Our Perspectives

Environment

Treasure or tragedy – our ocean commons

23 Mar 2017 by Midori Paxton, Head of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Expanding marine protected areas is imperative for biodiversity and ecosystem health. It is also essential for social welfare and the economy. Photo: Shutterstock/divedog
Bunaken National Marine Park, Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2011. The sea was a bit too choppy for my liking. But there was a volcano erupting inland. The sea looked like a safer option! I took the plunge and jumped off the boat with my snorkel and fins. Around me was a new world. So serene, so many layers. Wonderfully coloured fish clustered around corals, sea turtles flapped by, and there was a darkness beneath a canyon wall that told of depths beyond the reach of sunlight. Down there, I knew, were coelacanths. Once believed to have gone extinct 66 million years ago, these fish have in fact out-lived the dinosaurs. If aliens arrived from outer space, they wouldn’t call our planet Earth. They would call it planet Sea. Seventy-one percent of our planet’s surface is covered in water. The depths are profound. Just imagine having the whole Himalayan or Andean mountain range upside down beneath the ocean face. That is just a taster. The oceans sustain creatures we haven’t even discovered, but they also keep terrestrial life going. More than 3 billion people depend on them as their primary source of protein. Shipping lanes keep commerce thriving and the water regulates the temperature and atmosphere. … Read more

Ocean acidification – what it means and how to stop it

14 Mar 2017 by Andrew Hudson, Head of Water and Ocean Governance Programme, UNDP

The ‘recipe’ for reversing ocean acidification is transitioning to an energy efficient model that relies primarily on renewable sources of energy. Photo: UNDP
In the Sustainable Development Goals, the world has set forth a bold new vision for global development and committed to achieving it by the year 2030. SDG 14 calls for us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” While most of the targets in SDG 14 cover ocean issues and challenges that are well known to most, such as pollution and overfishing, one SDG 14 target, 14.3, may not be so familiar: 14.3 Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels. What is ocean acidification, and why is it so important to ocean sustainability and therefore to the SDG agenda? Let’s start with some basic chemistry concepts. Water can be either acidic, basic, or neutral, depending on the relative levels of hydrogen ions it contains. The higher the hydrogen level, the more acidic the solution. This characteristic is quantified in its pH, which runs on a scale from 0-14. The scale is ‘logarithmic’ meaning that each increment of one is a 10-fold increase or decrease in hydrogen ion concentration. A pH below 7 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and above 7 is basic. … Read more

The way forward for reducing marine pollution

06 Mar 2017 by Andrew Hudson, Head of Water and Ocean Governance Programme, UNDP

Some 8-20 million metric tonnes of plastics reach our oceans every year, leading to ‘garbage patches’ as well as visible impacts on nearly all the world’s coasts and beaches.
The Ocean Conference taking place this June at UN headquarters is a unique opportunity to promote and accelerate action, partnerships, commitment and progress on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, Life below water. The outcome will be a concise, focused, intergovernmentally agreed declaration in the form of a "Call for Action" to support the implementation of Goal 14. The SDGs and the ocean Goal 14 is part of the 2030 Agenda, adopted by world leaders in September 2015. It calls on us to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The SDGs set the global agenda for development through 2030 towards a vision of peace, prosperity and planetary health. And they include clear targets, against which we can measure progress. The first target for SDG 14 is to “prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution”. Given the fact that 80 percent or more of the pollution reaching the ocean is land-based, SDG 14 is further complemented by two targets under SDG 6, on clean water and sanitation: … Read more

From ‘Spice Isle’ to ‘blue innovation’ hub: Grenada’s vision for the future

01 Mar 2017 by Gail Hurley, Policy Specialist: Development Finance, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP

With an ocean space 75 times larger than its land area, Grenada is one of the world’s first countries to develop a vision for an economy based on ‘blue growth'. Photo: Tre Packard
The Caribbean country of Grenada, known by many as ‘Spice Isle’ for its production of nutmeg, cloves and other exotic spices is now setting its sights on being known as a world leader for innovation in the ‘blue economy’. The ‘blue economy’ can be broadly understood as economic activity that is in balance with the long-term capacity of ocean and coastal ecosystems to support this activity and remain healthy and resilient. Grenada is one of the world’s first countries to develop a vision for an economy based on ‘blue growth’. Its ocean space is 75 times larger than its land area. Beyond its 345 square kilometres of land territory, Grenada has 26,000 square kilometres of blue ocean space. Such a large space presents opportunities for the country to diversify its economy, and by applying a ‘blue economy’ approach, it ensures that ocean development expands economic output, creates jobs, reduces poverty and builds local skills while conserving the natural environment. Grenada is the first country to initiate a national ‘masterplan’ for blue growth. It identifies opportunities for blue growth development in areas such as fisheries and aquaculture, blue biotechnology, renewable energy, research and innovation. … Read more

Oceans and small island states: First think opportunity, then think blue

22 Feb 2017 by Craig Hawke, Principal Advisor, Small Island Developing States, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support, UNDP

For Small Islands Developing States like Haiti, the Ocean Conference and the blue economy can contribute to addressing some of the concerns associated with economic and environmental vulnerability. Photo: UN MINUSTAH
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are thinking differently, especially when it comes to the ocean. Their self-characterization as Large Ocean States is more than symbolic, more than just words. It represents a re-think on opportunities and challenges for small island states. At the UN Ocean Conference in June in New York, we will all need to embrace this new mind-set. SIDS have often been characterized by their constraints – smallness (in land area at least), distance from markets, fragile ecosystems, narrow economies and vulnerability to natural disasters. And now they stand on the frontlines of sea-level rise and the consequences of a warming climate. That is a deficit-based model. As large ocean states, the focus shifts to a strengths-based approach. SIDS are custodians of 15 of the 50 largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Tuvalu’s EEZ is 27,000 times larger than its land area. SIDS represent almost 20 percent of the UN membership – if we are going to leave no one behind we need to think innovatively on development solutions tailored to the smallest countries, with some of the largest ocean estates. The Ocean Conference will be the time to continue to move this opportunity-centred thinking into action. And one opportunity is – ‘think blue’ strategy. … Read more

Like clockwork: Creating transformational action for the climate

25 Jan 2017 by Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Head of Climate Change Adaptation, Global Environmental Finance Unit, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP

Without the right parts and right people, things don’t work as they should. This is as true for climate adaptation plans as it is for watches. UNDP photo
Have you ever seen the inner workings of a mechanical watch? It’s really quite remarkable – a masterpiece of an inter-locking mainspring, gear train, balance wheel, escapement mechanism and indicator dial come together to measure each second with the utmost precision. When one piece fails, the whole watch stops working. When it comes to climate change adaptation, the process of supporting real transformational change is just as intricate as maintaining your grandfather’s Casio and even more so when it comes to finding the right parts and the right ‘mechanic’. Without the right parts and right people things just don’t work as they should; this is as true for watches as it is for National Adaptation Plans and the goals set out by the Paris climate agreements. … Read more

Decarbonizing development

22 Nov 2016 by Kishan Khoday, Team Leader, Climate Change, DRR and Resilience, UNDP Regional Hub for Arab States

The Union Cement Company plant in United Arab Emirates uses a waste heat recovery system to generate 82 MWh of zero-emission electricity per year. UNDP photo
The Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force this month, following its rapid ratification by countries around the world. The Agreement has the goal of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius rise relative to pre-industrial levels. This would avoid the worst effects of climate change, as rising greenhouse gas emissions jeopardize achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, threatening to exacerbate disasters, poverty and inequality the world over. The latest Assessment Report (AR5) issued by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that to keep the planet within the 2 degree Celsius target, we must cut global emissions in half by 2050 and achieve zero net emissions by 2100. This entails a major change of course, with new zero-carbon models of development a key part of the action agenda. Energy consumption accounts for two-thirds of global emissions, so the goal of decarbonizing development hinges on reducing the energy intensity of growth, especially in countries with high carbon footprints. Morocco, host of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the UN climate change convention, is emerging as a leader in climate action. This year it launched the first phase of its Noor solar power plant. When fully operational this will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility. … Read more

Early recovery in Haiti: Localize the relief effort to avoid the aid dependency trap

04 Nov 2016 by Bruno Lemarquis, Deputy Director, Crisis Response Unit, UNDP

A crisis response led by the Haitian people and government lowers the risk of vulnerable people becoming dependent on international assistance. Photo: Andrea Ruffini/UNDP Haiti
Exactly one month ago, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc in Haiti. More than 1.4 million people still need assistance; more than 140,000 people have been displaced and in some areas crops were completely wiped out. The disaster has left people living in makeshift shelters, unable to provide for their families and dependent on assistance. After the first few initial critical weeks of the disaster, two lessons stand out: the need to localize crisis response and the importance of a quick transition to early recovery. I led UNDP’s immediate response after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and I can see that the Government has built on many lessons learned. National institutions have insisted that this should be a Haiti-led response, from the local to the national level, and interim President Jocelerme Privert made clear from the start that early recovery was a priority. a … Read more

A changing climate throws water out of balance in Asia and the Pacific

03 Nov 2016 by Gordon Johnson, Resilience and Sustainability Team Leader, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

With a warming climate in parts of the Himalayas, melting glaciers are feeding into glacial lakes that threaten to burst at the seams. UNDP photo
Every morning I jump on the Chao Phraya Express Boat to get to work. It’s a short trip, but on yet another sultry morning in Bangkok, it’s nice to feel the breeze as we slice through the muddy waters to Thewet Pier, a short walk from my office at the United Nations. As we churn upriver, I’m often reminded of the suggestion that our planet should have been named Water instead of Earth. Nowhere is this idea more true than in Asia and the Pacific. While some 4.5 billion people make their homes on solid ground here – about 60 percent of the world’s population – it’s also home to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and dozens of major river basins (such as the Indus, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze) that gave rise to the varied and colourful cultures of Asia. … Read more

Latin America and the Caribbean at the forefront of climate action

28 Oct 2016 by Matilde Mordt, Team Leader, Sustainable Development and Resilience, UNDP Regional Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean

Many Latin American and the Caribbean countries will concentrate their climate actions in the agriculture sector, one of the main sources of emissions in the region. Photo: UNDP Cuba
Latin American and Caribbean countries have long been at the forefront in climate negotiations and have demonstrated their commitment to taking action. The region is diverse and hosts some of the top 10 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, such as Brazil and Mexico, as well as Small Island Developing States, which are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Together, the region has put forward a wide array of proposals for action, ranging from reforestation to renewable energy to climate adaptation. Not only are they varied, but they are ambitious. An analysis undertaken by UNDP of the cornerstones of the Paris Agreement - the Nationally Determined Contributions- shows that the commitment in the region is indeed strong. As of 21 October 2016, the 32 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (out of 33) that acceded to the Agreement have also signed it; 19 of them have submitted their instruments of ratification; and 18 of these have indicated that their previously “intended” contributions will now become formal climate targets, or NDCs. … Read more