With the world population expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, food production will need to keep pace, and experts believe the Ocean can provide much of the sustenance we need. The second story in our two-part series on aquaculture focuses on the opportunities for significantly scaling up fish farming.
Aquaculture, or fish farming, is one of the fastest growing food-production sectors in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reaching an all-time record high of 114.5 million tonnes in 2018. Asian countries continue to account for the vast majority of farmed fish production, some 90 per cent over the last two decades and, since 2016, aquaculture has been the main source of fish available for human consumption.
Overfishing of wild fish is an ongoing problem, and the FAO warned in its 2020 World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, that the status of fish stocks are deteriorating: around 30 per cent are not within biologically sustainable levels, and some 60 per cent are at near capacity.
Aquaculture is expected to further dominate the seafood market in the coming years and, in the same report, the FAO declared that it could have a transformational impact on the way we feed the global population, if it is managed sustainably.
Persistent environmental challenges
Wenche Grønbrekk is the chairperson of the United Nations Global Compact Local Network for Norway, a group of private companies that have agree to work towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is also an executive at salmon farming company Cermaq, which is based in Norway, Chile, and Canada. She says that the amount of seafood currently farmed could, in fact, be sustainably increased six-fold, given the right conditions.
However, she acknowledges that environmental challenges persist. The detrimental effects of aquaculture include the destruction of marine habitats, the use of harmful chemicals and veterinary drugs, and the production of waste.
“The farmed fish industry is still relatively young and, despite the bad reputation it has had, it has developed a lot. Today, it has a strong focus on sustainability, and salmon farming, for example, is the most technologically advanced form of aquaculture. I’ve been encouraged to see that there is a real will to lift standards in the industry, and an understanding that, by working together on sustainable development issues, we will all benefit.”
Cermaq is a founding member of Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS), an industry group that is supporting the UN Global Compact’s Sustainable Ocean Business Action Platform, which promotes the central role that seafood has to play in feeding the growing world population.
Martin Exel, the managing director of SeaBOS, agrees that the aquaculture sector only has itself to blame for the reputation it has acquired. “We have had some bad actors, who have done the wrong things and, frankly, broken the rules”, he says. Nevertheless, he is confident that the industry is moving in the right direction:
“SeaBOS brings together some of the biggest companies in the industry, and we’re having frank discussions about the challenges we face. These include climate change impacts, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, modern slavery, the removal of ocean plastics, and how to reduce the use of antibiotics in aquaculture, especially those that are critical for human health.”
According to Mr. Exel, the seafood companies in SeaBOS understand the importance of environmental and economic sustainability, which includes looking after the people working in the business, and gaining the trust and respect of the community, and consumers.
“The fact is that aquaculture is the best way to help feed some 10 billion people in the coming years”, says Mr. Exel. “It can be scaled up in a healthy and sustainable way, which is why our members are working closely with scientists to advance the technology that will ensure that we can effectively solve the food productions challenges that we are all facing.”
Developing a blue economy
Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, is confident that, if managed properly, the Ocean will play a major role in ending hunger worldwide.
“The potential of the sustainable blue economy (the development of oceanic economic activities in an integrated and sustainable way) to feed the world is immense. Never forget that the Ocean covers 70 per cent of the planet’s surface and that well over 90 per cent of the planet’s living space is below the Ocean’s surface.”
“Through the development of new forms of sustainable aquaculture with appropriate species and feeds, mariculture (the farming of organisms in marine environments), shellfish farming, and much greater attention to macroalgae (seaweed) for human and animal food, the Ocean will provide us with a large proportion of the nutritious food we need.”
UNEA-5 ends with clear message: act now to tackle planetary crises
The virtual Fifth Session of the UN Environment Assembly ended on Tuesday with a clear message: our fragile planet needs more and it needs it now. More action, more cooperation, more finance, more ambition and more sustained commitment to tackle environmental crises and rebuild societies ravaged by the global pandemic.
At this unprecedented virtual session, 153 countries registered and connected online along with civil society and other stakeholders, showing the commitment of stakeholders to tackle pressing issues of environmental degradation even during the COVID-19 crisis.
Participants were left in no doubt that 2021 marks a critical turning point if the world wants to secure a future where people and planet can thrive together.
UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen described the cost of inaction in remarks to Tuesday’s Leadership Dialogue.
“Unless we take action, future generations stand to inherit a hothouse planet with more carbon in the atmosphere than in 800,000 years. Unless we take action, future generations will live in sinking cities. From Basra to Lagos. From Mumbai to Houston. Unless we take action, future generations will be lucky if they can spot a black rhino. And unless we take action, future generations will have to live with our toxic waste – which every year is enough to fill 125,000 Olympic size swimming pools,” she said.
Indian environmental activist Afroz Shah, who has been honoured by UNEP as a Champion of the Earth, told the delegates that the time for talking was over and that collaboration was needed to redress the planetary balance.
“The problem is our rights are weighing too heavy on the rights of the other species. This delicate balance will have to tilt in the favour of other species and that is the key,” he said.
During two days of online meetings and presentations, many Member States expressed profound concern at the triple planetary crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated existing problems and threatened efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We will face recurring risks of pandemics in the future if we maintain our current unsustainable patterns in our interactions with nature,” said Sveinung Rotevatn, President of UNEA-5. “I believe we have discovered during this time of crisis just how much our health and wellbeing depends upon nature and the solutions that nature provides.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, which hosts UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi, also spoke of the need to act swiftly.
“It is increasingly evident that environmental crises are part of the journey ahead. Wildfires, hurricanes, high temperature records, unprecedented winter chills, plagues of locusts, floods and droughts, have become so commonplace that they do not always make the headlines,” he told the Assembly.
“These increasing adverse weather and climatic occurrences sound a warning bell that calls on us to attend to the three planetary crises that threaten our collective future: the climate crisis, the biodiversity and nature crisis, and the pollution and waste crisis.”
The situation is dire but there are reasons to hope. Member States expressed support for a green post-pandemic recovery that leaves no one behind and also protects and renews the fragile natural world, with many noting that the health of nature and human health are inextricably linked, with the nature crisis also tied to the climate and pollution crises.
The green recovery should put the world on a pathway towards a low carbon, resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world. It should invest in the transition to a circular economy to achieve sustainable consumption and production and make full use of the role that nature-based solutions can offer to address climate change, nature loss and pollution.
Over two days, UNEA-5 saw a global effort on resource efficiency and the circular economy; a recognition of the importance of financing and emissions reductions; and an exploration of big data as a tool for change. Ahead of the Assembly, science and business leaders also gathered virtually for the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum to discuss the role of business in addressing the triple planetary crises.
Member States committed to work together and also outlined actions already taken nationally, such as efforts to protect mangroves, peatlands and forests or to tackle pollution and waste, including single use plastics. Representatives from youth groups addressed delegates, demanding action and a voice at the table.
The Assembly endorsed a final statement warning that “more than ever that human health and wellbeing are dependent upon nature and the solutions it provides, and we are aware that we shall face recurring risks of future pandemics if we maintain our current unsustainable patterns in our interactions with nature.”
Despite the gravity of the challenges facing humanity and the planet, the meeting also heard messages of inspiration.
“We have gathered here as ambassadors of hope and architects of a new paradigm and our work together and in harmony with nature will ensure our ultimate victory,” Ghanaian musician and UNEP Regional Goodwill Ambassador Rocky Dawuni told delegates.
A roadmap to a better, more sustainable future was provided by UNEP’s Making Peace with Nature report, which was launched by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week. It shows clearly that the earth’s environmental emergencies must be addressed together to achieve sustainability. This means tackling the red thread that binds these emergencies together – unsustainable consumption and production. The report suggests concrete actions for different sectors – from governments to civil society to businesses – to address the planetary crisis.
UNEP will drive the radical change to an era of action. Delegates to UNEA-5 approved its Medium-Term Strategy 2022-25, programme of work and budget, enabling it to work harder for an end to unsustainable consumption and production.
“The strategy is about transforming how UNEP operates and engages with Member States, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and youth groups, so we can go harder, faster, stronger,” said UNEP‘s Andersen. “This strategy is about providing science and know-how to governments. The strategy is also about collective, whole-of-society action – moving us outside ministries of environment to drive action.”
UNEA-5 also marked the start of a period of reflection and celebration to mark the creation of UNEP 50 years ago.
The second part of UNEA-5 is scheduled to take place in February 2022 with hopes that delegates will be able to meet in person with a richer and fuller agenda.
Between now and then, the world needs to see enhanced ambitions on cutting greenhouse gases, a strong post-2020 framework for protecting our precious biodiversity and a commitment to managing chemicals and tackling plastic pollution.
This Assembly marked the start of a year of critical meetings on all these issues, with Member States gathering later this year, notably at UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China, where nations will address species and ecosystem loss, and then at the UN Climate Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow when countries are expected to come forward with more ambitious commitments on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
As the UN Secretary-General said in his speech to UNEA-5: “To a large degree, the viability of humanity on this planet depends on your efforts. With leadership, determination and commitment to future generations, I am convinced we can provide a healthy planet for all humanity to not just survive, but to thrive.”
At the end of the Assembly, UNEP’s Inger Andersen said UNEA 5.1 was extremely successful.
“The science is clear. We have to change our ways and we have to be sure that 2021 is that turning point,” she said. “UNEA 5.1, in spite of the pandemic and meeting virtually, managed to be the first step of that journey.”
Georgia’s Blue Economy Can Be a Vehicle for Accelerating Climate Change Adaptation
Greening the Coast and Blueing the Sea for a Resilient Georgia – a virtual event on climate change and marine pollution – was held today with the cooperation of the World Bank, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) andthe Government of Georgia.
The event was focused on the findings and recommendations of two recent World Bank reports: Impacts of Climate Change on Georgia’s Coastal Zone: Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Options and The Cost of Coastal Zone Degradation in Georgia: A Tool for the Coastal Zone Adaptation and the Nationally Determined Contributions.
The reports identify key climate risks and vulnerabilities and the costs of environmental degradation of the coastal zone due to pollution, flooding, coastal erosion, and agricultural soil and forest degradation. Climate adaptation through resilient use of water resources and bringing back tourism to coastal areas after the COVID-19 pandemic are among the recommended priority coastal adaptation interventions.
“Georgia is committed to making its coastal and marine spaces and tourism more resilient, and our Black Sea less polluted,” said Nino Tandilashvili, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.
With the World Bank’s global knowledge and support, Georgia is well positioned to enter a new frontier with its climate pledges under the 2015 Paris Agreement. In addition to climate adaptation measures in its coastal zone, transition to a more sustainable Blue Economy can become a public policy goal that can support Georgia’s EU integration agenda and its national development objectives, while preventing environmental degradation and ecological imbalances in the use of coastal and marine resources.
“While the reports seek to raise the level of urgency needed to reduce the impact of climate change on the coastal zone and the escalating cost of inaction, it is not too late for action to ensure that the coastline of the Black Sea of Georgia adapts to climate change. Overall, the blue economy is vital for the social-economic development of Georgia and other countries across the region,” said Sebastian Molineus, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus.
Today’s event also initiated consultations on Blueing the Black Sea, a World Bank and BSEC supported new regional initiative to tackle marine pollution and catalyze Blue Economy investments in the Black Sea region. Recognizing the critical importance that environmental rehabilitation of the Black Sea has for the entire region, the World Bank supports Georgia, as well as other countries of the region, in their collaboration for effective pollution prevention, reduction, and control in the Black Sea.
“Transboundary pollution challenges require regional solutions,” noted Steven Schonberger, World Bank Sustainable Development Regional Director. “However, the regional goals have to translate into national investments that promote economic growth. Any country tackling pollution alone cannot guarantee a desirable quality of the sea water in a closed ecosystem such as the Black Sea. Considering this common ecosystem, collaboration at the regional level is essential.”
The Blueing the Black Sea consultations contribute to strengthened national and regional dialogue to address marine pollution and provide Georgia with a valuable opportunity to integrate the Black Sea into the country’s strategies for climate adaptation and mitigation.
Public-private partnerships could play key role in combatting deforestation
As environmental leaders and change makers meet virtually for the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in February 2021, the issue of deforestation has been central to their discussions.
“There can be no conversation on climate change without including forests and deforestation,” said Gabriel Labbate, a forestry expert with the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD). “It is fundamental in the fight against the environmental emergency that faces us.”
Forests and woodlands are important stores of planet-warming carbon dioxide, soaking up 30 per cent of emissions from industry and fossil fuels. Their role in capturing and storing carbon is critical to mitigating the risks that climate change poses to the world’s food systems.
But every year, the world loses 7 million hectares of forests, an area the size of Portugal. Globally, primary forest area has fallen by over 80 million hectares since 1990, found the hallmark State of the World’s Forests report, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Today, forest fires, pests, diseases, invasive species, drought and extreme weather events put at least another 100 million hectares at risk.
At the UN Environment Assembly, experts discussed the Green Gigaton Challenge, an ambitious public-private partnership backed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It aims to catalyse funds for initiatives to combat deforestation, with the target of reducing 1 gigaton (or 1 billion metric tonnes) of emissions by 2025.
The challenge channels public and private sector finance into efforts led by national and subnational governments to halt deforestation, while helping companies support their internal emissions reductions with the purchase of carbon credits. It advocates using nature-based solutions, such as replanting and restoring tropical forests, to reduce emissions. As well as cutting emissions, forests increase biodiversity and regulate water, offering a rounded environmental solution.
“Reducing emissions by 1 gigaton is the same as taking 80 per cent of all cars off the roads in the United States. It has a huge impact and the potential to deliver lasting environmental change. As countries look to rebuild their economies in the wake of COVID-19, 2021 can be the year we make a quantum shift in scale, funding and results,” said Niklas Hagelberg, Coordinator of UNEP’s climate change programme.
At the Green Gigaton Challenge event, participants – who included Ministers of the Environment from various countries – discussed how private sector funding can jump-start forest-based solutions to climate change. Key to this is getting large corporations to understand how reforesting can help them meet their emissions reduction targets in a cost-effective way.
“We see private sector commitment growing and this is crucial in reducing emissions,” said Tim Christophersen, a UNEP ecosystems expert. “2021 provides a unique opportunity to make forests a real pillar of climate mitigation efforts. We will need to send clear and consistent policy signals to ensure this emerging market will be useful and can grow.”
The Green Gigaton Challenge is measurable, and financing can be results-based, meaning funds are released as targets are met. This results in more resources allocated as it gives donors, both private and public, peace of mind that they are getting what they pay for.
Initiatives like this are a step towards reducing global warming. The past decade was the hottest in human history and experts say the planet is on pace for in excess of 3°C of warming, a figure that could have catastrophic consequences.
UNEP is at the forefront of efforts to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, namely keeping the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
To this end, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution to cutting emissions. The solution provides a roadmap to how emissions can be reduced across sectors in order to meet the annual 29-32 gigaton reduction needed to limit temperature rise. The six sectors identified are agriculture and food; forests and land use; buildings and cities; transport; energy; and cities.
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