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A deep dive into Zero Hunger: The seaweed revolution

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Kelp, a type of seaweed, can be fed to animals and could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unsplash/Shane Stagner

If just two per cent of the Ocean were to be sustainably farmed, the world could easily be fed, according to experts. In the first story of a two-part series looking at the opportunities and challenges facing Ocean farming, we take a look at the huge potential role of seaweed in mitigating climate change, cutting marine pollution, and achieving the UN goal of Zero Hunger.

 ‘We are still hunter-gatherers’

“When it comes to the ocean, we are still hunter-gatherers”, says Vincent Doumeizel, a senior advisor on ocean-based solutions at the UN Global Compact, and an evangelist for seaweed. “By farming just two per cent of the ocean, we could provide enough protein to feed a world population of 12 billion people. Seaweed is extremely protein rich, low in fat, low in carbohydrates, and rich in vitamins, zinc and iron”.

As any fan of sushi will already know, certain forms of seaweed are edible for human consumption. Whilst seaweed has been popular in Asia, particularly Japan, for many years, it is slowly becoming better known throughout the rest of the world, and Mr. Doumeizel is confident that it has the potential to become a mainstream food. “Most Japanese people eat seaweed three times a day, it is used in many dishes in Korea, and is eaten by many people in China. This may be a major factor in cutting the levels of non-communicable diseases in these countries.

Underwater carbon capture

Mr. Doumeizel also touts the environmental benefits of seaweed, particularly as an ingredient in animal feed: “Seaweed doesn’t need land, fresh water, or pesticides, just sun and saltwater. If livestock were fed on seaweed-based foodstuffs, rather than soy, methane emissions could be cut by 90 per cent, and improve digestion whilst boosting the animals’ immune systems, which reduces the need for antibiotics. This is already happening in some countries, such as Scotland and Iceland”.

Seaweed has many other uses and benefits, as an organic fertilizer, a sustainable replacement for plastics, and an ingredient in cosmetics and medicines. It also plays a role in tackling ocean pollution, cleaning the water of nitrates and phosphates.

Given the vast range of benefits seaweed offers, why isn’t it being used more widely? Technical barriers are one reason, according to Mr. Doumeizel. “There is a lack of space to grow underwater forests near shorelines, and it can be difficult to get a licence to grow them off-shore. We need to learn from oil companies, which have a lot of experience in dealing with strong ocean currents and waves”.

In fact, one company with big plans to expand seaweed production, is run by a former executive at international oil company, Shell. Kelp Blue is planning to grow huge underwater forests of seaweed off the coast of Namibia, covering some 70,000 hectares. These forests, say the company, would help to solve the world’s food crisis whilst, at the same time, removing vast amounts of harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and creating hundreds of jobs.

They would be populated by giant kelp, a form of seaweed that can grow to 100 feet (30 metres). According to Kelp Blue, one million tons of carbon dioxide would be locked away by the forests and, because one of the main products from kelp is feed for livestock, it has the potential to remove much more, via reduced methane emissions. An added possible side benefits of the forests is a projected growth in fish stocks in the surrounding waters of up to 20 per cent, with the expectation that around 200 species would their home within the kelp.

The seaweed manifesto

Whilst companies like Kelp Blue appear to have solutions to technical challenges, the main obstacle that still needs to be overcome is a lack of global safety standards for seaweed products, and resistance to collaboration, in an industry still driven by relatively small companies and entrepreneurs, who are not keen to share.

To overcome this problem, the UN Global Compact has published a seaweed manifesto, which calls for internationally agreed standards, new investment efforts, and greater collaboration between governments, science and industry, to drive production to the next level.

The manifesto was officially launched one the sidelines of the 2020 UN General Assembly, at an online event which brought together several players from the private and public sector, and featured Alexandra Cousteau, grand-daughter of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, and founder of Oceans 2050, a campaign and action platform dedicated to restoring ocean health over the next thirty years.

If it succeeds, the seaweed industry could find itself playing a much greater role in fighting the climate crisis, strengthening marine ecosystems and bringing the world closer to the big prize: an end to hunger.

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Environment

A beginner’s guide to sustainable farming

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Industrialized farming has been a reliable way to produce lots of food at a relatively low cost. But it’s not the bargain it was once believed to be. Unsustainable agriculture can pollute water, air and soil; is a source of greenhouse gases, and destroys wildlife. All told that costs economies about $3 trillion every year. And to top it all off, some farming practices have been linked to the emergence of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19.

18 June is Sustainable Gastronomy Day, which celebrates local cuisine that is produced in ways that are both environmentally friendly and minimize waste. To mark the occasion, we take a closer look at how to make agriculture more sustainable and what that would mean for the economy, the environment and human health.

What exactly is sustainable agriculture?

It is farming that meets the needs of existing and future generations, while also ensuring profitability, environmental health and social and economic equity. It favours techniques that emulate nature–to preserve soil fertility, prevent water pollution and protect biodiversity. It is also a way to support the achievement of global objectives, like the Sustainable Development Goals and Zero Hunger.

Does sustainable agriculture really make a difference to the environment?

Yes. It uses up to 56 per cent less energy per unit of crops produced, creates 64 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions per hectare and supports greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming.

Why does sustainably produced food seem more expensive?

It may be more costly because it is more labour-intensive. It is often certified in a way that requires it to be separated from conventional foods during processing and transport. The costs associated with marketing and distribution of relatively small volumes of product are often comparatively high. And, sometimes, the supply of certain sustainably produced foods is limited.

Why are some foods so much more affordable–even when they require processing and packaging?

The heavy use of chemicals, medicines and genetic modification allows some foods to be produced cheaply and in reliably high volumes, so the retail price tag may be lower. But this is deceiving because it does not reflect the costs of environmental damage or the price of healthcare that is required to treat diet-related diseases. Ultra-processed foods are often high in energy and low in nutrients and may contribute to the development of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer. This is particularly concerning amid the COVID-19 pandemic; the disease is especially risky for those with pre-existing health problems.

Do we all have to be vegan?

No. But most of us should eat less animal protein. Livestock production is a major cause of climate change and in most parts of the world, people already consume more animal-sourced food than is healthy. But even small dietary shifts can have a positive impact. The average person consumes 100 grams of meat daily. Reducing that by 10 grams could improve human health while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Is sustainable agriculture possible in developing countries?

Yes. Because sustainably produced food is typically more labour-intensive than conventionally made food, it has the potential to create 30 per cent more jobs. And because it can command higher prices, it can also generate more money for farmers.

Is it possible to make sustainably produced food that is affordable for everyone?

Yes. As demand for certain foods increases, the costs associated with production, processing, distribution and marketing will drop, which should make them less expensive for consumers.  Policymakers can also play a role, facilitating market access and leveling the financial and regulatory playing field.

If it is so important, why hasn’t sustainable farming been adopted as a global standard?

There is a lack of understanding of the way that agriculture, the environment and human health intersect. Policymakers do not typically consider nature as a form of capital, so legislation is not designed to prevent pollution and other kinds of environmental degradation. And consumers may not realize how their dietary choices affect the environment or even their own health. In the absence of either legal obligations or consumer demand, there is little incentive for producers to change their approach.

What are some ways to consume food more sustainably?

Diversify your diet and cook more meals at home. Eat more plant-based foods; enjoy pulses, peas, beans and chickpeas as sources of protein. Eat local, seasonal foods. Purchase sustainably produced foods and learn more about farming practices and labeling. Avoid excessive packaging, which is likely to end up as landfill. Don’t waste food: eliminating food waste could reduce global carbon emissions by 8-10 per cent. Cultivate your own garden, even if it is a small one in your kitchen. Support organizations, policies and projects that promote sustainable food systems. And discuss the importance of healthy and sustainable foods with producers, vendors, policymakers, friends and family.

UN Environment

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CEOs to G7 and World Leaders: Support “Bold” Net-Zero Commitments

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Over 70 CEOs said they stand ready to work with public sector leaders around the world to reduce emissions. Members of the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders signed an Open Letter championing public-private cooperation ahead of the G7 summit in order to supercharge net-zero commitments, polices and actions.

The signatories are looking for governments to accelerate the transition to net-zero before COP26 in order to accelerate even more action from the private sector. The letter emphasizes public-private collaboration as vital and welcomes transformative policy change.

“It is an important and significant move for this many CEOs to put their names forward for deeper collective collaboration,” said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, World Economic Forum. “It sends a clear signal to policy-makers that many global business leaders are ready to make the transition to a net-zero future. As we move towards COP26, public-private collaboration will be key to unlocking investment, setting more ambitious targets to reduce emissions, and turning this ambition into action.”

The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders is the only CEO-led community open to all companies worldwide that want to make clear commitments and work to transition to net-zero. Members believe the private sector has a responsibility to actively engage in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help lead the global transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. The World Economic Forum hosts the alliance.

The full text of the Open Letter and the list of signatories can be found here on the here on the Forum’s Agenda news site.

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Recreate, Re-imagine, Restore!

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Leaders in global politics, science, communities, religion and culture joined hands today to officially kick off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a rallying call for the protection and revival of millions of hectares of ecosystems all around the world for the benefit of people and nature.

Led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the Decade on Restoration – which runs from 2021 to 2030 – was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in a 2019 resolution.

The launch took the form of a high-level virtual gala with the participation, alongside the heads of UNEP and FAO and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, of Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which hosts World Environment Day on 5 June this year; Pope Francis; Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chair of the African Union; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley. Among the global figures who spoke were UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall and other goodwill ambassadors, advocates, youth representatives, scientists and CEOs.

“By restoring ecosystems, we can drive a transformation that will contribute to the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals. The task is monumental. We need to replant and protect our forests. We need to clean up our rivers and seas. And we need to green our cities,” the UN Secretary-General said in his message. “Accomplishing these things will not only safeguard the planet’s resources. It will create millions of new jobs by 2030, generate returns of over $7 trillion dollars every year and help eliminate poverty and hunger.”

The FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, noting that the increasing pressure on the world’s natural resources is affecting the well-being of 40 percent of the global population, called for a change of mindset.

“Business as usual is not an option!” he underscored. “We need to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide, including our farmlands and forests; our rivers and oceans. More efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems can help restore ecosystems and safeguard sustainable food production, leaving no one behind,” he added.

“We must use this moment in history to launch a massive global movement to save our terrestrial and marine ecosystems even as we continue to decarbonize. Everyone has a ‘to-do’ here,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. “Governments must ensure COVID-19 stimulus packages contribute to a sustainable and equitable recovery from the pandemic. Businesses and the financial sector must reform operations and financial flows so that they restore the natural world. And as individuals and consumers, it is time rethink choices, demand deforestation-free products and vote for sustainability in the polling booths.”

“Restoring the nature we have damaged means, in the first place, restoring ourselves,” said Pope Francis in a video message relayed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State. “We welcome this United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, let us be compassionate, creative and courageous. May we take our proper place as a ‘Restoration Generation.’”

The Decade aims to inspire and support governments, multilateral organizations, civil society, private sector companies, youth, women’s groups, indigenous peoples, farmers, local communities and individuals globally, to collaborate, develop and catalyse restoration initiatives across the world. The effort will involve a raft of activities. They range from redirecting fiscal incentives and financial flows to promote restoration to undertaking research on restoration in terrestrial and marine environments, building the technical capacity of restoration practitioners globally and monitoring global progress on restoration.

The Decade aims to mobilize hundreds of millions of people to restore nature and foster a global restoration culture in which restoration initiatives are scaled up across the planet.

“The world has no choice but to go on a nature positive pathway which will not only boost the economy but also protect the environment,“ said Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, whose country in 2019 embarked on an ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees.

Welcoming the launch of the UN Decade, Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chair of the African Union, noted that the African continent had made multiple commitments through several regional Declarations, pledges, Calls to Action and pilot activities, but there was a need to mobilize the necessary resources and expertise to lead large-scale implementation.

“The restoration of terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems should be undertaken in such a way as to avoid creating land conflicts or conflicts of use,” he added. “It must therefore be part of visionary spatial planning processes that take into account inter-sectoral trade-offs, respecting land and resource tenure rights of local communities and other vulnerable social groups.”

In her message, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “We have to do more to protect and restore natural habitats – and we have to do it now, not some time in the future.”

“We have to ensure now that forests, which we need not least to regulate our climate, are protected and replenished,” she added.

The Chancellor also announced that Germany would be the first country to provide funding – 14 million Euro – to the Multi-Partner Trust Fund for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The launch of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration today leads into World Environment Day on 5 June, the United Nations’ flagship day for promoting worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Held under the theme of ecosystem restoration, this year’s World Environment Day is hosted by Pakistan, which will mark the day and the start of the UN Decade with an event taking place in Islamabad and officiated by Prime Minister Imran Khan with the participation from a host of dignitaries from around the world including UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and senior officials from FAO, UN-Habitat and UNDP, as well as senior officials from countries including Germany and Saudi Arabia.

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