Tag Archives: un

C02 flavor pic.

There hasn’t been this much CO2 in the air in 3 million years. We have to stop, UN warns

Atmospheric CO2 levels reached a record high in 2016– the highest the Earth has seen over in the last 3 million years. More worryingly, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO, part of the UN) reports that last year’s increase was 50% higher than the average over the last 10 years, and points to the appearance of a wildcard that could shatter the temperature goals set in Paris.

Researchers say that several factors, most notably human activity and the 2016 El Niño, powered the surge.

C02 flavor pic.

Image via Zappys Technology Solutions / Flickr.

Looking for a seriously spooky costume idea this Halloween? The WMO‘s latest Gas Bulletin might be just what you need. The document is produced each year by the WMO using data recorded by research stations in 51 countries. These measure concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide after the planet’s sinks (such as the biosphere or oceans) scrubbed all they could of these gasses from the atmosphere — so the WMO’s report doesn’t show the sum of gases pumped into the atmosphere, only what’s beyond the Earth’s ability to clean up.

CO2

It doesn’t look pretty. Overall, the document reports, in 2016, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million (ppm), up from 400ppm in 2015.

“It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network,” Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch programme, told BBC news.

“The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998, and it was 2.7ppm; and now it is 3.3ppm. It is also 50% higher than the average of the last 10 years.”

El Niño phenomena can impact carbon levels in the atmosphere by causing droughts over wide areas, stifling plant growth and thus limiting their ability to absorb CO2.

There is a piece of good news in the report: human emissions have slowed down in the last couple of years. However, Dr. Tarasova warns that it’s not simply new emissions but rather the total levels in the atmosphere that matter; CO2 can remain airborne and active as a greenhouse gas for centuries. Over the last 70 years, the report notes, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have started increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation, and industrialization. Overall, CO2 concentrations have more than doubled since that baseline.

CO2 comparison.

Image credits: WMO.

We’re already seeing the effects of this build-up. Since 1990, scientists have recorded a 40% increase in total radiative forcing — the difference between how much energy the Earth receives and how much it vents out. The higher the total radiative forcing gets, the more energy stays on Earth in the form of heat. Greenhouse gasses drive radiative forcing up by preventing energy in the atmosphere from radiating to outer space.

It’s a huge rise in concentration in what, geologically speaking, is an extremely short span of time — “like an injection of a huge amount of heat,” according to Dr. Tarasova.

“The changes will not take 10,000 years, like they used to take before; they will happen fast. We don’t have the knowledge of the system in this state; that is a bit worrisome!”

The last time our planet harbored similar CO2 concentrations was in the mid-Pliocene, a geological epoch spanning from three to five million years ago. The climate was 2 to 3 °C (3.6 to 5.4 °F) warmer back then, and sea levels were 10 to 20 m (32.8 to 65.6 ft) higher than today, pushed up by meltwater from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.

Methane

One more worrying trend seen by the WMO is a currently-unexplained increase of atmospheric methane, also larger than the average over the past decade. Growth was strongest in the tropics and subtropics, and carbon isotope analysis has revealed the growth is not released by burning fossil fuels; it’s not clear where it is coming from. The worst-case scenario, researchers fear, is that we’re looking at the start of a feedback mechanism.

Gasses bulletin.

Image credits WMO.

Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, but it’s also less chemically stable, so it breaks down faster. A climate-driven, methane-based feedback mechanism, however, has the potential to drive up temperatures astoundingly fast. Such an event starts with methane from decaying biomass being generated much faster and in larger quantities than usual since we’re making it warmer. That methane will, in turn, raise average temperatures, which starts the loop again and generates even more methane before it can fully break down in the atmosphere.

It’s a particularly troubling find since the Paris Agreement didn’t foresee such an increase in methane levels — in effect, it’s a wildcard that could throw a major wrench in our plans. Overall, the WMO says, their new report doesn’t bode well at all for the targets governments around the world set in Paris.

“The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

“We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”

WMO released the report a week in advance of the UN climate talks, to be held in Bonn. The authors urge policymakers to step up countermeasures to reduce the risk of global warming exceeding the Paris climate target of between 1.5C and 2C. The talks will carry on despite the US’ intended withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

The WMO predicted 2017 will again break records for concentrations of CO2 and methane, but with lower growth rates because since is no El Niño effect.

Mural Christiania.

The UN calls for an end on the War on Drugs and “prevention and treatment” as a replacement

The World Health Organization and the United Nations have called for drugs to be decriminalized, the war on drugs put to end, and a shift to a “prevention and treatment” way of addressing the problem.

Mural Christiania.

Pro-cannabis and anti-heroin mural in Christiania, Denmark.

So we’ve known that the war on drugs flat out doesn’t work. And it’s pretty easy to sum up why.

First: People. Like. Drugs. If you take the drugs away they won’t stop using — they’ll just turn around and pay shady dudes in shadier alleys to get more. Drugs are also closely associated with crime in the public mind, but that’s because of and due to the war on drugs, not despite it — if there is no legitimate way to supply demand, black markets will pop up.

Lastly, the use of illegal drugs often leads to a lot of medical complications and deaths, but again, that’s mostly because of the war on drugs — shady dealers don’t have to worry about health standards so they can mix anything in, while users aren’t likely to go to the ER when something goes south since they fear legal repercussions.

It goes on like this. I’m not saying drugs aren’t a problem in and of themselves, but many of the issues they’re blamed for are caused by our reaction to the drugs. For a long time, and despite scientists pointing out to the fact that prohibition flat out doesn’t work, it seemed that politics was too well entrenched in the war on drugs for things to change.

But last month, on the International Day Against Drug Abuse, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for tackling the problem through “prevention and treatment” and by adhering to human rights. As part of a joint release describing how the two bodies say member states should go about ending healthcare discrimination, they’ve called for the “reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes,” including “drug use or possession of drugs for personal use”.

Shifting perspectives

This position comes in stark contrast to previous attitudes on drugs: the WHO has previously called for their decriminalization in the context of HIV reduction. The UN has similarly called for health- and evidence-based solutions to drug abuse. But even last year, member states at the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs still maintained that prohibition and criminalization are the way to go with narcotics, although several countries did express strong concerns with this attitude.

So António Guterres’ call for change on the issue comes as both an unexpected as well as a surprising shift of perspective on the issue on the part of the UN.

“Despite the risks and challenges inherent in tackling this global problem,” the UN Secretary General said, “I hope and believe we are on the right path, and that together we can implement a coordinated, balanced and comprehensive approach that leads to sustainable solutions.”

“I know from personal experience how an approach based on prevention and treatment can yield positive results.”

And personal experience is something Mr Guterres has in spades. He was Prime Minister of Portugal at the time the country launched its highly controversial decriminalization programme, which allowed Portugal to swap (most) enforcement and incarceration for drug prevention and treatment projects. Since then, time has proven the worth of Portugal’s efforts: far from being a crime-and-junkie infested country, as opponents of the new policy projected, it saw drug-associated fatalities fall to one of the lowest in Europe and dramatically reduced incidence of drug-related health issues (most notably HIV among injectors).

Portugal took the pressure from individuals and put it on organized crime groups trying to illegally sell their drugs in the country. So, while still capturing and burning a huge amount of illegal drugs, its government allows for possession and use in small quantities (in the sense that you might get a fine but no jail time and nothing goes on your criminal record) so users who need help know they can ask for it without fear of punishment.

Still, while Portugal showed that progress can be made internally by helping rather than punishing drug users, the illegal drugs trade remains an issue that can only be addressed on an international stage. It’s a huge business, and criminals aren’t ones known to readily let go of the empires they so painstakingly raised.

“The nexus between drugs, crime and terrorism and reveals a shifting pattern of relationships,” said Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

“As new threats appear, including spreading methamphetamine and new psychoactive substances, old ones continue to thrive. Business models are evolving too, with cybercrime and the darknet increasingly playing a role.”

Decriminalization won’t solve the drug problem by itself — but it will allow governments to take hold of, regulate, and tax one of the largest sources of income these groups have at their disposals today. At the same time, it will also free up research into currently-classified substances, many of which could have legitimate medical uses.

Crowd.

The UN expects Earth’s 10 billionth inhabitant sometime in the early 2050s

Some 7,5 billion people now call Earth home, but that number may skyrocket to over 10 billion by 2050, the United Nations estimate.

Crowd.

Image via Pixabay.

Just last month, the World Population Clock announced that humanity has passed a huge milestone — the 7,5 billion people mark. While it took us a few thousands of years to get to this figure, it will take us a lot less to reach 10 billion according to a report published yesterday by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. In fact, they estimate that it will only take us a bit over 30 years.

This is the beauty of non-linear growth.

By 2030, Earth could harbor some 8.6 billion people, the report explains. By 2050, this number will likely increase to 9.8 billion, and populations will peak in 2100 at 11.2 billion, it goes on. This estimate is based on the current natality of around 83 million people per year worldwide, which the UN expects to keep driving up population numbers even as overall fertility rates go down.

This growth won’t be evenly spread around the globe, of course. Nigeria for example, which currently boasts world’s 7th largest population but the fastest growth of the world’s most populous countries, is estimated to become the world’s 3rd largest by 2050, a place currently held by the USA. The most populous country today, China, is expected to cede its place to India and sink to the 2nd place in around seven years as its policies limit growth.

Overall, this means that nine countries will concentrate about a half of the population growth estimated between now and the 2050 mark: Nigeria, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United States.

The report doesn’t just look at the flat number of people currently living in the world but also takes into account factors such as fertility, life expectancy, immigration and refugee movements, to paint an accurate picture of how populations will evolve in time. One encouraging find is that although population numbers are on the rise, fertility rates (aka how many kids each couple has) are dropping almost throughout the globe, even in Africa. At the same time, life expectancy has risen globally from 65 to 69 years for men and 69 to 73 years for women, although the UN cautions that there are huge disparities between different countries.

Population Change Report.

Europe stands out a bit from all other areas in the report. With a predominantly old population, high life expectancy, and low fertility, Europe’s population is estimated to remain relatively stable — experiencing a slight drop up to the 2060’s as the older generations pass away, and a slight increase by 2100 close to today’s levels. All other areas are estimated to experience a definite decline in population growth by 2100.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division says that the report could help agencies better tailor and implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

Access to Internet is a basic human right, the UN decides

The UN has ruled that from now on, Internet access will be counted as one of every human’s basic rights. This is stipulated in a freshly passed resolution for the “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet.” The document also condemns any government that willingly disrupts their citizens’ free access to the Internet.

Seattle residents protesting the TPP in February of 2015.
Image via flickr user Backbone Campaign

It’s a great time for the Internet! The resolution passed last Friday by the UN stresses that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online,” lending even more weight to the freedom of expression protected by articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“The resolution is a much-needed response to increased pressure on freedom of expression online in all parts of the world”, said Thomas Hughes, executive director of Article 19, a British organization working to promote freedom of expression and information.

“From impunity for the killings of bloggers to laws criminalising legitimate dissent on social media, basic human rights principles are being disregarded to impose greater controls over the information we see and share online,” he added.

The document is an official recognition of one simple fact: the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool that “facilitates vast opportunities for affordable and inclusive education globally” and we should all be free to access and use it — regardless of what our governments are after or what society thinks our role should be. Increasing Internet access and the spread of technology is one of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as they play a central role in “accelerating human progress.” It highlights a few goals that countries should strive for to ensure freedom of expression on the web:

  • Addressing security concerns in “a way that ensures freedom and security on the Internet.”
  • Creating a framework so that human rights violations and abuses against persons exercising their human rights are accountable by law.
  • Recognizing the importance of online privacy.
  • Recognizing the importance of education for women and girls in relevant technology fields.

The UN’s decision is a huge step forward for those who strive for an Internet where everyone is equal and free, but it’s not a final ruling on the subject. The resolution passed with a majority vote, being supported by 70 countries. It was opposed by countries including Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, which was to be expected given their political climate. What was surprising however was the opposition from democratic countries like South Africa, India or Indonesia. The issue was one of the passages that “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to our dissemination of information online.”

“We are disappointed that democracies like South Africa, Indonesia, and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online…A human rights based approach to providing and expanding Internet access, based on states’ existing international human rights obligations, is essential to achieving the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, and no state should be seeking to slow this down,” Hughes added.

“Governments must now act on the international commitments in this resolution to protect freedom of expression and other human rights online, at all times.”

The biggest shortcoming of the resolution is the fact that it’s non-binding in nature — it can’t be enforced legally. Such a high-level ruling is bound to create awareness worldwide, giving the public some solid footing to deal with their governments on this issue. Until the UN comes to a final legally binding decision, however, it’s only going to be a tiny foothold.

 

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 11

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from COP21, in Paris — Day 11.

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 10

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from COP21, in Paris — Day 10.

COP21 Live Blog: Day 9

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from the COP21 Conference in Paris, Day 5

Pregnancy related deaths down by half in the last 25 years

Between reports of melting icecaps, starving polar bears and reports of food shortages, it’s easy to become pessimistic about life. But it’s not all bad, as a recently released report by the UN, published in The Lancet, shows how pregnancy-related deaths have fallen almost by half in the past 25 years.

Maternal mortality rates are down by half since 1990.
Image via flikr

Around 303,000 women died of complications during pregnancy or up to six weeks after giving birth in 2015 – down from 532,000 in 1990. While only nine countries hit the target set by the UN, WHO (World Health Organization) officials consider the results indicative of “huge progress” overall, with 39 countries dramatically lowering the number of pregnancy-related deaths.

“This report will show that by the end of 2015 maternal mortality will have dropped by 44% from its levels from 1990,” said Dr Lale Say, coordinator for reproductive health and research at the WHO.

But she warned that the progress was “uneven” – with 99% of deaths happening in developing countries.

“Many countries with high maternal death rates will make little progress, or will fall behind, over the next 15 years if we don’t improve the current number of available midwives and other health workers with midwifery skills,” said Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund.

Eastern Asia saw the greatest improvement, with maternal mortality falling from approximately 95 to 27 per 100,000 live births. The UN now aims to reduce the global ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 by 2030.

Source: Borgen Magazine

UN: fewer hungry people worldwide, but still a long way to go

The number of hungry people worldwide has dropped to 800 million, down from a billion more than a quarter century ago. Progress in Latin America and East Asia accounts for the massive reduction in the number of undernourished people, but the UN warns there are still many challenges that need to be overcome if world hunger is to end by 2030. The report proposes rich countries divert more of their resources to poorer environments, while vulnerable countries need to invest more in social protection schemes, incentives for rural areas and promote peace in conflict ridden countries like those in Africa.  Sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest level of undernourishment in the world – almost one in four people there do not have access to enough food.

795 million people do not have enough food enough to eat

Source: Borgen Magazine

Source: Borgen Magazine

According to the report released by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), half of the world’s poor living in middle-income countries. This naturally entails income inequality is the biggest factor that needs to be revised and addressed. Developing countries, on the other hand, have been significant progress since 1990. Some 23.3 percent of all undernourished people lived in the developing world 25 years ago, but now this has dropped to 12.9 percent. This can be accounted by the progress made  in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. China, for instance, accounts for two-thirds of the reduction which the country achieved by tax excepts and and financial incentives for businesses expanding in rural areas.

“Across the developing world, the majority of the poor and most of the hungry live in rural areas, where family farming and smallholder agriculture is a prevailing – albeit not universal – mode of farm organisation,” the report said.

hungry people in the world

China’s example serves a model for other countries in the same situation today, the UN says. Governments should invest wisely in programs that create jobs and social mobility opportunity for the three billion people living worldwide.

Countries in Latin America have experienced significant economic growth since 1990 following structural reforms with the aim of creating more stable economies. Though inequality is still rampant in countries like Brasil or Ecuador, the UN report praises growth distribution programs like social security measures. Together, these social programs have kept 150 million from falling into poverty. However, 70% of the global population lacks access to some form of social security. There would be far fewer hungry people were social security widespread.

So, all in all, there UN reports speaks of  some goods news and some bad news. The good news is that there are 200 million fewer people living undernourished than before despite natural disasters, ongoing conflicts and poverty. The bad news is that it could have been a lot better, by UN accounts, since countries failed to drop to half of the 1990 rate as previously agreed. At least 72 countries have met the millennium development goal (MDG) to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of undernourished people, the FAO said. The total number of countries who fitted in the MDG goal is 129, though.

Africa seems to be much worse than 1990. Back then, 12 countries across the continent were facing food crises. Now, there are twice as many, including 19 that have been in crisis for more than eight of the previous 10 years. As if the worst Ebola outbreak wasn’t enough. But maybe it’s unfair to mention Ebola, after all it’s just a virus. Hunger and poverty are not exactly accidents. Their measurable and predictable consequences of bad governance, war and greed. I still feel, however, that the report is overall optimistic.

FAO’s director general, José Graziano da Silva. said: “The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the zero hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

Ecuador will receive 3.6 billion $ not to drill for oil in a historic pact

The race for oil drilling is tougher than ever, and the effects are quite often extremely damaging for the environment (I’m sure pretty much everybody knows about the BP oil spill already). However, the UN has come up with an initiative, the first of its kind, that promises to protect at least a handful of special environments. Such is the case with the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador.

The Park is one of the most biologically diverse parts of the Amazon rainforest, and the Ecuadorian government signed not to destroy this pristine landscape at least for a decade, in the exchange of 3.6 billion dollars. The deal finalized, and U.N. Development Program associate administrator Rebeca Grynspan issued this statement:

We are witnessing the inauguration of new instruments of cooperation, which will act as a basis for supporting other national and international efforts directed toward the search for economies that are in harmony with society, nature and the planet.

With the sum being quite significant for Ecuador, they would probably made twice as much (or even more) from exploiting the oil located beneath the Yasuni Park – but at a huge cost. Currently, the U.N. are trying to work out similar arrangements with countries who plan on drilling in such areas.

The girl who silenced the world for five minutes

Her name is Severn Suzuki, and here you have one of perhaps the most impressive speeches of all time, delivered by her (only a 12 year old at the time) at a UN meeting, at the Earth Summit in 1992.

[After 5 minutes]

An incredible story

Severn Suzuki was born in a remarkable family, with her mother being a writer, and her father being a genetician and environmental activist. She showed extreme determination and leadership at an age (9) where other children are still learning how to play with toys, by founding the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO) – a group of children who wanted to learn more about the environment and teach other children about it.

When she was 12, she raised money with other children from ECO to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where that clip is taken from. Along with group members Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttil, and Morgan Geisler, Severn Suzuki attendend the summit, where she presented environmental issues that affect the world from a child’s perspective; she was applauded by summit members for minutes, and the video of her speech became one of the most inspiring ever.

Furthermore, one year later she published a book, Tell the World, which presents easy environmental steps to take for every family out there.

Where is Severn Suzuki now

severn-suzuki-2007

In case you’re wondering what she’s up to nowadays, she graduated from Yale in 2002, and now she’s an environmental activist, and even had her own show for children on Discovery. She was involved in an internet-based think tank which was used as an advisor for Kofi Annan, but the project was disbanded when she continued her education.

I’ve searched all over the internet but couldn’t find a way to contact her in the hope that maybe she could share a few words with us. If you know or happen to stumble upon an email address or something, it’d be really great; once again, we would like to bow our heads to Severn Suzuki, and the things she has accomplished along the years.