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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.

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Supporting Haiti’s COVID-19 response

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Haiti is well acquainted with challenge. In any given year, a typical Haitian household will face multiple shocks—which may include hurricanes, floods, disease, death, unemployment or any combination thereof.

For Haitians, some might say that COVID-19 is only the latest thing.  But it is a critical thing.

Even before the pandemic, almost 59 per cent of the Haitian population were living in poverty, with 23.8 per cent in extreme poverty and more than 60 per cent unable to meet basic needs.

Of all the challenges Haitians face, health shocks take the greatest toll on household incomes. With limited access to insurance or credit, many families cope by borrowing money, selling assets, or take children out of school. The poor have even fewer options, and coping with the pandemic may have long-term negative impacts­–decreasing their food supply, depleting their savings or alienating them from their social networks.

Above and beyond the UNEP mandate

Since 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has worked in close partnership with Haiti’s national Directorate for Civil Protection, developing early-warning systems to reduce disaster risks–particularly in the country’s small but densely populated southern islands, exposed to storms with 300 kilometre per hour winds.

Strictly speaking, pandemic response is not part of UNEP’s mandate to support Haiti’s Ministry of Environment.  But when COVID-19 hit, the Port Salut office knew it would have to extend beyond its usual reach. 

UNEP Haiti Programme Officer, Jean-Max Milien says, “COVID-19 has pushed every limit. Our adaptability­–the fact that we are ready and willing to do whatever is needed–is not just important to our work. It underpins the relationship we have with the people of Haiti.”

UNEP Haiti has been supporting national institutions on their  response and protection plans, helping incorporate pandemic risks–especially with regard to sanitation. The organization is also working closely with local communities, supporting partners to raise awareness and put mitigation measures into place.

Haiti’s unique challenges

Strict limitations on movement and widespread adoption of sanitation measures–the go-to response in many other countries hit by COVID-19–are less straight-forward in Haiti.

With the majority of Haitians earning their livelihoods through informal work like fishing, direct services or street vending, a ban on such activities would not only be difficult to impose, it could also cripple household incomes. In fact, according to the World Bank, a 20 per cent reduction in household consumption could push another million people into poverty and 2.5 million into extreme poverty.

At the same time, access to water and sanitation is disparate, at best. Even in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, for example, only about 55 per cent of the population has access to the public water network. And while access to piped and other improved water sources is increasing for the rural top 20, it is decreasing for the rest of the rural population.

Simple interventions with big impact

UNEP Haiti and its partners, the Directorate of Civil Protection and Pêche Artisanale et Développement Intégré, started with the simple act of handwashing. And it wasn’t just the act that was simple.

Handwashing units were constructed from repurposed cooking oil buckets, fitted with taps and tubes. A local producer installed 1,200 handwashing points while training community members to build the same types of units in the Marine Protected Areas of Port-Salut, Saint-Jean-du-Sud and La Cahouane. Communities are now equipped to expand the initiative and refill the handwashing units with water and bleach when needed.

To encourage their use, handwashing points are located where communities gather most frequently: local associations, shops, restaurants, hotels and main roads, ensuring access even for the most isolated. The repurposed buckets are also branded with messages, encouraging people to wash their hands and reduce their risk of infection. In April, a sound-equipped truck issued the same messages as it moved throughout inland and coastline communities everyday

These simple interventions are not only effective and cost efficient, they also enforce UNEP’s duty of care–allowing space and not exposing any partner or person to unnecessary risk while establishing the campaign. Moreover, because of their small budget, additional funds remain and will allow UNEP to provide further support, in case the disease peaks.

UN Environment

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Norilsk Nickel has a permafrost monitoring plan

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Russian nickel and palladium producer will monitor the state of permafrost

Russia’s Norilsk Nickel, a major global nickel and palladium producer, has created an environmental task team, independent of the board of directors, to monitor progress in the Russian major’s environmental programmes, the company said.

A state of emergency was declared in Norilsk as a result of permafrost thawing. Several tons of diesel fuel leaked from the fuel tank at the TPP of Norilsk Energy Company No. 3 and leaked into the neighboring river on May 29.

Nornickel said it had appointed Andrey Bougrov, who has worked at the company since 2013, as its senior vice president for environmental protection.

The company plans to boost its cooperation with Russian and foreign researchers focused on Arctic ecology and permafrost zones to find solutions and improve industrial safety in the region, Bougrov said in the statement.

In addition, the post of deputy director for ecology will be introduced in the Polar division of Nornickel.

Commenting on his appointment, Bougrov said that Nornickel plans to step up its cooperation with Russian and foreign researchers, and specialist organisations focused on Arctic ecology and permafrost zones, to jointly study permafrost environments and find solutions to improve industrial safety in the Arctic region.

“Our joint efforts based on transparency will provide us with the most advanced solutions, while also contributing to the protection of the Arctic nature,” said Bougrov.

The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers, and President Vladimir Putin has said the scale of the clear-up operation is unprecedented for Russia.

According to Nornickel’s estimate, over 90% of spilt fuel has been collected and removed so far. It said previously the accident was caused by thawing in the permafrost weakening the foundations of a storage tank.

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Electric mobility could boost green jobs as part of the COVID-19 recovery in Latin America

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The transition to electric mobility could help Latin America and Caribbean countries to reduce emissions and fulfill their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change, while generating green jobs as part of their recovery plans from the COVID-19 crisis, according to a new study.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, “Electric Mobility 2019: Status and Opportunities for Regional Collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean,” analyzes the latest developments in 20 countries in the region and highlights the growing leadership of cities, companies, and civil associations in promoting new e-mobility technologies.

Though still a recent development, electrification of the public transport sector is happening at high speed in several countries in the region, says the study financed by the European Commission through the EUROCLIMA + Programme and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and renewable energy company Acciona.

Chile stands outs with the largest fleet of electric buses in the region, with more than 400 units, while Colombia is expected to incorporate almost 500 electric buses in Bogotá, its capital. Other Colombian cities, like Cali and Medellín, have join Ecuador’s Guayaquil and Brazil’s Sao Paulo in introducing electric buses.

Increased efficiency, lower operation and maintenance costs of electric buses, as well as growing public concern around the impacts of road transport-related emissions on human health and the environment are the main drivers behind this transition in public transport, according to the study.

The transport sector is responsible for 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean and is one of the main drivers of poor air quality in cities, which causes more than 300,000 premature deaths a year in the Americas, according to the World Health Organization.

“In recent months we have seen a reduction of air pollution in cities in the region due to lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But these improvements are only temporary. We must undertake a structural change so that our transportation systems contribute to the sustainability of our cities,” says Leo Heileman, UNEP Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report calls on decision-makers to prioritize the electrification of public transport, especially when updating the old bus fleets that run through the large cities in the region. There is fear of a “technology lock-in” over the next 7 to 15 years if authorities choose to renew old fleets with new internal combustion vehicles that will continue to pollute the air and cause severe health damages.

Some countries are already paving the way to ensure a transition to sustainable transport. Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panamá have designed national strategies on electric mobility, while Argentina, Dominican Republic, México, Paraguay are finalizing their own plans, according to the report.

More than 6,000 new light-duty electric vehicles (EVs) were registered in Latin America and the Caribbean, between January 2016 and September 2019, according to the report. The need for charging infrastructure has boosted new ventures and services. For example, e-corridors, already running in Brazil, Chile, México, and Uruguay, allow users to extend the autonomy of their EVs by making use of public fast charging point networks.   

Shared mobility businesses focusing on electric bicycles and skateboards are also being developed in at least nine countries in the region.

The development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure has the potential to foster new investments and jobs, which are key to COVID-19 recovery efforts in the region. 

The report calls on governments to develop a clear medium- and long-term roadmap that provides legal certainty for private investment and highlights the role of sustainable mobility in power grid expansion plans, in line with climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The 2015 Agreement, signed to date by nearly 200 countries, aims to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report was produced with inputs from the Latin American Association for Sustainable Mobility (ALAMOS) and contributions from the Center for Urban Sustainability in Costa Rica.

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