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Soil erosion and nuclear reactor management emerging as key green issues

The depletion of soil and the growing number of end-of-life nuclear power reactors are some of the most pressing environmental issues, according to a United Nations yearbook launched today that compiles the most important events and developments of the year.

The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Year Book 2012 depicts the status of key environmental indicators and highlights the benefits of soil carbon and decommissioning nuclear power plants.

“The yearbook spotlights two emerging issues that underline the challenges, but also the choices, nations need to consider to deliver a sustainable 21st century – urgently improved mThe thin skin of soil on the Earth’s surface is often one of those forgotten ecosystems but it is among the most important to the future survival of humanity.anagement of world’s soils and the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Superficially they may seem separate and unconnected issues, but both go to the heart of several fundamental questions: how will the world feed and fuel itself while combating climate change and handling hazardous wastes?”

According to UNEP, 24 per cent of the global land area has declined in productivity over the past 25 years due to unsustainable land-use. The yearbook points to various assessments indicating that some kinds of intensive agriculture are triggering soil erosion at rates that are about 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form soil.

The yearbook also warns that without changes in the way land is managed, there will be grave losses in forests, peatlands and grasslands, as well as in biodiversity. In addition, land erosion will also affect climate change as huge amounts of carbon stored in the soil in the form of organic matter could be released in the atmosphere, aggravating global warming.

“The thin skin of soil on the Earth’s surface is often one of those forgotten ecosystems but it is among the most important to the future survival of humanity. The yearbook cites many options for improved, sustainable management such as no-till policies to ones that can assist in productive agriculture without draining peatlands,” said Mr Steiner.

The yearbook, launched on the eve of the 12th special session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, also highlights the importance of decommissioning the growing numbers of nuclear reactors that have reached the end of their original design lives.

As of last month, 138 civilian nuclear power reactors had been shut down in 19 countries, including 28 in the United States, 27 in the United Kingdom, 27 in Germany, 12 in France, nine in Japan and five in Russia. However, decommissioning has only been completed for 17 of them.

Mr. Steiner stated that the yearbook provides information about the options that countries have when making energy choices today regarding radioactive materials, safety procedures and financial implications. For example, the cost of decommissioning varies greatly depending on the reactor type and size, its location, the proximity and availability of waste disposal facilities and the condition of both the reactor and the site at the time of decommissioning.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41213&Cr=environment&Cr1=

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Delhi quake drill good example for other high-risk cities to follow

The head of the United Nations office for disaster risk reduction has welcomed the mass earthquake drill organized by Indian authorities in Delhi yesterday and encouraged all high seismic cities to follow the city’s example to better prepare for possible catastrophes.

More than 40,000 people took part in the drill to check the alertness and preparedness of the 16.7 million people living in the Indian capital in the event of 7.2-magnitude quake, according to a news release issued by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, welcomed the drill, which was the culmination of the country’s first-ever State-wide earthquake preparedness exercise which got underway last December.

“I encourage all high risk seismic cities to follow the example of Delhi and to be better prepared against any catastrophic event,” she stated.

“Mock drills are a good opportunity to identify gaps in preparedness planning. More than 370 million people live in earthquake-prone cities around the world and there are mass casualties on a regular basis from earthquakes.”

UNISDR noted that experts have long questioned Delhi’s ability to withstand a major earthquake due to lack of safety standards, illegal buildings and poor enforcement of building codes. The city is classified as a high-risk seismic zone, ranking four on a five-point scale by the United States Geological Survey.

The Delhi government estimates that nine out of every 10 buildings in the city are at risk of moderate or significant quake damage. Every year, tens of thousands of housing units are built without any earthquake safety checks, stated UNISDR.

Yesterday’s two-hour disaster simulation, organized by the National Disaster Management Authority and the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, was conducted across hundreds of schools, hospitals, cinemas, resident welfare associations, government office buildings, markets, and petrol pumps.

A total of 276 “deaths” were enacted, while around 828 people were assumed to have suffered major injuries, and 1,897 others suffered minor injuries.

The exercise brought together the police, fire officials, ambulances and volunteers. Six metro stations were closed for over 30 minutes and road traffic in many areas of the city was diverted as part of the exercise.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41263&Cr=disaster+reduction&Cr1=

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UN forum seeks to improve access to organic products from developing world

A United Nations-backed conference addressing the future of access to markets for organic products began today with delegates and experts gathered to examine the impact that trade standards are having on organic farmers in the developing world.

The two-day forum, held in the German city of Nuremberg, will examine issues related to organic agriculture in emerging economies as well as the possible barriers that international organic standards pose to their development.

In 2002, a partnership between the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International FederaAccording to UNCTAD, there are currently an estimated two million certified organic farmers worldwide, 80 per cent of which are in developing countries.tion of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) first established a joint effort to promote access to the global organic market.

Over the next two days, delegates will discuss the progress made in helping developing-country farmers expand their international market reach and the practical means for overcoming technical barriers to the marketing of organic products.

Once products are certified as organic, they can typically fetch higher prices than their conventional counterparts and be traded internationally in robust markets. Already, the organic product sector accounts for sales of $60 billion annually.

Minor differences in organic standards, however, can often hinder this trade.

According to UNCTAD, there are currently an estimated two million certified organic farmers worldwide, 80 per cent of which are in developing countries. In addition, developing countries account for 73 per cent of land certified for organic beekeeping and the collection of plant products grown in the wild.

In a nod to sustainable agriculture, organic farming relies on healthy soils and active agro-ecological management rather than the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers, which can often have adverse effects on the environment, agricultural workers, and consumers.

The benefits include higher incomes for agricultural workers, more stable and nutritious diets for consumers, and environmental improvements such as higher soil fertility, reduced soil erosion, and better resilience to climate extremes such as drought and heavy rainfall.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41223&Cr=sustainability&Cr1=

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