There’s a lot of bad news in the UN Global Environment Outlook, but a sustainable future is still possible



File 20190410 2909 1ru6uth.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
It’s not all doom and gloom – pathways to restore the health of our planet do exist.
wonderisland/Shutterstock

Pedro Fidelman, The University of Queensland

The Sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), the most comprehensive environmental assessment produced by the UN in five years, brought us both good and bad news.

The environment has continued to deteriorate since the first GEO-6 report in 1997, with potentially irreversible impacts if not effectively addressed. But pathways to significant change do exist, and a sustainable future is still possible.

Launched in March at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the 700-page report involved nearly 200 global experts who collaborated over 18 months.




Read more:
Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


It covers, in detail, a range of topics, including air, biodiversity, oceans and coasts, land and freshwater, climate change, human health and energy.

And it assessed the state of the global environment, the effectiveness of policy responses, and possible pathways to achieve the environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The good news

There is a fair bit of negative information in the GEO-6, which unfortunately reflects the overall state of environmental affairs globally. But it is not all doom and gloom, the GEO-6 has many positive, solution-oriented messages too.

The GEO-6 advises that pathways and approaches to systemic change exist, which must be scaled up quickly to steer the planet towards more sustainable futures.




Read more:
Shorten’s climate policy would hit more big polluters harder and set electric car target


The considerable connections between environmental, social and economic policies can inform multiple goals. So policies addressing entire systems – such as food, energy and waste – are more likely to have beneficial impact.

For instance, reducing our use of fossil fuels leads to health benefits by decreasing outdoor air pollution responsible for premature deaths. And efforts to eliminate hunger (such as changes in agriculture production) can help address climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and chemical pollution.

With the window for action closing quickly, given the unprecedented rate of global environmental change, the GEO-6 is calling for more ambitious and innovative policy.

We need significant change leading us to decarbonisation, a circular economy, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and better adapting socio-economic systems to climate change.

The bad news

The GEO-6 warns the overall condition of the global environment continues to deteriorate, driven mainly by population growth, urbanisation, economic development, technological change and climate change.

Here’s what we’re dealing with:

  • air pollution currently causes an estimated 6 to 7 million premature deaths annually
  • we might be witnessing the sixth mass species extinction in the planet’s history
  • 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year as a result of mismanagement of domestic waste in coastal areas
  • warming ocean waters are leading to mass mortality of coral reefs across the world’s tropics
  • 29% of all lands are degradation hotspots
  • pathogen-polluted drinking water and inadequate sanitation cause approximately 1.4 million human deaths annually, with many millions more becoming ill.

These and other issues reported in the GEO-6 will lead to ongoing and potentially irreversible impacts if they are not addressed effectively, and immediately.

Typically, environmental policy efforts are based on individual issues, like air pollution, or industry sectors. But this approach doesn’t address the complexity of contemporary environmental problems that require system-oriented efforts at large scales.

Under current policy scenarios, the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other goals like the Paris Agreement, are unlikely to be achieved.

The GEO-6 calls for urgent, inclusive and sustained action by governments, business and society proportionate to the scale and pace of global environmental change.

What it means for Australia

In Australia, positive action is taking place at state and local levels of government, where support for more ambitious emissions targets is generally stronger than at the Australian government level.

And many sectors of society and business are shifting towards more sustainable practices. The booming uptake of rooftop solar and the development of large-scale renewable projects illustrates such a shift.

But when it comes to sustainable development policies at the national level, Australia lags behind most of the developed world, particularly in relation to energy and climate change policy.




Read more:
Should Australia recognise the human right to a healthy environment?


We don’t yet have long-term certainty for support of the uptake of electric cars, the transition to renewables, the adoption of fuel efficiency standards, and limiting emissions from the manufacturing and resources industry.

Effective strategies to curb land clearing remains to be seen, and only recently Australia has incorporated principles of circular economy into the National Waste Policy.

These do not help Australia meet its agreed commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and associated Sustainable Development Goals.

With long-term environmental, socio-economic and political stability at stake, it is time for commitment, leadership and robust policies that can last beyond the three-year electoral cycle.The Conversation

Pedro Fidelman, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

New UN report outlines ‘urgent, transformational’ change needed to hold global warming to 1.5°C



File 20181008 72124 1ce1rz1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

National Renewable Energy Lab/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Mark Howden, Australian National University and Rebecca Colvin, Australian National University

A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, commissioned at the breakthrough 2015 summit that brokered the Paris climate agreement, outlines what’s at stake in the world’s bid to limit global temperature rise to 1.5℃.

The report, released today, sets out the key practical differences between the Paris agreement’s two contrasting goals: to limit the increase of human-induced global warming to well below 2℃, and to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5℃.




Read more:
The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance


Two and a half years in the making, the report provides vital information about whether the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal is indeed achievable, what the future may look like under it, and the risks and rewards of hitting the target.

Here are five key questions to which the report provides answers.

Can we limit warming to 1.5℃?

There is no clear yes or no answer to this question.

Put simply, it is not impossible that global warming could be limited to 1.5℃. But achieving this will be profoundly challenging.

If we are to limit warming to 1.5℃, we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050.

Whether we are successful primarily depends on the rate at which government and non-state bodies take action to reduce emissions. Yet despite the urgency, current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a 3℃ temperature limit, let alone 1.5℃.

Source: Australian Academy of Science.

Global warming is not just a problem for the future. The impacts are already being felt around the world, with declines in crop yields, biodiversity, coral reefs, and Arctic sea ice, and increases in heatwaves and heavy rainfall. Sea levels have risen by 40.5mm in the past decade and are predicted to continue rising for decades, even if all greenhouse emissions were reduced to zero immediately. Climate adaptation is already needed and will be increasingly so at 1.5℃ and 2℃ of warming.

Rapid action is essential and the next ten years will be crucial. In 2017, global warming breached 1℃. If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2℃ per decade, we will reach 1.5℃ of warming around 2040. At current emissions rates, within the next 10 to 14 years there is a 2/3 chance we will have used up our entire carbon budget for keeping to 1.5.

How can we limit warming to 1.5℃?

The report says “transformational” change will be needed to limit warming to 1.5℃. Business as usual will not get us there.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases need to reach net zero globally by around 2050. Most economists say putting a price on emissions is the most efficient way to do this.

By 2050, 70-85% of electricity globally will need to be supplied by renewables. Investment in low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies will need to double, whereas investment in fossil-fuel extraction will need to decrease by around a quarter.

Sustainable agriculture is a big piece of the low-carbon puzzle.
CIFOR/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Carbon dioxide removal technology will also be needed to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But the IPCC’s report warns that relying too heavily on this technology would be a major risk as it has not been used on such a large scale before. Carbon dioxide removal is an extra step that may be needed to keep warming to 1.5℃, not an excuse to keep emitting greenhouse gases.

Production, consumption and lifestyle choices also play a role. Reducing energy demand and food waste, improving the efficiency of food production, and choosing foods and goods with lower emissions and land use requirements will contribute significantly.

Taking such action as soon as possible will be hugely beneficial. The earlier we start, the more time we have to reach net zero emissions. Acting early will mean a smoother transition and less net cost overall. Delay will lead to more haste, higher costs, and a harder landing.

Reducing emissions quickly will also ensure warming is capped as soon as possible, reducing the number and severity of impacts.

Yet severe impacts will still be experienced even if warming is successfully capped at 1.5℃.

What is the cost of 1.5℃ of warming?

Although the Paris Agreement aims to hold global warming as close to 1.5℃ as possible, that doesn’t mean it is a “safe” level. Communities and ecosystems around the world have already suffered significant impacts from the 1℃ of warming so far, and the effects at 1.5℃ will be harsher still.

Poverty and disadvantages will increase as temperatures rise to 1.5℃. Small island states, deltas and low-lying coasts are particularly vulnerable, with increased risk of flooding, and threats to freshwater supplies, infrastructure, and livelihoods.

Warming to 1.5℃ also poses a risk to global economic growth, with the tropics and southern subtropics potentially being hit hardest. Extreme weather events such as floods, heatwaves, and droughts will become more frequent, severe, and widespread, with attendant costs in terms of health care, infrastructure, and disaster response.

The oceans will also suffer in a 1.5℃ warmer world. Ocean warming and acidification are expected to impact fisheries and aquaculture, as well as many marine species and ecosystems.

Coral reefs around the world are seeing increased rates of bleaching.
OIST/Flickr, CC BY

Up to 90% of warm water coral reefs are predicted to disappear when global warming reaches 1.5℃. That would be a dire situation, but far less serious than at 2℃, when the destruction of coral reefs would be almost total (greater than 99% destruction).

How do 1.5℃ and 2℃ compare?

Impacts on both human and natural systems would be very different at 1.5℃ rather than 2℃ of warming. For example, limiting warming to 1.5℃ would roughly halve the number of people globally who are expected to suffer from water scarcity.

Seas would rise by an extra 10cm this century at 2℃ compared with 1.5℃. This means limiting global warming to 1.5℃ would save up to 10.4 million people from the impacts of rising seas.

At 1.5℃ rather than 2℃:

  • up to 427 million fewer people will suffer food and water insecurity, climate risks, and adverse health impacts

  • extreme weather events, heat-related death and disease, desertification, and wildlife extinctions will all be reduced

  • it will be significantly easier to achieve many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including those linked to hunger, poverty, water and sanitation, health, and cities and ecosystems.

How does the 1.5℃ target fit with the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals aim for a world in which people can be healthy, financially stable, well fed, have clean air and water, and live in a secure and pleasant environment. Much of this is consistent with the goal of capping global warming at 1.5℃, which is why the IPCC notes there are synergies if the SDG initiatives and climate action should be explicitly linked.

But some climate strategies may make it harder to achieve particular SDGs. Countries that are highly dependent on fossil fuels for employment and revenue may suffer economically in the transition towards low-carbon energy.

Carefully managing this transition by simultaneously focusing on reducing poverty and promoting equity in decision-making may help avoid the worst effects of such trade-offs. What works in one place may not work in another, so strategies should always be locally appropriate.

Where next?

Limiting global warming to 1.5℃ will require a social transformation, as the world takes rapid action to reduce greenhouse gases. The effects of climate change will continue to shape the world we live in, but there is no doubt we will be far better off under 1.5℃ than 2℃ of global warming.




Read more:
Why is climate change’s 2 degrees Celsius of warming limit so important?


The choices we make today are shaping the future for coming generations. As the new report makes clear, if we are serious about the 1.5℃ target, we need to act now.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the substantial contribution to authorship of this article by of Lamis Kazak, an Australian National University Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (Sustainability) student, as part of a Science Communication Internship with the Climate Change Institute.The Conversation

Mark Howden, Director, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University and Rebecca Colvin, Knowledge Exchange Specialist, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance


Emil Jeyaratnam, The Conversation; Madeleine De Gabriele, The Conversation, and Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report today on the impacts of global warming of 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.

The report outlines the considerable challenges of meeting the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5℃, the global effort needed to achieve the target, and the consequences of not.

The highlights of the report are presented below:



CC BY-ND

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Australian Labor Party had a goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2050. But the ALP hope to achieve the 50% target via an emissions intensity scheme by 2030.The Conversation

Emil Jeyaratnam, Data + Interactives Editor, The Conversation; Madeleine De Gabriele, Deputy Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation, and Michael Hopkin, Section Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s UN report card: making progress, could do better on inequality and climate


John Thwaites, Monash University

Visiting drought-affected farmland in NSW last week, new PM Scott Morrison said he was not interested in considering the role of climate change on the drought because he was “practically interested in the policies that will address what is going on here, right now.”

A narrow focus on the short term is common in politics, but it won’t make the long-term problems go away. Drought and other issues like inequality, housing affordability, obesity and the loss of Australia’s rich natural heritage will only get worse.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted by Australia and all nations in 2015 are a way to help countries focus on these longer-term challenges. They are a set of goals and targets for economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability to be met by 2030.

In addition to governments, more and more businesses are now reporting on their progress towards these global goals, too.

How is Australia going?

This week, the National Sustainable Development Council with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute published the Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report. It examines trends between 2000 and 2015 to assess whether Australia is on track to meet the 2030 targets.

The report highlights strong progress in health and education, but poor performance in addressing inequality, climate change and housing affordability. Of 144 indicators assessed across the 17 goals, 35% were on track, 41% needed improvement and 24% were off-track or deteriorating.




Read more:
Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


Despite some progress, the report found almost every goal has at least one target where an important indicator is off-track or will require a breakthrough to be achieved.

For example, income poverty in Australia has decreased since 2000. But a person on Newstart, who would have been near the poverty line in 2000, is now 25% below the poverty line due to the lower indexation rate for Newstart payments.

Life expectancy in Australia is among the highest in the world and has increased from 79.3 to 82.5 years between 2000 and 2015. Smoking rates and road traffic deaths have fallen dramatically, as well. However, Australia still has a high prevalence of lifestyle-related risks, such as obesity, and deaths due to road accidents in remote areas remain five times higher than in cities.

On the positive side, Australia is an increasingly educated society. The proportion of the working age (25-64) population holding tertiary qualifications increased markedly from 27.5% to 43.7% between 2000 and 2015, one of the highest percentage of tertiary qualifications in the world.

While Australian student performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) benchmark has been declining across science, maths and reading, Australian students perform very well as collaborative problem solvers – an increasingly important indicator for the jobs of the future. On the downside, investment in early childhood education and care remains low.

The report also highlights key challenges in achieving Australia’s economic goals, with relatively low investment in research and innovation, increasing underemployment and high levels of household debt.

While Australia has enjoyed a record period of economic growth and disposable incomes per capita grew strongly from 2000-2012, wage growth has stalled since then and cost of living pressures are now putting a strain on families.

Not there yet

Two persistent challenges identified in the report are continuing inequality and Australia’s poor performance on climate action and the environment.

Despite strong economic growth since 2000, Australia’s income inequality did not improve and wealth inequality got worse.

The glass ceiling remains firmly in place and structural inequalities continue to prevent women from reaching their potential. In 2017, just 11 women led ASX200 companies, while only 30% of Australian parliamentarians are female .




Read more:
UN delivers strong rebuke to Australian government on women’s rights


Meanwhile, the gender pay gap has barely narrowed in 20 years and women’s superannuation balances at retirement remain 42% below those of men. And the Closing the Gap report illustrates the vast inequality gulf between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Of all the UN Sustainable Development Goals goals, taking urgent action to combat climate change is the area where Australia is most off track.

Greenhouse gas emissions, the highest per capita in the OECD, are roughly the same now as in 2000 and are projected to be even higher in 2030. We are nowhere near meeting even Australia’s modest Paris target of a 26% emissions reduction by 2030.

Are we ready for the future?

It is clear that Australia has a considerable way to go to achieve most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and it will require a major change from business as usual.

Despite our history of strong economic growth, our children and grandchildren face the prospect of being worse off than we are unless we address inequality, climate change and cost of living pressures.

In an increasingly polarised political and media landscape, we should be looking to strengthen collaboration between government, business, social enterprise and society. To achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, we need to overcome the short-term focus that currently dominates our political landscape and work collectively if we are to achieve a “fair go” for the next generation.


This article is the first in a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is UNESCO World Heritage status for cultural sites killing the things it loves?



File 20180709 122253 1hdx7il.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Tourists take a photo of sunrise at Angkor Wat in 2016.
Shutterstock

Jo Caust, University of Melbourne

Hoi An is a beautiful coastal town in central Vietnam that escaped the devastation of the American War. In 1999, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the charm of its original architecture, river location, and continuity of cultural practices. UNESCO recognition has made it a major cultural tourism destination. In 2017, 3.22 million people visited, an increase of 22% on the previous year.

Authorities have introduced a ticketing system for visitors, but its purpose is to raise revenue and record tourist numbers rather than control them. The streets are relatively narrow. With the influx of mass tourism, some streets are impossible to walk in and the town has turned into an “ersatz” version of itself with all buildings turned into cafes and shops to service tourist needs. Many large tourist buses park for much of the day on the edges of the old town, to disembark and collect passengers, making an ugly impression as you enter.

Tourists on the Japanese Bridge in Hoi An.
Suree Pritchard/AAP

The local Vietnamese have been forced to move from the town’s centre to live on the outskirts. Ironically, while it is an important cultural tourism destination for its buildings, the culture of Hoi An has changed completely due to mass tourism. From once being a lively trading community, it is becoming a theme park.

In Cambodia, meanwhile, Angkor Wat is a major international cultural heritage site. It received UNESCO recognition in 1992. From 2004-14 visitor numbers to Angkor Wat increased by more than 300%. While the local authorities have introduced a visitors’ ticket to ostensibly control numbers (and bring in revenue), there are challenges from “wear and tear” as visitors touch structures and walk on ancient paths.




Read more:
‘Sustainable tourism’ is not working – here’s how we can change that


The major challenge for Angkor Wat, however, is uncontrolled tourist development around the site. For instance, the construction of large hotels and the illicit tapping of groundwater have affected the water table beneath the temples, which in turn affects their stability.

Tourists at Angkor Wat in 2017.
Mak Remissa/AAP

While continuing to preserve the temples is not easy, the far greater problem is the lack of planning around the site, which has been left to the whims of the marketplace. Ultimately this unplanned development has the potential to destroy Angkor Wat itself.

The impact of mass tourism anywhere can be overwhelming, but it is compounded in communities in developing countries with less economic resources to undertake adequate protection or planning. The town of Luang Prabang in Laos faces similar issues to Hoi An. The local community is now mostly living outside the old town, which again has been given over to tourists and their needs.




Read more:
The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (it’s bigger than we thought)


Other UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world are battling similar problems in dealing with mass tourism. The number of people travelling by air internationally has increased by an average of around 7% a year since 2009. This growth is expected to continue at a similar rate.

A river boat moors at the entrance to the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang, Laos.
Stephen Johnson/AAP

As far back as 1972, UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Two more conventions, adopted in 2003 and in 2005, further protect Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Diversity of Cultural Expression. The intent of these was to draw attention to cultural sites and practices to ensure their ongoing protection and longevity.

Achieving UNESCO status is an internationally competitive process. Nations want this recognition because they can promote a place or practice as a unique cultural tourism attraction.

Communities and nations do have obligations when they receive UNESCO recognition. They are expected to undertake various measures to protect the site or practice and ensure proper planning occurs. But while more attention may be applied to restoration or reduction of unsympathetic behaviour (for example, at Angkor Wat the authorities have introduced rules about appropriate clothing to be worn by visitors), the broader implications of increased visitation may not have been considered.




Read more:
Friday essay: war crimes and the many threats to cultural heritage


Encouraging tourism as a means to improve the economic situation of communities can, in fact, destroy their uniqueness and cultural value. With the continuing increase in tourism, the situation will inevitably worsen.

The focus is at present on earning money from the site/practices, not preserving them. Mass tourism can damage sites irreversibly. Communities and countries have some hard choices to make.

Hoi An streetscape: most locals have been priced out of the centre of town and now live on the outskirts.
Suree Pritchard/AAP

With colleague Dr Mariana Vecco, I recently published a research article about these issues. Some of our recommendations for vulnerable sites include:

  • introducing control of visitor numbers as a matter of urgency
  • tighter planning controls on adjacent development
  • querying the use of sites for any tourist activities
  • auditing sites for damage already incurred.

All of this should occur if UNESCO status is to be continued. However, there is also a bigger conversation we need to have – should tourists visit vulnerable sites and practices?

The ConversationHoi An is still a beautiful town but the presence of “wall to wall” tourists mars it. Sadly, as long as UNESCO status is used more as a marketing device than a route to preservation, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

Jo Caust, Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


John Thwaites, Monash University and Tahl Kestin, Monash University

Australia is performing worse than most other advanced countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the global SDG Index, which compares different nations’ performance on the goals.

According to the SDG Index, released yesterday in New York, Australia is ranked 37th in the world – down from 26th last year, and behind most other wealthy countries including New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The best-performing countries are the northern European nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany, all of which have a history of balancing economic, social and environmental issues.

The SDG Index measures progress against the 17 SDGs agreed by all countries at the United Nations in 2015. The goals encompass a set of 169 targets to be met by 2030 to achieve economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Yet despite the progress made by some countries, all nations still have a way to go to achieve all of the goals.




Read more:
Explainer: the world’s new sustainable development goals


Australia: the world’s worst on climate action

The latest SDG Index shows that Australia is performing relatively well in areas such health and wellbeing, and providing good-quality education. But its results for the environmental goals and climate change are among the worst in the OECD group of advanced nations.

The new index ranks Australia as the worst-performing country in the world on climate action (SDG 13). The measure takes into account greenhouse gas emissions within Australia; emissions embodied in the goods we consume; climate change vulnerability; and exported emissions from fossil fuel shipments to other countries.

One of the reasons why Australia has slumped so far in the rankings is that the SDG Index is now taking into account the so-called “spillover” effects that countries have on other nations’ ability to meet the SDGs. These effects may be positive, such as providing development aid; or negative, such as importing or exporting products that create pollution.

The report shows that G20 nations account for the largest negative economic, environmental, and security spillover effects. Despite being among the richest nations in the world, the US, the UK and Australia are rated worst in the G20 for negative spillovers.

The UK, for instance, rates particularly badly on the tax haven score, which makes it harder for other countries to raise the tax revenue needed to provide health, education and other services to their citizens.

This year’s SDG Index also includes a key environmental spillover indicator: carbon dioxide emissions embodied in fossil fuel exports, calculated using a three-year average of coal, gas and oil exports.

Australia’s annual exported CO₂ emissions are a colossal 44 tonnes per person. This outstrips even Saudi Arabia (35.5 tonnes per person), and is orders of magnitude larger than the figure for the US (710kg per person).

G20 leading the way?

With all countries still falling short of achieving the SDGs, the SDG Index also assesses what actions G20 governments are taking to help close this gap. Most G20 countries have begun to implement the goals but there are large variations among G20 countries in how the SDGs are being embraced by political leaders and translated into action.

Composite score of national coordination and implementation mechanisms for the SDGs in G20 countries.
SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report

Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken the most significant steps among G20 countries to achieve the goals, illustrated for instance by the existence of SDG strategies, coordination units in governments, or online platforms. India and Germany have at least partially already undertaken an assessment of investment needs.

According to this assessment, Australia has taken some initial steps to support SDG implementation. Supportive actions taken by the government include setting up a cross-departmental committee, co-chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to coordinate Government SDG activities. The Senate has established an inquiry to examine the opportunities to implement the goals.

Significantly, the federal government has also prepared a Voluntary National Review report on progress in implementing the goals, which it will present to the UN’s High Level Political Forum next week. The report addresses how Australia is performing against each of the goals and includes many case studies of implementation from business, civil society, academia, youth and all levels of government. It is accompanied by a new Australian SDG case study hub. Many of these activities occurred after the cut-off period for the SDG Index, so Australia’s overall performance on SDG implementation is actually higher than the SDG Index gives it credit.

However, Australia is not taking more deliberative action to address the SDGs, such as developing a national implementation plan or setting aside funding for SDG implementation. Nor are individual departments identifying the gaps in Australia’s SDG performance and identifying what they plan to do differently to address them.

The ConversationGiven Australia’s poor performance on some of the SDGs there is clearly a need for targeted action if we are to achieve the goals by the 2030 deadline.

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Tahl Kestin, Sustainable Development Solutions Network Manager, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The UN is slowly warming to the task of protecting World Heritage sites from climate change


Jon C. Day, James Cook University

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has issued its strongest decision yet about climate change, acknowledging the worldwide threat posed to many World Heritage properties.

The decision (see pages 26-27 here), set to be adopted today at the completion of the Committee’s annual meeting in Krakow, Poland, “expresses its utmost concern regarding the reported serious impacts from coral bleaching that have affected World Heritage properties in 2016-17 and that the majority of World Heritage coral reefs are expected to be seriously impacted by climate change”.

It also urges the 193 signatory nations to the World Heritage Convention to undertake actions to address climate change under the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial temperatures.

This decision marks an important shift in the level of recognition by the Committee tasked with protecting World Heritage properties, apparently jolted by the devastating bleaching suffered by the majority of World Heritage coral reefs around the world.

In the past, the Committee has restricted its decisions to addressing localised threats such as water pollution and overfishing, choosing to leave the responsibility to address global climate change to other parts of the United Nations.

In the preamble to its latest decision, the Committee has recognised that local efforts alone are “no longer sufficient” to save the world’s threatened coral reefs.

But while this is an encouraging progression, some members of the Committee are still struggling to come to terms with addressing the global impacts of climate change. This is despite the impacts becoming more pronounced on other World Heritage properties, including glaciers, rainforests, oceanic islands, and sites showing the loss of key species.

The World Heritage-listed glacial landscape around Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps.
Steinmann/Wikimedia Commons

The ‘jewels’ of marine world heritage

Last month, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre released the first global scientific assessment of the impact of climate change on all 29 World Heritage-listed coral reefs that are “the jewels in the World Heritage crown”.

The report paints a dire picture, with all but three World Heritage coral reefs exhibiting bleaching over the past three years. Iconic sites like the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Northwest Hawaiian islands (United States), the Lagoons of New Caledonia (France), and Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles) have all suffered their worst bleaching on record.

The most widely reported damage was the unprecedented bleaching suffered by the Great Barrier Reef in 2016-17, which killed around 50% of its corals.

The scientific report predicts that without large reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, all 29 reefs will “cease to exist as functioning coral reef ecosystems by the end of this century”.

Reefs can take 10-20 years to recover from bleaching. If our current emissions trajectory continues, within the next two decades, 25 out of the 29 World Heritage reefs will suffer severe heat stress twice a decade. This effectively means they will be unable to recover.

It should also be noted that the majority of World Heritage coral reefs are far better managed than other reefs around the world, so the implications of climate change for coral reefs globally are much worse.

All coral reefs are important

Almost one-third of the world’s marine fish species rely on coral reefs for some part of their life cycle. There are also 6 million people who fish on reefs in 99 countries and territories worldwide. This equates to about a quarter of the world’s small-scale fishers relying directly on coral reefs.

Half of all coral reef fishers globally are in Southeast Asia, and the western Pacific Island nations also have high proportions of reef fishers within their populations. In total, more than 400 million people in the poorest developing countries worldwide live within 100km of coral reefs. The majority of them depend directly on reefs for their food and livelihoods.

Coral reefs provide more value than any other ecosystem on Earth. They protect coastal communities from flooding and erosion, sustain fishing and tourism businesses, and host a stunning array of marine life. Their social, cultural and economic value has been estimated at US$1 trillion globally.

Recent projections indicate that climate-related loss of reef ecosystem services will total more than US$500 billion per year by 2100. The greatest impacts will be felt by the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on reefs.

Where else?

Recognising that the majority of the World Heritage coral reefs are expected to be seriously impacted by climate change is a good start. However, the Committee cannot afford to wait until similar levels of adverse impacts are evident at other natural and cultural heritage sites across the world.

The World Heritage Committee and other influential bodies must continue to acknowledge that climate change has already affected a wide range of World Heritage values through climate-related impacts such as species migrations, loss of biodiversity, glacial melting, sea-level rise, increases in extreme weather events, greater frequency of wildfires, and increased coastal erosion. To help understand the magnitude of the problem, the Committee has asked the World Heritage Centre and the international advisory bodies “to further study the current and potential impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties”, and report back in 2018.

The ConversationTwo of the key foundations of the World Heritage Convention are to protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage, and to pass that heritage on to future generations. For our sake, and the sake of future generations, let’s hope we can do both.

Jon C. Day, PhD candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.