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Canada leads push to safeguard world’s oceans

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World Oceans Day on June 8 is a time to celebrate and honour the oceans that feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. They also serve as the foundation for much of the world’s economy, from tourism and fisheries to international shipping. Careful management of this essential global resource is necessary for a sustainable future.

Every year, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans from activities on land.  Tackling marine plastic pollution is a priority, considering the impacts to economies, wildlife, and ecosystems.  On World Oceans Day, we celebrate the efforts made worldwide to protect the marine environment.

Canada and the Ocean Plastics Charter

The Government of Canada is at the forefront of critical international efforts to protect the marine environment. As the country with the longest coastline in the world, Canada spearheaded the Ocean Plastics Charter under its G7 presidency in 2018.

“The health of our oceans is critical to reducing climate change, growing economies, supporting coastal communities and protecting ocean biodiversity and ecosystems. Plastic pollution knows no borders and requires global action. Through the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada is partnering with governments, businesses, and organizations from around the world to move toward a sustainable and circular economy for plastics. Together, we are working towards a future of zero plastic waste,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change in Canada.

The charter outlines concrete actions to eliminate plastic pollution and recognizes the need for urgent action to address the impacts of marine litter on the health and sustainability of our oceans, seas, coastal communities, and ecosystems.

As of May 2020, 26 governments and 69 businesses and organizations have endorsed the Charter, committing to more sustainable approaches to produce, use, and manage plastic and reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. 

In support of the charter, Canada has also committed Can$ 100 million (more than US$ 71 million) for developing countries to prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans, to address plastic waste on shorelines, and to better manage existing plastic resources.

National Action
To achieve its international commitments under the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada is taking ambitious domestic action, which includes a vision to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, whereby plastics stay in the economy – and out of the environment. Federal, provincial and territorial governments are working together to implement the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste – a path forward to better prevent, reduce, reuse, recover, capture, and clean up plastic waste. By engaging with industry and other levels of government, Canada aims to recover 100 percent of all plastics by 2040.

The initial phase of the Canada-wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste, launched in 2019, focuses on activities  to increase the recovery of plastics in the economy. These include establishing consistent extended producer responsibility programs; providing support for innovations and infrastructure to better manage plastics; increasing the responsible use and recycling of single-use products; facilitating greening government operations and purchasing; and developing standards for recycled content in plastic products and bio-based plastic products.

A second phase under development this year will complete the set of actions to implement the strategy by improving consumer, business, and institution awareness; reducing waste and pollution from aquatic activities; advancing science; tackling debris in the environment; and continuing to contribute to global action.

Canada is among the 8 percent of countries in the world to ban toiletries containing plastic microbeads. Through sustainable procurement and reducing the use of unnecessary single use plastics at its events, meetings and in its operations, Canada has also committed to diverting 75 percent of its plastic waste from federal operations by 2030.

The Canadian government is also investing in robust science to address priority research gaps. Canada’s Plastics Science Agenda and Plastics Science for a Cleaner Future  are recent steps in investments in research to better understand the impacts of plastic pollution and support solutions across the value chain.

As another source of marine litter is lost fishing and aquaculture gear, the Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program, a Can$ 8.3 million investment (from 2020-2022), supports the prevention and retrieval of so called ghost gear – discarded, lost or abandoned fishing and aquaculture gear. It will also support fish harvesters to acquire new gear technologies to reduce gear loss. This is the first fund of its kind that dedicates a significant source of funds specifically to combat ghost gear.

Partnering with UNEP

In 2017, Canada joined the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas Campaign. So far, over 60 countries have joined this campaign aimed at transforming habits, practices, standards, and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes. This first engagement set the path to the creation of the Oceans Plastics Charter and Canada’s national commitments and strategies.

Today, Canada supports the global efforts of UNEP to address marine litter through many avenues. One is the participation in the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics, an outcome of the third UN Environment Assembly, to assess effective means to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics from all sources, and to examine options to strengthen multilateral action.

Canada is also part of the steering committee of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter for which UNEP provides the secretariat. The global partnership seeks to protect the global marine environment, human well-being, and animal welfare by addressing the global problem of marine litter. As part of this partnership, Canada supported the Caribbean region to develop educational materials, and engage stakeholders in strategic planning for advancing the regional marine litter action plan for the Caribbean. Canada also provided financial support to enable other countries to participate in the Basel Convention’s Partnership on Plastic Waste meeting.

In March this year, UNEP and Canada signed a five-year agreement whereby Canada provides Can$ 3.1 million annually to the Environment Fund of UNEP, placing Canada among the top-10 contributors of core, flexible resources to UNEP in 2020.

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Discrimination in the air

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Nine out of 10 people globally breathe polluted air, causing about 7 million premature deaths every year. On 7 September 2020, the United Nations observed the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. This article is part of UNEP’s continuing coverage of air pollution and its impact globally.

Over 40 per cent of the U.S. population – about 134 million people – face health risks resulting from air pollution, -according to the American Lung Association. The burden is far from evenly shared. Studies show that in the United States, people of color and low-income communities face a significantly higher risk of environmental health effects, highlighting that the impacts of air pollution are experienced unequally throughout the country.

People of color are more likely to live in areas affected by pollution and high road traffic density, increasing risks to their health. As prominent American environmental justice activist and leader Robert D. Bullard emphasizes, race and place matter.

For example, along the Mississippi River in the southern United States, there is an area with some of the worst air pollution in the country. In the stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge Louisiana, many people live right next to several high-polluting industrial plants. Residents, who are predominately Black, have seen significant cancer clusters, with cancer risks in the area reaching up to 50% more than the national average. In St. John the Baptist parish alone, an area of about 2 square miles, the cancer rate is about 800 times higher than the American average.

Similarly, New York City neighborhood Mott Haven, home to mainly LatinX and Black families, has a very high level of air pollution from traffic, warehouses, and industry.  Residents in Mott Haven face some of the highest rates of asthma cases and asthma-related hospitalizations in the country, especially among children.

Often, communities experiencing high levels of air pollution are among the most vulnerable, facing poor access to health services, limited economic opportunity, more polluted work environments and racial injustices.  Comprehensive policies are needed to address these interrelated challenges.

“There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic factors and risk of air pollution,” said Dr. Barbara Hendrie, Regional Director for UN Environment Programme North America. “Recognizing this, and the disproportionate impacts of air pollution throughout the United States is a critical part of developing effective solutions.”

On the first-ever International Day of Clean Air for blue skies in September, the UN Environment Programme called upon governments, corporations, to civil society and individuals, to take action to reduce air pollution and bring about transformative change.

Air pollution does not have to be a part of our collective future. We have the solutions and must take the necessary actions to address this environmental menace and provide #CleanAirForAll.

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New strains of rice could address climate change

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Rice is a staple for more than 3.5 billion people, including most of the world’s poor. But it can be a problematic crop to farm. It requires massive amounts of water and the paddies in which it grows emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

To tackle such issues, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working with the Shanghai Agrobiological Gene Center to develop strains of rice that are drought resistant and don’t need to be planted in paddies. The research, say, experts, could help bolster food security at a time when COVID-19 is threatening to propel more people into hunger.

The study, which runs from 2017 to 2021, is funded by the Government of China and falls under the China-Africa South-South Cooperation arrangement.

“China has lots of experience growing rice and this collaboration with China is a first,” says UNEP ecosystems expert Levis Kavagi, who has been closely involved with the project.

Researchers have developed and tested over 50 varieties of rice in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. They evaluated how the grains grow at different elevations and, importantly, how they taste.

WDR 73 also doesn’t need to be planted in a flooded paddy. That’s important for several reasons.

Transporting seedlings into flooded fields is a laborious process. Paddies are breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Water shortages, sparked by climate change, are expected to make filling paddies a challenge in many countries. And paddies themselves vent massive amounts of methane –  up to 20 per cent of human-related emissions of the greenhouse gas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

Growing rice on relatively dry land also reduces the ever-growing quest to open up wetlands, havens for birds and other animals, to farming.

“Usually the most suitable land for growing rice also tends to be next to, or in, wetlands or flood plains,” says Kavagi. “Expanding agricultural land involves draining the wetlands. This leads to loss of biodiversity, and reduced water purification and climate regulation services provided by wetlands.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to get a national certification of WDR 73, allowing it to be broadly disseminated to farmers. The project is part of a larger effort by China, African countries and UNEP to develop better rice varieties, improve livelihoods and bolster food security.

“The project shows that with new rice varieties it is possible to achieve the multiple objectives of food security, biodiversity and nature conservation – and fight against climate change,” says Kavagi.

Technical details of rice trials in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda

In Kenya, trials were conducted over three growing seasons in Mwea (central Kenya), Busia (western), and Mtwapa (coastal area). Rice variety WDR 73 performed well compared with the local Basmati varieties. The growth duration varied from 125 days in Mtwapa, to 150 days in Mwea and Busia, where the altitude is over 1,000m. Average grain yield was 5.1 to 9.0 tonnes per hectare. Plant height was 100-110 cm, which shows that this variety is tolerant to rice blast disease and displays good drought-resistant qualities compared to Basmati varieties.

In Uganda, WDR73 cultivation experiments were conducted in Lukaya, Luweero and Arua. In well-managed farms, grain yield increased from 4.35 to more than 6.0 tons per hectare. In Arua, in 2019 the rain-fed crop was direct sowed from 25-30 August and harvested from 30 November to 5 December. The growth duration was 90-95 days and yielded 4.35 tonnes per hectare. Direct seeded WDR 73 grain yield in Luweero in 2019 varied from 6 tonnes per hectare in rain-fed conditions to 8 tonnes per hectare in irrigated paddy fields.

In Bolgatanga, a drought-prone area in northern Ghana, WDR 73 growth duration was 105 days and plant height 110-120 cm, while the grain yield was 6.0 tonnes per hectare.

UN Environment

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Vietnam Signs Landmark Deal with World Bank to Cut Carbon Emissions

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Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development signed a landmark agreement today with the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), unlocking up to US$51.5 million for Vietnam’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation between now and 2025. With this Emission Reductions Payment Agreement (ERPA) in place, Vietnam is expected to reduce 10.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from six North Central Region provinces of Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue to receive $51.5 million from the FCPF.

Vietnam has shown tremendous leadership in developing robust programs to deliver forest emission reductions at scale,” saidCarolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for Vietnam, where new and significant incentives for forest protection and improved management are now in place to help the country meet its ambitious climate targets.”

Vietnam’s Emission Reductions Program is designed to address the underlying causes of forest loss in the country’s North Central Region and by so doing reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The program will also support forest restoration. The region was chosen for its critical biodiversity importance and socio-economic status. The program area covers 5.1 million hectares of land (16 percent of the land area of the country), of which 3.1 million hectares are currently forested, and includes five internationally recognized conservation corridors. It is home to approximately 10.5 million people, nearly one third of whom live below the national poverty line.

“Vietnam’s program follows a preparation phase that built our readiness to engage in an emission reduction payment agreement of this kind and is a step towards full implementation of forest carbon services in Vietnam. This agreement highlights the collaboration between Vietnam, FCPF and the World Bank to meet international climate targets laid out in the Paris Agreement,” said Ha Cong Tuan, Standing Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Our program will mobilize important additional financing to invest in our forests and reduce forest degradation while generating income for forest owners and improving sustainable development in the North Central Region.”

Vietnam is the first country in Asia-Pacific and fifth globally to reach such a milestone agreement with the FCPF. ERPAs are innovative instruments that incentivize sustainable land management at scale and help to connect countries with other sources of climate financing. The resources from the FCPF provide new opportunities to conserve and regenerate forest landscapes and biodiversity while simultaneously supporting sustainable economic growth, which is critical for Vietnam’s development going forward.

The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is a global partnership of governments, businesses, civil society, and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations focused on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, forest carbon stock conservation, the sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries, activities commonly referred to as REDD+. Launched in 2008, the FCPF has worked with 47 developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, along with 17 donors that have made contributions and commitments totaling US$1.3 billion.

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