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Sustainable blue economy vital for small countries and coastal populations

The coastline of Alor Island in Indonesia. Ocean Image Bank/Erik Lukas

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With the livelihoods of about 40 per cent of the world’s population living at or near a coast, the second day of the UN Ocean Conference under way in Lisbon focused on strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies, managing coastal ecosystems.

The world’s coastal populations contribute significantly to the global economy – an estimated $1.5 trillion per year – with expectations pointing to some $3 trillion by 2030.

Ensuring ocean ecosystem health, supporting livelihoods and driving economic growth requires targeted support for key sectors, including fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, energy, shipping and port activities, and seabed mining, as well as innovative areas such as renewable energy and marine biotechnology.

Marine resources ‘essential’

This is particularly important to small island developing states (SIDS), for whom marine resources are critical assets, providing them with food security, nutrition, employment, foreign exchange, and recreation.

Further, through evidence-based policy interventions, these assets can also make enhanced and sustained contributions to the economic growth, and prosperity of SIDS and least developed countries (LDCs).

Participating in the main interactive dialogue of the second-day of the Conference, former President of Seychelles, Danny Faure, explained to UN News that it is “extremely important that small States have a place at the table, to ensure that they can put forward their aspirations and move in the right direction”.

Acknowledging that climate change continues to affect his own country, and several SIDS, Mr. Faure called on the international community to continue to support countries like Seychelles.

“The blue economy is essential for the livelihoods of our people and nations. I see [investment] coming very slowly and I believe it is very important that, internationally, we continue to maintain the focus, so we can build partnerships between civil society and private sector,” he stated.

What does a truly sustainable blue economy mean?

Despite of the lack of a universally accepted definition of the term blue economy, the World Bank defines it as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem.

A blue economy prioritizes all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. When talking about sustainable development, it is important to understand the difference between a blue economy and an ocean economy. The term implies that the initiative is environmentally sustainable, inclusive and climate resilient.

In addition to providing goods and services measurable in monetary terms, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass meadows and wetlands deliver critical ecosystem services such as coastal protection and carbon sequestration.

Action now

Small island developing states control 30 per cent of all oceans and seas. But how can SIDS and the private sector build equitable and accountable partnerships for sustainable ocean?

Calling for the implementation of the promises set out in the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action, known by the shorthand SAMOA Pathway and the ambitions of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), on conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, experts on the second day of the Conference reiterated the importance of harnessing private sector collaboration to make it possible.

Impacts of climate change

Speaking to UN News, the Secretary to Government of Tuvalu, Tapugao Falefou, said that his country was “not just beginning to understand what climate change is and how impacts [the world] but also physically understanding how it impacts [us].”

Describing major coastal erosion, drought and inland inundated by seawater, Mr. Falefou said “that didn’t happen 20 years back. These are the impacts of climate change that I can attest to, that larger countries may not experience.”

The path of multilateralism

With millions employed worldwide in fishing and fish farming, most in developing countries, healthy and resilient marine and coastal ecosystems are fundamental to sustainable development.

Other sectors that are critical to the resilience of developing countries include the coastal tourism sector, which contributes up to 40 per cent or more of the global gross domestic product (GDP) in some SIDS, and the marine fisheries sector, which provides nearly 20 per cent of the average intake of animal protein consumed by 3.2 billion people, and more than 50 per cent of the average intake in some least developed countries.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General, added that without multilateralism, no one can solve the problem of the Ocean.

“SIDS have the potential to be large ocean economies (…) if we do so sustainably, we can unlock development prospects”, she added, emphasizing the blue economy path.

Women and the ocean

Focusing on the interlinkage between the SDG14 and SDG 5 (gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls) a panel of experts advocated for increasing women’s participation and leadership at all levels.

With women critically under-represented in the field of ocean actions, particularly in decision-making roles in ocean science, policy-making, and blue economy, the panel called for more action and a radical change in society.

“We have an enormous responsibility to do whatever we can to ensure the sustainability of our planet, and an event like this [Conference] is probably one of the most important in terms of the future of life,” said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University, based in Sweden.

Reiterating the importance of looking into women’s working conditions and pay-gap in fisheries, Ms. Doumbia-Henry added: “We need to focus on some of these questions, and what I am tired of is the lip service, we need to make the changes, and implement, to take it forward.”

Mainstream women’s participation

For Maria Damanaki, founder of Leading Women for the Ocean, concrete action plan is needed, along with legislation.

“We need to see women as part of the blue economy, we need to see them everywhere, to mainstream their participation, because without their leadership, humanity as a whole is going to lose a lot,” Ms. Damanaki said.

With the expected participation of over 12 thousand ocean advocates, including world leaders, entrepreneurs, youth, influencers, and scientists, the Conference will continue to ignite fresh impetus for advancing SDG14, at the heart of global action to protect life under water. Concrete measures will be adopted to build ocean resilience and more sustainable communities, underpinned by a new wave of commitments to restore the ocean’s health.

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Environment

Using nature and data to weather coastal storms

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Photo: NASA

BYANDREW DUNNE

Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense, sometimes with tragic consequences. Europe’s coastal cities are preparing to meet the challenges with help from nature and data from outer space.

As the people of La Faute-Sur-Mer – a small French coastal town in the Vendée north of La Rochelle – tucked into bed on the night of 27 February 2010, a violent storm was raging out at sea.

Swirling, cyclonic winds, high waves and heavy rain blown up across the Bay of Biscay combined with a high spring tide to wreak havoc as it battered the coastline of western France. Residents awoke to a scene of utter devastation.  

Perched perilously between the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the river Lay on the other, the town was completely inundated by flooding from the storm surge. Homes, property and businesses were ruined.

Of the 53 people in France who died as a result of Storm Xynthia, 29 were from La Faute.

In a town with a population of just 1000 people, it was a devastating tragedy.

Extreme weather

Such extreme weather events are becoming more common and seaside regions are particularly vulnerable, says Dr Clara Armaroli, a coastal geomorphologist who specializes in coastal dynamics (how coastlines evolve). 

In response, the University School for Advanced Studies (IUSS) in Pavia, Italy, is leading a pan-European project to develop an early-warning system to increase coastal resilience. Armaroli coordinates the project, called the European Copernicus Coastal Flood Awareness System (ECFAS).

‘Given climate change and sea-level rise, we know there will be an increase in the tendency and the magnitude of coastal storms,’ Dr Armaroli said.

‘What’s needed is an awareness system at a European level to inform decisions.’

ECFAS has been set up to develop a proof-of-concept for an early-warning system for coastal flooding. It will develop a functional and operational design.

It draws on data and uses tools from the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation satellites and from the Copernicus Services.

Central to this is how data about storm surges, magnitude of flooding and potential impact could be incorporated into the EU’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service (Copernicus EMS).

Copernicus EMS is a space-based monitoring service for Europe and the globe that uses satellite data to spot signs of impending disaster, whether from forest fires, droughts or river flooding.

Coastal flooding is not yet part of the Copernicus emergency management mix so ECFAS wants to ‘plug the gap’ says Armaroli. 

This will ensure that coastal flooding is monitored in future and that such vulnerabilities become part of its watching brief.

In addition to charting the progression of storms that break on Europe’s coastlines, the ECFAS team is integrating data about the changes to shorelines caused by coastal erosion. It’s a growing concern as sea-levels rise across the globe.

Boundary erosion

‘The vulnerability and exposure of our coastal areas are also increasing due to erosion, which is narrowing the boundary between the land and the sea,’ said Dr Armaroli.

The early-warning system will gather data from an array of sources, all of which impact flood risk. This includes geographic factors such as land use and cover, soil type, tidal changes, wave components and sea levels. 

It is being designed to provide forecasts for coastal storm hazards up to five days out. Potentially, it could work in tandem with pre-existing regional and national systems to improve local defenses.   

Looking beyond the proof-of-concept stage, Armaroli hopes ECFAS-Warning for coastal awareness can play a critical role in helping areas better prepare for when disaster strikes.

‘Our work has started a process, but in the future, we hope this can really help increase the resilience of our coastal areas to the coming extreme weather events,’ she said.

On the west coast of Ireland, in the Atlantic seaport town of Sligo, an environmental engineer named Dr Salem Gharbia is taking the challenges faced by coastal cities to the next level.

With the project – SCORE – Smart Control of the Climate Resilience in European Cities – Dr Gharbia’s team is building a network of ‘living labs’ to rapidly and sustainably enhance local resilience to coastal damage.

‘Coastal cities face major challenges currently because they are so densely populated and because their location makes them vulnerable to sea-level rise and climate change,’ he said.

With SCORE’s network of 10 coastal cities – from Sligo to Benidorm, Dublin to Gdańsk – Dr Gharbia intends to create an integrated solution that should help coastal centres to mitigate the risks.

‘The main idea behind the concept is that we have coastal cities learning from each other,’ he said.

Co-created solutions

‘Each living lab faces different local challenges,’ he said, ‘But each has been established to include citizens, local stakeholders, engineers, and scientists to co-create solutions that can increase local resilience.’

Through the network, SCORE wants to pioneer nature-based solutions such as the restoration of floodplains or wetlands that reduce the risk of flooding in coastal regions. It’s a model that is already proving effective.

One example, a project to bio-engineer sand dunes in Sligo for stronger natural defenses, is also being tested in Portugal.

The team is developing smart technologies to monitor and evaluate emerging coastal risks. In addition to using existing Earth observation data, this means the community can become involved through new citizen science projects aimed at expanding local data collection.

In Sligo, locals are already getting involved in the monitoring of coastal erosion using what Dr Gharbia terms ‘DIY sensors’ – drone kites – equipped with cameras, to survey local topography.

Elsewhere, citizens are helping to monitor and record water levels and quality, as well as wind speed and direction with a variety of other sensors.  

Sustaining local citizen involvement in this way is crucial to SCORE’s success, said Gharbia.

‘It’s essential that this is two-way for citizens,’ he said.

Without engaging them fully in the process of co-design and co-creation of ideas to mitigate risks, you will never get them committed to the types of solution proposed.’

Data sources

All of this, of course, is creating a wealth of new data from a multitude of sources. But Dr Gharbia is adamant that an integrated approach is critical.

‘The main reason we’re developing this system is,’ he said, ‘We’ve realised that to increase climate resilience we have to utilise all the information coming in from different sources.’

Ultimately, the goal behind the work is for a real-time, early warning system that could be used by local and regional policy makers to test a range of ‘what if’ scenarios.

Currently, the team are categorising the data and optimising the systems and models. In time, they hope other regions can learn from the approach and develop similar living labs.

Dr Gharbia said the impact of his research project should be ‘to create an integrated solution that can be used in multiple different locations and can make a big impact in increasing local coastal resilience.’

Resilience like it should spread far and wide. ‘The main purpose is a solution that can be replicated and scaled up,’ said Dr Gharbia. The tragic consequences of more frequent and more intense coastal storms must be averted.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.

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Environment

Heat, drought and wildfires during one of the warmest Julys on record

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Amidst extreme heat, drought and wildfires, many parts of the world had just experienced one of three warmest Julys on record, the UN weather agency said on Tuesday.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), temperatures were close to 0.4℃ above the 1991-2020 average across much of Europe, with southwestern and western Europe being the most above-average regions, because of an intense heatwave around mid-July.

“This is despite the La Niña event that’s meant to have a cooling influence,” explained WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis.

“We saw this in some places, but not globally,” she added, noting that it was “one of the three warmest [Julys] on record, slightly cooler than July 2019, warmer 2016- but the difference is too close to call”.

Record temperatures

Portugal, western France and Ireland broke record highs, while England hit 40℃ readings for the very first time.

National all-time records for daily maximum temperatures were also broken in Wales and Scotland. 

Spain also had its hottest month on record in July, with an average national temperature of 25.6°C – with a heatwave from 8 to 26 July that was the most intense and longest lasting on record.

Using data from the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the UN weather agency confirmed that Europe had its sixth warmest July

The heat travelled further north and east ushering very high temperatures across other countries, including Germany and parts of Scandinavia, with local July and all-time records broken at several locations in Sweden. 

Temperature anomalies

At the same time, from the Horn of Africa to southern India, and much of central Asia to most of Australia experienced below-average temperatures.

It also dominated a band of territory stretching from Iceland, across Scandinavia via the Baltic countries continuing as far as the Caspian Sea.

Moreover, temperatures were generally below average in Georgia and throughout much of Türkiye.

Polar ice shrinking

July also saw the lowest Antarctic Sea ice on record, a full seven per cent below average.

Arctic Sea ice was four per cent below average, ranking 12th lowest for July according to satellite records.

WMO cited the Copernicus Climate Change Service in saying that Arctic Sea ice concentration was the lowest for July on satellite record, which started in 1979, and sea ice there was the 12th lowest ever.

Glaciers have seen a “brutal, brutal summer,” Ms. Nullis continued.

“We started with low snowpack on glaciers in the alps, reported by meteorological services, and now successive heatwaves- this is bad news for glaciers in Europe. The picture for Greenland’s glaciers is more mixed, however, as there has not been relentless heat”.

In the throes of the heat, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a press conference on 18 July, “this kind of heatwave is the new normal”. 

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Giraffes, parrots, and oak trees, among many species facing extinction

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Around one million species are facing extinction, according to a report from IPBES, an independent intergovernmental science and policy body supported by the UN.

It may be surprising to learn that even giraffes, parrots, and oak trees are included in the list of threatened species, as well as cacti and seaweed.

It may be surprising to learn that giraffes, parrots, and even oak trees are included in the list of threatened species, as well as cacti and seaweed.
Seaweed is one of the planet’s great survivors, and relatives of some modern-day seaweed can be traced back some 1.6 billion years. Seaweed plays a vital role in marine ecosystems, providing habitats and food for marine lifeforms, while large varieties – such as kelp – act as underwater nurseries for fish. However, mechanical dredging, rising sea temperatures and the building of coastal infrastructure are contributing to the decline of the species.
The world’s trees are threatened by various sources, including logging, deforestation for industry and agriculture, firewood for heating and cooking, and climate-related threats such as wildfires.
It has been estimated that 31 per cent of the world’s 430 types of oak are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. And 41 per cent are of “conservation concern”, mainly due to deforestation for agriculture and fuel for cooking.
Giraffes are targeted for their meat, and suffer from the degradation of their habitat due to unsustainable wood harvesting, and increased demand for agricultural land; it’s estimated there are only around 600 West African giraffes left in the wild.

Catastrophic results for humanity

The current biodiversity crisis will be exacerbated, with catastrophic results for humanity, unless humans interact with nature in a more sustainable way, according to UN experts. 
“The IPBES report makes it abundantly clear that wild species are an indispensable source of food, shelter and income for hundreds of millions around the world,” says Susan Gardner, Director of the Ecosystems Division at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Sustainable use is when biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are maintained while contributing to human well-being. By continuing to use these resources unsustainably, we are not just risking the loss and damage of these species’ populations; we are affecting our own health and well-being and that of the next generation.

Indigenous knowledge

The report illustrates the importance of indigenous people being able to secure tenure rights over their land, as they have long understood the value of wild species and have learned how to use them sustainably. 
Examples of the kinds of transformative changes that are needed to reduce biodiversity loss, include an equitable distribution of costs and benefits, changes in social values, and effective governance systems.
Currently, governments around the world spend more than $500 billion every year in ways that harm biodiversity to support industries like fossil fuels, agriculture, and fisheries. Experts say these funds should be repurposed to incentivize regenerative agriculture, sustainable food systems, and nature-positive innovations.

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