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On first-ever World Cities Day, UN spotlights need for sustainable urban planning


31 October 2014 – As the world’s urban areas inevitably expand, growing both in size and in population, they will also need to transition into better planned and better managed environments or risk exacerbating negative trends, the United Nations warned today.

Marking the inaugural edition of World Cities Day, a global event aimed at promoting sustainable urban development in cities and towns around the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared humanity’s future to be an urban one as the world’s population will increasingly become city-dwelling.

“We must get urbanization right, which means reducing greenhouse emissions, strengthening resilience, ensuring basic services such as water and sanitation and designing safe public streets and spaces for all to share,” Mr. Ban stated in his message on the Day.

“Liveable cities are crucial not only for city-dwellers but also for providing solutions to some of the key aspects of sustainable development,” he added.

According to UN-Habitat, the UN agency focused on the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all, more than two-thirds of the world population – an estimated 5 billion people – will be living in cities by 2030, placing increasing amounts of pressure on housing, services, resources and the environment.

In addition, more than 60 per cent of the urban populations will be under the age of 18, making greater demands on education, health facilities and work opportunities.

The theme of this year’s World Cities Day, Leading Urban Transformations, seeks to address the flood of challenges that will face urban spaces as their populations spike in the coming decades, placing a notable focus on “empowering people to contribute to creative solutions that can improve our shared urban future” and promoting “new ideas to bring about the city we need and the future we want.”

The inaugural host city for the worldwide commemoration will be Shanghai, with celebrations at Expo Park, where an expected 300 participants will attend the event.

Meanwhile, at UN Headquarters in New York, a special event special event, “People-Centred Urbanization: Managing Social Inclusion in Today’s Cities”, co-organized by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of China and Italy, UN-Habitat and the UN Alliance of Civilizations, will take place in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber.

In his message on the Day, Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, affirmed that cities can indeed create “positive transformations if well-planned and well-managed,” noting that a well-planned city making use of optimal density can provide services to its citizens in a more efficient and affordable manner than sprawling urban areas while a city with mixed land use and a robust public transport system reduces its reliance on cars and cuts travel times and greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, Mr. Clos explained that a well-designed city can improve its employment rate by as much as 15 per cent,providing more economic opportunities for its working citizens than a badly designed one, with companies and investors taking advantage of economies of scale and proximity.

The alternative, he warned, would be to allow the world’s cities to recklessly expand in an unplanned manner with “mono-functional space of low density and long distances, poorly connected, socially divided and economically inefficient.”

“Urban transformation is inevitable: it will continue, for better or worse. If not critically re-examined, urbanization will continue to propagate negative trends, including: increased segregation, inequality, and environmental degradation,” Mr. Clos continued.

“World Cities Day has been created to remind us about the critical role that urbanization plays in our everyday lives and to celebrate the positive impact that well-managed urbanisation can have on economic, social and environmental development.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49215

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One year on, UN expert urges ratification of treaty to phase out mercury use


31 October 2014 – The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxic waste, Baskut Tuncak, urged governments around the world today to expedite the ratification process of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of the toxic heavy metal.

The Convention, hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), must be ratified by 50 countries to be legally binding. While 128 countries have signed the agreement one year after it was opened for signature and ratification, only seven have ratified it, jeopardizing its chances of being in force by the agreed-upon target of 2020, the expert noted in a press release.

“Ratification is an imperative for States to fulfil their human rights obligations,” Mr. Tuncak stated. “A delay in ratifying the Convention means that people and the environment will continue to suffer the human rights impacts of mercury pollution.”

Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – can cause serious, and even fatal, health threats. Such threats affect the rights of present and future generations to numerous human rights, including the rights to health, food, safe work conditions and a healthy environment, he said.

“The negative effects of mercury are of serious concern for children and women of child-bearing age who are proven to be especially vulnerable,” Mr. Tuncak noted, adding that “once released into the environment, the impacts of mercury on vulnerable populations is uncontrollable.”

The Convention is named after a Japanese city where the dumping of mercury-containing waste in the mid-twentieth century resulted in thousands of people in the community developing a neurologically and physically debilitating disease now known as Minamata disease.

Specifically, the Convention provides controls and reductions of mercury in applications from medical equipment to energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors. Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and promoting better training of health-care professionals in identification and treatment of mercury-related illness are also part of the agreement.

Mr. Tuncak’s appeal comes on the eve of a meeting of the intergovernmental negotiating committee on mercury, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 3 to 7 November, in which he will participate.

Mr. Tuncak was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49217

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Asia-Pacific better poised to respond to disasters as experts agree on statistics standards


30 October 2014 – Marking a milestone towards better disaster risk management in Asia and the Pacific, a United Nations-backed group of experts agreed this week on core principles for establishing a common basic range of disaster-related statistics.

The Expert Group on Disaster-related Statistics in Asia and the Pacific met for the first time from 27 to 29 October in Sendai, Japan, in a conference led by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia (ESCAP), the Tohoku University and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the Government of Japan and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Speaking at the opening of the conference, Kilaparti Ramakrishna, Director of ESCAP’s East and North-East Asia Office (ESCAP-ENEA), underscored the significance of the group’s first meeting.

“With climate change, the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are expected to rise,” he said.

“This means, there is a tremendous need for better disaster risk management for society and the environment,” he added.

The Expert Group, which was established earlier this year by governments of the Asia-Pacific region, noted that a set of common standards will enable more precise risk assessment across the region and help governments in evidence-based policymaking which provides targeted support and infrastructure to manage disaster risks.

Almost, 1.2 million people in Asia and the Pacific have lost their lives to disasters during the past three decades, and efforts to manage disaster risks in the region – as well as in the rest of the world – have been hampered by a lack of timely, reliable and comparable statistics, mainly due to the absence of common standards, the group stressed.

“The success of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda highly depends on disaster risk reduction,” emphasized Shamika Sirimanne, Director of ESCAP’s Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division, who also spoke at the meeting.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49206

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Culture must be considered in approaches to disaster risk reduction – UN-backed report


28 October 2014 – Disaster risk reduction approaches must recognize why people live with risks and how their behaviour and attitudes related to culture affect their exposure and sensitivity to hazards, a new United Nations-backed report out today warns.

The 2014 World Disasters Report, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), explores the question of how culture could become a central consideration in disaster risk reduction efforts, and analyses the influence of disasters and risks on culture.

The report was launched today The Event at the Vienna International Centre at an event organized by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), IFRC, the Embassy of Norway in Vienna and the Austrian Red Cross.

A press release from UN Information Service in Vienna, notes that the new report tries to answer the question of what should be done when people blame a flood on an angry goddess, as it was the case when the Koshi River in India flooded huge regions in 2008, while people in Indonesia blamed the mountain god when Mount Merapi erupted in 2010.

Similar beliefs were widespread even in the United States during Hurricane Katrina, when some believed it showed God’s displeasure with some of the behaviours of the people who live in or visit New Orleans.

Acknowledging the fact that hundreds of millions of people live in dangerous places – including the sides of volcanoes, earthquake fault zones and coasts exposed to storms and tsunamis – the report underscores that people’s own priorities often include the need to live in such high-risk environments because that is where they can gain their livelihoods.

Speaking at the event, the Deputy Executive Director of UNODC, Aldo Lale Demoz said: “We need to do more in helping those who have already been victims of disaster to protect themselves from violence, including violence against women and children and organised crime groups trying to exploit them.”

To reduce the risks that people face, it is essential to focus on how livelihoods can be made more robust, safer and, where necessary, be replaced, the report states. Reconciling local health beliefs or everyday practices with public health interventions is also vital, as people’s perceptions of health risks involve local traditions, beliefs and social practices that sometimes do not coincide with the expectations of public health interventions.

Citing the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa as an example, the report stresses the need to address misconceptions and cultural beliefs through effective social mobilization and behavioural change so that efforts to stop such deadly diseases will not be in vain.

Future investments must be channelled towards a more culturally sensitive, human-based approach to disaster risk reduction, as part of the discussions in framing a new post-2015 development agenda, the report concludes.

The mandate of UNODC, whether on drugs, crime or terrorism, has a strong connection to the notion of risk. People risk their health and lives by engaging in drug use, drug trafficking or unsafe migration practices. The reasons for such risk-taking might be very similar to those explained in the report as it relates to disasters. As has been seen in the past, places hit by natural disasters are breeding grounds for crime, violence and corruption.

The report, which has been published annually since 1993, compiles trends, facts and analysis of contemporary catastrophes and their effect on vulnerable populations worldwide.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49185

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UN convention agrees to double biodiversity funding, accelerate preservation measures


17 October 2014 – A United Nations conference in Republic of Korea wrapped up today with governments agreeing to double biodiversity-related international financial aid to developing countries, including small islands and transition economics, by 2015 and through the next five years.

The decision was made at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-12) in Pyeongchang.

Delegations attending the meeting, which opened 6 October in Republic of Korea’s key mountain and forest region, agreed on the so-called “Pyeongchang Road Map,” and “Gangwon Declaration”, both of which outline conservation initiatives and global sustainable development goals and initiatives.

“Parties have listened to the evidence, and have responded by committing,” said UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the CBD, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias.

The funding decision was originally made at the last CBD meeting in Hyderabad, India, in 2012, but there had been disagreement on how to implement it.

This time, the participants decided to use average annual biodiversity funding for the years 2006-2010 as a baseline. The targets, in particular, are the least developed countries and the small island developing States, as well as countries with economies in transition.

Key decisions taken in Pyongchang, including those on resource mobilization, capacity building, scientific and technical cooperation linking biodiversity and poverty eradication, and on monitoring of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, form the Roadmap and will, according to the CBD, strengthen capacity and increase support for countries and stakeholders to implement their national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

The decisions were bolstered by the call in the Gangwon Declaration, the result of two days of ministerial-level talks, to link the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda to other relevant processes such as the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) process and the national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

Governments also agreed to increase domestic financing for biodiversity and boost funding from other resources.

“Their commitments show the world that biodiversity is a solution to the challenges of sustainable development and will be a central part of any discussions for the post-2015 development agenda and its sustainable development goals,” Mr. Dias noted in reference to the agenda succeeding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The opening of the meeting coincided with the release of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 report which tracked progress on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and drew attention to the implications on broader sustainable development this century.

The report cautioned that the world was not on track to meet the 20 targets, which include halving habitat loss, and reducing pollution and overfishing.

“The cost of inaction to halt biodiversity decline would give rise to increasing and cumulative economic annual losses to the value of around $14 trillion by 2050,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

“The decisions made at COP 12 here in Pyeongchang will leapfrog efforts to achieve the Aichi targets and put biodiversity on a stronger footing for decades to come,” he added.

Among other decisions, participants agreed to address key threats to marine biodiversity, namely anthropogenic underwater noise and ocean acidification.

They also agreed to reduce land based pollution, promote sustainable fisheries and improve the design of marine protected area networks for coral reefs, in line with Aichi Biodiversity Target 10 for coral reefs and closely associated ecosystems.

While in Pyeongchang, participants also held the first Meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol (COP MOP-1), which entered into force on 12 October after ratification by the 51st Government. As of today, 54 countries have ratified it.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing from the Utilization of Genetic Resources establishes clear rules for accessing, trading, sharing and monitoring the use of the world’s genetic resources that can be used for pharmaceutical, agricultural and cosmetic purposes.

Among the decisions agreed to in that meeting were measures to assist institutional capacities in developing countries, and a strategy to raise awareness of the international instrument.

“We need to see how the provisions of the Protocol are taken up at the national level,” Mr. Dias said, “and how this facilitates access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits with those stakeholders and indigenous peoples and local communities who conserve and sustainably use those resources.”

In addition, countries agreed on procedures to establish a committee to promote compliance with the Protocol and address cases of non-compliance.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49104

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FEATURE: UN biodiversity pact seeks to ensure fair, transparent use of world’s genetic resources


13 October 2014 – After decades of negotiations, the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing entered into force on Sunday, enhancing opportunities for the equitable sharing of benefits of the world’s biodiversity.

The Protocol, named after the Japanese city where it was agreed in 2010, establishes clear rules for accessing, trading, sharing and monitoring the use of the world’s genetic resources that can be used for pharmaceutical, agricultural and cosmetic purposes.

By establishing this framework, the Protocol, which falls under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), seeks to ensure that genetic resources are not used without the prior consent of the countries that provide them, and that the communities that possess the traditional knowledge associated with the use of these resources also enjoy the benefits of sharing them with the rest of the world.

However, 50 Parties to the CBD had to ratify before it could enter into force. The Protocol received its final necessary ratification on 14 July 2014. It now has 54 ratifications.

“The Protocol essentially offers countries a framework that allows them to regulate the access to their genetic resources and at the same time decide under which conditions this access will take place, and what benefits they will get from it,” said Viviana Figueroa, CBD Associate Programme Officer.

Benefits received in exchange for access to genetic resources can be monetary or non-monetary, including, for instance, technology transfer, joint research or capacity-building activities.

Establishing a clear path from the discovery of a genetic resource all the way to its commercialization can be a tricky and comprehensive legal process, one that involves various governments, local authorities, businesses and indigenous communities. The Protocol seeks to reduce uncertainty in this entire process by setting transparent and fair conditions throughout the whole value chain.

A mother and young son off to collect marine food in the Zanzibar Lagoon. (Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)

“On the one hand, many regions are rich in biodiversity and are therefore rich in genetic resources and traditional knowledge,” Ms. Figueroa explained in an interview with the UN News Centre.

“This is the case of Latin America, Africa and the Pacific. On the other hand, more developed countries have the technology but not the genetic resources or traditional knowledge, which they need to access to develop new products such as medicine, food, etc. All of this requires a structured process with clear relationships between supplier and consumer countries.”

For example, the healers of the indigenous Maori in the Cook Islands possess a wide range of traditional medicinal knowledge, including applications for various plants such as the arnebia auchroma and hibiscus esculentus which are useful in the treatment of bone fractures and skin afflictions.

African Elephants in the wild. (Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)

If a researcher wanted to further investigate and commercialize these genetic resources he/she would have to follow a number of procedures including obtaining consent from indigenous communities and the Government to use these plants. From the point of view of the indigenous group, they possess the traditional knowledge on this resource and are therefore entitled to benefits from its sharing and trading. The Cook Islands Government would also seek to ensure that it benefits from resources found in its territory.

In this case, Dr. Graham Matheson, a national of the Cook Islands, consulted both the Government and the Koutu Nui before doing further research into these plants in 2003. The parties successfully reached a benefit-sharing agreement and an incorporated company was created, with Mr. Matheson and the Koutu Nui equal shareholders.

But indigenous communities are not always involved in negotiations from the start and many times they may not even know that they are entitled to benefits derived from their knowledge.

Before the Nagoya Protocol there was no overarching international framework to document the use of genetic resources, and it is hoped that with its implementation there will be more legal certainty and transparency when researchers approach countries about using their genetic resources for various purposes.

“The Nagoya Protocol is the first international instrument to recognize that indigenous and local communities have the right to receive benefits from the resources found in their lands and knowledge that they have about these,” said Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe, from the Aymara people in Bolivia, who is also an Expert Member on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues .

(Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)

Ms. Quispe, along with many other representatives of indigenous communities around the world, was involved throughout the negotiations of the Nagoya Protocol, and sees the agreement as an instrument to empower indigenous people.

“Indigenous communities have been key to the Nagoya Protocol, and no other instrument gives them as much rights as this one,” said Ms. Figueroa, who, with CBD, travels to indigenous communities offering capacity-building workshops for indigenous communities in which their rights regarding genetic resources are explained.

The Nagoya Protocol and Sustainable Development

By helping to ensure fair benefit-sharing, the Nagoya Protocol will also create incentives to conserve and sustainably use genetic resources, increasing the contribution of biodiversity to development and human well-being.

“The implementation of the Nagoya Protocol represents a milestone not only for the Convention on Biological Diversity, but also in the history of global governance for sustainable development,” said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Director of the Convention on Biodiversity, at the opening of the first meeting of the Parties of the Protocol, which is taking place concurrently with the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.

“The sustainable use of biological diversity plays a key role in poverty eradication and environmental sustainability, thereby contributing to achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” he said, referring to the eight largely anti-poverty targets, which come due in 2015.

A fisherman tends to his fishing nets. (Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)

One of the ways in which the Protocol seeks to increase transparency is through its Access Benefit-Sharing Clearing House (ABS-SH), which is an online platform for exchanging relevant information. Its goal is to enhance clarity on procedures for access as well as offering opportunities to connect users and providers of genetic resources and their associated traditional knowledge. With the Protocol entering into force, parties will be required to provide and regularly update information on the platform.

The way forward

Even though the Protocol has entered into force, it will take some time before it is fully operational, as many countries still need to implement national measures that comply with the accord’s terms of agreement.

“There is an imbalance of knowledge between the North and South, so for example, African countries requested the German and Dutch governments at the time to support them in the negotiation phase,” said Suhel Al-Janabi, co-manager of the ABS- Capacity Development Initiative, which supports countries and stakeholders in developing national Access and Benefit Sharing systems. While the initiative began as a way to help developing countries in the Protocol negotiations, it has now drifted into providing support towards implementation.

A herd of Crabeater seals on the ice in the Antarctic. (Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)

“You cannot take the Protocol as a blueprint to be copied and pasted into national legislation because it’s a framework,” Mr. Al-Janabi said in an interview.

“Before legislation, countries have to know what they want to legislate, and many things need to be defined at national level. For instance, who will provide a genetic resource when it’s in the national park and there are indigenous communities around? Who will provide prior consent? Who will negotiate with the industrial sector? Is it the parks authority? Is it the chief of the local community? Is it the government? All these things need to be defined at a national level and these definitions need to take place before changing the law.”

Mr. Al-Janabi stressed that one of the key components of ABS systems is that they need to involve all relevant stakeholders to share benefits in an equitable way. “You need to have an inclusive process,” he said. “Stakeholder involvement is absolutely crucial so that you do not forget one important group in the setup of your ABS system.”

There are other details which are also essential such as finding out whether the genetic resource is also available in another country, and which terms of access and sharing have been established there.

The ABS-Capacity Development Initiative, which is managed by the German Development Corporation, is working with many countries who are in the process of ratifying the Protocol – 52 have ratified it so far – but will not do so until they have their national measures in place. For example, it is currently working with Cameroon to develop an ABS agreement with a French company that is interested in using a plant in the country as an ingredient for perfumes.

A young child plays with a stick in the water. (Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)

“We provided briefs to parliamentarians so they understood what the Protocol is about, there was support of many stakeholder groups, indigenous communities, science, the ministries in developing their national strategy. We also supported the development of interim regulation because the legislative process is long.”

The lengthy process however, could be fast-tracked if a genetic resource was found to be crucial in an emergency such as or a vaccine or for food security reasons. Article 8 of the Convention states that it will give special consideration in cases of “present or imminent emergencies that threaten or damage human, animal or plant health, as determined nationally or internationally.”

Overall, the Nagoya Protocol seeks to spread the benefits of the world’s genetic resources to people who need them. “Clarity between suppliers and consumers benefits us all,” Ms. Figueroa said. “New pharmaceutical products may lead to the cure of diseases, but if we don’t have clear rules mistrust is created and relationships between different stakeholders won’t last.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49064

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UN launches ‘game-changer’ software to help developing countries monitor forests


10 October 2014 – Accurate information is crucial for governments to manage their natural resources sustainably, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today as it announced the launch of new software it hopes will help developing nations monitor the state of their forests.

“Many countries simply do not have a full picture of what is happening in their forests, and without that knowledge it is hard to develop effective forest policies to combat deforestation and forest degradation or to advance national climate change strategies,” said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General for FAO Forestry, in a press release.

As it stands now, nearly 80 percent of developing countries have difficulty obtaining and using basic information about their forest resources.

“Open Foris” is a FAO-led initiative designed to assist countries in forest inventory – from assessment, design and field data collection to analysis and reporting. Released today at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations’ World Congress in Salt Lake City, Open Foris tools are already being tested in more than ten countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“We hope that Open Foris will be a game changer, as it is the first comprehensive open source tool that will not only guide the countries through the whole process of data collection and analysis but will also encourage and facilitate open knowledge sharing in an innovative way,” said Mr. Rojas-Briales.

The new software includes built-in tools to help countries meet international reporting requirements related to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and increasing the carbon stock in forests. In addition, the FAO tools simplify the complex process of transforming raw data such as tree measurements and satellite imagery into interactive web pages with statistics, graphs, maps and reports.

“Increased transparency will help the policy makers obtain the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Mr. Rojas-Briales, adding that earlier this year Ecuador and Tanzania have already completed their first national forest inventories with the help of Open Foris tools.

Meanwhile, experts from Argentina, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and Uruguay have recently received training to use different components of the software.

In Viet Nam, forest rangers are collecting information on the number, size, species and quality of trees as well as the use of forest resources by local populations before entering the data into Open Foris software back at the office.

The process is expected to become even more efficient when rangers start using an Open Foris tool that enables them to enter data directly with their smartphones or tablets, eliminating the need to input information collected on paper forms.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49050

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Global economy to lose billions without action to stop ocean acidification, UN report warns


8 October 2014 – The global economy could be losing as much as $1 trillion annually by the end of the century if countries do not take urgent steps to stop ocean acidification, says a United Nations report launched today in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea (ROK).

This figure reflects the economic loss for industries linked to coral reefs alone, which are some of the most vulnerable species to this phenomenon. The overall financial and environmental costs are still uncertain, states the report, An Updated Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity, issued in Pyeongchang by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP-12).

“When ecosystems stop delivering the way they should, they essentially deliver less services and less benefits. In the case of coral reefs, those systems are essential for people’s livelihoods in many regions of the world and they will be significantly affected,” said Salvatore Arico, who acts as the principal focal point on biodiversity and policy at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by a drastic increase in carbon dioxide emissions due to human activity. The report stresses that this phenomenon is occurring at unprecedented levels, threatening marine biodiversity and ultimately human society.

Higher acidity makes it harder for marine organisms like corals to calcify their shells and skeletons, which disturbs the balance of the entire ecosystem. For example, pteropods, which act as the “potato chips of the sea” because lots of organisms feed on them, are important in lots of food webs, but are severely threatened by ocean acidification.

The report, which was put together by a team of 30 international experts led by UK scientists, finds that ocean acidification has increased by around 26 per cent since pre-industrial times, and will continue to increase in the next 50 to 100 years, drastically affecting marine organisms and ecosystems as well as the goods and services they provide.

“While $1 trillion may sound like a huge figure, but we need to consider the benefits derived from marine biodiversity to many major industries,” Mr. Arico said in an interview. “Ocean acidification will greatly affect food security in the coming years, as well as tourism and other industries such as the pharmaceutical industry which relies on many marine organisms.”

While reversing ocean acidification is impossible at this stage, it is still possible to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions and eventually halt them.

“The main challenge is to link the current knowledge on ocean acidification with the post-Kyoto negotiations on climate change,” Mr. Arico said, referring to the negotiations to be held by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru later this year, and in Paris, France, in 2015. “It would be really very useful if ocean acidification be taken into account in the context of these negotiations because it would inform the ultimate decisions by governments.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49026

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Indigenous knowledge essential to meet global biodiversity targets – UN official


7 October 2014 – The knowledge and traditional practices of indigenous people and local communities are key to halting biodiversity loss and achieving sustainable development, a United Nations official stressed today at a major meeting on biological diversity in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.

“The collective work conducted by indigenous groups and local communities represents a major contributor to achieving the CBD’s main objectives and the Aichi biodiversity targets,” said the Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Braulio Souza de Dias.

“Indigenous people and local communities have been for millennia the custodians of biodiversity but their rights have not always been recognized,” Mr. Dias said in a press briefing at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention, known as COP-12.

“We need to urge governments to recognize this as well as their exclusive rights to land and natural resources.”

The 20 biodiversity targets were agreed on by the CBD in 2010 in the Japanese city of Nagoya in Aichi prefecture. They include halving the rate of habitat loss, expanding protected land and marine areas, preventing the extinction of threatened species and restoring at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems by the year 2020.

Mr. Dias expressed his support for a publication released today by the ICCA Consortium, an association that promotes the recognition and support to Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs). The Aichi Targets Policy Brief outlines how indigenous communities can contribute to achieve each of the Aichi targets.

“We need to build on this report and see how we can further document and demonstrate their contributions to the implementation of each of these targets, as well as the economic value of these efforts,” Mr. Dias said, adding that many countries are already working with these groups in various ways such as by co-managing protected areas.

“Indigenous people are the earliest conservationists in the world, and they continue to be conservers but they are facing serious threats,” said Ashish Kothari of the ICCA Consortium, and the Indian environmental organization Kalpavriksh.

“The report points out how all of the CBD targets are already being met by indigenous peoples, and if they are given further recognition and support their contributions can be significantly enhanced.”

Mr. Kothari stressed that much more needs to be done by countries to legally recognize the right of indigenous groups to territories and their customary forms of decision-making, which allow them to preserve their ecosystems.

“CBD is a crucial forum for being able to articulate these issues for indigenous people,” he said. “We issue an urgent plea through the COP12 to CBD parties that in order to meet the Aichi targets this is really one of the world’s best options and best bets for being able to do that. Business as usual will not help us achieve the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 but we stand a much better chance if we focus on the input of indigenous and local communities.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49016

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Benefits of investing in protection of biodiversity outweigh financial costs, says UN-backed report


7 October 2014 – Implementing measures that promote the sustainable use of biodiversity is a worthwhile investment that will bring multiple economic and environmental benefits to countries, according to a United Nations-backed report released today.

The report, released at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-12) in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, found that there is a gap across all countries and regions between investments needed to meet the 20 global biodiversity goals known as the Aichi targets, and the resources currently allocated to this endeavour.

“Even though political commitment is there, we don’t have a good financial investment plan behind it,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Chair of the High-Level Panel on Global Assessment of Resources for Implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which authored the report.

“The report will help parties understand how we can develop these financial investment plans.”

The report also highlights benefits in areas such as health and well-being and food security that would benefit from higher investments in biodiversity initiatives.

Mr. Rodriguez, who is also the Vice President for conservation policy at Conservation International, stressed that countries should not simply think of higher expenditures, but they need to look for innovative ways in which development investments also take into account biodiversity.

“Political coherence is urgently needed at the country level,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “If we see how governments behave it’s quite contradictory. On the one hand, we see agencies promoting development with a high environmental cost, and on the other hand we see environmental agencies trying to repair the damage that development agencies have created. We need governments who are able to break down this kind of silo effect.”

Recommendations in the report include diversifying sources of finance for biodiversity; investing in protecting marine and land ecosystems with the view that this will tackle not just biodiversity issues but also wider development issues such as climate change; and strengthening dialogue between governments, the private sector and civil society on biodiversity initiatives.

“We hope that this report will allow parties to move forward actions at the national level as well as the Convention level that are consistent with the political commitment of the Aichi targets,” Mr. Rodriquez added.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49022

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Major conference on biodiversity warns against &#39business as usual&#39 behaviour, consumption


6 October 2014 – The parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity began meeting today as a new United Nations report on the status of biodiversity warned that much more efficient use of land, water, energy and materials are needed to meet globally-agreed targets by 2020.

“Bold and innovative action is urgently required if governments are to meet the globally-agreed Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its Aichi Targets by 2020,” the Montreal-based Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) said referring to the 20 biodiversity goals agreed upon in 2010 in the Japanese city of Nagoya in Aichi prefecture.

“The challenge of achievement of many of these targets stem from the reality that based on current trends, pressures on biodiversity will continue to increase at least until 2020 and that the status of biodiversity will continue to decline,” according to this latest progress report by the CBD.

The report, Global Diversity Outlook 4 was released today at the start of the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP-12, in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.

The report tracked progress made to date on the 20 targets and drew attention to the implications on broader sustainable development this century.

It also cautioned “that continuing with ‘business as usual’ in our present patterns of behaviour, consumption, production and economic incentives will not allow us to realize the vision of a world with ecosystems capable of meeting human needs into the future.”

Creating a strategy to substantially increase the resources available for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use is one of the key outcomes expected from the COP, expected to be part of a collection of decisions referred to as the “Pyeongchang Road Map”.

At the COP-12 opening, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner called for increased financial investment and policy action to protect biodiversity.

“Studies show that it will be difficult to reach the full set of the Aichi targets if we remain within the current trajectory, due to accumulated and increased pressures on the natural world,” he noted.

This meeting “provides a critical opportunity to inject renewed impetus into our commitment to the Aichi Targets – which remain within reach – and to shape the Sustainable Development Goals by revisiting national strategies and plans,” Mr. Steiner said in a UN interview on the sidelines of the meeting.

“We need to do more – and do it fast – to protect the very fabric of the natural world,” he added.

Mr. Steiner is one of about 20,000 representatives from 194 countries attending the conference, which through 17 October, will focus on “Biodiversity for sustainable development.” The participants will address agenda items that include a midterm evaluation of the 2011-2020 strategic plan for biodiversity and the application of the biodiversity goals to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets contributes significantly to broader global priorities addressed by the post-2015 development agenda, the report has said, namely, reducing hunger and poverty, improving human heath, and ensuring a sustainably supply of energy, good and clean water.

In the report’s forward, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the link between biodiversity and sustainable development, urging Members States and stakeholders everywhere to take the report’s conclusions into account in their planning and “redouble efforts” to achieve the targets.

The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, said: “Our efforts can and must be strengthened by combining actions that address multiple drivers of biodiversity loss and multiple targets.”

“Measures required to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets also support the goals of greater food security, healthier populations and improved access to clean waters,” he added.

While the report shows “significant progress” towards meeting some components of the Aichi targets, the report notes that “reaching these joint objectives requires changes in society, including much more efficient use of land, water, energy and materials, rethinking our consumption habits and, in particular, major transformations of food production systems.”

According to the report, progress is reported in targets 11 (protected areas), 16 (Access and Benefit sharing of Genetic Resources) and 17 (Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan).

“Where more effort is required” were identified to reach targets 5 (Halving the Rate of Loss of All Natural Habitats including Forests), 8 (Reduction of Pollution), 10 (Reduction of Multiple Pressures on Ecosystems Vulnerable to Climate Change, Ocean Acidification such as Coral Reefs), 12 (Seeking to Prevent Extinction of Known Threatened Species) and 15 (Ecosytem Restoration and Development Resilience).

The report concluded that “with progress achieved to date, plausible pathways exist for realizing an end to biodiversity loss, along with achieving global goals relating to addressing climate change, land degradation and sustainable development.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49012

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On World Habitat Day, UN calls for &#39new urban agenda&#39


6 October 2014 – Urgent action is needed to refocus urban planning and to provide safe, affordable housing that is appropriate and adequate for our citizens’ growing needs, senior United Nations officials said marking World Habitat Day, which is observed annually on the first Monday of October.

“Let us hear from people who live in slums what has worked and what has not — and what we need to do,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day.

This year’s theme is “Voices from the Slums” – an effort to highlight the hardships of slum living through the voices of the urban poor while also giving rise to their experiences and ideas about improving their living conditions.

Technology and know-how exist to build economically, socially and environmentally sustainable cities based on local solutions, Mr. Ban said, calling for “a new urban agenda that leaves no one behind.”

Ensuring that our towns and cities expand in a well-planned and managed way “is also vital for combating climate change, protecting the environment and supporting sustainable development,” he added.

There are an estimated 863 million people living in slums, according to 2012 figures from UN-Habitat report, in contrast to 760 million in 2000 and 650 million in 1990.

In Nairobi, Kenya, children from the Kibera slum drew images of their lives and surroundings. The images are now on exhibit – one of the events organized internationally to coincide with the Day.

“Through real stories it is possible to demonstrate to decision makers in the urban arena that slum upgrading programmes can achieve better life conditions for slum dwellers, and greater economic and social impacts,” said Executive Director of UN-Habitat Joan Clos.

He noted that while great efforts are being made to improve many of the slums around the world and improve the lives of people there, by not addressing the underlying causes of the sprawl, it will continue to grow.

“Slums are a manifestation of rapid unchecked urbanisation – a result of allowing our cities to expand without design or regulation and with disregard to their citizens,” Mr. Clos said.

The UN agency will host the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, in 2016.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49014

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