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Insurance Industry Wakes Up to Ocean Risks

Sea level rise inundates streets in St. Louis, Senegal which borders the Atlantic Ocean on Africa's west coast. September 2015 (Photo by Patrick Schumacher) Public domain via Flickr

Sea level rise inundates streets in St. Louis, Senegal which borders the Atlantic Ocean on Africa’s west coast. September 2015 (Photo by Patrick Schumacher) Public domain via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda, May 10, 2018 (Maximpact.com  News) – Unprecedented changes occurring in the oceans signal the urgent need for a multi-sectoral approach, with businesses, governments and the insurance industry working together, finds a new report presented at the world’s first Ocean Risk Summit by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The report, “Ocean connections: An introduction to rising risks from a warming, changing ocean,” was commissioned by XL Catlin, a global insurance and reinsurance company headquartered in Bermuda. It covers rising ocean temperatures and stressors such as ocean acidification and a reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans on the marine environment and human life, and their consequences for society.

“The changing chemistry and physics of the ocean as a result of climate change can have devastating consequences for human life, health and livelihoods, the scale of which we are only beginning to realize,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme.

“The insurance industry can play a significant role in helping businesses, governments and communities mitigate damages and better adapt to these changes,” said Lundin. “Insurance against the loss of ecosystems can provide the much needed protection for people dependent on them for their livelihoods, while encouraging their sustainable management.”

The IUCN report was released Tuesday as high-profile speakers from across the political, economic, environmental and risk sectors gathered in Bermuda for the first Ocean Risk Summit.

The island, a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean that lies 1,070 km (665 miles) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is on the front line of ocean changes, exposed to rising sea levels, declining fish stocks and an expected increase in tropical cyclone intensity.

The event, which wound up today, featured high-level speakers providing expert data, analysis and innovative tools to help participants identify potential exposures to ocean risk and prepare to tackle its far-reaching and costly consequences.

Speakers at the summit included IUCN Patrons of Nature HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco and HM Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan, and Founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson.

Charles Cooper, chief executive of Reinsurance at XL Catlin, said, “Ocean risk is among the biggest challenges we face, but with the right approach, we can incentivize positive change, to protect natural and human capital for the future.”

Insurance Industry Warned: Prepare for Ocean Risks

The Ocean Risk Summit also received another report, “Ocean Risk and the Insurance Industry” by mathematician and climate modeler, Dr. Falk Niehörster.

It assesses how the global insurance sector, founded on the need to protect against loss in the marine shipping sector, now needs to equip itself, such as building new modeling systems to account for multiple and inter-connected risks.

These risks include coastal inundation caused by sea-level rise, intensifying storms, and threats to human wellbeing caused by factors such as the loss of marine food resources and a growth in ocean-borne viruses.

Dr. Niehörster told local news outlet Bernews, “This is a wake-up call to the insurance sector to focus on the risks emanating from ocean change. It makes clear there is urgent work needed to better prepare the industry, which in turn can help build resilience to economies and society most at risk from these impacts.”

The IUCN report warns that ocean warming will affect global food security as a result of changes in fishery yields and the distribution of fish stocks. Damages to property and the displacement of people are expected to rise as a result of sea-level rise and frequent extreme weather events such as storms and floods.

The health of marine species and humans will be affected by increasing bacteria and virus outbreaks as pathogens spread more easily due to the warming waters, while travel and tourism will be impacted by frequent coral bleaching events, the IUCN reports.

There is no comprehensive analysis of the costs to society from ocean stressors, but the IUCN warns that these costs will be significant.

For instance, the 2016 algal blooms and aquaculture fish kills in Chile due to a strong El Niño Eastern Tropical Pacific warming pattern resulted in losses of up to US$800 million.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that 2017 was the most expensive year in history for losses from weather and climate-related events, costing the global economy an estimated US$320 billion.

Blue Resilience Carbon Credits

Today, The Nature Conservancy and XL Catlin announced a project to develop Blue Resilience Carbon Credits. These will, for the first time, value the combined carbon sequestration and resilience benefits provided by coastal wetland ecosystems.

Support provided by XL Catlin will allow The Nature Conservancy to explore the development of a system of credits assigning a market value to the resilience services provided by these ecosystems, which are historically undervalued.

“Blue carbon is an emerging opportunity for wetland conservation and restoration, gaining popularity in international policy spheres,” said Maria Damanki, global managing director for the ocean at The Nature Conservancy.

“Wetlands help to fight both climate change and achieve greenhouse gas mitigation targets, whilst helping to make coasts more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” she said.

“An economic incentive is vital for coastal wetland conservation to curtail wetland destruction by creating a financial value for the resilience these systems offer. This is why the Blue Carbon Resilience Credits are so important,” said Damanki.

Paul Jardine, chief experience officer for XL Catlin, said, “In 2017 XL Catlin launched its Ocean Risk Initiative to help identify solutions and build resilience at local, regional and global levels to the implications of ocean related risk. Our collaboration with The Nature Conservancy is an exciting and real-world example of our commitment.”

The hope behind the Blue Resilience Carbon Credits initiative is that, for the first time, insurance firms and other businesses will be able to offset their carbon footprints while better understanding the contribution they are making to reducing coastal hazards in the world’s most vulnerable coastal areas.

Featured Image: Coastal damage in the aftermath of the 2015 floods on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Photo by Rajiv Jalim) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Edible Food Packaging Takes the Cake

Shrilk

Shrilk, a biodegrable plastic made from silk and shrimp shells, is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but only half the weight. (Photo courtesy Wyss Institute) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, June 22, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – As all grocery shoppers know, many meats, breads, cheeses, cakes and cookies come wrapped in plastic packaging to prevent spoilage. But plastic films are not great at keeping foods fresh, and some plastics are known to leach harmful compounds into the food they’re supposed to protect. High-fat foods such as cheese are particularly vulnerable.

Under pressure from environmental and health groups, in 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned three grease-resistant chemical substances linked to cancer and birth defects from use in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers and other food packaging.

But Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook points out that the ban does nothing to prevent food processors and packagers from using almost 100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous. Although the three chemicals were no longer made in the United States as of 2011, the possibility remains that food packaging with those chemicals made in other countries could be imported to America.

In addition, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic every year and recycle just three percent. When discarded, these plastics become non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste, contaminating city streets, rural lands, lakes, rivers and oceans.

To address these issues, scientists are now developing edible packaging for food made with food products or byproducts.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University  have developed a new material that replicates the exceptional strength, toughness, and versatility of one of nature’s more extraordinary substances – shrimp shells.

Low-cost, biodegradable, and biocompatible, the material is composed of fibroin protein from silk and from chitin, extracted from discarded shrimp shells. It poses no threat to trees or competition with the food supply.

Shrilk is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but it is only half the weight. By controlling the water content in the fabrication process, the researchers were able to produce wide variations in stiffness, from elasticity to rigidity.

As a cheap, environmentally safe alternative to plastic, Shrilk can be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly.

“When we talk about the Wyss Institute’s mission to create bioinspired materials and products, Shrilk is an example of what we have in mind,” said the institute’s Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who led the work that created Shrilk. “It has the potential to be both a solution to some of today’s most critical environmental problems and a stepping stone toward significant medical advances.”

In Pennsylvania, U.S. government scientists have developed an edible packaging film made from milk proteins.

A scientist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service has a patent for her method of turning a milk

USDA chemist Tara McHugh displays edible food wraps designed to slow the spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables. Similar wraps developed by McHugh also kill E. coli. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society) Posted for media use

USDA chemist Tara McHugh displays edible food wraps designed to slow the spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Similar wraps developed by McHugh also kill E. coli. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society) Posted for media use

protein into water-resistant films that can be used to coat or package foods.

The new extraction method removes the protein, called casein (say kay-seen), from milk by using carbon dioxide under high pressure. Casein, which solidifies when milk is acidified, is the main ingredient in cheese. It is used as a food supplement and as an ingredient in nonfood products including adhesives, finishing materials for paper and textiles, and paints.

Her method takes advantage of casein’s natural structure to form water-resisting films or coatings, says the inventor Peggy Tomasula, a chemical engineer at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

“The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” says Tomasula.

The new material remains intact when exposed to water, unlike water-soluble, protein-based films patented in the past. Tomasula says packaging films made from milk proteins are excellent oxygen barriers, up to 500 times better than low-density polyethylene, and completely food-safe.

In their presentation to the American Chemical Society meeting in 2016, Tomasula and her colleagues said the milk protein-based films repel grease, can be eaten with the food product, and dissolve easily in hot or cold water.

For these reasons, Tomasula said, “Milk-based films are ideal candidates to coat convenience food packaging; layer between synthetic films to block oxygen; coat foods to preserve them and carry additional nutrients; or, form increasingly-popular single-serve pouches, which can be either eaten or dissolved, generating zero waste.”

Flavorings, vitamins or minerals could be added to the edible coating to enhance the flavor and reinforce nutrition.

This casein coating could be sprayed onto food, such as cereal flakes or bars. Right now, cereals keep their crunch in milk due to a sugar coating. Instead of all that sugar, manufacturers could spray on casein-protein coatings to prevent soggy cereal.

The spray also could line pizza or other food boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging, or to serve as a lamination step for paper or cardboard food boxes or plastic pouches.

The ARS research group is currently creating prototype film samples for a small company in Texas, and the development has attracted interest among other companies. This casein packaging could be on store shelves within three years.

Another USDA team, working with scientists from the University of Lleida in Spain, has improved upon an edible coating for fresh fruits and vegetables by enabling it to kill deadly E. coli bacteria while also providing a flavor-boost to food.

Composed of apple puree and oregano oil, which acts as a natural antibacterial agent, the coating shows promise in laboratory studies of becoming a long-lasting, potent alternative to conventional produce washes.

“All produce-cleaning methods help to some degree, but our new coatings and films may provide a more concentrated, longer-lasting method for killing bacteria,” says research leader Tara McHugh, Ph.D., a food chemist with the ARS Albany, California. As the films are made of fruit or vegetable puree, they also provide added health benefits such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, she says.

Besides apple puree, the antimicrobial films can also be made from broccoli, tomato, carrot, mango, peach, pear and other produce items. Non-antimicrobial versions of these food wraps are now being made commercially by California-based Origami Foods®  in cooperation with the USDA for use in a small but growing number of food applications, such as sushi wraps.

Manufacturers of foods packaged in glass bottles no longer have to ship their products in plastic foam. A Green Island, New York company by the name of Ecovative is making packaging made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.

Ecovative’s packaging made for shipping bottles of products, such as wine or maple syrup, is grown from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. The custom molded protective packaging called Mushroom® Packaging is home-compostable and sustainable.

In 2015, Ecovative opened a full-scale 20,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Troy, New York for production of mushroom-based packaging.

The packaging is price competitive with most fabricated plastic foams and the company even has a Grow It Yourself Mushroom Material program to encourage open innovation.

Ecovative founder Eben Bayer blogged, “We spent a lot of time and effort conforming our natural products to existing expectations of materials to prove that we can grow natural products capable of displacing their toxic counterparts.”

“The uniform white mycelium aesthetic associated with Ecovative is a finish that naturally mimics the expanded polystyrene products that fill our landfills every day,” he wrote.

“We are committed to working with industry and consumers to rid the world of toxic, unsustainable materials,” says Bayer. “We believe in creating products that enable companies and individuals to achieve their sustainability goals, without having to sacrifice on cost or performance.”


Maximpact+WASTE

Hope for the Hungry

Hope_for_the_Hungry

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, July 26, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world go to bed hungry while at the same time, a third of the world’s food is wasted, say the number-crunchers at the United Nations food agencies.

But there is fresh hope for the hungry. Leaders of two UN agencies fighting hunger worldwide are applauding new legislation in the United States that aims to strengthen global food assistance programs in the years ahead.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) praised U.S. President Barack Obama for his July 20th signing of the Global Food Security Act (GFSA). The United States is the largest donor to both UN agencies.

The measure was passed by the U.S. Congress on July 6 by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, during a time of otherwise great division in the U.S. Congress and politics.

The United States is helping to put and even stronger emphasis on how food security and economic development are intertwined, while stressing the central role of small-scale family farmers in the fight against hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

This law will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people throughout world, showing once again why the United States is a leader in promoting food security and helping those who struggle to feed their families so they can start to build their own future,” says WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

The new law supports initiatives to develop agriculture, assist small-scale food producers and improve nutrition, especially for women and children worldwide. It seeks improve the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene to poor communities and build their resilience to withstand shocks, such as conflict, droughts and floods.

President Obama signed into law the Feed the Future program, the U.S. government’s global hunger initiative, ensuring it will continue helping countries provide their people with enough food – even after the Obama presidency ends in January.

The new law authorizes for the first time USAID‘s International Disaster Assistance and Emergency Food Security Program. This means future White House administrations and future Congresses could more easily make cash assistance available to people experiencing hunger unexpectedly, due to natural disasters or war.

And it has never been more needed. One-third of all the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted as it moves from farm, ranch or orchard to table, at a global cost as high as US$940 billion a year, calculates the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

At the same time, more than 800 million people around the world are undernourished, the FAO reminded everyone in June.

Food loss and food waste generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the UN agency says, adding that if it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter – behind China and the United States.

In an attempt to lose less food and feed more people, a partnership of international organizations has launched a new global framework to giv businesses, governments, and other organizations ways to measure, report on and manage food loss and waste.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is the partnership, and they have developed the global Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard for quantifying and reporting on food removed from the food supply chain due to waste or loss.

The new Standard was launched at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2016 Summit June 6 in Copenhagen.

3GF enables public-private partnerships to support the large-scale adoption of green technologies, practices and policies that they hope will accelerate solutions to intractable problems that markets and governments have been unable to solve on their own.

This set of global definitions and reporting requirements comes as a growing number of governments, companies and other organizions are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

Waste makes everybody poorer,” Denmark’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kristian Jensen said. “I am pleased that a new strong alliance between public and private actors will provide an efficient answer to the global challenge of food loss and waste. 3GF has promoted yet another green and innovative solution to global challenges.

The new Food Loss and Waste Standard will reduce economic losses for the consumer and food industry, alleviate pressure on natural resources and contribute to realizing the ambitious goals set out in the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jensen. “We need to push for more solutions like this for the benefit of people, profit and the planet.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is the multi-stakeholder partnership convened by the nonprofit World Resources Institute and begun at the Global Green Growth Forum in 2013.

This standard is a real breakthrough,” declared Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute. “There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted. Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need.

FLW Protocol partners include some of the largest and most influential of organizations: The Consumer Goods Forum, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Union-funded FUSIONS project, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), The Waste and Resources Action Programme and World Resources Institute.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner acknowledged, “The scale of the problem of food loss and waste can be difficult to comprehend. Having this new standard by which to measure food loss and waste will not only help us understand just how much food is not making it to our mouths, but will help set a baseline for action.

UNEP is urging all countries and companies to use the new Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard to start measuring and reporting food loss and waste, in parallel to taking action to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal SDG Target 12.3: Halve food waste by 2030.

Wasting a third of the food we produce is a clear symptom of a global food system in trouble,” said President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Peter Bakker. “The FLW Standard is pivotal to setting a reliable baseline for streamlined and efficient action on the ground for countries, cities, and small and big businesses along the food value chain.

Together with tangible business solutions,” said Bakker, “the FLW Standard can help to significantly reduce food loss and waste around the globe.”

The FLW Standard will also help reduce food loss and waste within the private sector.

In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 percent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard.

Some leading companies, like Nestle and Tesco, are already measuring and publicly reporting on their food loss and waste.

An executive summary of the Food Loss and Waste Protocol can be found at Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard


Main Image: In the Philippines, girls eat food offered by Feed My Starving Children, a Christian nonprofit organization. (Photo by Feed My Starving Children) Creative commons license via Flickr

Sustainable Standard Set for Half the World’s Main Dish

RicePlantingJapan

MANILA, Philippines, November 11, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The world’s first standard for sustainable rice cultivation debuted late last month, presented by the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme convened the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) five years ago in order to promote resource use efficiency and climate change resilience in rice systems so important to global food security.

At its 5th Annual Plenary Meeting and General Assembly in Manila October 27-29 the Sustainable Rice Platform welcomed representatives of its 29 institutional stakeholders.

Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director and Representative UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, opened the meeting by reminding the more than 120 delegates that at least half the world’s people rely on rice.

“With more than half the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, depending on rice for 20 percent or more of their daily calories, and almost one billion of the world’s poorest people dependent on rice as a staple, we are reminded of the critical importance of rice,” she said, “rice as a source of livelihoods and food and nutritional security for billions; rice as a consumer of land, water and other natural assets; and on the other hand, rice as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“According to IRRI, by 2050, we are going to need 50 percent more rice to feed the world’s population,” said Louis, “and most of this increase will have to come from intensification and increased productivity.”

The new Sustainable Rice Standard is made up of 46 requirements, covering issues from productivity, food safety, worker health, and labor rights to biodiversity protection.

One requirement, for instance, is documented proof that the soil is safe from heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead.

Another that inbound water is obtained from clean sources that are free of biological, saline, and heavy metal contamination.

A third requirement is that measures are in place to enhance water-use efficiency.

An attached set of quantitative Performance Indicators enables farmers and market supply chain participants to gauge the sustainability of a rice system, and to monitor and reward progress or the lack of progress.

“The SRP Standard represents the world’s first initiative that will set environmentally sustainable and socially responsible rice production management standards,” said Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

“Our key challenge now,” he said, “is to incentivize and scale up adoption, especially among resource-poor small farmers.”

The SRP says a fifth of the world’s population depends on rice cultivation for their livelihoods.

The SRP Standard uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to accomplish three things: maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

Development of the standard draws on global experience in other sustainable commodity initiatives such as sugar, cotton, coffee and palm oil, said the developers: UTZ Certified, Aidenvironment and IRRI and members of the Sustainable Rice Platform.

They took into account the unique challenges rice cultivation presents for environmental protection.

Growing rice uses 30 to 40 percent of the world’s freshwater and contributes between five and 10 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4), according to the IRRI.

The crop yield is declining from 2.2 percent during the 20 years from 1970-90 to less than 0.8 percent since then.

And the global rice production area also is declining due to land conversion, salinization and increased water scarcity.

To complicate matters, pesticides used on rice kill nontarget rice field fauna, accumulate in the food chain, runoff from the ricefields, pollute the water table, and take their toll on farmers’ health.

Paddy fields and irrigation systems facilitate breeding of mosquitoes that act as vectors of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, Japanese encephalitis and dengue.

All these effects can be more extreme in tropical and subtropical environments, where climatic and cultural conditions are more favorable to vector-borne diseases and CH4 production.

Kaveh Zahedi, director of the UNEP Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific, has confidence in the effectiveness of the new standard to solve many of these problems.

“For most of Asia Pacific, rice is a staple. It is part of the social fabric and influences many aspects of our lives – economic, social and religious,” Zahedi said.

“The SRP Standard and Indicators will help ensure that the cultivation of this vital commodity becomes more sustainable and benefits people, communities and the planet.”

RicefieldBali


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Caption: Spring rice planting in Chiba Prefecture, Japan (Photo by Phil Hendley under creative commons license via Flickr)
Featured image: Harvesting rice in northern Vietnam (Photo by Tran Thi Hoa / World Bank under creative commons license via Flickr)
Image 01: Rice terraces in northern Bali, Indonesia (Photo by Patrik M. Loeff under creative commons license via Flickr)