The Human Consciousness Now...Our World in the Midst of Becoming...to What? Observe, contemplate Now.
DUBAI, Dec 8 2023 (IPS) - A record-breaking drought is unfolding in the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are trapped in the world’s worst acute food insecurity emergency. Food insecurity and malnutrition in West and Central Africa are on track to reach a 10-year high as coastal countries edge even closer to the debilitating effects of climate change.
“Growing up in Mombasa, Kenya, we could not imagine a time when catching fish for food in the big Indian Ocean would be a problem. But the destruction of mangroves has destroyed the fish industry. Fish hide in the roots of the mangroves to breed. The country used to have at least two major food baskets—in the Central and Rift Valley regions—but today, Kenya is queuing for food relief,” Moses Murina, a smallholder farmer in Burnt Forest town, Kenya, told IPS during the COP28 Summit.
“We are hearing of mothers boiling what we call male arrowroots, a crop that looks like an arrowroot but is really not food because it cannot be boiled or eaten, for it remains hard no matter how long you boil it in hot water. Others are boiling stones to trick their small children into thinking food is cooking on the fireplace and give desperate mothers some relief from hungry, crying children. How unfortunate that this is happening today when we have the best brains and strongest arms to put food on the table.”
COP28 has mobilized over USD83 billion in the first five days, setting the pace for a new era in climate action. The ground-breaking first ever declarations on food systems transformation are particularly crucial for Africa’s peasant farmers—134 world leaders signed up to the landmark agriculture, food, and climate action declaration, with an overall 140 countries endorsing it.
The ‘COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action’ is expected to be a lifeline for millions of smallholder farmers on the African continent, putting food on the table for households around the world.
All 134 signatory countries to the declaration are home to over 5.7 billion people and almost 500 million farmers, produce 70 percent of the food eaten globally, and are responsible for 76 percent of all emissions from global food systems, or 25 percent of total emissions globally.
“The Declaration addresses both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers who live on the frontlines of climate change. There is no path to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keeping 1.5C within reach that does not urgently address the interactions between food systems, agriculture, and climate,” said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and COP28 Food Systems Lead.
But this is not the only big win for Africa. The Loss and Damage Fund issue was expeditiously addressed on day one of COP28; a historic agreement was reached to operationalize and capitalize funding for Loss and Damage, supporting those on the front lines of the climate crisis with USD 726 million already pledged to date.
African and global institutions, together with the governments of Germany, France, and Japan and philanthropies, have already pledged over USD 175 million to the Alliance for Green Infrastructure in Africa (AGIA). The landmark initial pledge will help to rapidly scale up financing for transformative climate-aligned infrastructure projects across the continent.
The new pledges will also advance AGIA towards the USD 500 million needed for early-stage project preparation and development blended capital—USD 40 million of the capital was provided by the African Development Bank.
Importantly, the African Development Bank Group has presented its planned USD1 billion facility to provide insurance to more than 40 million farmers across the continent against the severe impacts of climate change. An estimated 97 percent of farmers in Africa do not have agricultural insurance, as their best bet is to plant and pray.
The IFAD report shows there are an estimated 33 million smallholder farms in Africa, and the farmers that live on them contribute up to 70 percent of the food supply. In sub-Saharan Africa, growth from agriculture can be as much as 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty than any other sector.
The United Nations has designated 46 economies as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), entitling them to preferential market access, aid, special technical assistance, and capacity-building on technology, among other concessions. A majority, 33 of the 46 countries, are in Africa. The USD 129.3 million announced toward the Least Developed Countries Fund is expected to be life-transforming for affected African countries.
Gender, women, and climate issues are high on the COP agenda this year, with an entire day dedicated to unpacking gender and climate-related relations and other related socio-economic pressing problems such as conflict. There is progress for African women as USD 2.8 million in new money goes to gender, USD 30 million to clean cooking, USD 1.2 billion to relief, recovery, and peace, and USD $467 million to local climate action.
It is expected that this time round will be different and that these deals and pledges will help in strengthening Africa’s food systems, building resilience to climate change, reducing global emissions and therefore reducing climate-induced disasters in Africa, boosting women’s empowerment, and improving health and livelihoods in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
DUBAI , Dec 7 2023 (IPS) - For the first time at COP28, faith has a pavilion alongside science, technology, nations, and philanthropy, allowing religious leaders from all over the world to discuss the potential for using spiritual merits to protect the earth from climate change.
Syed Salman Chishty, representing India’s largest spiritual shrine, Ajmer Sharief, gave IPS the rationale for the pavilion: “As we gather at COP28, we are reminded of the importance of justice and compassion as guiding principles for transformation—this is the overarching theme of the event—the need for genuine change rooted in universal values found in diverse cultures.”
The Ajmer Sharief shrine is the tomb of Moinuddin Chishti, a 13th-century Iranian Sufi saint and philosopher who made India his final abode. People of all faiths venerate his shrine, which is often described as a symbol of India’s pluralism.
The Faith Pavilion at COP28 has also brought together heads of countries, religious leaders, scientists, and activists in a united front against the looming threat of climate change. Among the dignitaries present at its opening was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with spiritual luminaries, climate activists, and representatives of global think tanks.
The Coalition of Faith Partners and the USA both supported the initiative, which has co-hosts like the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence, Judge Mohamed AbdlSalaam of the Muslim Council of Elders in Abu Dhabi, and Iyad Abumoghil, Director of Faith for Earth at the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi.
The Faith Pavilion at COP28 aims to tap into the power of faith communities and religious institutions to address the climate crisis. A diverse array of leaders congregated to explore the potential of spirituality in combating environmental challenges. The discussions were not merely about policies and technologies; rather, they delved into the profound realms of justice, compassion, and conscious transformation.
The Call to Consciousness event panel featured international delegates such as Audrey Kitagawa, founder and President of the International Academy for Multicultural Cooperation in the USA; Ben Bowler, Executive Director of Unity Earth in Australia; Ambassador Mussie Hailu of the United Religious Initiative in Ethiopia; Surender Singh Kandhari, chair of Gurudwara Gurunanak Darbar in Dubai; and Rocky Dawuni, a musician and Global Peace Ambassador of UNEP from Ghana.
The leaders at the Faith Pavilion, says Chishty, emphasized the cultivation of three attitudes towards nature: sunlight-like grace, river-like generosity, and earth-like hospitality. These attitudes, they argued, could serve as a blueprint for individuals to integrate into their daily lives. By doing so, they believed that these principles could bridge differences and divisions in the collective service of others.
“The call for unity in diversity echoed through the discussions, inspired by the teachings of our saint, Khwaja Garib Nawaz, also known as the patron saint of the poor. It was a celebration of the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, urging everyone to look beyond borders and backgrounds in the pursuit of a shared goal: combating climate change,” Chishty said.
He added that the Faith Pavilion at COP28 became a platform not only for dialogue but also for the formulation of actionable strategies.
“The leaders recognized the urgency of the situation and committed to translating the discussions into tangible initiatives. The combination of spiritual wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the collective will of diverse faith communities generated a sense of hope and purpose,” Chishty.
According to him, the event marked a departure from conventional approaches to climate change discussions.
“It acknowledged that addressing the environmental crisis requires more than technological advancements and policy changes; it necessitates a profound shift in consciousness and values. The Faith Pavilion was a testament to the understanding that faith, when aligned with a shared vision, has the potential to drive transformative change on a global scale,” Chisty said.
According to him, once the deliberations in the Faith Pavilion were concluded, the participants left with a renewed sense of purpose and a shared commitment to take concrete actions in the fight against climate change.
“The fusion of faith, science, and activism paved the way for a new chapter in the global response to environmental challenges—a chapter written with the ink of unity, compassion, and a deep reverence for the interconnectedness of all life on Earth,” Chishty concluded.
IPS UN Bureau Report
NEW YORK, Dec 7 2023 (IPS) - The triple planetary crisis of climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and pollution is a threat to the well-being and survival of millions of people around the world. Corruption, in its many forms, worsens these multiple crises.
From illegal logging and wildlife trafficking to bribery in environmental permits, to lax enforcement of regulations, corruption inflicts severe damage on our already affected fragile ecosystems.
In the forestry sector alone, close to 420 million hectares of forest have been lost between 1990 and 2020 as a result of deforestation enabled by corruption.
Climate change interventions are currently worth US$546 billion and, although difficult to measure accurately, Transparency International estimates suggest anywhere between 1.4 and 35 per cent of climate action funds have been lost to corruption, and only in 2021, over 350 land and environmental defenders were murdered.
UNDP has been recognizing and championing Indigenous Forest Defenders like Nemonte Nenquimo, the Indigenous Waorani activist from Ecuador, co-founder of the Alianza Ceibo— UNDP Equator Prize winner of 2014, named among the 100 most influential people of 2020 by the Time Magazine. There are 275 Equator Prize winners many of whom are defending land rights.
Anti-corruption is a development financing issue.
Corruption siphons off funds from urgently needed climate financing and the green energy transition. Effective, transparent, and inclusive governance mechanisms and institutions are prerequisites for combating corruption and will help not only ensure that financing achieves its maximum impact, but also contributes to the trust required for the releasing of additional funds.
If we can tackle corruption, we can improve our efforts to successfully protect our environment. However, we must act now, and we must work together. Anti-corruption tools, including those powered by digital advancements, have the potential to help countries reach their climate goals.
Resources lost in illicit financial flows and to corruption each year can be used in targeted investments in governance, social protection, green economy, and digitalization. This is the ‘SDG Push’ scenario which would prevent as many as 169 million people from being driven into extreme poverty by 2030.
Governance mechanisms must be in place
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working to promote the investment of over $1 trillion of public expenditure and private capital in the SDGs. A portion of these investments are likely to be directed towards climate finance.
In Sri Lanka and Uganda, UNDP is using data and digital monitoring tools to tackle illegal environmental practices and promote integrity and transparency in environmental resource management.
UNDP has also recently launched its Energy Governance Framework for a Just Energy Transition to contribute to achieving more inclusive and accountable energy transitions. In Eswatini, UNDP is supporting inclusive national dialogues to identify mini-grid delivery models and clarify priority interventions for an inclusive and integrated approach to off-grid electrification.
A mini-grid delivery model, determined by the national government with active multi-stakeholder engagement, is the cornerstone of a country’s over-arching mini-grid regulatory framework. It defines who finances, builds, owns and who operates and maintains the mini-grids.
Technology must be promoted
To ensure that crucial financial resources are used for their intended purposes and are not manipulated by corruption, we must ensure that transparency mechanisms exist. With appropriate safeguards in place, technology can be a game-changer for addressing corruption. Big data analytics, mobile applications and e-governance systems are valuable tools in the prevention, detection and investigation of corruption.
In Ukraine, a new e-platform supported by UNDP is increasing transparency in procurement. UNDP in partnership with the EU and the National Agency on Corruption Prevention has also developed a new basic online course to train anti-corruption officers.
Partnerships against corruption must galvanize global efforts
UNDP and the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Nazaha) are jointly launching a new global initiative for measuring corruption at the 10th Session of the Conference of the States Parties to UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), hosted by the United States in Atlanta from 11 – 15 December 2023.
The objective of this new partnership is to strengthen international cooperation to fight corruption and enable countries to track and monitor progress on tackling corruption. This new initiative will develop evidenced-based indicators to evaluate progress and efforts of countries to end multiple forms of corruption.
It will identify policy recommendations and reforms to enable countries to achieve national anti-corruption objectives, as well as address the SDG16 targets for reducing corruption and illicit financial flows.
UNDP remains committed to being united against corruption and to advance the spirit and letter of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption by driving new efforts to measure corruption, with our partners from the UN and beyond.
The Anti-corruption Day is commemorated on 9 December, along with the 20th Anniversary of UNCAC.
Marcos Athias Neto is UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support.
IPS UN Bureau
DUBAI, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) - In the spirit of global cooperation and environmental commitment, COP 28 launched a groundbreaking initiative aimed at transforming the building and construction sectors. Titled ‘Buildings and Construction for Sustainable Cities: New Key Partnerships for Decarbonization, Adaptation, and Resilience,’ the initiative marks a turning point in addressing the environmental challenges posed by the construction industry.
Three major frameworks were announced at the launch: Buildings Breakthrough, Cement Breakthrough, and the Forest and Climate Leader’s Partnership’s Greening Construction with Sustainable Wood initiative. These frameworks seek to catalyze collaboration between governments and stakeholders, providing a comprehensive solution for mitigating climate change, adapting to its impacts, and building resilience in the sector.
The sector accounts for nearly 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions and 50% of extracted materials, which highlights the urgency of the initiative. Additionally, the sector generated one-third of global waste, highlighting the critical need for coordinated efforts to guide its transformation.
The global leaders and representatives, during the event, highlighted the urgency of the building and construction sector’s transformation. Their shared commitment to sustainability, resilience, and decarbonization set the stage for a new era of international collaboration, offering hope for a future where cities are built with a conscious effort to mitigate climate change and adapt to its inevitable challenges. The success of this initiative hinges on the continued dedication of nations, organizations, and communities to work together toward a sustainable and resilient future for all.
Maimunah binti Mohd Sharif, the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, emphasized the sector’s role in greenhouse gas emissions and stressed the importance of accelerating the transition to more sustainable practices.
“The way we build our cities now will determine future emissions. Housing and buildings are also at the core of resilience. We need to accelerate the transition to regenerate the material. We need to ensure that the sector is decarbonized along with a lifecycle and increasingly resilient to natural disasters,” she said.
Stafen Wanzel, Deputy Director General of International Climate Action at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action for Germany, echoed the sentiments, focusing on the pivotal role of cement and steel in achieving net-zero and resilient buildings. “Germany pledged 20 million euros for an international climate initiative to fund advancements in building materials, showcasing their commitment to holistic approaches that consider the energy, environment, and climate nexus,” she said.
Ditte Juul-Jorgensen, Director General of the ENER European Commission, reinforced the need for action to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. She highlighted the potential to design and construct buildings more efficiently, using greener materials, and improving energy efficiency. This, she argued, aligned with the global commitment to triple renewables and double energy efficiency, essential for staying on track with the Paris Agreement’s targets.
“Today’s initiative is a necessary contribution to our work to mitigate climate change and to mitigate emissions, and it is completely aligned with the global pledge for tripling renewables and doubling energy efficiency. To respect our 1.5 degrees as agreed in Paris, this initiative is really part of it,” she said.
Abdel Khalek Ibrahim, the Assistant Minister for Technical Affairs at the Ministry of Housing Utilities in Egypt, emphasized the initiative’s global scope. With over 500,000 informal areas, Egypt faces the challenge of balancing housing demand with green climate resilience. He said that the Egyptian government established a national council for green housing and urbanism to formulate a roadmap for gradually transforming housing to be more resilient and energy efficient. “We need to think about how to strike a balance between housing demand and green climate resilience, as Egypt has more than 500,000 informal areas.”
Ali Zaidi, assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor of the USA, highlighted the transformative potential of the initiative for people’s lives. Focusing on building codes and transitioning from fossil-based to electricity-based heating, the U.S. emphasized a worker- and community-centered approach. Zaidi stressed the importance of grants, design standards, and enforcement to facilitate the sector’s transformation.
“Buildings are the places where we worship, where we live, play, and breathe. There will be a visible difference in the lives of so many people in the coming time. This is the opportunity we must deliver for our citizens. This transformation we are making here must be worker-centered and community-centered,” Zaidi said.
Jo da Silva, Global Sustainability Director for ARUP, discussed the challenges faced by her organization in driving change amid diverse jurisdictional rules. While acknowledging the success keys in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., she emphasized the unique opportunities in Africa, where 80% of the buildings needed in the next two decades are yet to be built. Da Silva urged governments to create a level playing field, facilitating collaboration rather than competition, to unlock the full potential of innovation and industrialized construction in the sector.
IPS UN Bureau Report
OSLO, Norway, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) - The pulverising of Gaza now ranks amongst the worst assaults on any civilian population in our time and age. Each day we see more dead children and new depths of suffering for innocent people enduring this hell.
Across the Gaza Strip, almost the entire population – 1.9 million people – have been displaced. Nearly two in three homes are now damaged or destroyed. Amid relentless air, land and sea attacks, thousands of families are forced to relocate from one perilous zone to another.
Today, more than 750,000 people are crowded into just 133 shelters. Tens of thousands live on the streets of southern Gaza, where, under bombardment, they are forced to improvise basic shelters from whatever they can get hold of.
The winter rains have arrived and so have infectious diseases, just as public health services have been utterly paralysed. Many of my own NRC staff members now live on the streets. One of them does so with her two-month-old baby.
Our colleagues in Gaza ask themselves a simple question: how is it that these atrocities are beamed across the world for all to witness, and yet so little is done to stop them?
Countries supporting Israel with arms must understand that these civilian deaths will be a permanent stain on their reputation. They must demand an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. Only a cessation of hostilities will allow us to ensure effective relief to the two million who now require it.
Severe restrictions on aid access have aggravated the situation, leading to starvation among Gaza’s population, intensifying an already dire humanitarian crisis. We have been forced to halt nearly all of our aid operations due to the bombardment, the chaos, and the panic.
There must be accountability for those responsible for the killings, the torture, and the atrocities committed in Israel on October 7th.
The killing of thousands of innocent children and women, the siege on an entire civilian population, and the trapping of bombarded civilians behind closed borders in Gaza are also crimes under international law.
There must also be accountability for this, from political and military leaders as well as those who provided arms and support. This military campaign can in no way be described as ‘self-defense.’
We again demand that all hostages are immediately and unconditionally released. Neither the lives of innocent children, women or men, nor the ability of aid workers to access the vulnerable, should be used as bargaining chips.
The situation in Gaza is a total failure of our shared humanity. The killing must stop.
Jan Egeland is a Norwegian diplomat political scientist, humanitarian leader and former Labour Party politician who has been Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council since 2013. He served as State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1997 and as United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator from 2003 to 2006.
IPS UN Bureau
NEW DELHI, India, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) - We, a global coalition of over 50 civil society and human rights organizations from over 30 countries have co-developed the “Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI”, a groundbreaking initiative aiming to steer AI policies towards safeguarding rights and deconolonising AI discourse. We question, and we are not the only ones: whose voices, ideas and values matter in AI ?
“If Silicon Valley was a country it would probably be the richest in the world. So how genuinely committed is Big Tech and AI to funding and fostering human rights over profits? The barebones truth is that if democracy was profitable, human rights lawyers and defenders including techtivists from civil society organizations wouldn’t be sitting around multistakeholder engagement tables demanding accountability from Big Tech and AI. How invested are they in real social impact centred on rights despite glaring evidence to the contrary?,” asks Nina Sangma, of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, a regional organization founded in 1992 by Indigenous Peoples’ movements with over 40 members across 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
We are currently at a critical juncture where most countries lack a comprehensive AI policy or regulatory framework. The sudden reliance on AI and other digital technologies has introduced new – and often “invisible” – vulnerabilities, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, literally melting from the effects of climate change.
Some things we have already seen though: AI is still a product of historical data representing inequities and inequalities. A study analyzing 100+ AI-generated images using Midjourney’s diffusion models revealed consistent biases, including depicting older men for specialized jobs, binary gender representations, featuring urban settings regardless of location, and generating images predominantly reinforcing “ageism, sexism and classism”, with a bias toward a Western perspective.
Data sources continue to be “toxic”. AI tools learn from vast amounts of training data, often consisting of billions of inputs scraped from the internet. This data risks to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and often contains toxic content like pornography, misogyny, violence, and bigotry. Furthermore, researchers found bias in up to 38.6% of ‘facts’ used by AI.
Despite increased awareness, the discourse surrounding AI, like the technology itself, has predominantly been shaped by “Western, whiteness, and wealth”. The discrimination that we see today is the result of a cocktail of “things gone wrong” – ranging from discriminatory hiring practices based on gender and race, to the prevalence of algorithms biases.
“Biases are not a coincidence. Artificial intelligence is a machine that draws conclusions from data based on statistical models, therefore, the first thing it eliminates is variations. And in the social sphere that means not giving visibility to the margins,” declares Judith Membrives i Llorens, head of digital policies at Lafede.cat – Organitzacions per la Justícia Global.
“AI development isn’t the sole concern here. The real issue stems from keeping citizens in the dark, restricting civic freedoms and the prevalence of polarisation and prejudice on several dimensions of our societies. This results in unequal access, prevalent discrimination, and a lack of transparency in technological processes and beyond. Despite acknowledging the potential and power of these technologies, it is clear that many are still excluded and left at the margins due to systemic flaws. Without addressing this, the global development of AI and other emerging technologies won’t be inclusive. Failure to act now and to create spaces of discussion for new visions to emerge, will mean these technologies continue to reflect and exacerbate these disparities,” says Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, civil society leader in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region, and Chair of the global civil society network Forus.
The Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI asks, what are the potential pitfalls of using current AI systems to inform future decisions, particularly in terms of reinforcing prevailing disparities?
Today, as EU policymakers are expected to close a political agreement for the AI Act, we ask, do international standards for regulating machine learning include the voice of the people? With the Manifesto we explore, challenge, disrupt, and reimagine the underlying assumptions within this discourse but also to broaden the discussion to incorporate communities beyond the traditional “experts.” Nothing about us, without us.
“We want Artificial Intelligence, but created by and for everyone, not only for a few,” adds Judith Membrives i Llorens.
From the “Internet of Cows” to the impact of AI on workers’ rights and on civic space, developed by over 50 civil society organisations, the Manifesto includes 17 case studies on their experiences, visions and stories around AI. With each story, we want to weave a different path to build new visions on AI systems that expand rather than restrict freedoms worldwide.
“The current development of AI is by no means an inevitable path. It is shaped by Big Tech companies because we let them. It is time for the civil society to stand up for their data rights,” says Camilla Lohenoja, of SASK, the workers’ rights organisation of the trade unions of Finland.
“Focusing on ethical and transparent technology also means giving equal attention to the fairness and inclusivity of its design and decision-making processes. The integrity of AI is shaped as much by its development as by its application,” says Hanna Pishchyk of the youth group Digital Grassroots.
Ultimately, the Manifesto aims to trigger a global – and not just sectorial and Western-dominated dialogue – on AI development and application.
Civil society is here not just as a mere token in multistakeholder spaces, we bring forward what others often dismiss, and we actively participate worldwide in shaping a technological future that embraces inclusivity, accountability, and ethical advancements.
Bibbi Abruzzini, Forus and Nina Sangma, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
IPS UN Bureau
NEW YORK, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) - As COP28 delegates focus on the first Global Stocktake, there is no doubt that the race to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is vital.
But while electric vehicles and solar power uptake have seen visible and welcome progress in particular, the transition to a thriving future on a healthy planet requires much more than decarbonization alone.
Don’t get me wrong. Decarbonization is a must. It has to be done. But focus on just one lane of what must be a systemic transition to a liveable planet is dangerously myopic.
Water vapor, for example, is overlooked as a highly significant greenhouse gas. It is the most abundant greenhouse gas, and responsible for about half of greenhouse heating effects. Recent research published in the International Journal of Environment and Climate change highlights that the quantities of water vapor in our atmosphere are affected by a breadth of environmentally damaging human activities, beyond fossil fuel emissions.
The oceans are the world’s biggest carbon sink and a weather and climate regulator in their own right. Harm to ocean ecosystem functions due to ocean acidification, toxic “forever chemicals” and microplastic pollution has led to reductions in phytoplankton photosynthesis by as much as 50 per cent since the 1950s. Phytoplankton photosynthesis underpins almost all marine animal life by generating most of the oxygen and food that provide other organisms with the chemical energy they need to exist.
This has knock-on implications deeply interlinked with climate action: reduced phytoplankton leads to higher concentrations of dissolved carbon dioxide in ocean surface water, further accelerating ocean acidification and allowing evaporation and atmospheric water vapor concentrations to increase, increasing humidity, precipitation and temperature as an additional climate change feedback loop.
Importantly, if we achieve net zero carbon by 2050, we could still face catastrophic climate change if ocean ecosystem health is overlooked. In addition to the consequences of global heating, ocean acidification and the collapse of the marine ecosystems could lead to the loss of most seals, birds, whales, fish, and food supply for three billion people.
Take another example: deforestation. In the past 300 years or so, 1.5 billion hectares of forest have been removed – an area roughly one and a half times the size of the US. Scientists have shown that ecosystems damaged by humans are more vulnerable to wildfires, which add to atmospheric carbon dioxide and cause excessive atmospheric heat to pass back to the ocean, releasing more water vapor and further increasing greenhouse gases.
Similarly, the increasing severity of devastating floods in recent years is not only linked to climate change but often also the result of forest and vegetation loss, land conversion, intensive land management and river straightening. Anthropogenic climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent and more severe, while human activity is also eroding the resilience of the environment to absorb these impacts.
Any narrow focus on something that is systemic is inherently problematic. Our planet’s multivarious ecosystems are deeply interconnected dynamic systems within which human activity is interwoven. We cannot silo our environmental challenges, nor our responses to them. Successful climate mitigation can be only achieved in the wider context of terrestrial and marine ecosystem health and social impact, measuring progress in lockstep with planetary health metrics and the sustainable development goals.
This is why it is beyond time to rethink our relationship with nature. Without a shift in how we value our natural environment and our relationship to it, we will always be trapped in a race against time to clean up after ourselves, treating only the symptoms of a dysfunctional relationship with our natural world, rather than the cause.
A revaluation of how humanity interacts with nature will bring the sea change we need. Protecting nature is too often falsely considered a trade-off against economic development, when the fact is that one helps the other: the collapse of ecosystem services would cost $2.7 trillion annually by 2030. The truth is that thriving, protected ecosystems are an exceptionally powerful development asset.
Not only is the protection of nature an absolute prerequisite for the success of climate action, but policies that preserve natural land could also increase global real GDP in 2030 in the order of trillions of dollars. This includes benefits through carbon sequestration, and through the multiple benefits that natural lands, waters and oceans provide.
The economic case for protecting nature by the World Bank found that restoring 350 million hectares of land could generate about $170 billion per year in net value by sequestering up to 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually and through watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products.
As we race towards net zero, we must look with equal urgency at nature’s protection to ensure we decarbonize alongside progress towards ecological health and social stability on a superhighway of durable transition. Only change that accounts for humanity’s relationship with nature at a systemic level, its climate and its ecosystem health, will truly be a transition to thriving future on a liveable planet.
Midori Paxton is Director, Nature Hub, United Nations Development Programme
IPS UN Bureau