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How this week’s UN summit could help mend world’s broken food systems

A United Nations summit on the state of the world’s food systems opens today in Rome, Italy, a gathering that comes amid mounting concerns about the planet’s long-term ability to feed a fast-growing human population.

At the UN Food Systems Summit +2 Stocktaking Moment, delegates from across the planet are expected to discuss the often-devastating environmental impact of agriculture and how to make food production more sustainable.

The event is a follow-up to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, a landmark gathering that launched a global drive to transform the way humanity grows, processes and transports food.

To better understand what is at stake at the gathering this week, we spoke with Susan Gardner, Director of the Ecosystems Division at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The UN Secretary-General has said the world needs to quickly overhaul the way it produces food. What are we doing so wrong?

Susan Gardner (SG): Our food systems right now are unsustainable. They are a major contributor to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. For example, agriculture alone generates about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions globally. As once-wild spaces are turned into pastures and cropland, it is also responsible for over 60 per cent of biodiversity loss. To top that all off, one-third of all food produced is wasted, needlessly taxing an already stressed planet. 

What are the long-term implications of all that?

SG: Food systems and nature are interlinked. Nature provides us with essential ecological services that make food production possible. That includes everything from pollination to pest control to water stability to soil fertility. We must stop nature’s decline,  in order to feed ourselves in the years to come.

There are 8 billion people on this planet, hundreds of millions of whom are already hungry. Is there a danger that by making dramatic changes to our food systems we might make hunger and malnutrition worse?

SG: Changes to our food systems, when done with careful planning, can actually help alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Sustainable food systems prioritize diverse and nutritious crops, local production and farming practices that can withstand climate change. By promoting things like agroecology, regenerative agriculture and sustainable fisheries, we can increase food production while preserving ecosystems. This will reduce the risk of food scarcity and improve food security for vulnerable people.

Transforming our food systems: Feeding the world while nourishing the planet

The UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 centered on making food production less damaging to the planet. This week’s gathering in Rome will focus on the progress the world has made since then. How do you think we’re doing?

SG: There is much more work yet to be done but the signs are promising. One-quarter of countries have signaled publicly that there’s a need to reform their food systems, opening an important public discourse. And over the past two years, the UN Food Systems Task Force, co-chaired by UNEP and the World Health Organization, has helped countries begin the complicated process of reforming the way they produce food. We are seeing examples of states expanding their national development plans to include strategies for transforming their food systems. Some countries have also begun considering how changes to their food systems could impact their nationally determined contributions, the targets that are at the heart of the Paris climate change agreement.

One issue likely to come up in Rome is agricultural subsidies, which have been called damaging to the planet. How can states better spend this money? 

SG: Right now,  agricultural producers receive US$540 billion a year in financial support from states. The vast majority of that – some 87 per cent – either distorts prices or is harmful to nature and human health. In 2021, UNEP published a report, along with other UN partners, that called on governments to rethink the way agriculture is subsidized. By redirecting agricultural subsidies towards sustainable practices, small-scale farmers, research and innovation, rural infrastructure and nutrition, states can foster a more equitable and resilient food system.

In policy circles, there has been much talk about Indigenous food systems and how they often provide more nutrition and are easier on the planet. But how can we translate those systems, which tend to be smaller, into a global model that can feed the world?

SG: Indigenous communities hold a wealth of knowledge that can contribute greatly to our understanding of issues, such as sustainable farming techniques and seed preservation. But despite their immense cultural value, indigenous food systems are being eroded at an alarming pace. That’s because global agricultural systems are increasingly prizing just a few staple crops, specifically maize, wheat and rice. Investing in research and development specific to indigenous food systems can unlock their potential for wider application. This includes studying traditional crop varieties for their nutritional value, drought and pest resistance, and adaptation to climate change. By combining traditional wisdom with scientific advancements, we can develop crops and farming methods that are both sustainable and scalable.

The Rome meeting has been called a “make-or-break” moment for our food systems. What does a successful Stocktaking Moment look like to you?

SG: We are at a crossroads. There is no real alternative other than a strong, coordinated response to what is a deepening crisis. There are some tangible outcomes that we would like to see emerge from the discussion in Rome. Those include commitments to data-driven agricultural best practices that promote both human and ecosystem health . We’d also like to see increased support for farmers who want to transition from monocultures to more diverse and sustainable farming systems. And, we would like to see these practices integrated into national plans for agriculture, climate change and biodiversity preservation.

Are you optimistic that the world will be able to transform its food systems, especially with the clock ticking?

SG: I am. The task ahead of us is not easy. But by working collectively we can make our food systems more sustainable and resilient to climate change. That will ultimately help us make significant progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, creating a better future for us all.

Original Post

Pioneering Moroccan solar plant step towards a “greener world”

United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen recently visited the Noor power plant in Morocco, one of the largest solar facilities in the world.

Located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, the plant produces 580 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the homes of 2.3 million people.

The facility is part of a larger push by Morocco to develop clean energy and Andersen called it a “step into a greener world.

“Climate justice and access to energy go hand in hand,” said Andersen during her visit. “Let’s make sure that we show the world that [renewable energy] is entirely doable, possible and indeed feasible, and that it’s not only the right thing to do, it is very much the smart thing to do.”

The world’s largest solar plant shows #renewableenergy is “doable, possible and feasible” #cop28

Original Post

Strengthening Disease Surveillance in Africa: A Landmark Health Security Partnership

In a groundbreaking move to safeguard public health in Africa, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) have unveiled the Health Security Partnership. This crucial collaboration aims to fortify disease surveillance and epidemic intelligence across the continent, bolstering Africa’s health security capabilities. In this blog post, we delve into the significance of this initiative and its potential impact on the region’s health.

Strengthened Disease Surveillance: A Cornerstone of Health Security:

With a focus on biosecurity, integrated disease surveillance, event-based surveillance, genomic surveillance, and epidemic intelligence, the Health Security Partnership recognizes the pivotal role of disease surveillance in ensuring effective health security. While significant progress has been made in this area over the past decade, Africa still faces a higher number of outbreaks and health emergencies, many of which could be averted through proven public health interventions.

Addressing Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic:

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of robust public health surveillance systems. It revealed the need for advancements in data collection, management, reporting, and dissemination to enable evidence-based policymaking during health security crises. The Health Security Partnership aims to build on these lessons and enhance Africa’s preparedness and response capabilities.

Key Objectives of the Health Security Partnership:

  1. Improved Integrated Disease Surveillance: The partnership will work towards better detection, confirmation, and notification of health security threats through enhanced integrated disease surveillance systems.
  2. Multi-Country Implementation: In its initial phase, the project will be implemented in six African Union Member States, including The Gambia, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, and South Africa. It will later expand to include more countries, fostering a collaborative and continent-wide approach to health security.
  3. Collaboration with WHO and RKI: The Health Security Partnership will leverage the expertise of the WHO’s Regional Offices for Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, along with the Robert Koch Institute, to strengthen health systems and promote regional cooperation in Africa.
  4. Emergency Preparedness and Response: By building and pooling capabilities and expertise for disease surveillance and epidemic intelligence, the partnership aims to enhance Africa’s emergency preparedness and response mechanisms.
  5. Funding and Support: Funded by the Government of Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program and aligned with the health security objectives of the G7-led Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, the partnership signifies a collective commitment to collaboration and support for Africa’s health security.

The Health Security Partnership forged between Africa CDC, WHO, and RKI represents a momentous step towards strengthening disease surveillance in Africa. With a focus on integrated surveillance, regional cooperation, and emergency preparedness, this collaboration aims to protect the health of millions across the continent. By pooling capabilities, expertise, and resources, the partnership stands poised to revolutionize disease surveillance and epidemic intelligence in Africa, creating a more resilient and secure health system for the future. Together, we can build a healthier Africa, ready to face any health challenges that may come its way.

Original Post on the WHO Website

El Niño brewing in Pacific raises prospect of record-breaking heat

Climactic event will almost certainly strengthen throughout the year, US climate scientists predict

Mild El Niño climatic conditions brewing in the Pacific Ocean will strengthen throughout the year, with an outside chance of a record-breaking event that will further turbocharge already sweltering temperatures around the globe, scientists have forecast.

Last month saw a “weak” El Niño form, a periodic climatic event where the circulation of the equatorial Pacific Ocean shifts and its temperature rises, causing knock-on heat around the world, according to an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

This Niño, which has replaced a three-year period of its reverse condition, La Niña, which typically cools the globe, will almost certainly strengthen throughout the year, with an 81% chance it will peak with a “moderate to strong intensity” between November and January, Noaa said.

There is a one-in-five chance that this event will be of “historic” strength, rivaling the major one experienced in 1997, Noaa said. Even if the record is not threatened, however, “El Niños tend to elevate global mean temperatures, so I would not expect this event to be an exception,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a Noaa meteorologist.

The developing event has been closely watched by scientists as it is compounding the excess heat spurred by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. Last week was, preliminary data suggests, the hottest week ever reliably recorded, following a June that was the hottest ever documented globally.

More than 100 million people in the US are currently under heat warnings, with scorching conditions felt across Texas and the south-west in recent weeks. Heatwaves have also roiled China, India, parts of Europe and the Arctic.

What you need to know about the ‘extreme’ heatwave hitting our oceans – video explainer

The danger is not limited to the US

The heat is not confined to the land, with Noaa confirming on Thursday that ocean surface temperatures were at a record high for a third consecutive month in June, with marine heatwaves sweeping the North Atlantic to the UK, as well as imperiling ailing coral reefs found off Florida.

The developing Niño is likely to push the world towards even more record-breaking temperatures, scientists warn, as the tangible impacts of the climate crisis continue to unfold.

“We have a major El Niño event on our hands, it will certainly continue to develop, and it will almost certainly contribute to 2023 being the hottest year on record,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The combination of human-caused warming and this emerging event is already wreaking havoc across the northern hemisphere this summer in the form of record heat, drought, wildfires and floods.”

Original Post on the Gaurdian Website

Heat waves are getting worse. Here’s how to prepare.

On a recent Monday in late June, the mercury in Phoenix, Arizona, was set to reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit—with even hotter weather on the way. Summers in Phoenix have always been scorchers, but it wasn’t until 2021 that the city set up the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.

“We’ve seen a really significant rise in heat-associated deaths, ” said David Hondula, the new office’s director.

Like many parts of the world, Phoenix is seeing more intense warmth driven by climate change. Across the U.S., heat waves have become longer, hotter, and more frequent in recent decades. So, it would follow that the risk of heat-related deaths and illnesses could go up, too.

But Phoenix’s increase in deaths, Hondula said, is related to socioeconomic inequities such as access to an air-conditioned home or car. He pointed to a rise in the number of unsheltered people as a key factor.

While heat waves may worsen, public health crises are preventable. That’s why many cities and states are developing early warning systems, more public education, and community resources such as cooling centers where people can escape oppressive temperatures.

For individuals, the heat safety advice may sound familiar: limit outdoor activity, especially at peak midday temperatures; stay hydrated; and cool off at a public place like a library or heat-relief shelter if you don’t have air conditioning at home.

Such tips “all sound like kind of penetrating glimpses into the obvious, but we still have to point them out, because we keep seeing people die during these extreme heat events,” said Jeremy Hess, an environmental health scientist at the University of Washington.

In the longer term, measures such as planting trees for shade and installing reflective cool roofs in certain places can help build resilience against hot weather in homes and communities. For the here and now, here’s how to keep cool.

Why is heat dangerous?

Hess recently released a report highlighting how serious, direct reactions such as heat stroke are only one health hazard from heat. Heat can exacerbate chronic conditions such as heart disease, which accounted for a quarter of heat-related deaths in the U.S. between 1999 and 2018.

“In some studies, the number of people who have chronic disease exacerbations related to heat actually outnumber the acute heat illness cases,” Hess said. Drowning accidents, too, go up during heat waves, as people head to pools and bodies of water to cool off.

(Learn more about how heat affects the body.)

Other vulnerable groups include outdoor workers, pregnant people, the elderly, children and infants, people experiencing homelessness, and those who use drugs and alcohol. About half the heat deaths in Phoenix, Hondula said, are associated with substance use.

High humidity coupled with high temperatures poses an increased danger, since the humid air makes it harder for sweat to evaporate and cool the body.

How to protect yourself 

Monitor forecasts including the heat index for your area so that you know when intense weather is coming and can plan accordingly.

If you can, limit time outdoors and avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day. Those heat index ratings? They pertain to shady areas. In direct sunlight, the value can increase up to 15°F, according to the National Weather Service.

Avoid sugar, caffeine, and alcohol in drinks, all of which will make you lose fluids. Drink plenty of water, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to do it. Hess said electrolyte drinks can be helpful in rehydrating, especially during sustained activity, but you don’t need to seek out a certain brand: lightly salted water is good.

Either way, drink the water you have, and carry plenty with you if you’re going out in nature. For hikers in the Phoenix area, the city recommends carrying 16 to 32 ounces per hour per person.

Wear light-colored, lightweight clothes. When outside, seek shade where possible; wear sunblock; and bring a hat or parasol.

How to protect your home 

Keep blinds drawn and use window reflectors. Avoid using heat-emitting appliances like ovens and stoves. Where possible, use weather stripping and insulation to keep cool air in and hot air out. If investing in home efficiency is out of reach, investigate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and similar programs in your area that might subsidize costs.

A 2019 study from the University of Sydney confirmed that using an electric fan is beneficial when it’s hot and humid, but may be harmful when it’s both very hot and very dry.

Hondula’s team used this and related research from the university’s Ollie Jay as the basis for an infographic with pros and cons of different low-cost or no-cost ways to cool down.

Soaking feet in cool water, ice towels, and wet clothing can all be effective strategies. Other ideas only work in certain conditions. Evaporative coolers (also known as swamp coolers), are cheaper than air conditioning to run, but they won’t help when it’s very humid.

Dehumidifiers may help with comfort, but don’t expect them to lower room temperatures.

What to do when things heat up 

“It’s important to recognize that heat is a really dangerous hazard when people aren’t protected from it,” Hess said.

When heat exhaustion sets in, symptoms include nausea, headache, and fatigue. At that point, experts recommend cooling down quickly to prevent heat stroke. The two major signs of heat stroke, Hess said, are an elevated body temperature and confusion or delirium. If you see these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Seek a cooling center if your home gets too hot. Air conditioning is obviously effective at cooling, but not everyone has it—and for some people who do, running it may be prohibitively expensive.

“There are definitely caveats with air conditioning. It’s expensive to install, and it requires more electricity than other measures to operate,” Hess said. “In public health, we’re reluctant to emphasize air conditioning as a primary strategy.”

Places like libraries, shopping malls, or community centers can provide relief. Public cooling centers, hydration stations, and ways to reach them are all part of the effort to keep people safe in Phoenix.

“We’ll be talking to a couple living in their vehicle in a parking lot, and they didn’t realize the building right next to where they’re parked is open to go in and cool off for a couple hours,” Hondula said.

Hess noted that evenings can be a vulnerable time for elders because heat accumulates throughout the day, particularly in cities, and people may stop contact in the late afternoon, thinking that the worst of the heat has passed.

Hondula echoed this caution. “It doesn’t take very long to transition from being in a good situation to not a good situation,” he said. “We can’t check on each other too much on our hottest days.”

Credit to National Geographic website.
Original Article

Protecting the Environment and Human Health: Restricting PFHxS under the Stockholm Convention

perfluorohexane-sulfonic-acid-PFHxS

Feedback by Brussels for Human Rights and Development to the European commission regarding an initiative to include perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), its salts, and related compounds under the restrictions of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.

Brussels for Human Rights and Development Applauds European Commission’s Initiative In a significant move towards safeguarding the environment and protecting human health, the European Commission has taken an important step by including perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), its salts, and related compounds under the restrictions of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. Brussels for Human Rights and Development welcomes this initiative and recognizes the critical role it plays in addressing the harmful effects of these toxic substances.

Understanding PFHxS and Its Impacts:

PFHxS is a persistent organic pollutant with widespread use in various industrial and consumer products, such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and fire-fighting foams. Unfortunately, its presence poses a significant threat to wildlife and human health due to its bioaccumulation in the environment, leading to endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity.

The Importance of Stockholm Convention Inclusion:

By including PFHxS under the restrictions of the Stockholm Convention, the regulation (EU) 2019/1021 will introduce vital limitations on the production, use, and release of this hazardous substance. This step is crucial in reducing PFHxS’s overall presence in the environment and preventing further harm to wildlife and human health.

Ensuring Effective Implementation and Enforcement:

While applauding this regulation, we raise concerns regarding its implementation at the national level. The success of this initiative heavily relies on the effectiveness of its enforcement and monitoring by member states. To ensure the desired outcomes, it is essential that adequate resources and capacities are provided for monitoring and enforcing the restrictions imposed on PFHxS and its related compounds.

Promoting Safer Alternatives:

In addition to effective implementation, it is crucial to consider alternative, safer, and more sustainable options to PFHxS in the production of industrial and consumer goods. The phase-out of PFHxS should be accompanied by the promotion and development of alternative technologies and materials that are safe for both the environment and human health.

Supporting the Regulation’s Implementation:

Brussels for Human Rights and Development fully supports the regulation’s inclusion of PFHxS under the restrictions of the Stockholm Convention. We strongly hope that this initiative will be effectively implemented and enforced, leading to a reduction in PFHxS’s presence in the environment. Furthermore, we emphasize the need to prioritize the development of alternative, safer, and more sustainable options to replace PFHxS in the future.

in conclusion, The inclusion of PFHxS under the Stockholm Convention restrictions marks a crucial milestone in the protection of the environment and human health. While Brussels for Human Rights and Development welcomes this initiative, we stress the importance of effective implementation and enforcement at the national level. Additionally, we urge the exploration and adoption of safer alternatives to PFHxS, ensuring a sustainable and healthier future for both the planet and its inhabitants.

Feedback on the european commission website:
https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/13425-Persistent-organic-pollutants-perfluorohexane-sulfonic-acid-PFHxS-/F3383023_en

Feedback by Brussels for Human Rights and Developments on “Single-use plastic beverage bottles EU rules for calculating, verifying and reporting on recycled plastic content”.

Brussels for Human Rights and Developments (BHRD) welcomes the European Commission’s draft act on Single-use plastic beverage bottles EU rules for calculating, verifying and reporting on recycled plastic content. We believe that the act is a significant step forward in the EU’s efforts to reduce plastic waste and promote the circular economy.

We support the following key provisions of the draft act:

-The requirement that all producers of single-use plastic beverage bottles in the EU must calculate the recycled plastic content of their products.
-The requirement that producers verify the accuracy of their recycled plastic content calculations. The requirement that producers report their recycled plastic content calculations to the European Commission.

We believe that these provisions will help to increase the transparency of the recycled plastic market and make it easier for producers to find and use recycled materials. We also believe that these provisions will help to reduce plastic waste incineration and landfill.

We have a few suggestions for improving the draft act:

-We suggest that the act be extended to include other single-use plastic products, such as straws, stirrers, and cutlery.
-We suggest that the act include a requirement for producers to use recycled plastic in their products. We suggest that the act include a financial incentive for producers to use recycled plastic in their products.
-We believe that these suggestions would further strengthen the act and help to achieve its objectives. We thank the European Commission for its work on this important issue.
-We look forward to working with the Commission to ensure that the act is adopted and implemented effectively.

In addition to the above, we would like to highlight the following specific concerns:

-The draft act does not include any provisions to address the human rights impacts of plastic production and disposal. We believe that it is important to ensure that the transition to a circular economy does not lead to new human rights abuses, such as forced labor or environmental degradation.
-The draft act does not include any provisions to address the issue of plastic pollution in developing countries. We believe that it is important to ensure that the EU’s efforts to reduce plastic waste do not lead to a disproportionate burden being placed on developing countries.

We urge the European Commission to address these concerns in the final version of the act.

The Feedback on the European Commission Website

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

Whenever and wherever humanity’s values are abandoned, we all are at greater risk. The solutions to today’s greatest crises are rooted in human rights.
Rights violations reverberate across borders and across generations. These can be, must be, collectively overcome.

#HUMAN RIGHYS DAY

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

We need to stand up for our rights and those of others.
The UDHR calls upon everybody to stand up for human rights. We all have a role to play.

We need an economy that invests in human rights and works for everyone.
We need to renew the social contract between Governments and their people and within societies, so as to rebuild trust and embrace a shared and comprehensive vision of human rights on the road to a just and sustainable development.

#HumanRightsDay

The UDHR enshrines the rights of all human beings

common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations

As a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, the UDHR is a global blueprint for international, national, and local laws and policies and a bedrock of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development explicitly recognizes it is grounded in UDHR and has to be implemented in a manner that realizes human rights.