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New research reveals major benefits of integrated approaches to climate and nature

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Using new data and novel analytical approaches, research released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners underscores the size of the prize on offer from integrating action to save nature and combat climate change.

The report, Strengthening synergies: How action to achieve post-2020 global biodiversity conservation targets can contribute to mitigating climate change, finds that conserving 30 per cent of land in strategic locations could safeguard 500 gigatonnes of carbon stored in vegetation and soils – around half the world’s vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks – and reduce the extinction risk of nearly 9 out of 10 threatened terrestrial species.

Launched today at an event convened by the UN-REDD Programme as part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Race to Zero Dialogues – specifically on nature’s pivotal role in the fight against the climate crisis – the report shows that coordinating priority areas to conserve both biodiversity and carbon stocks is key to meeting ambitious goals for both nature and climate. It highlights areas where global conservation action can deliver the most to achieve biodiversity goals and mitigate climate change.

Co-authored by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and a number of supporting partners, the research shows that when prioritising areas for conservation, accounting for biodiversity and carbon together can secure 95 per cent of the biodiversity benefits and nearly 80 per cent of the carbon stocks that could be obtained by prioritising either value alone.

The authors highlight the fundamental interconnectedness of the climate change and biodiversity loss crises, and make the point that more integrated approaches are needed to address them. Actions that capitalise on the contributions of nature, known as nature-based solutions, and are based on inclusive decision-making that recognises the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, are especially crucial to acting effectively to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

“There is no climate solution without the full contribution from nature. As the UNEP-WCMC report and the work of UN-REDD show, if we are able to realise the full contribution of nature to climate change mitigation, we will have also achieved the goal of biodiversity conservation,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

The analysis identifies well-known biodiversity hotspots as the most important regions to prioritise for nature-based climate solutions – these include: Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, Mesoamerica and large parts of Mediterranean biomes and South-East Asia, as well as other hotspots on the West African Coast, Papua New Guinea and the East Australian Rainforest. Other areas important because of the vast amounts of carbon they contain include the lowlands south of the Hudson Bay, the Amazon rainforest and the Congo Basin.

Lord Zac Goldsmith, the UK Government Minister for Pacific and the Environment, said: “November marks one year to go until the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, and as co-hosts, we are in a strong position to galvanise global action. This important research underlines the critically important connections between climate and biodiversity and the urgent need to protect nature. In September the Prime Minister committed to protect 30% of our land by 2030 as we work to build back better and greener from the coronavirus pandemic. This builds on our campaign through the Global Ocean Alliance to protect 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030. We are encouraging all countries to increase their efforts to protect and restore nature as a solution not only to climate change, but biodiversity loss and poverty too.”

Andrea Meza Murillo, Minister for Environment and Energy of Costa Rica said: “We are still in the turmoil of the tragedy and disruption of Covid-19, and scientists tell us that we only have a window of 10 years to solve the climate crisis and to reverse the severe trend of biodiversity loss. If we work together and we protect at least 30% of the planet by 2030, we will be on a clear pathway to meet the twin goals of climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. The road towards COP26 is critical to address this crisis”.

Sveinung Rotevatn, Minister for Climate and the Environment of Norway said: “The world is facing several crises at the same time. We must halt the loss of biodiversity and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Bringing tropical deforestation to zero will contribute to both. Norway partners with tropical forest countries to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. Norway is making high-resolution satellite data freely available to forest country governments and the public. The rules are in place. Now is the time for private companies to be clear they will tackle deforestation in their supply chains and pay for emissions reductions from tropical forest countries that deliver high quality, certified results guaranteeing social and environmental integrity. Only by coordinating their efforts and aggregating their demand for emissions reductions will they truly help tropical forest countries drive down deforestation.”

“Climate change and biodiversity loss are twin crises that should be tackled together, with ambition and integrated action. This analysis highlights locations across the world where conserving land can best help to both keep carbon stocks safely stored away and boost protection for threatened species,” said Valerie Kapos, one of the report’s authors and the head of Climate Change and Biodiversity at UNEP-WCMC.

The findings underscore that greater ambition and action are needed to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. As global progress is driven by national action, applying the analytical approaches used in this study to inform national scale decision-making will be key; this report supports the case for national climate targets (Nationally Determined Contributions) to incorporate ambitious policies for conserving and restoring nature.

November marks one year to go until the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26), which will be hosted in Glasgow next year by the UK in partnership with Italy. On December 12 2020, the UK, United Nations and France will co-host the Climate Ambition Summit alongside partners Italy and Chile, on the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement. The findings of the report are expected to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on biodiversity and climate ahead of the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (2021-2030).

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Climate change: For 25th year in a row, Greenland ice sheet shrinks

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2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday. 

The data from the Danish Arctic monitoring service Polar Portal – which forms part of the UN weather agency WMO’s annual State of the Climate report – shows that early summer was cold and wet, with unusually heavy and late snowfall in June, which delayed the onset of the melting season. 

After that, however, a heatwave at the end of July, led to a considerable loss of ice. 

In terms of “total mass balance” (the sum of surface melting and loss of ice chunks from icebergs, in addition to the melting of glacier “tongues” in contact with seawater), the ice sheet lost around 166 billion tonnes during the 12-month period ending in August 2021. 

Climate change 

These numbers mean the ice sheet ended the season with a net surface mass balance of approximately 396 billion tonnes, making it the 28th lowest level recorded, in the 41-year time series.  

This could be considered an average year, but Polar Report notes how perspectives have changed, due to rapidly advancing climate change. 

At the end of the 1990s, for example, these same figures would have been regarded as a year with a very low surface mass balance. 

The report also notes that the cause of the early summer chill, could be due to conditions over southwest Canada and the northwest United States. 

In these territories, an enormous “blocking” high pressure system was formed, shaped like the Greek capital letter Omega (Ω). 

This flow pattern occurs regularly in the troposphere, and not just over North America, but it had never been observed with such strength before. 

According to the report, an analysis by World Weather Attribution demonstrated that it could only be explained as a result of atmospheric warming caused by human activity. 

Notable year 

According to the report, 2021 was notable for several reasons. 

It was the year in which precipitation at Summit Station, which is located at the top of the ice sheet at an altitude of 3,200 metres above sea level, was registered in the form of rain. 

The year also saw an acceleration of the loss of ice at the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, where the rate of loss had otherwise been stagnant for several years. 

Winter snowfall was also close to average for the period between 1981 and 2010, which was good news, because a combination of low winter snowfall and a warm summer can result in very large losses of ice, as was the case in 2019. 

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2022: Emergency mode for the environment

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As the new year gets underway, the world continues to grapple with a number of familiar challenges – the continued COVID-19 pandemic, resurgent wildfires, enduring crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Yet, 2022 could prove to be a seminal year for the environment, with high-level events and conferences scheduled, which are hoped to re-energize international cooperation and collective action.

The coming year will also mark two golden jubilees. In 1972, the world took up the environmental mantle at the historic UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The meeting firmly placed the environment on the priority list of governments, civil society, businesses and policymakers, recognizing the inextricable links between the planet, human well-being and economic growth. Now, fifty years later, the Stockholm+50 meeting in June 2022 will commemorate the event, reflect upon half a century of global environmental action and look forward.

The Stockholm Conference also birthed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN entity mandated to monitor the state of the environment, inform policymaking with science and galvanize action. For fifty years since, UNEP has used its convening power and rigorous scientific research to coordinate a global effort to tackle environmental challenges. A series of activities will mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary this year.

UNEP is going into 2022 with a new “Medium-Term Strategy” featuring seven interlinked subprogrammes for action: Climate Action, Chemicals and Pollutions Action, Nature Action, Science Policy, Environmental Governance, Finance and Economic Transformations and Digital Transformations. The strategy was agreed at 2021’s fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly; the resumed session, known as UNEA 5.2 will take place in February 2022. Under the overarching theme of ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’, discussions will highlight the pivotal role of nature in social, economic and environmental sustainable development.

June will be a busy month on the environmental calendar. On the 5th, the world will come together to celebrate World Environment Day. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1974, the day has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet. This year’s event will be hosted by Sweden, under the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“, with a focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature.  

While this timeline of environmental achievements is proof of what can be achieved through multilateral action, the science remains irrefutable. Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are fuelling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the triple crisis is humanity’s number one existential threat.

Several global events in 2022 aim to encourage dialogue and influence policy decisions to address the triple crisis. These include a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will be adopted in May at COP 15, and could stave off the extinction of over one million species, and the UN Ocean Conference in July, which seeks to protect one of our most vital ecosystems. A detailed list of related events is available on the UN web site.

Last year, the UN Secretary-General reminded the world that “We are at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. It can go either way: breakdown or breakthrough.”

Experts hope that 2022 will be a year of breakthroughs for the environment.

UNEP

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With decent work and a sustainable model aquaculture could feed the world

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Harnessing aquaculture’s potential to effectively contribute to feeding the world’s growing population in the decades to come will require concerted efforts to promote sustainable enterprises and decent work for its workforce.

These are among the main conclusions of the Technical meeting on the future of work in aquaculture in the context of the rural economy  (13-17 December 2021) that brought together representatives from governments, employers and workers at the ILO to discuss the decent work challenges and opportunities in the aquaculture sector.

In recent decades aquaculture has made important contributions to reducing poverty and hunger in many impoverished rural communities. It remains an important source of livelihoods and food for many rural workers today. At least 20.5 million people work in primary aquaculture production. Many more are engaged along the aquaculture supply chain.

With a growing world population and environmental pressures, aquaculture is increasingly recognized as holding potential for sustainably addressing challenges of food and nutritional security. In a number of developing countries there is also growing appreciation of its role in enterprise development, job creation and livelihood diversification, especially for the rural poor. In order to promote the sustainability and growth of the aquaculture sector and harness its potential to advance sustainable development, inclusive growth and decent work, there needs to be a stronger focus on addressing employment and labour challenges facing the sector.

“If we are to ensure that the aquaculture industry will contribute to inclusive growth and decent work opportunities for more women and men we must create a level playing field and an enabling environment for sustainable production and for workers to enjoy their rights at work,” said Magnús Magnússon Norɖdahl, Chairperson of the meeting.

“Sustainable and inclusive growth in the aquaculture industry could further be beneficial in terms of increasing income and livelihoods for many rural communities, both coastal and inland, and in this process, also contribute to governments’ efforts in alleviating rural poverty,” added Fatih Acar, Government group Vice-Chairperson.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  has been felt by both businesses and workers in the sector. Workers, especially in processing, have been at heightened risk of exposure to the virus, with the long working hours in close quarters and low temperatures. Businesses have struggled to remain viable, which has been reflected in reduced working hours or lay-offs, impacting the livelihood of workers and their families. The lessons learnt from the crisis should encourage reforms towards more sustainable and resilient aquaculture and food systems more generally.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated decent work deficits in the sector. But many of these deficits had existed long before its outbreak” said Krisjan Bragason, Workers’ group Vice-Chairperson. “Social dialogue, based on the respect of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, is the key to finding solutions that work for all.”

“Coherent policy frameworks should be created that focus on sustainable enterprise development and productivity improvements, the promotion of inclusive labour markets, skills development and adequate social dialogue mechanisms which involve Employers’ federations. All these elements will drive and enable the future growth of the sector,” said Employers’ group Vice-Chair, Henrik Munthe.

The meeting adopted conclusions that will assist governments, workers and employers to take measures to tap the potential of the sector to support full and productive employment and decent work for all, so contributing to food and nutrition security and making sure that no one is left behind.

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