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How tackling climate change can help tackle inequality
by IIED, UN-Habitat, agencies
July 2018
How tackling climate change can help tackle inequality - Report from International Institute for Environment and Development
Inequality is one of the great challenges of this age, and one that will only be exacerbated by climate change. Most pronounced is the problem in cities, where skyscrapers may tower over slums and street vendors hustle outside air-conditioned supermarkets.
But new research has revealed that taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within cities could be one of the great levellers, with the largest social and economic benefits enjoyed by the poor.
Energy use alone is responsible for nearly three quarters of global greenhouse emissions, and most energy is consumed by the rich: to drive their cars, heat their buildings and manufacture goods such as refrigerators, air conditioners and televisions – all of which then demand more energy throughout their lifetime. Globally, the wealthiest ten per cent of people may be responsible for more than 50 per cent of emissions.
Though high-income households bear more responsibility for climate change, its most severe impacts will be felt by the poor, who are more likely to live in areas exposed to environmental hazards, such as floodplains or steep slopes, and whose homes may also lack basic infrastructure that might reduce the impacts of extreme weather, such as drains to safely carry away storm-water. Then, in the aftermath of natural disasters, it is the poorest in society who struggle to access the financial resources they need to rebuild their homes and lives, turning a storm into a catastrophe.
But vulnerability to climate change is not just a function of low incomes. Women, for instance, are less likely than men to know how to swim or to be reachable through conventional emergency warning systems, which puts them at greater risk in the event of a flood or storm.
Climate change can therefore compound existing inequalities, further widening the chasm between rich and poor, powerful and powerless.
Having reviewed over 700 studies on transport, buildings and waste management, the research team fom the Coalition for Urban Transitions found that choosing low-carbon options would not only improve public health, create jobs, enhance productivity and cut energy bills, but that many of the gains would be mostly enjoyed by low-income urban residents. Those most vulnerable to climate change are therefore also those who would benefit most from climate action.
Consider outdoor air pollution, which causes around 4.2 million deaths every year, and asthma, bronchitis and other chronic diseases for millions more. This burden of ill-health is overwhelmingly borne by low-income urban dwellers, who more frequently live in polluted areas along highways or near power plants, and are more likely to work outdoors as street vendors, labourers or waste collectors.
Producing electricity from renewables instead of coal, making vehicles more energy efficient, and shifting to lower-carbon fuels for heating and cooking can cut both pollutants and carbon emissions. Since the poor suffer the most from toxic air, they also enjoy the greatest health improvements.
Or consider road safety. More than 1.25 million people die every year from traffic accidents. 90 per cent of whom live in developing countries and nearly half are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. Many of these people cannot afford a car or even public buses, but face a terrible risk on every trip. Women may face additional constraints, as cultural norms and additional physical risks often deter them from cycling or walking freely around the city.
Segregated walkways and bike lanes are essential to keeping pedestrians and cyclists safe, and the provision of street lighting and street furniture such as benches can further enhance people’s safety by turning the pavements into a place where people want to be. It’s those who are unable to afford any other means of travel that benefit the most, and at the same time, these measures can reduce greenhouse gases by establishing non-motorised transport as a safe, enjoyable way to commute.
The costs of air pollution and road accidents are immense, and overwhelmingly borne by the poor. People are dying because they cannot breathe easily or move safely within cities. This new paper shows that there are opportunities to tackle these everyday inequalities, and simultaneously reduce the risk of dangerous global warming.
Ambitious climate action can therefore lay the foundations for healthier, safer and more equal cities for decades to come.
Cities need to move faster to meet their 2030 SDG targets, says UN-Habitat
Local and national authorities are making uneven progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 of making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030.
That is the conclusion of a new report by UN-Habitat and partners tracking the progress made since the SDGs were adopted in 2015 and the challenges encountered. It coincides with the first review of SDG 11 at the High Level Political Forum – the main United Nations platform on sustainable development which reviews the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including the SDGs.
UN Member States adopted Sustainable Development Goal 11 in 2015 – the first time that cities and urban development were given a standalone goal. Several other SDG goals are directly connected to urbanization including water and sanitation, affordable and sustainable energy, environment and sustainable consumption.
“Urbanization is one of the most important issues when it comes to sustainable development. We must make sure we do it right if we are to achieve the SDGs and move towards a world where we see an end to poverty, the protection of our planet and everyone enjoying peace and prosperity,” said Ms Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat. “Cities are the spaces where all SDGs can be integrated to provide holistic solutions to the challenges of poverty, exclusion, climate change and risks.”
With the current rate of expansion, more than 700 cities will have populations of over 1 million by 2030. Without proper planning and regulation, this could lead to soaring levels of poverty, crime, pollution and sickness due to expanding slums, lack of clean water and sanitation, congested roads and few or no safe open spaces. Humanitarian crises, climate change-related disasters, conflict and migration are also closely related to cities.
However cities and towns, where half the world’s population now live, can be power houses of economic growth and development. And that can mean an improved quality of life for everyone. No country ever reached middle income status without being urbanized and cities generate around 70 per cent of global GDP.
The report shows that with the global population growth, the total number of people living in slums and informal settlements has increased from 807 to 883 million from 2000 to 2014. Housing is increasingly unaffordable for large swathes of the population with those in Africa particularly badly affected.
Air pollution is on the rise and although the provision of public transport is rising, it is still inadequate. Cities are growing at a faster rate than their population – leading to higher costs for infrastructure, more traffic and more pollution.
SDG 11 is also linked to the empowerment of women and girls through access and safety in public spaces, use of basic infrastructure and participation in local governance and decision making.
“By ensuring cities are also planned for women, urbanization can be a true transformative force, that challenges inequality and creates an enabling environment, where everyone can realise their own potential,” said Ms Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director.
Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, says that although there are no global homeless statistics, “housing conditions are fraught.”
''Half of humanity – 3.5 billion people –lives in cities today. By 2030, almost 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. As it stands, globally, housing conditions are fraught. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people are inadequately housed worldwide and that close to 900 million people are living in informal settlements and encampments in both the global North and South.
Beyond statistics, let me relay experiences. I have seen people living in countries North and South in complete darkness, without electricity and without water. I have seen children playing on garbage heaps in informal settlements like they are trampolines and I have seen persons with disabilities languishing, prisoners in their own homes.
There are few cities I visit where I don’t see people having to live on the streets, forced to eat, sleep, cook and defecate on sidewalks. They cling to dignity and life – but it is a thin thread. I have seen communities evicted from their homes often by brutal force to make way for a new shopping mall or so that luxury flats can be built. And I know of private equity firms using unprecedented wealth and power gobbling up entire neighbourhoods, only to use housing as a vehicle to grow profits for a few who have no intention of living there, while displacing the many who do.
What is perhaps most worrying of all is that these assaults on dignity and life are accepted as fixed features of a new global economic order. If we do not find housing solutions, no State will be able to meet their other Agenda 2030 commitments.
Without access to adequate, secure and affordable housing there is no equality, no health and well-being, no access to education or employment and there is no end to poverty.
Housing is at the centre of the SDGs: it’s what sustains us and it’s what makes us resilient.
My recommendation is that if States are going to meet their commitments under Goal 11, Target 11.1, tinkering with existing programs won’t work. A fundamental shift is required – a shift whereby housing is recognized and implemented by States as a human right, not a mere matter of policy, nor a commodity, and certainly not something to be left to the whims of unregulated markets and private developers.
Homelessness, and inadequate housing are an assault on dignity and life and as such go to the heart of what triggers human rights concern.
Human rights violations of this nature demand human rights responses. A rights-based approach to housing clarifies who is accountable to whom: all levels of government are accountable to people, particularly marginalized and vulnerable groups, who are recognized as rights holders, not the beneficiaries of charity.
And human rights incorporate universal norms providing a common purpose and shared set of values to laws and policies. I recently presented a report to the Human Rights Council which articulates for States the 10 core principles that should inform a human rights based strategy.
Let me elaborate on a few. Strategies must prioritize those most in need and must make an absolute priority of eliminating homelessness.
The 2030 Agenda itself requires States to end homelessness – what else could ensuring access to adequate, affordable, secure housing for all mean?
Strategies must put in place institutional mechanisms to monitor progress and hold governments accountable to goals and timelines. They must also ensure access to justice, including access to hearings and remedies in courts or elsewhere. Strategies must be based in law and affirm the right to housing as a legal right, and they must clarify the obligations of private actors.
If States intend to rely on the private sector for housing (and most will), then States must understand that the obligation to realize the right to housing still remains with them and cannot be delegated. Housing strategies will have to include robust measures to regulate and reorient financial, housing and real estate markets to ensure inclusive cities and affordable housing.
I think meeting these requirements of Goal 11, Target 11.1 will not be easy. But there is no choice. Because anything else creates cities that surely none of us want to live in.


World fish consumption unsustainable
by FAO, Guardian News, Global Fishing Watch, agencies
July 2018
One in three fish caught around the world never makes it to the plate, either being thrown back overboard or rotting before it can be eaten, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Its biannual report on the state of the world’s fisheries, released this week, also shows that total fish production has reached a record high thanks to more fish farming, particularly in China, with over half the fish eaten in the world now coming from aquaculture.
The report highlights that at least a third of commercial fish species are overfished, the FAO says. Fish farms will continue to expand and the FAO projects that almost 20% more fish will be eaten by 2030. However, farmed fish can harm wild populations because often their feed, made from wild fish such as sardines and anchovies, is caught at sea and they can cause pollution.
Fish are a crucial source of nutrition for billions of people around the globe, but overfishing is rife in some regions, with two-thirds of species over-exploited in the Mediterranean and Black Seas and the Southeast Pacific. Previous analyses that include estimates for illegal fishing indicate that wild fish stocks are declining faster than FAO data suggest and that half the world’s oceans are now industrially fished.
“Since 1961 the annual global growth in fish consumption has been twice as high as population growth, demonstrating that the fisheries sector is crucial in meeting the FAO’s goal of a world without hunger and malnutrition,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO director general.
The FAO reports that 35% of global catches are wasted. About a quarter of these losses are bycatch or discards, mostly from trawlers, where unwanted fish are thrown back dead because they are too small or an unwanted species. But most of the losses are due to a lack of knowledge or equipment, such as refrigeration or ice-makers, needed to keep fish fresh. The FAO is working with developing nations to cut such losses.
The FAO report sets out the huge scale of global fishing: it employs 60 million people and there are 4.6m fishing vessels on the planet. This huge effort is worrying in many places, the FAO says, with too many boats chasing too few fish.
As a result, the number of species being overfished has trebled in the last 40 years. The report also states that climate change will drive fish away from warm tropical waters, where nations are often especially reliant on seafood, towards more temperate regions.
Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana in Europe, said huge improvements were needed across the fishing industry. “Food waste on a hungry planet is outrageous,” he said. “The fact that one-third of all fish caught goes to waste is a huge cause for concern for global food security.”
On overfishing, particularly in the Mediterranean, he said: “We know the situation, we have the solutions: setting fish catch limits to scientific advice and stopping illegal and destructive fishing. All we’re missing is political action.”
Gustavsson added: “Aquaculture is far from being the magic bullet, as it is often unsustainable. Using 20m tonnes of fish like mackerel, sardines and anchovies to feed farmed fish instead of people is a blatant waste of food.”
Prof Daniel Pauly, at the Sea Around Us research initiative at the University of British Columbia, Canada, has been very critical of previous FAO reports, which he says significantly underestimated the total catch by failing to account for illegal fishing.
But he welcomed the new report for considering a wider range of information: “The crisis of overfishing will be hard to solve. However, collaborations between different stakeholders may help turn around some of the negative trends. This is the best issue of the FAO fisheries report that I have ever read.”
* Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems due to its potent ability to undermine national and regional efforts to manage fisheries sustainably as well as endeavours to conserve marine biodiversity. IUU fishing takes advantage of corrupt administrations and exploits weak management regimes, in particular those of developing countries lacking the capacity and resources for effective monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS).
IUU fishing is found in all types and dimensions of fisheries; it occurs both on the high seas and in areas within national jurisdiction, it concerns all aspects and stages of the capture and utilisation of fish, and it may sometimes be associated with organized crime. Fisheries resources available to bona fide fishers are removed by IUU fishing, which can lead to the collapse of local fisheries, with small-scale fisheries in developing countries proving particularly vulnerable. Products derived from IUU fishing can find their way into overseas trade markets thus throttling local food supply. IUU fishing therefore threatens livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.
* The current true scale of IUU fishing is inadequately determined.
Feb. 2018
Half of world''s oceans now fished industrially, maps reveal.
More than half the world’s oceans are being fished by industrial vessels, new research reveals. The maps based on feedback from more than 70,000 vessels show commercial fishing covers a greater surface area than agriculture, and will raise fresh questions about the health of oceans and sustainability of trawler fishing.
The data, published in the journal Science, also shows how fishing declines sharply at weekends, and celebrations like Christmas and Chinese new year.
The data also helps to explain the extreme decline in some fish stocks: the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates at least one-third of commercial fish stocks are being caught at unsustainable levels.
But the clear impact of cultural and political events on fishing also offers hope that humans can restrain overfishing, said the report’s author, David Kroodsma.
“What that means is we have control as humans to decide how we’re fishing the oceans: we’re not destined to overfish, we can control it,” said Kroodsma.
Kroodsma and colleagues gathered 22bn pieces of information from satellite systems installed in the biggest fishing vessels, and some smaller ones, usually operating closer to shore.
From this work from 2014 to 2016 they produced maps of where fishing activity was happening, and where it was the most intense. The blue to yellow colouring showing fishing activity covers most of the world’s oceans.
Exceptions are the vast Southern Ocean, far from home and suffering extreme cold and dramatic storms; and striking black “holes” in more heavily used seas, which are either lesser-used exclusive economic zones, and “deserts” in the seas where there are too few fish and crustaceans to catch.
Latest estimates have suggested the extent of fishing was even greater, but faced with such intense data and dramatic maps, the team were still stunned by how far the biggest ships roamed.
“It is really surprising to look at the map and see how much fishing there is,” said Kroodsma.
The research was led by Kroodsma, research and development director for US-based charity Global Fishing Watch. The paper is written with academics from the universities of California, Stanford and Dalhousie in Canada, plus National Geographic and others.
Among other findings is that five countries account for 85% of commercial fishing measured by hours at sea. Half of that is China; other large-scale operators include Spain, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
On average, every person on the planet eats 20kg of fish each year, with the FAO’s own estimates suggesting this makes up 20% of protein eaten.
The figure is much higher in some developing countries, however, where people on islands and in coastal areas rely heavily on fish for their energy, up to 70% of protein in some cases.
The fish protein being measured is also caught in inland waters, and aquaculture, the controversial practice of large-scale fish farming, has expanded rapidly in recent years.
The data showed the “human face” of fishing, said Elvira Poloczanska of the research group, the Alfred Wegener Institute of Ecophysiology in Germany.
“High-seas fisheries governance has the potential to reduce the risks from climate change - for example through international co-operation and the closure of high-seas areas to fishing,” she added.
Dec. 2017
Oceans under greatest threat in history, warns David Attenborough. (Guardian News)
The world’s oceans are under the greatest threat in history, according to Sir David Attenborough. The seas are a vital part of the global ecosystem, leaving the future of all life on Earth dependent on humanity’s actions, he says.
Attenborough issues the warning in the final episode of the BBC Blue Planet 2 series, which details the damage being wreaked in seas around the globe by climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and even noise.
“For years we thought the oceans were so vast and the inhabitants so infinitely numerous that nothing we could do could have an effect upon them. But now we know that was wrong,” says Attenborough. “It is now clear our actions are having a significant impact on the world’s oceans. They are under threat now as never before in human history. Many people believe the oceans have reached a crisis point.”
Attenborough says: “Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.”
The Blue Planet series producer, Mark Brownlow, said it was impossible to overlook the harm being caused in the oceans: “We just couldn’t ignore it – it wouldn’t be a truthful portrayal of the world’s oceans. We are not out there to campaign. We are just showing it as it is and it is quite shocking.”
The programme also filmed on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, witnessing the worst bleaching event in its history. Climate change is causing ocean temperatures to rise, bleaching the corals vital as nurseries for ocean life, and waters are warming rapidly in Antarctica too.
Jon Copley, from the University of Southampton and one of many scientists appearing in the series, says. “What shocks me about what all the data shows is how fast things are changing here in Antarctica. We’re headed into uncharted territory”
Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning also dissolves in seawater, making it more acidic. Prof Chris Langdon, at the University of Miami, says it is “beyond question” that the problem is manmade. “The shells and the reefs really, truly are dissolving. The reefs could be gone by the end of the century.”
The noise from shipping, tourism, and fossil fuel exploration is also revealed as harming sea life. Steve Simpson, at the University of Exeter, who works on coral reefs in southeast Asia, says: “There is a whole language underwater that we are only just getting a handle on. They use sound to attract a mate, to scare away a predator. You hear pops and grunts and gurgles and snaps.” He shows the noise of motorboats distracting clownfishes from warning against a predator attack.
The Blue Planet 2 team found plastic everywhere they filmed, even in the most remote locations such as South Georgia island, an important breeding site for albatrosses. There, Lucy Quinn from the British Antarctic Survey says many chicks are killed by plastic fed to them by their parents.
Overfishing, which remains prevalent around the world, is also addressed. “Every night thousands of miles of fishing lines laden with hooks are set – there is enough, it is said, to wrap twice around the world,” says Attenborough.
Lucy Quinn says the oceans are of vital importance for the whole world: “The oceans provide us with oxygen, they regulate temperature, they provide us with food and energy supplies. It is unthinkable to have a world without a healthy ocean.”
Daniel Pauly, who leads the Sea Around Us programme at the University of British Columbia in Canada, endorsed its stark conclusion. He said vast, subsidised fishing fleets were scraping the bottom of the barrel and that ocean acidification could be terminal for many species.
Pauly also warned of the dangers of plastic attracting toxic chemicals and then being eaten: “They become poison pills.” Pauly said the question facing humanity now was simple: “Are we going to fight for the oceans or not?”

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