At Ocean Conference, UN agencies commit to cutting harmful fishing subsidies
6 June 2017 As the international community focuses this week on preserving the health of global oceans and seas, the United Nations agencies on agriculture, environment and trade are committing to the sustainable trade of fisheries.
The agencies – the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – are due to announce the commitment today at The Ocean Conference, which opened yesterday at UN Headquarters in New York and wraps up on Friday, 9 June.
“Trade and trade-policies can facilitate the transition to sustainable ocean-based economies by increasing resource efficiency, improving the environment, enhancing inclusiveness and creating new green business opportunities,” according to the voluntary commitment.
One of outcomes of the commitment is the removal or reduction of harmful fisheries subsidies which are estimated to be as high as $35 billion.
The issue is “complicated and thorny,” according to the UN agencies. “For the majority of fisheries subsidies, there is a strong correlation with over capacity and overfishing.”
The commitment likely involves requesting countries to provide information on what subsidies they provide and prohibiting those that contribute to overfishing, as well as potentially giving differential treatment to developing countries.
The Ocean Conference focuses on the targets outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by Governments in 2015. In particular among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 14 highlights the need to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources to benefit present and future generations.
The commitment on fisheries is one of some 850 commitments made at the Conference so far. The voluntary commitments are meant to be taken individually or in partnership by Governments, the UN system, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and others, to support SDG14.
In addition to marking voluntary commitments, participants this week are also due to adopt, by consensus, a “Call to Action” to protect the world’s oceans and seas.
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FEATURE: Climate change and the world’s oceans
5 June 2017 5 June 2017 The vital link between oceans and climate change is among the issues at the forefront of discussions at the United Nations Ocean Conference taking place in New York from 5 to 9 June.
SDG 14 is the only universally agreed road map for conserving and sustainably managing marine resourcesPeter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly
The oceans, which cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, play a vital role in the global climate system, generating oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Changes to the climate, brought about by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, will thus lead to changes in the oceans, including sea-level rise and ocean acidification, which will put marine ecosystems and coastal communities at risk.
World leaders acknowledged the importance of the oceans when they adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the universal blueprint for ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. SDG 14 sets out specific targets to be met in order to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
“SDG 14 is the only universally agreed road map for conserving and sustainably managing marine resources. Its faithful implementation is therefore our best hope for remedying the ocean’s woes,” said Peter Thomson, President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly.
Pounding early winter surf from massive 15 foot ocean swells. Photo: Irin News/ Mike Baird/Flickr
Rising ocean temperatures
Although the ocean is the single largest habitat on the planet and is inextricably linked to human survival, climate change and the impact of increasing carbon dioxide emissions on the oceans have been largely overshadowed in the climate change debate, according to Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, one of the co-chairs of the Ocean Conference.
The oceans – which produce half of the world’s oxygen, regulate the earth’s climate and temperature, provide food and water, and are home to hundreds of thousands of species – have been a staunch ally in curbing climate change.
More than 93 per cent of all the heat people have added to the planet since the 1950s has been absorbed by the oceans – but at a price, Ms. Lövin stressed. Rising ocean temperatures and increased acidification are now becoming apparent in melting Arctic sea ice and coral bleaching. Immediate mitigation, protection, restoration and adaptation actions are needed.
Healthy oceans, stable climate
“Whether on the coast or in the high seas far away from all, safeguarding biodiverse marine sites is vital for ensuring the sustainable long-term use of precious natural resources,” says Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Fishermen in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of India. Photo: UN Photo/John Isaac
The importance of the ocean to global climate cannot be underestimated, according to UNESCO. It absorbs a significant portion of carbon and an overwhelming amount of excess heat. Still, warmer atmospheric temperatures and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases exert an enormous pressure on the ocean’s ability to regulate the climate.
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) helps in developing ocean sciences, observations and capacity-building to monitor the ocean’s major role in the climate system and predict ocean changes.
Laying the ground for efficient climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, IOC focuses on the most damaging impacts, such as temperature increase, sea-level rise, storm variations and changes in marine biodiversity. Its scientifically-founded services help countries, particularly coastal and small island developing States, become more resilient to present and future climate impacts.
Impact of sea-level rise
The oceans are experiencing “major stress” from climate change, according to Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed. “Globally, the sea level has risen by 20 centimetres since the start of the 20th century, due mostly to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice caps. Some regions are experiencing even greater sea level rise.
“General warming trends, massive episodes of coral bleaching, acidification and the sea level rise are affecting ecosystems in all regions, threatening fisheries, food chains and the oceans’ ability to act as efficient carbon sinks.
Rising sea levels pose a threat to low-lying atoll islands. Photo: OCHA/D.Parry
“Warmer temperatures are causing more extreme weather events, and a projected two-metre rise in sea levels by the end of the century would be catastrophic for coastal habitats and economies. Hundreds of millions of people are at risk,” she warns.
Particularly at risk are the inhabitants of small island States, with hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis becoming increasingly more common threats.
Ocean health and economic prosperity
“Trouble for the oceans means trouble for people. Human well-being and health, economic prosperity, and a stable climate depend on healthy oceans,” says Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference.
According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), losses due to disasters from natural and man-made hazards including floods, storms and the impacts of climate change are mounting, costing governments over $300 billion globally each year.
UNISDR recently aligned its Disaster Resilience Scorecard, which provides a set of overarching assessments on disaster resilience, with the Sendai Framework – boosting the number of cities and towns capable of reducing their disaster losses by 2020
Global warming and the Polar Region
The effects of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, one of the leading causes of global warming, are felt most intensely in the Polar Region.
View of the melting Collins Glacier off King George Island, Antarctica, in November 2007. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), both the Artic and Antarctica are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Glaciers and ice shelves are melting and sea ice and snow coverage are shrinking.
Polar wildlife ecosystems and indigenous population are already feeling the impact of climate change as polar conditions impact weather across the globe.
“Because of teleconnections, the poles influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live,” warns Petteri Taalas, WMO’s Secretary-General. “Warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are believed to affect ocean circulation and the jet stream, and are potentially linked to extreme phenomena such as cold spells, heat waves and droughts in the northern hemisphere.”
With relatively little data available on the Earth’s Polar Regions, the UN weather agency kicked off of a two-year international effort to close gaps in polar forecasting capacity and improve future environmental safety.
The Year of Polar Prediction was launched in May to close the gaps in polar forecasting capacity and improve predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the farthest reaches of the planet. The global campaign aims to minimize environmental risks and maximize opportunities associated with climate change in polar regions.
Social scientists will examine how polar forecasts can be factored into socio-economic decision making while stakeholders in transport, shipping and tourism will provide input on community needs.
Coral reefs under threat from climate change
“Oceans are continuing to warm, acidify and lose oxygen,” said IPCC chair Hoesung Lee. “Warm water coral reefs are already under pressure and 90 per cent would suffer significant risk from global warming of 1.5 degree Celsius.” Photo: UNEP/Jerker Tamelander
Above-normal ocean temperatures have contributed to coral bleaching and disruption of ecosystems, including in the Great Barrier Reef, which has seen up to 50 per cent of its coral die in certain parts. Photo: UNEP/Paul Marshall.
The UN backs the International Coral Reef Initiative – an informal partnership between nations and organizations to preserve coral reefs and their ecosystems by reducing pollution from plastic microbeads and sunscreen, and financing projects that help protect and restore coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses. Photo: UNEP/Jerker Tamelander
Corals that have shown some resistance to rising temperatures are being grown on coral farms in Marine Protected Areas. Photo: Reef Explorer Fiji.
Tropical coral reefs cover a mere 1 per cent of the ocean but are among the most bio-diverse systems on the planet, supporting one quarter of all marine species.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), coral reefs exist in over 100 nations, including more than 80 developing countries. They sustain human society through a range of ecosystem services, such as livelihoods and food security from fisheries; revenue from tourism; erosion prevention; and protection from extreme weather events through dissipation of wave energy. They also help to lessen inundation and damage during storms.
Among the planet’s natural ecosystems, mangroves, sea-grass beds and coral reefs return the highest value in terms of ecosystem services. A square kilometre of healthy, well-managed coral reef can yield a catch of over 15 tons of fish and other seafood every year. Some 850 million people live within 100 km of coral reefs, deriving some benefits –with at least 275 million depending directly on reefs for livelihoods and sustenance.
Climate change and water supply
According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the planet’s freshwater and oceans are inextricably linked through the earth’s water cycle. The agency notes that 97 per cent of the world’s water is in the ocean and the ocean supplies almost all the water that falls on land as rain and snow. Of the small portion that is fresh water; about a third is in in the ground and a mere .3 per cent in accessible surface waters.
Climate change scenarios project that discrepancies between water supply and demand will heighten. The frequency and severity of floods and droughts will likely change many river basins worldwide – with droughts causing significant socio-economic and environmental consequences.
The UNEP estimates the cumulative economic impact of poor ocean management practices at minimally $200 billion per year. In the absence of mitigation measures, climate change will increase the cost of damage to the ocean by an additional $322 billion annually by 2050.
Local fishermen in Mozambique. Photo: Andrea Borgarello/ World Bank
“In a world where demands for freshwater are ever growing, and where limited water resources are increasingly stressed by over-abstraction, pollution and climate change, neglecting the opportunities arising from improved wastewater management is nothing less than unthinkable in the context of a circular economy,” according to the UN World Water Development Report 2017, Wastewater: The Untapped Resource
Weighing the linkages and significant socio-economic benefits of the earth’s freshwater and marine systems, UNDP underscores the need to take adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based approaches to manage freshwater and ocean resources.
As such, UNDP is assisting countries in equitably allocating water resources and implementing integrated management through adaptive water governance, which helps to reduce poverty and vulnerability, sustain and enhance livelihoods and protect environmental resources.
Oceans are part of the solution
Humanity owes much to the oceans in many aspects of life: providing invaluable ecosystems, climate regulation and cultural support to the millions of people who live near the sea, according to José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Water of the Congo River is used in the absence of wells. Photo: OCHA/J-L. Mbalivoto
As 3 billion people ultimately depend on marine and coastal biodiversity, all nations agree on the need to step up efforts to protect oceans and seas, especially in the era of climate change, when transformational interventions are becoming even more urgent and encompassing.
The oceans cover almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface, storing one third of all the carbon emissions stemming from human activity. They are part of the solution, and they must be a key focus of global efforts to cope with and mitigate climate change, he stresses.
“Oceans play a crucial role in the achievement of global food security, as well as human health and well-being,” says Miguel de Serpa Soares, UN Legal Counsel and Special Adviser to the Presidents of the Ocean Conference on oceans and legal matters.
“They are the primary regulator of the global climate, function as an important sink for greenhouse gases, serve as the host for huge reservoirs of biodiversity and play a major role in producing the oxygen we breathe.”
He adds that oceans, seas and marine resources are increasingly threatened by human activities, including increased CO2 emissions, climate change, marine pollution, unsustainable extraction of marine resources, and physical alterations and destruction of marine and coastal habitats.
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Get outside, connect with the planet that sustains us, urges UN on World Environment Day
5 June 2017 With the theme of this year’s World Environment Day – ‘Connecting People to Nature’ – aimed at highlighting the well-documented physical and mental health benefits of being in nature, the United Nations is today flagging the vast benefits of such engagement, from food security and improved health to reliable water supply and climatic stability.
“This is our environment. It is the keystone of a sustainable future. Without a healthy environment we cannot end poverty or build prosperity,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message on the Day, commemorated annually on 5 June.
Pointing to land, water oceans, forests, and “the air that we breathe,” the UN chief reaffirmed that everyone has a role to play “in protecting our only home,” including using less plastics, driving less, wasting less food and “teaching each other to care.”
“On World Environment Day – and every day – let us reconnect with nature. Let us cherish the planet that protects us,” concluded Mr. Guterres.
World Environment Day is the largest global day for positive environmental action. This year, the main celebrations are hosted by Canada. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says thousands of people across six continents are joining massive clean-ups of beaches and parks, countries are protecting 1,600 square kilometres of land, and over 30 iconic landmarks, including the Empire State Building, ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue in Rio, and Niagara Falls, will light up in green.
The Day’s theme encourages people to simply ‘get back outdoors’
The 2017 edition of the Day coincides with the opening at UN Headquarters in New York of The Ocean Conference, the first-ever high-level global meeting on conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The Governments of Fiji and Sweden have the co-hosting responsibilities of the Conference.
The 2030 Agenda resolves “to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources,” in particular, the Agenda’s associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 14 and 15 focus on respectively conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources and on protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of land ecosystems.
“Our entire modern life, with its skyscrapers and smartphones, stands on a delicate foundation of natural systems,” said UN Environment chief Erik Solheim in remarks on the Day. “Today, these foundations are shaking, undermined by man-made climate change, deforestation and extinctions. No amount of advanced technology will save us if we destroy and pollute our natural lifeblood.”
Billions of rural people around the world spend every working day ‘connected to nature’ and appreciate their dependence on natural water supplies and how nature support their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. They are among the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution, climate change or over-exploitation.
VIDEO: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) calls on everyone this World Environment Day to show how they’re #WithNature. Featuring UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors Gisele Bündchen and Don Cheadle.
‘Connect with nature’ by visiting an iconic UNECSO-designated site
In line with the theme of the Day, ‘Connecting People with Nature,’ Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, invited everyone to take time out from busy lives and to visit one of UNESCO’s sites – including Biosphere Reserves, many Global Geoparks and iconic World Heritage sites – often overlying key strategic surface or groundwater resources and which bring together more than 2,000 exceptional sites around the world.
“All of them employ local people and have their doors wide open to the public, because we know now this is the surest path to more inclusive and sustainable development, respectful of the boundaries of the planet,” she said, calling women and men everywhere “to connect with the nature around them that gives beauty, meaning and harmony to the lives we lead.”
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