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COVID-19 is disrupting a food industry already thrown into turmoil by climate change

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Today’s COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the critical role of rice in ensuring global food security while combating climate change.

The world eats a lot of rice. Over 3.5 billion people rely on it as a staple part of their diet. The little grain is fundamental to global food security. Of the 820 million people who today go hungry, almost 60 per cent of them live in areas where rice consumption accounts for over 40 per cent of their annual cereal diet. Paradoxically, it is often those who grow food who are among the world’s most food-insecure. For over 100 million rice smallholders, rice is all that stands between them and hunger.

Before COVID-19, the expansive industry that provides this life-giving food to half of the global population was already struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change. Now, the pandemic is ravaging the rice sector, further threatening lives and livelihoods.

Rice production, prices and international trade are all impacted by the pandemic as well as widespread droughts. Panic buying prompted rice-exporting countries to impose limits or bans on exports, while domestic price caps imposed by some importing countries have led to reduced import volumes. Coupled with logistical stoppages resulting from nationwide lockdowns, over half of global rice supply – originating in five key countries – is now at risk. Currently, price surges disproportionately harm poorer households for whom rice is a staple, and where rice can account for almost half of monthly spending.

Meanwhile, lockdowns also make it harder for farmers to obtain vital inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and field labor. Crops already planted are at risk due to a lack of labor as quarantines have forced migrant workers to return home. Missed windows for planting and harvest will devastate yields.

Additionally, with the elderly more susceptible to COVID-19, productivity is also under threat, considering the increasing average age of rice farmers today.

COVID-19 comes at a time when underlying climate change impacts are already compromising food and water security. Southeast Asia, which supplies 50 per cent of the world’s rice exports, is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years.

“The adversities in the rice trade triggered by COVID-19 are an acute preview of what climate change has in store,” said Wyn Ellis, Executive Director of the Sustainable Rice Platform. “But instead of a temporary threat to farmers and food value chains, climate change impacts will be lasting, likely for generations. This pandemic shows us how devastating the consequences of inaction could be and how climate change can intensify existing crises.”

Climate change will exacerbate the vulnerabilities of food systems and human health. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working closely with partners, particularly through the Sustainable Rice Platform, to strengthen smallholder capacity and resilience to current and future shocks.

The Sustainable Rice Platform, initiated by UNEP and the International Rice Research Institute in 2011, is a multi-stakeholder alliance comprising over 100 institutional members, whose Secretariat is hosted by UNEP’s Regional Office for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok. SRP is working to transform the global rice sector by promoting resource efficiency and climate-smart best practice among rice farmers and throughout value chains. SRP is developing sustainable production standards, indicators, incentives and outreach to boost wide-scale adoption of sustainable best practices in rice production, as well as to reduce GHG emissions from rice farms.

SRP members are also actively helping with the COVID-19 response. Some SRP members are reversing their supply chains to deliver personal protective equipment and hand soap to farmers. The crisis response is also providing valuable lessons in how to deal with climate change impacts on rice. For example, farmers, particularly women, have been leading initiatives against COVID-19 by championing hygienic practices, which is leading the Platform to adapt from knowledge sharing to knowledge co-creation.

As we aim to build back better, farmers will need improved capacity to reduce and prevent far-reaching environmental, social and economic blows of global crises. 3.5 billion people depend on it.

UN Environment

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How to preserve biodiversity: EU policy

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In order to preserve endangered species, the EU wants to improve and preserve biodiversity on the continent.

In January, Parliament called for an ambitious EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and set legally binding targets, including conservation of at least 30% of natural areas and 10% of the long-term budget devoted to biodiversity

In response, and as part of the Green Deal, the European Commission presented the new 2030 strategy in May 2020.

MEP chair Pascal Canfin, chair of Parliament’s environment committee, welcomed the commitment to cut pesticide use with 50% and for 25% of farm products to be organic by 2030 as well as the 30% conservation target, but said the strategies must be transformed into EU law and implemented.

What has been done to safeguard biodiversity and endangered species in Europe?

EU efforts to improve biodiversity are ongoing under the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, which was introduced in 2010.

The EU’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy

  • The Birds Directive aims to protect all 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU
  • The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species, including some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types
  • Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world, with core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and rare natural habitat types
  • The EU Pollinator’s Initiative aims to address the decline of pollinators in the EU and contribute to global conservation efforts, focusing on improving knowledge of the decline, tackling the causes and raising awareness

Additionally, the European Life programme brought for example the Iberian Lynx and the Bulgarian lesser kestrel back from near extinction.

The final assessment of the 2020 strategy has yet to be concluded, but according to the midterm assessment, approved by Parliament, the targets to protect species and habitats, maintain and restore ecosystems and make seas healthier were making progress, but had to speed up.

The objective to combat the invasion of alien species was well on track. In strong contrast, the contribution of agriculture and forestry to maintain and enhance biodiversity had made little progress.

The Natura 2000 network of protected nature areas in Europe has increased significantly over the past decade and now covers more than 18% of the EU land area.

Between 2008 and 2018, the marine Natura 2000 network grew more than fourfold to cover 360,000 km2. Many bird species have recorded increases in population and the status of many other species and habitats has significantly improved.

Despite its successes, the scale of these initiatives is insufficient to offset the negative trend. The main drivers of biodiversity loss – loss and degradation of habitat, pollution, climate change and invasive alien species – persist and many are on the increase, requiring a much greater effort.

The EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy

An important part of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal commitments, the Commission launched the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, to go hand in hand with the Farm to Fork Strategy.

For the next 10 years, the EU will focus on an EU-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea, concrete commitments to restore degraded systems, enable change by making the measures workable and binding and take the lead in tackling biodiversity on a global level.

The new strategy outlining the EU ambition for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was due to be adopted at the 15th UN Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2020 in China, which has been postponed.

Once adopted, the Commission plans to make concrete proposals by 2021.

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As the world’s forests continue to shrink, urgent action is needed to safeguard their biodiversity

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Urgent action is needed to safeguard the biodiversity of the world’s forests amid alarming rates of deforestation and degradation, according to the latest edition of The State of the World’s Forests released today.

Published on the International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May), the report shows that the conservation of the world’s biodiversity is utterly dependent on the way in which we interact with and use the world’s forests.

The report was produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership, for the first time, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and technical input from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

It highlights that some 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses since 1990, although the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades.

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown into sharp focus the importance of conserving and sustainably using nature, recognizing that people’s health is linked to ecosystem health.

Protecting forests is key to this, as they harbour most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. This report shows that forests contain 60,000 different tree species, 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species, and 68 percent of the Earth’s mammal species.

FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, noted in the report, found that despite a slowing of the rate of deforestation in the last decade, some 10 million hectares are still being lost each year through conversion to agriculture and other land uses.

“Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity,” FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, and the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, said in the foreword.

The report presents a comprehensive overview of forest biodiversity, including world maps revealing where forests still hold rich communities of fauna and flora, such as the northern Andes and parts of the Congo Basin, and where they have been lost.

Conservation and sustainable use:

In this report, a special study from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the US Forest Service found 34.8 million patches of forests in the world, ranging in size from 1 hectare to 680 million hectares. Greater restoration efforts to reconnect forest fragments are urgently needed.

As FAO and UNEP prepare to lead the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from 2021 and as countries consider a Global Biodiversity Framework for the future, Qu and Andersen both expressed their commitment for increased global cooperation to restore degraded and damaged ecosystems, combat climate change and safeguard biodiversity.

“To turn the tide on deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, we need transformational change in the way in which we produce and consume food,” said QU and Andersen. “We also need to conserve and manage forests and trees within an integrated landscape approach and we need to repair the damage done through forest restoration efforts.”

The report notes that the Aichi Biodiversity Target to protect at least 17 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial areas by 2020 has been achieved for forests, although progress is still required to ensure the representativeness and effectiveness of such protection. 

A study conducted by UNEP-WCMC for this report shows that the largest increase in protected forest areas occurred in broadleaved evergreen forests – such as those typically found in the tropics. Furthermore, over 30 percent of all tropical rainforests, subtropical dry forests and temperate oceanic forests are now located within protected areas.

Jobs and livelihoods:

Millions of people around the world depend on forests for their food security and livelihoods.

Forests provide more than 86 million green jobs. Of those living in extreme poverty, over 90 percent are dependent on forests for wild food, firewood or part of their livelihoods. This number includes eight million extremely poor, forest-dependent people in Latin America alone.

UN Environment

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Virtual Ocean Dialogues to Fast-track Action, Innovation and Resilience

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A healthy and resilient ocean can help tackle climate change while providing sustainable food sources and jobs around the world. Half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, according to the World Economic Forum, and more than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. As countries begin to manage the economic and social impact of COVID-19, the ocean can be part of the solution.

To fast-track the innovations necessary for a healthy ocean, the Friends of Ocean Action, with the World Economic Forum, will convene the first Virtual Ocean Dialogues. From 1-5 June, Heads of State and Government, leaders from business, members of civil society and scientific communities will gather at a virtual summit to share innovation and solutions. It will give participants the opportunity to share and scale projects worldwide, accelerating their benefits. The event will be open to the public. Registration details can be found here.

“We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to achieve action for a healthy ocean, and with the Virtual Ocean Dialogues we are creating the opportunity to involve more people than ever before. No matter where you live and work in the world you can participate in these Dialogues – all you need is an interest in the future of two-thirds of our planet,” said Kristian Teleki, Director of Friends of Ocean Action, World Economic Forum.

Boosting ocean protection, tackling marine pollution, financing a sustainable blue economy and prioritizing data and science to feed billions will feature across the programme. The Dialogues have been designed for communities around the world to connect and exchange ideas.

During the event, finalists will be announced from the UpLink Ocean Solutions Sprint – a competition to unearth great ideas to solve the critical challenges of illegal fishing and plastic pollution. UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations to accelerate delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is an open platform designed to engage anyone who wants to contribute to the global public good.

“The global community needs ideas and leadership to maintain action for a healthy ocean. I am delighted to support the Virtual Ocean Dialogues and invite anyone with a concern for the ocean to participate in these critical discussions. All of our lives depend on a thriving ocean, and on fast-tracking solutions to rebuild a resilient global community. The health of our ocean underpins the oxygen we breathe, provides food and job security for billions, and is our greatest ally in tackling climate change. We must prioritize the ocean, and that is what this event aims to achieve,” said Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment and Climate for Sweden, and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action.

“The UN Ocean Conference has been postponed, but will be held in Lisbon as soon as conditions allow. To fill the gap in the calendar left by this postponement, the World Economic Forum and the Friends of Ocean Action have organized the Virtual Ocean Dialogues on 1-5 June. I have big expectations as to the quality and outcomes of these high-level, expert dialogues, and in the build-up to the UN Ocean Conference will ensure their findings are made available to all. In support of the implementation of SDG 14, I’m confident the Virtual Ocean Dialogues will play a very constructive role in maintaining the momentum to conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s resources,” said Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action.

“The World Economic Forum is mainstreaming innovations to unlock solutions to key challenges, that in turn will improve the state of the world. The first focus of UpLink is the ocean and the Sustainable Development Goal for life below water, SDG 14. By connecting leaders and innovators across the public and private sectors and beyond, and pooling ideas and resources, we can facilitate significant positive change for the ocean and people,” said Dominic Waughray, Head of the Platform for Global Public Goods and Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

The Friends of Ocean Action is a coalition of 58 ocean leaders who are fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Its members come from business, civil society, international organizations, science and technology. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the World Resources Institute.

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