Plenty more fish in the sea – or are there?

Ellinor Häggebrink by Ellinor Häggebrink, Engagement Manager at GES

Today, 8 June, is World Oceans Day. This is a good moment to reflect upon the world’s oceans and the major role they play in everyday life. Oceans are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. They are also one of the most important sources of nutrition as they act as the world’s largest source of protein, in fact more than 2.6 billion people depend on oceans as their primary source of protein. Marine fisheries employ, directly or indirectly, over 200 million people worldwide and contribute to economic development and local communities in many countries[1]. Therefore, careful management of this essential global resource is a key factor for a sustainable future.

Building support for ocean awareness is now even more crucial than ever, especially when we consider the countless challenges that the seafood industry faces. Let’s take a step back and try to fully grasp the picture: the world’s population is growing at a steady rate of a minimum of 80 million people every year and experts predict that by 2050, it will have reached 10 billion[2]. A vastly growing population puts additional demand on natural resources and implies an increased demand for food and protein. At the same time, meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting climate change to below 2°C has presented significant challenges to the food industry because the impact of food production on climate change has become a major concern. It is now suggested that the world should follow different health guidelines, such as reducing meat consumption, in order to reduce emissions significantly and mitigate risks related to climate change and food security.

The world needs to meet food demands in a sustainable way and put greater focus on other sources of protein, such as seafood. Seafood consumption has doubled over the last 40 years and it is expected to continue to grow. However, the industry faces several environmental and social challenges. It is no longer big news that marine resources are becoming overexploited; according to a 2016 FAO report[3], 31.4 per cent of global fisheries have been fished beyond sustainable limits and the size of the marine population declined by almost half between 1970 and 2012. Apart from overfishing, the industry faces challenges like biodiversity loss, impacts on marine ecosystems and coastal communities, and poor working conditions in the supply chain.

To fill the gap between the supply and demand of wild fisheries, aquaculture has gained more popularity. This is one of the fastest growing food production systems and continues to rise in volume and value. In fact, it is expected to represent 50 per cent of total seafood consumption in the next years[4]. There is no doubt that aquaculture yields nutritious food, provides employment opportunities and contributes to local economies, particularly in rural areas. Nevertheless, the other side of the coin is that, at the same time, aquaculture carries many risks, such as the spread of diseases and parasites, the use of antibiotics and pesticides, and the escape of fish from fish farms, which can jeopardise wild populations.

There is no denying that the demand of seafood is here to stay. However, if it is truly going to act as a long-term alternative to meat consumption in a sustainable future, responsible management of marine resources is more than crucial.

[1] http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/background.shtml 
[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html
[3] http://www.fao.org/fishery/sofia/en
[4] http://www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/news-events/details-news/en/c/1032635/

 

Circular economy – are we ready yet?

 by Ewelina Łukasik-Morawska, Engagement Manager at GES

The short-sighted focus on producing and consuming as cheaply as possible has created a linear economy in which objects are used and then discarded as waste. For all the good it has brought us, this economic model is in need of a new direction. The global population will continue to grow and many emerging nations will seek to improve living standards. This is putting enormous pressure on the environment and leading directly to resource scarcity. A circular economy seems an ideal alternative to the linear “take, make and dispose” model. This model ensures we make the most of limited resources by reusing or remanufacturing products that would have ended up on the rubbish dump. It makes both environmental and economic sense, and businesses, communities as well as investors, stand to gain a lot from this sustainable model[1].

Over recent years, the concept of a circular economy has gained momentum. Many elements have already been considered as part of broader political and societal programmes. For example, the UN’s Millennium Goals and the recently articulated Sustainable Development Goals[2], to name just a couple. The initiatives call for increased resource efficiency in consumption and production, sustainable management of natural resources, and substantially reduced waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse.

Plastics are one of the most wasteful examples of the linear, take-make-dispose economy. Global production of plastics has increased twentyfold since the 1960s, and reached 322 million tonnes in 2015. It is expected to double again over the next 20 years. With 8 million tonnes of plastic leaking into the oceans each year, we all need to re-evaluate the way we make, use and reuse plastics[3]. In practice, it means opting for reusable materials, ending wasteful manufacturing processes, embracing renewables and avoiding toxic chemicals. GES already delved into the topic in a blog post dedicated to plastics[4].

Fortunately, there are companies such as those which signed the UK Plastics Pact, that understand how important it is to apply circular economy principles to global plastic-packaging flows. The Pact, which was signed in April 2018, is part of an international initiative which aims, through collaborative work of different parties, to eliminate single-use plastic packaging and redesign all plastic packaging to make them reusable, recyclable or compostable[5].

GES believes that institutional investors can use their role as shareholders of corporations to put the circular economy transition higher on the list of priorities for the private sector. That is why GES has decided to pay particular attention to the issue and shape a stewardship and risk engagement theme to encourage companies to adopt initiatives that address issues with plastic waste and pollution. But are we ready for this new way of doing business?

[1] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy

[2] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

[3] http://web.unep.org/unepmap/un-declares-war-ocean-plastic

[4] https://www.gesinternational.com/2017/06/19/the-everyday-polluter

[5] https://newplasticseconomy.org/projects/plastics-pact

 

20 May – World Bee Day

by Bruce Jackson, Senior Engagement Manager at GES

In December 2017, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution declaring 20 May as World Bee Day. Every year on this day, the attention of the global public will be drawn to the importance of preserving bees and other pollinators. People will be reminded of the importance of bees for the whole of humanity and invited to take concrete action to preserve and protect them. The resolution was co-sponsored by 115 UN Member States.[1] Dejan Židan – head of the World Bee Day project and Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia stated:

“Bees and other pollinators finally have the place they deserve in view of their importance for the world and for humanity.”

Carla Mucavi, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Liaison Office in New York, commented:

“Bees play a crucial role in increasing crop yields and promoting food security and nutrition. Without them, we could lose a variety of food such as potatoes, pepper, coffee, pumpkins, carrots, apples, almonds, tomatoes, just to name a few. In short, without bees, FAO cannot achieve a world without hunger.”

In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation of the 100-crop species which provide 90% of global food, 71 are pollinated by bees. [2].

20 May was chosen for two reasons, firstly May is the month in the Northern Hemisphere when bees are most active, and 20 May coincidently is the birthdate of Anton Janša (1734–1773), a pioneer of modern beekeeping and one of the greatest experts in this field in his day. He was the first teacher of modern beekeeping anywhere in the world and published two books on the subject.

Neonicotinoids

The European Union made a contribution to World Bee Day when in April 2018 it banned the outdoor use of neonicotinoid pesticides, following an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)[3].

On 17 May, an EU court upheld the partial ban, stating that the European Commission had been right to restrict their use in order to protect bees and that the European’s Union’s precautionary principle could be applied if there was scientific uncertainty about risks to human health or the environment. An appeal had been lodged by Germany’s BASF and Switzerland’s Syngenta who collectively have three of the main neonicotinoid-containing products which are now restricted[4].

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides, effectively neurotoxins, which act upon the central nervous system, leading to nervous stimulation, disorientation and blocked receptors – the effects are irreversible. They affect a bee’s behaviour, such as foraging and navigation, but can also cause death. However, we should include a word of caution from Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, UK:

“If these neonicotinoids are simply replaced by other similar compounds such as sulfoxaflor, cyantraniliprole and flupyradifurone (all new systemic insecticides), then we will simply be going round in circles,” he said. “What is needed is a move towards truly sustainable farming methods that minimise pesticide use, encourage natural enemies of crop pests, and support biodiversity and healthy soils.”

Let us all hope that this is a move toward more sustainable farming practices.  But the last word should go to Anton Janša who wrote:

“Bees are a type of fly, hardworking, created by God to provide man with all needed honey and wax. Amongst all God’s beings there are none so hard working and useful to man with so little attention needed for its keep as the bee.”[4]

[1] UN press release, https://www.worldbeeday.org/files/declaration/17_12_20_PRESS_release_WBD_ENG.pdf, 20 December 2017

[2] UNEP, Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators (Nairobi, 2010); Michelle Allsopp and others, Plan Bee — Living Without Pesticides: Moving Towards Ecological Farming (Amsterdam, Greenpeace, 2014).

[3] EFSA: “Neonicotinoids: risks to bees confirmed”

[4] Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-environment-bees/eu-court-upholds-insecticide-ban-to-protect-bees-idUSKCN1II0WU  (17 May 2018)

[5] Anton Janša, 1775: A full guide to Bee-keeping”