August is wildfire season in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Many areas in the UNECE region, including North America, Siberia, and Mediterranean countries have experienced unusually hot and dry weather this year, and with that some of the biggest wildfires on record. Areas burned in Turkey and Greece were approximately 8 and 12 times larger than average, respectively. Clouds of toxic smoke from the boreal forested Sakha Republic in Siberia (Russian Federation), have drifted as far as the North Pole.
The negative social, ecological and economic impacts of wildfires on landscapes continue to escalate. Globally, wildfire smoke is estimated to cause over 339,000 premature deaths a year – far more than those who lose their lives directly in these blazes. In British Columbia (Canada), emissions from wildfires in 2017 and 2018 were more than three times those of all sectors in the province combined.
While wildfires are a natural part of many environments and crucial to clear out dead undergrowth, restore nutrients and regenerate soils, scientists have warned that due to climate warming wildfires will increase in severity and scale and extend well beyond the usual fire season. Larger wildfires in turn could exacerbate climate change by releasing enormous quantities of greenhouse gases. This could accelerate the thawing of methane-laden permafrost soils, thereby significantly impacting the ecosystem’s long-term ability to regenerate.
With the recently released IPCC report’s dire predictions of increased temperatures and extreme weather events, we must make the link between wildfire emission increases and the goals to achieve net-zero and net-negative emissions to mitigate further climate change. As scientists noted at the recent UNECE/FAO discussion on the science and policy of wildfires in the boreal biome: if we are to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, we need to sufficiently take into account wildfire risk when managing existing forests and planning large-scale tree planting activities. We also need to look beyond just tree planting to sufficiently address the importance of rewetting and restoring peatlands and wetlands – both crucial components for reducing wildfire risk. In addition, it is often those communities that are directly impacted by wildfires that suffer from a lack of financial means to put in place preventative measures. Financial and technical support, e.g. to thin forests surrounding settlements, encourage the construction of fire-proof homes, and develop evacuation plans, could enable these communities to become more fire resilient. Lastly, fire-smart forestry should be implemented to decrease the risks of wildfires spreading to communities.
The threats facing forests that are of global scope can only be solved through international cooperation. No matter the country, climate change affects forests’ capacity to withstand multiple disturbances like wildfires, and outbreaks of pests and diseases. A healthy forest holds significant potential for mitigating climate change and its effects. Forests are not only vital for stabilizing the global climate and providing long-lived wood products. They also provide livelihoods to rural and indigenous communities and habitats for many species.
But in order to deliver all these essential services, the ecosystem needs to be resilient enough to deal with challenges like fires. Forest landscape restoration can be an effective tool to increase forests’ resilience, and lower the negative impacts of wildfires. For instance, in some areas, prescribed burning – a technique that has been practiced by indigenous communities for centuries with the aim to reduce fuel load in forests – can lower the severity of wildfires. UNECE and FAO continue to support UNECE countries to scale up their forest landscape restoration efforts in support of the Bonn Challenge. As a result, the Astana Resolution was adopted by six countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, leading to pledges of over 3 million hectares of degraded forests to be restored by 2030. A Ministerial Meeting for countries of Eastern and South-East Europe is planned for 12 October 2021.
It has never been more urgent to revive damaged ecosystems and support local communities. Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people. This is also one of the messages of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
I urge member States to carry this overarching message forward as we deal with the many threats faced by our forests. With less than 10 years left to meet the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, we must undertake serious action to restore our forests, implement sustainable forest management practices and protect vital ecosystems for future generations.
UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection
To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings.
Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species.
“Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez.
Species under threat
UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites.
The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
“Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official.
Beneath the waves
UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.
In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems.
Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency.
Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.
Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”.
Breaking new ground
The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.
For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public.
All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.
The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.
“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin.
Act Urgently to Preserve Biodiversity for Sustainable Future — ADB President
The world must act urgently to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity for the sake of a sustainable future and prosperity, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said at the opening of a global event on biodiversity here today.
“The world is at a critical turning point. If we are to reverse the alarming decline in nature, we must respond with urgency and coordinated action,” Mr. Asakawa said. “These efforts are needed to ensure the survival of our ecosystems, and for the sake of our shared future and prosperity.”
Asia and the Pacific is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries, and the greatest marine diversity. “If restored and well-managed, these natural capital assets can help to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity loss in a cost-effective and impactful manner,” Mr. Asakawa said in his opening remarks at the Ecological Civilization Forum at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The event is cohosted by the PRC’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Yunnan provincial government, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participants include high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, development agencies including ADB, and civil society.
ADB is committed to helping accelerate and increase nature-positive investments in Asia and the Pacific. “Through our ADB Nature-Positive Investment Roadmap, we are working with partners to scale up finance, develop knowledge of natural capital, and generate financially sustainable projects that deliver on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems,” Mr. Asakawa said.
At COP15, ADB is launching a new publication, Greening Development in the People’s Republic of China, which outlines how ADB and the PRC have successfully partnered to promote green development and ecological restoration in a way that complements economic and social priorities.
In partnership with the Chinese Academy of Science and Stanford University, ADB is sharing progress on its new Natural Capital Lab due for launch in 2022. This will be a digital platform for sharing methods for valuing biodiversity and ecosystems, and for building knowledge, capacities, and alliances across the region.
In addition, ADB with partners will be launching the Regional Flyway Initiative that will conserve ecosystem services that support people and critical habitats for more than 50 million migratory waterbirds.
Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions
The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.
Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.
Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”
The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.
Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”
Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”
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