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Amid COVID-19, these 10 countries are aiming to kickstart their economies by repairing nature

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In 1933, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order allocating US$ 10 million for emergency conservation efforts under the New Deal, putting unemployed Americans to work. When South Korea was struggling with famine and a refugee crisis in the 1950s, the government restored forests and farmland, creating hundreds of thousands of rural jobs.

Fast forward to the COVID-19 crisis, and some states are once again using restoration as an engine of employment, especially in rural areas where jobs are badly needed. That strategy not only has the potential to kickstart economic growth, it’s also key in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Reviving nature is at the core of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global push to repair lands lost to development that is set to begin in 2021.

“A green recovery is one that tackles the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises at the same time,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “Some countries are already designing stimulus packages that include actions for forests, wetlands, soils and green cities. At the UN Biodiversity Summit, we saw a remarkable groundswell of political commitment to nature. But now we must step up on a massive-scale, actions to restore our degraded ecosystems.”

Here are 10 states that have included restoration commitments in their pandemic recovery plans.

Pakistan

Pakistan has hired tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs during COVID-19 lockdowns to plant saplings, including mulberry and acacia trees. The government, which launched the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme in 2018, exempted the initiative from some lockdown restrictions.

France

About one-third of France’s €100 billion (US$ 120 billion) recovery package is devoted to accelerating the greening of the economy. Alongside investments in clean buildings, industry and transport, are new resources for the “agro-ecological transition” of agriculture. The initiative includes advice, training and tax credits for organic farmers, replanting and restoring hundreds of kilometres of hedges along field boundaries, and support for locally based food systems and urban farming.

New Zealand

New Zealand has earmarked NZ$ 1.1 billion (US$ 750 million) in recovery funds to create up to 11,000 “environmental jobs” in areas like wetland restoration, the revegetation of conservation areas and the protection of riparian zones. There is also funding for efforts to control introduced predators, including rats and stoats, which have decimated native birds, and invasive species of conifer trees.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The United Kingdom plans to invest up to  £40 million (US$ 52 million) in a so-called Green Recovery Challenge Fund. It will help environmental groups and public authorities create or safeguard up to 5,000 jobs in nature conservation and restoration, with a focus on tree planting and the rehabilitation of peatlands. The United Kingdom is also developing a system to assess its natural capital to improve its understanding of habitats and provide better guidance for decision making.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia is aiming to plant 5 billion seedlings this year, part of an effort to double its forest cover by 2030. Together with the Economic Commission for Africa, the country has focused on forest restoration as a way to create green jobs, improve the health of its citizens and spur a recovery from COVID-19. In 2019, Ethiopia set a new world record when over 350 million trees were planted in one day as part of President Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative.

Finland

Finland’s recovery efforts include a proposal to spend €53 million (US$ 63 million) on recreation areas, water services and forest conservation. An additional €13.1 million (US$ 15.5 million) will be channelled to the rehabilitation of natural habitats, including forests, and the development of nature tourism. These funds are earmarked for state-owned enterprises charged with capturing carbon and protecting biodiversity.

Colombia

Restoration efforts in Colombia’s recovery plan include reforestation and support for sustainable agriculture. To reverse deforestation and combat climate change, the government aims to plant 180 million trees, some 50 million of which should be in the ground before the end of 2020. The package includes funds to promote agroforestry and agropastoralism, farming techniques that can restore soils and ecosystems. The government also plans to tighten mining regulations to protect the environment.

Iceland

As part of its stimulus package, Iceland has allocated ISK 200 million (US$1.5 million) for natural carbon sequestration projects, including the expansion of native birch forests and the restoration of wetlands. Iceland is also pushing ahead with plans to ban the sale of single-use plastics, such as cutlery and food containers, to combat the pollution of marine ecosystems.

Kenya

The country’s capital, Nairobi, has hired once-destitute families to clean up its parks and waterways, helping many to earn income and get off the streets. City officials are already seeing environmental benefits: 1,200 tons of garbage have been removed and fish are returning to Nairobi River.

Ireland

Ireland has announced an extra €15 million (US$18 million) to accelerate a programme to rehabilitate 33,000 hectares of peatlands degraded by development. The programme is designed to increase the area of wetlands for endangered species, such as the grey partridge and marsh fritillary butterfly, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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No pathway to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C goal without the G20

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“The world urgently needs a clear and unambiguous commitment to the 1.5 degree goal of the Paris Agreement from all G20 nations”, António Guterres said on Sunday after the Group failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments during their recent Ministerial Meeting on Environment, Climate and Energy.

“There is no pathway to this goal without the leadership of the G20. This signal is desperately needed by the billions of people already on the frontlines of the climate crisis and by markets, investors and industry who require certainty that a net zero climate resilient future is inevitable”, the Secretary General urged in a statement.

The UN chief reminded that science indicates that to meet that ‘ambitious, yet achievable goal’, the world must achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 and cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by 45 % by 2030 from 2010 levels. “But we are way off track”, he warned.

The world needs the G20 to deliver

With less than 100 days left before the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference COP 26, a pivotal meeting that will be held in Glasgow at the end of October, António Guterres urged all G20 and other leaders to commit to net zero by mid-century, present more ambitious 2030 national climate plans and deliver on concrete policies and actions aligned with a net zero future.

These include no new coal after 2021, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and agreeing to a minimum international carbon pricing floor as proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The G7 and other developed countries must also deliver on a credible solidarity package of support for developing countries including meeting the US$100 billion goal, increasing adaptation and resilience support to at least 50% of total climate finance and getting public and multilateral development banks to significantly align their climate portfolios to meet the needs of developing countries”, he highlighted.

The UN Chief informed that he intends to use the opportunity of the upcoming UN General Assembly high-level session to bring leaders together to reach a political understanding on these critical elements of the ‘package’ needed for Glasgow.

A setback for Glasgow

The G20 ministers, which met in Naples, Italy on July 23-25, couldn’t agree to a common language on two disputed issues related to phasing out coal and the 1.5-degree goal, which now will have to be discussed at the G20 summit in Rome in October, just one day before the COP 26 starts.

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Western Indian Ocean region has declared 550,000 square kilometers as protected

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The Western Indian Ocean region has declared 143* marine and coastal areas as protected – an area covering 553,163 square kilometers, representing 7 percent of the total Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the region – according to a new publication by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-Nairobi Convention and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association.

The Marine Protected Areas Outlook, released today, indicates that almost half of the total area – an estimated 63 percent of the overall square kilometers – was brought under protection in the seven years since the 2015 adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 14.5, which committed countries to conserving at least 10 percent of their marine and coastal areas by 2020.

This Outlook examines the current and future status of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Comoros, Kenya, France (in its Western Indian Ocean territories), Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, and Tanzania, emphasizing the increased commitment of countries to strengthen marine protection. In 2019 alone, Seychelles brought 30 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone under protection, safeguarding the habitats of 2,600 species, while South Africa declared 20 new MPAs – enabling both countries to exceed the 10 percent target. Comoros has developed new MPA-specific legislation, while over three hundred Locally Managed Marine Areas – i.e., areas in which coastal communities shoulder the mantle of conservation – have been declared across the region.

The publication further documents the dozens of proposed MPAs currently under consideration by countries, which would cover an additional 50,000 square kilometers or more. Nevertheless, with only 7 percent of the region’s total EEZ under protection, greater momentum and investments will be required by countries to reach the more ambitious target of 30 percent protection by 2030, as proposed under the Global Biodiversity Framework.  

Although the ocean provides us with resources essential for survival, including food, employment, and even oxygen, the world is damaging and depleting it faster than ever. Soon, the region may no longer be able to count on the many jobs, health, and economic benefits – valued at 20.8 billion USD – that the Western Indian Ocean provides. Marine protected areas offer one of the best options to reverse these trends. 

“A well-managed MPA can bring significant economic, social, and environmental benefits to a country,” said Yamkela Mngxe, Acting Director of Integrated Projects and International Coordination in South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. “They can increase food security by preventing the overexploitation of fish stocks; create and protect jobs in the tourism and fisheries sectors; build resilience to climate change; and protect species and habitats.”

Though countries in the region have made significant strides in protecting its marine and coastal areas, the Outlook outlines best practices, challenges, and several opportunities to build on thisprogressto ensure the entire region meets future Global Biodiversity Framework targets on marine protected areas. The Outlook’s assessment of the management effectiveness of MPAs indicates that MPA frameworks and institutions do not always function effectively. Nor is relevant legislation consistently implemented, due to financial or personnel capacity gaps; weak enforcement on MPA boundaries; and management decisions that are not guided by science.

Key recommendations from the Outlook therefore include:

  1. The need for dedicated budgets for MPA management;
  2. Adopting proactive law enforcement and compliance strategies to ensure MPA regulations and guidelines are being respected which could be informed by the best practices in fishery reserves like Mauritius, which have helped to restore fish stocks and protect biodiversity;
  3. Incorporating research and monitoring programmes on biodiversity and ecosystems into decision-making in MPAs;
  4. Strengthening community engagement in marine protection by implementing lessons learned by the MIHARI Network, which brings together more than 200 Locally Managed Marine Areas in Madagascar.

“The MPA Outlook comes at a time when the region has embarked on large-scale socio-economic developments that are equally exerting pressure on MPAs,” said Hon. Flavien Joubert,Minister of Agriculture, Climate Change, and Environment of the Seychelles. “The Outlook thus provides some answers and innovative approaches to minimize the scale of negative impacts on MPAs.”

The MPA Outlook concludes that by seizing the opportunities it presents, countries in the region can capitalize on this progress to safeguard the Western Indian Ocean’s immense natural beauty and resources for generations to come – and sustain momentum towards achievement of the post 2020 biodiversity framework targets.

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Deadly flooding, heatwaves in Europe, highlight urgency of climate action

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Floods have affected cities across Europe, including Zurich in Switzerland. Unsplash/Claudio Schwarz

Heavy rainfall that has triggered deadly and catastrophic flooding in several western European countries, is just the latest indicator that all nations need to do more to hold back climate change-induced disasters, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday.

The agency said that countries including Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands had received up to two months’ rain in two days from 14 to 15 July, on ground that was “already near saturation”.

Photos taken at the scene of some of the worst water surges and landslides show huge, gaping holes where earth and buildings had stood until mid-week, after media reports pointed to well over 100 confirmed fatalities in Germany and Belgium on Friday morning, with an unknown number still missing across vast areas.

“We’ve seen images of houses being…swept away, it’s really, really devastating”, said WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis adding that that the disaster had overwhelmed some of the prevention measures put in place by the affected developed countries.

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said he was saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property. “He extends his condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims and to the Governments and people of the affected countries.”

The UN chief said the UN stood ready to contribute to ongoing rescue and assistance efforts, if necessary.

“Europe on the whole is prepared, but you know, when you get extreme events, such as what we’ve seen – two months’ worth of rainfall in two days – it’s very, very difficult to cope,” added Ms. Nullis, before describing scenes of “utter devastation” in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state, which is bordered by France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Highlighting typical preparedness measures, the WMO official noted In Switzerland’s national meteorological service, MeteoSwiss, had a smartphone application which regularly issued alerts about critical high-water levels.

The highest flood warning is in place at popular tourist and camping locations including lakes Biel, Thun and the Vierwaldstattersee, with alerts also in place for Lake Brienz, the Rhine near Basel, and Lake Zurich.

Dry and hot up north

In contrast to the wet conditions, parts of Scandinavia continue to endure scorching temperatures, while smoke plumes from Siberia have affected air quality across the international dateline in Alaska. Unprecedented heat in western north America has also triggered devastating wildfires in recent weeks.

Among the Scandinavian countries enduring a lasting heatwave, the southern Finnish town of Kouvola Anjala, has seen 27 consecutive days with temperatures above 25C. “This is Finland, you know, it’s not Spain, it’s not north Africa,”, Ms. Nullis emphasised to journalists in Geneva.

“Certainly, when you see the images we’ve seen in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands this week it’s shocking, but under climate change scenarios, we are going to see more extreme events in particular extreme heat,” the WMO official added.

Troubled waters

Concerns persist about rising sea temperatures in high northern latitudes, too, Ms. Nullis said, describing the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea at a “record” high, “up to 26.6C on 14 July”, making it the warmest recorded water temperature since records began some 20 years ago.

Echoing a call by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to all countries to do more to avoid a climate catastrophe linked to rising emissions and temperatures, Ms. Nullis urged action, ahead of this year’s UN climate conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, in November.

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