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UN Members Killed in Ethiopian Plane Crash Headed to 4th UN Environment Assembly

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UN Staff observe a minute of silence for the victims of the accident of the Ethiopian Airlines, including 19 UN workers, before the opening plenary of the 4th UN Environment Assembly at the UN headquaters in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 11. UNEP / C. VILLEMAIN / AFP / Getty Images

The Fourth UN Environment Assembly began in Nairobi Monday with a moment of silence for the victims of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines ET302 that killed 157 people on Sunday, including 22 UN staff members, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) reported.


Some of those killed in the crash has been traveling to the assembly, which is the largest ever gathering of the world's top environmental decision-making organization. Among the dead were youth delegates, scientists and academics, UN Environment Acting Executive Director Joyce Msuya said in a statement.

"The environmental community is in mourning today," Msuya said.

The deadly crash occurred minutes after the plane took off from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia Sunday morning en route to Nairobi, The Guardian reported. Everyone on board was killed. The tragedy raised safety concerns about the plane's model, a Boeing 737 Max 8, a new design that was involved in a similar crash in Indonesia in October 2018.

A UNEP staff member told AFP that the agency was "still trying to consolidate" the number of UN workers who had died.

Among those lost was Victor Shangai Tsang, who was the UNEP Policy Officer on Sustainable Development and had been with the program since 2015. His last professional act had been to work to promote the Sustainable Development Goals Innovation Talks at the assembly. He also worked on issues of gender equality.

"He represented the best in all of us, and we will miss him terribly," a UNEP statement said.

The tragedy cast a pall over the opening proceedings. The UN flag was lowered to half-mast, and the country flags were removed, UNEP reported.

"In the wake of this tragedy, it has been difficult to navigate how to proceed without showing disrespect to the many lives lost yesterday," Acting Director-General of UN Office in Nairobi and Executive Director of UN-Habitat Maimunah Sharif said. "I want to assure you all however, that as the day and week unfolds, and the world's global environmental leaders meet to discuss the future of our planet, we will not forget this tragedy, nor those that perished with it."

As the assembly began, one major theme to emerge was the need to address plastic pollution, AFP reported. The world currently produces more than 300 million tonnes (approximately 331 million U.S. tons) of plastic every year, and scientists say at least five trillion pieces of it are floating in the oceans. The UN wants countries to set ambitious targets to reduce plastic manufacturing and phase out single-use plastics by 2030, in an effort modeled after the Paris agreement to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

"In the field of (plastic) pollution we don't have such agreements," UN Environment Assembly President and Estonia's Environment Minister Siim Kiisler told members of the press, as AFP reported. "This is the first time (we have) to convince member states to make international commitments."

Msuya urged delegates to be "optimistic and bold" and work towards the goals of reducing fossil fuel use by 80 percent and creating an almost zero waste economy, both by 2050, according to UNEP.

"[We need to] transform the way our economies work ... break the link between growth and increased resource use, and end our throwaway culture," Msuya said, as AFP reported.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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