050, according to United Nations forecasts, and the need to conserve natural resources for generations to come may seem conflicting at first.

But a solution, while not yet in sight, is certainly not out of reach. European scientists recently have developed an appetite for microalgae, also called phytoplankton, a sub-group of algae consisting of unicellular photosynthetic microorganisms.

Most people are familiar with the largest form of algae, kelp or seaweed. It can grow up to three metres long and, in some forms, is a well-known delicacy. The related species microalgae, which can be found in both seawater and freshwater, have gained attention in research due to their extraordinary properties.

These microscopic organisms can be used for animal feed, particularly in aquaculture, and various foods including pasta, vegan sausages, energy bars, bakery products and vegetable creams. 

Most commercial microalgae cultivation centres on the production of dried biomass such as chlorella or spirulina powder as a food providing considerable health benefits. Some microalgae strains not only accumulate up to 65–70% of protein but also are sustainable sources of omega-3 fatty acids – a substance that is conventionally derived mainly from fish and fish oil.

Additional bioactive compounds, such as vitamins B12, K or D, mean microalgae contain significant health properties, potentially reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular illness.

Desert algae

‘Microalgae can be cultivated in many different locations, under very different conditions,’ said Massimo Castellari, who is involved in the Horizon-funded ProFuture project aimed at scaling up microalgae production. ‘We can grow it in Iceland and in a desert climate.’  

The technologies for the intensive cultivation of microalgae have been in development since the 1950s.

Today, microalgae are cultivated in open- or closed-system photobioreactors, which are vessels designed to control biomass production. The closed-system version, while more expensive to build, offers more control over experimental parameters and less risk of contamination. 

The substance is by no means just a trendy food supplement. For example, in Chad, a landlocked, low-income country, the consumption of spirulina harvested from Lake Chad has significantly improved people’s nutritional status because spirulina is an excellent source of proteins and micronutrients.

On top of its nutritional value, microalgae offer climate benefits by sequestering carbon dioxide as well as economic advantages by using farming areas more efficiently and – through the use of non-arable land – expanding the possibility of biomass production. 

With a total of less than 57 000 tonnes cultivated in 2019, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), production of microalgae is still very much in its early stages. By comparison, primary-crop output was 9.4 billion tonnes in 2019. 

Food inflation

Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine has highlighted just how vulnerable global food supply can be. Halts to Ukrainian grain exports and increases in energy prices have helped push food inflation around the world to record highs, with developing countries being hit disproportionately hard. In May this year, costs for food had risen by 42% compared with 2014-2016, the UN reported.  

Last year, as many as 828 million people were affected by hunger – an increase of roughly 46 million compared with 2020 and a surge of 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAO projects that some 670 million people will still face hunger by the end of the decade.   

While the benefits of cultivating organic microalgae for food and feed are substantial, market growth will require overcoming obstacles including a lack of automated production in the industry, according to Castellari, who works at the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology in Barcelona, Spain.

‘The automatisation is still not completely implemented,’ he said. ‘There are small producers in Europe – many steps still involve manual labour. So they are still working on optimising the process.’ 

Processed biomass

The challenges go well beyond cultivation. With microalgae, biomass has to be processed, cleaned and dried before a usable powder can be obtained. The next step is to scale up production to drive down costs. 

In addition, there are regulatory challenges. Only a few species of microalgae are currently authorised in the European Union.

‘In Europe it’s still in a preliminary stage of development,’ said Castellari. ‘There are thousands of species of microalgae, but for food consumption or feed there are only seven species authorised.’ 

To gain knowledge about the possibilities to use other species, Castellari and his team are also investigating these other kinds of microalgae.

Due to these challenges, the portfolio of products containing microalgae remains limited today. But, if these hurdles can be overcome, the overall prospects for the microalgae industry are promising. Besides being a source of food and feed, the plant can be used for biofuels, cosmetics, fertiliser and health supplements.

Astaxanthin, a blood-red pigment extracted from algae, already has notable uses. A powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin can be found in seafood and is commonly used to colour shrimp. It is also sold in the form of pills as a food supplement.

Astaxanthin is thought to have potentially a positive impact on brain function, athletic performance and ageing skin, among other things.

Matteo Ballottari, associate professor of biotechnology at the University of Verona in Italy, helped start the European Research Council’s Horizon-funded project AstaOmega simultaneously to produce astaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids in microalgae for aquaculture and human nutrition. 

Quality and quantity 

Most omega-3 supplements are derived from fish oils. This, however, raises sustainability concerns such as damage to marine ecosystems as a result of overfishing.  

‘There is more demand for eating high-quality foods, along with an awareness for incorporating omega-3 rich ingredients in our diets,’ Ballottari said. Responding to this trend while feeding a growing world population is ‘a big challenge,’ he said.

Meanwhile, on the astaxanthin front, the AstaOmega researchers have made progress. They have been able to obtain a new strain that can produce astaxanthin on its own, without needing to be “stressed”. This means the researchers don’t have to change production parameters such as light intensity, temperature or nitrates concentration. Also, extracting the substance has become easier, resulting in lower costs.  

Scientists agree that microalgae have the potential to change the ways in which we eat for the better.  

‘Microalgae can help us to increase the protein production within Europe to reduce our dependence on other countries,’ said Castellari of the ProFuture project.  

Research in this article was funded by the EU and it was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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