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Farm fresh: Change is in the air

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Late last year, flights were diverted from Delhi, thousands of schools were closed and people in the Indian capital were advised to stay indoors or wear masks. 

You might assume that these precautions were related to some kind of viral outbreak. But, in fact, they were a response to a spike in air pollution, which imperiled residents and decreased visibility so dramatically that airline travel became hazardous.

Now, India is gearing up for another surge in toxic air. In autumn, farmers across the northern part of the country will burn their fields to make way for a new crop. During the blazes, air pollution in Delhi can be 14 times greater than what the World Health Organization considers safe, with much of the country blanketed in a haze so thick, it can be seen from space.

The case of India is striking – but it is not unique. Around the world, large areas of agricultural lands are set ablaze every year, contributing to the air pollution that is killing millions.

“Improving the quality of the air we breathe is absolutely necessary for our health and well-being,” says Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the UN Environment Programme-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat. “It is also critical to food security, climate action, responsible production and consumption – and fundamental to equality. In fact, we can’t talk about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development unless we are serious about air quality.”

Black carbon

Many farmers consider agricultural burning the most effective and cost-efficient way to clear land, fertilize the soil and prepare it for new plantation. However, these fires and the wildfires that spread from them are the world’s largest source of black carbon, a threat both to human and environmental health.

Black carbon is a component of PM2.5, a microscopic pollutant that penetrates deep into the lungs and bloodstream. PM2.5 increases the risk of dying from heart and lung disease, stroke and some cancers, causing an estimated 7 million people to perish prematurely every year. In children, PM2.5 can also cause psychological and behavioural problems; in older people, it is associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. And because air pollution compromises respiratory health, it may also increase vulnerability to COVID-19.

Black carbon is also a short-lived climate pollutant, meaning that, although it exists only for a few days or weeks, its impact on global warming is 460 –1,500 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

A better way

Ironically, far from stimulating growth, agricultural burning actually reduces water retention and soil fertility by 25 to 30 per cent, and thus requires farmers to invest in expensive fertilizers and irrigation systems to compensate.  Black carbon can also modify rainfall patterns, especially the Asian monsoon, disrupting the weather events necessary to support agriculture.

“Burned lands actually have lower fertility and higher erosion rates, requiring farmers to overcompensate with fertilizer,” says Pam Pearson, Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, which has worked with farmers globally to introduce fire-free cultivation. 

“The no-burn alternatives, such as incorporating stubble back into fields or even planting right through the stubble, almost always save the farmer money.”

Pearson notes that changing the long-established habit of burning agricultural waste will require education, awareness-raising and capacity-building for farmers. It is a lofty undertaking, but the impacts would be considerable and far-reaching. Reducing air pollution from farms in Northern India, for example, could prevent increased flooding and drought caused by soot (black carbon) accelerating the melting of Himalayan ice and glaciers – a life-changing outcome to the billions who depend on rivers fed by those mountains. 

Worldwide effort

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition works in countries and with regional networks to promote alternatives to field-burning.  In India, for example, it provides farmers with information and assistance to access alternatives to field-burning, using satellites to monitor fires and track their impact, supporting policy interventions, subsidizing farmers and ultimately turning agricultural waste into a resource.

The efforts of countries to reduce their own air pollution are part of a cohesive, global push to improve air quality. This year on 7 September, for the first time ever, the world will join together in celebrating the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, designated by the UN General Assembly in recognition of air quality as an urgent priority. It is a call to work together to change the way we live – reducing the amount of air pollution we produce – until every person in every part of the world breathes clean air. 

UN Environment

Environment

Promoters who sent a letter to Elon Musk are wanted by Russia

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The promoters from the Aboriginal Forum who sent a letter to Elon Musk asking him not to buy Norilsk Nickel metals are wanted by Russia. Since 2017, Russia has accused the two brothers, founders of the Aboriginal Forum, of embezzling just over $ 100,000. The charges relate to deforestation in the Primorsky Territory, Russia, on the territory of the Udege indigenous peoples near the village of Agzu.

Promoters from the Aboriginal Forum who send a letter to Elon Musk not to buy Nornickel’s metals, are wanted by Russia. Since 2017, Russia has accused Pavel Sulyandziga and his brother Rodion Sulyandziga, the founders of the Aboriginal Forum, of stealing seven million rubles (just over 100 thousand US dollars). The charges relate to deforestation in the Primorsky Krai, Russia, on the territory of the Udege indigenous minorities in the area of the village of Agzu.

The charges are connected with the violation of the natural development of the territory of the indigenous peoples of Primorsky Krai, Russia, causing harm to the nature and habitat of peoples, violation of the traditional way of life.

The charges were brought forward by the Russian authorities in 2017. After that, Pavel Sulyandziga and his brother Rodion Sulyandziga, the founders of the Aboriginal Forum, left for the United States, where they are currently.

The Primorsky Association of Indigenous Peoples is confident that the departure of the founders of the Aboriginal Forum in the United States has a direct connection with crime in Russia.

Residents of Agzu village are sure that the brothers deceived them.

Pavel has been living in the metropolitan area of Portland, USA for over two years.

Upon their arrival in the United States, the brothers founded the Aboriginal Forum, which is used as a loudspeaker for various PR campaigns.

Russia’s Indigenous Peoples Chief Grigory Ledkov, when asked about the alleged plea from an Aboriginal Forum to Elon Musk not to buy Nornickel’s metals, said on Friday:

“We live in Russia and we see the whole situation unlike the coordinators of this virtual platform – Aboriginal Forum – who are focused purely on Western countries and live there themselves. Let’s go to the Tundra! Come to Russia! Let’s work together!”

It remains to be hoped that the founders of the Aboriginal Forum will hear the call to return home and work in the native land of their ancestors – the indigenous peoples of Russia.

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How environmental policy can drive gender equality

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Environmental degradation has gendered impacts which need to be properly assessed and monitored to understand and adopt gender-responsive strategies and policies. While designing these, it is essential that measures targeting gender equality and women’s empowerment are adequately formulated and mainstreamed.  

To facilitate experience sharing and learning from good practices, on the 9th of September, the UNECE hosted a webinar on Gender Mainstreaming in Environmental Policies and Strategies. Ms. Astrid Krumwiede, head of the unit in charge of the development and application of gender aspects in environmental policy in the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, shared experiences from Germany, which considers gender equality to be a cross cutting issue for all areas of environmental policy. On the national level, the Ministry for the Environment has sought to integrate gender equality in various ways, such as through dialogues, meetings, guidelines, education and policies. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the fragility of progress made in gender equality, the Federal Government adopted an economic stimulus package that includes measures to provide financial assistance for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Germany has also strived for the implementation of gender mainstreaming in environmental policy at the international level, which is especially true in the field of climate change in the context of measures and strategies concerning the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement.

Despite progress made, there are still some long-standing barriers to implementing gender mainstreaming. These include a lack of political support, a lack of women in decision making and leadership positions, insufficient representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related professions, and outdated stereotypes. Moving forward, capacity building and equality impact assessment trainings need to be gender responsive so that suitable incentives are provided which enable women to participate. Communication and promotion are of vital importance, especially in finding new ways to communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that gender equality remains a focal issue. Incorporating an intersectional approach to gender equality in environmental policy is also essential, since ignoring this in policymaking can create a system that creates and reinforces different forms of discrimination.

Looking to the future, in the words of Ms. Astrid Krumwiede, “it is time for tailor made environmental policies which reflect different needs and requirements for different people”.

The webinar was complemented by perspectives from UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews and the Protocol on Water and Health on the specific examples of gender mainstreaming in environmental reviews and water, sanitation and hygiene.

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Climate Heat Maps Show How Hot It Could Get for Today’s Tweens

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Climate-related impacts such as the wildfires in the western United States will only become more severe if we allow the worst-case scenario to unfold by 2100. A new EarthTime visualization shows just how hot the world may become in 2100, within the life expectancy of today’s tween, 10-12-year olds.

The findings, announced at the fourth World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, place even more urgency on business and government leaders to fast-track solutions and act now to prevent such a scenario unfolding.

Experts attempting to rank the severity of climate change scenarios likely to play out by the year 2100 refer to the worst of them as “RCP 8.5.” This entails more than 4°C in warming above pre-industrial levels, rising emissions, hundreds of millions of people being forced to migrate, and a big increase in forested area prone to the type of fires that have raged this summer (due to a phenomenon dubbed the “moisture deficit”).

The World Economic Forum has used data from the Climate Impact Lab, Climate Central, the Washington Post, and NASA satellites to create a visualization of this worst-case scenario.

The data model shows that by 2100:

Average June-August temperatures reach 38°C (100.4°F) for many parts of the world

New Delhi, India, has eight months a year with temperatures averaging 32ºC (89.6°F) up from six

Phoenix, Arizona, has nearly 200 days a year of temperatures hitting at least 32ºC (89.6°F)

Regions of southern Europe average June-August temperatures of 30°C (86°F)

Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia’s June-August temperatures average more than 30°C (86°F)

Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, disappear under water due to rising sea levels

“Longer-term trends can often seem abstract and intangible,” said Stephan Mergenthaler, Head of Strategic Intelligence at the World Economic Forum. “Visualizing the effects of these trends, based on the latest scientific data, can help people take action and work towards shared goals.”

Experts agree that the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided if we limit global warming to below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. Effective climate policies, fighting efforts to discredit legitimate science, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or offsetting it by planting new forests, and upgrading transportation and energy systems can all be part of the equation.

“To speed up the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals and create change, we need to get as many people involved as possible,” said John Dutton, Head of UpLink at the World Economic Forum. “Anyone can make an impact. We have seen the next generation of change-markers and social entrepreneurs stand up and create action plans on the UpLink platform to make sure we don’t see this visualization come true. Connecting these ideas to funding sources, scaling up impact and creating a community of support will help us address the critical opportunities ahead for this generation.”

Innovative projects on the UpLink platform include how to reduce emissions by buying and selling unused shipping container space, how to use waste management and data analytics to reduce plastic in the ocean, and how to create packaging made from sustainably farmed seaweed. Projects allow start-ups to flag what they need to succeed and connect them with software developers, funders, or resources to deliver impact.

80 EarthTime Stories

The climate visualization is one of nearly 80 EarthTime stories that have so far been published alongside hundreds of related topics on the Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform. They cover a broad range of issues including environmental protection, technology development, intellectual property trends and systemic racism. These visualizations are intended to help illustrate important global trends and dynamics in an easy-to-understand, readily accessible way.

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