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‘Earth School’ gives students in lockdown a closeup look at nature

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“I have never seen anything quite like this,” says Kathleen Usher, a Canadian elementary school teacher as she clicks through the website of Earth School. The portal, which the UN Environment Programme, and TED-Ed launched together with a wide array of partners as a response to COVID-19 on 22 April, features 30 kid-friendly primers on a range of environmental issues, from the origins of water to the life cycle of a t-shirt.

“The avalanche of support from leading scientists, incredible teachers and specialists in everything from climate to oceanography to build out Earth School has just been a joy to behold,” says Usher, one of the school’s curators. “Global collaboration for the sake of our kids feels amazing!”

With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting education worldwide, Earth School sought to bring together compelling and interactive resources for learning about nature and the environment on a single global platform. And it’s working. Over 200,000 young people, hailing from every country on earth, have taken so-called quests on the site over the last month. Now Earth School is set to reach new heights as the Government of India will share it with teachers across the country through their online learning portal, DIKSHA, with other nations set to follow suit.

One of the stars of Earth School 2020 has been Priyanka Modi from India who has made a short animation of every lesson she has done together with her six-years-old son Atharva.

“I love exploring the quests with Atharva. It is fun to learn together and explore science new knowledge from home”, Modi said.

The initiative was developed in just three weeks by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TED-Ed, a non-profit educational organization. The goal was to create a platform that would connect kids with the nature while locked down at home.

It quickly drew in over 50 collaborating organizations, including major conservation and education players such as National Geographic, BBC Ideas, the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Day Network, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Earth School has also won the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is developing ways to support school children amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the COVID-19 lockdown and the need for home-schooling, it wasn’t easy to find a series of reliable and engaging lessons on nature on the web,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. “So we decided to try and change that. With TED-Ed and the amazing teachers and supporters behind this initiative, we want to try and get to one million children through Earth School by the end of 2020.”

Governments have been involved as well, including the Government of Finland who provided financial support for the project.

“To build back better we have to learn back better. That is why we were delighted to support Earth School. Teaching young people about the importance of nature and how to protect it has never been more urgent, so it was very encouraging to see more than 200 000 kids from all over the world take part”, said the Finnish Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Krista Mikkonen.

Sumeera Rasul of TED-Ed, said, “Launching Earth School during COVID-19 has proved to be a powerful initiative, uniting students and educators all over the world for positive actionable learning, during a time of physical distancing. We have received a tremendous response to the animations, lessons and resources in the school. We aim to keep growing this platform, to help youth acquire knowledge and values needed to solve complex issues around climate change and build a better planet.”

The lessons are built around an inspiring short-film from TED-Ed, which then leads to a quick quiz followed by a Dig Deeper section where youngsters can explore films and exercises that speak to their imagination and let them explore and discover the natural world.

Discussion boards then allow students to interact with children from across the world, sharing ideas on everything from how many t-shirts they really need, to how cats can inspire them to design greener buildings.

Organizers will keep the doors open to Earth School throughout the year. They will also examine how more governments can share the material with their teachers and explore how the lessons can bridge the digital divide by being shared with refugee populations. They aim to have 1 million children take quests by the end of 2020.

Collaborators who contributed to Earth School include: BBC Ideas, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Conservation International, CEE, Earth Day Network, Earth Challenge 2020, Environment Online (ENO), GeSI, International Olympic Committee, IUCN, Institute for Planetary Security, Junior Achievement, Learning in Nature, Littlescribe, Minecraft, National Geographic Society, Ocean Wise, Only One, Royal Geographic Society, SciStarter, Sitra, TAT, TED-Ed, The Nature Conservancy, UN Convention on Biodiversity, UN SDSN / TRENDS, UN Technology Innovation Lab, UNCCD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFCCC, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, University of Pennsylvania, Vult Labs, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), Wild Immersion and WWF.

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Environment

UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection

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To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings. 

Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species. 

Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez. 

Species under threat 

UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites. 

The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  

Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official. 

Beneath the waves 

UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.  

In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems. 

Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency. 

Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.   

Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”. 

Breaking new ground 

The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.  

For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public. 

All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.  

Sustainability goal 

The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.   

“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin. 

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Act Urgently to Preserve Biodiversity for Sustainable Future — ADB President

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The world must act urgently to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity for the sake of a sustainable future and prosperity, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said at the opening of a global event on biodiversity here today.

“The world is at a critical turning point. If we are to reverse the alarming decline in nature, we must respond with urgency and coordinated action,” Mr. Asakawa said. “These efforts are needed to ensure the survival of our ecosystems, and for the sake of our shared future and prosperity.”  

Asia and the Pacific is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries, and the greatest marine diversity. “If restored and well-managed, these natural capital assets can help to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity loss in a cost-effective and impactful manner,” Mr. Asakawa said in his opening remarks at the Ecological Civilization Forum at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  

The event is cohosted by the PRC’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Yunnan provincial government, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participants include high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, development agencies including ADB, and civil society. 

ADB is committed to helping accelerate and increase nature-positive investments in Asia and the Pacific. “Through our ADB Nature-Positive Investment Roadmap, we are working with partners to scale up finance, develop knowledge of natural capital, and generate financially sustainable projects that deliver on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems,” Mr. Asakawa said.

At COP15, ADB is launching a new publication, Greening Development in the People’s Republic of China, which outlines how ADB and the PRC have successfully partnered to promote green development and ecological restoration in a way that complements economic and social priorities. 

In partnership with the Chinese Academy of Science and Stanford University, ADB is sharing progress on its new Natural Capital Lab due for launch in 2022. This will be a digital platform for sharing methods for valuing biodiversity and ecosystems, and for building knowledge, capacities, and alliances across the region.  

In addition, ADB with partners will be launching the Regional Flyway Initiative that will conserve ecosystem services that support people and critical habitats for more than 50 million migratory waterbirds.

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Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions

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forest

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.

Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”

The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.

Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”

Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”

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