Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

Discovering Global Environmental Interconnections

Posts Tagged ‘United Nations Environment Programme

“We Should be Shaking in Our Boots” – UN Environment Official

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Construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, Brazil -- sml Photo by Hans Silvester

Earth’s Ability to Support Us At Risk – An Indictment of Governments We Elected

By Stephen Leahy

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)

The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the results of GEO 5 were “depressing, even to me”.

“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”rio banner sml

Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.

Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.

Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.

“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said. Read the rest of this entry »

Canada’s Harper Government Guts Environment, Science and Monitoring Programs

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Man w picture of grandchild was arrested for protesting against tar sands expansion, Sept 2011 Ottawa, Canada - Pix by R Leahy

Environment budget slashed while PM Harper’s office places a gag order on government scientists. (And a $60 billion order for military equipment)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 9, 2011 (IPS)

Canada’s Stephen Harper government is spending more than 60 billion dollars on new military jets and warships while slashing more than 200 million dollars in funding for research and monitoring of the environment.

Amongst the programmes now crippled is Canada’s internationally renowned ozone monitoring network, which was instrumental in the discovery of the first-ever ozone hole over Canada last spring. Loss of ozone has been previously linked to increases in skin cancer.

“The proposed cuts go so far the network won’t be able to do serious science,” said Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

Canada was the pioneer in ozone monitoring, developing the first accurate ozone measuring tool that led to the discovery that the world’s ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.

Canada has about one-third of the ozone monitoring stations in the Arctic region. It also hosts the world archive of ozone data, which is heavily relied on by scientists around the world.

“There’s only one guy running the entire archive, and he’s received a lay-off notice letter,” Duck told IPS.

Ozone monitoring and research is part of Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, conservation and providing weather and meteorological information.

“Canada can’t afford to pay scientists but we can line the pockets of big oil?

That is totally backwards.”

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Fight Against Marine Garbage Runs Into Plastics Lobby – Cousteau “shocked” by state of oceans

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This is my final article in the Trashing the Ocean series. It looks at the results of the first major international effort to deal with the issue in 11 years. It’s less than satisfying effort largely due to the plastics lobby.  One of the unofficial solutions:  buy local and create local, sustainable communities says the guy who ‘discovered’ the pacific garbage patch. — Stephen

There are three to six kilogrammes of marine trash for every kilogramme of plankton…. California nearly became the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags, but a multi-million-dollar lobby effort by industry killed the proposed legislation

By Stephen Leahy

HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Mar 28, 2011 (IPS)

Every day, billions of plastic bags and bottles are discarded, and every day, millions of these become plastic pollution, fouling the oceans and endangering marine life.

No one wants this, but there is wide disagreement about how to stop it.

“Every time I stick my nose in the water, I am shocked. I see less and less fish and more and more garbage,” said Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary marine ecologist Jacques Cousteau, who has spent four decades making documentaries and educating people about the oceans.

On trips to the remote and uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Cousteau found miles and miles of plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, television tubes, spray cans, broken toys, and thousands of other pieces of plastic on the beaches and thousands of tonnes of derelict fishing nets in the reefs.

“We are using the oceans as a universal sewer,” he told some 440 participants from the plastics manufacturing, food and beverage sectors, environmental organisations, scientists and policy-makers from over 35 countries at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, which ended Mar. 25.

Jean-Michel Cousteau

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Humanity is risking its own health and survival in treating the oceans this way, Cousteau said. The oceans are the source of life on our planet. Through evaporation, oceans are the most important source of fresh water while phytoplankton generates at least half the oxygen we breathe.

“No one is away from the ocean. We are all intimately connected by every breath we take,” he said.

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Reducing Soot and Smog from Air Pollution Would Help Stabilise Climate

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There is a quick way to buy more time to make the switch from fossil fuels to alternatives. Serious reductions in air pollutants like soot and smog bring cleaner air, less asthma/lung disease/heart attacks and could cut warming by 30 per cent.  No new technology needed as my article shows, just something like a Green Marshall Plan to bring simple things like $20 clean-burning cooking stove to hundreds of millions of people. (more at Global Alliance for Cookstoves) — Stephen

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 14, 2011 (IPS) – Clean the air, cool the planet and prevent millions of deaths with fast action on soot and smog, a new report urges.

Air pollutants like black carbon (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) arise from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass like wood and charcoal.

Nations or regional blocks of nations could decide to put measures into place that quickly improve their air quality, reduce crop losses and shorten lives. And, almost as a side benefit, those efforts would do much to slow the rate of global warming, says the scientific assessment report released at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn.

“One-third of current global warming is due to emissions of black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone,” said Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This comprehensive scientific assessment shows that reducing emissions of these pollutants is a powerful adjunct to efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, Alcamo said in a press conference.

If the global community fully implements clean-up measures, it could reduce future climate change by 0.5 degrees C by 2030 to 2040, the report concludes. This is a key ingredient in the extraordinary challenge of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond two degrees C, says report co-author Johan Kuylenstierna, York Centre Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

 

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The scientists behind the assessment, coordinated by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), also point to numerous public health and food security opportunities. Ground-level ozone and fine particles, including black carbon, are linked with premature deaths, primarily heart disease and lung cancer, alongside other illnesses such as bronchitis and low birth weight.

Both ground-level ozone and black carbon can also substantially reduce the growth of crops, trees and other plants. Implementing the measures in the report could avoid annual yield losses of up to 50 million tonnes annually, they estimate.

“The (clean-up) measures to do this all exist and are in use in many places. They need to be implemented very widely in order to get the full climate benefit,” Kuylenstierna told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »

A Fatal Addiction to Plastic – Trashing the Oceans and Our own Health

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Ocean trash art - plastic soda bottle tops, lighters, misc bits of plastic

By Stephen Leahy

KAUAI, Hawaii, U.S., Apr 1, 2011 (IPS)

“Be fantastic, don’t use plastic!” chanted a troop of 10-year- olds from President Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Honolulu at the conclusion of an international conference on the millions of tonnes of trash that enter the oceans every year, with serious consequences for marine life and habitats as well as to human health and the global economy.

Most participants were in a celebratory mood at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference, which concluded Mar. 25 with the Honolulu Commitment to address the growing problem of marine debris.

But Captain Charles Moore, the man who brought the world’s attention to the scope and scale of the problem, was not celebrating.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and every year it has only become worse,” Moore told IPS.

Moore is famous for revealing the immense amount of plastic in the north Pacific gyre, formed by ocean currents in a massive slow-moving whirlpool thousands of square kilometres in size.

Moore’s Algalita Marine Research Foundation documented that this vast expanse of oceans has about six kilogrammes of plastic for every kilogramme of plankton. He is careful to point out that there is no plastic island as reported in some media, it’s much more dispersed. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Percent Price-Tag for a Green Economy – Time to end Growth-obsessed Markets pillaging the planet

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No future in the “brown” economic system driven by fossil fuel energy and the serial depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 23, 2011 (IPS)

Growth-obsessed markets and governments are pillaging the planet and it must stop, a new U.N. report warns.

The present “brown” economic system driven by fossil fuel energy and the serial depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems has no future and must be replaced by a green economy, says the Green Economy report launched in Nairobi, Kenya this week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Investing just two percent of the global economy into a few key sectors will kick-start a transition towards a low- carbon, resource-efficient economy, the report says. With that relatively small investment, many of the world’s biggest challenges – climate change, poverty, hunger, jobs, sanitation, energy, food – could be successfully met within two generations.

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“The Green Economy provides a vital part of the answer of how to keep humanity’s ecological footprint within planetary boundaries,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.

“It aims to link the environmental imperatives for changing course to economic and social outcomes,” Steiner said.

The report documents that a green, low-carbon, resource- efficient economy will be at least as prosperous as the old brown economy. Better still, a green economy will not have the inherent risks, shocks, scarcities and crises of the resource-depleting, high carbon ‘brown’ economy, it says. Read the rest of this entry »

An Awakening to the Unravelling of the Web Life – Will Action Follow?

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Youth Demand Need a Voice.  Halting Biodiversity Decline Impossible Without Economic Transformation

Analysis by Stephen Leahy 

NAGOYA, Japan, Nov 1, 2010 (IPS)

The international community has finally awoken to the other great trans-boundary challenge of our time, with a new international agreement to halt the unravelling of the web of life that sustains humanity.

The new agreement by 193 nations that are part of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity includes a commitment to reduce the rate of species loss by half by 2020, as well as the historic Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources.

This awakening only applies to the few early risers. The vast majority remain asleep, unaware of our utter dependence on the living things that are the one and only source of oxygen, water, food and fuel. And unaware that nature is our reality while the economy is simply a complicated game we created.

Japan imports more than 60 percent of its food and most of Europe’s ecosystems have been trashed, with only 17 percent in reasonable shape, according to a first-ever assessment. The only reason those countries haven’t collapsed is they are rich enough to help themselves to nature’s ecological resources and services like food, timber, materials from the rest of the world.

Put a glass lid over Japan, Germany or England and they wouldn’t last long.

“We exploited the biological resources abroad, especially in the South. This is why we, the people of Aichi, Nagoya, must apologise…for the deterioration of the ecosystems and biodiversity we have caused,” says a public appeal by civil society from Nagoya, the host city of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for the last two weeks of October.

The Japanese government wanted no part of this apology, says Kinhide Mushakoji, one of the organisers and a professor at the Osaka University of Economics and Law. The appeal was signed by 156 organisations in Japan.
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