FROM THE FIELD: Green shoots of peace in South Sudan
Mango, lemon, guava, and teak trees were planted by school children in October at the Exodus Junior Academy in the capital, Juba.
The headmaster of the school, Sokiri Ambamba George, said the trees will enhance his students’ understanding of the environment.
Some of South Sudan’s natural habitat has been damaged during the 5-year long civil conflict there, but it’s hoped a commitment to peace by warring parties will enable the environment to recover as more tress are planted. Those trees will help to reduce the harmful greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change.
On the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict which is marked annually on 6 November, read more here about the green shoots of peace in South Sudan.
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Healing of ozone layer gives hope for climate action: UN report
The study, “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018”, is the latest in a series of reports, released every four years, which monitor the recovery of ozone in the stratosphere, a layer that protects life on Earth from harmful layers of ultraviolet rays from the sun.
It shows that the concentration of ozone-depleting substances continues to decrease, leading to an improvement in the layer since the previous assessment carried out in 2014.
Ozone in parts of the stratosphere has recovered at a rate of 1-3 percent since 2000 and, at projected rates, Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone is scheduled to heal completely by the 2030s, followed by the Southern Hemisphere in the 2050s and polar regions by 2060.
This is due to internationally agreed actions carried out under the historic Montreal Protocol, which came into being over 30 years ago in response to the revelation that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances – used in aerosols, cooling and refrigeration systems, and many other items – were tearing a hole in the ozone layer and allowing dangerous ultraviolet radiation to flood through.
Next year, the Protocol is set to be strengthened with the ratification of the Kigali Amendment, which calls for the future use of powerful climate-warming gases in refrigerators, air conditioners and related products to be slashed.
“The Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful multilateral agreements in history for a reason,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “The careful mix of authoritative science and collaborative action that has defined the Protocol for more than 30 years and was set to heal our ozone layer is precisely why the Kigali Amendment holds such promise for climate action in future.”
The findings provide a ray of hope, less than a month after the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released a watershed report which described the devastating effects of a 2°C temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels, described by UN chief António Guterres as an “ear-splitting wake-up call.”
The writers of the report found that, if the Kigali Amendment is fully implemented, the world can avoid up to 0.4 percent of global warming this century, meaning that it will play a major role in keeping the global temperature rise below 2°C.
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Fighting ‘existential crisis’ of encroaching desert sands
The key thrust of the initiative will see so-called “quality data” transferred into the hands of national and local decision-makers, where it can be used more effectively on the ground.
The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says that land quality is getting worse in nearly all of the world’s countries, 169 in all, with related consequences including loss of wildlife, the internal displacement of populations, and forced migration.
Without urgent global and national climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050, increasing competition for dwindling space.
In September, the UN body urged the GEO to support them in implementing the Convention: the outcome is the Land Degradation Neutrality Initiative, launched at the 2018 GEO Congress in Kyoto on Thursday.
Land Degradation Neutrality is defined by the UNCCD as the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remaining stable or increasing.
The new commitment brings together data providers from around the world to strengthen monitoring and reporting, allowing governments – at the touch of a button – to access quality data and manage land better.
“Land degradation is an existential crisis. Until now, monitoring it in real time felt like an insurmountable challenge. No longer,” said Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
“With Earth observation datasets and the practical tools to use them readily available, decision-makers and land-users will have immediate and actionable information to scale up sustainable land management and planning. It is a first step to boosting our resilience,” she added.
Working groups have now been set up, to focus on areas such as data quality standards and big data computing platforms.
To date, 119 governments have pledged to take the measures needed to avoid, halt and reverse land degradation to ensure the amount of productive land stabilizes by 2030 and beyond.
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Plastic-busting fungi may help tackle pollution, climate change: UN Environment
According to the first-ever State of the World’s Fungi report, Scientists at London’s Kew Botanical Gardens reported that these organisms have the potential to break down waste plastic – an important advance in a world where momentum is building to reverse the toxic tide of plastic that is killing marine life and polluting the ocean.
Every year, at least eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the sea, sometimes decomposing into tiny microplastics that make their way into our food chain.
Senior Kew Gardens Scientist Ilia Leitch, said that other fungi and microorganisms are also being explored for their potential to degenerate different types of plastic, explaining that “by understanding how the fungi break down these bonds and what the optimal conditions are, you can then increase the speed at which they do it.”
In the meantime, the Kew Gardens report showcases the kind of pioneering thought that will be at the heart of the fourth UN Environment Assembly next March, on “innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production.”
Noting that there may be as many as 3.8 million fungal species, with only 144,000 named, the authors – a team of some 100 scientists from 18 countries – argue that further research into these organisms could provide answers to some of humanity’s greatest challenges.
The report spells out that advances in their agricultural applications could translate into improved food security, environmental sustainability and increased production revenues.
In addition to recycling nutrients and helping crops to grow efficiently, fungi also provide compounds that produce antibiotics, immune-suppressants and statins that block cholesterol-producing liver enzyme action.
According to UN Environment (UNEP), there is mounting evidence that climate change is affecting the ranges of species and biodiversity in ways that are still not comprehendible. Fungi themselves are also under threat, particularly in high latitudes areas where average temperatures continue to rise, such as the Arctic. These changes are already affecting fungi reproduction, geographic distributions and activity, with possible knock-on effects for our ecosystems.
“Species react differently to climate change, which disrupts the delicate interaction between them,” says Niklas Hagelberg, a UNEP climate change and ecosystems expert.
“This further complicates conservation; we need to quickly add climate change to our ecosystem management effort.”
Ahead of next year’s assembly, UNEP is urging people to “think beyond and live within,” a motto that is aimed at tackling environmental challenges and assuring a prosperous future – that may include a role for fungi, that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
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