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The future is circular: What biodiversity really means

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Subtle shifts aren’t good enough, says Doreen Robinson, Chief of Wildlife at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It’s time for a system-wide transformation. On the day of the UN Summit on Biodiversity, Robinson explains where we’ve gone wrong and how we can do better.

Why are we talking about biodiversity now – in the midst of a global disease pandemic, with economies stretched to their limits and a looming climate crisis?

As we speak, more species are threatened with extinction than ever before. Extreme weather events – and consequently, fires, floods and droughts – are happening more frequently and with greater intensity; and zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 now account for the majority of infectious diseases emerging in humans.

These are symptoms of a systemic problem, and this requires a systemic solution. We need to completely recalibrate our relationship to nature – and we need to do so, urgently.   Biodiversity is the foundation for all life on earth.

How does biodiversity affect the actual experiences of people in their everyday lives?

Biodiversity affects just about every aspect of human life, from job security and basic health to saving the planet for future generations.

More than half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is dependent on nature. Three-quarters of all food crop types – including fruits and vegetables and some of the most important cash crops, like coffee and almonds – require animal pollination. About half of the global population relies mainly on natural medicines and most of the drugs used to treat cancer are either natural or modelled after nature. So there is a direct and relationship between biodiversity and some very basic aspects of survival. 

There is also an important long-term, preventive aspect – which we are experiencing very acutely today.  Where native biodiversity is high, for example, the infection rate for some zoonotic diseases is lower.  So protecting natural habitats and wildlife is also a way to help protect ourselves.  Biodiversity is the basis for healthy ecosystems as well, and healthy ecosystems capture and store greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change, whereas damaged ecosystems release carbons and add to it.

When we work with nature, it works with us. And when we work against nature, we dismantle the very system that supports and protects us.

What exactly do you mean when you say “recalibrate our relationship to nature”?

Human actions have typically been shaped by a paradigm in which a “good life” means material consumption and perpetual economic growth. For decades, we have extracted natural resources, destroyed critical habitats, and generated pollution.  Our relationship with nature is unbalanced: humans are continuously taking and discarding, and nature is continuously giving.  This one-way relationship is unsustainable.

So we need to reset the balance: not just hoarding benefits, but investing as much back into nature as we extract from it. It’s time to develop a new paradigm that recognizes the value of nature and understands that life quality is not purely a matter of GDP. Instead of a linear approach in which things are used and discarded, we need to apply circular thinking in which life is sustained and things are continuously repurposed.  We need to think about these things in all the choices we make, from how we select and deliver the food we grow and eat to how we build our cities and provide water and electricity for our growing human population.

In the context of global challenges we now face, and with so many jobs and industries dependent on traditional economic models, is this kind of dramatic change possible?

Not only is it possible, but it is also our only hope.

Aside from the unprecedented global challenges we are experiencing, biodiversity loss is making it difficult to ensure even the most basic human rights – nutritious food, clean water and affordable energy. It is undermining progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. And without a fundamental shift in our approach, we are unlikely to keep global warming within safe limits – a failure that would only magnify the challenges we face in the future.

It might seem counter-intuitive but, actually, now is the time to get serious about – precisely because of the challenges on our doorstep.  In times of uncertainty, biodiversity is a form of insurance, availing options and protecting us from shocks.

It also creates opportunities for new jobs, innovations – and better, healthier lives. And by prioritizing resource-intensive sectors in the shift toward sustainable consumption and production, we have the potential to achieve very significant gains over a relatively short period.

What does this mean in a practical sense: what specific actions need to be taken?

This means translating good intentions into concrete action.

As countries around the world launch various post-crisis initiatives and stimulus packages, we must include nature as part of those recovery packages.  That means natural capital must be included in decision making.  It means investing in green jobs including in areas of ecosystem protection and restoration.  Now is the time to establish new,nature-positive standards for production and consumption. And we need to invest in the environment dimensions of integrated One Health approaches to avoid future pandemics and other human health crises.  We can build back better – but only if we match words with deeds.

At the same time, we cannot afford to lessen our commitments to securing a new, ambitious and accountable Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that all of society can support.   

Channel long-term financing and investment toward nature and climate health.  Currently, governments around the world spend more than US$500 billion every year in ways that harm biodiversity, primarily to support industries like fossil fuels, agriculture and fisheries.  These funds could be repurposed to incentivise regenerative agriculture, sustainable food systems, clean technology and nature-positive innovations.

UN Environment

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Environment

Seven Key Principles for Implementing Net Zero

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Meeting our shared goals for avoiding dangerous climate change requires a dramatic acceleration of progress towards clean growth and resilience. Over 120 countries have so far announced their intention to bring emissions to net zero by the middle of this century. As we look forward to COP26, this growing political consensus is a cause for optimism about the world’s ability to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. A tremendous amount of work is now needed to turn ambitions into reality.

With that in mind, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States welcome the following Seven Key Principles for Implementing Net Zero, and we encourage the IEA Secretariat and Members to examine how the IEA, building on its key strengths, can best support the delivery of these principles, in close partnership with other relevant institutions:

Sustainable recoveries can provide a once-in-a-generation down payment toward net zero: As countries stimulate economies and build back after the Covid-19 pandemic, they also have an historic opportunity to jumpstart progress toward achieving net zero emissions. The IEA can further support governments to harness the transition to sustainable net zero energy systems as a driver of clean, sustainable growth and job creation.

Clear, ambitious and implementable net-zero-aligned roadmaps to 2030 and beyond are critical: Governments can increase international confidence in the transition by setting out national roadmaps for action over the next vital 10 years, which incorporate each country’s diverse circumstances and utilise a variety of low-carbon technologies and options to enhance steady implementation. The IEA can further support governments across the IEA family in the development of net-zero-aligned roadmaps to 2030 and beyond, and provide necessary guidance and assistance to facilitate implementation.

Transitions will go faster when learning is shared: A wide range of real-world implementation challenges are holding back transitions, including meeting the energy needs of underserved populations and improving safe and sustainable energy access for the poorest and most vulnerable groups. The IEA’s Clean Energy Transitions Programme is supporting governments across the IEA family to navigate the technical and economic transition risks and chart an actionable course towards a sustainable and inclusive energy system. Further enhancing mechanisms to share best practices, collaborate on technology, and provide targeted advice across the IEA family can help drive the pace of transition across the global energy system.

Net zero sectors and innovation are essential to achieve global net zero: Today’s early stage technologies will likely need to contribute almost half of the emissions reductions required to set the world on an ambitious path to net zero. The development and deployment at scale of a range of climate-neutral energy technologies, combined with energy efficiency, can enable rapid, sustainable and deep energy transitions across all major energy use sectors – many of which involve complex value chains that cross national boundaries. Stronger, consolidated public-private mechanisms for international coordination are needed to accelerate innovation and deployment within sectors. The IEA can further enhance and improve its analysis of innovation and sector decarbonisation, and promote joint strategies and approaches across the IEA family, including coordination with other relevant international fora.

Mobilising, tracking and benchmarking public and private investment can be the fuel to achieve net zero: There is an urgent need to shift gears on climate-neutral energy investment to put the world on track for net zero. By 2030, the amount of investment required in electricity (generation and grid/storage) needs to rise to more than $1.6 trillion per year to be on track for net zero emissions by 2050. Major international efforts are required to increase capital flows for climate neutral energy in emerging markets and developing economies. Public and private sector actors need to be brought together to create the necessary enabling environments to further catalyse sustainable and socially acceptable energy investment. The IEA can enhance its provision of analysis and practical guidance to both governments and the finance community, including through partnerships with other relevant organisations.

People-centred transitions are morally required and politically necessary: As countries seek to advance their shifts to clean energy technologies, the success of these efforts will rest on enabling citizens to benefit from transition opportunities and to navigate disruptions. This includes social, environmental and economic impacts on individuals and communities, as well as issues of affordability and fairness. A focus on training and skills development to equip all citizens to participate in the net zero economy is also critical. Governments should continue to share best practices and, where useful, explore and step up new ways of sharing best practices for designing climate-neutral energy policies that are people-centred and inclusive, including as part of the IEA’s Global Commission on People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions.

Net zero energy systems also need to be sustainable, secure, affordable and resilient: Maintaining energy security through transitions is critical. Governments, companies and other key actors need to both anticipate and manage existing and new energy security challenges, including ensuring uninterrupted flow of energy, even as variable power sources increase. This will require ensuring a diverse, sustainable and socially acceptable clean energy and technology mix; making best use of existing infrastructure; and addressing emerging challenges such as climate resilience, cyber risks and the availability and security of critical minerals. Governments should work together to analyse where new mechanisms can contribute to further strengthening the security and resilience of the global energy system alongside a swift net zero transition, which can be underpinned by the IEA’s provision of analytic expertise, best practice and efficient security mechanisms.

Being united by the high level of their ambitions, countries at all stages of development will need to determine their own unique path to implementing net zero according to the diversity of national circumstances and wide range of technologies.

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Collaborative Partnership on Forests calls for halt to deforestation

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forest

A group of 15 international organizations working on forestry today issued a joint statement highlighting the need to halt the destruction of the world’s forests.

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) comprises UN agencies including the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Development Programme, the World Bank Group, and the four  Rio Conventions.

In the joint statement released on the sidelines of the 16th Session of the UN Forum on Forests at UN Headquarters, the CPF outlined the impacts of deforestation as well as the opportunities and actions required to reverse it.

“Forests are a source of sustainable livelihoods, prosperity, and resilience, and it is incumbent upon all of us in the forest sector to work together to halt deforestation and increase the world’s forest area,” said Mette Løyche Wilkie, Chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and Director, Forestry Division, FAO. “Today we affirm our collective commitment to support the call of UN Secretary-General António Guterres to turn the tide on deforestation.”

Deforestation and forest degradation continue at alarming rates, and are increasing in Africa. Since 1990, an estimated 420 million hectares of forest has been lost through deforestation globally, and 10 million hectares continues to be lost each year.

Deforestation and other land-use activities meanwhile account for 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“To deliver on the Paris Agreement we must utilize the full potential of forests,” said Susan Gardner, Director, Ecosystems Division at UN Environment Programme..

The CPF statement outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional pressure on forest resources and may result in a significant increase in deforestation. Healthy forests are essential to building back better and are also key in decreasing the risk of future zoonotic diseases, according to the statement.

The CPF sets out the challenges and the opportunities involved in halting deforestation, noting that it needs action beyond the forest sector – including by transforming agriculture and food systems to address the main driver of deforestation: the conversion of forests to agricultural land.

“2021 can be the year to make peace with nature if we increase ambition and identify opportunities for quantum shifts in scale of funding and result,” said Gardner.

“Feeding a growing world population and halting or even reversing deforestation are not mutually exclusive,” said Wilkie. “We can achieve both through a range of actions, including more balanced land-use planning, restoring the productivity of degraded agricultural lands, stepping up public and private sector commitments to zero deforestation, and reducing food loss and waste.”

While important public and private commitments to deforestation have been made, the CPF explains that implementation is lagging and needs to be accelerated if the goals are to be met. Progress on legal timber production and trade and strong forest governance are equally critical.

Ending deforestation is essential to confront the “quadruple planetary emergency”, of a climate crisis, a nature crisis, an inequality crisis and a global health crisis, according to the CPF statement.

The statement aims to build momentum for forests ahead of the upcoming launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration on World Environment Day (5 June) and the UN Climate Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow later this year.

The CPF’s mission is to promote sustainable management of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end. The Partnership is the driving force for the international forest agenda, providing technical and policy guidance and driving a coherent effort to meet global forest goals.

UNEP

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Ambitious plan from Russia’s Norilsk Nickel – $5,5B for the environment

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Russian Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of refined nickel and palladium, has released the results of its sustainable development efforts in 2020 and its plans for the near future to improve environmental performance and safety at work.

According to the company in a press release, Nornickel has retained leadership in the global metals and mining industry in terms of industrial health and safety. The injury rate has fallen to a record level. The Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate reduced further to 0.21 per 1,000,000 man-hours in 2020 from 0.32 in 2019. The total number of occupational accidents decreased 32% year-on-year.

Norilsk Nickel has developed a draft comprehensive environmental strategy, which is expected to be approved by the company’s board of directors in 2021. According to the document, the company plans to invest $ 3.6 billion in measures to reduce air emissions, $ 1,1 billion – in measures to protect water resources, $ 0.6 billion in minimize harm from industrial waste, $ 0.3 billion – in the reclamation of lands affected by the construction and development of the company’s deposits. Also, as part of the strategy, the company plans to invest in combating climate change and preserving biological diversity. The volume of investments in these two areas will be determined during the year.

One of the most important achievements in sustainable development in 2020 was the preparation of a new comprehensive environmental strategy. Six key focus areas have been identified within the strategy covering various aspects of environmental protection, with selected targets set for 2030. For instance, as part of its climate change strategy, Nornickel intends to maintain greenhouse gas emissions at the 2020 level in absolute terms of less than 10 mt of CO2-equivalent while aiming to increase production volumes by 25–30%.

Overall, in 2020, Nornickel had a significant progress in reducing the intensity of its environmental impact. The intensity of pollutant emissions decreased by 20.7% from 2019, while the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 23.3%.

Providing comprehensive support to the regions of operations is one of the Nornickel’s key priorities. In 2020, the Company became the leader among Russian industrial companies in terms of total spending to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. A total of RUB 12 bn was allocated in 2020 to fight the pandemic and support social stability, with another RUB 8 bn planned for 2021. A number of initiatives were developed to support small- and medium-size businesses in the regions of the Company’s operations. In 2020, Nornickel spent in total over RUB 47 bn on various social programmes, charity and social infrastructure, a third more than in 2019.

Vladimir Potanin, Nornickel’s President, commented: “The challenges we faced in 2020 confirmed our strategic adherence to the principles and goals of sustainable development, in particular, the principles of the UN Global Compact. We managed to pursue our employees’ health and safety as a priority amid the COVID-19 pandemic and effectively adapt our business processes to the new reality. A quick and well coordinated response to the unprecedented fuel spill in Norilsk helped to prevent a major environmental disaster in the Arctic. The Company has learned its lessons, improved its risk management system and set new goals to mitigate its environmental impact.”

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