A massive, 740-page report completed by the United Nations — the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed in the last five years — has a clear message: The damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless “urgent action” is taken.
The UN’s sixth Global Environment Outlook report, released today, highlights the actions needed in a global scale to reverse the situation. These include reducing land degradation, limiting pollution, improving water management, and mitigating climate change.
“The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment, said in a statement. “This report is an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now.”
The report, which was produced by 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries, says that either we drastically scale up environmental protections, or cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.
It also warns that pollutants in our freshwater systems will see anti-microbial resistance become a major cause of death by 2050 and endocrine disruptors impact male and female fertility, as well as child neurodevelopment.
But it’s not all doom and gloom: The UN highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology, and finance it needs to move towards a more sustainable development pathway. What’s still needed is support from the public, and the business and political leaders who are still “clinging to outdated production and development models.”
The landmark report is released while environmental ministers from around the world are in Nairobi to participate in the world’s highest-level environmental forum. Negotiations at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly are expected to tackle critical issues such as stopping food waste, promoting the spread of electric mobility, and tackling the crisis of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Currently, the world is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 200 or by 2050, according to the UN. And that is why urgent action needs to be taken.
The report recommends adopting less-meat intensive diets, and reducing food waste in both developed and developing countries, would reduce the need to increase food production by 50 percent to feed the projected 9-10 billion people on the planet in 2050. At present, 33 per cent of global edible food is wasted, and 56 per cent of waste happens in industrialized countries.
The report also calls for action to curb the flow of the 8 million tons of plastic pollution going into oceans each year. While the issue has received increased attention in recent years, there is still no global agreement to tackle marine litter.
Policy interventions that address entire systems – such as energy, food, and waste – rather than individual issues, such as water pollution, can also be much more effective, according to the authors.
“The report shows that policies and technologies already exist to fashion new development pathways that will avoid these risks and lead to health and prosperity for all people,” said Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-chairs of the GEO-6 process. “What is currently lacking is the political will to implement policies and technologies at a sufficient speed and scale.
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