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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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Five things you should know about disposable masks and plastic pollution

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The fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars, but UN agencies and partners insist that, if effective measures are put into place, the amount of plastics discarded every year can be significantly cut, or even eliminated.

1) Pollution driven by huge increase in mask sales

The promotion of mask wearing as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 has led to an extraordinary increase in the production of disposable masks: the UN trade body, UNCTAD, estimates that global sales will total some $166 billion this year, up from around $800 million in 2019.

Recent media reports, showing videos and photos of divers picking up masks and gloves, littering the waters around the French Riviera, were a wake-up call for many, refocusing minds on the plastic pollution issue, and a reminder that politicians, leaders and individuals need to address the problem of plastic pollution. 

2) A toxic problem

If historical data is a reliable indicator, it can be expected that around 75 per cent of the used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas. Aside from the environmental damage, the financial cost, in areas such as tourism and fisheries, is estimated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at around $40 billion.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that, if the large increase in medical waste, much of it made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics, is not managed soundly, uncontrolled dumping could result. 

The potential consequences, says UNEP, which has produced a series of factsheets on the subject, include public health risks from infected used masks, and the open burning or uncontrolled incineration of masks, leading to the release of toxins in the environment, and to secondary transmission of diseases to humans.

Because of fears of these potential secondary impacts on health and the environment, UNEP is urging governments to treat the management of waste, including medical and hazardous waste, as an essential public service. The agency argues that the safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response.

“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” says Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”

3) Existing solutions could cut plastics by 80 per cent

However, this state of affairs can be changed for the better, as shown by a recent, wide-ranging, report on plastic waste published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and sustainability thinktank Systemiq.

The study, “Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution”, which was endorsed by Inger Andersen, head of the UN environment agency UNEP, forecasts that, if no action is taken, the amount of plastics dumped into the ocean will triple by 2040, from 11 to 29 million tonnes per year.

But around 80 per cent of plastic pollution could be eliminated over this same period, simply by replacing inadequate regulation, changing business models and introducing incentives leading to the reduced production of plastics. Other recommended measures include designing products and packaging that can be more easily recycled, and expanding waste collection, particularly in lower income countries.

4) Global cooperation is essential

In its July analysis of plastics, sustainability and development, UNCTAD came to the conclusion that global trade policies also have an important role to play in reducing pollution. 

Many countries have introduced regulations that mention plastics over the last decade, an indicator of growing concern surrounding the issue, but, the UNCTAD analysis points out, for trade policies to be truly effective, coordinated, global rules are needed.

“The way countries have been using trade policy to fight plastic pollution has mostly been uncoordinated, which limits the effectiveness of their efforts, says Ms. Coke-Hamilton. “There are limits to what any country can achieve on its own.”

5) Promote planet and job-friendly alternatives

Whilst implementing these measures would make a huge dent in plastic pollution between now and 2040, the Pew/ Systemiq report acknowledges that, even in its best-case scenario, five million metric tons of plastics would still be leaking into the ocean every year.

 A dramatic increase in innovation and investment, leading to technological advances, the report’s study’s authors conclude, would be necessary to deal comprehensively with the problem.

Furthermore, UNCTAD is urging governments to promote non-toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable alternatives, such as natural fibres, rice husk, and natural rubber. These products would be more environmentally-friendly and, as developing countries are key suppliers of many plastic substitutes, could provide the added benefit of providing new jobs. Bangladesh, for example, is the world’s leading supplier of jute exports, whilst, between them, Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire account for the bulk of natural rubber exports.

“There’s no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave,” said Tom Dillon, Pew’s vice president for environment. As the organization’s report shows, “we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature”.

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Beyond tourism: Investing in local communities to protect Africa’s wild spaces

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For ten years, Dixon Parmuya has guided tourists on bush walks around Amboseli National Park in Southern Kenya. But since COVID-19 swept through Kenya in mid-March, the country’s tourism industry has dwindled, leaving many locals without jobs and animals without protection.

The coronavirus pandemic is creating what experts are calling a brewing conservation crisis in Kenya, a country home to some of Africa’s most iconic animals. Most of Kenya’s programs to protect wildlife are funded directly by tourist dollars and with visitor numbers down, money for conservation is drying up, say experts. There are also fears that poaching will rise, leaving wildlife protection hanging in the balance.

“If there is no tourism, there is no conservation,” says Parmuya.

But the pandemic is encouraging countries to change that.

“Tourism can be fickle,” says Doreen Robinson, Chief of Wildlife at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “We have to be more creative to expand revenue streams that can directly support local communities and protect natural assets.”

In Africa, UNEP is working closely with governments and partners to encourage wildlife-based economies – where local communities are central to protecting the wildlife areas they inhabit, for mutual benefit of both. This includes going beyond tourism to attract other kinds of green investment in wildlife areas, like using natural resources to produce consumer goods in a sustainable way. 

“We have to ensure that money gets reinvested into locally protected areas, and benefits are shared with the communities protecting biodiversity and wildlife, because these communities are creating the conditions for long-term, sustainable conservation in Kenya,” says Robinson.

That is something Purity Amleset agrees with. She is part of a team of all-female rangers with the International Fund for Animal Welfare that is working to raise awareness about the importance of wildlife to Kenya’s economy and its identity.

“As a ranger, I’m creating that conducive environment between the wild animals and my community. I come from that community, so they understand me well when I tell them the importance of wildlife,” she says.

Each year, 31 July marks World Ranger Day to commemorate rangers all over the world who risk their lives every day at the forefront of conservation.

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New guidelines aim to support mangrove restoration in the Western Indian Ocean

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For many coastal communities, including those in the Western Indian Ocean region, mangroves are critical to economic and food security. A new set of guidelines on mangrove restoration for the region aims to support the restoration of its degraded mangrove ecosystems and support recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Mangrove forests are among the most powerful nature-based solutions to climate change, but with 67 percent of mangroves lost or degraded to date, and an additional 1.0 percent being lost each year, they are at a risk of being destroyed altogether. Without mangroves, 39 percent more people would be flooded annually and flood damage would increase by more than 16 percent and US $82 billion. They protect shorelines from eroding and shield communities from floods, hurricanes, and storms, a more important service than ever as sea levels continue to rise. Mangroves also provide nursery areas for marine life and support many threatened and endangered species. Restoring mangroves can make communities more resilient to environmental changes and the economic shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

While governments acknowledge the importance of mangroves, the success of restoration efforts has been limited. The new Guidelines on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration for the Western Indian Ocean Region analyze risks and challenges to restoration projects and point to potential solutions.

Coastal residents in the Western Indian Ocean region – which includes Comoros, Kenya, France (Reunion), Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, and Tanzania – eat or sell the fish that live around the mangroves; harvest honey from the bees that the forests support, and use their wood as building material and fuel for subsistence or sell it for income. Because the livelihoods of coastal communities depend on mangroves, restoring them can contribute to “building back better” through green recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mangrove forests can also drive eco-tourism and create jobs.

“Mangroves really are essential life support system for coastal communities in the Western Indian Ocean region,” said James Kairo, Chief Scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and lead author of the guidelines. “If degradation continues, communities will be without  resources for shelter or fuel, food, or a means to make a living.”

The guidelines were developed by the member states of Nairobi Convention with support from UNEP–Nairobi Convention, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association and the Western Indian Ocean Mangrove Network. They can be used by governments; resource managers; scientists; civil society, and communities at large as they embark on mangrove conservation and management initiatives.

“These Guidelines are really the first for the Western Indian Ocean region to address past mangrove restoration failures head-on and assess the reasons why,” said Jared Bosire, UNEP–Nairobi Convention Project Manager. “Of critical importance is that they provide a step-by-step guide on how to build successful restoration projects which avoid several of the pitfalls that we have kept witnessing.”

The Guidelines also feature case studies from around the Western Indian Ocean region, highlighting best practices and lessons learned. They can be used to guide action on mangroves as part of the upcoming UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and support progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14.2 on protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems. Mangroves also capture and store significantly higher rates of carbon dioxide per unit area than terrestrial forests, so mangrove restoration can be incorporated into countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.

“It’s hard to overstate just how important mangroves can be to both the environment and economy,” said Kerstin Stendahl, Head of UNEP’s Ecosystems Integration Branch. “They are truly a super solution —without them, we’d have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, fewer fish and less food, and more damage from cyclones and other storms.”

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