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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Weekly migration of 1.4m to cities can contribute to ‘disasters’
In his message for World Cities Day, celebrated annually on 31 October, Mr. Guterres stressed that “hazards do not need to become disasters.”
“The answer is to build resilience – to storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, pandemics and economic crises,” he said.
Mr. Guterres explained that cities around the world are doing just that, forging new ways to increase resilience and sustainability.
The capital of Thailand, Bangkok has built vast underground water storage facilities to cope with increased flood risk and save water for drier periods.
In Quito, the capital of Ecuador in South America, local government has reclaimed or protected more than 200,000 hectares of land to boost flood protection, reduce erosion and safeguard the city’s freshwater supply and biodiversity.
The UN chief also indicated that the city of Johannesburg in South Africa “is involving residents in efforts to improve public spaces so they can be safely used for recreation, sports, community events and services such as free medical care.”
World Cities Day was established by the UN to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), flagged the importance of investing in resilience or face growing “economic, social, political and human” risks.
“It has been estimated that without action on climate change – which accounts for just one facet of resilience – some 77 million urban residents risk falling into poverty,” she warned, elaborating that human-made and environmental threats ranged from droughts, floods and fires to economic shocks, disease outbreaks, war and migration.
“Investing in resilience is a wise investment,” the UN Habitat chief said.
The theme of this year’s commemoration, Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities, focuses on the need to preserve human life and limit damage and destruction while continuing to provide infrastructure and services after a crisis.
A range of UN-backed international agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the New Urban Agenda provide “a roadmap for a more sustainable and resilient world,” according to the UN Secretary-General.
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More than nine in ten children exposed to deadly air pollution
In a call for concrete policy pledges from governments across the world to tackle the problem, the UN health agency reports that more than nine in 10 youngsters breathe air that is so polluted, “it puts their health and development at serious risk”.
The WHO findings – launched on the eve of the agency’s first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in Geneva – include the estimate that 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air in 2016.
Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives – WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
“The enormous toll of disease and death revealed by these new data should result in an urgent call to action for the global community, and especially for those in the health sector,” the WHO report says, noting that the impact of air pollution both inside and outside the home is worst in low and middle-income countries.
Among the WHO report’s other findings are data indicating that pregnant women are more likely to give birth prematurely when they are exposed to dirty air.
Their babies are also prone to be underweight and small, according to WHO, which also highlights how air pollution can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, while also hampering neuro-development.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”
One reason why children are especially vulnerable to polluted air is that they breathe more rapidly than adults, absorbing more toxins, WHO says.
Youngsters are also more exposed to pollutants that stay closer to the ground at a time when their bodies and brains are still developing, the UN agency report continues, adding that newborns and young children are more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that use polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting.
As part of its call for action from the international community, WHO is recommending a series of “straightforward” measures to reduce the health risk from ambient fine particulate matter, or PM2.5.
These include accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning.
“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO. “But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants.”
WHO is also supporting low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management” to reduce community air pollution, Dr Neira added.
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Jordan flash flooding: UN chief ‘saddened’ by loss of life
According to news reports, at least 18 have been killed, and dozens of others injured. The victims were washed away by the floods in the Zara Maeen hot springs area, following heavy rains on Thursday. Many are being treated for serious injuries, and search and rescue efforts are ongoing.
Mr. Guterres conveyed his “condolences and deepest sympathy to the families of the victims” and the Government of Jordan.
He added that the “the United Nations stands ready to support ongoing rescue and relief efforts”.
The Dead Sea valley is prone to flooding as it lies below sea level and flash floods tend to occur when rain water rushes down from the adjacent hills.
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Oslo leads the way in ‘Breathe Life’ campaign for cleaner cities in climate change era
The city is a global front runner when it comes to sustainability, having implemented methods of recycling waste into heat and electricity, and allowing cyclists precedence over private cars.
The Executive Director of UN Environment Erick Solheim, said the capital city’s pollution reduction sets the example for “turning climate action into an opportunity.”
A major contributor to dwindling emissions has been the city’s transition toward renewable fuel solutions. Oslo has the highest number of electric vehicles in the world per capita, which alone has decreased CO2 emissions by 35 per cent since 2012, UN Environment reports.
Benefits for drivers include reduced taxes, access to bus and taxi lanes, free travel on toll roads and public ferries, together with free municipal parking. All public transport in Oslo, and neighbouring Akershus, is to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2020.
Oslo is one among 42 cities taking part in Breathe Life, a campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNEP, and the Climate Clean Air Coalition aimed at exploring clean air options and reducing pollutants to safe levels by 2030.
The network of participating cities are spread across the world, each tailoring their approach to clean air issues locally.
In Colombia’s Santiago de Cali, the city has focused on the reduction of agricultural burning along with transport emissions. While in the capital of Ghana, Accra, where long hours are spent near wood and charcoal cookstoves, the city has outlined strategies to improve household and ambient air pollution.
Highlighting that such changes will improve the everyday lives of citizens, Mr. Solheim said, “I hope that other cities around the world will be inspired by what Oslo is doing.”
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Sulawesi devastation ‘beyond imagination’ as massive aid operation continues: UN relief agencies
Three weeks since disaster struck, it is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 people, displaced 80,000 and destroyed nearly 70,000 houses. At least 680 individuals remain unaccounted for, UNHCR says.
In addition to the tremors and tidal waves, huge landslides turned the ground into liquid mud which washed over large areas.
“Our staff described the effects of the earthquake and tsunami as ‘beyond imagination’ and ‘devastating’,” said Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for UNHCR in Geneva. “Communities have seen their houses, schools and hospitals reduced to rubble. Entire villages have been decimated.”
Mr Yaxley confirmed that UNHCR had delivered 435 tents to the hub at Balikpapan airport, on the neighbouring island of Borneo earlier on Friday. The relief items were delivered to Indonesian authorities, which assisted with transferring them to Sulawesi.
Another 1,305 tents will be delivered to Balikpapan in “the next few days”, he added, noting that this initial consignment will provide “much-needed shelter” to around 6,500 of the most vulnerable.
Far more material and psychological assistance will be required, however, and additional emergency tents, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and solar lamps will be delivered in the coming weeks.
‘Strong resilience’ of survivors continues
“There remains a strong resilience, with people helping each other where they can and simply by sharing their stories,” Mr Yaxley said. “One woman said that she felt ‘lucky’ that she had only lost her father, and that her husband and son had survived.”
Another 10 “mobile storage hubs” are being set up around Palu and Donggala “to ensure the smooth flow and distribution of aid to where it is needed”, WFP said in a statement.
“WFP is due to have 40 trucks in operation in and around Palu by 20 October,” said spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel. “These trucks will be available to all partners through a common services agreement for transporting and distributing aid.”
Palu in Central Sulawesi, is one of the worst-hit areas. Earlier this week, UNHCR staff went there to coordinate with local government and partners. In Petobo and Balaroa, “many people have not only lost their home, but even the land on which it once stood”, Mr Yaxley said.
In answer to a question about aid workers’ access to Sulawesi, the UNHCR spokesperson insisted that the Government of Indonesia and humanitarian workers had been working “tirelessly” as first responders in the affected areas.
“The Government is leading the response and they are coordinating that,” he said. “It’s Indonesian aid staff who are leading that as well. Our staff were on the ground earlier this week and they’ve had no issues with access to the affected areas.”
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Conflict diamonds and climate change: Cooperate, don’t compete over natural resources urges Guterres
The risks associated with preventing and resolving such conflicts are “only going to grow” with the increasing impacts of climate change, warned Mr. Guterres, briefing the Security Council.
Citing the example of Africa – where 75 per cent of civil wars since 1990 have been partially funded by resources such as diamonds and valuable minerals – the UN chief highlighted the need for greater cooperation between civil society, governments and international organizations in regulating and controlling such assets.
With the increasing impacts of climate change evident in all regions, the risks are only going to grow – UN chief Guterres
“Through certified extraction, production and fair-trade practices, and with a focus on aiding local communities, lawlessness can be countered, and tangible benefits brought to conflict-affected populations,” he said, noting the positive impact of what is known as the Kimberley process certification scheme, on curbing trade in conflict diamonds.
Resources also ‘catalysts’ for cooperation
In his briefing, the UN chief also emphasized that the wealth generated by shared natural resources, provides an incentive for cooperation and dialogue, such as in the Senegal River and Lake Chad basins in Africa; Lake Titicaca, in South America; or trans-boundary water management in Central Asia.
“And, from my own experience, the Albufeira Convention, agreed during my time as Prime Minister of Portugal, continues to promote good relations and cooperation on water management between Portugal and Spain,” he added.
Mr. Guterres also informed the 15-member Security Council of the Organization’s efforts to mitigate the fallout from competition, highlighting the UN’s work to address climate-related security risks, use of mediation over natural resources as a tool for conflict prevention, and partnerships at all levels.
“We are [also] seeking to strengthen the capacity of women’s networks and organizations to effectively engage in mediation processes around natural resources and the environment, including in the context of climate change,” he continued, noting support schemes for Afro-Colombian women in Colombia on natural resource use, ownership, governance and benefit-sharing.
In addition, a new UN system-wide guidance note to streamline the best approach to resolve conflicts over land use, has been recently finalized, said the Secretary-General.
The guidance note follows a study on land and conflict, published by the UN Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat.
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With rapid, far-reaching changes, world can prevent climate change worst-case scenarios – UN chief
“Limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees will require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society – especially how we manage land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities,” Secretary-General António Guterres, at a ministerial meeting on climate finance, in Bali, Indonesia.
“That means ending deforestation and planting billions more trees; drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels and massively increasing renewable energy; switching to climate-friendly sustainable agriculture.; considering new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage.”
In his remarks, the UN chief made a particular call for “climate friendly” investments, particularly in the infrastructure sector, where over $90 trillion in investments is expected by 2030.
“The next few years are critical [and] your leadership is needed,” Mr. Guterres told the ministers.
‘We cannot afford to ignore climate risk’
Highlighting enormous economic losses to climate-related disasters and projections that by 2050, climate change could reduce annual GDP in some South and Southeast Asian countries by up to 4 per cent, the Secretary-General underscored that climate risk cannot be ignored.
“We need a new economic framework that integrates climate and disaster risk in all aspects of finance, planning and budgeting,” he said.
We need a new economic framework that integrates climate and disaster risk in all aspects of finance, planning and budgeting
Alongside, effective economic policy and fiscal instruments are also needed, he continued, urging a “meaningful price” on carbon and an end to fossil fuel subsidies to promote low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.
He also called for “fundamental shifts” in climate financing, including government policies that can increase resources available for climate action.
“Governments need to encourage their banks to support green financing and innovative financial instruments – such as green bonds – and debt instruments that can strengthen the resilience of vulnerable nations,” said the UN chief, calling also for the mobilization of private sector financing.
In his remarks, he also called on countries to make full use of the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-24), to be held in Katowice, Poland, and to come out of the meeting with a robust framework that allows countries to operationalize and implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
“I count on all leaders to call on their negotiators to resolve all sticking points and insist on progress,” he said.
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At epicentre of Indonesia disaster, Guterres praises resilience of Sulawesi people
Following the series of devastating earthquakes, tsunami and landslides on 28 September in Indonesia, the death toll has risen to 2,010, with around 10,700 seriously injured and nearly 700 still reported missing, according to United Nations agencies on Tuesday.
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