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7 climate action highlights to remember before COP26

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A September to remember, a pivotal month for climate action commitments. From the United Nations General Assembly week to the final pre-COP meeting, last month was an important time to build momentum before the decisive UN Climate Conference COP26 in early November. 

UN News has put together a list of the seven most important climate action-related highlights you should know about.

1.     Billions planned for clean energy

More than $400 billion in new finance and investment was committed by governments and the private sector during the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy, the first leader-level meeting on energy under the auspices of the UN General Assembly in 40 years.

More than 35 countries, ranging from island states to major emerging and industrialized economies, made significant new energy commitments in the form of Energy Compacts.

For example, the No New Coal Compact includes Sri Lanka, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, and Montenegro.

The countries involved in the coalition have committed to immediately stop issuing new permits for coal-fired power generation projects and cease new construction of coal-fired power generation, as of the end of 2021.

Several new partnership initiatives were announced during the event, aiming to provide and improve access to reliable electricity, to over a billion people.

2.     United States and China boosted climate action

The world’s two largest economies committed to more ambitious climate action during the high-level week of the General Assembly.

United States’ President Jose Biden announced that his country would significantly increase its international climate finance to approximately $11.4 billion a year.

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping of China said that he would end all financing of coal-fired power plants abroad, and redirect support to green and low carbon energy generation.

While the announcements were most welcome, The UN Secretary-General flagged that there is still “a long way to go” to make UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow a success that ensures “a turning point in our collective efforts to address the climate crisis”.

3.     Africa Climate Week spurred regional action

People across Africa met virtually for several days to spotlight climate action, explore possibilities, and showcase ambitious solutions.

More than 1,600 participants actively joined in the virtual gathering, with the host Government of Uganda bringing together governments at all levels across the region, along with private sector leaders, academic experts, and other key stakeholders.

Janet Rogan, COP26 Regional Ambassador for Africa and the Middle East, said that the meeting enabled many stakeholders to build new partnerships and strengthen existing ones.

“Only by working together can we truly help to deliver on the ambition of the Paris Agreement while being conscious of the unique opportunities and challenges this presents in the region”, she said.

UN agencies were involved:

  • The World Bank examined economy-wide approaches for a sustainable, green recovery
  • The UN Development Programme (UNDP) explored how both climate risk and climate solutions are reshaping different sectors
  • The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reimagined the future and looked at behaviors, technologies, and financing
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published its first ever stock take of Africa’s forests and landscapes revealing that up to 65 per cent of productive land is degraded, while desertification affects 45 per cent of Africa’s land area.

Africa has contributed little to climate change, generating only a small fraction of global emissions. However, it may be the most vulnerable region in the world already suffering of droughts, floods, and destructive locust invasions, among other impacts.

4.     COP hosts, the United Kingdom, asked countries to ‘secure the money’

Right at the beginning of the General Assembly, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened an emergency meeting to press for more action on climate finance and other measures ahead of UN COP26.

World leaders addressed the gaps that remain on the actions needed from national governments, especially the G20 industrialized powers, on mitigation, finance, and adaptation.

The UK Prime Minister warned that “history will judge” the world’s richest nations if they fail to deliver on their pledge to commit $100 billion in annual climate aid ahead of COP26. He placed the chances of securing the money before November at “six out of 10”.

Mr. Johnson also assured his country “will lead by example, keeping the environment on the global agenda and serving as a launchpad for a global green industrial revolution.” But warned: “No one country can turn the tide, it would be akin to bailing out a liner with a single bucket.”

5.     World leaders committed to reform Global Food Systems

Food systems cause as much as a third of greenhouse gas emissions, up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss and use up to 70 per cent of freshwater reserves.

However, sustainable food production systems should be recognized as an essential solution to these existing challenges.

On 23 Sept, the first ever UN Food Systems Summit convened world leaders to spur national and regional action to transform the way we produce, consume and dispose of our food.

Following from the latest IPCC report, which raised a “code red” for human-driven global heating, the US administration, one of the world’s major agricultural producers, pledged $10 billion over five years to address climate change and help feed those most vulnerable without exhausting natural resources.

The Summit, called by the UN Secretary-General in 2019 to accelerate global progress by leveraging the interconnected importance of food systems, featured other commitments from more than 85 Heads of State around the world.

Many countries announced national initiatives to ensure their food systems met not only the nutritional needs of their populations but also goals around climate change, biodiversity, and decent livelihoods for all.  Business and civil society organizations also made important promises.  

6.     No more ‘blah, blah, blah’

Almost 400 activists aged 15 to 29 from 186 countries met in Milan, Italy, a few days ago, to rev up the call for climate action. With weeks to go before COP26, they highlighted youth leadership and pushed for a far more climate conscious society.

Greta Thunberg, along with Ugandan environmentalist Vanessa Nakate was among the speakers at the Youth4Climate event, run by Italy and the World Bank Group.

“Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net-zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises”, Thunberg said.

 “No more empty conferences, it’s time to show us the money”, added Nakate, 24, referring to the $100 billion in annual climate aid promised by the richest economists to help developing countries vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

“What do we want? We want climate justice now”, highlighted Thunberg, known for inspiring a series of youth climate strikes around the world since 2018.

The three-day meeting finalized with a joint document to be presented at negotiation meetings during the preparation COP26 event, the Pre-COP, and then during the pivotal conference.

UN chief António Guterres thanked young people for contributing ideas and solutions in advance of the UN Climate Conference.

“Young people have been in the forefront of putting forward positive solutions, advocating for climate justice and holding leaders to account. We need young people everywhere to keep raising your voices,” he said in a video message.

7.     Next commitments to watch: the Pre-COP

Each UN Climate Conference (COP) is preceded by a preparatory meeting held about a month before, called Pre-COP. The meeting is the final formal, multilateral opportunity for ministers to shape the negotiations in detail ahead of the meeting in Glasgow in November.

The event, this year in Milan, brings together climate and energy ministers from a selected group of countries to discuss and exchange views on some key political aspects of the negotiations and delve into some of the key topics that will be addressed at COP26.

The meeting is taking place just weeks after a report by UN Climate Change found that nations must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent global temperature increases beyond the Paris Agreement’s goal of 2C – ideally 1.5C – by the end of the century.

The issues under discussion in Milan include:

  • Reducing emissions to ensure that the 1.5C goal remains within reach
  • Provision of finance and support to developing countries to enable them to act on climate change
  • Improving approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage from climate extremes
  • Establishing a global goal on adaptation to decrease vulnerability
  • Advancing the technicalities needed for countries to report on their climate actions and support needed or received
  • Advancing the detailed rules for the market and non-market mechanisms, through which countries can cooperate to meet their emission reduction targets

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Environment

Climate change: For 25th year in a row, Greenland ice sheet shrinks

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2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday. 

The data from the Danish Arctic monitoring service Polar Portal – which forms part of the UN weather agency WMO’s annual State of the Climate report – shows that early summer was cold and wet, with unusually heavy and late snowfall in June, which delayed the onset of the melting season. 

After that, however, a heatwave at the end of July, led to a considerable loss of ice. 

In terms of “total mass balance” (the sum of surface melting and loss of ice chunks from icebergs, in addition to the melting of glacier “tongues” in contact with seawater), the ice sheet lost around 166 billion tonnes during the 12-month period ending in August 2021. 

Climate change 

These numbers mean the ice sheet ended the season with a net surface mass balance of approximately 396 billion tonnes, making it the 28th lowest level recorded, in the 41-year time series.  

This could be considered an average year, but Polar Report notes how perspectives have changed, due to rapidly advancing climate change. 

At the end of the 1990s, for example, these same figures would have been regarded as a year with a very low surface mass balance. 

The report also notes that the cause of the early summer chill, could be due to conditions over southwest Canada and the northwest United States. 

In these territories, an enormous “blocking” high pressure system was formed, shaped like the Greek capital letter Omega (Ω). 

This flow pattern occurs regularly in the troposphere, and not just over North America, but it had never been observed with such strength before. 

According to the report, an analysis by World Weather Attribution demonstrated that it could only be explained as a result of atmospheric warming caused by human activity. 

Notable year 

According to the report, 2021 was notable for several reasons. 

It was the year in which precipitation at Summit Station, which is located at the top of the ice sheet at an altitude of 3,200 metres above sea level, was registered in the form of rain. 

The year also saw an acceleration of the loss of ice at the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, where the rate of loss had otherwise been stagnant for several years. 

Winter snowfall was also close to average for the period between 1981 and 2010, which was good news, because a combination of low winter snowfall and a warm summer can result in very large losses of ice, as was the case in 2019. 

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Environment

2022: Emergency mode for the environment

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As the new year gets underway, the world continues to grapple with a number of familiar challenges – the continued COVID-19 pandemic, resurgent wildfires, enduring crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Yet, 2022 could prove to be a seminal year for the environment, with high-level events and conferences scheduled, which are hoped to re-energize international cooperation and collective action.

The coming year will also mark two golden jubilees. In 1972, the world took up the environmental mantle at the historic UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The meeting firmly placed the environment on the priority list of governments, civil society, businesses and policymakers, recognizing the inextricable links between the planet, human well-being and economic growth. Now, fifty years later, the Stockholm+50 meeting in June 2022 will commemorate the event, reflect upon half a century of global environmental action and look forward.

The Stockholm Conference also birthed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN entity mandated to monitor the state of the environment, inform policymaking with science and galvanize action. For fifty years since, UNEP has used its convening power and rigorous scientific research to coordinate a global effort to tackle environmental challenges. A series of activities will mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary this year.

UNEP is going into 2022 with a new “Medium-Term Strategy” featuring seven interlinked subprogrammes for action: Climate Action, Chemicals and Pollutions Action, Nature Action, Science Policy, Environmental Governance, Finance and Economic Transformations and Digital Transformations. The strategy was agreed at 2021’s fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly; the resumed session, known as UNEA 5.2 will take place in February 2022. Under the overarching theme of ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’, discussions will highlight the pivotal role of nature in social, economic and environmental sustainable development.

June will be a busy month on the environmental calendar. On the 5th, the world will come together to celebrate World Environment Day. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1974, the day has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet. This year’s event will be hosted by Sweden, under the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“, with a focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature.  

While this timeline of environmental achievements is proof of what can be achieved through multilateral action, the science remains irrefutable. Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are fuelling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the triple crisis is humanity’s number one existential threat.

Several global events in 2022 aim to encourage dialogue and influence policy decisions to address the triple crisis. These include a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will be adopted in May at COP 15, and could stave off the extinction of over one million species, and the UN Ocean Conference in July, which seeks to protect one of our most vital ecosystems. A detailed list of related events is available on the UN web site.

Last year, the UN Secretary-General reminded the world that “We are at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. It can go either way: breakdown or breakthrough.”

Experts hope that 2022 will be a year of breakthroughs for the environment.

UNEP

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With decent work and a sustainable model aquaculture could feed the world

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Harnessing aquaculture’s potential to effectively contribute to feeding the world’s growing population in the decades to come will require concerted efforts to promote sustainable enterprises and decent work for its workforce.

These are among the main conclusions of the Technical meeting on the future of work in aquaculture in the context of the rural economy  (13-17 December 2021) that brought together representatives from governments, employers and workers at the ILO to discuss the decent work challenges and opportunities in the aquaculture sector.

In recent decades aquaculture has made important contributions to reducing poverty and hunger in many impoverished rural communities. It remains an important source of livelihoods and food for many rural workers today. At least 20.5 million people work in primary aquaculture production. Many more are engaged along the aquaculture supply chain.

With a growing world population and environmental pressures, aquaculture is increasingly recognized as holding potential for sustainably addressing challenges of food and nutritional security. In a number of developing countries there is also growing appreciation of its role in enterprise development, job creation and livelihood diversification, especially for the rural poor. In order to promote the sustainability and growth of the aquaculture sector and harness its potential to advance sustainable development, inclusive growth and decent work, there needs to be a stronger focus on addressing employment and labour challenges facing the sector.

“If we are to ensure that the aquaculture industry will contribute to inclusive growth and decent work opportunities for more women and men we must create a level playing field and an enabling environment for sustainable production and for workers to enjoy their rights at work,” said Magnús Magnússon Norɖdahl, Chairperson of the meeting.

“Sustainable and inclusive growth in the aquaculture industry could further be beneficial in terms of increasing income and livelihoods for many rural communities, both coastal and inland, and in this process, also contribute to governments’ efforts in alleviating rural poverty,” added Fatih Acar, Government group Vice-Chairperson.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  has been felt by both businesses and workers in the sector. Workers, especially in processing, have been at heightened risk of exposure to the virus, with the long working hours in close quarters and low temperatures. Businesses have struggled to remain viable, which has been reflected in reduced working hours or lay-offs, impacting the livelihood of workers and their families. The lessons learnt from the crisis should encourage reforms towards more sustainable and resilient aquaculture and food systems more generally.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated decent work deficits in the sector. But many of these deficits had existed long before its outbreak” said Krisjan Bragason, Workers’ group Vice-Chairperson. “Social dialogue, based on the respect of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, is the key to finding solutions that work for all.”

“Coherent policy frameworks should be created that focus on sustainable enterprise development and productivity improvements, the promotion of inclusive labour markets, skills development and adequate social dialogue mechanisms which involve Employers’ federations. All these elements will drive and enable the future growth of the sector,” said Employers’ group Vice-Chair, Henrik Munthe.

The meeting adopted conclusions that will assist governments, workers and employers to take measures to tap the potential of the sector to support full and productive employment and decent work for all, so contributing to food and nutrition security and making sure that no one is left behind.

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