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Forest restoration provides a path to pandemic recovery, greener future

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Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should lead to stronger action to safeguard the world’s forests, a senior UN official said on Friday, highlighting how these natural resources have helped to protect health and well-being during the global crisis. 

Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), issued the call during a virtual event to commemorate the International Day of Forests, observed annually on 21 March. 

He said the forest sector has provided essential and lifesaving health products during the pandemic, such as face masks, cleaning supplies and ethanol used in sanitizers.  

Forests under threat  

Meanwhile, green spaces, parks and forests have been vital during “these times of social distancing”, and healthy, well-managed forests also act as natural buffers against zoonoses, thus warding against the risk of future pandemics. 

“Yet, despite their obvious importance, forests continue to be under threat”, Mr. Liu said.   

“Every year, seven million hectares of natural forests are converted to other land uses such as large-scale commercial agriculture, and other economic activities.  And while the rate of deforestation has slowed over the past decade, tree-cover loss has continued unabated in the tropics – largely due to human and natural causes.” 

A path to recovery 

The UN believes sustainable management of forests is critical to combating climate change and to ensuring a better future for all. 

The theme for this year’s International Day – “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being” – also aligns with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, from 2021-2030. 

 “If we fail to act now, we risk a point of no return”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned in his message for the Day, though noting it is not too late to act.   

“The crises our planet faces require urgent action by all – governments, international and civil society organizations, the private sector, local authorities and individuals”, Mr. Guterres said.  

“Indigenous peoples are leading the way.  They care for the Earth’s biodiversity and achieve conservation results with very few financial resources and little support.” 

For people and planet 

The Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, underscored how restoring forests and managing them sustainably, benefits both people and the planet.   

This investment will also contribute to economic recovery from the pandemic, he added, as “forest restoration activities create green jobs, generate incomes, improve human health and increase human security.” 

While COVID-19 has been “a harsh wake-up call”, it also presents a unique opportunity to recover better and stronger, according to Mr. Liu. 

“Let us use this International Day of Forests to send a strong message,” he said. “Let us restore and protect our forests, our planet, and all its vital ecosystems for generations to come.”

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Environment

World Migratory Bird Day illuminates the dark side of light pollution

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Governments, cities, companies, and communities around the world are taking action to address a significant and growing threat to wildlife, including many species of migratory birds – light pollution.

The issue is the focus for World Migratory Bird Day, observed this Saturday, 14 April, under the theme “Dim the Lights for Birds at Night.”

Light pollution is increasing, with artificially lit outdoor areas rising by 2.2 per cent per year from 2012 to 2016, according to one study cited by the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a UN environmental treaty.

Currently, more than 80 per cent of the world’s population is estimated to live under a “lit sky”, and the figure is closer to 99 per cent in Europe and North America. 

Altering natural patterns

“Natural darkness has a conservation value in the same way as clean water, air, and soil. A key goal of World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is to raise awareness of the issue of light pollution and its negative impacts on migratory birds,” said Amy Fraenkel, the CMS Executive Secretary. 

Artificial light alters natural patterns of light and dark within ecosystems, and contributes to the deaths of millions of birds each year.

Light pollution can cause birds to change their migration patterns, foraging behaviours and vocal communication, resulting in disorientation and collisions.  

Disorientation and death

Migrating birds are attracted to artificial light at night – particularly when there are low cloud conditions, fog, rain, or when flying at lower altitudes –  luring them to dangers in cities.

Birds become disorientated and, as a result, may end up circling in illuminated areas. With their energy reserves depleted, they risk exhaustion, or worse.

“Many nocturnally migrating birds such as ducks, geese, plovers, sandpipers and songbirds are affected by light pollution causing disorientation and collisions with fatal consequences,” said Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), another UN treaty.

“Seabirds such as petrels and shearwaters are attracted by artificial lights on land and become prey for rats and cats.” 

Safer skies

Two years ago, countries that are party to the CMS endorsed guidelines on light pollution covering marine turtles, seabirds, and migratory shorebirds.

The recommendations call for Environmental Impact Assessments to be conducted for projects that could result in light pollution.  

Projects should consider the main sources of light pollution at a certain site, the likely wild species to be affected, and facts about proximity to important habitats and migratory pathways.

New guidelines focused on migratory landbirds and bats are currently being developed and will be presented for adoption at a CMS conference next year.

Solutions to light pollution are readily available, said Ms. Frankel. More and more cities worldwide are taking measures to dim building lights during migration phases in spring and autumn, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Call to action

World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice a year, on the second Saturday in May and October, in recognition of the cyclical nature of bird migration and the different peak migration periods in the northern and southern hemispheres.

It is organized by a collaborative partnership among the two UN wildlife treaties and the non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA).

“World Migratory Bird Day is a call to action for international migratory bird conservation,” said Susan Bonfield, the EFTA Director. 

“As migratory birds’ journey across borders, inspiring and connecting people along the way, it is our aim to use the two days in 2022 to raise awareness of the threat of light pollution and the importance of dark skies to bird migrations.”

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UN focus on plant health, crucial for boosting food security worldwide

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On the very first International Day of Plant Health, marked on Thursday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for more investment in innovation to boost food security, especially for the billions worldwide living close to the bread line.

Plants under threat

Healthy plants have the power to help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development. But even though plants make up 80 per cent of the food we eat, and provide 98 per cent of the oxygen we breathe, threats to their survival in many cases, are piling up.

According to recent data, up to 40 per cent of food crops are lost due to plant pests and diseases every year, and this affects both food security and agriculture, the main source of income for vulnerable rural communities.

Climate change and human activities are also altering ecosystems and damaging biodiversity while creating new niches for pests to thrive in. 

Furthermore, FAO says that protecting plants from pests and diseases is far more cost effective than dealing with plant health emergencies. That is because once established, plant pests and diseases are often difficult to eradicate, and need to be controlled through sustainable pest and pesticides management.

Human health depends on plants

“On this very first International Day of Plant Health, we reflect on plant health innovations for food security,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, adding that investments are needed in research to find more resilient and sustainable additions to the human diet.

“We need to continue raising the global profile of plant health to transform agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable”, he continued.

The protection of plants is essential for people and for the planet, and that is why the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has mapped several priorities for plant health, coinciding with the inaugural Day.

Focusing on sustainable pest management and pesticides through promotion of green and digital plant protection; and creating enabling surroundings for plant health by enhancing the health of soils, seeds, and pollinators, are among the main priorities.

FAO is calling on governments to prioritize plant health and its sustainable management in formulating policies and legislation, and on academia and research institutions to deliver science-based solutions.

Why an International Day?

Having been established as a key legacy of the International Year of Plant Health 2020, the International Day of Plant Health (IDPH) was designated to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity and the environment, and boost economic development.

Championed by Zambia, it was unanimously adopted in a General-Assembly resolution co-signed by Bolivia, Finland, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania.

Following the first IDPH this year, FAO will organize celebrations for the Day every 12 May at global, regional, national levels, and even potentially, down on a farm, near you.

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Climate: World getting ‘measurably closer’ to 1.5-degree threshold

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There is a 50:50 chance of average global temperature reaching 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels in the next five years, and the likelihood is increasing with time, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), published on Tuesday in Geneva. 

The Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update also reveals a 93 per cent likelihood of at least one year between 2022 to 2026 becoming the warmest on record, thus knocking 2016 from the top spot. 

The chance of the five-year average for this period being higher than the last five years, 2017-2021, is also 93 per cent.  

The 1.5 °C target is the goal of the Paris Agreement, which calls for countries to take concerted climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming. 

Probability rising 

“This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – that we are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO Secretary-General.  

“The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic”, he added, but “rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.” 

The chance of temporarily exceeding the 1.5°C threshold has risen steadily since 2015, according to the report, which was produced by the United Kingdom’s Met Office, the WMO lead centre for climate update predictions.  

Back then, it was close to zero, but the probability increased to 10 per cent over the past five years, and to nearly 50 per cent for the period from 2022-2026.  

Wide-ranging impacts 

Mr. Taalas warned that as long as countries continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise. 

“And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and our weather will become more extreme. Arctic warming is disproportionately high and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us,” he said. 

The Paris Agreement outlines long-term goals that guide governments towards limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2 °C, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5 °C. 

‘Edging ever closer’ 

 The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further states that climate-related risks are higher for global warming of 1.5 °C than at present, but lower than at 2 °C. 

“Our latest climate predictions show that continued global temperature rise will continue, with an even chance that one of the years between 2022 and 2026 will exceed 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels,” said Dr. Leon Hermanson of the UK Met Office, who led the report.  

“A single year of exceedance above 1.5 °C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris Agreement, but it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5 °C could be exceeded for an extended period.” 

Last year, the global average temperature was 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial baseline, according to the provisional WMO report on the State of the Global Climate. The final report for 2021 will be released on 18 May.

WMO said back-to-back La Niña events at the start and end of 2021 had a cooling effect on global temperatures.  However, this is only temporary and does not reverse the long-term global warming trend.  

Any development of an El Niño event would immediately fuel temperatures, the agency said, as happened in 2016, the warmest year on record.

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