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5 ways we’re working to repair the damage to our planet and combat climate change

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International Mother Earth Day is a chance to reflect on how humanity has been treating our planet, and let’s face it: we’ve been poor custodians. And while a steady stream of IPCC reports has painted a legitimately worrying picture of the current state of the planet, don’t lose hope – here’s why: there are more innovative ideas for serious climate action than ever and around the world, people are working together on solutions to help repair the damage that’s been done to our fragile home.

But before we get to the exciting stuff, there’s no denying the gravity of the problem.

The Earth is facing a ‘triple planetary crisis’: climate disruption, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

“This triple crisis is threatening the well-being and survival of millions of people around the world. The building blocks of happy, healthy lives – clean water, fresh air, a stable and predictable climate – are in disarray, putting the Sustainable Development Goals in jeopardy”, the UN Secretary-General warns in a video message for Earth Day 2022.

The good news is that there is still hope, António Guterres stresses, reminding us that 50 years ago, the world came together in Stockholm for the pivotal UN Conference on the Human Environment, which kickstarted a global movement.

“Since then, we have seen what is possible when we act as one. We have shrunk the ozone hole. We have expanded protections for wildlife and ecosystems. We have ended the use of leaded fuel, preventing millions of premature deaths. And just last month, we launched a landmark global effort to prevent and end plastic pollution”.

The positive developments have not stopped there, the recently recognized right to a healthy environment is gaining traction and young people are more engaged than ever in the combat to take on our planetary threats.

“We have proven that together, we can tackle monumental challenges”, Mr. Guterres says.

Of course, much more needs to be done – and more quickly – to protect our home, but to celebrate Earth Day, we want to highlight five projects being implemented around the world right now aimed at repairing the damage we have caused.

These solutions are just some of the founding initiatives of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global rallying cry launched last year to heal our planet. It aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and ocean.

So here are 5 ways that we (humans) are working to restore our ailing Earth:

1. Converting coal mines into carbon sinks

In Appalachia, a geographical and cultural region in the eastern United States that includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia and is named after the Appalachian Mountains, the NGO Green Forests Work (GFW) is restoring forests on lands impacted by coal surface mining projects.

Surface mining is a technique used when coal is less than 200 feet underground. Large machines remove the topsoil and layers of rock and expose coal seams. Miners might also dynamite the tops of mountains and remove them to access the seams.

Once the mining is completed, what was once a forest is often converted into grasslands often composed of non-native species. This means, of course, the loss of large tracts of forested areas and the displacement and even loss of species.

To reverse this incredible damage, since 2009, Green Forests Work has been restoring mined lands by planting nearly 4 million native trees across more than 6,000 acres.

“Many mined lands are among the best places to plant trees for the purposes of mitigating climate change. Because the soils of reclaimed mined lands initially have very little organic carbon, they can serve as carbon sinks for decades, if not centuries, as the forests grow and build the soils,” Michael French, GFW Director of Operations explains to UN News.

He adds that by restoring native forests to these lands, they are restoring the ecosystem services they provide to society, including clean air and water, improved wildlife habitat, climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, as well as a sustainable economic resource base. 

“We at GFW hope that everyone is able to get out and experience the wonders of the natural world and make their own contribution to improving the world around them this Earth Day and every day,” Mr. French highlights.

2. Restoring ecosystem connectivity

Twenty years ago, a satellite photograph of Australia’s south-western corner showing the vast extent of natural vegetation lost due to human activity since the European settlement inspired a group of activists to form Gondwana Link.

The image showed how two-thirds of the vegetation in the region had been cleared across thousands of kilometres, and, over much of the agricultural region, many areas had less than 5-10 per cent of their original bushland (natural undeveloped areas) left.

They realized, however, that many biodiversity hotspots remained intact in conservation areas, although disconnected, across 1000 kilometres.

Even the largest patches of natural habitats are unable to guarantee the survival or continued evolution of species if they remain isolated from each other. Many bird and animal species are being reduced to small, isolated populations that are under stress, for example.

Unless these areas are reconnected, many species could be lost, something Godwana Link is working to prevent.

“Habitats are protected, managed, restored and reconnected throughout the climate gradient that wildlife will move along in the face of climate change, from semi-arid woodlands to tall wet forests. This work is being achieved in ways that support the aspirations of the Noongar and Ngadju people, who were dispossessed in colonial times but are now regaining the right and the ability to be land managers once again,” CEO Keith Bradby explains to UN News.

Mr. Bradby describes how significant gains have been made with the work of a broad range of groups, businesses and individuals contributing a 16-million-hectare habitat area now recognised as the Great Western Woodlands.

“Over 20,000 hectares of farmland has been purchased in the critical habitat gaps, with large swathes under restoration plantings and wildlife already returning. Our state government has announced the end of logging in our native forests”, he adds.

The work of the organization has been recognized globally as an example of what large-scale ecosystem restoration looks like.

“Every day can be Earth Day. We can do it – and the more the merrier”, says Mr. Bradby.

3. Transplanting ‘survivor’ coral fragments

The image above is from Laughing Bird Caye National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Belize. It shows a restored coral reef previously victim of a bleaching event and in danger of death.

Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth, harbouring 25 per cent of all marine life.

They are in danger of disappearing by the end of the century all over the world due to the rising temperature and acidity of our ocean’s consequence of climate change.

Their loss would have devastating consequences not only for marine life, but also for over a billion people globally who benefit directly or indirectly from them.

Fragments of Hope is successfully re-seeding devastated reefs by planting genetically robust, diverse and resilient corals in southern Belize.

As a diver, Lisa Carne, the organization’s founder, explains that besides massive coral bleaching events and hurricanes in the region, she saw some corals bouncing back.

“These are the stronger survivors that we are propagating and replenishing the reef with,” she tells UN News.

Since the early 2000’s, Ms. Carne and other women divers and marine biologists from the NGO have been growing healthy corals in nurseries and them transplanting them by hand in shallow water.

“Our work is important because we are striving to prevent the extinction of the Caribbean acroporids corals which are listed as critically endangered which is one step away from extinct in the wild. We think it is also important to educate and inspire people to do more to understand reefs and the threats to them such as climate change,” she explains.

Today, over 49,000 nursery-grown coral fragments have been successfully out-planted in Laughing Bird Caye National Park, turning it once again into a vibrant tourism destination with thriving corals and abundant marine life. These corals have over six years survivorship and are considered the longest documented in the Caribbean.

New nursery and out-plant sites include Moho Caye (over 11,000 corals out-planted) and South Silk Caye (over 2,000 corals out-planted).

“Our message for this Earth Day 2022 is that we as a global society need to do better. What we’ve been doing so far is not working for our planet. We often think about ecosystems and biomes on a small scale but on a larger scale, business as usual is not working, so we all need to do our part to radically change our ways to protect our planet earth,” urges Ms. Carne.

4. Restoring watersheds affected by the climate crisis in the Andes

Another example of large-scale restoration and conservation efforts is happening in the Andes mountains in South America where local communities across five different countries are working together to grow and plant native trees and protect their water sources.

“Native forests have been largely lost in the Andes over the last 500 years following the Spanish conquest. With the last Andean glaciers melting rapidly, water security is now becoming a major issue for local communities and even major South American cities,” Constatino Aucca Chutas, co-founder of the NGO Acción Andina tells UN News.

Mr. Aucca explains that native forests, especially the Polylepis species [shrub and trees that are endemic to the mid- and high-elevation regions of the tropical Andes] and wetlands help create and store large amounts of water around their roots, soils and moss.

“They are our best allies to adapt to climate change and will help secure water for our livelihoods in the next decades to come. But we have to bring them back”, he highlights.

And that’s exactly what Accion Andina is doing: by the end of 2022, they will have planted more than 6 million native trees across the Andes. Their goal is to protect and restore one million hectares of high Andean forests in the next 25 years.

“We have found a unique way to do so: we are reviving the ancient Inca traditions of “Ayni and Minka – which stands for collaboration and community services in our local Quechua culture. With our growing network of local NGO partners, we help communities protect remaining forests; we invest in local nurseries to grow new native forests; we organize community planting festivals – our renowned Queuña Raymi – to plant up to 100,000 trees in a single day; and we are supporting communities to make an additional living from these new restoration opportunities,” Mr. Aucca explains.

He says that while world leaders are still just talking about possible solutions to climate change, thousands of people are already acting on the ground.

“Mobilizing thousands of people to restore forests and achieve immediate climate action is possible… Our Mother Earth is tired of seeing all this hypocrisy, comfort and ego of the leaders who can decide and put on the ground the solutions to have a healthy planet. Local communities and the planet claim for more action, is time to take action for the sake of all of us,” Mr. Aucca urges in his message for Earth Day.

5. Restoring carbon absorbing seagrass

Seagrass provides food and shelter for many marine organisms. They are multifunctional ecosystems and are often referred as nursery habitats because they usually harbour young fish, smaller species of fish and invertebrates.

Because they are plants, seagrasses photosynthesise in the same way terrestrial plants do, using sunlight to synthetise nutrients from carbon dioxide and water and releasing oxygen.

This means that they are an essential tool in combating climate change, on top of their biological functions.

In the last 40 years, the world has lost one third of seagrass meadows due to sustain pressure from coastal development, water quality decline and of course, climate change.

Project Seagrass in the United Kingdom has been working for a decade to reverse that trend.

With the help of over 3000 volunteers, they have been able to plant over a million seagrass seeds and create awareness of the importance of these plants.

“With two full hectares of seagrass successfully restored, our organization has proved that large-scale seagrass restoration in the UK is possible. We are using a mix of cutting-edge technologies to assess sites and plan field trials”, the organization explains.

That’s not all folks

These are just five examples of the more than 50 projects registered with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. There are thousands of people and organizations already on the ground and making a difference to protect our Earth.

When the UN General Assembly meets this September, we will find out the first 10 World Restoration Flagships, the most promising examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration.

Bringing back ecosystems from the brink of degradation and loss is possible – and people around the world are already making it happen.

“Because we have only one Mother Earth. We must do everything we can to protect her”, the UN chief reminds us.

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Global warming did the Unthinkable

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French ski resort closes permanently because there’s not enough snow, CNN informs. Winter is coming. And for yet another ski resort in France, that means facing up to the reality that there isn’t enough snow to carry on.

La Sambuy, a town which runs a family skiing destination near Mont Blanc in the French Alps, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts because global warming has shrunk its ski season to just a few weeks, meaning it’s no longer profitable to keep them open.

“Before, we used to have snow practically from the first of December up until the 30th of March,” La Sambuy’s mayor, Jacques Dalex, told CNN.

Last winter, however, there was only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow,” he added. That meant “very quickly, stones and rocks appeared on the piste.”

Able to open for fewer than five weeks during January and February, Dalex said the resort was looking at an annual operating loss of roughly 500,000 euros ($530,000). Keeping the lifts going alone costs 80,000 euros per year.

La Sambuy isn’t a huge resort, with just three lifts and a handful of pistes reaching up to a top height of 1,850 meters (about 6,070 feet).

But with a range of slopes running from expert “black” to beginner “green” and relatively cheap ski passes, it was popular with families seeking more of a low-key Alps experience than offered by bigger, higher-altitude destinations.

UK snow report website On The Snow calls it “an idyllic place to visit, with exceptional panoramic views and everything you need in a friendly resort.”

La Sambuy is not the only French ski resort facing a meltdown. Last year, Saint-Firmin, another small Alpine ski destination, opted to remove its ski lift after seeing its winter season dwindle from months to weeks, a situation also blamed on climate change.

Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001, and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites in the country.

According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience “a very high snow supply risk” at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of global warming above pre-industrial levels, without use of artificial snow.

A report published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found a “substantial possibility” of global temperature rises crossing this 2-degree Celsius threshold by mid-century.

La Sambuy’s Dalex said that “all winter sports resorts in France are impacted by global warming,” particularly those at a medium mountain altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.

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G20 summit must formulate plan for Global South climate change threat

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The G20 summit in India must have a “concrete plan” for “scaled-up” green financing for the Global South as a critical strategy to combat climate change, affirms the founder of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organizations.

The comments from deVere Group’s Nigel Green comes as leaders of the Group of 20 top industrialised and developing countries will gather this weekend in New Delhi for a summit that will celebrate the end of India’s 12-month G20 presidency.

He says: Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a present reality. Rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, melting ice caps, and sea-level rise are already affecting communities, ecosystems, and economies worldwide. 

“The Global South, comprising developing nations with limited resources, bears a disproportionate burden in this climate crisis, despite contributing minimally to greenhouse gas emissions.

“As such, the leader of the G20 – the richest countries in the world – must use the summit starting in India this week to formulate a concrete plan for scaled-up green financing to help the Global South tackle the biggest issue of our time. 

“A failure to do this could, ultimately, have catastrophic consequences for our planet and its communities.”

Green financing encompasses a range of mechanisms designed to support sustainable, environmentally friendly projects that mitigate climate change and enhance resilience. 

These include investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate adaptation, sustainable agriculture, and conservation efforts. 

“One of the major challenges faced by the Global South is access to financial resources needed for climate action. Developing nations often lack the financial capacity to invest in green projects without incurring significant debt,” says the deVere CEO.

“The G20 summit must play a pivotal role in bridging this financial gap by prioritising green financing and creating mechanisms to make it more accessible.”

G20 countries, being the largest economies in the world, must also “commit to increasing in a considerable way their financial contributions to international climate finance mechanisms. These funds are essential for providing support to developing nations in their efforts to mitigate emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” he notes.

Nigel Green goes on to add that the G20 summit should also serve as a platform for fostering collaboration between developed and developing nations. 

This collaboration can take various forms, including knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and capacity building. 
In addition, to scale up climate action, it is crucial to engage the private sector. G20 countries can promote public-private partnerships and initiatives that attract private sector investment in green projects. 

“This can be achieved through incentives, guarantees, or risk-sharing mechanisms that make investments in sustainability more appealing to businesses.”

Innovation in financial instruments, such as green bonds and climate insurance, can unlock alternative funding sources for climate projects in developing nations. 

The deVere CEO says: “The G20 summit must urgently encourage the development and adoption of such instruments to diversify funding options.”

The G20 summit in India presents a crucial opportunity to prioritize green financing for the Global South as a key strategy to combat climate change. 

This summit can be a turning point in the global fight against climate change, demonstrating that unity, innovation, and commitment can drive transformative change toward a sustainable future for all.

“The urgency of climate action cannot be overstated, and the global community must act decisively. 

“By committing to green financing, promoting collaboration, and bridging the financial gap, the G20 can lead the way in ensuring that all nations, particularly those in the Global South, have the resources and support they need to address the climate crisis effectively,” concludes Nigel Green.

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To tackle wildfires, researchers in Europe team up with frontline forces

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The EU is seeking to limit growing threats from blazes through the use of satellites, artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles.


Picture the following scene on the French island of Corsica: a local fire service uses a special surveillance camera to detect smoke in the area, quickly declare the outbreak of a blaze and mobilise a targeted response.

No, the action in the Biguglia municipality on Corsica’s northeastern coast wasn’t one of the many wildfire emergencies in Europe in 2023. Rather, it was a demonstration in October 2022 under an EU-funded research project to help regions in Europe counter threats from wildfires.

Teaming up

The Biguglia exercise used a smoke bomb to simulate the start of a fire and an extensive data network to trigger the rapid-reaction steps. It involved a service that has 1 300 firefighters who protect a population in this part of Corsica – the Mediterranean’s fourth-biggest island – that grows to around 400 000 in summer.

‘This first demonstration on Corsica was very positive,’ said Michael Pelissier, a firefighter who participated in the test.

As part of the EU project, called SAFERS, a similar firefighting exercise took place in the Piedmont region of Italy in February 2023 and two more trials are planned in Greece and Spain toward the end of this year.

After the next two demonstrations, we would like to push the management system forward in Europe and also beyond,’ said Claudio Rossi, who coordinates the project and is a senior researcher at an Italian research and innovation centre called the Links Foundation in the city of Turin.

With the help of EU funding, Europe’s research community is joining forces with firefighters to prevent fires from spreading or from happening at all. SAFERS is one of several EU projects to combine resources and know-how for tackling wildfires on the continent.

Satellite support

The focus of SAFERS is primarily on the use of satellites and artificial intelligence, or AI, to provide information that could help save lives and contain environmental damage.

‘The orchestrated utilisation of AI-powered solutions can increase resilience to forest fires,’ Rossi said.

Running for three and a half years through March 2024, the project features weather and hazard maps, fire-detection techniques, input from the general public and other tools to help local authorities prepare.

The ultimate goal is to build on the demonstrations in France, Greece, Italy and Spain and develop a comprehensive wildfire-control system for use around Europe.

By combining satellite images and other data, the system is intended to give first responders, decision-makers and ordinary people a clearer view of what’s happening and to facilitate the best responses.

Earth-observation data from the EU’s Copernicus programme is the primary source of information. This would be combined with data collected from smoke detectors, mobile applications, social media and forecast models.

Present threat

A stark reminder that wildfires pose a growing threat in Europe came from news images in July 2023 of tourists fleeing flames on the Greek island of Rhodes and blazes spreading near the Sicilian city of Palermo.

A month later, attention turned to Spain and Portugal where blazes destroyed more than 16 300 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of villages and tourist accommodations.

The Biguglia municipality on Corsica was chosen as a SAFERS demonstration site in part because of a major fire there in 2017.

‘These last years we have noticed that, notably because of global warming, the summer season has a tendency to expand,’ said Pelissier, the firefighter. ‘So we are increasingly threatened by forest fires.’

The EU, which recently doubled its firefighting fleet of aircraft, has deployed more than 10 planes, 500 firefighters and 100 vehicles to help control and quell wildfires in Greece alone during the summer of 2023.

Over the past two months, the EU has also mobilised such support for Cyprus and – outside Europe – Tunisia. The moves were closely coordinated with national authorities.

Hotspot training

Another EU-funded project – TREEADS – plans to feature drones, high-altitude balloons and satellites in a Europe-wide protection system.

‘We can’t only invest in fire trucks, helicopters or planes – we need to train our communities before the fires happen,’ said Kemal Sarp Arsava, who coordinates the project.

Arsava is a senior research scientist at Norway-based RISE Fire Research, which specialises in fire safety.

TREEADS aims to establish a comprehensive fire-management platform covering all three stages of wildfires – before, during and after a blaze breaks out.

Arsava is a native of Turkey who has also worked and studied in the US.

While in the US in late 2019, he was reminded of the international dimension of the wildfires threat by noticing the effect of Australia’s major outbreak of bushfires at the time.

Based then in the state of New Hampshire, Arsava said the blazes caused a slight haze in North America while primarily hurting air quality in South America. 

‘The smoke from all of the wildfires in Australia basically crossed the Pacific Ocean and even changed the colour of the sky in America,’ he said.

Drones and balloons

TREEADS began in December 2021 and is due to run until end-May 2025.

The initiative brings together research institutes and companies from 14 European countries and Taiwan.

Besides Norway and Taiwan, the participants are from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

The team of researchers is developing new technologies that’ll be tested in eight countries represented in the project.

One plan is to use drones and high-altitude balloons to detect blazes early, collect data for fire crews and even aid their actions by dropping fire-suppressant materials.

A four-layer approach is foreseen: low-altitude drones to locate fire hotspots; mid-altitude drones to drop fire suppressants; high-altitude balloons to provide a broader view; and satellites for the whole picture.

The trials are due to start early next year.

The project is also testing a virtual-reality headset to train firefighters who aren’t typically assigned to dealing with wildfires. That means teaching city firefighters to deal with blazes in different terrains should the need arise.

In total, more than 26 technologies including for fire protection and suppression will be enhanced, developed and verified in TREEADS.

‘These new technologies will make it easier to fight wildfires in the future,’ said Arsava.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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