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Plastic clean-up brings crocodiles back to Indian river

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Crocodiles are not Sneha Shahi’s favourite animal, but every time she sees one now she smiles. And she sees plenty.

Sneha led a campaign to clean up the filthy river, stuffed with plastic waste, that winds its way through the campus of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat, India. Ridding the river of plastic had an unexpected outcome – bringing crocodiles back.

“We used to joke about how there can be a crocodile in our college’s stream, ‘it’s not possible, it’s not safe!’  Then we realized it not being there was the issue … not the other way around. It’s his habitat and we’ve ruined it and we ought to do whatever we can to revive this ecosystem,” she told the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in an interview.

Sneha, a bubbly 23-year-old Masters student who loves reading and trekking to unexplored places, heard about UNEP’s Plastic Tide Turner Challenge campaign. Funded by the United Kingdom since 2018, the “Tide Turners Plastic Challenge” has reached over 225,000 youth in 25 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The initiative is a crucial element of the British government’s pledge through its 25 Year Environment Plan to reduce ocean plastic.

In India, Tide Turners is backed by the government and will be rolled out through some 160,000 eco-schools.

“Plastic waste and its irresponsible disposal have an adverse impact on our flora, fauna and land water systems. Students being the future of the nation can act as effective agents of change for their families and society at large. We will be calling on schools across the country to be backing the Tide Turners curriculum so that the next generation of Indian children are educated, informed and inspired to act,” said Shri Ravi Agrawal, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change.

The programme takes the participants on a learning journey consisting of three different levels: entry, leader, and champion. The young people who make it to the champion level gain a thorough understanding of marine plastic pollution and how to address it. They then become leaders in their communities – exactly the path followed by Sneha.

She was the first student to sign up when it was introduced to her college by the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), an implementing partner in the campaign. Sneha recruited over 300 fellow students – about 90 of whom come from the Department of Environmental Sciences where she studies – and together they conducted a survey about single-use plastics and whether they should be banned and replaced.

The team decided to focus on the Bhukhi Nala stream flowing through the university grounds which was clogged up with plastics and solid waste. They checked the water quality and decided that despite appearances it was not compromised beyond help.

“Nala means gutter, but on mapping it, we found that it is a natural rivulet which was choked with plastic. Multiple factors have caused this stream to look like a gutter but at certain patches, it has incredible urban biodiversity,” Sneha explained.

The Bhuki stream restoration project was borne. During an initial clean-up, about 300 kgs of waste were removed, segregated and recycled. Bulk plastics and thermcol were cleaned and moulded into small planters and wall hangings. Glass bottles were sent for recycling. The project was extended and overall the group removed an enormous 700 kgs of waste from an 800-metre long stretch.

As the waste decreased and the habitat improved, Sneha and her volunteers were delighted to see the return of Gangetic Flapshell turtles and crocodiles who swam up the tributary from the main river during the monsoon rains. Plant life and insects have also returned.

“Nowadays each time I pass over Bhukhi stream, I wait for some time on the bridge in the hope of spotting a crocodile. Before, the chances of spotting one were low, but now it’s about 8 out of 10. This makes me so happy. The university has even had to install safety fences due to the regular appearances of our new friends,” Sneha added.

Sneha and the team’s efforts were rewarded when they won the Youth for Earth Award, (Team name – Our Common Future) for the Bhukhi Stream Project. The group now intend to build on this success and hope to take the project forward and have a fully restored ecosystem in the heart of the city.

UNEP is working together with the World Associations of Girl Guides (reach 20 million members), World Scouts Association Movement (50 million members) and Junior Achievement (10 million members) to educate young people on the topic of marine plastic pollution and how they can help address it in their communities. 

Tide Turners is also one key challenge of the Earth Tribe, a ground-breaking initiative that offers young people an opportunity to learn and act around key environmental issues aggregated on one platform, supported by UNEP.

But Sneha explained it was not easy to obtain the ‘Tide Turners Badge’ and at times she was daunted by the challenge, but she felt the issue of plastic waste was so little understood that she had to persevere.

“When you first look at the challenges, you might feel that you won’t be able to complete these all levels. But I decided to give it my best and reach out to people and stakeholders,” she explained.

Gradually the campaign took momentum. Plastics shouldn’t be ending up in our streams, rivers, oceans or forests. They are a man-made entity, it’s completely our responsibility to phase out single-use plastics and prevent it from entering our ecosystems.”

UN Environment

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Global Plastic Action Partnership Making an Impact in Fighting Plastic Pollution

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The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) released its second annual impact report, which highlights strides made over the last two years in building coalitions, extending global reach, and helping nations make a difference by confronting plastic waste.

“Plastic pollution was already a global emergency, and with the pandemic-induced explosion in packaged goods, as well as increased of use of single-use plastics through masks, gloves and other PPE, it has become a global disaster,” said Kristin Hughes, GPAP Director and a member of the World Economic Forum Executive Committee. “The good news is that our GPAP 2021 impact report proves that what we’re doing works, and if we act together now, we can halt the plastic pollution crisis in its tracks.”

On the heels of a challenging year dominated by the COVID pandemic, GPAP and its partner governments have met critical milestones, including:

– Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Viet Nam came together as early adopters in the Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership

– Viet Nam pledged to reduce marine plastics by 75% by 2030

– Ghana committed to a 100% circular economy for plastics

– Indonesia’s action and investment roadmap is poised to prevent 16 million tonnes of plastic leakage into the ocean; Create 150,000 jobs; and Generate $10 billion in annual revenues.

Taking collaborative action to tackle plastic pollution

“The Forum’s platform approach aligns various stakeholders from public and private organisations, works toward common objectives, and creates outcomes far greater than could be achieved by any nation or organization acting alone,” said Hughes. “It’s a great honor to lead the GPAP platform, and to see what we can accomplish through the convening power and influence that the Forum brings to bear. Our second annual report shows what can be done and, now more than ever, what needs to be done.”

In the face of global disruption and re-set, GPAP’s initiatives are performing and moving the needle on climate change by promoting a circular economy for plastics. The report outlines key progress in the following impact areas:

Transforming behaviour – GPAP amplified initiatives that help citizens and consumers form more sustainable relationships with plastics

– Raised awareness of the COVID-19 impact on the plastic ecosystem through public town hall communications

– 14 solutions to address plastic waste and pollution were developed in collaboration between government, business, and media influencers on the GPAP platform

– 116 recycling points were identified in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, up from just 10 before the National Plastic Action Partnership was initiated

Unlocking financing – GPAP engaged stakeholders to promote investments that tackle plastic waste and pollution

– $196.7 million was committed by GPAP members to National Plastic Action Partnership countries

– 13 financial institutions engage in GPAP finance events and task forces

– 140,000 people will be reached through financing committed by GPAP partner, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste in Indonesia

– GPAP collaborated with HRH The Prince of Wales Sustainable Markets Initiative to host a Roundtable on Financing Plastic Action in Emerging Markets to unlock opportunities for investing in plastic action

Informing policy – Supporting the collaboration of policy makers with stakeholders to confront plastic pollution, GPAP has established National Plastic Action Partnerships (NPAPs) in Indonesia, Ghana, Viet Nam, and Nigeria

– 57% of GPAP’s members have been involved in government policy consultations; 53% report being involved in corporate policy decisions

– GPAP’s National Action Roadmaps offer a suite of solutions for policy makers to consider when developing plans to address plastic pollution.

Boosting innovation – GPAP created opportunities for high-potential innovators to access partners who are helping to scale their ideas

– Established a platform for connecting innovators, experts, and investors through the Global Plastic Innovation Network in partnership with UpLink where 70+ solutions are now showcased

– Crowdsourced plastic waste solutions in Indonesia and produced videos of innovators engaged in the plastic space, which reached 1.75 million views on social media

Harmonizing metrics – GPAP has facilitated evidence-based, country-level analysis and action planning to create consistent, best-practice frameworks for measuring plastic waste reduction

– Forum research determined that almost 50% of ocean waste can be prevented by reusing only 10% of plastic products (see The Future of Reusable Consumption Models Report)

– Baseline assessments and scenario analyses were completed with Indonesia, Ghana, and Viet Nam to give governments clear evidence and inform action roadmaps

Promoting inclusivity – GPAP maintained its commitment to ensure that diverse voices and inclusive perspectives are integrated across all partnerships

– Established gender-responsive principles for plastic action through GPAP’s Guide to Ensure Gender-Responsive Action in Eliminating Plastic Pollution

– Conducted a ground-breaking Gender Analysis of the Plastics Sector in Ghana

– Brought together key youth leaders through the inaugural Plastic Action Champions cohort

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Most agricultural funding distorts prices, harms environment

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Around 87% of the $540 billion in total annual government support given worldwide to agricultural producers includes measures that are price distorting and that can be harmful to nature and health.  

That is the main finding of a new UN report calling for repurposing these incentives to achieve more of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and realize the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration

The report, A multi-billion-dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems, was launched on Tuesday by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

Switch investments 

Global support to producers in the form of subsidies and other incentives, makes up 15 per cent of total agricultural production value. By 2030, this is projected to more than triple, to $1.759 trillion. The OECD defines agricultural support, as the annual monetary value of gross transfers to agriculture, from consumers and taxpayers, arising from government policies. 

Current support mostly consists of price incentives, such as import tariffs and export subsidies, as well as fiscal subsidies which are tied to the production of a specific commodity or input. 

The report says these are inefficient, distort food prices, hurt people’s health, degrade the environment, and are often inequitable, putting big agri-business ahead of smallholder farmers, many whom are women. 

Last year, up to 811 million people worldwide faced chronic hunger and nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food. In 2019, around three billion people, in every region of the world, could not afford a healthy diet. 

Change, don’t eliminate 

The reports note that, even though most agricultural support today has negative effects, around $110 billion supports infrastructure, research and development, and benefits the general food and agriculture sector.  

It argues that changing agricultural producer support, rather than eliminating it, will help end poverty, eradicate hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, promote sustainable agriculture, foster sustainable consumption and production, mitigate the climate crisis, restore nature, limit pollution, and reduce inequalities. 

Wake-up call 

The Director-General of FAO, Qu Dongyu, said the report “is a wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems and contribute to the Four Betters: Better nutrition, better production, better environment and a better life.” 

Agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change. At the same time, farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks. 

According to the report, “continuing with support-as-usual will worsen the triple planetary crisis and ultimately harm human well-being.” 

Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement requires shifting support especially in high-income countries for an outsized meat and dairy industry, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures. 

For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, “governments have an opportunity now to transform agriculture into a major driver of human well-being, and into a solution for the imminent threats of climate change, nature loss, and pollution.” 

From India to the UK 

The report shares several case studies, such as the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, that adopted a policy of Zero Budget Natural Farming; or the Single Payment Scheme, in the United Kingdom, that removed subsidies in agreement with the National Farmers Union (NFU).  

In the European Union, crop diversification has been incentivized through reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and in Senegal a programme called PRACAS incentivizes farmers to cultivate more diverse crops. 

UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, believes repurposing agricultural support “can improve both productivity and environmental outcomes.” For him, this change “will also boost the livelihoods of the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, many of them women, by ensuring a more level playing field.” 

The report is being launched ahead of the 2021 Food Systems Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, due to take place on 23rd September in New York.  

The Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems. 

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Environment

Climate Change Could Force 216M People to Migrate Within Their Own Countries by 2050

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The World Bank’s updated Groundswell report released today finds that climate change, an increasingly potent driver of migration, could force 216 million people across six world regions to move within their countries by 2050. Hotspots of internal climate migration could emerge as early as 2030 and continue to spread and intensify by 2050. The report also finds that immediate and concerted action to reduce global emissions, and support green, inclusive, and resilient development, could reduce the scale of climate migration by as much as 80 percent.

Climate change is a powerful driver of internal migration because of its impacts on people’s livelihoods and loss of livability in highly exposed locations. By 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million.

“The Groundswell report is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest—those who are contributing the least to its causes. It also clearly lays out a path for countries to address some of the key factors that are causing climate-driven migration,” said Juergen Voegele, Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank. “All these issues are fundamentally connected which is why our support to countries is positioned to deliver on climate and development objectives together while building a more sustainable, safe and resilient future.”   

The updated report includes projections and analysis for three regions: East Asia and the Pacific, North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It builds on the novel and pioneering modeling approach of the previous World Bank Groundswell report from 2018, which covered Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.

By deploying a scenario-based approach, the report explores potential future outcomes, which can help decision-makers plan ahead. The approach allows for the identification of internal climate in- and out- migration hotspots, namely the areas from which people are expected to move due to increasing water scarcity, declining crop productivity, and sea-level rise, and urban and rural areas with better conditions to build new livelihoods.

The report provides a series of policy recommendations that can help slow the factors driving climate migration and prepare for expected migration flows, including:

  • Reducing global emissions and making every effort to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Embedding internal climate migration in far-sighted green, resilient, and inclusive development planning.
  • Preparing for each phase of migration, so that internal climate migration as an adaptation strategy can result in positive development outcomes.
  • Investing in better understanding of the drivers of internal climate migration to inform well-targeted policies.

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