14 December 2016 – Since April, an unprecedented 3.6 million square kilometres of ocean – an area larger than India – have been designated as marine protected areas (MPAs), meaning for the first time, more than 5% of the world’s oceans are now protected.
“The establishment of so many new protected areas is tremendous news and should give those fighting tirelessly to conserve the world’s oceans and seas an enormous sense of achievement,” announced Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Meanwhile, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is meeting this week in Mexico, is calling for the world to protect 10 per cent of its coastal and marine areas by 2020. That goal is part of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and has now been exceeded.
Thanks to the recent creation of five “mega MPAs,” off the coasts of Chile, Palau, Hawaii, and the Pitcairn Islands and St. Helena’s in the South Atlantic, the global total percentage of protected seas is now 12.7 per cent.
Mr. Solheim urged stakeholders to remember that “the Aichi Biodiversity Targets also call for countries to focus their conservation efforts on the areas of greatest biodiversity. It is not just about the size of the area under protection, but also about where these zones are located and how strong that protection really is.”
As part of the effort to emphasize the importance of protecting the Antarctic seas, during the conference, UNEP Patron of Oceans and endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh announced his campaign, Antarctica 2020, which aims to secure MPAs in vulnerable areas of Antarctica over the next three years.
The campaign builds off the momentum of the recent Ross Sea victory, which together with the three targeted areas would bring the total protected area in the Antarctic to nearly 7 million square kilometres – an area the size of Australia.
“We have entered a new area of uncertainty, with many hard-fought conservation achievements now under threat. It’s time to build on our recent success in the Ross Sea. With public support, I believe we can achieve the most ambitious ocean protection plan in history,” said Pugh as he spoke from Antarctica’s Bellingshausen Sea, where he is undertaking a swim in freezing waters to bring global attention to oceanic protection.
During the UN Biodiversity Conference in Cancun, Mexico pledged to preserve an additional 650,000 square kilometres of land and sea – roughly 25 per cent of its territorial waters. The commitment includes establishing the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, an area of 57,000 square kilometres.
Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, president of the conference, hailed the country’s decision: “Mexico wants to send a clear signal on the urgency to meet the Aichi Targets by taking unprecedented actions to preserve marine and terrestrial ecosystems.”
He added that the country had “surpassed its commitment to achieve the Aichi goals for marine areas and is on track to achieve land protected areas.”
Other pledges from the conference included Cambodia’s commitment to nearly double its number of protected areas, which now include one-third of the country’s land. The United Arab Emirates also indicated its intention to declare 18 new protected areas, four of which are marine.
According to new figures released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, today there are 14,859 MPAs covering 18.5 million square kilometres of ocean and sea.
However, both organizations warned that there is an unequal representation of ecosystems and areas rich in biodiversity; according to the 2016 Protected Planet report, only one third of the world’s marine ecoregions offer more than 10 per cent of their areas protection.
More than three billion people depend on marine and coastal diversity for their livelihoods. When managed correctly, MPAs can boost the abundance of fish and increase biodiversity. (SOURCE: UN).
2016 slated to be hottest year ever, with record-breaking emissions and melting Arctic ice
The United Nations weather agency had on 14 November 2016 reported** that , 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record with global temperatures of approximately 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in part because of the powerful El Niño weather pattern that began late last year.
The continued trend means that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have been during this century (1998 is the outlier). Temperatures are not the only record-breaking indicators of climate change.
Concentrations of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase to new limits and Arctic sea ice remains at very low levels – particularly at the beginning of this year and in October as the re-freezing period begins. This year also saw significant and unusually early melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
In a press release, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned that despite the extra heat due to El Niño no longer having an impact, global warming would continue.
According to Taalas, temperatures in parts of Arctic Russia were as much as 6° to 7°C above long-term averages; other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions throughout Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3° above average.
“We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree,” he said.
WMO’s findings show that temperature increases are most pronounced in the northern hemisphere; more than 90 per cent of land areas in the northern part of the globe had temperatures of more than 1°C above average, although much of southern Africa and several other regions throughout the southern hemisphere saw the same trend.
Ocean temperatures were also above normal, which has contributed to significant coral bleaching and disruption of ecosystems, including in the Great Barrier Reef, which has seen up to 50 per cent of its coral die in certain parts. Temperatures were below-normal in the southern oceans, particularly around the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica.
Sea levels rose about 15 millimetres between November 2014 and February 2016 – five times that of the post-1993 trend of three to 3.5 mm per year.
Taalas spoke of the WMO’s support for implementing the Paris Agreement, which “came into force in record time and with record global commitment” and is critical for responding to alarming trends across the globe. The accord was adopted last December and entered into force on 4 November of this year.
In early October, the accord cleared the final threshold of 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions required for it to come into effect within one month. Its entry into force was extremely swift, particularly for an agreement that required a large number of ratifications and the two specific thresholds.
“Because of climate change,” he said, “the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once-in-a-generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular. Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones.”
Indeed, 2016 has witnessed major impacts from extreme weather events, with Hurricane Matthew this October responsible for the most casualties. There have also been typhoons and cyclones, flooding throughout Asia and Africa, major heatwaves, the most damaging wildfire in Canada’s history, and major droughts.
WMO is working to improve its monitoring of greenhouse emissions and to help countries take effective measures to reduce them.
“Better climate predictions over timescales of weeks to decades will help key sectors like agriculture, water management, health and energy plan for and adapt to the future,” explained Taalas.
“More impact-based weather forecasts and early warning systems will save lives both now and in the years ahead. There is a great need to strengthen the disaster early warning and climate service capabilities especially of developing countries. This is a powerful way to adapt to climate change,” he declared.
As part of the 22nd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, currently under way in Marrakech, Morocco, and known by the shorthand ‘COP 22’, WMO published a provisional statement that, for the first time, includes an assessment of the humanitarian impact of climate change, thanks in part to input from UN partners. The final statement is to be released early next year.
WMO has linked weather-related events to conclusions by the International Organisation for Migration (IMO) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which reported 19.2 million new displacements due to weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries in 2015 (data for 2016 is not yet available).
That number is more than twice the number of people displaced due to human-related conflict and violence. (**SOURCE: UN).