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‘Make or break moment’ for forests

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Forests are at the core of our efforts to restore our relationship with the natural world, the deputy UN chief said on Monday at the UN Forum on Forests

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said we were at a “make or break moment”, adding that woodlands provide vital functions, including as guardians of fresh water sources and biodiversity protection. 

“Investing in forests is key to climate resilience and sustainable and resilient recovery”, she underscored, stressing that it is critical for all hands to be on deck now in support of forests worldwide. 

Moreover, failure to protect forests would have a major, negative impact on damaging and rising carbon emissions. 

The deputy UN chief said that forests must be adequately financed, including through alleviating debt burdens for those States which are expected to do more for woodland protection and sustainable agriculture overall.  

‘Wide-ranging global crises’ 

Pointing out that the world is facing “wide-ranging global crises” that are “intrinsically linked” to the health and sustainability of our environment, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir called the discussion “particularly timely”.  

“Clearly our world is telling us that there is a problem in our relationship with nature”, he said, noting the impact of COVID-19, a zoonotic disease that highlights the risks associated with human encroachment; species extinction rates, which range from 100 to 1,000 times above the baseline rate; and rising global warming, with 2016 and 2020 tied as the warmest years on record. 

“Unfortunately, as a society, we tend to focus on the symptoms and not the underlying conditions, and we have ignored the Earth’s messages for far too long”, said the Assembly president. “Hopefully, we can help change that”.   

Building political momentum 

The UN official drew attention to a high-level dialogue on 20 May that will focus on pandemic recovery and highlight how to help tackle desertification, land degradation and drought.  

It will encompass a “strong push around the need to use this momentous recovery effort to create jobs and shovel-ready projects that support land restoration, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as investments in sustainable land management”, said Mr. Bozkir.  

He hoped that the discussion would also help support the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, degradation neutrality targets and national drought plans – in line with the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, the Nationally Determined Contributions of countries’ commitments to increasing climate actions through the 2015 Paris Agreement, and future commitments under the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

The Assembly president noted that 2021 will be “a milestone year for the three Rio Conventions on Desertification, Biodiversity and Climate Change”, adding that these important issues are linked and actions must be coordinated for maximum impact.  

“As we move from the Decade to Fight Desertification into a new Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, let us take this opportunity to renew our commitment to creating a future that is more equitable, where all people benefit from living in harmony with nature”, he said. 

Moving forward 

QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), spoke about new research linking successful forest restoration with rolling back biodiversity loss and species extinction.  

He maintained that well preserved habitats and healthy agriculture are key pathways forward and also underscored the importance of indigenous people in forest protection and preservation, calling their role “paramount”. 

“Investing in forests is investing in our future”, he said. “We must strengthen our global efforts to protect and restore forests and support the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. Only then can we realize our shared vision for a more just, equitable and sustainable world”. 

Global Forest Goals Report 

The event also launched the Global Forest Goals Report 2021, which evaluates where the world stands in implementing the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030

While the world had been making progress in key areas, such as increasing global forest area through afforestation and restoration, findings reveal that the worsening state of our natural environment is threatening these and other gains.  

“Before the pandemic, many countries were working hard to reverse native forest loss and increase protected areas designated for biodiversity conservation”, wrote Secretary-General António Guterres in the report’s foreword.  

“Some of those gains are now at risk with worrying trends of increased deforestation of primary tropical forests.”

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Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2021 to focus on climate, food and nature

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A resilient and abundant ocean is essential to tackling climate change and key to providing sustainable food and jobs that boost recovery around the world. Half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, according to the World Economic Forum, and more than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. As countries recover from the economic and social impacts of COVID-19, the ocean can be a major part of the solution.

To fast-track the innovations necessary for a healthy ocean, Friends of Ocean Action and the World Economic Forum are convening the second Virtual Ocean Dialogues event. On 25-26 May, government representatives, leaders from business, members of civil society and scientific communities will gather at this virtual global summit to highlight how a healthy ocean is critical to the sustainable development agenda. A healthy ocean is increasingly being seen as a solution to the many development challenges society is facing.

“It has never been more critical to fast-track solutions for a resilient and thriving ocean. A range of major global summits and forums in the coming months offer a moment to acknowledge the ocean’s transformative role in tackling climate change, supporting global food systems and rebuilding the health of the natural world,” said Kristian Teleki, Director of Friends of Ocean Action at the World Economic Forum. “I invite anyone with an interest in our shared future on this blue planet to tune into the livestreamed sessions and join the conversation.”

Sessions address the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, UN Food Systems Summit, UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), WTO negotiations to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit all taking place in 2021.

During the event, ideas and innovations for ocean health will also be shared on UpLink, the digital platform to crowdsource innovations to accelerate delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A new UpLink Ocean Challenge will be launched, to seek out new ideas to boost sustainable food from aquatic sources.

“Following the outstanding success of last year’s event, the Virtual Ocean Dialogues have become a key waymarker in global efforts to secure the ocean’s health,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action. “I am delighted to see this second iteration take to the airwaves.”

The 2021 Virtual Ocean Dialogues are part of a 3-day high-level virtual forum convened by the World Economic Forum, the Mission Possible Partnership and Friends of Ocean Action, together with the United Kingdom’s Presidency of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), the UN High-Level Champions for COP26 and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. The Climate Breakthroughs on 27 May seek to mobilize progress and sector breakthroughs to realize a 45% reduction in annual emissions by 2030 and net-zero global emissions before 2050, including a session on decarbonizing shipping with the Getting to Zero Coalition.

Friends of Ocean Action is a coalition of 65 ocean leaders who are fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Its members come from business, civil society, international organizations, science and technology. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the World Resources Institute.

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Cut methane emissions to avert global temperature rise

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National governments are the main drivers of change to reduce harmful emissions. Unsplash/Daniel Moqvist

Methane emissions caused by human activity can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade, thus helping to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a UN-backed report published on Thursday. 

The Global Methane Assessment outlines the benefits of mitigating methane, a key ingredient in smog, which include preventing some 260,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits annually, as well as 25 million tonnes in crop losses. 

The study is the work of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), a global partnership of governments and non-State partners, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

‘Strongest lever’ 

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environmental are numerous and far outweigh the cost”, said Inger Andersen, the UNEP Executive Director. 

Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, responsible for around 30 per cent of warming since the pre-industrial era. 

Most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors: fossil fuels, such as oil and gas processing; landfills and waste; and agriculture, chiefly related to livestock. 

Emissions ever increasing 

The report underscores why international action is urgently needed as human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than at any time since record keeping began in the 1980s. 

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic causing an economic slowdown in 2020, which prevented another record year for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the amount of methane in the atmosphere reached record levels last year. 

The good news 

However, unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, methane breaks down quickly and most is gone after a decade, meaning action can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming in the near-term. 

Methane accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Rick Duke, Senior Advisor to John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change.  

“The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally—through measures like research and development, standards to control fossil and landfill methane, and incentives to address agricultural methane”, he said. 

Solutions readily available 

The Assessment identifies readily available solutions that would reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, mainly in the fossil fuel sector.  Most, or around 60 per cent, are low cost and half have “negative costs”, meaning companies will make money from taking action.  

So-called “mitigation potential” varies between countries and regions, according to the report. For example, whereas the largest potential in Europe and India is in the waste sector, in China it is from coal production and livestock, while in Africa it is from livestock followed by oil and gas.  

“But targeted measures alone are not enough”, the partners warned.  “Additional measures that do not specifically target methane, like a shift to renewable energy, residential and commercial energy efficiency, and a reduction in food loss and waste, can reduce methane emissions by a further 15 per cent by 2030.” 

Drew Shindell, a Professor of Climate Science at Duke University in the USA, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, said urgent steps must be taken to reduce methane emissions this decade.    

“To achieve global climate goals, we must reduce methane emissions while also urgently reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Dr Shindell said. “The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available.”

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Seven Key Principles for Implementing Net Zero

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Meeting our shared goals for avoiding dangerous climate change requires a dramatic acceleration of progress towards clean growth and resilience. Over 120 countries have so far announced their intention to bring emissions to net zero by the middle of this century. As we look forward to COP26, this growing political consensus is a cause for optimism about the world’s ability to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. A tremendous amount of work is now needed to turn ambitions into reality.

With that in mind, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States welcome the following Seven Key Principles for Implementing Net Zero, and we encourage the IEA Secretariat and Members to examine how the IEA, building on its key strengths, can best support the delivery of these principles, in close partnership with other relevant institutions:

Sustainable recoveries can provide a once-in-a-generation down payment toward net zero: As countries stimulate economies and build back after the Covid-19 pandemic, they also have an historic opportunity to jumpstart progress toward achieving net zero emissions. The IEA can further support governments to harness the transition to sustainable net zero energy systems as a driver of clean, sustainable growth and job creation.

Clear, ambitious and implementable net-zero-aligned roadmaps to 2030 and beyond are critical: Governments can increase international confidence in the transition by setting out national roadmaps for action over the next vital 10 years, which incorporate each country’s diverse circumstances and utilise a variety of low-carbon technologies and options to enhance steady implementation. The IEA can further support governments across the IEA family in the development of net-zero-aligned roadmaps to 2030 and beyond, and provide necessary guidance and assistance to facilitate implementation.

Transitions will go faster when learning is shared: A wide range of real-world implementation challenges are holding back transitions, including meeting the energy needs of underserved populations and improving safe and sustainable energy access for the poorest and most vulnerable groups. The IEA’s Clean Energy Transitions Programme is supporting governments across the IEA family to navigate the technical and economic transition risks and chart an actionable course towards a sustainable and inclusive energy system. Further enhancing mechanisms to share best practices, collaborate on technology, and provide targeted advice across the IEA family can help drive the pace of transition across the global energy system.

Net zero sectors and innovation are essential to achieve global net zero: Today’s early stage technologies will likely need to contribute almost half of the emissions reductions required to set the world on an ambitious path to net zero. The development and deployment at scale of a range of climate-neutral energy technologies, combined with energy efficiency, can enable rapid, sustainable and deep energy transitions across all major energy use sectors – many of which involve complex value chains that cross national boundaries. Stronger, consolidated public-private mechanisms for international coordination are needed to accelerate innovation and deployment within sectors. The IEA can further enhance and improve its analysis of innovation and sector decarbonisation, and promote joint strategies and approaches across the IEA family, including coordination with other relevant international fora.

Mobilising, tracking and benchmarking public and private investment can be the fuel to achieve net zero: There is an urgent need to shift gears on climate-neutral energy investment to put the world on track for net zero. By 2030, the amount of investment required in electricity (generation and grid/storage) needs to rise to more than $1.6 trillion per year to be on track for net zero emissions by 2050. Major international efforts are required to increase capital flows for climate neutral energy in emerging markets and developing economies. Public and private sector actors need to be brought together to create the necessary enabling environments to further catalyse sustainable and socially acceptable energy investment. The IEA can enhance its provision of analysis and practical guidance to both governments and the finance community, including through partnerships with other relevant organisations.

People-centred transitions are morally required and politically necessary: As countries seek to advance their shifts to clean energy technologies, the success of these efforts will rest on enabling citizens to benefit from transition opportunities and to navigate disruptions. This includes social, environmental and economic impacts on individuals and communities, as well as issues of affordability and fairness. A focus on training and skills development to equip all citizens to participate in the net zero economy is also critical. Governments should continue to share best practices and, where useful, explore and step up new ways of sharing best practices for designing climate-neutral energy policies that are people-centred and inclusive, including as part of the IEA’s Global Commission on People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions.

Net zero energy systems also need to be sustainable, secure, affordable and resilient: Maintaining energy security through transitions is critical. Governments, companies and other key actors need to both anticipate and manage existing and new energy security challenges, including ensuring uninterrupted flow of energy, even as variable power sources increase. This will require ensuring a diverse, sustainable and socially acceptable clean energy and technology mix; making best use of existing infrastructure; and addressing emerging challenges such as climate resilience, cyber risks and the availability and security of critical minerals. Governments should work together to analyse where new mechanisms can contribute to further strengthening the security and resilience of the global energy system alongside a swift net zero transition, which can be underpinned by the IEA’s provision of analytic expertise, best practice and efficient security mechanisms.

Being united by the high level of their ambitions, countries at all stages of development will need to determine their own unique path to implementing net zero according to the diversity of national circumstances and wide range of technologies.

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