Caring for the planet starts with ‘the ground we walk on;’ UN says on World Soil Day
5 December 2017 Soil is a major carbon storage system, essential for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation, the United Nations agriculture agency said Tuesday, launching on World Soil Day a comprehensive global map showing the amount of carbon stocks contained in soil.
“Maintaining the soil’s important functions and ecosystem services to support food production and increase resilience to a changing climate calls for sustainable soil management practices,” she added.
Soil organic matter, with carbon as its main component, is crucial to soil health and fertility, water infiltration and retention as well as food production.
The world’s soils act as the largest terrestrial carbon sink, reducing greenhouse gases. Intensifying its role could significantly offset the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In an historic decision on agriculture, the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (COP23 ) recognized the need for improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility.
The Global Soil Organic Carbon Map, the most comprehensive to date, illustrates the amount of organic carbon stock in the first 30 cm of soil – revealing natural areas with high carbon storage that require conservation along with regions where further sequestration would be possible.
This information can prove a powerful tool to guide decision-making on practices aimed to preserve and increase the current soil carbon stocks – helping win the fight against climate change.
The map shows that globally the first 30 cm of soil contains around 680 billion tons of carbon – almost double the amount present in our atmosphere.
The degradation of one third of the world’s soils has already prompted an enormous release of carbon into the atmosphere. Restoring these soils can remove up to 63 billion tons of carbon, significantly reducing the effects of climate change.
FAO’s Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils supported the map’s development, including by putting together the national carbon maps of more than 100 countries, making a concrete contribution towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15, Life on Earth.
The next step is for countries to monitor their national soil information systems for organic carbon levels to make evidence-based decisions on how to manage and monitor their soils.
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Careless disposal of antibiotics could produce ‘ferocious superbugs,’ UN environment experts warn
5 December 2017 Growing antimicrobial resistance linked to the discharge of drugs and some chemicals into the environment is one of the most worrying health threats today, according to new research from the United Nations that highlights emerging challenges and solutions in environment.
“The warning here is truly frightening: we could be spurring the development of ferocious superbugs through ignorance and carelessness,” said Erik Solheim, chief of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), on Tuesday.
He added that studies have already linked the misuse of antibiotics in humans and agriculture over the last several decades to increasing resistance, but the role of the environment and pollution has received little attention.
As such, the Frontiers Report, launched on the second day of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), which is running through 6 December at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, looks at the environmental dimension of antimicrobial resistance in nanomaterials; marine protected areas; sand and dust storms; off-grid solar solutions; and environmental displacement – finding the role of the environment in the emergence and spread of resistance to antimicrobials particularly concerning.
“This needs priority action right now, or else we run the risk of allowing resistance to occur through the back door, with potentially terrifying consequences,” stressed Mr. Solheim.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when a microorganism evolves to resist the effects of an antimicrobial agent. Globally about 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year because available antimicrobial drugs have become less effective at killing the resistant pathogens.
Clear evidence shows that antimicrobial compounds from households, hospitals, pharmaceutical facilities and agricultural run-off released into the environment, combined with direct contact between natural bacterial communities and discharged resistant bacteria, is driving bacterial evolution and the emergence of more resistant strains.
Once consumed, most antibiotic drugs are excreted un-metabolized along with resistant bacteria – up to 80 per cent of consumed antibiotics, according to the report. This is a growing problem, as human antibiotic use this century has increased 36 per cent and livestock antibiotic use predicted to increase 67 per cent by 2030.
Evidence shows that multi-drug resistant bacteria are prevalent in marine waters and sediments close to aquaculture, industrial and municipal discharges.
Solving the problem will mean tackling the use and disposal of antibiotic pharmaceuticals as well as the release of antimicrobial drugs, relevant contaminants and resistant bacteria into the environment, the report says.
Other evolving issues
The report also considers other emerging issues, such as nanomaterials in which little is understood about their long-term effects. According to UNEP, past lessons reveal that “no evidence of harm” does not equal “evidence of no harm,” meaning that research into nanomaterials is essential.
Another area it highlighted was in securing Marine Protected Areas as one excellent option for maintaining or restoring the ocean’s and coastal ecosystems health, and a potential driver for economic benefits derived from them.
The Frontiers Report also noted that sand and dust storms, which impoverish arid landscapes soils, and can cause economic losses, indicted that strategies promoting sustainable land and water management must be integrated with measures addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Pointing out that nearly one billion people live without electricity, the report emphasized the importance of bridging the off-grid energy gap as a possible key to achieving the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for universal access to affordable, reliable energy services.
Finally, in an era of unprecedented mobility, the report points out that migration produces environmental changes that include pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss, saying that unless we deal with long-term environmental vulnerability and build resilience, environmental displacement will become a new normal.
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Rapid, large-scale, coordinated action needed to beat pollution – UN chief
4 December 2017 Noting the severity of the threats posed by pollution to both people and the planet, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the need for rapid, large-scale and coordinated action by all actors to make the world pollution-free.
“We already have much of the knowledge and technical solutions we need to prevent, mitigate and manage pollution,” said the Secretary-General, in a message to the UN Environment Assembly, currently under way in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Beating pollution will help reduce poverty, improve public health, create decent jobs, address climate change and protect life on land and sea,” he added.
Being held from 4 to 6 December, the UN Environment Assembly brings together Governments, entrepreneurs, activists and others to share ideas and commit to action to protect on environment.
In his remarks, Mr. Guterres noted the assembly’s focus this year on tackling pollution and said that important successes have been achieved towards that target, including the entry into force of the Minamata Convention on Mercury (a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury), as well as the announcement that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will enter into force on in January 2019, having obtained the required threshold of 20 ratifications.
“Making our planet pollution-free is a long-term necessary endeavour. The world counts on this Assembly to show strong leadership by sounding the alarm and calling on all Governments to act to beat pollution,” he said.
Discussions at the Environment Assembly are focused on a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Towards a Pollution-Free Planet, that urges greater political leadership and partnerships at all levels; strengthened environmental governance ; improved resource efficiency and lifestyle changes; low-carbon tech investments; and advocacy to combat pollution in all its forms.
According to UNEP, environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6 million people a year, and the widespread destruction of key ecosystems.
In addition to the impact on health and environment, pollution also extracts a high economic cost – estimated at over $4.6 trillion (equivalent to 6.2 per cent of global economic output) each year in welfare losses due to pollution.
Opening of the plenary of the third United Nations Environment Assembly. Photo: UNEP/Natalia Mroz
Opening of the plenary of the third United Nations Environment Assembly. Photo: UNEP/Natalia Mroz
Erik Solheim, the head of UNEP, speaks at the UN Environment Assembly opening. Photo: UNEP/Cyril Villemain
“Given the grim statistics on how we are poisoning ourselves and our planet, bold decisions from the UN Environment Assembly are critical,” said Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UNEP.
“That is as true for threats like pollution as it is for climate change and the many other environmental threats we face,” he added, noting that all global processes linked to the environment, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change distil to one simple message, “we must take care of people and planet.”
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