Forests and other ecosystems have been neglected in efforts to fight global warming, say officials and activists, calling for a joined-up approach to tackling biodiversity and climate crises.
BARCELONA, Dec 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Five years ago, when the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was adopted, storing planet-warming carbon in ecosystems such as tropical forests, wetlands and coastal mangroves was not seen as a major part of the solution.
Now officials and environmentalists say goals to limit global temperature rise cannot be met without nature’s help.
Ahead of a U.N. “Climate Ambition Summit” to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris accord on Saturday, held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they said threats to plants, wildlife, human health and the climate should be confronted together.
“It is time for nature to have a more prominent role in climate discussions and solutions,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, which works with scientists, indigenous people and conservation groups.
“Global leaders can no longer deal with the climate and biodiversity crises in isolation if we are to be successful in addressing either of them,” he added in a statement.
It noted scientific estimates that protecting the planet’s ecosystems could provide at least a third of the reductions in emissions needed by 2030 to meet the aims of the Paris pact.
Under that deal, nearly 200 countries agreed to limit the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5C above preindustrial times.
But the Earth has already heated up by about 1.2C and is on track to warm by more than 3C by the end of the century, the United Nations said this week.
Understanding has accelerated in recent years about the crucial role ecosystems on land and sea play in absorbing carbon emitted by human activities – mainly from burning fossil fuels – and curbing potentially catastrophic planetary heating.
In 2019, a U.N. climate science report said the way the world manages land, and how food is produced and consumed, had to change to curb global warming – or food security, health and biodiversity would be at risk.
Zac Goldsmith, Britain’s minister for the international environment and climate, said nature had been “left behind” and life on the planet was being exhausted at a “terrifying speed”, as forests were cut down and seas polluted.
“We are denuding the world at a rate that would have seemed impossible to humans a century ago,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As host of the next major U.N. climate negotiations in November 2021, in Glasgow, the British government has vowed to put protection for forests and natural systems firmly on the political agenda.
Goldsmith said the COP26 team was aiming to build a global coalition of governments and businesses committed to preventing deforestation in supply chains.
That follows a proposed new UK law requiring large companies to ensure the commodities they use – such as cocoa, rubber, soy and palm oil – are not linked to illegal forest clearing.
Britain also will push for countries to phase out close to $700 billion in annual subsidies worldwide for land use that harms the environment and degrades carbon-storing soils, such as intensive farming, he added.
That money could be redirected into efforts to safeguard ecosystems – something sorely needed as less than 3% of international climate finance from donor governments and development banks is spent on that purpose, Goldsmith said.
Financial markets, meanwhile, have yet to recognise the value of nature or the true cost of destroying it.
U.N. officials working on a new large-scale effort to channel payments to tropical countries and smaller jurisdictions that lock up carbon in rainforests hope to start turning that problem around by COP26.
Last month, they launched a “Green Gigaton Challenge” that aims to catalyse funding for 1 billion tonnes of high-quality emissions reductions a year by 2025 from forests in regions including the Amazon and Congo Basin.
Doing so would cut emissions by the equivalent of taking 80% of cars off American roads, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Tim Christophersen, head of nature for climate at UNEP, said the initiative was spurred by surging business interest in forest protection as a growing number of large firms commit to cutting their emissions to net zero by mid-century or earlier.
That means companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce and Disney need to offset emissions they cannot eliminate themselves by paying to reduce them elsewhere, through projects such as restoring degraded forests.
Under the gigaton challenge, donor governments will invest public money to put a floor under the price per tonne of carbon stored – which could be about $10-$15 – aimed at rewarding successful nature protection efforts that companies will eventually pay even more to back.
Countries including Costa Rica and Chile have shown interest in participating, but deals have yet to be brokered between forest-nation governments and the private sector.
Over the past decade, U.N. agencies have worked to develop the basis for a robust market in forest carbon offsets – but without firm international rules, carbon prices have not risen high enough to provide an incentive to keep trees standing.
“There is a need for countries to see some sort of reward for results” at a price that makes protecting forests financially viable, said Gabriel Labbate, UNEP’s team leader for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).
The United Nations and others are still waiting for governments to iron out differences over a system to use carbon credits to meet emissions reduction targets under the Paris pact.
Christophersen warned that companies – especially in the oil and gas industry – should not see supporting forest protection as an alternative to slashing their own emissions.
“Nature is not a substitute for emissions reductions in other areas, and in particular for getting off fossil fuels,” he said.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our own rights and those of others. We can take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the kinship of all human beings.
Hard work in completing scientific research and reaching creative solutions using the Young Scientists Center’s latest technologies resulted in Qatar University bags six prizes at global innovation contest. It is told in The Peninsula of 7 December 2020.
The Qatari pride was expressly reconfirmed in the country’s continuous support to all leaders of development and pioneers of the knowledge-based economy to fulfil Qatar National Vision 2030.
Doha: Four distinguished scientific projects of Qatar University’s (QU) Young Scientists Center (YSC) won six international prizes at the International Invention, Innovation & Technology Exhibition in Malaysia (ITEX).
The event was organised in cooperation with the International Federation of Inventors’ Associations and the Institute of Engineering and Technology. This achievement, which represents the State of Qatar and QU, was achieved in a strong competition that included 250 entries.
ITEX is an international competition held online this year, which targets school students and university students. This competition has several rules and guidelines that determine the type of projects that are qualified and the categories in which they can participate and compete. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity for all participating inventors to gain recognition for their inventions and showcase their innovative projects, and compete globally through the platform that it provides to them. Four groups of students affiliated with the centre’s programmes participated in projects developed at Qatar University laboratories using the latest equipment and research methods.
Sarah Al Obaidly, a student at the College of Engineering, and Maryam Al Kuwari, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Qatar University, affiliated with the ‘I am a Researcher’ programme, won the gold medal and an award in the “Top Three of Excellence” category, for a project titled “Functionalized polymer membrane for wastewater treatment, whose importance lies in purifying water from impurities.”
High school students Tamim Al Rashed and Youssef Al Mahmoud from Qatar Banking Studies and Business Administration school won the gold medal for a hydrogel sensor for agricultural applications that aims to improve soil properties and fertility.
Abdullah Al Janahi and Abdullah Al Nasr, Qatar Science and Technology school students, won the gold medal for a project entitled Intelligent and Robust Composite Nanofibers for the Autonomy of Electronic Devices.
As for the preparatory stage, Ahmed Majed and Ahmed Salama from Al Kaaban preparatory school for boys won a bronze medal and an award in the “Top Three of Excellence” category for a project titled ‘COVID-19 pandemic inspired at home innovation: Through an unconventional remote educational model executed by the Qatar University Young Scientists Center’. This project demonstrates the novel and effective educational methods applied by the centre to face the challenges of distance learning and to ensure students learn in a way that stimulates creativity and innovation.
The students’ outstanding success was pleasing to the sponsoring programme of the centre, “Ras Laffan Industrial City Community Outreach Program”. Their pride was expressed in the outcomes of hard work in completing scientific research and reaching creative solutions using the Young Scientists Center’s latest technologies at Qatar University. The programme affirmed its continuous support to all students to become the leaders of development in the country and pioneers of the knowledge-based economy to fulfil Qatar National Vision 2030.
Qatar firms’ failure to pay leaves migrant workers destitute – report that details how ‘Despite government measures, thousands left struggling during Covid outbreak as companies withhold salaries and benefits, research shows’
Companies in Qatar have failed to pay “hundreds of millions of dollars” in salaries and other benefits to low-wage workers since the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research by the human rights group Equidem.
In its report, Equidem describes how thousands of workers have been dismissed without notice, put on reduced wages or unpaid leave, denied outstanding salary and end of service payments, or forced to pay for their own flights home.
The report’s findings appear to amount to “wage theft” on an unprecedented scale, leaving “worker after worker” destitute, short of food and unable to send money home during the pandemic, in one of the richest countries in the world.Advertisement
“I came here to work for my family, not to be a beggar living on my own,” said a cleaner from Bangladesh, who said he had not received his salary for four months.
In separate research, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre found that unpaid or delayed wages were cited by workers in 87% of cases of alleged labour abuse affecting almost 12,000 workers since 2016.
Equidem praises some measures put in place by the Qatar government during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the government made it mandatory for companies to continue to pay workers in quarantine or government-imposed isolation, and set up a £625m loan scheme to help companies do so, but the report warns of “widespread failure to comply” with this and other regulations.
The government later permitted companies that had stopped operating due to Covid restrictions to put workers on unpaid leave or terminate their contracts as long as they complied with requirements of the labour law, including giving a notice period and paying outstanding benefits.
The report highlights a number of companies that exploited or ignored this directive. Up to 2,000 workers employed by one construction company were laid off on the spot, workers claim. Most did not receive their outstanding salary or end of service settlement, a payment equivalent to three weeks’ salary for each full year of work.
“Many migrant workers are in an extremely vulnerable position with no real ability to assert their rights or seek remedy for violations,” says the report.
Mustafa Qadri, the director of Equidem, said the lack of a lawful right to organise or join a trade union has been particularly damaging. “It has prevented workers from having a seat at the table with government and employers to negotiate an equitable share of funds,” he said.
The report describes similar findings in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as policies in response to the pandemic which amount to racial discrimination. In both countries, the authorities required private companies to continue to provide wages and benefits to nationals, but allowed them to reduce wages or stop paying non-nationals.
In a statement, the Qatar government said its response to the pandemic, “has been driven by the highest international standards of public health policy and the protection of human rights”.
The government has provided free testing and treatment and said, “employers failing to pay their staff on time or withholding end of service payments have faced disciplinary action, including heavy fines and bans that prevent them from operating”.
Unlike traditional devices, the artificial hand can be customised for children and youths, who otherwise require an expensive series of resized models as they grow up.
The company Cure Bionics also has plans to develop a video game-like virtual reality system that helps youngsters learn how to use the artificial hand through physical therapy.
Mohamed Dhaouafi, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Cure Bionics, designed his first prototype while still an engineering student in his home city Sousse.
“One team member had a cousin who was born without a hand and whose parents couldn’t afford a prosthesis, especially as she was still growing up,” he said.
“So we decided to design a hand.”
Dhaouafi launched his start-up in 2017 from his parents’ home, at a time when many of his classmates chose to move abroad seeking higher salaries and international experience.
“It was like positive revenge,” he told AFP. “I wanted to prove I could do it. I also want to leave a legacy, to change people’s lives.”
Dhaouafi pointed to hurdles in Tunisia, where it can be hard or impossible to order parts via large online sales sites. There is a lack of funding and, he said, “we lack visionaries within the state”.
But by pooling money raised through sponsored competitions and seed investment from a US company, he was able to recruit four young engineers.
They are now fine-tuning designs, writing code and testing the artificial hand.
‘Climb like Spiderman’
The device works with sensors attached to the arm that detect muscle movement, and AI-assisted software that interprets them to transmit instructions to the digits.
The hand itself has a wrist that can turn sideways, a mechanical thumb and fingers that bend at the joints in response to the electronic impulses.
To teach youngsters how to use them, Cure has been working on a virtual-reality headset that “gamifies” the physical therapy process.
“Currently, for rehabilitation, children are asked to pretend to open a jar, for example, with the hand they no longer have,” said Dhaouafi.
“It takes time to succeed in activating the muscles this way. It’s not intuitive, and it’s very boring.”
In Cure’s version, the engineer said: “We get them to climb up buildings like Spiderman, with a game score to motivate them, and the doctor can follow up online from a distance”.
3-D printing meanwhile makes it possible to personalise the prosthesis like a fashion accessory or “a superhero’s outfit”, said Dhaouafi.
Cure hopes to market its first bionic hands within a few months, first in Tunisia and then elsewhere in Africa, where more than three-quarters of people in need have no access to them, according to the World Health Organization.
“The aim is to be accessible financially but also geographically,” said Dhaouafi.
The envisaged price of around $2,000 to $3,000 is substantial, but a fraction of the cost of bionic prostheses currently imported from Europe.
Cure also aims to manufacture as close as possible to the end users, with local technicians measuring the patients and then printing individually fitted devices.
“An imported prosthesis today means weeks or even months of waiting when you buy it, and again with each repair,” the inventor said.
The bionic hand is made of Lego-like parts that can be replaced if damaged or to match a child’s physical growth.
It can also be solar-powered via a photovoltaic charger for use in regions without a reliable electricity supply.
The 3-D printing of rudimentary prostheses started about a decade ago and is becoming standard.
It is not a magic solution because specialised medical know-how is still crucial, said Jerry Evans, who heads Nia Technologies, a Canadian non-commercial organisation that helps African hospitals manufacture 3-D-printed lower limbs.
“3-D printing is still in its early stages,” he said, “but it is a major game changer in the field of prosthetics and orthotics.”
“Developing countries will probably leapfrog to these technologies because the cost is much lower.”
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