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Glacier collapse in India a worrying sign of what’s to come

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Satellite image shows location of Uttarakhand Disaster from above. Photo: European Union / Copernicus Sentin via Reuters Connect

A deadly flood in northern India, sparked by a cratering glacier, was not an isolated incident but the result of a rapidly warming planet, say experts. They warn the disaster, which has left over 140 feared dead, is a precursor of what is to come unless drastic measures are taken to slow climate change.

The flood this week in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand was caused by a glacier breaking away and falling into the valley, sending a surge of water downstream that engulfed villages and workers at a hydroelectric plant.

Data suggests that, in the coming years, global warming will cause mountain temperatures to rise twice as fast as the global average, whittling away glaciers and threatening communities in the Himalayas, and further afield.  

“Glaciers around the world are under siege,” said Matthias Jurek, a mountain ecosystem expert with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Unless we can limit global warming, support monitoring, early warning and adaptation measures, disasters like the one in Uttarakhand will, unfortunately, become more common.”

Saving glaciers

UNEP and its partner organizations work with mountain communities and governments world-wide to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. One of UNEP’s key partners in Asia is the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which, among other tasks, monitors ice coverage and glacial lakes in the high mountains in the Hindukush- Himalayas.

In regions like the Himalaya, the problem of rising temperatures is three-fold: it leads to the melting of mountain glaciers, which can spark floods. It also decreases glacial coverage, which leads to a reduction in the long-term availability of water for people, agriculture, and hydropower. Finally, as glacier cover diminishes and the area is replaced by water or land, the albedo – the amount of light that is reflected without being absorbed on a surface – also decreases. This could increase solar energy absorbed, leading to more warming.

Glaciers are often referred to as the “water towers” of the world, with half of humanity depending on mountains for their water needs. The Tibetan Plateau alone is the source of 10 of Asia’s biggest rivers and provides water to 1.35 billion people, or 20 per cent of the world’s population.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service, a Switzerland-based organization that works closely with UNEP, monitors global glacial change. In the 1960s, its data showed, glaciers were largely in a steady state but since the 1970s glacial loss has increased rapidly, almost doubling every decade until present. They note that this ice loss “leaves no doubt about ongoing climate change.”

Adaptation action

In the Paris Agreement, Member States committed to limit global temperature increases to well below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Slowing global warming would help save glaciers, but countries must also prepare mountain ecosystems for an inevitable increase in temperatures. The best way is through adaptation, in other words, introduce a change into the ecosystem that will help combat the impact of global warming.

Within the context of the Adaptation at Altitude programme funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UNEP and partners are working on innovative solutions to adapt to a warming planet.

“Our ecosystem-based adaptation projects are restoring forests and shrubs on mountain slopes, which helps prevent both floods and landslides by holding the soil together and regulating the flow of surface water run-off,” said Jessica Troni, Head of the Climate Change Adaptation Unit at UNEP.

While ecosystem-based adaptation projects cannot stop glaciers from melting, they can significantly reduce the disastrous impacts. Further, they can help mountain communities to adapt to a warmer climate, for example by promoting drought-resistant crops.

But it is not just melting glaciers that cause landslides and floods in mountainous regions.

In Nepal, for example, increased monsoon rainfall and a decrease in winter rain, a result of climate change, has led to crop losses due to droughts and floods, placing communities at risk from food insecurity. A UNEP-supported project, known as EbA South, is working to combat the impacts of unseasonal rainfall. The programme has planted over 840,000 seedlings. These trees and their root systems act like sponges, absorbing water during intense rains and storing it for times of drought.  

“As global warming increases, crop losses and tragedies like the one in Uttarakhand are likely to become more frequent, making UNEP and its partners’ work on ecosystem-based adaptation all the more important in building the resilience of mountain communities to climate change,” said Jurek.

UN Environment

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Flipflopi sets sail around Lake Victoria to raise awareness on pollution menace

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image source: theflipflopi.com

Flipflopi, the world’s first sailing boat made from 100% recycled plastic, is joining forces with the UN Environment Programme’s Clean Seas Campaign once more, this time embarking on an expedition by sailing around Africa’s largest freshwater ecosystem – Lake Victoria. The voyage aims to send an urgent message to the East Africa community on the need to end the unnecessary single-use plastic scourge that is threatening the region. 

The current state of Lake Victoria, supporting 40 million East Africans, through food supply and livelihoods, symbolises the catastrophic effects of human activities and climate change, among other issues, resulting in significant water pollution which threatens the health and livelihoods of communities.

A recent study estimated that 1 in 5 of the fish in Lake Victoria had ingested plastic. Another recent study ubiquitously recorded microplastics in surface waters in several sites of Lake Victoria. At the heart of the plastic waste problem is the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption, as products get manufactured, bought, used briefly, and then thrown away. 

The Flipflopi is an initiative showcasing alternative uses of plastic waste and the possibilities of circular economy approaches. Over a three-week period, Flipflopi will sail from Kisumu, Kenya to several locations in Uganda and Tanzania, raising awareness and inspiring communities to adopt circular-waste solutions to beat plastic pollution.

“This Lake, Nam Lolwe, matters to me. It must matter to us all.  Investing in research and development on blue economy investments, improving the health of the lake and riparian environment while ensuring that investments are ‘lake friendly’ from inception are amongst my priorities” said Governor of Kenya’s Kisumu County Anyang’ Nyong’o. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to address the myriad environmental crises, which can only be done through regional and global consensus on key issues like single-use plastic, and climate change,” said Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Flipflopi is a great African example of the circular economy in action; we are proud to see it start this new journey around Lake Victoria, a shared resource that we must do all we can to protect.”

Flipflopi’s Lake Victoria expedition will include several stops along the lake engaging community leaders, conservationists, business leaders and policymakers, demonstrating alternate uses of waste plastic and other circular waste models calling for an end to single-use plastics.  

“Flipflopi was built to show the world that it is possible to make valuable materials out of waste plastic, and that single-use plastic really does not make sense,” said Ali Skanda, co-founder of the Flipflopi project and builder of the world’s first recycled plastic dhow. “By sailing around the lake, we aim to inspire people to create their own waste-plastic innovations and adopt circular solutions that will build greener businesses, whilst also taking plastic out of the environment. Together with communities across the Lake Victoria region we hope to bring awareness and innovative solutions to beat pollution and support a green recovery in East Africa”

Flipflopi is an example of innovative circular solutions applied at a national level to the pollution challenge.  In Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria, CIST Africa are making hand sanitizer from invasive water hyacinth. 

Innovators like Sanergy are turning Nairobi’s untreated organic waste into organic fertiliser for crops, feed for livestock, and fuel briquettes for energy.  In Uganda, the women who set up Reform Africa are turning plastic waste into sustainable and waterproof bags, whilst providing school children in rural areas with bags for free. In Tanzania, a collective of local artisans known as ‘Made by Africraft’ are introducing youth and the unemployed to developing sustainable handicrafts to create a livelihood. 

Flipflopi, the Clean Seas Campaign and partners aims to showcase green innovations as they sail around the lake, and inspire communities and businesses to act against plastic pollution.

As part of the expedition, the Flipflopi expedition will launch a petition calling for a regional ban on single-use plastics.

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Can financial institutions invest in ocean health?

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New, pivotal guidance published today by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) provides a market-first, practical toolkit for financial institutions to take immediate action on their lending, investment and underwriting activities which negatively impact ocean health.

The ocean covers 70% of the earth’s surface, holding 97% of all water and 80% of all life forms. Major ocean sectors such as tourism, shipping, fishing, aquaculture and marine renewable energy collectively contribute to a ‘blue’ economy, estimated at a global gross value added of USD 1.5trn in 2010. This is projected to double in size to USD 3trn by 2030, with some ocean industries set to grow faster than the global economy (OECD, 2016).

However, ocean health is under existential threat. Faced with the triple crises of pollution, nature loss and climate change, two-thirds of our oceans have been negatively altered by human activity; leaving industries, businesses and livelihoods exposed. With existing financing still largely directed towards unsustainable sectors and activities, it is critical that all sectors of the blue economy are rapidly transitioned towards sustainable pathways.

Banks, insurers and investors have a major role to play in financing this transition to a sustainable blue economy, helping to rebuild ocean prosperity and restore biodiversity to the ocean. Through their activities, and client relationships, financial institutions have a major impact on ocean health and hold the power to accelerate and mainstream the sustainable transformation of ocean-linked industries. They thereby play essential roles in wider ocean governance, engaging in public-private partnerships, and propelling local-to-global actions for sustainability.  

“Momentum is building as more banks, insurers and investors wake up to the realisation that their financial activities can have a sizeable impact on ocean health, creating a negative feedback loop for key ocean industries such as shipping, fishing, tourism and marine renewables” said Eric Usher, Head of UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).

“A new sustainable pathway for the blue economy is thus both an environmental and economic necessity. This critical new guidance provides a practical toolkit for financial institutions to understand their impact and discover how a new sustainable finance approach can help them identify key risks and opportunities in ocean-linked sectors” he added.

Leveraging best practice based on input from more than 50 pioneering institutions and experts, this guidance sets out pathways to sustainable growth across five key ocean sectors, chosen for their established connection to private finance. It presents a detailed breakdown of which activities to seek out as best practice, which activities to challenge, and which activities to avoid financing completely due to their damaging nature.

“Decades of unsustainable consumption and production is leading to environmental risks and losses in natural capital, eroding the ocean’s resource base. Without engagement by financial institutions, we will not be able to change the course to sustain a healthy ocean and unlock its enormous potential. 1$ of sustainable ocean investments can yield 5x higher global benefits” said Leticia Carvalho, Head of the Marine and Freshwater Branch, UN Environment Programme.

“This new guidance can help financial institutions invest in good ocean governance at local, regional and global levels. In a nutshell, making sustainable blue economy opportunities too hard to resist” she added.

This guidance provides decision-makers across banking, insurance and investment with a science-based and actionable toolkit, giving easy-to-follow recommendations on how to approach financial activity related to:

  • Seafood, including both fisheries and aquaculture as well as their supply chains;
  • Ports;
  • Maritime transportation;
  • Marine renewable energy, notably offshore wind; and
  • Coastal and marine tourism, including cruising.

It builds on the foundation of the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles – a keystone for financing activities in the blue economy, supported by a community of over 50 institutions worldwide with a collective total asset size of over USD 6trn.

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Duck conservation takes flight in Jamaica

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On January 20, 2021, the day of the inauguration of American president Joe Biden, two ducks named “Joe” and “Kamala” took flight from a remote wetland near Negril, Jamaica. And, like their namesakes, the fowl will be the focus of international attention.

That’s because Joe and Kamala are West Indian whistling ducks, the rarest duck species in the Americas, with fewer than 20,000 remaining, found only in the northern Caribbean. Conservationists released the pair, which were outfitted with GPS trackers, into the wild on 20 January, kicking off a study to learn more about their species and, researchers hope, ensure their survival.

BirdsCaribbean is a partner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The whistling duck study is supported by UNEP’s Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco) project.

With one million species are at risk of extinction, biodiversity is a key priority of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  Ecosystems are fundamental to human health and prosperity, availing food and water, regulating temperature, stimulating economic growth, putting roofs over heads and clothing on backs. As ecosystems degrade, so do human lives.

As the world faces the stark reality that none of the Aichi targets were met and prepares for a new, ambitious post-2020 framework, the issue is more urgent than ever.  In fact, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are ranked among the top five threats to humanity in the coming decade.

Whistling ducks’ long-term survival has been threatened by the destruction of their wetland habitats, as well as climate change, pollution, poaching and predators. Little is known about the large waterbird that is between the size of a large duck and a goose, has a long neck, and is mostly brown in colour, but may have black-and-white patches on its neck and flanks. The duck’s characteristic features is its distinctive whistling call.

“We are thrilled with the launch of this exciting project,” said Lisa Sorenson, the Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. “I expect it will lead to major improvements in our knowledge of the ducks’ movements and habitat use.”

The trackers attached to Joe and Kamala  are expected to plot their positions every hour to within a few metres and will help the scientists to know about the species, their migration patterns, nesting sites, feeding zones and roosting locales. Researchers are aiming to use the information gathered through the initiative to plan for the species’ recovery.

Led by UNEP with the backing of the Global Environment Facility, IWEco is helping 10 Caribbean countries manage their water and land resources while safeguarding biodiversity. A key part of the project has been the protection and monitoring of endemic species, like West Indian whistling ducks.

As one of the three founding Global Environment Facility partners, UNEP has been working on conservation projects supported by the facility for almost 30 years.

“Together, UNEP and the Global Environment Facility have successfully worked to address global transboundary issues since 1992, and we look forward to further strengthening and implementing actions for nature,” said Sinikinesh Beyene Jimma head of UNEP’s GEF International Waters Unit.

And while biodiversity targets have not been met, evidence indicates that efforts have produced results. Where action was taken, habitat loss was controlled and decades of degradation were reversed.

UN Environment

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