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FROM THE FIELD: Restoring Dutch ‘green deserts’

Farmer Monique van der Laan from farm De Beekhoeve in Kamerik, the Netherlands uses her shovel in the peat meadows, while surrounded by visitors
Farmer Monique van der Laan from farm De Beekhoeve in Kamerik, the Netherlands uses her shovel in the peat meadows, while surrounded by visitors , by Erica ten Broeke/ UNRIC

The not-for-profit organisation, Commonland, an official partner of the UN Decade, which began in June, plans to transform tracts of land, equivalent to the size of Spain, into thriving ecosystems by 2040. The projects range from the Western Peat Meadows, to the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

The former is affected by climate change, and is seeing rising sea waters and the gradual sinking of the soil; many farmers are struggling to make ends meet. As part of the Commonland project, they are changing their practices, improving the soil and sowing herb-rich grassland. It is hoped that, by 2050, farmers will earn part of their income from storing carbon and fresh water, as well as through tourism.

Find out more about Commonland’s work, and the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, here.

Sustainability solution or climate calamity? The dangers and promise of cryptocurrency technology

A ‘pointless way of using energy’?

The amount of energy needed to power the Bitcoin network is staggering: Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web, has gone so far as to describe “Bitcoin mining” as “one of the most fundamentally pointless ways of using energy.”

Bitcoins don’t exist as physical objects, but new coins are “mined”, or brought into circulation, through a process that involves using powerful computers to solve complex mathematical problems. This process requires so much energy, that the Bitcoin network is estimated to consume more energy than several countries, including Kazakhstan and the Netherlands. And, as fossil-fuelled power plants still make up a major portion of the global energy mix, Bitcoin mining can be said to be partly responsible for the production of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change (although, so far, the impact on the climate is far less than that of heavy hitters such as the agriculture, construction, energy, and transport sectors).

Another problem is the amount of energy needed for each transaction, which is enormous in comparison to traditional credit cards: for example, each Mastercard transaction is estimated to use just 0.0006 kWh (kilowatt hours), whilst every Bitcoin transaction consumes 980 kWh, enough to power an average Canadian home for more than three weeks, according to some commentators.

Waste-pickers scavenge through municipal landfills in Zambia.

UNDP Zambia
Waste-pickers scavenge through municipal landfills in Zambia.

An important driver of sustainable development?

Despite these issues, UN experts believe that cryptocurrencies and the technology that powers them (blockchain) can play an important role in sustainable development, and actually improving our stewardship of the environment.

One of the most useful aspects of cryptocurrencies, as far as the UN is concerned, is transparency.

Because the technology is resistant to tampering and fraud, it can provide a trusted and transparent record of transactions. This is particularly important in regions with weak institutions and high levels of corruption.

The World Food Programme (WFP), the largest UN agency delivering humanitarian cash, has found that blockchain can help to ensure that cash gets to those who need it most.

A pilot programme in Pakistan showed that it was possible for WFP to get cash directly to beneficiaries, securely and quickly, without the need to go through a local bank. The project, Building Blocks, has also been successfully trialled at refugee camps in Jordan, ensuring that WFP could create a reliable online record of every single transaction.

If this can work for refugees, it can also work for other disadvantaged, vulnerable groups. The authors of a report by the UN environment agency, UNEP, suggest that the technology could improve the livelihoods of waste pickers, who eke out a living in the informal economy.

A transparent monitoring system, says the report, could accurately track where and how the recovered waste is used, as well as identifying who picked it, ensuring that the right people are rewarded for their efforts.

Air pollution is damaging our health, but there is often a lack of local data made available to identify solutions.

Unsplash/Chris LeBoutillier
Air pollution is damaging our health, but there is often a lack of local data made available to identify solutions.

Blocking environmental degradation

The potential of blockchain in protecting the environment has been tested in a number of other projects, by the UN and other organisations. These range from a tool to eliminate illegal fishing in the tuna industry, developed for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), to a platform (CarbonX) that turns reductions in greenhouse gas emissions into a cryptocurrency that can be bought and sold, providing manufacturers and consumers with a financial incentive to make more sustainable choices.

For UNEP’s DTU Partnership (a collaboration between UNEP, the Technical University of Denmark, and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs), there are three main areas where blockchain can accelerate climate action: in transparency, climate finance, and clean energy markets.

Data on harmful greenhouse gas emissions in many countries, says the Partnership, is incomplete and unreliable. Blockchain solutions could provide a transparent, trustworthy way to show how nations are taking action to reduce their impact on the climate.

Climate financing – investments that contribute to slowing the rate of climate change – could be boosted, if carbon markets are scaled up, allowing businesses and industries to transition to low carbon technologies.

And blockchain could be an important part of accelerating the take up of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. As these sources are, by their nature, intermittent and decentralized, new forms of energy markets are needed.

Tools using blockchain technology can help create these markets, and end our dependence on fossil fuels.

Finding low-energy solutions

Despite all of these potential benefits, the huge energy consumption associated with the technology is one of the main hurdles that needs to be overcome, and many players in the industry are working on ways to address the issue.

For example, the Ethereum Foundation, the organization behind the Ethereum cryptocurrency, is working on a new way to verify transactions. By switching to a different method (called Proof of Stake, or PoS), the Foundation says that the energy cost of each transaction could be cut by 99.95 per cent.

At the same time, many players in the industry want to ensure that any energy consumed by the industry is entirely carbon-free.

In April 2021, three important organizations (the Energy Web Foundation, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Alliance for Innovative Regulations), formed the Crypto Climate Accord, which is supported by organizations spanning the climate, finance, NGO and energy sectors.

The aim of the Accord is to “decarbonize the industry in record time”, and achieve net-zero emissions in the global crypto industry by 2030.

Gold has always played an important role in the international monetary system.

Unsplash/Jingming Pan
Gold has always played an important role in the international monetary system.

The ups and downs of cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrencies are still in their infancy, and there are still many technical and political challenges to be overcome, as seen by the volatile nature of some of the best-known versions.

A single Tweet from tech billionaire Elon Musk, can cause the value of Bitcoin to surge or fall; El Salvador announced plans to make Bitcoin legal tender in June, a month after Beijing announced a crackdown on Bitcoin mining; whilst another crypto currency, Dogecoin, has also been extensively traded, with huge, widely reported jumps and dips in its value (again, partly thanks to pronouncements from Mr. Musk), despite the fact that it was created as a joke.

Nevertheless, many financial experts believe that these teething problems will eventually be ironed out, allowing cryptocurrencies, and other financial tools based on blockchain, to cross over into the mainstream: a number of central banks are planning their own digital currencies, and so-called “stablecoins”, which can be pegged to precious metals such as gold, or national currencies, could become, as the name suggests, stable and reliable investment opportunities.

If the most vulnerable are to benefit from the promise of blockchain technology, and if it is to truly make a positive impact on the climate crisis, more technical research is needed, as well as  more international dialogue, involving experts, scientists and policymakers.

“The UN should continue experimenting in the blockchain space”, says Minang Acharya, one of the authors of a recent UNEP foresight brief on the applications of blockchain. “The more we experiment, the more we learn about the technology. This is likely to improve our UN-wide knowledge on blockchain, our understanding of the environmental and social implications of mining operations, and improve our chances of coping with any problems the technology may bring in the future”.

UN chief: Desertification and drought destabilizing well-being of 3.2 billion people 

“Humanity is waging a relentless, self-destructive war on nature. Biodiversity is declining, greenhouse gas concentrations are rising, and our pollution can be found from the remotest islands to the highest peaks”, Secretary-General António Guterres said, adding: “We must make peace with nature”. 

Defend ‘greatest ally’ 

The top UN official said that while “land can be our greatest ally”, currently it’s “suffering”. 

Land degradation is harming biodiversity and enabling infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, to emerge, he explained. 

“Restoring degraded land would remove carbon from the atmosphere…help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change…and it could generate an extra $1.4 trillion dollars in agricultural production each year”, Mr. Guterres spelled out. 

And best of all, land restoration is “simple, inexpensive and accessible to all”, he added, calling it “one of the most democratic and pro-poor ways of accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. 

Reverse land production, save ecosystems 

To meet an ever-growing demand for food, raw materials, roads and homes, humans have altered nearly three quarters of the earth’s surface, beyond land that is permanently frozen. 

Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems now, is both urgent and important for a swift recovery from the pandemic and for guaranteeing the long-term survival of people and the planet. 

Restoring degraded land brings economic resilience, creates jobs, raises incomes and increases food security, according to the UN.  

Moreover, it helps biodiversity to recover and locks away carbon, while lessening the impacts of climate change and underpinning a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This year marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”, reminded the Secretary-General, calling on everyone to “make healthy land central to all our planning”. 

Desertification’s severe repercussions  

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) pointed to the “dramatic impact” that desertification is having on “our common environmental heritages”, posing a “considerable threat” to the health of communities, global peace and sustainable development.   

Having contributed to the collapse of biodiversity and promoting zoonoses – diseases which jump from animals to humans – she called desertification “another reminder” that human health and that of the environment, are “deeply intertwined”.  

Desertification and drought also increase water scarcity, at a time when two billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, said Ms. Azoulay, adding that “over three billion may have to confront a similar situation by 2050”.  

Citing the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, she said that by 2030, the phenomenon is likely to cause 135 million people to migrate worldwide by 2030. 

“These migrations and deprivations are in turn a source of conflict and instability, demonstrating that desertification is also a fundamental challenge to peace”, she stressed.  

Looking ahead 

Underscoring that “working together is crucial”, the UNESCO chief maintained that sustainable progress cannot be achieved without the participation of everyone, “especially the youngest”.  

“Together, let us build a sustainable future so that the fertile lands of the past do not become deserts emptied of their populations and their biodiversity”, she concluded.

© FAO/Petterik Wiggers
Local farmers are helping to restore degraded land in Rwanda.

‘Digital dumpsites’ study highlights growing threat to children: UN health agency  

In a statement coinciding with the launch, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the health threat was growing, in line with the “mounting ‘tsunami of e-waste’”. 

“In the same way the world has rallied to protect the seas and their ecosystems from plastic and microplastic pollution, we need to rally to protect our most valuable resource –the health of our children – from the growing threat of e-waste”, he added. 

A growing pile 

Discarded electronic devices, or e-waste, has become the fastest growing domestic waste category in the world, according to the UN health agency.  

The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) said that of the 53.6 million tonnes produced worldwide in 2019, only 17.4 per cent was recorded as collected and appropriately recycled.  

While the fate of the remaining e-waste is unknown, it is unlikely to have been managed and recycled in an environmentally-sound manner.  

Hazards on the heap 

While some e-waste ends up in landfills, significant amounts are often illegally shipped to low and middle-income countries where informal workers, including children and adolescents, pick through, dismantle, or use acid baths to extract valuable metals and materials from the discarded items. 

WHO said that an estimated 12.9 million women who work in the informal waste sector are potentially exposing themselves and their unborn children to toxic residue. 

Additionally, more than 18 million youngsters globally – and some as young as five – are said to be “actively engaged” in the wider industrial sector, of which e-waste processing is a small part.  

‘Devastating’ impact 

Informal methods of removing materials from e-waste have been linked to a range of health effects, especially in children, WHO said.  

Recycling e-waste particularly impacts those in vital stages of physical and neurological development, with children, adolescents and pregnant women most vulnerable. 

Children are more susceptible to the toxic chemicals because they absorb pollutants relative to their size and, with not-fully-developed organs, are less able than adults to eradicate harmful substances. 

“Improper e-waste management is…a rising issue that many countries do not recognize yet as a health problem”, said WHO lead author, Marie-Noel Brune Drisse, warning that if action is not taken now, “its impacts will have a devastating health effect on children and lay a heavy burden on the health sector in the years to come”.  

Improper e-waste management…a rising issue that many countries do not recognize yet as a health problem — WHO

Call to action  

The Children and Digital Dumpsites report delves into the multiple dimensions of the problem, to practical action that the health sector and others concerned, can take to confront the insidious health risk.  

It calls for binding action by exporters, importers and governments to ensure environmentally sound disposal of e-waste and the health and safety of workers and communities. 

The health sector is also being asked to reduce adverse effects from e-waste by building up capacity to diagnose, monitor and prevent toxic exposure, and to advocate for better data and health research on risks faced by informal e-waste workers. 

“Children and adolescents have the right to grow and learn in a healthy environment, and exposure to electrical and electronic waste and its many toxic components unquestionably impacts that right”, said Maria Neira, WHO Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.  

“The health sector can play a role by providing leadership and advocacy, conducting research, influencing policy-makers, engaging communities, and reaching out to other sectors to demand that health concerns be made central to e-waste policies.”

Source: WHO
E-waste toxicants.

 

Restoring nature ‘the test of our generation’: UN General Assembly President

Addressing a high-level dialogue on desertification, land degradation and drought, Volkan Bozkir described restoring nature as “the test of our generation”, outlining the cost of inaction. 

Existential crisis 

“Our planet is facing an environmental crisis that encompasses every aspect of the natural world: land, climate, and biodiversity, and pollution on land and at sea”, he said. 

“Our existence and ability to thrive in this world is entirely dependent upon how we reset and rebuild our relationship with the natural world, including the health of our land.” 

The General Assembly meeting, the first of its kind in a decade, is being held at a time when half of all agricultural land is degraded, threatening livelihoods but also driving extinction and intensifying climate change. 

“Without a change in course, this will only get worse”, Mr. Bozkir warned. 

“By 2050, global crop yields are estimated to fall by 10%, with some suffering up to a 50% reduction.  This will lead to a sharp 30% rise in world food prices, threatening progress on hunger and nutrition, as well as a myriad of associated development goals.” 

The fallout could also see millions of farmers pushed into poverty, while some 135 million people could be displaced by 2045, upping the risk of instability and tension. 

Path to progress 

Mr Bozkir brought countries together to galvanize international cooperation to avert further degradation and revive degraded land, ahead of UN summits this year on the topics of land, biodiversity and climate. 

The Organization has been clear on what steps they need to take, he said. 

“First, countries should adopt and implement Land Degradation Neutrality targets, which revive land through sustainable land and water management strategies, and restore biodiversity and ecosystem functions”, he advised.  

As the world embarks on 10 years of action on ecosystem restoration through 2030, Mr. Bozkir said countries should also apply lessons learned over the Decade to Fight Desertification, which concluded last year. 

“Land restoration must be at the heart of existing international processes, such as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to combat climate change, the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and COVID-19 recovery and stimulus plans”, he added. 

With “unsustainable agriculture” being a main driver of desertification, the Assembly President called for governments to conduct national dialogues on agricultural reform ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit in September. 

He also stressed the need for “greater synergy” between peace, development and humanitarian action, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serving as a roadmap.  Cooperation here can be achieved through universal implementation of a UN framework on disaster risk reduction, which he said will enhance prevention efforts. 

Restore natural ecosystems 

He further stressed the need to devote a greater share of climate finance to forests and agriculture. 

“For an estimated $2.7 trillion per year – comfortably within the scope of the proposed COVID spending – we could transform the world’s economies by restoring natural ecosystems, rewarding agriculture that keeps soils healthy, and incentivizing business models that prioritize renewable, recyclable or biodegradable products and services. Within a decade, the global economy could create 395 million new jobs and generate over $10 trillion,” he said. 

The rights of the world’s more than one billion agricultural workers must also not be forgotten.  Most do not own the lands on which they work, he said, as currently, one per cent of farms control more than 70 per cent of the world’s farmlands.  

“Investing directly in land workers is an investment in our land and our planet’s future”, Mr. Bozkir stated. 

“When we enable workers to invest in their land, we support agricultural productivity. Environmental stewardship, wealth generation, civic participation, and the rule of law benefit, especially indigenous and small-scale producers, including female farmers.” 

‘Soil is the solution’ 

To reinforce the importance of soil for survival, Mr. Bozkir gave each representative a basil plant, along with a request to update him on their growth. 

“Restoring nature is the test of our generation and indeed of this multilateral institution. This is the challenge the UN was born to meet,” he stated. 

“If we upscale land action today we can safeguard global food and water security, reduce emissions, conserve biodiversity and guard against future systemic health and environmental risks. Put simply, soil is the solution.” 

Turning to sustainable global business: 5 things to know about the circular economy

1) Business as usual, the path to catastrophe

Unless we make some major adjustments to the way the planet is run, many observers believe that business as usual puts us on a path to catastrophe.

Around 90 per cent of global biodiversity loss and water stress (when the demand for water is greater than the available amount), and a significant proportion of the harmful emissions that are driving climate change, is caused by the way we use and process natural resources.

Over the past three decades, the amount of raw materials extracted from the earth, worldwide, has more than doubled. At the current rate of extraction, we’re on course to double the amount again, by 2060.

According to the International Resource Panel, a group of independent expert scientists brought together by the UN to examine the issue, this puts us in line for a three to six degree temperature increase, which would be deadly for much life on Earth. 

UNDP Mongolia
Female entrepreneurs in Mongolia are creating household goods from discarded plastic.

2) A circular economy means a fundamental change of direction

Whilst there is no universally agreed definition of a circular economy, the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly, the UN’s flagship environment conference, described it as a model in which products and materials are “designed in such a way that they can be reused, remanufactured, recycled or recovered and thus maintained in the economy for as long as possible”.

In this scenario, fewer resources would be needed, less waste would be produced and, perhaps most importantly, the greenhouse gas emissions which are driving the climate crisis, would be prevented or reduced.

This goes much further than simply recycling: for the circular economy to happen,  the dominant economic model of “planned obsolescence” (buying, discarding and replacing products on a frequent basis) would have to be upended, businesses and consumers would need to value raw materials, from glass to metal to plastics and fibres, as resources to be valued, and products as things to be maintained and repaired, before they are replaced.

UNDP/Sumaya Agha
A landfill in Jordan where plastics are sorted and recycled into new products.

3) Turn trash into cash

Increasingly, in both the developed and the developing world, consumers are embracing the ideas behind the circular economy, and companies are realising that they can make money from it. “Making our economies circular offers a lifeline to decarbonise our economies”, says Olga Algayerova, the head of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, (UNECE), “and could lead to the creation of 1.8 million net jobs by 2040”.

In the US, for example, a demand for affordable, high-quality furniture, in a country where some 15 million tonnes of discarded furniture ends up in landfill every year, was the spur for the creation of Kaiyo, an online marketplace that makes it easier for furniture to be repaired and reused. The company is growing fast, and is part of a trend in the country towards a more effective use of resources, such as the car-sharing app Zipcar, and Rent the Runway, a rental service for designer clothing.

In Africa, there are many projects, large and small, which incorporate the principles of the circular economy by using existing resources in the most efficient way possible. One standout initiative is Gjenge Makers in Kenya. The company sells bricks for the construction industry, made entirely from waste. The young founder, Nzambi Matee, who has been awarded a UN Champion of the Earth award, says that she is literally turning trash into cash. The biggest problem she faces is how to keep up with demand: every day Gjenge Makers recycles some 500 kilos of waste, and can produces up to 1,500 plastic bricks every day.

Unsplash/Becca McHaffie
Buying second-hand clothes helps reduce waste and keeps clothing out of landfills.

4) Governments are beginning to step up

But, for the transition to take hold, governments need to be involved. Recently, major commitments have been made in some of the countries and regions responsible for significant resources use and waste. 
The US Government’s American Jobs Plan, for example, includes measures to retrofit energy-efficient homes, electrify the federal fleet of vehicles, including postal vans, and ending carbon pollution from power generation by 2035.

In the European Union, the EU’s new circular economy action plan, adopted in 2020, is one of the building blocks of the ambitious European Green Deal, which aims at making Europe the first climate-neutral continent.

And, in Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa founded the African Circular Economy Alliance, which calls for the widespread adoption of the circular economy on the continent. The Alliance supports African leaders who champion the idea, and creates coalitions to implement pilot projects.

Ford/Sam VarnHagen
The US motor company Ford says it will release its first fully electric pick-up truck in 2022.

5) Squaring the circle?

However, there is still a long way to and there is even evidence that the world is going backwards: the 2021 Circularity Gap Report, produced annually by the Circle Economy thinktank, estimates that the global circularity rate (the proportion of recovered materials, as a percentage of overall materials used) stands at only 8.6 per cent, down from 9.1 per cent in 2018

So how can the world be made “rounder”? There are no easy answers, and no silver bullet, but Ms. Algayerova points to strong regulation as a big piece of the puzzle.

“I am proud that for the automotive sector, a UN regulation adopted at UNECE in 2013 requires 85 per cent of new vehicles’ mass to be reusable or recyclable. This binding regulation influences the design of around one quarter of all vehicles sold globally, some 23 million in 2019.”

“It’s a step in the right direction, but these kind of approaches need to be massively scaled up across all sectors”, she adds. “Shifting to the circular economy is good for business, citizens and nature, and must be at the heart of a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
 

Guterres: Vaccines should be considered 'global public goods'

Speaking via videolink in London, Secretary-General António Guterres said there was no other way of defeating a virus that spreads across developing countries “like wildfire” and risks mutating, other than through equitable, mass vaccination, adding that shots need to be “available and affordable to all”. 

“That is not only a matter of fairness and justice but it’s also a question of efficiency”, he said, pointing out that mutations “abide by Darwin’s laws of evolution” – meaning that the worst viruses tend to survive, multiply and eventually disable the vaccines.  

Vaccination programmes so far, have been “unequal and very unfair”, the UN chief said.  

Reasons for hope 

Mr. Guterres said he was encouraged by the announcement made ahead of the G7, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) together with the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO) and World Trade Organization (WTO), regarding a $50 billion programme to support vaccination delivery in developing countries.  

He was also heartened by the recent announcements of the United States and United Kingdom to donate more than half a billion doses to nations least able to afford them.   

Mr. Guterres welcomed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that he expects the G7 to provide a billion pledged doses by the end of the summit.   

At war with the virus 

“We are at war” with the coronavirus, he said, that continues to cause “tremendous suffering” and destroy the global economy. 

To defeat the virus, we must “boost our weapons”, he added, calling for a “global vaccination plan”. 

The Secretary-General spoke of his proposal for vaccine-producing countries to come together in an emergency task force supported by WHO, the vaccine alliance GAVI and international financial institutions to define and implement a plan. 

“We need really those who have the power…to organize an effective response to COVID and the only way to be effective…is guaranteeing that everybody will be vaccinated sooner rather than later”, he said.  

G7’s climate action 

The UN chief said climate action was his other priority for the first in-person G7 meeting since the pandemic began, as the world’s average temperature continues to rise, almost to the point where the international scientific community says is “the limit” to avoid “catastrophic developments”.  

“To a certain extent, we are on the verge of the abyss and…we need to make sure that the next step is in the right direction”, he said calling on the G7 to create a global net zero coalition for 2050; to support adaptation for the resilience of populations and societies; and to finance developing countries so they may target mitigation and address the climate change impacts already upon them.  

Paving the way forward 

In closing, the Secretary-General expressed hope that the G7 meeting “will help pave the way for new and important decisions in the future”. 

“I think it is absolutely essential to guarantee that” through the COP 26 [UN climate conference] in Glasgow, he said, warning that it may prove to be “the last opportunity” to make the right decisions.

UN-backed report finds no G7-based stock exchange indices align with Paris climate goals 

The Global Compact partnered with international non-profit CDP, on behalf of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a body supporting businesses to set ambitious emissions reduction goals.  

In December 2015, more than 190 signatories in Paris, agreed to limit the rise in global average temperature to well below 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels, in the hope of keeping it as close as possible to 1.5° C (2.7° F).  

Just ahead of the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom, which begins on Friday, the Taking the Temperature report shows that indices on the main exchanges of G7  countries are on average at 2.95° C, while four of the seven are on temperature pathways of 3° C or above – way over the Paris benchmark.  

Stock indices consist of the most significant companies listed on a country’s largest exchange and are vital benchmarks to understand market trends and direction. 

Deliver on Paris 

As G7 economies cover nearly 40 per cent of the global economy and approximately 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the businesses making up the G7 have a responsibility to lower their emissions, according to SBTi. 

G7 companies have the potential to cause a ‘domino effect’ of positive change across the wider global economy — Lila Karbassi, UN Global Compact

“G7 companies have the potential to cause a ‘domino effect’ of positive change across the wider global economy”, said Lila Karbassi, Chief of Programmes, UN Global Compact and SBTi Board Chair, calling upon the largest listed G7 companies to urgently increase climate action.  

Invest in the planet  

Currently 70 per cent of Canada’s SPTSX 60 index stands at a 3.1° C temperature rating and almost 50 per cent of Italy’s FTSE MIB at a 2.7° C. 

While passive investing currently makes up around 40 per cent of United States and 20 per cent of European funds, investors are being warned that just 19 per cent of listed companies in the G7 indices, have climate targets allied with the Paris Agreement. 

G7 ministers responsible for climate and the environment, recently urged businesses and investors to align their portfolios with the Paris goals, and set science-based net zero emissions targets by 2050 – at the latest.  

“This report highlights the urgent need for markets and investors to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement…Governments must go further to incentivize ambitious science-based target setting”, said Ms. Karbassi. 

Room for optimism 

Despite these findings however, momentum for action in G7 countries is growing, with the analysis citing 2020 as an overall milestone year for climate commitments. 

Some 64 per cent of all corporate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets disclosed to CDP last year, were set by companies headquartered in G7 countries, and the annual rate of science-based targets doubled in 2020 versus 2015 to 2019. 

Urgent action  

The report also identified four urgent priorities for climate action.  

It recommended that businesses and Governments collaborate to harness a positive feedback cycle whereby private actions and Government policies reinforce each other.  

Secondly, corporations must work with suppliers to decarbonize supply chains. 

Third, it calls for investors to embed science-based targets into sustainability-linked bonds and climate financial standards.  

Finally, the report advised financial institutions to set portfolio-level science-based targets with underlying assets to create a domino effect in all sectors of the economy.

First Person: Owner of first ‘vegan football club’ scoring sustainable goals

“Forest Green Rovers began as a rescue mission for me in 2010. This 120-year-old club was facing closure and it happened to be located close to the town, Stroud, where I built Ecotricity, an energy company which aims to replace fossil fuels with sustainable green energy. 

I’m a football fan so I thought I’d help out and just a day or so into owning the club, I started to recognize issues which really conflicted with my outlook and the way I lived. The first thing was red meat; we were serving beef lasagne to our players and I was horrified to find myself part of the trade in meat which is so harmful to the environment. So, we stopped that. We then realized we had to change just about everything to create a green football club, something that had never been done before. 

We were communicating with football fans who would stereotypically be considered a very difficult audience and not interested in climate and sustainability issues. We decided to weave sustainability into the DNA of the club, putting it on an equal footing with football.

We identified energy, transport and food, biggest sources of carbon emissions in Britain which represent 80 per cent of everybody’s personal carbon footprint.

Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green Rovers has pioneered a football kit made from recycled plastic and coffee grounds.

So, we made installed solar panels and now the entire club is powered by 100% green energy. We provided electric car-charging points for fans. The grass of our pitch is organic, it’s free from pesticides and weed killers and we collect rainwater to irrigate the pitch rather than using mains water. Our club strip is even made from a composite material consisting of recycled plastic and coffee grounds.

We have created space for nature around the stadium with eco-trails where people can learn about what we are trying to do in terms improving biodiversity. Slow worms and orchids thrive in those areas!  Our modelling shows a 20 per cent increase in biodiversity on the land around the stadium

Then there was the transition to a vegan menu. This was radical 10 years ago and so counter intuitive because football can be macho and seemed an unlikely bedfellow of veganism. 

Forest Green Rovers
Once built Eco Park will be the most sustainable football stadium in the world

We get described as the world’s only vegan football club and that has been a monster in terms of PR, in terms of making an impact by getting our message around the world. 

Our next step is to build the 5,000-capacity Eco Park, made entirely from wood which will be the greenest football stadium with the lowest carbon footprint in the world.  It’s not just a football stadium and training ground but a 100-acre sustainable development project which will include a green tech business park, a new wetland restoration of a canal and parkland containing 500 trees and 1.8km of hedgerows.

‘Mistake to talk about making financial sense’

If you go back ten years, it was more expensive to be environmentally friendly than it is today. Solar panels were pricey and electric cars barely existed. Even plant-based food, which should be cheaper than meat, was more expensive.

I would say it’s a mistake to ask whether it makes financial sense to be sustainable. People often question how quickly will a solar panel pay for itself, but they never ask the same about their toaster, mobile phone or car. 

Looking at the big picture, even if it seems like it costs more on day one, it’s absolutely more economic in the long-term to be sustainable because of the damage we are doing to the climate, wildlife and habitats. 

Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green Rovers has been recognized by the UN for its work on sustainability and climate action.

Example to others

I think this club has to lead by example; that’s how we bring about change. There are four Premier League clubs and some big clubs in Europe as well that, like Forest Green Rovers, have joined the UN’s Sports for Climate Action initiative, which aims to get the global sports community to take action to counter climate change. I think it’s human nature to see what your peers are doing and to feel that you need to join in.
Businesses are also reacting to what people want in terms of products and outcomes. I think football fans themselves are lobbying their clubs to act and they point to Forest Green Rovers quite frequently as an example to follow.

Our fans don’t just tolerate this sustainability concept, they embrace it in a life-changing way. So many of them have told me their families have gone veggie or vegan, drive electric cars and have solar panels at home.
In my experience just about everything I’ve focused on in my career can be done better if it is done differently. One of the keys is absolutely to start with a fresh approach. 

I also think it’s so important to have fun. If people see you enjoying yourself, they can feel that in your messaging and they are more likely to listen.  I don’t talk doom and gloom; I talk about what we can do”.
 

End war on nature and ensure ocean health, UN chief says in message for World Oceans Day

The annual commemoration on 8 June is a reminder of the major role oceans have in everyday life as “the lungs of our Planet” and as a source of food and medicine.  

Although this year’s theme focuses on their importance for the cultural and economic survival of communities worldwide, the Secretary-General cited a recent report which confirmed that many of the benefits oceans provide are being undermined by human activity.  

Pollution, overfishing, acidification 

“Our seas are choking with plastic waste, which can be found from the remotest atolls to the deepest ocean trenches”, he said. 

But the list does not end there.  “Overfishing is causing an annual loss of almost $90 billion in net benefits – which also heightens the vulnerability of women, who are vital to the survival of small-scale fishing businesses”, he added. 

“Carbon emissions are driving ocean warming and acidification, destroying biodiversity and causing sea level rise that threatens heavily inhabited coastlines.” 

Sustainable Development link 

World Oceans Day falls as countries continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the ongoing assault on oceans, seas and marine resources, the Secretary-General said. 

With more than three billion people worldwide, mainly in developing countries, relying on the ocean for their livelihood, he called for action. 

“As we strive to recover from COVID-19, let’s end our war on nature”, Mr. Guterres said. 

“This will be critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, keeping within reach the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement, and ensuring the health of our oceans for today’s and future generations.” 

Decade of Action

As part of the World Ocean Day celebrations, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced the selection of an initial series of actions to drive what it calls the “ocean knowledge revolution”.

Led by diverse partners from science, government, civil society and other sectors, they fall under the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development which runs through 2030.

“From restoring the Great Barrier Reef to mapping 100% of the ocean floor in high resolution, these innovative programmes and contributions make up the first set of Ocean Decade Actions that will contribute to help deliver the ocean we want by 2030”, said Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General.

Exploration and innovation

The flagship Ocean Decade Actions were selected from hundreds of applications submitted to the agency’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the UN entity that supports global ocean science and services.

They include initiatives to expand deep sea research and exploration of the “twilight zone” of the ocean.  Little is known about this layer, which extends from 200 to 1,000 metres (roughly 650 to 3,300 feet).

Other actions focus on developing knowledge and solutions to reduce the multiple pressures on marine ecosystems, including from climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as measures to improve sustainable management of fish stocks.

“The hundreds of responses to the Ocean Decade’s first Call for Decade Actions showcase the success of and huge interest around this global movement”, said Vladimir Ryabinin, the IOC Executive Secretary.

“The initial Actions are just the first building blocks of the Decade – there will be many chances to engage.”
 

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