Coral reefs are being killed by the climate crisis, which is leading to rising sea temperatures. “Cryopreservation”, a pioneering scientific technique, could be one way to help save them.
A tiny piece of coral is stuck to a thin sheet of plastic, and submerged in a tank at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, on the island archipelago. This is part of a unique process which includes the cryopreservation [the use of very low temperatures to preserve living cells and tissues] of sperm, larvae and tissue, to create what has been called the “Book of Life” for coral.
Marine biologists, working on land and in the water, collect sperm and eggs from reefs during their annual spawning events, in the warm tropical water surrounding palm-fringed Coconut Island, and then in labs, where they prepare the coral for cryopreservation.
Mary Hagedorn, a senior research scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, leads the team at the Institute which is pioneering these techniques.
“Cryopreservation is a relatively new field of science originating in the late 1940s, but was only first used to preserve human embryos in the early 1980s and then eggs at the end of the 90s,” she told UN News on a visit to Coconut Island.
“We have been working for the last 16 years on adapting those techniques to successfully preserve coral sperm, and also coral larvae, to store in living frozen bio-repositories, and help restore reefs now and potentially reseed the ocean in the future. We’re really collecting the Book of Life for coral reefs, and that’s significant.”
Coral reefs across the world are being threatened by climate change. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that about 25 to 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed and another 60 per cent are under threat.
Warm, acidic oceans, and coral ‘heart attacks’
As oceans become warmer and more acidic, the corals are bleached, an event which Mary Hagedorn compares to a person suffering a heart attack. “If bleaching happens on an annual basis then corals may ultimately die off,” she said.
Corals are animals that create their own skeleton to help support them. These animals live in shallow warm waters around the world using sunlight to synthesize their sugar-based food. Reefs are not just “beautiful ecosystems” renowned for their biological diversity, according to Dr. Hagedorn, they are also crucial to life on Earth. “Almost 25 per cent of all marine life lives on a reef at some point and so without them many species of fish that we eat wouldn’t exist. Corals provide a natural protection for our coastlines, for example against tsunamis. They also support people’s livelihoods in the form of fishing and tourism and contribute 350 billion annually to the global economy. So, there are many reasons we should save them.”
Researching for the benefit of future generations
A small international team of marine biologists is based in the lab on Coconut island, which sits on top of a coral reef and is surrounded by many more, making it possible for the scientists to collect samples in a small dinghy, or by snorkeling. They also travel to many tropical countries around the world to help preserve their reefs including in Australia, Singapore and French Polynesia, among others.
In the institute’s laboratory, Australian postdoctoral researcher Dr. Jonathan Daly examines polyps, individual coral animals, under a microscope.
“Corals have a very restricted annual cycle for reproduction (just a few days) and so there is a very brief window to collect their sperm and eggs in the field, and bring them into the lab for cryopreservation,” he says, adding that “today, coral reproduction is impacted very heavily by warming oceans.”
The material gathered by the team is stored in frozen biorepositories and it’s hoped ultimately that other marine biologists in laboratories worldwide will eventually be able to preserve corals where they work. This would save the biodiversity and genetic diversity of their local coral reefs and help to create the Book of Life for corals that Mary Hagedorn talks of.
This means that, if one of the many thousands of coral species found around the world becomes extinct, then potentially it could be regrown from the frozen biorepository.
The role of the ocean in economic and social development
“Our job is really not about today, it’s about 200 or 500 years from now when, hopefully, our oceans have returned to pre-industrial conditions,” says Mary Hagedorn in her laboratory. I’ll never see the fruition of our work in my life, nor will my students or their students. Nevertheless, we have set this whole thing in motion, and as a scientist, I know we’re doing something that really is good for the planet. However, it is very critical that we do this work now, while corals still have robust genetic diversity.” Mary Hagedorn and her colleagues were interviewed as part of a photographic project called “Dignity at Work” which is being undertaken across the United States by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO).
Oceans’ role in economic and social development
Kevin Cassidy is the Director of the ILO Office for the United States: “We have seen the far-sighted and truly inspiring work on coral reefs by Mary and her team,” he said, explaining the key role the ocean plays in economic and social activity.
“When one is fishing for seafood it creates income for the fisherman, his workers, more jobs in wholesale markets and shops, purveyors and transport workers, chefs and waiters serving food, patrons at restaurants and taxis.
It is an economic string that threads its way through society.”
And he warns of the danger of not looking after marine resources. “The impact of dying oceans would not only be an ecological disaster but would also take a large human and economic toll.”
Back outside on Coconut Island, the work continues in between tropical rain showers. The plastic sheets which were planted in water tanks with individual corals on different occasions show how, over time, the animals grow bigger and stronger. Ultimately, when the conditions are right, they could be returned to the ocean to restore reefs. And in the longer term, the corals now stored in frozen biorepositories could bring back to life species killed by the effects of climate change.
Global Plastic Action Partnership Making an Impact in Fighting Plastic Pollution
The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) released its second annual impact report, which highlights strides made over the last two years in building coalitions, extending global reach, and helping nations make a difference by confronting plastic waste.
“Plastic pollution was already a global emergency, and with the pandemic-induced explosion in packaged goods, as well as increased of use of single-use plastics through masks, gloves and other PPE, it has become a global disaster,” said Kristin Hughes, GPAP Director and a member of the World Economic Forum Executive Committee. “The good news is that our GPAP 2021 impact report proves that what we’re doing works, and if we act together now, we can halt the plastic pollution crisis in its tracks.”
On the heels of a challenging year dominated by the COVID pandemic, GPAP and its partner governments have met critical milestones, including:
– Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Viet Nam came together as early adopters in the Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership
– Viet Nam pledged to reduce marine plastics by 75% by 2030
– Ghana committed to a 100% circular economy for plastics
– Indonesia’s action and investment roadmap is poised to prevent 16 million tonnes of plastic leakage into the ocean; Create 150,000 jobs; and Generate $10 billion in annual revenues.
Taking collaborative action to tackle plastic pollution
“The Forum’s platform approach aligns various stakeholders from public and private organisations, works toward common objectives, and creates outcomes far greater than could be achieved by any nation or organization acting alone,” said Hughes. “It’s a great honor to lead the GPAP platform, and to see what we can accomplish through the convening power and influence that the Forum brings to bear. Our second annual report shows what can be done and, now more than ever, what needs to be done.”
In the face of global disruption and re-set, GPAP’s initiatives are performing and moving the needle on climate change by promoting a circular economy for plastics. The report outlines key progress in the following impact areas:
Transforming behaviour – GPAP amplified initiatives that help citizens and consumers form more sustainable relationships with plastics
– Raised awareness of the COVID-19 impact on the plastic ecosystem through public town hall communications
– 14 solutions to address plastic waste and pollution were developed in collaboration between government, business, and media influencers on the GPAP platform
– 116 recycling points were identified in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, up from just 10 before the National Plastic Action Partnership was initiated
Unlocking financing – GPAP engaged stakeholders to promote investments that tackle plastic waste and pollution
– $196.7 million was committed by GPAP members to National Plastic Action Partnership countries
– 13 financial institutions engage in GPAP finance events and task forces
– 140,000 people will be reached through financing committed by GPAP partner, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste in Indonesia
– GPAP collaborated with HRH The Prince of Wales Sustainable Markets Initiative to host a Roundtable on Financing Plastic Action in Emerging Markets to unlock opportunities for investing in plastic action
Informing policy – Supporting the collaboration of policy makers with stakeholders to confront plastic pollution, GPAP has established National Plastic Action Partnerships (NPAPs) in Indonesia, Ghana, Viet Nam, and Nigeria
– 57% of GPAP’s members have been involved in government policy consultations; 53% report being involved in corporate policy decisions
– GPAP’s National Action Roadmaps offer a suite of solutions for policy makers to consider when developing plans to address plastic pollution.
Boosting innovation – GPAP created opportunities for high-potential innovators to access partners who are helping to scale their ideas
– Established a platform for connecting innovators, experts, and investors through the Global Plastic Innovation Network in partnership with UpLink where 70+ solutions are now showcased
– Crowdsourced plastic waste solutions in Indonesia and produced videos of innovators engaged in the plastic space, which reached 1.75 million views on social media
Harmonizing metrics – GPAP has facilitated evidence-based, country-level analysis and action planning to create consistent, best-practice frameworks for measuring plastic waste reduction
– Forum research determined that almost 50% of ocean waste can be prevented by reusing only 10% of plastic products (see The Future of Reusable Consumption Models Report)
– Baseline assessments and scenario analyses were completed with Indonesia, Ghana, and Viet Nam to give governments clear evidence and inform action roadmaps
Promoting inclusivity – GPAP maintained its commitment to ensure that diverse voices and inclusive perspectives are integrated across all partnerships
– Established gender-responsive principles for plastic action through GPAP’s Guide to Ensure Gender-Responsive Action in Eliminating Plastic Pollution
– Conducted a ground-breaking Gender Analysis of the Plastics Sector in Ghana
– Brought together key youth leaders through the inaugural Plastic Action Champions cohort
Most agricultural funding distorts prices, harms environment
Around 87% of the $540 billion in total annual government support given worldwide to agricultural producers includes measures that are price distorting and that can be harmful to nature and health.
The report, A multi-billion-dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems, was launched on Tuesday by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Global support to producers in the form of subsidies and other incentives, makes up 15 per cent of total agricultural production value. By 2030, this is projected to more than triple, to $1.759 trillion. The OECD defines agricultural support, as the annual monetary value of gross transfers to agriculture, from consumers and taxpayers, arising from government policies.
Current support mostly consists of price incentives, such as import tariffs and export subsidies, as well as fiscal subsidies which are tied to the production of a specific commodity or input.
The report says these are inefficient, distort food prices, hurt people’s health, degrade the environment, and are often inequitable, putting big agri-business ahead of smallholder farmers, many whom are women.
Last year, up to 811 million people worldwide faced chronic hunger and nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food. In 2019, around three billion people, in every region of the world, could not afford a healthy diet.
Change, don’t eliminate
The reports note that, even though most agricultural support today has negative effects, around $110 billion supports infrastructure, research and development, and benefits the general food and agriculture sector.
It argues that changing agricultural producer support, rather than eliminating it, will help end poverty, eradicate hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, promote sustainable agriculture, foster sustainable consumption and production, mitigate the climate crisis, restore nature, limit pollution, and reduce inequalities.
The Director-General of FAO, Qu Dongyu, said the report “is a wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems and contribute to the Four Betters: Better nutrition, better production, better environment and a better life.”
Agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change. At the same time, farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks.
According to the report, “continuing with support-as-usual will worsen the triple planetary crisis and ultimately harm human well-being.”
Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement requires shifting support especially in high-income countries for an outsized meat and dairy industry, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures.
For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, “governments have an opportunity now to transform agriculture into a major driver of human well-being, and into a solution for the imminent threats of climate change, nature loss, and pollution.”
From India to the UK
The report shares several case studies, such as the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, that adopted a policy of Zero Budget Natural Farming; or the Single Payment Scheme, in the United Kingdom, that removed subsidies in agreement with the National Farmers Union (NFU).
In the European Union, crop diversification has been incentivized through reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and in Senegal a programme called PRACAS incentivizes farmers to cultivate more diverse crops.
UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, believes repurposing agricultural support “can improve both productivity and environmental outcomes.” For him, this change “will also boost the livelihoods of the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, many of them women, by ensuring a more level playing field.”
The report is being launched ahead of the 2021 Food Systems Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, due to take place on 23rd September in New York.
The Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.
Climate Change Could Force 216M People to Migrate Within Their Own Countries by 2050
The World Bank’s updated Groundswell report released today finds that climate change, an increasingly potent driver of migration, could force 216 million people across six world regions to move within their countries by 2050. Hotspots of internal climate migration could emerge as early as 2030 and continue to spread and intensify by 2050. The report also finds that immediate and concerted action to reduce global emissions, and support green, inclusive, and resilient development, could reduce the scale of climate migration by as much as 80 percent.
Climate change is a powerful driver of internal migration because of its impacts on people’s livelihoods and loss of livability in highly exposed locations. By 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million.
“The Groundswell report is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest—those who are contributing the least to its causes. It also clearly lays out a path for countries to address some of the key factors that are causing climate-driven migration,” said Juergen Voegele, Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank. “All these issues are fundamentally connected which is why our support to countries is positioned to deliver on climate and development objectives together while building a more sustainable, safe and resilient future.”
The updated report includes projections and analysis for three regions: East Asia and the Pacific, North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It builds on the novel and pioneering modeling approach of the previous World Bank Groundswell report from 2018, which covered Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
By deploying a scenario-based approach, the report explores potential future outcomes, which can help decision-makers plan ahead. The approach allows for the identification of internal climate in- and out- migration hotspots, namely the areas from which people are expected to move due to increasing water scarcity, declining crop productivity, and sea-level rise, and urban and rural areas with better conditions to build new livelihoods.
The report provides a series of policy recommendations that can help slow the factors driving climate migration and prepare for expected migration flows, including:
- Reducing global emissions and making every effort to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
- Embedding internal climate migration in far-sighted green, resilient, and inclusive development planning.
- Preparing for each phase of migration, so that internal climate migration as an adaptation strategy can result in positive development outcomes.
- Investing in better understanding of the drivers of internal climate migration to inform well-targeted policies.
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