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Wasting food just feeds climate change, new UN environment report warns 

Produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP, the Food Waste Index Report 2021 reveals that between food wasted in homes, restaurants and shops, 17 per cent of all food is just dumped.  

Some food is also lost on farms and in supply chains, indicating that overall a third of food is never eaten. 

The study represents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis and modelling ever done, and offers a methodology for countries to accurately measure loss.  

“If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste”, said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

Revealing picture 

Although food waste had been thought of as a problem mostly affecting rich countries, the report found levels of waste were surprisingly similar in all nations, though data is scarce in the poorest countries. 

The study reveals that households discard 11 per cent of food at the consumption stage of the supply chain, while food services and retail outlets waste five and two per cent, respectively.  

This has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts, according to the report, which points out that eight to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with unconsumed food. 

“Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession”, said Ms. Andersen. 

Conserving across platforms 

In 2019, some 690 million people were impacted by hunger and three billion were unable to afford a healthy diet.  

Against that backdrop and with COVID-19 threatening to exacerbate these numbers, the study urges consumers not to waste food at home. It also pushes for food waste to be included in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), plans through which countries commit to increasingly ambitious climate actions in the Paris Agreement. 

Meanwhile, target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to halve per-capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels and minimize food losses along production and supply chains.  

Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature…and save money at a time of global recession – UNEP chief

“The UN Food Systems Summit this year will provide an opportunity to launch bold new actions to tackle food waste globally”, Ms. Andersen said. 

Comparable data lacking 

Of the growing number of countries measuring food waste, 14 have collected household data in a way that is compatible with the Food Waste Index, while a further 38 countries use methods similar to the SDG 12.3 compatible estimate. 

While the household breakdown between edible and uneatable food, like shells and bones, is available only in select high-income countries, there is a lack of information in lower-income countries where proportions may be higher.  

It is crucial to fill this knowledge gap, according to the report. 

UNEP will launch regional working groups to aid countries’ capacities to measure and record food waste in time for the next round of SDG 12.3 reporting in late 2022. It will also support these countries as they develop national baselines to track progress towards the 2030 goal, and design strategies to prevent food waste.

UN report calls for scaling-up carbon capture, use and storage

The net-zero emissions goal is crucial to limit global warming, as outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the technology brief calls for rapid scale-up of carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS). 

The process involves capturing CO2 emissions from coal and gas power plants, and from heavy industry, for deep underground storage or re-use.  

UNECE said large-scale deployment of CCUS technology in the region would allow countries to “decarbonize” these sectors, thus bridging the gap until “next generation” carbon energy technologies become available. 

Smaller nations need support 

The report warns that time is running out to deliver the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

It follows the UN Secretary-General’s message on Tuesday to the Powering Past Coal Alliance summit, where he called on Governments, private companies and local authorities to end the “deadly addiction” to coal. 

The brief explores various CCUS technologies and provides an overview of more than 50 projects in Europe and North America.  

Scandinavia, the United States and the United Kingdom are leading the way, while smaller nations in the UNECE region are seeking international partners and financing.  

Cost is a barrier, the authors note.  For Europe alone, an estimated 320 billion Euros will be needed for CCUS deployment planned to 2050, plus another 50 billion for required transport infrastructure. 

“Strong political will is needed to make affordable, clean, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all a reality by 2030”, said Olga Algayerova, the UNECE Executive Secretary.  

“As we prepare for the High-level Dialogue on Energy convened by the UN Secretary-General under the auspices of the UN General Assembly in September, UNECE is committed to supporting member States make 2021 the year of real action on energy”. 

Gearing up for carbon capture 

As the quantity of CO2 removal needed to achieve carbon neutrality exceeds the capacity of current CCUS technologies, investment must be viewed in combination with other means to combat climate change, such as deploying low or zero carbon technology and enhancing natural carbon sinks such as forests, wetlands and oceans. 

UNECE said “vast geographical storage capacity” will be needed for large-scale deployment of CCUS.  Known suitable sedimentary basins in the region have been identified in the UK, the Netherlands and Norway. 

The Commission is also preparing a study on potential storage in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and the Caspian Sea.  

Protect forests for ‘people, planet and prosperity’, Guterres urges on World Wildlife Day

“In so doing, we will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for people, planet and prosperity”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message commemorating World Wildlife Day. 

Highlighting the benefits of forests, home to about 80 per cent of all terrestrial wild species, Mr. Guterres explained that “they help regulate the climate and support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people”. 

Providing livelihoods and cultural identity 

In addition, forests resources support, in one way or another, about 90 per cent of the world’s poorest people, a fact especially true for indigenous communities that live in or near them. 

“They provide livelihoods and cultural identity”, the UN chief continued. 

However, unsustainable exploitation of forests harms these communities and contributes to biodiversity loss and climate disruption, he added. 

Every year, unsustainable agriculture, timber trafficking, organized crime and illegal trade in wild animal species, costs the world about 4.7 million hectares of forests – an area larger than Denmark. 

The latter also raises the risk of zoonotic diseases, such as Ebola and COVID-19, Mr. Guterres said. 

“So, on this year’s World Wildlife Day, I urge governments, businesses and people everywhere to scale up efforts to conserve forests and forest species, and to support and listen to the voices of forest communities”, he said. 

2021 commemorations 

This year’s World Wildlife Day is being marked with the theme of Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet, underscoring the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystems in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally. 

World Bank/Arne Hoel | An elephant and a bird in the wilderness of Ghana.

The Day also recognizes the importance of forest-based livelihoods and promotes forest and forest wildlife management practices that accommodate both human wellbeing and long-term conservation of forests. 

Commemorative events include a film festival and a global youth art contest, where young artists highlight the multiple global environmental crises faced by forests ecosystems and the wildlife and humans within, from climate change to biodiversity loss. 

The World Day 

The World Wildlife Day, commemorated annually on 3 March, was established in 2013 by the UN General Assembly, to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of world’s flora and fauna.  

The date also marks the day the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted in 1973. 

Secretary-General urges countries to end ‘deadly addiction’ to coal

Addressing members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the UN chief stressed that keeping temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is achievable over this decade.   

“Once upon a time, coal brought cheap electricity to entire regions and vital jobs to communities. Those days are gone”, he said in a video message.   

“Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5 degree goal.” 

Ending a ‘deadly addiction’ 

Mr. Guterres underlined action in three areas to end what he called “the deadly addiction to coal.” 

He called for countries to cancel all coal projects in the pipeline, particularly the 37 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) who are urged to do so by 2030. 

The UN chief also appealed for ending international financing for coal and providing greater support to developing countries transitioning to renewable energy. 

 “I also ask all multilateral and public banks — as well as investors in commercial banks or pension funds — to shift their investments now in the new economy of renewable energy”, he added. 

A just transition 

The switch from coal to cleaner energy sources must be just, he continued, as the impact of this transition will vary across regions. 

 “We have a collective and urgent responsibility to address the serious challenges that come with the speed and scale of the transition.  The needs of coal communities must be recognized, and concrete solutions must be provided at a very local level”, the Secretary-General said. 

In many parts of the world, this transition goes hand in hand with improving overall access to energy sources, said  Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.

She told the conference that nearly 790 million people worldwide still do not have basic electricity, while 2.8 billion lack access to clean cooking fuels. 

“Right now. we’re at a crossroads where people do want to recover better, but they are looking for the best opportunities to do that”, Ms. Ogunbiyi said.  “And we’re emphasizing investments in sustainable energy to spur economic development, create new jobs and give opportunities to fulfill the full potential.” 

‘Encouraging’ trends: UN climate envoy

The UN Special Envoy on Climate and Finance underscored the key role the financial sector has in achieving the clean energy goal. 

Former Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, spoke of the “encouraging” trends he has witnessed over the past five years as the issue has become a top strategic priority for business.   

“It’s mainstreaming very fast, and it’s mainstreaming in a very positive direction where the search is for opportunity to accelerate”, he said. 

However, the UN envoy emphasized that private and public funding, including by multilateral development banks, must be aligned.

Environmental racism in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’, must end, say UN human rights experts

Originally dubbed “Plantation Country”, Cancer Alley, which is located in the southern state of Louisiana along the lower Mississippi River where enslaved Africans were forced to labour, serves as an industrial hub, with nearly 150 oil refineries, plastics plants and chemical facilities.   

The ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants has not only polluted the surrounding water and air, but also subjected the mostly African American residents in St. James Parish to cancer, respiratory diseases and other health problems. 

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights”, the experts said. 

Government failure 

According to the experts, federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in “Cancer Alley”. 

In 2018, St. James Parish Council approved the industrialization of toxic chemical development through the “Sunshine Project” – a subsidiary company of Formosa Plastics Group that would create one of the world’s largest plastics facilities – and the building of two methanol complexes by other manufacturers. 

Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents, flagged the experts.  

A grim prospect 

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxic Assessment map, the cancer risks in predominantly African American Districts in St James Parish could be at 104 and 105 cases per million, while those threats in predominantly white districts range from 60 to 75 per million. 

The experts said that the new petrochemical complexes would exacerbate environmental pollution and disproportionately effect African American communities rights to life, health, and an adequate standard of living.  

The combined emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year in a single parish could exceed those of 113 countries, they said. 

Cultural threat 

The UN experts also sounded the alarm over possible violations of cultural rights, as at least four ancestral burial grounds are at serious risk of being destroyed by the planned construction. 

“The African American descendants of the enslaved people who once worked the land are today the primary victims of deadly environmental pollution that these petrochemical plants in their neighbourhoods have caused”, they said.  

“We call on the United States and St. James Parish to recognize and pay reparations for the centuries of harm to Afro-descendants rooted in slavery and colonialism.” 

A ray of hope 

The experts welcomed President Joe Biden’s Executive Order, signed in January, on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis and the pledge of the US Government to listen to science, strengthen clean air and water protections, and hold polluters accountable for their actions.  

While signing the Order, the President raised hopes by specifically citing Cancer Alley and commenting that “environmental justice will be at the centre of all we do when it comes to addressing the disproportionate health and environmental and economic impacts on communities of colour”. 

Delivering justice 

The experts called on the government to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St James Parish, while upholding that corporations also bear responsibility and should conduct environmental and human rights impact assessments as part of the due diligence process. 

Click here for the names of the experts. 

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. They are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

FROM THE FIELD: Adapting to survive and thrive in Ghana

Women across Ghana are learning how to process their crops into food stuffs that can be sold in markets., by UNDP/PraiseNutakor

Programmes supported by the UN are helping, especially, women to acquire new skills, and adapt to an increasingly uncertain world.

They’ve been learning how to process soy beans, shea and rice, turning them into more profitable products, such as soy milk, soy flour, and shea butter.

Selling these processed goods at the local market, can help them to live through lean times, for example when drought and other climate change-related events hit.

Read more here  about how across northern Ghana, thousands of women are benefiting from similar projects, financed by The Adaptation Fund, which was set up to support programmes in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

UN climate report a ‘red alert’ for the planet: Guterres

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Initial NDC Synthesis Report measures the progress of national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, ahead of the 26th session of Conference of its Parties (COP26) this November in Glasgow. 

It found that even with increased efforts by some countries, the combined impact falls far short of what is needed. 

“Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on the report’s findings. 

2021, a ‘make or break’ year 

He said 2021 is a “make or break year” to confront the global climate emergency.  

“The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must cut global emission by 45 per cent by 2030, from 2010 levels”, he stressed. 

The Secretary-General called on major emitters to “step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions” targets for 2030 in their NDCs, highlighting that COVID-19 recovery plans offered the opportunity to “build back greener and cleaner”. 

“Decision makers must walk the talk. Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and planet so desperately need”, Mr. Guterres urged. 

Report, a ‘snapshot, not a full picture’ 

The UNFCCC report covered submissions from countries up to 31 December 2020, showing that 75 Parties to the Framework Convention communicated a new or updated NDC, representing approximately 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, said that the report is a “snapshot, not a full picture” of the NDCs as COVID-19 posed significant challenges for many nations to complete their submissions in 2020.  

She added that a second report will be released prior to COP26, and called on all countries, especially major emitters that have not yet done so, to make their submissions as soon as possible, so that their information can be included in the updated report. 

“We congratulate Parties that rose to the challenges posed by COVID-19 in 2020, honoured their commitments under the Paris Agreement and submitted their NDCs by the deadline … but it’s time for all remaining Parties to step up, fulfil what they promised to do and submit their NDCs as soon as possible”, Ms. Espinosa said. 

“If this task was urgent before, it’s crucial now.” 

Climate crisis and economic shocks leave millions food insecure across Central America

According to WFP, the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic and years of extreme climate events have left almost 8 million people in Central America chronically hungry so far this year.

‘Long and slow’ recovery

“Considering the level of destruction and setbacks faced by those affected, we expect this to be a long and slow recovery”, said Miguel Barreto, WFP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

A WFP survey in January showed that around 15 percent of people indicated they were making “concrete plans” to migrate, as a result of livelihood losses and unemployment.

Moreover, 6.8 million people were hit hard by record-setting hurricanes Eta and Iota, which left them homeless or jobless as well as destroying over 200,000 hectares of staple food and cash crops across the four countries, and more than 10,000 hectares of coffee farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Hitting ‘rock bottom’

As COVID-19 has wracked food security in Central America, the number of households living in hunger during the pandemic, has nearly doubled in Guatemala compared to pre-pandemic numbers. In Honduras, it has increased by more than 50 percent.

 “Urban and rural communities in Central America have hit rock bottom”, said Mr. Barreto, stressing that “the COVID-19-induced economic crisis had already put food on the market shelves out of reach for the most vulnerable people when the twin hurricanes Eta and Iota battered them further.”

Central American communities have borne the brunt of a climate emergency, as years of drought and erratic weather have disrupted food production – especially staples like maize and beans, which depend heavily on regular rainfall.

Urgent funding needed

WFP is calling for international support to provide urgent humanitarian assistance in Central America and to invest in long-term development projects and national programmes that help vulnerable communities withstand future crises, especially those which recur.

The UN agency requires $47.3 million over the next six months to assist 2.6 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in 2021.

World risks ‘collapse of everything’ without strong climate action, Attenborough warns Security Council

Climate shocks such as record high temperatures and a “new normal” of wildfires, floods and droughts, are not only damaging the natural environment, said UN chief António Guterres, but also threatening political, economic and social stability. 

“The science is clear: we need to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century,” the Secretary-General said.  

“And our duty is even clearer: we need to protect the people and communities that are being hit by climate disruption. We must step up preparations for the escalating implications of the climate crisis for international peace and security.” 

A matter of when, not if: Boris Johnson 

Heads of State and Government, as well as other senior political leaders, participated in the Council meeting, which was convened by the United Kingdom, co-host of the latest global climate change conference, known as COP26, taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired the online meeting, calling for action now. 

“Whether you like it or not, it is a matter of when, not if, your country and your people will have to deal with the security impacts of climate change”, he said, urging them to show the global leadership necessary to keep the world safe. 

Sir David Attenborough’s warning 

The UK holds the rotating presidency of the 15-member Council this month, and renowned British naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough issued a sobering warning to leaders. 

“If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security: food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature, and ocean food chains,” he said, adding “and if the natural world can no longer support the most basic of our needs, then much of the rest of civilization will quickly break down.”  


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While there is no going back, Sir David stressed that if countries act fast enough, “we can reach a new stable state.”  He pointed to the immense public support worldwide for climate action. 

“People today all over the world now realize this is no longer an issue which will affect future generations,” he said.  “It is people alive today, and, in particular, young people, who will live with the consequences of our actions.” 

‘Young people are the solution’ 

Nisreen Elsaim, a young activist from Sudan, spoke of how climate vulnerability is forcing young Africans and their counterparts elsewhere to leave their homelands, which can contribute to conflict.   

“As a young person I am sure that young people are the solution”, said Ms. Elsaim, chair of the UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. “Give us more space, listen to us and engage youth.” 

She also welcomed the Council’s resolution establishing the new UN political mission in her country, UNITAMS, which specifically mentions climate change and youth participation as priority issues. 


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‘The multilateral challenge of our age’ 

The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly referred to climate change as “the defining issue of our time”.   

In his briefing to the Council, Mr. Guterres outlined the need for action in four priority areas: prevention, protection, security and partnerships. 

Under prevention, he emphasized the need for countries to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which seeks to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

“The climate crisis is the multilateral challenge of our age”, he said, underlining the need for unparalleled global coordination and cooperation.  

“I urge Council members to use their influence during this pivotal year to ensure the success of COP26, and to mobilize others, including international financial institutions and the private sector, to do their part.”

FROM THE FIELD: Poor and vulnerable bear brunt of climate change

Before floods peaked in Bangladesh, familes were given storage drums to protect their valuables., by FAO

The UN is warning that much more needs to be done to anticipate, and plan for, the extreme weather events that put millions in need of urgent assistance.

In 2019, 34 million people globally were acutely food insecure due to climate extremes, and weather-related hazards triggered some 24.9 million displacements in 140 countries.

Find out more about the impact that the changing climate is having on humanitarian crises, from South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, to the countries of South Asia, here.

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